On Watch in Washington February 12, 2014

February 12th, 2014

On Watch in Washington February 12, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

THE GIFT OF SIGHT

And so we come around again to Valentine’s Day. After weeks of mad scrambling for seats at the best restaurant, finding a babysitter, buying overpriced flowers and poor quality chocolate in the shape of a heart, many of us will enjoy (or endure) this high holiday of romantic indulgence. Yet, most of us have never learned the deeper story of St. Valentine and why his example is worth following today.

As the story goes, Valentine was a Roman priest under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Struggling to recruit men to fight his numerous wars, Claudius banned marriage, thinking that married men had become less enthusiastic than single men about going to war and dying as they ought. Undeterred, Valentine conducted weddings in secret. He was imprisoned around the year 268 and sentenced to death by beating and beheading, supposedly on February 14.

Legend has it that while awaiting his execution, Valentine prayed for his jailer’s daughter, curing her blindness. Before being led away to his glory, he sent a note to the girl, signing it “from your Valentine.”

Of course we don’t know the exact truth of Valentine so many years later, but as legends go, this one is pretty special. Imagine the society in which he lived: sexual licentiousness was rampant and marriage under threat. Christians were a persecuted minority. Valentine’s courage in bringing young Christians together in chaste marriage caused civil unrest and defied the dominant culture and even the law.

Sadly, there is no difficulty imagining such a world. Marriage in the United States has declined steadily since the advent of no-fault divorce in the 1970s. Young people delay marriage, often until their 30s, and a majority cohabits before the wedding, savoring the delights of marriage while rejecting its commitments. The force of law also threatens marriage by defining away its essential quality as a male-female union. A new and credible threat is now rising that would remove limits on the number of spouses within marriage. Marriage as an institution and a cornerstone of our culture is weaker than it has ever been.

These threats to marriage seem to have one thing in common. They all require a “me-centered” approach to relationships. When my marriage no longer makes me happy, I leave. I can enjoy casual sex whenever I want, so why get married? When society doesn’t approve of my choice in partners, I engage political and cultural activists to redefine the family. Even Christians too often understand love and marriage as originating in the human heart. That may be why our marriage health is not too different from that in the general culture.

The radical counter to this is the reality that love and marriage originate within and are grounded in God’s love. John the Beloved Apostle tells us that we can love only because God first loved us. The best expression of love we can muster, with all its imperfections, shortcomings, and selfishness, still draws its ultimate meaning from the eternal exchange of love within the Trinity.

That great litany of love described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a vision of God’s love, not ours. He is the only one who can love with such patience, kindness, forbearance. Only the love of Christ “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The surface level, showy and self-serving love often displayed at Valentine’s Day is certainly popular. We just don’t do well in denying our own passions and desires. Other-centered—or Christ-centered—love is far more than just compromise, inconvenience, or self-denial. It is a complete commitment to the best for another, often at great personal expense. It involves crawling outside of one’s own pettiness and pride. It is the washing of another’s feet or the forgiving of another’s sins. To love truly, as God loves, is to give yourself away without expecting to be loved in return.

The Greek word martyria from which we get our word martyr is best translated as testimony or witness. Valentine was a martyr for marriage in death. All of us have an opportunity to be living witnesses to God’s purposes for marriage by testifying to its goodness in our lives, by defending its natural qualities in public debate and by demonstrating how human love is but a foreshadowing of the great love of Christ for the community of believers throughout time.

For this age, there may be no more powerful martyrdom.

(Contributor: By Daniel Weiss – Daniel Weiss is the Founder and President of The Brushfires Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a Christian vision of sexuality, relationships and the human person. He lives with his family in central Wisconsin.)

This beautiful story reminds us of God’s design for love, romance, and marriage between a man and a woman. What we are experiencing today in the U.S. is a distortion of the divine plan stemming from man’s ignorance of and rebellion toward the Creator’s blueprint. Pray for revival, desperately needed. Ask God for extended mercy that we might repent and see biblical principles restored. Pray that Christians lead the way by examining and strengthening their homes, marriages, and child-rearing practices to conform to God’s standards. The battle is against spiritual forces of darkness; thus, Christians hate the sin but love the sinners, wanting all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him. …   Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.(Genesis 2:18, 21-24) 

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

 

AFGHAN SOLDIERS DESPERATE FOR PACT WITH U.S.

That outcome has become increasingly probable with President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow the United States to maintain a small military presence here beyond 2014. Now, Afghan troops are beginning to raise their voices against Karzai, demanding at great personal risk that he sign the pact.

“If the international community leaves, there is no question that we will lose ground to the Taliban,” Col. Mohammad Dost, a battalion commander in Zabul province, said in an interview. “It’s the biggest worry for every soldier now.”

In recent weeks, soldiers have voiced that concern in local television interviews and in newspaper op-eds, despite not being authorized by the government to speak on the topic. For some, the consequences have been grave.

“As everyone wants the agreement to be signed, we also call for its signing,” Gen. Momand Katawazai told TOLO News, a Kabul-based television station, last month.

Days later, officials at the Defense Ministry told Katawazai that he shouldn’t bother coming to work any more. He hasn’t been formally fired but expects to be.

“It’s been a huge headache,” he said.

In the past few years, it was extremely unusual for an Afghan military officer to publicly criticize the Afghan government. But even though Katawazai got in trouble, other soldiers have continued speaking out.

“If the Americans leave, Afghanistan will be a lone sheep, left in the desert for the wolves to eat,” Capt. Abdul Zahir said in an interview in Zabul.

“Without the BSA, our arms will be cut off,” said Sgt. Maj. Wahid Wafa, referring to the accord by its initials. “We will become victims of the Taliban.”

Military officers have passed messages like those up the chain of command, all the way to Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who discussed the agreement early last month at a meeting with the top Afghan field commanders, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

Mohammadi declined to comment for this report.

No money for salaries

The United States has spent more than $50 billion to build a 352,000-person Afghan security force over the past decade.

If the two countries don’t sign a security pact, U.S. officials say they will be unable to keep even a small group of military advisers in Afghanistan. But perhaps even more important, the absence of an agreement would probably keep the United States from providing funds to the Afghan security forces.

Maintaining those forces will cost about $4 billion per year. In 2013, the Afghan government collected about $1.7 billion in revenue and had to rely overwhelmingly on foreign aid to fund its public institutions.

The U.S. military estimates that the Afghan government can afford to pay only about 12 percent of the annual cost of the Afghan forces in the next few years.

Afghan soldiers rattle off the resources they would lose if the U.S. military departs without leaving a residual force: support from American jets and helicopters, logistical assistance and artillery training, among other things. But the lack of financial aid would create an even more dire problem.

“If no one pays our salaries, the Taliban will grow even stronger than us, thanks to Pakistani assistance,” said Capt. Mohammad Nabi. Like many Afghans, he believes the Pakistani government funds, or at least tacitly supports, the insurgency. Pakistan denies doing so.

Constant conversation

The bilateral security agreement is a constant topic of conversation among soldiers, while on base or during missions. On a recent multi-day operation in Zabul, Afghan soldiers huddled around a television each night, listening for news about the accord.

U.S. officials say it is theoretically possible that Congress could appropriate funding for Afghan forces, even if a bilateral security agreement isn’t signed. But without American troops on the ground, any U.S. oversight of that money would be difficult, if not impossible.

The United States and NATO had long envisioned leaving about 12,000 troops beyond 2014 to continue advising Afghan forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations. Now, recognizing that plans for such a force may fall through, the coalition has accelerated some of its training programs.

Its advisory program with the Afghan air force, for example, was due to last until 2017. That mission has been retooled so that it can be completed, albeit in abbreviated form, by the end of the year, according to British Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Cooper, the NATO-led coalition’s director of air support.

Like the Afghan officers, U.S. military officials recognize that a total withdrawal would leave the Afghan forces strapped.

“We’ve worked very hard to build the Afghan security forces. Giving them the ability to sustain themselves in the future is going to be critical,” said Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force. “We still need to mature the systems, the processes and the institutions that are necessary to sustain a modern national army and police force. We need to address shortfalls in leadership and training, and in capabilities such as aviation, intelligence, medical and logistics.” (Contributor: By Kevin Sieff for The Washington Post)

The Afghanistan situation is fraught with conflicting viewpoints. Western observers are hard pressed to recall a day when Afghanistan was free from warfare. Both U.S. and Afghanistan troops are battle-weary. Let us pray as Jesus taught His disciples, “… [Let] Your kingdom come. [May] Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Pray for a conclusion to war in Afghanistan. Only God knows His ultimate purpose. Christians believe what Jesus said: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Pray accordingly.

“In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:9-10)

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet…. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6, 14)

 

SEEKING A SOLUTION TO RAISING DEBT LIMIT, BUT NOT A FIGHT

House Republicans return to Washington on Monday still struggling to find a path to raising the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority, but the normally raucous caucus is in unusual agreement that the best option is to put the white-knuckle confrontations of recent fiscal wars behind them.

Facing a timeline that leaves no room for trial and error, some party leaders were advocating a debt-ceiling solution that would wrap several popular, must-pass items around a provision to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority beyond the November midterm elections. That approach has drawn support from some surprising quarters, but several senior GOP advisers made it clear over the weekend that such a proposal would require a bloc of Democratic votes, because about 30 Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

By Sunday night, Republican leaders had not conducted a formal whip tally on their side to determine how many votes they had, and no outreach had been made toward Democrats to determine what kind of support — if any — such a plan would receive from them.

Without as much internal dissent as in previous budget showdowns, Republicans still face a powerful enemy: the calendar. The House will adjourn Wednesday afternoon so Democrats can attend their annual issues retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and then the entire Congress is shuttered during the week of Presidents’ Day.

Once the chamber closes Wednesday, the House will not return for a full workday until Feb. 26, which is one day before Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said he will lose his ability to juggle the nation’s finances. The quick march would then begin toward defaulting on portions of the nation’s more than $17 trillion debt, sending global ­financial markets reeling.

This time crunch means that unless Republicans quickly coalesce around a plan, the last week of February will bring another countdown moment before a critical fiscal deadline.

House Republicans are not sounding the confrontational drumbeat of other showdowns with President Obama, who has been adamant that he will accept no trade-offs for what he considers a simple exercise in guaranteeing that the federal government will make good on its debts.

The turn toward compromise signals a break from the tactics used by Republicans in past fiscal negotiations, particularly for those who took the lead in pushing House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) into a 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October.

“There is a pragmatism here,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who founded the Tea Party Caucus four years ago, said last week. “You’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. My assessment is that most of us don’t think it’s the time to fight.”

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who took part in an aborted coup attempt against Boehner 13 months ago, said, “Our constituents are fed up with the political theater.”

Labrador has gone so far as to advocate turning over the House floor to Democrats and letting them pass a “clean” debt-ceiling hike mostly on their own, foisting political blame entirely on Democrats and raising no false hope among conservative activists that concessions can be wrung from Obama and Senate Democrats.

The attitude of resigned indifference on the debt fight surfaced during the House GOP’s issues retreat two weeks ago, at the same Eastern Shore resort where Democrats will huddle this week. There, according to a handful of Republicans in attendance, a pair of conservative writers — Kimberley A. Strassel of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review — urged Republicans to avoid the mistake of a shutdown strategy. Outside conservative groups led the effort last year to compel Obama and Senate Democrats to strip funding for the health-care law, but in the end Republican political standing plummeted, the government was reopened, the debt ceiling was lifted and conservatives got nothing in return.

Most Republicans agree with Strassel and Ponnuru’s viewpoint of avoiding a political pitfall, but Boehner’s leadership team and a wide swath of rank-and-file lawmakers want to get something else out of this debt-ceiling battle rather than just surrendering.

The issue is finding something that can get broad backing from the House GOP but also pick up Democratic support, shifting the onus onto Senate Democrats.

Many Republicans, anxious about the upcoming midterm elections, are urging Boehner to pass legislation that could win bipartisan backing, and the leading options are proposals that Democrats have voiced support for in other negotiations.

A handful of bargaining ideas have emerged, with a proposal to restore recently cut military benefits in exchange for a one-year extension as a leading option. Other ideas, such as tying a debt-limit extension to the “doc fix,” which would alter the way doctors are reimbursed for Medicare treatments, are in the mix.

One idea that gained traction over the weekend would combine the military and Medicare issues with the debt-ceiling extension, along with offsetting cuts that would prolong portions of the automatic spending decreases known as sequestration and changes to pension programs.

But some Republicans are fearful of tying the debt ceiling to the military pension issue, wanting to vote against the debt-limit hike but not wanting to cast a vote that could be portrayed as anti-veteran.

If none of those options gains traction, the fallback plan may well be Labrador’s. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has pledged about 180 Democratic votes for a clean debt-ceiling increase, leaving the need for fewer than 40 Republicans to vote with Democrats or to just vote “present” to lower the threshold for reaching the majority.

On Friday, the Treasury began using “extraordinary measures” to buy time before it runs low on cash. The government’s cash on hand is expected to hit $50 billion on Feb. 27, after which Treasury officials fear they could fall short any day.

“If Treasury has insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for our nation to meet all of its obligations for the first time in history,” Lew wrote in a letter to Boehner.

In two of the three recent debt battles, Congress did not raise or suspend the borrowing limit until days before the Treasury-imposed deadline, causing mild anxiety in financial markets but not forcing any broad sell-off.

Nancy Vanden Houten, a senior analyst at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates, has estimated that Treasury could probably make payments until March 14, but department officials worry that even if they can make most payments, a failure to raise the debt ceiling by their self-imposed deadline would cause intense concern in the markets. (Contributors: By Paul Kane and Robert Costa for The Washington Post – Zachary Goldfarb contributed to this report.)

Give thanks that this is an election year, as House members and senators seeking re-election in November are very sensitive to their constituents. This leads to a more conciliatory mood on budget questions, with both sides open to compromise in order to avoid another government shut-down. There are no easy solutions. House Speaker Boehner said he may have a workable plan. Pray for divine wisdom to prevail on all sides, with respectful debate, for the benefit of “we, the people …” Pray for many encounters with God among our leaders.

“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:16-18)

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” (Psalm 145:17-20)

 

CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF IRS WATCHDOG

Two House Democrats on Thursday called for an investigation of a federal auditor who accused the Internal Revenue Service of gross mismanagement and targeting advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions.

Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) on Wednesday filed a complaint with a special watchdog council questioning the independence of Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George.

The congressmen, both of whom serve as top Democrats on House oversight committees, said George produced a “fundamentally flawed performance audit” that was “incomplete” and “outright misleading.” They also alleged that he held briefings with Republican members of the House Oversight Committee without the knowledge of Democrats on the panel.

George on Thursday stood behind the findings of his review but declined to comment about the meeting allegations, which were explained to him in an interview with the Washington Post. He said he may soon issue a formal response to the accusations.

The inspector general’s report, released in May, said the IRS “used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status.” Earlier that month, then-IRS official Lois Lerner alluded to the findings when she acknowledged in response to a planted question that the agency had targeted groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their names.

George’s audit led to public outrage, six federal probes and a leadership shakeup at the IRS. It also prompted the Treasury Department to draft a new guideline to distinguish what types of political activities disqualify groups from tax-exempt status.

Supporters of the recommended rule change say it would set clearer boundaries and help IRS employees understand which applicants to reject. But many Republicans have opposed the recommendation, saying it could hinder groups from free speech.

The complaint against George follows a letter Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Connolly sent to George suggesting that he had narrowed the scope of his IRS review after agreeing to hold one-party meetings with Republicans staff on the House Oversight Committee, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Cummings is ranking member of the panel, while Connolly is the top Democrat on one of its subcommittees.

The letter asked George to hand over documents from his office relating to defining the limits of the audit. It also asked the inspector general to avoid meetings that would exclude Democrats and provide Democratic staff with the briefings they missed.

Critics of the IRS report say the audit focused too much on an a “be on the lookout” list that targeted groups with conservative names, while ignoring older lists that contained terms associated with progressive themes. Republicans have used the report to attack the Obama administration.

Karen Kraushaar, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, defended the review on Thursday, saying it “looked at the entire process of how the IRS was reviewing 501(c)(4)s,” otherwise known as social welfare groups.

George added: “We noted there were other ‘be on the lookout’ lists that included other types of organizations, but that was not the initial charge of the review and not the focus.”

Connolly and Cartwright sent their complaint on Thursday to three members of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The recipients were: Joseph Campbell, a top official with the FBI’s criminal investigation division; Beth Colbert, deputy director of management for the White House Office of Management and Budget; and Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis Fong.

The council, known as CIGIE, serves as a watchdog for the inspectors general community. George is a member of the group. (Contributor: By Josh Hicks for The Washington Post)

Pray for God to shine His spotlight of truth into a murky situation. Evidence indicates the IRS showed discrimination against conservative non-profit groups seeking tax-exempt status. If so, will those guilty be held accountable? Pray for clarity and truth to emerge amid back-and-forth charges and counter-charges aired since last year. Pray that injustice be exposed and issues resolved equitably.

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice
Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. … It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.”
(Proverbs 21:2-3, 15)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

THE COUNTRY’S OPIOID EPIDEMIC

The death last Sunday of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46 ­focused media attention on the nationwide surge in heroin use and overdoses. But the very real heroin epidemic is framed by an even more dramatic increase since the beginning of the century in overdoses from pharmaceutical drugs known as opioids.

These are, in effect, tandem epidemics — an addiction crisis driven by the powerful effects on the human brain of drugs derived from morphine.

Prescription opioids are killing Americans at more than five times the rate that heroin is, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These drugs are sold under such familiar brand names as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet and can be found in medicine cabinets in every precinct of American society. They’re also sold illicitly on the street or crushed and laced into heroin.

There have been numerous efforts by law enforcement agencies to crack down on “pill mills” that dispense massive amounts of the pharmaceuticals, as well as regulations aimed at preventing users from “doctor shopping” to find someone who will write a prescription.

Those efforts have had the unintended effect, officials say, of driving some people to heroin in recent years as their pill supply dries up.

The latest government survey of drug abuse shows a drop since 2010 in first-time users of illegally obtained OxyContin. But heroin use is up. It’s akin to pushing on a beanbag chair. Health officials in Maryland, for example, reported that in the first seven months of 2012, a 15 percent drop in pharmaceutical opioid overdoses was accompanied by a 41 percent increase in heroin overdoses.

Market forces play a role in this drug substitution, as do the brutal realities of addiction and the need for a fix. Street heroin is much cheaper than a pharmaceutical — typically $10 a packet for heroin, compared with perhaps $80 on the street for an 80 milligram OxyContin, public health officials say.

The stigma and lethality of street heroin — long viewed much more negatively than drugs such as cocaine, according to government surveys — are no deterrent to someone facing the agony of withdrawal from an opioid.

“In the storm of narcotic withdrawal, any opiate port will do,” said Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Florida who studies addiction.

Prescription painkillers may also grease a slippery slope toward a relapse for former heroin addicts. Hoffman appears to be a case in point. He was found with a needle in his arm and dozens of heroin packets in his Manhattan apartment. The autopsy and initial toxicology tests were inconclusive, and so the precise cause of Hoffman’s death — whether he overdosed on heroin alone, for example, or in combination with one or more other drugs — is pending further investigation.

But the actor revealed last year that, after being clean for two decades, he suffered a relapse into heroin use after first taking prescription pills.

“The main driver of overdoses right now in our country is from opioid medications, more than from heroin,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In 2010, according to the CDC, 3,036 people died in the United States from heroin overdoses, up from 1,960 in 1999.

But 22,134 people died in 2010 from unintentional pharmaceutical drug overdoses, nearly triple the 7,523 deaths reported in 1999, according to the CDC. About three out of four of those overdoses — 16,652 — were from opioids. Most of the rest of the overdoses came from such drugs as Xanax, Valium and Ativan, which are used for anxiety or sleeplessness and are categorized scientifically as benzodiazepines.

Most people who abuse pills don’t have legal prescriptions for them. They get them from family and friends, and sometimes from drug dealers. Young people may view them as safer than street drugs such as heroin because they are manufactured as medicine and originate with doctors.

“We have tried to shatter the myth that these are safe,” Volkow said.

Young people are often the victims of chemical combinations they don’t understand, said Karen Hacker, director of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Health Department, which includes the city of Pittsburgh. They combine pills with alcohol and other drugs. They may feel that snorting or smoking certain drugs is safer than injecting them. And they may not realize that slow-release opioid painkillers have long-lasting effects.

“We had people going to sleep kind of drunk and literally not waking up in the morning,” Hacker said.

Her county had a rash of 16 deaths between Jan. 17 and Jan. 30 from heroin laced with the opioid painkiller fentanyl, which is many times stronger than heroin. The chief medical examiner, Karl Williams, said that in the 1980s and 1990s, Allegheny County would typically have about 100 overdoses annually. But in the late ’90s, he said, the numbers began steadily rising, and now there are about 250 overdoses each year.

Even that huge rate of overdoses didn’t prepare the coroner for what he saw on Friday, Jan. 17, when three bodies were brought in with signs of heroin overdoses. The next day, Saturday, he saw four more cases, and then Sunday brought three more — 10 deaths in three days. Laboratory tests showed that all had taken a lethal 50-50 mixture of heroin and fentanyl.

The overdoses from the ­fentanyl-laced heroin apparently have stopped, Williams and Hacker said — presumably because word got to users that they were in grave peril from heroin sold in plastic envelopes stamped “Theraflu” and “Bud Ice.”

“One of the challenges, of course, with this is that there are people who hear that there is some particularly strong heroin, and they would like some of it,” Hacker said. But, she added, “most users don’t want to die. They’re not looking to overdose. They’re not looking to commit suicide. They’re looking to get high.”

Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he is concerned that many young people simply don’t grasp how addictive heroin can be.

“We see it in suburbs, among high school kids, and again it goes back to high school kids not being aware how dangerous it is. They think if they snort it or smoke it, they won’t become addicted — and within weeks they’ve become an injecting drug user,” Kerlikowske said.

“This is really among the most debilitating of drug addictions that we historically know of,” said Hall, the Florida epidemiologist. “The heroin or opioid becomes the whole focus of the person’s life. Everything is centered on how are they going to take care of their need to have the opiate in their brain in the next 24 hours and what are they going to do to get that.”

The White House is pushing more cities to follow the model of Quincy, Mass., where officers on patrol carry an anti-overdose medication called naloxone, which is sold under brand names such as Narcan. Lt. Patrick Glynn, commander of the Quincy police narcotics unit, said the program began after the city and neighboring jurisdictions had 99 overdose deaths in just 18 months in 2008 and 2009.

“We realized we could not arrest our way out of this epidemic. Young people, middle-aged people were dropping on the street, overdosing on heroin,” Glynn said.

In a recent three-year period, Glynn said, police administered 227 doses of nasal-spray Narcan and were able to reverse 216 of the overdoses. (Contributor: By Joel Achenbach for The Washington Post)

It is doubly sad that it took a celebrity’s death by self-inflicted overdosing to widely publicize the stark truth that the U.S. is in the grip of a relentless drug epidemic. Like wildfire, it is taking lives by the hundreds and thousands, without discrimination. “O Lord, we call out to you for extended mercy. As a nation, we are crumbling from within. Many are enslaved by addictions that lead them to unexpected death. Pray for sweeping, transforming revival that will cause thousands, if not millions of Americans to respond to the ‘good news’ that reveals God’s great love and brings forgiveness and freedom.”

“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27)

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25)

“… and the whole world [system] lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)    

 

CALIFORNIA DROUGHT HITS FARMERS HARDEST

Without help from the heavens, Joe Del Bosque figures that 2014 will be the last year before many family farmers in California’s vast San Joaquin Valley begin to go bankrupt.

And 2014 is going to be bad. Really bad. Del Bosque has 2,000 acres scattered across several farms west of Fresno, near Firebaugh. He will leave 500 to 700 acres unplanted because there is no water for his crops.

That’s about 650,000 boxes of cantaloupe, regular and organic, he won’t be harvesting come July — about $3 million worth of produce, he estimated. It’s a few hundred workers, most of them migrants, he won’t be hiring. It’s money that won’t be spent in grocery and hardware stores in small towns across the region that produces half of the country’s homegrown fruits and vegetables. It’s a lot of schools with empty seats as farm workers looking for jobs move on with their families.

“Everybody will be hurt,” Del Bosque said. “When farmers idle land, the people who have small businesses in small communities . . . they’ll all suffer. It’s a huge ripple effect through the whole valley.”

California is entering its third year of drought, a recurring nightmare for those old enough to remember the prolonged dry period of 1987 to 1991 and the disaster of 1976 and 1977, the previous record-setting drought.

Now, 2013 is the driest year on record in California. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) officially declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17, asking the state’s 38 million people to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent. Two weeks later, with the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada at 12 percent of normal, the State Water Project announced for the first time in its 54-year history that it would deliver no water to agencies that serve 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. They would have to get by with water from other sources, such as the Colorado River, groundwater and the little left in their reservoirs.

Del Bosque also expects a zero allocation from the federal Central Valley Project, which delivers water to farmers through 500 miles of canals. By some estimates, half a million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland will lie fallow during the upcoming growing season.

According to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, two-thirds of California is in “extreme” drought conditions and 10 percent is suffering an “exceptional” drought. The latter is a once-in-50-years event. Fifteen Western states are experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House passed a bill to help the region last week, but the White House threatened to veto it. Democrats say it would cut back environmental protections. President Obama is scheduled to visit Fresno on Friday to promote federal efforts to help farmers and others.

Some help came over the weekend as a heavy storm hit Northern California, dropping as much as three feet of snow in the Sierras, whose runoff is critical to the water supply. Forecasters hoped that a high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere that has been blocking the normal flow of precipitation might be breaking up, but it was too early to tell, and the state needs much more water than any single storm can supply.

But, for the 65-year-old Del Bosque, a father of six daughters who runs his business with his extended family, it may be too late. He is already making a Sophie’s choice among his crops, devoting the little water he has to his almond and cherry trees. Fallow land can be planted in coming years, but he can’t afford to let those trees die.

Del Bosque will tap some water he bought last year and banked in the San Luis Reservoir, and will use well water available to one of his farms. But well water is salty, less than ideal for his crops. He can try to buy water, which is selling for at least five times the normal price, but no one has any to spare anyway. Which is why 2015 looks like a make-or-break year to Del Bosque, unless it begins to rain.

“There will be no water to carry into next year,” he said. “Everyone is using every drop they’ve got, and there’s no water to be bought anywhere.”

In cities, inconvenience

Water your lawn more than once a week, or on the wrong day or at the wrong time in Sacramento and you risk a fine that for repeat offenders can reach $1,000 per violation. Almost 40 city employees have been trained to look for scofflaws. The number of people anonymously reporting their neighbors has soared from 50 in January 2013 to 1,000 last month.

“Right now it’s Saturday or Sunday, customer’s choice,” said Jessica Hess, a city spokeswoman. As long as the customer waters before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. The city has handed out 83 warning notices and one $50 fine for a second offense since enforcement began Jan. 1.

In cities such as the state capital, the drought means inconvenience, at least when compared with the life-altering decisions faced by farmers only a couple of hundred miles away.

The average family of four in a single-family home in Sacramento uses 417 gallons of water a day, 65 percent of it outdoors. Half the homes don’t even have water meters.

“It’s small lifestyle changes that people are being asked to take into consideration,” Hess said. Residents also have been asked to run full loads in their washing machines. Garden hoses must have automatic shut-off nozzles. Not far away, in Santa Cruz, restaurants may serve water only upon request and swimming pools cannot be drained and refilled.

On the Monterey Peninsula, where only 105,000 people live, in places such as Carmel and Monterey, water comes from the Carmel River and groundwater, not the giant state water system. The average person consumes 60 gallons a day, which Dave Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, said is the lowest in the state.

But with 13 miles of the river virtually dry, officials spent much of last summer rescuing steelhead salmon and moving them to other parts of the river, he said. The fish should be heading to the ocean about now but can’t get there, he said.

On the peninsula, which accommodates 8 million visitors annually, the fear is what further water shortages could mean for the tourist industry. Under strict water rationing, there could be as little as 35 gallons a day per resident, enough to guarantee health and safety, said Stephanie Locke-Pintar, the district’s water demand manager, but with little left over for businesses such as hotels and resorts.

For now, the district doesn’t anticipate even a 15 percent voluntary cutback until May 1, even if there is no more rain, Stoldt said.

Better prepared in the south

With 19 million people and little water of its own, Southern California could be the part of the state most vulnerable to water shortages. But Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the giant Metropolitan Water District, which wholesales water to the six counties of that megalopolis, said there is enough to last the year, even without more rain.

After the area was saved from strict water rationing in 1991 by the “March miracle” — a month of downpours that wiped away a four-year drought — the water district embarked on a nearly two-decade program to build water storage and promote conservation, Kightlinger said.

It gradually doubled rates, building new reservoirs and a high-speed feeder system, and promoted conservation measures. Through incentives and code changes, 90 percent of residents from Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, to the San Diego border now have 2.2-gallon toilets and low-flow shower heads, he estimated. Annual demand is about equal to what it was more than 20 years ago, when the region was home to 14 million people.

The area also dramatically increased its use of recycled and reclaimed water for irrigation. It has enough water stored in reservoirs to go the whole year without any cutbacks, he said.

Still, the district is promoting Brown’s 20 percent voluntary cutback and wants to begin incentives for one-gallon toilets, Kightlinger said.

“It’s just that we’re more prepared for it,” he said. “We’ve been hammered by some droughts, and people down here understand they’re living in a pretty dry area.” (Contributor: By Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post)

This is a matter for strong intercession. Southern California stays “green” only because water is imported from as far away as the Sierra Nevada foothills, but those sources are limited. California life faces drastic change if drought continues. In Bible times, Joseph saved Egypt from famine because he knew God and knew how to prepare. Is God waiting for more Americans to pray, acknowledging Him as the source of all life? Often, God will bless if He knows those He blesses will be grateful and give Him thanks. Pray for California farmland to receive the blessing of much-needed rain.

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,  if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:13-14)

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

 

TOO MUCH SUGAR LINKED TO FATAL HEART DISEASE

Could too much sugar be deadly? The biggest study of its kind suggests the answer is yes, at least when it comes to fatal heart problems.

It doesn’t take all that much extra sugar, hidden in many processed foods, to substantially raise the risk, the researchers found, and most Americans eat more than the safest amount.

Having a cinnamon roll with your morning coffee, a super-sized sugary soda at lunch and a scoop of ice cream after dinner would put you in the highest risk category in the study. That means your chance of dying prematurely from heart problems is nearly three times greater than for people who eat only foods with little added sugar.

For someone who normally eats 2,000 calories daily, even consuming two 12-ounce cans of soda substantially increases the risk. For most American adults, sodas and other sugary drinks are the main source of added sugar.

Lead author Quanhe Yang of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention called the results sobering and said it’s the first nationally representative study to examine the issue.

Scientists aren’t certain exactly how sugar may contribute to deadly heart problems, but it has been shown to increase blood pressure and levels of unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides; and also may increase signs of inflammation linked with heart disease, said Rachel Johnson, head of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and a University of Vermont nutrition professor.

Yang and colleagues analyzed national health surveys between 1988 and 2010 that included questions about people’s diets. The authors used national death data to calculate risks of dying during 15 years of follow-up.

Overall, more than 30,000 American adults aged 44 on average were involved.

Previous studies have linked diets high in sugar with increased risks for non-fatal heart problems, and with obesity, which can also lead to heart trouble. But in the new study, obesity didn’t explain the link between sugary diets and death. That link was found even in normal-weight people who ate lots of added sugar.

“Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick,” said Laura Schmidt, a health policy specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. She wrote an editorial accompanying the study in Monday’s JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers focused on sugar added to processed foods or drinks, or sprinkled in coffee or cereal. Even foods that don’t taste sweet have added sugar, including many brands of packaged bread, tomato sauce and salad dressing. Naturally occurring sugar, in fruit and some other foods, wasn’t counted.

Most health experts agree that too much sugar isn’t healthy, but there is no universal consensus on how much is too much.

U.S government dietary guidelines issued in 2010 say “empty” calories including those from added sugars should account for no more than 15 percent of total daily calories.

The average number of daily calories from added sugar among U.S. adults was about 15 percent toward the end of the study, slightly lower than in previous years.

The authors divided participants into five categories based on sugar intake, from less than 10 percent of daily calories – the safest amount – to more than 25 percent.

Most adults exceed the safest level; and for 1 in 10 adults, added sugar accounts for at least 25 percent of daily calories, the researchers said.

The researchers had death data on almost 12,000 adults, including 831 who died from heart disease during the 15-year follow-up. They took into account other factors known to contribute to heart problems, including smoking, inactivity and excess weight, and still found risks for sugar.

As sugar intake increased, risks climbed steeply.

Adults who got at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugar were almost three times more likely to die of heart problems than those who consumed the least – less than 10 percent.

For those who got more than 15 percent – or the equivalent of about two cans of sugary soda out of 2,000 calories daily – the risk was almost 20 percent higher than the safest level.

Sugar calories quickly add up: One teaspoon has about 16 calories; one 12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains has about 9 teaspoons of sugar or about 140 calories; many cinnamon rolls have about 13 teaspoons of sugar; one scoop of chocolate ice cream has about 5 teaspoons of sugar.

Dr. Jonathan Purnell, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute, said while the research doesn’t prove “sugar can cause you to die of a heart attack”, it adds to a growing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that limiting sugar intake can lead to healthier, longer lives. (Contributor: Associated Press and CBS News)

Here is an opportunity for readers to take personal inventory of their own and their family’s eating habits. Due to sedentary lives and U.S. affluence, too many Americans are overweight, unfit, and unhealthy. While we cannot “pray away” obesity or the central place sugar occupies in processed food (consider the trends in breakfast cereals), as Christians we can seek God’s wisdom, adjust to consume a healthful diet, and give more attention to the condition of the “temple” we live in.

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)    

 

HOLLYWOOD FILMS A TESTAMENT TO RENEWED INTEREST IN BIBLE STORIES

In the beginning, there was “The Bible,” the most-watched cable TV show of 2013. Following its flood of faith-inspiring success are three Bible-based movies set to open in theaters this year.

The first, “Son of God,” is produced by the married couple who brought “The Bible” to the History Channel and into households across the country — producer Mark Burnett and actress Roma Downey.

“We really believed that people would show up in droves, but 100 million people was a big number,” Mr. Burnett said of the 10-hour miniseries’ total audience. “Before we knew those results, we’d already started on ‘Son of God.’”

The two-hour film, which opens with a quick retelling of the Old Testament before depicting the life of Jesus, is scheduled to be released Feb. 28.

“We know from the success of ‘The Bible’ series, it encouraged people around the water cooler or around their own kitchen tables to start talking about faith, start talking about God,” Miss Downey said. “We hope when ‘Son of God‘ is released that people will be talking about Jesus.”

Hollywood appears to be banking on moviegoers’ interest in faith and God as it prepares to roll out two big-budget films based on biblical tales. Producer-director-screenwriter Darren Aronofsky’s 3-D opus “Noah,” starring Oscar winners Russell Crowe as Noah and Anthony Hopkins as his grandfather Methuselah, is due to be released in March. “Exodus,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses, is scheduled to be released in December.

Scholars say the time is right for an influx of faith-based movies. They note that an opportunity arises every few years for filmmakers to use cutting-edge technology to capture audiences by telling some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing stories.

“Hollywood is hungry for good source material, so it reached back to one of the original treasure troves of ancient civilization that still speaks across the centuries definitely more than the average comic book,” said Craig Detweiler, associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University, where he teaches a course on religion and film.

S. Brent Plate, visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, said the upcoming epics about Moses and Noah are the contemporary equivalents to 1956’s “Ten Commandments,” 1959’s “Ben Hur” and 1961’s “King of Kings.”

“These were big-budget and secular,” Mr. Plate said. “Some of the filmmakers and actors professed various levels of faith, but these were not any more devotional films than the new ones.”

But for Mr. Burnett, producer of CBS’ “Survivor,” ABC’s “Shark Tank” and NBC’s “The Voice,” and Miss Downey, a former star of the CBS drama “Touched by an Angel,” their latest endeavor is as much about faith as it is commerce — perhaps more so.

“Son of God” was produced on a $22 million budget, a pittance compared with the reported $130 million budget for “Noah.” The budget for “Exodus” has not been announced, but with a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, the film’s budget likely will rival that of “Noah.”

“Son of God” has no big-name actors, aside from Miss Downey, who portrays Jesus’ mother late in the film. Jesus is portrayed by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, reprising the role from “The Bible” miniseries.

The producers have eschewed typical marketing schemes. Churches and faith-based groups, they say, have been buying advance tickets for screenings of “Son of God” as group events and as a springboard for discussion, just as they did 10 years ago for director Mel Gibson’s surprise blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.”

“Son of God” has garnered praise from faith leaders such as Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, megachurch pastor Rick Warren and televangelist Joel Osteen.

“We certainly didn’t want ‘14 to go by without a huge experience for America from us,” Mr. Burnett said. “‘Son of God‘ is something we started on even before ‘The Bible’ series. It’s the way it should be seen: A big feature film experience.”

Noting the modest budget and mostly unknown cast for “Son of God,”Mr. Plate of Hamilton College said, “I think it will appeal to those who already profess Christianity but won’t make much splash outside those circles. ‘Noah‘ and ‘Exodus’ will prove much more big sellers and many nonbelievers will attend.”

Still, Mr. Gibson’s “Passion,” which featured a cast of mostly unknowns and required subtitles because its script was in Aramaic, the long-dead language of the era, brought in more than $370 million with its $30 million budget.

Mr. Detweiler said Hollywood has “consistently underestimated” the size and adventurous nature of the faith-friendly audience, and “Son of God” will be the latest test of that segment.

“When we live through a decade of very anxious times, I think we’ve found that people’s interest in ancient and transforming stories endures,” he said. “New technologies allow for fresh retellings of a powerful, ancient text like the Gospel. Jesus has proven to be a remarkably portable person who’s rediscovered by each generation in new ways.”

Regardless of how well “Son of God” plays on the big screen, Miss Downey said, she and her husband have an order for a 12-hour miniseries called “A.D.” that “will reset the story at the Crucifixion and follow the remaining disciples and beginnings of the early church.” They expect the show to begin airing in autumn 2015. (Contributor: By Meredith Somers for The Washington Times)

Give thanks that technology, properly used, can convey the message of God’s Word to multiplied millions at one time, as Roma Downey and Mark Burnett accomplished last year with their series “The Bible.” It was a phenomenal success, explained in part by the deep longing in human hearts for spiritual reality. Now, the industry is coming back with more of the same. Pray that increased attention to biblical themes will incite discussion, introspection, and consideration about one’s own spiritual condition. Pray that questioning hearts and minds will find answers in God’s message of love in the Bible.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

[Jesus said,] “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

On Watch in Washington February 12, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington February 5, 2014

February 5th, 2014

On Watch in Washington February 5, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

SOCHI 2014: WILL OLYMPIC VISITORS WALK INTO A WAR ZONE?

Russia’s huge security operation to protect the Games may not ward off terrorists, say experts.

The terrorist attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd and the ongoing threat from Islamist militants have prompted warnings that visitors to this month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi are walking into a “war zone”. Despite a ‘Ring of Steel’ security zone, a 40,000-strong police operation and hi-tech surveillance, not everyone is convinced that the event will be secure. Here are five key questions about the threats to the Games and the massive security operation designed to protect visitors and athletes.

Why are the Sochi Olympics under threat?

The two terrorist attacks in late December – suicide bomb attacks on a railway station and a bus – took place in Volgograd, a “key connecting point” for those traveling to Sochi, writes David Slatter on CNN.com.

Slatter, an academic who has written extensively about Russian security, says the seeds of the threat to Sochi were sown in 2005, when leadership of the Chechen separatist movement passed to Doku Umarov, a field commander who announced that he was “beginning a holy war to create an Islamic state from the Black Sea to the Caspian.” Umarov’s ascendancy caused an immediate spike in deaths from terrorist attacks, particularly in Dagestan.

Umarov has the Sochi Games firmly in his sights. He has ordered his fighters to “do their utmost to derail” the Games, which he describes as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors”.

Is Umarov the only threat?

He’s the most potent and high-profile threat to the Games, but there are others. Nikolai Petrov, a leading expert on Russia’s regional politics says that other forces, including members of pro-Moscow Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s retinue and rogue elements of Russia’s own security services, may have a “strong interest in aiding and abetting more acts of terrorism”.

Kadyrov wants to maintain his “free hand” in Chechnya and ensure funding from Moscow after the games, explains Petrov, while some in the Russian security services have interests in companies that “provide security for airports and other transport infrastructure”.  It means that terrorism is “big business, and there are people with a real, material interest in keeping it going”.

What is Russia doing to protect visitors?

The Sochi Games have reportedly cost a staggering $50 billion and the security operation to protect them is suitably immense. There will be at least 40,000 police operating in the Sochi region – double the number on duty during the London Olympics.

Sochi’s so-called ‘Ring of Steel’ is a security zone about 60 miles long and 25 miles deep. It will be divided into two areas: a “controlled zone” near Olympic venues will limit access to people with tickets and proof of identity while another “forbidden zone” will be in place in large areas around Sochi. Vehicles that have not registered with Games officials will be banned and the sale of firearms, explosives and ammunition is prohibited.

Any other measures?

Plenty. Any threat from the air will be countered by Russian Air Force fighters and at least a dozen drones. Moscow has also deployed ultra-modern S-400 and Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missiles in the area. Any threat from the sea will be handled by four of the Russian Navy’s new Grachonok anti-saboteur patrol boats which will range up and down the coast. A computer system called Sorm is being used to monitor all internet traffic sent by people in the area, while intelligence services have reportedly been carrying out background checks on Sochi ticket-holders.

Will the security measures work?

Russia is confident they will, but not everyone is so sure. David Slatter says it is “impossible” to guarantee the security of Olympic visitors, while Tim Marshall, diplomatic editor for Sky News, says an attack elsewhere in Russia is actually more likely than one inside the ‘Ring of Steel’. He warns that an attack that targets citizens from other countries made between now and the closing ceremony on 23 February is likely to be seen as “successful” in the eyes of terrorists.

One thing is sure: Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on a successful Games, faces an enormous challenge. Experts say that keeping the Olympics safe, without suffocating them in omnipresent security measures, is Putin’s greatest challenge. (Contributor: The Week / First Post)

Pray that those who are in charge of security at the Sochi Olympic Games will have wisdom to know how to thwart any attempts to harm people during these games. Pray that many will come to Christ during these gatherings of athletes from around the world. Pray that Christians from among the many nations’ delegations will be used mightily by the Lord to win souls for His Kingdom.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

WHO’S ‘GODLESS’ NOW? RUSSIA SAYS IT’S U.S.

At the height of the Cold War, it was common for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.”

More than two decades on, history has come full circle, as the Kremlin and its allies in the Russian Orthodox Church hurl the same allegation at the West.

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”

As part of this defense of “Christian values,” Russia has adopted a law banning “homosexual propaganda” and another that makes it a criminal offense to “insult” the religious sensibilities of believers.

The law on religious sensibilities was adopted in the wake of a protest in Moscow’s largest cathedral by a female punk rock group against the Orthodox Church’s support of Mr. Putin. Kremlin-run television said the group’s “demonic” protest was funded by “some Americans.”

Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people.

In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.

“The general political direction of the [Western political] elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character,” the patriarch said in comments aired on state-controlled television.

“We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God,” Patriarch Kirill said. “We want to shout to the whole world, ‘Stop!’”

Other figures within the Orthodox Church have gone further in criticizing the West. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, suggested that the modern-day West is no better for a Christian believer than the Soviet Union.

Soviet authorities executed some 200,000 clergy and believers from 1917 to 1937, according to a 1995 presidential committee report. Thousands of churches were destroyed, and those that survived were turned into warehouses, garages or museums of atheism.

“The separation of the secular and the religious is a fatal mistake by the West,” the Rev. Chaplin said. “It is a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally.”

The Kremlin’s encouragement of traditional values has sparked a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Fringe groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative movement whose slogan is “Orthodoxy or Death,” are gaining prominence.

Patriarch Kirill has honored the group’s leader, openly anti-Semitic monarchist Leonid Simonovich, for his services to the Orthodox Church. The Banner Bearers, who dress in black paramilitary uniforms festooned with skulls, regularly confront gay and liberal activists on the streets of Moscow.

Although Mr. Putin has never made a secret of what he says is his deep Christian faith, his first decade in power was largely free of overtly religious rhetoric. Little or no attempt was made to impose a set of values on Russians or lecture to the West on morals.

However, since his inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, the increasingly authoritarian leader has sought to reach out to Russia’s conservative, xenophobic heartland for support.

It has proved a rich hunting ground.

“Western values, from liberalism to the recognition of the rights of sexual minorities, from Catholicism and Protestantism to comfortable jails for murderers, provoke in us suspicion, astonishment and alienation,” Yevgeny Bazhanov, rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic academy, wrote in a recent essay.

Analysts suggest that Mr. Putin’s shift to ultraconservatism and anti-West rhetoric was triggered by mass protests against his rule that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012. The unprecedented show of dissent was led mainly by educated, urban Muscovites — many with undisguised pro-Western sympathies.

“This is the government’s response to modernized Russians becoming more defiant and independent,” said Maria Lipman, an analyst with the Moscow-based Carnegie Center. “The government is pitting the conservative majority against the liberal minority. As a result, raging anti-Western ideology has now turned into something that is almost a state ideology.”

Ms. Lipman, however, suggested that Mr. Putin may be wary of expressing too much support for the Orthodox Church — “a symbol of Russian statehood” — lest it someday challenge his authority.

Some 70 percent of Russians define themselves as Orthodox Christians in opinion polls, and opposition figures in the past have called on the church to play a mediating role between the Kremlin and protesters.

“Because of Putin’s shift to conservatism, the church may feel more emboldened,” Ms. Lipman said. “So Putin does not overemphasize the church in speeches, preferring to concentrate on talk of traditional values. He is wary of boosting its support even higher.” (Contributor: By Marc Bennetts for The Washington Times)

“O Lord, we know the first step toward spiritual renewal is self-humbling. We intercede for our nation, whose sins are many. Help us follow Daniel’s example as he humbled himself and repented for his sins and those of his people. Help us to humble ourselves, recognizing that charges of nationwide spiritual and moral decline are true. We pray fervently, ‘Will You save the U.S. from collapse and failure?’ You are our hope. We pray that Your Church will repent and pray and seek Your face. May our collective voice be heard calling our country back to God.”

“Then I [Daniel] set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.’” (Daniel 9:3-5)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

STUDY: ABORTION RATE AT LOWEST POINT SINCE 1973

The abortion rate in the United States dropped to its lowest point since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in all 50 states, according to a study suggesting that new, long-acting contraceptive methods are having a significant impact in reducing unwanted pregnancies.

There were fewer than 17 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2011, the latest year for which figures were available, according a paper published Monday from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights think tank. That is down 13 percent from 2008 and a little higher than the rate in 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The study did not examine the reasons for the drop. But the authors suggested that one factor was greater reliance on new kinds of birth control, including intra-uterine devices such as Mirena, which can last for years and are not susceptible to user error like daily pills or condoms.

They also noted the economy as a contributing factor, because people tend to adhere more strictly to their birth control during tough economic times. But they did not credit the recent wave of state laws restricting access to abortion, because most of those took effect in 2011 or later.

Those restrictions will surely have an impact on the numbers going forward, said Rachel K. Jones, a senior researcher at Guttmacher and lead researcher on the paper.

“If the abortion rate continues to drop, we can’t assume it’s all due to positive factors” such as better adherence to contraceptives, she said, calling the laws passed in 22 states “onerous.”

The report comes as tensions intensify in the long-simmering debate over abortion and contraception. Religious groups are locked in a closely watched battle with the Obama administration over new rules that require employers to offer birth control free of charge as part of their health insurance benefit packages. The Supreme Court will decide this year whether employers with religious objections may opt out of those rules.

State legislatures are preparing to push through another raft of restrictive laws, after a record-setting period that saw the enactment dozens of new regulations that critics say will impede women’s access to abortion.

The new laws include requirements that women undergo ultrasounds before obtaining abortions, as well as licensing and inspection requirements for abortion providers.

Nine states banned the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, part of a national effort by abortion opponents to force the Supreme Court to revisit the legality of abortion.

The political clashes, now and over the years, have overshadowed a trend cheered, albeit cautiously, by both sides of the issue: The number of abortions in the United States has been decreasing.

“We are extremely happy that the abortion numbers are going down and continue to be declining over the years,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, a prominent antiabortion group.

Such groups, including Tobias’s, reject the Guttmacher Institute’s conclusion that the decrease is not related to state regulations restricting access to the procedure, because while the major surge in new laws came in 2011, some laws came earlier. For example, 39 states require parental notification or consent for a minor to get an abortion.

They say the graphic conversation in the 1990s around the procedure they call “late-term” abortion contributed to a greater awareness of, and horror over, how abortions are performed. And they credit new technologies that allow people to better observe what happens in the womb even at the earliest stages of pregnancy.

“This is a post-sonogram generation,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, the group behind many of the new state limits on abortions. “There is increased awareness throughout our culture of the moral weight of the unborn baby. And that’s a good thing.”

Guttmacher researchers said it is unlikely that previous laws had an impact, because they examined the abortion rate in more liberal states that did not enact such laws prior to 2011 and found no difference in the trend.

The study released Monday shows that, after a plateau from 2005 to 2008, the long-term decline in the abortion rate has resumed. The rate has dropped significantly from its all-time high in 1981, when there were roughly 30 abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. The overall number of abortions also fell 13 percent from 2008 to nearly 1.1 million in 2011, the study said.

The results echo a report last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also found a decline in the abortion rate after a plateau. That report, which used a different methodology, pegged the abortion rate in 2010 as 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

The numbers of abortions are not easily sussed out, because providers are not required to report them. The CDC draws from state health department reports, and its data are incomplete. For example, California — responsible for an estimated 17 percent of abortions nationwide — does not gather data on the number of abortions.

Guttmacher approaches the task differently, conducting a periodic census by mailing a questionnaire to all known abortion providers. They follow up over the phone with those who do not respond and use health-department and other data to fill any remaining gaps. The report is set to be published in the March issue of the peer-reviewed journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Experts cautioned that the numbers documented by Guttmacher in the immediate aftermath of Roe v. Wade may be particularly shaky. Many abortions were still taking place underground and off the books at that time.

Monday’s report showed a shift in women’s preferred method of abortion. Researchers found that nearly one in four of all non-hospital abortions were a result of the abortion pill, up from 17 percent in 2008. The total number of abortion providers declined 4 percent over the same period.

Six states experienced no change or an increase in their abortion rates: Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wyoming. Researchers did not explain why those states defied the overall trend. (Contributor: By Sandhya Somashekhar for The Washington Post)

Yes, give thanks that there were fewer abortions in 2011 (and perhaps last year) than were reported previously. But help us, Lord, not to deceive ourselves into apathy and inactivity. While the numbers grow smaller, sill, more than one million abortions were performed in the U.S. That is, more than one million babies killed in the womb or via partial-birth massacre. Can such barbaric abominations still be legal in the U.S.? Yes! Nationally sanctioned abortion means more blood on the hands of those who uphold and defend this awful practice. When will morally upright persons of influence say, “Enough! Stop!”?

 Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.” (1 Tim. 5:24-25)

“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)

 

POT AND TRANSFORMATION OF A NATION

First, President Obama says marijuana is “not very different from cigarettes” and no more “dangerous” than alcohol, just “a waste of time” and “not very healthy.” One imagines that he thinks of pot as somewhere between too many potato chips and fast driving. The president’s not-so-subtle message is “go ahead, just use it.”

Never mind that pot is a Schedule One narcotic, meaning a drug assessed as possessing “high potential for abuse,” based on science. Never mind that this narcotic has landed hundreds of thousands in treatment during the past 10 years, accelerated emergency-room incidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and raised levels of drugged driving, domestic abuse and marijuana-associated crime, according to state and federal sources.

Days later, the Maryland mall shooter, who killed three, including himself, turns out to have been a marijuana user, according to police. Do you recall the deadly Columbine shooting and marijuana link? Or perhaps The New York Times article “Violent Crimes Undercut Marijuana’s Mellow Image” in 2001? Or studies that have linked pot use to violence? Never mind.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. indicated he may waive money-laundering penalties for banks processing “marijuana money,” and testified that while “all drugs are dangerous,” he places alcohol with the Schedule One narcotics.

I usually am not cynical, but let’s just be for a moment. Let’s imagine the impossible. Suppose you wanted to increase national employment numbers by increasing legitimate business for emergency-room doctors and nurses, ambulance and tow companies, addiction-treatment centers and funeral homes, psychiatrists and behavioral psychologists, school counselors, law enforcement officers and social workers.

Suppose that you could do this while gaining political favor with millions of Americans either addicted to or abusing illegal drugs, in the process setting up a sequence of events that naturally produced several million new drug abusers and addicts (and voters) every year for the indefinite future, from whom you could regularly seek added political support.

Suppose, in addition, that you could satisfy a long-standing demand from several billionaires who have contributed handsomely to your political fortunes and to your party’s races nationwide in recent years, and who are poised to do so again in future campaigns.

Now suppose that you could do all this and satisfy a major foreign country’s long-standing appeal for change of U.S. policy, thus allowing America’s third-largest trading partner to celebrate America’s open-mindedness — and begin legally transshipping substantial quantities of addictive drugs into America’s communities, schools, homes and workplaces.

By encouraging straight Americans to begin using the drugs, the new industry would grow. The drug would increasingly show up on U.S. highways, boosting business for hospitals, addiction centers and funeral homes.

Suppose all this could be done in the name of stimulating a new, homegrown business, a business that might permit former criminals to come out of hiding, allowing them to commit predatory crimes in the open, cheerfully targeting guileless children, teenagers and unsuspecting parents, as they raised the burden on health care and law enforcement personnel, and on local education and civic leaders.

Further imagine that you could push this new criminal legalization by fiat, encouraging your political allies to create a few state laws that upended federal law, and then waiving federal law in favor of these state laws — in effect subverting the Constitution’s federal pre-emption clause by inverting it in favor of state pre-emption. When challenged, you could minimize the public danger in a casual interview.

You could then speak passionately of state sovereignty, and have your attorney general waive banking regulations to allow legalized money laundering for the first time. You could suspend prosecution of banks that processed illegal drug money.

You could then assert that nothing was changing, that you were ensuring the public was safer, that polls opposing you were inaccurate, and that prevention, treatment, law enforcement and educational experts were overreacting.

To chill further discussion, you could open some criminal-leaks investigations into press coverage that challenged you, and subtly threaten the public with added surveillance in the name of public safety. You could cow Congress by noting that enforcing criminal laws is very costly, and besides, you “have a pen” for executive orders.

As the legalization of crime accelerated, accelerating drug use and addiction, betraying tens of millions of heartbroken parents, teachers, emergency-room workers, insurers and health care professionals, you could take refuge behind the difficulty in measuring drugged driving (accidents and fatalities), commiserate with bereft and inconsolable parents, press Congress for more money and a single-payer federal health care system.

You could highlight international praise for your permissive foreign policy, and downplay the enormous public safety, health care and national security risks engendered in your approach. Then, having sowed the seeds of a crisis, you could explore the value of removing the two-term limit.

All this is far too cynical, though. No president would ever start America down such a destructive path, even for political, personal or transformational reasons. No president would ever put innocent American families through such an act of collective tragedy, public deception, political indifference or autocratic assertion (and concession) of federal powers. This is just an imaginary sequence — impossible from start to finish. Right? (Contributor:  By Robert B. Charles for The Washington Times – Robert B. Charles is former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the George W. Bush administration.)

If any article in this Informer should stimulate strong intercession, here is a candidate for first place. And if intercessors must choose among these reports to read in full, consider this one. It is not about marijuana as much as the direction of a nation. Added to our many national sins, are we to see a drug-crazed population staggering toward God’s just judgment? As we pray for those in authority, we know that in this matter President Obama is not leading righteously. Pray with compassion for grace and salvation to visit the White House and throughout Congress, as needed.

“… [Jesus] said to them, ‘Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’ Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.’” (Matt. 15:10-14)

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians. 6:7-9)

 

CA FARMERS BRACE FOR DROUGHT, UNEMPLOYMENT

Amid California’s driest year on record, the nation’s leading agricultural region is locked in drought and bracing for unemployment to soar, sending farm workers to food lines in a place famous for its abundance.

One-third of the Central Valley’s jobs are related to farming. Strains on water supplies are expected to force farmers to leave fields unplanted, creating a ripple effect on food processing plant workers, truck drivers and those who sell fertilizer, irrigation equipment and tractors.

No place may be harder hit than Mendota, a small farm town where unemployment rose above 40 percent at the height of the economic recession in 2009, also a dry year. Mayor Robert Silva said he fears this year could be even worse.

“We’re supposed to be the cantaloupe capital of the world,” Silva said. “But we’re the food line capital of the world.”

Residents of Mendota late last year began seeing tough times on the horizon when little rain fell in the valley and snow didn’t blanket the High Sierra. This marks the third consecutive dry year for California, and Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency.

This past week, the snow pack’s water content was measured at 12 percent of normal. State officials announced that they would not be sending water to California’s agricultural customers. U.S. officials are expected in late February to announce they will allot only a fraction of the federally controlled water that farmers want, if any.

If that scenario plays out, Silva estimates the lines they saw outside a Mendota food bank five years ago could run three times as long this year. His town’s unemployment today is at 34 percent – the highest in Fresno County – and interim City Manager Don Pauley figures it will top 50 percent.

Officials at Mendota’s City Hall aren’t the only uneasy ones. Steve Malanca, general manager at Thomason Tractor in Firebaugh, said farmers have already told him that digging deeper wells and buying irrigation water are higher priorities in 2014 than investing in new farm equipment from him. With reduced work in the fields, Malanca said it’s clear he will have to lay off some of his 49 employees.

The ripple effect of drought extends to the trucking companies that haul crops, tire companies that outfit the big rigs and fuel suppliers who provide diesel, he said. Employees at John Deere world headquarters in Moline, Ill., will feel repercussions from drought in California, the biggest agricultural producer, he said. So will the businesses that make cardboard boxes to hold cantaloupes and the wooden pallets for stacking the boxes, Malanca said. The list goes on.

“When you make a hay bale, you’ve got to tie that bale with string,” he said. “The supplier who made that string, he’s going to be out of work, too.”

A 2012 study by the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California, Davis, found that farming and food processing industries created nearly 38 percent of all Central Valley jobs. Every 100 farm and processing jobs create work for another 92 people, said the report, which measured agriculture’s impact on the state’s economy.

Fresno County led the nation in farming in 2012, generating nearly $6.6 billion in economic activity, said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. With no surface water for farmers, he anticipates that up to 25 percent of irrigated field and orchards in the county will lay unplanted.

This time of year, farmers start to plant tomatoes for use as paste and spaghetti sauce. Next come onions, garlic and cotton, which are among some 400 variety of crops grown in Fresno County. Farmers may have no choice but to rip out permanent crops, such as almond orchards and vineyards that take years to mature, or let them dry up with no irrigation.

Jacobsen said the three months left in the rainy season are not likely to rescue the year from drought. “We’re right on the front edge of it,” he said. “It’s going to worsen, worsen, worsen.”

In a good year, Chuck Herrin, owner of Sunrise Farm Labor, based in Huron, puts between 1,000 to 3,500 people to work. He said he will be lucky to hire 600 at the season’s peak, installing drip irrigation systems, planting and harvesting crops.

Workers he can’t put on the payroll will be forced to stand in food lines to feed themselves and their families, Herrin said. “By August, September, October, this will be a very tragic looking place,” he said.

His worry is echoed at the Los Banos Salvation Army, where residents gather each weekday for a spiritual devotion before waiting to hear their names called to collect a bag of donated food. Felicia Grant, a lieutenant at the Salvation Army, fears that the drought will be so severe that middle class families will need free food along with the farm workers. She hopes that they’re not afraid to ask for help when the time comes.

Rick Palermo of Community Food Bank in Fresno recently drove to Mendota, Firebaugh and other rural communities in the Central Valley, scouting places to hand out food. He’s been on the phone with state officials gearing up for the high unemployment expected from drought-related job losses. In 2009, the last bad year, his food bank, located in a massive warehouse in an industrial area of Fresno, provided families with 10 million pounds of food.

While praying for a miracle, he’s trying to estimate how much will be needed to feed masses of unemployed farm workers this time around.

“We’re all doing our rain dance, hoping it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “Hopefully, the water comes, but if it doesn’t, we’ll be ready.” (Contributor:  By Scott Smith for Associated Press)

Intercessors, is California a microcosm of God’s Word now to be applied to the U.S.? In the Bible, drought and famine were often features of divine discipline and judgment on His people for their idolatry. God used calamitous circumstances to get Israel’s attention. Indeed, in the best known verse applied to renewal today (2 Chron. 7:14), the key (v. 13) is often overlooked. In context, God says it is He who stops the rain and sends locusts that eat the harvest or pestilence among His people. Note: “My people.” He calls the Church to repentance, then will address the country’ needs. Pray as led for California and the nation. Consider what God is doing in his quest to first bruise, then to heal.

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:13-14)

“… Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’ ‘But they did not hear nor heed Me,’ says the Lord.” (Zechariah 1:3-4)

 

THE TALIBAN GOES BROKE

Mullah Yaseen is penniless. Wrapped in a heavy black coat, the 45-year-old Afghan insurgent huddles inside a heatless tea shop near the Pakistani-Afghan border and pours out his troubles. Over the past eight months, he and his 15 Taliban fighters have received no support from the group’s central command, Yaseen says. Not a bullet or a cent.

The winter snows were just melting last year when Yaseen traveled from his home village in eastern Afghanistan to the city of Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan. That’s where most of the Afghan insurgency’s top leadership is based, and Yaseen needed to requisition supplies and ammunition for the fighting season ahead.

He had no luck. Instead, he was told that there were temporary cash-flow problems and he should ask his fellow villagers for a loan. He would be given the money to reimburse them within a month, he was promised. Back home, Yaseen scraped up roughly $2,000 to keep his men fighting. He has yet to be repaid, and his neighbors want the money.

Afghanistan’s insurgents have endured hard times before, but nothing quite like this. At first glance the war might seem to be turning in their favor. America’s combat forces are leaving by the end of the year, and every few days another insurgent bombing unnerves the inhabitants of Kabul, the country’s capital. Nevertheless, Mullah Yaseen and hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers like him—the heart and soul of the armed struggle against the U.S.-backed Kabul government—are running out of food, money and ammunition.

Their plight is unlikely to improve anytime soon. People familiar with the Taliban’s finances say the organization’s main sources of revenue have dried up. Wealthy Arab donors, Afghan businessmen and even Pakistan’s powerful and secretive spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, have all reduced or stopped funding, each for their own reasons.

The Arabs’ departure is a crippling blow. Support from private Saudi donors has been crucial to Afghanistan’s insurgents ever since the war against the Soviets in the 1980s—many years before the rise of Mullah Mohammed Omar and his armed followers. But interest in Afghanistan has faded among hard-liners in the Gulf region. Osama bin Laden is dead; most of Al Qaeda’s surviving operatives have fled the constant threat of U.S. drone attacks, and the Taliban never really shared bin Laden’s desire to take his holy war worldwide. Now global jihad and its Arab backers have moved on to more promising arenas, like Iraq and Syria.

As the financial crisis continues, Afghan civilians say they aren’t merely disappointed with the Taliban—they’re fed up. The group’s fundraisers in Pakistan used to make regular collection rounds in places where conservative Afghan businessmen congregate. Those appearances have slowed or stopped. “Six months ago they visited our mosque to collect their usual donations,” says one mullah in Pakistan. “Everyone just walked away from them. They haven’t come back.”

Many former contributors no longer trust the insurgents. “We don’t regard the Taliban as soldiers of God anymore,” says a conservative Afghan businessman in Peshawar. “Their fundraisers used to come on foot to collect donations. Now they show up in luxury cars. It’s clear they’re stealing the money.” A 40-year-old former Taliban commander echoes the complaint: “Instead of going to jihad, the donations are cruising down the streets of Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi.”

But the thing that alienates many former supporters more than the blatant corruption is the Taliban’s wanton disregard for the lives and safety of ordinary Afghans. It’s evident in the Taliban’s indiscriminate suicide attacks, as bystanders are often the main victims. “The Taliban aren’t fighting Americans or NATO forces anymore,” the businessman says. “Instead they kill poor Afghans. Islam forbids us to give money that would encourage the murder of civilians.”

The group isn’t totally destitute. According to an official with the Afghan National Security Council, the ISI continues to channel support to those insurgent leaders who reliably do Pakistan’s bidding. But everyone else is on his own, and there are few viable alternatives. Local Taliban units used to drive a lucrative trade in ransom kidnapping, but they finally ran out of potential victims. Although the group still imposes “taxes” on the country’s multibillion-dollar heroin industry, much of that money seems to end up filling private bank accounts, rather than helping fighters in the field.

The group’s military planners economize by focusing on splashy attacks in major cities. These strikes may not achieve any genuine military objectives, but the true aim appears to be breaking the public’s will to resist. Meanwhile, fighters like Mullah Yassen are left to fend for themselves in the countryside—“in B category,” as one former Taliban cabinet minister describes their status.

In the tea shop, Yaseen lingers in the cold air. Anything is better than going outside, where the weather is downright bitter. “We waited, but we never heard from the men in Quetta,” he says. “We were ashamed to face our creditors. It was ridiculous. While we went out hunting for Americans to fight, we were hiding from our neighbors.”

The Taliban’s finance department has a special office dedicated to resolving complaints, but it was no help. “They told me, ‘Sorry, we don’t have that much money right now.’”

He says he has left the front lines. As much as he wants to rejoin the jihad, he doesn’t dare go back until he repays the $2,000 he owes his neighbors. He’s not afraid to die, he says. What scares him is the idea that he might die with an outstanding loan. “Anytime I’m out there, I could be martyred,” he says. “And God does not forgive anyone—even a martyr—who dies without paying his just debts.” (Contributor: Vocativ.com)

This  terrorist’s story is symbolic of a world in chaos, a planet whirling in space, seeming without purpose and bankrupt, until God closes this age and ushers in His full purpose with His glorious kingdom manifested for all to see, with every knee bowing to Jesus Christ as Lord. He said there would be wars and rumors of wars, which we have today virtually everywhere, and yet, He said, the end would not come until the gospel of the kingdom was preached to all nations. Let us continue to pray, “May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows … But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:4-8, 13-14)

“In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” (Matt. 6:9-13)

 

NC HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH ORDERED TO CEASE BAPTISMS, LEADING PRAYERS

Head football coach of Mooresville High School, Hal Capps, has been ordered to stop baptizing players and leading them in prayer following criticism from a national organization promoting constitutional separation of church and state.

The Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote a request last fall that coach Capps cease leading prayers and joining baptisms for his players as a base rule of separating public school activities and religious ceremonies. School Superintendent Mark Edwards met with Capps, who said, “he understood” the violation and would no longer participate in such religious observances, the Charlotte Observer reports.

“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” Patrick Elliott, attorney for Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote to the school’s district attorney last fall.

“It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion.”

Elliott emailed the Observer a picture from the Blue Devils’ team Twitter, reportedly showing Capps at a team baptism. But Superintendent Edwards said the photo is from a baptism performed at the Charles Mack Citizen Center, a church that many team members attend in which Capps was simply invited to attend.

Elliott noted that students subjected to prayer or religious activities from the coach have the right to sue the coach and the district on the basis of a civil rights violation.

The foundation reported that the school district had also received a complaint from the parent of a Mooresville student who “objects to religious endorsements from the coach. “Students have reported that Coach Capps frequently prays with football players at team events and encourages them to go to church and to become baptized,” reads the letter.

“It’s really inappropriate, wrong and unconstitutional for a coach to try to use that position to try and convert people to his religion,” writes Elliott.

Many in the community have come out in support of the Mooresville football coach.

“He’s a very proud Christian,” said Superintendent Edwards.

“I don’t think he’s forcing anybody; it’s all their decision,” resident Maribeth Stewart told WSOC-TV. “The more people who hear about Jesus the better.”

“I think it’s important to be able express ourselves, our beliefs,” Stewart told WSOC.

Capps apologized to local media for declining to be interviewed on the matter, saying only that the team was moving forward. According to Superintendent Edwards, he was not disciplined over the matter, and has written to the players and their families that he would not be leading the team in prayers in the future. (Contributor: By Benjamin Fearnow for CBS News)

There may be more to this story than first seen. Give thanks for a coach – and any other public school teacher or official – who wants to share his or her personal testimony as a witness for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Obviously, time and place should be chosen with discretion. And it appears the baptisms were sanctioned by and carried out in a local church. Teachers can have great influence on their students. Let us ask God with confidence to bless those educators who use wisdom to share their faith appropriately and wisely, as God opens doors.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.(2 Tim. 4:2)

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

 

MILITARY CHAPLAINS SPEAK UP ON MARRIAGE AND HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MILITARY

Before civilizations crumble, the last thing to hit the fan is government-sponsored, government-forced, homosexuality, sodomy, and pedophilia. Homosexuality is a psychiatric disorder and probably the worst sin described in the Holy Bible due to the permanent damage caused to what was or is or might have been a temple of the Spirit. The consequences are said to be nothing short of eternal damnation, by choice. It’s a shame that the US military, historically known to be a beacon of morality and religious tolerance and freedom, while the civilian sector has engaged in immorality, is now having its nose shoved in the dirt of filth to make the Sinners-in-Chief in the highest echelons of politics–the perverts, the pedophiles, and the psychiatrically ill–feel better about themselves.

Retired Military Chaplain Jim Linzey, a Baptist minister, states that “the teachings of the Church are an elaboration of the laws that Jesus gave when He said, ‘But from the beginning of the creation, God “made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mark 10:6-8). Jesus’ teaching emphasizes the unity between a man and his wife. Jesus also said, ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate’ (Mark 10:9, NKJV). Based on Jesus’ statement, it is a moral obligation to remain married once the marriage is consummated.”

There is a biblical basis for separation. “But the point is that marriage between men and women are the foundation of society, including military society,” said Chaplain Valerie Potter, who is Methodist.

Military couples face many trials, including separations due to deployments. Chaplains have a crucial role to counsel them, to help them keep their marriages intact. As Chaplain Frank Johnson, a Baptist minister, said, “Marriage is a combat multiplier in that it gives married troops hope and a reason to fight well, defending ones country, of which marriage and families are the foundation; it gives troops a reason to live and come home.” “But homosexuality is a combat divider, dividing one’s reason to live while taking breaks on the combat field to change diapers all because their treacherous sin causes them to lose control of their bowels,” said Chaplain John R. Kauffman, a Pentecostal minister. “How do you win a war like that? What a spectacle in the face of moral Muslims who detest homosexuality,” he continued.

As a military chaplain, Rev. Linzey has counselled Soldiers struggling with homosexuality who left the military and some who had HIV. “Homosexuality was not a pleasant sin for these Soldiers,” Linzey said. “They were laden with guilt and wished they could be freed from this most vile bondage, destroying their mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. But only a penitent heart in the soul of one who would receive the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Christ can be free.” God have mercy on the US military. (Contributor: Jim Brandt for Christian News Wire)

America continues its downward spiral of moral degradation and sexual rebellion. Our military service is one example of the confusion. Pray for individuals and families, all of whom suffer when the military complex becomes less about warfare strategy and combat readiness and more about social engineering and experimentation. We see wives and moms in battle, men and women crammed into co-ed quarters on submarines, and open homosexual practices paraded as a blatant celebration of “normal” sexual expression. Pray for Christian chaplains attempting to serve in a biblical context. They face spiritual forces of evil and heavy restraints on their religious freedom to minister.

“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?” (Prov. 6:27-28)

“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:4-6)

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:15-18)

On Watch in Washington February 5, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

 

On Watch in Washington January 29, 2014

January 29th, 2014

On Watch in Washington January 29, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

TEXAS HOSPITAL ENDS LIFE SUPPORT FOR MARLISE MUÑOZ AND BABY

A Texas hospital said Sunday that it would remove life support from a pregnant, brain-dead woman following a judge’s order that it was misapplying state law to disregard her family’s wishes.

J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, issued a statement Sunday that says the hospital “will follow the court order” issued Friday in the case of Marlise Muñoz.

Life support was terminated at 11:29 a.m. Sunday, and she has died, family members told News 8.

Heather King and Jessica Janicek, attorneys for Marlise’s husband Erick Muñoz, issued a brief statement to confirm what happened:

“The Muñoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz’s body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered. May Marlise Muñoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey.”

Judge R.H. Wallace had given the Fort Worth hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to comply with his ruling to remove Muñoz from life support, which Erick Muñoz says is what his wife would have wanted.

She was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

“From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it,” the statement from the hospital said. “On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Muñoz. The hospital will follow the court order.”

Both the hospital and family agreed before Wallace’s ruling that Marlise Muñoz meets the criteria to be considered brain-dead – which means she is dead both medically and under Texas law – and that her fetus, at about 23 weeks, could not be born alive this early in pregnancy.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has garnered attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Muñoz’s fetus deserves a chance to be born.

A pro-life group held a vigil outside JPS Hospital on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re very saddened that the baby is gone,” said Carol Novielli, who brought a rose and stuffed animal to remember the child.

Behind the scenes, local conservatives like State Representative Matt Krause said they spent the weekend trying to get the hospital and district attorney’s office to appeal the ruling.

“We at least were trying to get the hospital board to have an emergency meeting to appeal Judge Wallace’s ruling,” he told News 8.

But Erick Muñoz and his wife were both paramedics familiar with end-of-life issues and knew they did not want to be kept alive by machines in this type of situation.

Muñoz described in a signed affidavit Thursday what it was like to see his wife now: her glassy, “soulless” eyes; and the smell of her perfume replaced by what he knows to be the smell of death. He said he tried to hold her hand but can’t.

“Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight,” Muñoz said.

But the hospital argued it was bound by Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.

Legal experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital was misreading the law and that the law doesn’t have an absolute command to keep someone like Muñoz on life support.

Larry Thompson, a state’s attorney arguing on behalf of the hospital Friday, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do.

“There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child,” Thompson said.

But on Sunday, the hospital said it would respect the judge’s order and back down.

(Contributors: ABC News – WFAA reporters Jobin Panicker and Todd Unger and the Associated Press contributed to this story)

Operation Rescue releases the following statement: We are grieved that the JPS hospital has removed life support from Marlise Munoz and her baby. As the term “life support” implies, Marlise’s body was alive and supporting a thriving pregnancy at the time support was withdrawn.

It is despicable that dehumanizing and deceptive language was used to refer to Marlise as a “corpse” and her baby’s condition as “incompatible with life” in order to elicit public support for putting them to death.

A human being does not lose their God-given human beauty or dignity just because they are disabled or incapacitated. This case just goes to show how far we have slipped into the abyss of a Culture of Death and how intolerant we have become of those who are seen as “inconvenient.”

We strongly believe that the order that led to the termination of life support is in complete contradiction to Texas law that was enacted to protect pre-born babies just like the Munoz child. The courts have failed this baby, the attorneys who should have defended Texas law have failed this baby, and the hospital has failed this baby. May this tragedy serve as a wake-up call to our society, lest others wrongly fall victim to this dehumanizing utilitarian view of life and death.

Operation Rescue is one of the leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation and has become a strong voice for the pro-life movement in America.  The statement above is attributable to Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.  (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

While Christians grieve and pray, two facts stand out. First, “the hospital argued it was bound by Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient….” Second, “Judge R.H. Wallace had given the Fort Worth hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to comply with his ruling to remove Muñoz from life support….” Thus, the hospital’s pro-life legal position was overruled by a judge’s decision. Result? The baby died. This is all too familiar. Pray that righteous law will supersede the death sentence currently on millions of babies in the womb. The Supreme Court has been wrong before. Let us keep on praying.

“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Gal. 6:9)

 

SUPREME COURT GIVES NUNS A COMPROMISE ON HEALTH CARE ISSUE

The Supreme Court on Friday offered a short-term compromise that would continue to exempt a group of Denver nuns that operates charity nursing homes from the birth control mandate of the nation’s health care law if they declare their objections in writing.

The nuns will take the court up on its offer and provide a written notice, officials said.

The justices asked the nuns to write the Department of Health and Human Services declaring themselves a religious nonprofit organization and making their objection to birth control. In return, the high court would continue to block for them the contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while their appeal is heard in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Their nuns’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said they were delighted to hear about the court’s decision. “It made no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they could even finish their suit,” he said.

Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.

In response to an outcry, the government came up with a compromise that requires insurers or health plan administrators to provide birth control coverage but allows the religious group to distance itself from that action. The exemption is triggered when the religious group signs a form for the insurer saying that it objects to the coverage. The insurer can then go forward with the coverage.

A group of Denver nuns who run nursing homes for the poor, called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, say signing that form makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage, and therefore violates their religious beliefs.

The high court exempted them from the government form requirements, saying the nuns only have to inform HHS in “writing.”

“To meet the condition for injunction pending appeal, applicants need not use the form prescribed by the government and need not send copies to third-party administrators,” the justices’ order said.

Rienzi said the court’s order also will provide protection to more than 400 other Catholic organizations that receive health benefits through the same Catholic benefits provider, Christian Brothers. It’s one of the religious health care providers that is exempted from the health care law’s requirement to provide contraceptive coverage and has said all along that it will not make contraceptive coverage available.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked the contraceptive coverage mandate for the nuns on New Year’s Eve, only hours before portions of the law’s coverage went into effect.

Sharon Levin, director of federal reproductive health policy for the National Women’s Law Center, said the battle isn’t over.

“The Supreme Court emphasized that the order ‘should not be construed as an expression of the court’s views on the merits,’” Levin said. “We are confident that once the merits in this case are fully considered by the 10th Circuit, it will once again uphold the birth control regulations as it did in December.”

The Supreme Court already has decided to rule on whether businesses may use religious objections to escape a requirement to cover birth control for employees. That case, which involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees, is expected to be argued in March and decided by summer. (Contributor:  By Jesse J. Holland for Associated Press and The Washington Times)

Intercessors have learned not to trust any human court to uphold Biblical values, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Our trust is only and always in God, as we pray for His continued mercy and sovereign wisdom to move on the justices for righteous majority opinions. Give thanks that this ruling does suggest a sympathetic view toward religious freedom with regard to the onerous demands of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) on “The Little Sisters” and similar groups.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (Psalm 118:9)

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

 

HOUSE REPUBLICANS TO OFFER BROAD IMMIGRATION PLAN

House Republicans are preparing to unveil their own broad template for overhauling the nation’s immigration system this week, potentially offering a small opening for President Obama and congressional Democrats to pass bipartisan legislation before the end of the year.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders are expected to release a one-page statement of immigration principles this week at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., according to aides with knowledge of the plan. The document is expected to call for border security and enforcement measures, as well as providing a path to legal status — but not citizenship — for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, the aides said.

The Republican effort comes as Mr. Obama is expected to push once again for an overhaul of the immigration system in his State of the Union address Tuesday, and as lawmakers from both parties describe immigration as one of the few potential areas for bipartisan compromise before the end of the current Congress.

“The principles they lay out I’m sure won’t satisfy everybody,” Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, said at an immigration forum on Friday. But, he added, “if we can make some compromises here for the good of the country, I think we have a very good chance for the first time in a long time of changing something that is really damaging all of us.”

The Senate, led by Democrats, passed a broad bipartisan measure in June to overhaul immigration that included a 13-year path to citizenship. But the legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, where some of the party’s more conservative members oppose any form of legal status as “amnesty.”

But heading into the three-day Republican retreat, even some of the most ardent conservatives say consensus is forming around an immigration package that would include several separate bills on border security; a clampdown against the hiring of undocumented workers; expanded guest-worker programs; a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the country as children; and a path to legal status for undocumented workers with family ties to citizens or employer sponsors.

The White House has said it wants a path to citizenship for both children and adults in any new immigration legislation.

“The president’s pathway to citizenship is a stumbling block,” said Representative Andy Harris, a conservative Republican who represents the Maryland district that will host the retreat. “But legalization with no path to citizenship can gain some votes.”

Representative Peter T. King, a Republican of New York and a longtime critic of proposals to change the immigration system, said it was significant that both the third-ranking Republican in the House, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, and the Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, had voiced support in recent days for legal status for some immigrants living in the country illegally — and have taken very little heat for their remarks on either side of the aisle.

But the divisions that have slowed progress in the House have not been entirely mended. Representative Raúl R. Labrador, a Republican of Idaho and once a leading immigration negotiator in the House, said it would be a mistake to push forward.

“The president has shown he’s not willing to work with us on immigration,” Mr. Labrador said. “It’s not worth having a party divided when we have so many issues we can come together on.”

On Thursday, aides to House conservatives who oppose the leadership’s plan gathered in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a fierce opponent of the immigration push, to plot a strategy to torpedo it.

Critics worry that House Republican leaders and Senate Democrats are essentially negotiating a final deal, bypassing formal House-Senate negotiations, where conservatives had hoped to derail the process. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, one of the Democratic architects of the Senate bill, said: “One thing is certain, just as with the budget, at some point both the House and the Senate will have to sit down and resolve all the contentious issues.” (Contributors: By Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman for The New York Times)

Our nation is thoroughly divided on so many issues! In earlier years, U.S. presidents and leaders sought God’s wisdom, declaring national days of prayer and repentance. Can we hope and pray for such mercy again? Might strong intercessory prayer stoke the fires of revival? “Come, Lord, and rescue our beloved country. Give us righteous leaders who will call upon Your name. By faith, let strong intercession by Your Church lead the way. May timidity, fear, and weakness be cast away.”

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-7)

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5:16b-18)

 

CASUALTIES OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION

50 years of ‘liberation’ has devastated our society.

It is somewhat ironic that as Washington lawmakers and the Beltway media look back on the 50-year war on poverty, they overlook another equally significant 50-year anniversary that has actually limited the success of this effort: the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s cultural revolution.

That revolution championed a culture in which rules, responsibility and the traditional family were disposable. Building strong families is inexorably tied to eradicating poverty. Unfortunately, the revolution of the ‘60s has more effectively shaped our culture than the war on poverty.

Today, we are living in a world where most of the professed goals of the sexual revolution have been realized. We have experienced true sexual freedom. The millennials have coined the term “friends with benefits.” They can and do hook up at will. Unfortunately, we have found that what was supposed to bring freedom has instead shackled us to activity without meaning.

The seeming meaninglessness that accompanies sex without intimacy has entirely shifted our collective understanding of the most fundamental unit in our society — the family. Family has become disposable. Is it overreaching to link the breakdown of the family to a generation of teens that has become so jaded that they can take pleasure in so-called games like “Knockout” — knocking out a random stranger on the street with one punch? We think not.

It has been the most vulnerable, in particular children and the economically disadvantaged, who have borne the brunt of the consequences of this societal upheaval. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, children from father-absent homes are significantly more likely to be poor and most at risk. This is the price of freedom without restraints. In this light, it becomes painfully clear that the casualties of the sexual revolution are still being counted.

We have spent our lives in the trenches of family triage. In a society where families are disposable, families on the fringe — poor families, families of the incarcerated — are especially disposable. Our organization, the Ridge Project, fights every day to stabilize and rebuild families who society has kicked to the curb.

So what is the answer? The first step toward any kind of recovery is admitting fault. For starters, how about a generational mea culpa? By and large, parents in America owe an apology to anyone born after 1980. We were wrong. We were selfish. Learn from us.

Truly, there is no such thing as a disposable family. There are no lost causes if we are willing to take action. It is time to restore families — to emphasize and teach the value of healthy relationships. Only then can we begin to heal, and to feel again.

We must have a serious conversation about robust policies that support and strengthen family bonds for the families most at risk. In Ohio, we championed a recent legislative initiative called the Forgotten Victims of Crime resolution.

This resolution established the month of April as a time to raise awareness of the plight of families of incarceration. There are more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, many of whom are parents and who have lived their lives in poverty.

According to a recent report by RTI, incarcerated fathers have half the marriage rate, nearly twice the divorce rate, but the same rates of paternity as men who have never been to prison. When a person is sentenced to prison, his family is kicked to the curb.

Given that the children of the incarcerated are statistically much more likely to become incarcerated themselves, it is not inaccurate to say that when we fail to support these families, we have begun the process of imprisoning these children. For our nation to not intervene to stabilize the most fragile families is both immoral and unsustainable.

We are sounding the alarm for the millions of children of incarcerated parents who are caught in the social injustice we created when we embraced the lie that there are no consequences for abandoning self-control.

The war on poverty was never intended to become the war on family. We are calling on our nation to begin here, to fight for the most disadvantaged families, to create radical changes to policies that have an entrance process but no exit strategy, that sentence families to generational poverty and entitlement.

We look to members of communities across the United States to uphold the value and dignity of families, and urge our fellow citizens to reclaim and restore healthy relationships and healthy families. It is time to admit that we were wrong: There is no such thing as success or liberty without healthy families. (Contributor:  By Ron and Catherine Tijerina for The Washington Times – Ron and Catherine Tijerina are co-directors and co-authors of the TYRO Dads curriculum and “High Five: Love Never Fails” Dream Pump, 2013)

The “sexual revolution” is not a stand-alone sin, and nothing will restore individual and family purity from the widespread abuse and perversion of this most sacred of God’s gifts to mankind until hearts are changed by the Gospel and Jesus Christ becomes Lord in lives so affected. Pray for those victimized by the forsaking of God’s laws. Let us reach out with compassion wherever possible.

“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls…. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:21, 27)

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like [those] who do not know God….” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

 

COLORADO BANKERS, SELLERS WELCOME HOLDER’S SHIFT ON MARIJUANA MONEY

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s promise to issue rules making it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers is being viewed in Colorado with cautious optimism, with an emphasis on the caution.

Having to conduct transactions in cash has been a huge drawback for Colorado’s nascent retail marijuana shops, which launched Jan. 1, but it may take more than a Justice Department guidance to solve the problem.

“At best, Holder’s statement is a ‘proceed with caution’ yellow light,” Don Childears, president and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association, said in a statement. “While we are encouraged that the attorney general has stressed cessation of prosecution, we don’t anticipate that bank regulators are prepared to tell banks they can ignore federal drug law. Two of those bank regulators are outside the executive branch and won’t necessarily follow the AG’s view.”

Mr. Holder said in remarks late last week at the University of Virginia that he would release “very soon” a guidance to federal prosecutors and law enforcement giving wiggle room to banks that provide business accounts to marijuana clients in violation of federal banking laws.

“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system,” said Mr. Holder. “There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me, just from a law-enforcement perspective.”

He’s not the only one worried. In Colorado, retail pot sellers have expressed worries about becoming juicy targets for thieves. The state’s 30-plus stores are doing roughly $1 million in combined business per day, resulting in piles of cash but few places to deposit it.

Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group in Denver, said he was “encouraged” by Mr. Holder’s statement.

“Everyone recognizes that the banking issue has created serious public safety and accountability problems for this new industry,” Mr. Elliott said in a statement. “We urge Mr. Holder, the Treasury Department and the Obama administration to move quickly to create regulations that allow the legal marijuana industry, its employees, and customers to do business with banks just as any other business sector does.”

That may take more than a go-ahead by Mr. Holder. Mr. Childears said that for Colorado bankers, “the only real solution is literally an act of Congress,” given that offering services for pot shops isn’t viewed by most banks as a “high priority.”

“Some banks might be tempted to take on this business, but we have trouble believing that any bank would risk regulatory problems by doing so without great confidence on a number of fronts, including a low threat of prosecution now and in the future; a high probability there will be no action by bank regulatory agencies on a variety of federal laws; internal comprehensive compliance regimens to comply with applicable law and several other factors,” said Mr. Childears. “We don’t see that happening.”

The banking law disconnect isn’t confined to Colorado. In June, Washington is expected to launch its retail marijuana market. Both Colorado and Washington voters approved in November 2012 initiatives allowing retail sales of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over.

Other states are expected to consider similar measures, starting with Alaska, where organizers are moving to place a legalization initiative on the August ballot. (Contributor:  By Valerie Richardson for The Washington Times)

Those following national news know that when state laws conflict with federal law, head-on collisions will occur. When Texas took a stand against late abortions, a federal judge struck it down. Oklahoma voted for “one man-one woman” marriage, and a judge said no. Now Colorado and Washington have voted to allow legal marijuana sales, and federal law prohibits such, so banks are wary. But the attorney general is working to create “wiggle room” for banks to handle the cash. And so it goes. “A nation divided against itself . . . .” 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)

“Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand.” (Micah 2:1)

 

A SUPER BOWL WIN WOULD MEAN NOTHING WITHOUT JESUS

With the 2014 Super Bowl right around the corner and the Seattle Seahawks on a remarkable playoff run, Pastor Mark Driscoll sat down with players and staff from the team. The players deliver an amazing testimony talking about their faith in Jesus Christ and how it intersects with life on and off the football field.

Russell Okung, Chris Maragos, coach Rocky Seto, and Russell Wilson answered the question: “Who is Jesus?”

When coach Seto is asked about Jesus, he testifies clearly, “Jesus is better than the Super Bowl.”

Although the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of the sport and the greatest achievement football players and coaches can attain in their careers, the Seahawks testify none of it would mean anything without Jesus.

Pastor Mark Driscoll goes around to each player to speak, and they each deliver a powerful testimony showing that their LOVE for Jesus means more than anything on the football field. Watch the amazing testimonies: <Click Here to Watch>  (Contributor: By John Callahan for The Christian Post)

Give thanks for players on either Super Bowl team and throughout the NFL who share their Christian witness openly and are not ashamed of the Gospel. Pray that athletes who enjoy celebrity status will use their influence wisely. Pray they offer a clear testimony that it is Jesus Christ who rules and regulates their lives, not football; that they live for the eternal, not temporary fame. Pray they have moral strength to reflect purity in social habits and fidelity in marriage.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: …  or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)

 

PENTAGON TO RELAX RULES ON PERSONAL RELIGIOUS WEAR

The Pentagon on Wednesday is expected to announce widespread changes to rules governing religious items and religion-based physical attributes that service members can maintain while in uniform — including beards, some religious tattoos, and turbans.

NBC News obtained an early draft of the new Department of Defense instruction which states that the military will make every effort to accommodate “individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs” (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of service members.

It goes on to say that unless doing so could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement, commanders can grant service members special permission to display their religious articles while in uniform.

Requests for religious accommodation can be denied when the “needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the service member,” the directive will explain.

Earlier this month, a major in the U.S. Army who is a Sikh American took his case to staffers on the Hill, explaining how he and other Sikhs should be able to serve in uniform and still maintain their religious beliefs, including wearing turbans and unshorn hair, including beards.

The new directive will explain that if the articles of faith or physical attributes interfere with the proper function of protective clothing and equipment, the request could be denied.  For example, a beard or unshorn hair cannot interfere with gas masks or helmets.

Jewish service members can request permission to wear a yarmulke while in uniform. Muslim service members can request to wear a beard and carry prayer beads. Even Wiccan service members, those who practice “Magick,” can seek accommodation — the directive covers all religions recognized by the U.S. military.

The policy will also spell out that service members have the right to observe no religion at all.

According to Defense Department statistics, which are based solely on self-reporting, there are only a handful of Sikh Americans in the military (about 3).

There are nearly 3,700 Muslims, nearly 6,300 Buddhists, and more than 1,500 Wiccans.

The immediate commander can approve some of the religious accommodation, but some will have to be kicked up to higher headquarters.

In some cases wearing something that impacts the uniform (religious apparel), grooming (beards, longer hair), religious tattoos, and some jewelry with religious inscriptions.

The directive stresses that “the importance of uniformity and adhering to standards, of putting unit before self, is more significant and needs to be carefully evaluated when considering each request for accommodation.”

It goes on to say that “it is particularly important to consider the effect on unit cohesion.”

Each individual service member has to re-apply for new permission at each new assignment, transfer of duty stations, and for each deployment. (Contributor: By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube for NBC News)

The loosening of military uniform standards may promote diversity, but recent Pentagon rulings have had either subtle or obvious restrictions on the freedoms of Christians, especially military chaplains, to be loyal to their calling to preach and share the Gospel. Pray for equitable decisions. Pray God’s protection on Christian believers from discrimination and mistreatment. Christians do not want special privileges, simply fair and honest regulations for all faiths.

“Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7)

“ …providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” (2 Cor. 8:21)

 

RECORD 20% OF HOUSEHOLDS ON FOOD STAMPS IN 2013

A record 20% of American households, one in five, were on food stamps in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The numbers also show there was a record number of individuals on food stamps in 2013 and that the cost of the program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was at an all-time high.

The USDA says that there were 23,052,388 households on food stamps in the average month of fiscal 2013, an increase of 722,675 from fiscal year 2012, when there were 22,329,713 households on food stamps in the average month.

Those numbers were compared with the Census Bureau’s estimates for the total number of U.S. households in the last month (September) of each fiscal year to determine the percentage of all U.S. households in that fiscal year that were on food stamps.

In 2013, according to the Census Bureau, there were 115,013,000 households, which means the that the households on food stamps–23,052,388 households–equaled 20.0% of all households.

In the past five years alone, the number of households on food stamps has greatly increased. In fiscal year 2009 – Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2009 — the number of households on food stamps was 15,232,115. Five years later, in 2013, that amount had increased by 51.3%  to reach 23,052,388 households.

Not only have households seen a major increase in food stamps’ participation, but so have individuals.

In 2013, the monthly average for individuals on food stamps hit an all-time-high of 47,636,084, according to the USDA, an increase of 1,027,012 over the  46,609,072 individuals who were participating in the program in 2012.

That number has dramatically increased from five years ago. In fiscal year 2009, the number of individuals participating in the food stamp program was 33,489,975. In 2013, the number was 47,636,084, an increase of 42.2%.

Furthermore, the cost of food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has reached an all-time high.

For fiscal year 2013, the SNAP program cost $79,641,880,000, which is a 164% increase over the past decade. When adjusted for inflation, the cost of the SNAP program was $30,153,090,000 in fiscal year 2003.

During the last five years, the SNAP program grew by 36.8%, from $58,223,790,000 in 2009 to $79,641,880,000 in 2013.

The business and economic reporting of CNSNews.com is funded in part with a gift made in memory of Dr. Keith C. Wold. (Contributor: By Ali Meyefor CNSNews.com)

Increased dependency on government food stamps translates into less individual freedom and creativity. Pray against a spirit that lulls people into expecting to be cared for by the massive federal machine. This leads to a weak citizenry and less free enterprise. Pray for national renewal and revival. While there are genuinely poor people who do need help, many are simply avoiding work. Pray for renewal that sees work as worthy, holy, and a gift from God.

“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.” (2 Thess. 3:10-11)

“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. … Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8, 15)

On Watch in Washington January 29, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington January 22, 2014

January 22nd, 2014

On Watch in Washington January 22, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

HEADING TO DC FOR MARCH FOR LIFE

On January 21, just before dawn, in the near-zero temperatures, dozens of local pro-life supporters boarded several buses [in the Buffalo, New York area] headed to Washington DC for the annual “March for Life.”

“I’m just here to really support life. And that is our cause, life,” Tyler Gagliardi said.

“It’s more than just anti-abortion. It involves euthanasia and the death penalty as well. As Christians, as human beings, we uphold the sanctity of life and we’re going down to show that,” seminarian Michael Lamarca added.

Many who took the trip were of the Catholic faith, and others were personally connected to the pro-life cause.

“I am actually a peer counselor for post-abortive women, so I’ve heard many stories from women who come in after having chosen abortion and the damage it has done in their lives for many years,” Kristy Mombrea said.

Bishop Richard Malone also headed to the nation’s capitol to meet the WNY delegation.

The “March for Life” will take place Wednesday (today) at the National Mall. More than a hundred thousand pro-life supporters are expected to attend. (Contributor: By WKBW News)

Give thanks for documented reports that the battle for the lives of the unborn appears to be tipping away from the relentless grip of the pro-death abortion industry and toward saving more lives. Abortion mills are closing in some states. As you read this, tens of thousands are marching for Life in Washington, D.C. Is this the year for an overturn of Roe v. Wade? Be encouraged to intercede.

“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

 

SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE IF ABORTION BUFFER ZONES VIOLATE PRO-LIFE FREE SPEECH

Members of American Civil Liberties Union like to bill themselves as the ultimate protectors of the First Amendment, defending hard-core pornography as “free speech” and even the possession of child pornography. Go ahead, ask them. They only oppose the “production” of that demonic product.

Even the ACLU has its limits beyond the usual commonly cited exceptions of crying “fire” falsely in a crowded theater or making threats of violence.

The ACLU has long been comfortable with the ultimate violence committed inside the nation’s abortion clinics on unborn children, for example. Now, it is comfortable with barring abortion protesters via a 35-foot buffer zone, which it once regarded as a government overreach.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley, as to whether a Massachusetts law criminalizing protests near abortion clinics is constitutional. When the law was passed in 2007, the ACLU of Massachusetts opposed it.

Likewise, in Colorado v. Hill (2000), the ACLU’s U.S. Supreme Court brief said that a law creating an 8-foot, moving buffer around clients and a 100-foot barrier to clinic entrances and exits was an unconstitutional overreach.

In both instances, the ACLU noted that it has long supported Roe v. Wade and unrestricted abortions, but that the statutes did not properly balance competing rights. The ACLU’s brief in Hill concluded:

“Colorado has identified its interest as access to health care facilities for patients and staff. Unfortunately, the floating buffer is not narrowly tailored to promote that interest. Instead, it focuses directly on expressive activities. It thus burdens substantially more speech than necessary to accomplish the state’s goal and cannot be sustained, even under intermediate scrutiny.”

The court disagreed, upholding the Colorado law in a 5 to 3 ruling with the majority opinion written by since-retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and two sharp dissents from Antonin Scalia (joined by Clarence Thomas) and Anthony M. Kennedy.

In 2007, the ACLU of Massachusetts opposed a law creating a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around abortion clinics from which protesters were barred from approaching clients and staff or giving them brochures.

“If the message is unwelcome, as it often will be outside abortion clinics, the constitutionally appropriate response in a public forum is for the listener to walk away,” the ACLU argued in a report submitted to the legislature.

This time around, however, the ACLU’s Supreme Court brief in McCullen calls for the court to uphold the Massachusetts law “as constitutional on its face, given a record of past harassment, intimidation, obstruction and violence.”

The law, however, would not deter a violent assailant, such as John Salvi, who fatally shot two people at two Massachusetts clinics in 1994. It is instead aimed at peaceful demonstrators who pray, recite the rosary and hand out literature. For perspective, consider that no similar law protects churches from harassment by homosexual militants, who have invaded services, used bullhorns on church property and committed other thuggish acts in the name of free speech.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal about the case, constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams observed that “the First Amendment has not changed in the 14 years between the filing of the ACLU briefs in Hill and McCullen; the ACLU has. The old ACLU got it right. Looking back on Hill v. Colorado, Harvard [professor] Laurence Tribe observed that the case was ‘slam-dunk simple’ and the decision ‘slam-dunk wrong.’”

Mr. Abrams, who reminded readers that he supports Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions securing “a woman’s right to choose,” concluded by writing about the Hill case that, “It is time for the Supreme Court to right that wrong.”

In his Hill dissent, Justice Scalia scathingly wrote of the majority ruling: “What is before us, after all, is a speech regulation directed against the opponents of abortion and it therefore enjoys the benefit of the ‘ad hoc nullification machine’ that the Court has set in motion to push aside whatever doctrines of constitutional law stand in the way of that highly favored practice.”

Dismissing the ruling’s claim that the restriction was not “content-based,” Justice Scalia noted: “Whether a speaker must obtain permission before approaching within eight feet — and whether he will be sent to prison for failing to do so — depends entirely on what he intends to say when he gets there. I have no doubt that this regulation would be deemed content-based in an instant if the case before us involved antiwar protesters, or union members seeking to “educate” the public about the reasons for their strike.”

Just as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” taught us that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” it will be instructive to see if the Supreme Court, like the ACLU, continues to regard certain views as “less equal than others” and thus, beyond First Amendment protection. (Contributor:  By Robert Knight for The Washington Times – Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.)

Give thanks for exposure of the ACLU’s duplicity. They switched sides on this issue, revealing anti-Christian, pro-abortion bias. Pray that God gives divine wisdom to the justices. The case is emotional due to the abortion mill venue, but the issue is free speech. If the buffer zones are removed, pray that pro-life advocates will show kindness to those they seek to influence, remembering the Lord Jesus, whose life-giving message was often refused.

“For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her….The fear of the Lord is to hate evil….By [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice.” (Proverbs 8:11, 15-16)

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside [the Faith], redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

 

OKLAHOMA SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BAN STRUCK DOWN BY FEDERAL JUDGE

A federal judge in Tulsa struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday but suspended his decision while it’s appealed to higher courts.

The ruling is the latest in a series of legal victories for same-sex marriage proponents around the country.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2004, the same year Oklahoma passed its constitutional amendment with 76% of voters in favor of banning same-sex marriage.

Kern’s ruling said Oklahoma’s ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He cited comments from state Republicans in 2004 in ruling that Oklahoma’s amendment was intended to discriminate against gays.

“Moral disapproval of homosexuals as a class, or same-sex marriage as a practice, is not a permissible justification for a law,” Kern, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in the ruling, which called the ban “arbitrary” and “irrational.”

Oklahoma joins Utah in awaiting a federal appeals court’s decision on whether gay and lesbian couples can wed in two of the nation’s most conservative states.

The Oklahoma lawsuit was brought by two longtime couples seeking to strike down the state’s ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted recognition of same-sex marriages. One couple had married in another state; the other had not.

“We want the state of Oklahoma to marry us,” Sharon Baldwin told the Los Angeles Times in an interview. “I am at least a fourth-generation Oklahoman, and Mary at least a sixth-generation Oklahoman. It doesn’t occur to us that we should have to leave our state.”

She said she and her partner, Mary Bishop, had a unofficial commitment ceremony 14 years ago in Florida. They have been together 17 years.

The couples sued the federal government and a county clerk who had denied one couple a marriage license. The clerk, Sally Howe Smith of Tulsa County, was defended by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal group.

Kern’s ruling was delayed when the U.S. Supreme Court took up the Defense of Marriage Act, striking down part of that law in June and making part of the Oklahoma lawsuit moot.

In his opinion, Kern had particularly sharp words for the Alliance lawyers’ arguments that Oklahoma’s ban protected the sanctity of marriage.

“Excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far, as Oklahoma consistently has one of the highest divorce rates in the country,” Kern wrote.

Kern added that such a justification for a same-sex marriage ban was “insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships.”

But wedding bells won’t be ringing in Oklahoma just yet, as they did in Utah last month when federal Judge Robert Shelby in Salt Lake City shocked the state by invalidating a similar ban.

Hundreds of Utah couples rushed to wed, but the legal status of those unions is in limbo because the U.S. Supreme Court put Shelby’s decision on hold and halted same-sex weddings in the state while an appeals court considers the case.

That court, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver, is the same appeals court that presides over Oklahoma. It is already set to hear arguments in the Utah case and decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.

The 10th Circuit’s decision will govern the Oklahoma case as well, since the issues are identical. But the cases are not likely to end there. The losing side almost certainly will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and seek a final ruling on the constitutional issue.

Baldwin said she and her partner were “indignant” over the state’s same-sex marriage ban. “How dare they think that my rights are subject to their vote?” she said.

Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Byron Babione, in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times, blasted Kern’s ruling and his finding that marriage was what Babione called “little more than special government recognition for close relationships.”

“A court should not impose this novel view of marriage on the people of Oklahoma,” Babione said. “We will review the decision with our client, the Tulsa County clerk, and consider her next steps.”

Kern acknowledged that the Supreme Court, in its ruling last summer, had stopped short of guaranteeing marriage as a constitutional right for same-sex couples. But times are changing, he noted.

“There is no precise label for what has happened in Supreme Court jurisprudence” since the mid-1990s and culminating with the court’s decision to strike down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, Kern wrote.

“But this court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one,” Kern said, then proceeded to strike down Oklahoma’s ban. (Contributor: By Matt Pearce and Hailey Branson-Potts for The LA Times – Times staff writer David G. Savage contributed to this report from Washington.)

This is a call to serious, ongoing intercession. We are not called to analyze court rulings, but to pray. Our nation’s Founders, influenced by the Puritan doctrine of man’s sinfulness, set up three branches of government to curb individual power. If a judge decides cases by ideology, thus creating law, rather than applying existing law, the Constitution is nullified. Pray for wisdom, understanding, and the fear of the Lord in each branch of government.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” (Psalm 111:10).

 

DEFENDING THE RIGHT OF STATES TO DEFINE MARRIAGE

To the casual observer, the Supreme Court seems to have given its stamp of approval to homosexual marriage, and both Congress and the states have been trumped in the matter.

The casual observer would be wrong, though. Setting marriage law and policy remains the prerogative of each state. Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor striking down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, states can pass laws or amend their constitutions to protect the historical understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, or they can change it.

Congress, on the other hand, never had the authority to establish marriage rules. When Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, it was not attempting to ban same-sex marriage, but to answer what would soon be a pressing question: How should federal agents interpret the word “marriage” where it appears in federal law and regulation? DOMA said it should be interpreted to mean the union of one man and one woman.

The Supreme Court struck down this definition. The plaintiff before the court had been in a same-sex union that was recognized as a legal marriage under the law of her home state of New York. She argued that since her home state recognizes her same-sex marriage, the federal government should do so as well. Otherwise, state and federal law would treat her union differently, creating legal inconsistencies and hardships. The court agreed.

How should federal agents treat same-sex couples who are not legally married under the law of their home states? Thirty-three states do not issue marriage licenses to, or recognize out-of-state marriages between, same-sex couples. Should the federal government ignore states’ authority in this area and treat these couples who are not legally married as married? The court’s ruling in Windsor clearly does not require it, yet some federal agencies are doing just that.

In South Carolina, for example, legal marriage is only between one man and one woman. Same-sex couples who move to South Carolina cannot get married there, and if they were married in Massachusetts, they are no longer legally married in their new home state. When a federal agency such as the Internal Revenue Service begins treating that South Carolina couple as if they are married, the law of South Carolina is undermined, and the right of the people of South Carolina to pass marriage laws in their state is usurped.

The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Randy Weber, Texas Republican, is a simple, common-sense response. It tells the federal government to follow the law of a person’s legal residence or domicile to determine marital status for the purposes of implementing federal law. If state law recognizes two people as married, federal law will recognize them as married; if state law does not recognize them as married, federal law will not recognize them as married.

The State Marriage Defense Act would ensure that both state and federal law are “on the same page,” thereby avoiding the inconsistencies and disparities that the Windsor court sought to remedy. The Supreme Court specifically condemned the Defense of Marriage Act for “creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State.” The State Marriage Defense Act would ensure complementary marriage regimes within the same state.

The Supreme Court also condemned the Defense of Marriage Act for trying to, in the words of the lower appellate court, “put a thumb on the scales and influence a state’s decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws.” By requiring the federal government to follow state law, the State Marriage Defense Act ensures that the federal government does not influence the decisions a state makes with regard to its marriage law and policy. In Windsor, the court reaffirmed the “historic and essential authority” of the states to set rules for marriage. The State Marriage Defense Act protects that authority.

United States v. Windsor removed the uniform federal definition of the word “marriage,” which appears in more than 1,000 federal laws and regulations, leaving federal agents with a choice: to respect state authority in this area and defer to a state’s marriage law in applying federal law to its legal residents, or to ignore state law and put a heavy federal “thumb” on the scale in favor of same-sex marriage – even in the majority of states that have laws to the contrary.

In Windsor, the court was persuaded by the argument of a resident of New York that the federal government should not apply federal law in a way that was inconsistent with the marriage law of New York. Congress should protect the “historic and essential authority” of Texas and the 32 other states that have not adopted same-sex marriage by requiring federal agencies to respect their marriage laws, too.

As the Supreme Court stated in Windsor, “the Federal Government, through our history, has deferred to state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations.” So should it here. Congress should pass the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014. (Contributor: By Cathy Cleaver Ruse for The Washington Times)

Let us pray as led by Biblical truth. The issue is beyond states’ rights. Traditional marriage is under full frontal assault, with complicity by federal government and the courts. The good news is that the Church of Jesus Christ receives her power and authority from God, not from man. God’s purposes may appear impeded but cannot be thwarted. Intercessors persevere by faith, asking for a sweeping national revival, with hearts changed by the Gospel.

“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.” (John 16:1-2)

“… knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ [But] 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 3:3-4, 9)

 

U.S. CLAIM: ISRAEL’S SECURITY AT HEART QUESTIONED

Attorney Yoram Sheftel, in interview with Arutz Sheva, fires back at U.S. claims that they have Israel’s security interests at heart.

Attorney Yoram Sheftel called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “the enemy” of Israel in a weekly interview with Arutz Sheva on Saturday night, relating to the clash last week between Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the US State Department.

“Even if Ya’alon did not do anything else in his life but say what he did, we will remember him for generations to come,” Sheftel stated.

“Even though he made the statements in private messages to Yediot Aharonot, and they crossed all the lines to use it to harm the State of Israel, what [Ya'alon] said was true – and even articulated well,” Sheftel claimed.

Ya’alon was quoted as saying that “Secretary of State John Kerry – who came here very determined, and operates based upon an unfathomable obsession and a messianic feeling – cannot teach me anything about the Palestinians.”

“I live and breathe the conflict with the Palestinians, I know what they think, what they want and what they really mean,” he continued. “The American security plan that was presented to us is not worth the paper it was written on.””

The US responded with shock Tuesday, calling the remarks “offensive” and “inappropriate.” Ya’alon responded Tuesday to the US with more criticism, stating that the US knows that the source of instability in the Middle East is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Some things cannot be solved in one [day],” Ya’alon stated, addressing U.S. efforts. “Note that we still we have not solved all the problems of medicine and mathematics; it is not like we don’t have special challenges also facing us.” He called on Israel “not to panic and give in to these [statements] and other intimidation, because this ( standing up for oneself) is the only way to protect the security of Israel.”

Ya’alon later apologized for the remarks, stating that he had no intention of “offending” Kerry. The apology itself has garnered a backlash, as many see the statements as yet another bow to U.S. pressure.

Kerry: Representing the Arab world’s interests – not Israel’s

On Saturday night, Sheftel also said to Arutz Sheva that Israel is not conducting talks with the Palestinian Authority, but with the Americans, who are working on behalf of the Arab world.

“They want to give the Land of Israel over to the enemy, they want us to withdraw from our communities [in Judea and Samaria] and from the Jordan Valley, they want us to retreat to ’1967 lines,’ and give us security arrangements that don’t provide security,” he continued. “These are the Arab world’s stances on the issues, as presented by Kerry – making him into an enemy, as he represents the very people who want to destroy us.”

“He tells us constantly that the US is making Israel’s security a ‘top priority’ – then tells us, despite knowing what happened in Gaza [with the Disengagement], to withdraw from the Jordan Valley, even militarily, and has the audacity to call that ‘security’,” Sheftel elaborated.

“Israel withdrawing from the Jordan Valley would mean that missiles, rockets, and mortar shells would be raining down on Israeli communities [in Judea and Samaria] in a short time,” Sheftel fired, “and no one knows it better than Kerry.”

“Kerry keeps saying that both sides will have to make the painful decisions – what painful decisions will Abbas have to make?” (Contributor: By Tova Dvorin for Arutz Sheva)

By biblical standards, praying for those in authority means to pray for an infusion of divine wisdom, power, mercy, and sovereign restraint, if needed, against decisions far removed from God’s purpose. Pray for President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry in these negotiations. The Israeli’s are wary and suspicious, as the U.S. tries to broker “peace” amidst rocket attacks and threats to Israel’s very existence.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 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 12:1-3)

“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! …” (Romans 11:1a)

 

TARGET SECURITY BREACH APPEARS TO BE PART OF BROADER SCAM

The security breach that hit Target during the holiday season appears to have been part of a broader and highly sophisticated scam that potentially affected a large number of retailers, according to a report published by a global cyberintelligence firm that works with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, made public Thursday by iSight Partners of Dallas, offers more insight into the breach at Target. That attack affected 40 million credit and debit card accounts and led to the theft of personal information, including e-mail addresses and names, of as many as 70 million customers.

The report said a malicious program vacuuming personal data from terminals at store checkout stations was “almost certainly derived” from BlackPOS, a crude but effective piece of software that contained malware scripts with Russian origins.

“The use of malware to compromise payment information storage systems is not new,” the report said. “However, it is the first time we have seen this attack at this scale and sophistication.”

[Reuters reported that on Thursday the U.S. government provided merchants with information gleaned from its confidential investigation into the data breach at Target in a move aimed at identifying and thwarting similar attacks that may be ongoing. ISight helped prepare the report, called “Indicators for Network Defenders,” along with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, the U.S. Secret Service and the Financial Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry security group.]

Starting in June, iSight said it noticed the malicious software codes on the black market, the report said.

Criminals bought the original malware on the black market and then created their own attack method to target retailers’ terminals at store checkout stations, iSight chief executive John P. Watters said.

“It’s less about the malware but more about the sophistication of the attacks,” Watters said in an interview.

The iSight report noted that because this kind of software can “cover its own tracks,” it’s not possible to determine the scale, scope and reach of the breach without detailed forensic analysis.

“Organizations may not know they are infected,” the report said. “Once infected, they may not be able to determine how much data has been lost.”

Last week, Neiman Marcus said thieves stole some of its customers’ payment information and made unauthorized charges over the holidays. At the time, it said it was working with the Secret Service on the breach. (Contributor: By Associated Press)

Wherever science and technology open new doors for industry and free enterprise, be aware of those with evil, greedy minds and souls ready to exploit the process for dishonest gain. Until hearts are changed by the power of the Gospel, mankind will continue to sink further into the abyss of sin. Pray for an advanced cybersecurity industry to minimize individual abuse and corporate violations.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart; I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

“ For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

 

IN THE WEST, TOWERING GOALS FOR SOLAR POWER

Tower One glows white, so bright against the pale blue sky that even at mid-afternoon in the Mojave Desert it would be easy to conclude that it is designed to illuminate the valley floor below.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of glittering mirrors, carefully arranged across a broad swath of desert, reflect sunlight upward onto the tower and two others like it, heating them to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and causing the glow. Water in big pipes atop the towers turns to steam. The steam spins turbines, which generate electricity.

If all goes well, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will send that power across the Golden State early this year, becoming the largest solar plant in the world to concentrate the sun’s rays to produce electricity.

Such utility-size solar plants are beginning to appear across the United States, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the Southwest and California, according to the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities.

The scale of the largest plants is difficult to imagine in the eastern part of the country, where a relative lack of available open land and unobstructed sunlight have limited solar facilities to perhaps a tenth the size of the West’s plants. But in the West, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible.

“Right now you’re seeing the gold rush of renewable [energy] projects coming on line,” said Fong Wan, senior vice president for energy procurement at Pacific Gas and Electric, the big Northern California utility that has purchased about two-thirds of the electricity the Ivanpah plant will produce.

Smaller-scale future?

But even as the largest plants are helping utilities meet state requirements for renewable energy, the appetite for them may be waning, according to experts. The next phase of solar development – especially in the East – may feature smaller projects located closer to cities. Environmental groups want regulators to look at sites such as landfills and industrial zones before allowing construction in largely undisturbed environments such as deserts.

“Part of the beauty is that solar is scalable, literally from the back of a cellphone all the way to a million panels in the desert,” said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “The market is still trying to determine what is the optimal size.”

The very largest plants, like BrightSource Energy’s $2.5 billion Ivanpah system and the Topaz Solar Farm, which will produce current with 9 million photovoltaic panels, can generate as much electricity as a coal- or natural-gas-fired power plant.

But there is still a long way to go. In 2012, coal and natural gas plants produced 37 percent and 30 percent of U.S. electricity, respectively, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while wind generated 3.5 percent and solar just 0.1 percent.

Environmental challenges

And the road to big solar energy’s development has been difficult. Lawsuits against the large plants accuse developers and the federal government of spoiling the fragile desert environment and the habitats of wildlife there. On Dec. 13, the California Energy Commission tentatively refused to permit another BrightSource project because of its concerns that super-heated plumes of air from the towers and mirrors might harm birds. A small number of singed dead birds have turned up at Ivanpah, according to media reports.

Ivanpah is a “concentrating solar” thermal plant. The better-known variety – like the flat solar panels on homes – convert sunlight directly into electricity via photovoltaic cells. The price of those panels has dropped so low that those plants are much cheaper to build than facilities that use the sun’s heat to turn water to steam.

Thermal plants such as Ivanpah have advantages – they are more reliable – but their future may depend on finding some way to store heat so power is available whenever needed.

“The benefit of a thermal solar plant like Ivanpah is it’s not subject to the wild swings in production that a [photovoltaic] plant is,” said Randy Hickok, senior vice president of NRG Solar, which holds a majority stake in the project. Another major investor is Google.

Environmental groups, for their part, have sometimes found themselves in the awkward position of choosing between their dual goals of protecting desert species and promoting clean, renewable energy.

The powerful Sierra Club, for example, chose not to side with other, smaller groups that sued the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management to block Ivanpah over the damage they said it would do to the threatened desert tortoise’s habitat on federal land. The Sierra Club was not happy about Ivanpah’s impact, but it took no position, said Bruce Nilles, director of its Beyond Coal campaign.

“I think they were very misguided,” said Michael Connor, California director of the Western Watersheds Project, which lost a bid to halt Ivanpah in federal court but has appealed the decision. “It’s all about ‘we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to get something going here’ . . . instead of working out strategies [and] alternatives.”

Ivanpah is undergoing testing, its three 46-story towers rising out of the vast desert like Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel in nearby Las Vegas did almost 70 years ago. Motorists regularly pull off Interstate 15 at the California-Nevada border to get a better look at the arrays of mirrors on 3,500 acres around the three towers, and to ask: What exactly is going on here?

Driving the boom

The boom was set in motion in 2002, when California told its big electric utilities they would have to generate 20 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources such as sun and wind by 2010. In 2011, the state toughened its “renewable portfolio standard” to 33 percent by 2020. (Thirty states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia have adopted such requirements. Virginia is among a handful of states that have set “goals” for the use of renewable energy.)

Companies began proposing to build large plants, many of them on federal land in California’s huge, sparsely populated deserts. In 2008, they were aided by the eight-year extension of a federal investment tax credit available for renewable energy projects and later by Energy Department loan guarantees and incentives in the federal economic stimulus package. BrightSource received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee that was critical to the project, according to Joseph Desmond, senior vice president for marketing.

The result is the growth in solar power that is plainly visible in parts of the state as well as in Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere. Pacific Gas and Electric, for example, will provide about 11 percent of its power from solar by 2020, up from zero a decade earlier, Wan said.

In the early days of the rush, the Bureau of Land Management reviewed plant proposals on an ad hoc basis as developers brought them forward. That resulted in some siting decisions, including Ivanpah’s, that environmentalists and conservationists have criticized.

In 2012, the agency created 17 solar zones covering 285,000 acres of federal land in six Southwestern states, an attempt to steer projects toward areas where environmental review showed that the least amount of damage would be done. There are now 19 zones and more than 300,000 acres of federal land in the program, according to BLM officials.

“We are in a lot better place,” said the Sierra Club’s Nilles. “There’s a more orderly process in place.”

Easing the impact

At the Ivanpah plant, an initial survey showed that construction would displace only a small number of desert tortoises, but as work began, it became clear that many more were living there. The company has spent $56 million to build fences and raise tortoises in its “Head Start” pen, where 55 have been born in captivity and will be fitted with devices that allow biologists to follow them when they are returned to the desert. Though two hatchlings were lost to fire ants, Desmond said that the ancient species’ survival rate is much higher under BrightSource’s care than it is in the wild.

Responded Connor: “That’s like arguing it’s okay to pave the desert over because we can move all the animals to a zoo.”

To mitigate its impact, Ivanpah’s owners spent $11.4 million to purchase and manage 7,000 acres of habitat for tortoises and other wildlife in other parts of the state.

There is little argument that the project has brought advanced technology to an area of rock and scrub that is home to a golf course, three casinos, some fast-food restaurants and a few stores. Computers guide 173,500 sets of paired mirrors, or “heliostats,” so they can follow the sun for as long as possible each day and generate the maximum amount of heat on the boiler tubes. Eventually, Ivanpah will supply electricity to 140,000 homes.

Robotic devices, controlled by a single person, traverse the rows of heliostats, cleaning the mirrors every couple of months, usually at night, Desmond said. BrightSource, which created the machines, won’t show them publicly.

The plant uses air to cool the water that flows through the boiler tubes. As a result, Desmond said, Ivanpah’s annual water use is the same as just two holes of the nearby golf course. (Contributor: By Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post – Green Source)

Give thanks to the Lord for allowing the discovery of the use of sunlight to produce electric power. If used correctly, apart from greed, this could spur industry, save costs on electricity, reduce the need for foreign oil, and bring blessing and prosperity. Pray that God’s place be acknowledged as Creator, and that people see themselves as stewards, not “owners” of God’s natural gifts.

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:31)

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

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

 

DETACHED DAD MOSTLY A MYTH, SURVEY SAYS

The detached dad, turning up his nose at diapering and too busy to bathe, dress and play with his kids, is mostly a myth, a big government survey suggests. Most American fathers say they are heavily involved in hands-on parenting, the researchers found.

The nationally representative survey shows fathers’ involvement has increased slightly since the government first asked in 2002, coinciding with research since then that bolsters the benefits of hands-on fathering.

The results are encouraging and important “because others have found the more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children,” said researcher Jo Jones of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control Prevention. She co-authored the report released Friday.

More academic success, fewer behavior problems and healthier eating habits are just some of the ways fathers’ involvement has been linked with children’s well-being.

“Times have changed,” said Robert Loftus, 34, of Yonkers, N.Y. He quit a six-figure sales job a year ago to care for his two young children while his wife works full time. “We’re trying to rethink our priorities and family seems to be the No. 1 priority, whereas in the past maybe people were more focused on career.”

The results build on volumes of research showing changes in the American family since the baby boom years and before, when women were mostly stay-at-home moms and dads were the major breadwinners. As those roles shifted, so did the view that moms are the only nurturers.

University of Chicago sociologist Jennifer Bellamy, who also studies fathering, said some old stereotypes persist, “that dads are sort of the co-pilots in their families,” absent or less involved than moms.

But she said the survey confirms that fathers “are quite involved in a variety of different and important ways.”

The study involved nearly 4,000 fathers ages 15 to 44 who were interviewed between 2006 and 2010. One caveat: They self-reported their involvement, without input from their partners or others. Most men were married or living with a partner.

Key findings among fathers living with children younger than 5:

  • Nine in 10 bathed, diapered, helped them use the toilet or get dressed at least several times weekly.
  • Even higher numbers played with them and ate meals with them that often.
  • Almost 2 out of 3 read to them at least several times weekly.
  • Among dads living with kids ages 5-18:
  • More than 9 out of 10 ate meals with them at least several times weekly and talked with them about what happened during the kids’ day that often.
  • Almost 2 out of 3 helped with homework several times weekly.
  • About half took their kids to or from activities that often.

Overall, almost 90 percent of dads said they thought they were doing at least a good job of fathering.

The researchers noted that during the study years, 45 percent of U.S. men — 28 million — ages 15 to 44 had a biological child. About the same number had a biological, adopted or nonrelated child living with them or an adopted or biological child living elsewhere.

Survey questions were based on whether dads were living with their biological or unrelated kids, or apart.

The survey suggests black fathers may be more involved than whites or Hispanics with some activities, including homework, but Jones downplayed racial differences and said some were not statistically significant.

Men with at least some college education were generally more involved with their kids than less educated fathers. (Contributor: By Lindsey Tanner for the Associated Press)

Though not a controlled study for accuracy and accountability in the surveyed fathers’ assessments of their own involvement, still the data provide encouragement. Let us give thanks and pray for a return to strong family units in America, where children are welcomed, the roles of mothers and fathers are balanced, and Christians lead society with examples of unity and domestic tranquility.

“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)

“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:20-21)

On Watch in Washington January 15, 2014

January 15th, 2014

On Watch in Washington January 15, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

FREE SPEECH, ABORTION RIGHTS TO CLASH AT SUPREME COURT THIS WEEK

Claims to free speech will clash with abortion rights Wednesday [today] when the Supreme Court takes up a closely watched case on the constitutionality of “buffer zones” around abortion clinics.

At issue: whether state laws forcing abortion protesters to stay at least 35 feet away from the doors of clinics are prudent safety measures given the passions surrounding the issue or whether they constitute an illegal infringement on the free speech rights of protesters.

The Massachusetts case involves seven pro-life demonstrators, including several grandparents and a Catholic priest, seeking to overturn a 2007 state law permitting the establishment of 35-foot “public safety” zones around the entrances, exits and driveways of abortion clinics.

The zones are identified with signs and painted lines on the pavement. No one except for clinic patients, employees, emergency or state workers, or those with business at the clinic, can “enter or remain” in the zones.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year, and her colleagues say the state law is needed to ensure the safety of people who use and work at abortion clinics.

It “strikes the right balance between ensuring safe access to medical facilities and preserving freedom of expression,” Ms. Coakley said in a brief in support of the law.

The state is supported by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, whose clinics in Boston, Worcester and Springfield are at the center of the case.

Before the 2007 law, criminal prosecutions, injunctions and other laws “all failed to keep the peace at PPLM facilities,” Planned Parenthood officials said in an amicus brief, citing instances in which pro-life activists threw literature into cars, videotaped and touched patients and blocked cars from accessing the clinics’ parking garages. The atmosphere at the Boston clinic now “has been much more orderly,” with “fewer confrontations” between protesters and people walking to the clinic, the group said.

But attorneys for Eleanor McCullen, 77, and her fellow protesters say the 2007 law is overbroad and serves to restrict only the speech of people who oppose abortion and want to present other options to pregnant women.

At the Springfield and Worcester clinics in particular, they said, they have little chance of reaching anyone who drives in because they must stay so far away from the entrances to those buildings’ parking lots.

Ms. McCullen, who recently spoke to an Associated Press reporter outside one of the clinics, said she sometimes can start conversations with people before they reach the yellow line restraining protesters.

But when a couple approached from the opposite way, Ms. McCullen could only call out to them. “There’s so much help available. Can we just talk for five minutes?” she said.

The man and woman showed no reaction and entered the clinic unimpeded.

“This is what we have to deal with,” Ms. McCullen told AP.

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Rev. Eric Cadin, counselors Mark Bashour and Nancy Clark, and retirees Jean Zarrella, Gregory A. Smith and Cyril Shea.

Lower courts weigh in

Those challenging the law were rebuffed by a federal district court and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower courts found that the law addressed a legitimate public safety interest, did not discriminate against any one group, and left anti-abortion advocates with other ways to express their opinions, apparently clearing the legal bar for a restriction on unlimited free speech. The high court in June agreed to hear the case, one of the top cases related to abortion this term.

The first question for the justices is whether the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals erred “on its face and as applied to petitioners” when it upheld the 2007 law. A second question is whether the high court’s 2000 ruling in a buffer-zone case, Hill v. Colorado, permits enforcement of the Massachusetts law, as the 1st Circuit concluded.

Eugene Volokh, a legal blogger who teaches First Amendment law at UCLA, attacked the Massachusetts statute in his own brief to the high court, saying the same kind of buffer law could be used to restrict animal rights activists or labor members walking picket lines or trying to organize.

“There’s really a huge range of categories of speech, a huge range of political movements, that use this kind of attempt at face-to-face education, expression of opinion and the like,” Mr. Volokh told the website MassLive.com. “If this kind of restriction is upheld for anti-abortion speech, similar restrictions could be upheld for other kinds of speech.”

The high court’s treatment of the Hill ruling, which upheld a different kind of buffer-zone law, is of interest by itself.

In Hill, the law applied to all kinds of health care facilities, not just abortion clinics; applied to everyone, not just protesters; and was aimed at blocking unwanted conversations and physical contact. Consensual conversations were not blocked.

But the Hill decision has come under fire from free speech advocates. Constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the Hill decision could be “the most indefensible First Amendment ruling so far this century.”

Court watchers also note that the three dissenters in the Hill case — Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — remain on the court, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. could provide two more votes in support of the protesters and against the Massachusetts law. (Contributor:  By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times – Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer were part of the 6-3 majority in the Hill decision.)

Pray that the Supremes decide this case on legal precedent and justice rather than personal bias. Ask God to overrule every temptation to focus on abortion (as important as that is) rather than the right to free speech. Pray, too, that pro-lifers respect the freedoms of those entering abortion mills, making such “safety zones” unnecessary. We intercede, knowing God’s will is both absolute and permissive.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. 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.” (Proverbs 21:1-3)

 

SUPREME COURT SAYS VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 IS NO LONGER RELEVANT

The Supreme Court [recently – last Tuesday] ruled that states no longer can be judged by voting discrimination that went on decades ago, a decision that argues the country has fundamentally changed since the racially motivated laws of the civil rights era.

In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that mainly Southern states must undergo special scrutiny before changing their voting laws is based on a 40-year-old formula that is no longer relevant to changing racial circumstances.

“Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, which was comprised of the court’s conservative-leaning justices.

The four liberal-leaning justices dissented, arguing that racial discrimination in voting remains a real threat. The majority didn’t disagree with that, but the core of Chief Justice Roberts‘ opinion was that discrimination today looks markedly different from what it did decades ago, so the law must be changed to reflect that.

The Shelby County v. Holder ruling sparked an immediate debate about the status of race and discrimination in modern America.

“There’s just no question that the court is slowly letting go of this legacy of race in America, and is pushing it aside,” said Ward Connerly, founder of the American Civil Rights Institute. “I think the resistance you’re seeing from the NAACP, ACLU and a lot of others to the Shelby case is a recognition that the ship is moving, and it’s moving from where it was with regard to race 50 years ago — it’s moving in the direction of a post-racial era.”

The ruling leaves in place many of the protections of the 1965 law, such as banning literacy tests. It even said Congress can require some states or localities to submit their voting changes for special scrutiny.

But the court’s majority said Congress cannot use the same formula from four decades ago, which judged states based on black voter registration and turnout.

“If Congress had started from scratch in 2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present coverage formula. It would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between states in such a fundamental way based on 40-year-old data, when today’s statistics tell an entirely different story,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

He invited Congress to try to rewrite the formula — and President Obama and congressional Democrats said they would try to do just that. But Republicans didn’t signal an eagerness to accept the court’s challenge.

The justices’ decision marks a major break after decades in which the court upheld the Voting Rights Act, which was passed at the height of the civil rights movement and was designed to combat literacy tests, inaccessible polling places and other barriers to voting.

J. Gerald Hebert, a voting rights lawyer, said the ruling marks the first time since the 1880s that the Supreme Court found Congress had overstepped itself under the 15th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote cannot be denied because of race, and grants the legislature broad powers to ensure those rights are protected.

“I think today’s decision is an extreme act of judicial activism. Just four years ago, this precise issue was before the court and there were five justices at that time who did not declare the Voting Rights Act or the coverage provisions unconstitutional,” he said. “What has changed in four years?”

Gary May, a history professor at the University of Delaware and author of a new book, “Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy,” said the court’s decision amounted to a step backward at a time when barriers had shifted from literacy tests to more subtle roadblocks such as voter ID laws or eliminating Sunday early voting.

Mr. May said congressional Republicans must decide whether to update the formula or let it die, which would doom much of the Voting Rights Act. He said the court’s decision could spur a renewed civil rights movement.

“This thing is not going to go away. It may be only a temporary setback,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a reorganization of the civil rights movement, you’ll see demonstration again, and with the country evolving the way it is, are Republicans going to commit suicide?”

The professor said Republicans had a long history of backing the Voting Rights Act — indeed, it was written in the office of Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, and was renewed repeatedly under Republican presidents.

The most recent renewal was in 2006, when both houses of Congress and the White House were controlled by Republicans.

In her dissent, joined by the court’s other liberal-leaning justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Congress spent years examining discrimination before that 2006 renewal and decided the formula was still relevant.

“Given a record replete with examples of denial or abridgment of a paramount federal right, the court should have left the matter where it belongs: in Congress‘ bailiwick,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

But Horace Cooper, co-chairman of Project 21, a network of conservative black leaders, said the court’s hand was forced by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who he said turned the anti-discrimination provisions into a cudgel to use against conservatives in Arizona, where the department went after a law designed to prevent illegal immigrants from voting, or in states that enacted voter ID laws after the Supreme Court said they were legal.

“I would say to the NAACP and the Urban League, if they are upset with today’s ruling they need to look to Eric Holder. He is the one who’s abusing the law,” Mr. Cooper said. “If they had singled out jurisdictions where there were actual crimes occurring, no one would have sued. These are cases where those things weren’t happening and the Justice Department said we’ve got the authority and you have to do what we say.” (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

Pray for honesty in applying the law. This requires officials committed to justice and equality. Sadly, whether for racial or political purposes, our nation’s record in guarding the ballot box, allowing only qualified citizens to vote, is far from untarnished. This includes national, state-level, and even local elections. Continue to intercede for truth to triumph as hearts and minds are changed by the Gospel.

“A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back to pervert the ways of justice.” (Proverbs 17:23)

“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:16)

“Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause, and plunder the soul of those who plunder them.” (Proverbs 22:22-23)

 

THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE LAND GRAB

On Tuesday [yesterday], Marvin Brandt of Fox Park, Wyo., will sit before the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a government lawyer who wants to take his land argue why the laws, documents and court rulings that apply to everyone else do not apply to the federal government. Mr. Brandt’s journey to the court — which reveals much about the men who built this country, a federal land-management policy that has gone wrong and the lawlessness of government officials — was nearly 80 years in the making.

In 1936, Mr. Brandt’s parents, Melvin and Lula, drove in a Chevy they owned outright from Mountain View, Mo., to the Medicine Bow National Forest of southeastern Wyoming. When they reached Fox Park, which grew out of the transcontinental railroad’s need for cross ties made from the lodgepole pines that carpet mid-elevations of the forest, they had two dollars. Like thousands of other young men in the midst of the Great Depression, Melvin Brandt was looking for work and found it among the hearty Scandinavians who logged the forest.

He was hired on to cut ties for Ole Alexander. With borrowed tools and boots, Melvin hiked into the woods, cut down a tree of at least 11 inches diameter with a one-man crosscut saw, scored the sides with a six pound double-bit ax to create a minimum seven inch by four inch face, removed the scored wood with a broadaxe, and cut the shaped wood into eight-foot lengths, each of which he lugged to the nearest road. Melvin got a nickel a tie. Soon he could produce 20 a day.

John Wicklund, who left Sweden at age 14, arrived in New York City speaking no English. He made his way to Minnesota to work in the logging camps, and was Ole Alexander’s woods boss. He and Melvin Brandt became friends and bought out Alexander in 1946. They formed Brandt & Wicklund Forest Products, and, by 1951 had built a permanent sawmill. The U.S. Forest Service, responsible for the 284 million board-feet of timber products generated annually by the forest’s million-plus acres, had planned for such a mill on the Fox Park Industrial Site tract.

John Wicklund ran the men and horses that harvested the timber and hauled it to the mill that Melvin Brandt operated. At its heyday, it was processing 6 million board-feet a year and employing 60 men. Since 1910, the Laramie, Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railway Co. had run a railroad from Laramie, Wyo., through the Fox Park site, and then south to the Wyoming-Colorado border along a 200-foot-wide, 66-mile-long right-of-way. The railroad brought in supplies and transported milled timber to Laramie and beyond.

In 1976, the Forest Service gave Mr. Brandt 83 acres in Fox Park where his family’s mill had been built on federal land that the rail line crossed, along with houses and cabins, a church, pool hall, hotel, general store, school and saloon. In exchange, the Forest Service got 200 acres nearby on Sheep Mountain, plus 40 acres near Fox Park.

Mr. Brandt’s son Marvin, raised amid the woods, the mill and the hard work, went to college, but soon returned. Unfortunately, after the 1980 recession, times were hard and things were changing. The Forest Service was no longer interested in letting Marvin Brandt harvest the timber. Instead, it left the trees to the pine beetle. It didn’t matter that the vast forest, properly managed, could sustain scores of operations like the Brandt’s mill.

In 1991, a young woman spoke of her vision to locals at a restaurant called the Hungry Woodsmen that, after the Wyoming and Colorado Railroad, as it was then known, pulled up its tracks and ties, a high-altitude bicycle trail could be built in its place all paid for by local businesses. Marvin Brandt proclaimed his was that local business and was nearly broke. That year, he sold the mill and its equipment for pennies on the dollar.

In 2003, Marvin Brandt accidentally learned of Forest Service plans to build the trail. The agency “forgot” to tell him and his neighbors. Despite the 9,000-foot elevation, snow cover from November to mid-June, and the lodgepole pine’s attempt to reclaim the path, the Forest Service audaciously predicted 120,000 bikers annually.

First, however, the Forest Service sued Marvin Brandt and seized the abandoned railroad right-of-way across the land it had traded to his family in 1976. Later this year, the Supreme Court will rule whether the Forest Service can keep it.

Wiliam Perry Pendley is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation and author of “Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today” (Regnery, 2013). (Contributor:  By William Perry Pendley for The Washington Times)

Pray for a righteous decision by the Supreme Court. At one time this could be expected, but no more. Government’s abuses of eminent domain laws are pervasive and well-documented. This is another “national sin,” which is not easily turned aside directly. Intercede for God, in mercy, to raise up righteous leaders who will govern with equity and concern for U.S. citizens, not greedy acquisition.

“You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:15-17, from the Decalogue)

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:17)

“… Providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” (2 Cor 8:21)

 

WV: DAYS OF WATER WOES STILL AHEAD AFTER CHEMICAL SPILL

Around the swollen Elk River, now flowing with a chemical that’s hard to pronounce, myriad streams and rivulets tumbled from the hillsides over the weekend, the result of a drenching downpour. Logs and branches floated downstream, toward the junction with the Kanawha in the heart of the city. Potholes on the beat-up country roads had turned into deep puddles.

As they say: Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

“DO NOT USE WATER,” say the signs taped over sinks at the airport, and in the State Capitol the sinks are entirely wrapped in plastic bags. People line up for free water at the fire stations or buy it at the Dollar General — $1.60 for a 20-ounce Dasani, $39 for a flat of 24 bottles.

A chemical used in coal processing has leaked from an old tank along the Elk and invaded the water supply, a crisis that has affected nearly 300,000 people in nine counties and effectively closed the largest city in the state. You can’t drink the water, bathe in it or do laundry with it. It’s good only for flushing.

Monday will mark the fifth day of the water emergency, which began early Thursday when people all over town registered a powerful odor like black licorice. Two state employees tracked the leak to Freedom Industries, which owns a row of vintage storage tanks along the south bank of the Elk. The chemical had leaked from an inch-wide hole in the bottom of one tank, pooled in a containment area and then seeped through a porous cinder-block retaining wall, down the bank and into the river.

Government officials said Sunday that chemical levels had dropped significantly over the weekend, enabling the West Virginia American Water Co. to begin flushing out the contaminated pipes. The entire process will take a number of days and will occur in stages, starting in Charleston and working outward to the remote areas of the distribution system.

The infrastructure here was primed for a water crisis. The intake for the system is downstream by a little more than a mile, and on the same side of the river, as the tanks containing the chemicals.

“The impacts caused by this were caused by the public water intakes being so close,” said Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Mike Dorsey, a top official with the agency, said that the substance in the tank was not considered a “hazardous material” and that the site was not subject to regular inspections by the state.

After the leak, he said, he was informed by Freedom Industries that the company had set aside $1 million in escrow to upgrade the containment area around the tanks. But those upgrades had not begun.

An attorney for Freedom Industries who was at the aging facility Saturday would not comment on the record. He provided a reporter with a copy of a news article saying that the chemical is not very toxic.

The facility was crowded with contract workers in hard hats. The buzz of heavy machinery filled the air along with the lingering licorice odor.

Freedom Industries executives have kept a low profile since a news conference Friday in which the company’s president, Gary Southern, complained of having a long day, repeatedly swigged from a bottle of water and several times tried to cut short questions from reporters. Southern played down the scale of the leak, saying, “We don’t believe a great deal of material left the facility.” He said the offending material had all been removed from the site.

That assertion was contradicted by Dorsey, who said the chemical is in the soil along the bank and in various layers of clay and concrete in the containment area. “I’m guessing there will be some coming out of that bank for some time now,” Dorsey said.

Workers have dug trenches along the river to contain further leakage of the chemical, he said. Dorsey estimated the size of the leak at 7,500 gallons, up from an initial estimate of 5,000.

The West Virginia American Water Co. sent out the do-not-use order late Thursday afternoon, but by then people had been drinking the water, cooking with it and bathing children with it. Residents are anxious and outraged and want to know how this happened, why they weren’t warned earlier and when, exactly, the chemical got into the water.

Dorsey said, “We’re fairly confident that it started on Thursday, just because of the low odor threshold of this material.”

That means it stinks. It’s not the worst smell you ever encountered, but it makes its presence known even at modest levels, like the chemical that is put into natural gas to make leaks more easily detected.

The shorthand name for the chemical is “crude MCHM.” The technical name is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. (“I can’t pronounce the chemical name. It’s MH, MCMH, it’s something like that,” said Huffman, the Cabinet secretary.)

More than 150 people have showed up at emergency rooms complaining of rashes, upset stomachs and other ailments. As of Sunday, 10 had been admitted for treatment, none in serious condition, according to the state’s tally. Government officials have mentioned that a number of people fall into the category of the “worried well.”

Now comes the Great Flushing. The chemical has invaded the entire system, from the treatment plant to the pipes in people’s homes. State officials spent the weekend testing the water at the treatment plant and in fire hydrants, waiting for the concentration to drop below one part per million. That, they said, is a level that poses no public health risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Col. Greg Grant of the West Virginia National Guard, which is heavily involved in the emergency response, said Sunday that an ­early-morning test showed no sign of the chemical in the treatment plant and dropping concentrations at fire hydrants. As the flushing process continues, further tests will be conducted on water around the region, and at some point officials will lift the do-not-use order.

“We see light at the end of the tunnel,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) said Sunday afternoon.

Even if this does not turn out to be a public health disaster, the water crisis has provided a reminder of why the Kanawha River Valley is sometimes called Chemical Valley. Freedom Industries’ Web site states, “Freedom Industries is a leading producer of freeze conditioning agents, dust control palliatives, flotation reagents, water treatment polymers and other specialty chemicals.”

Assurances that the leak poses no lethal risk has not brought everyone around here much comfort. “I drank a 32-ounce glass of it right before they put it on TV,” said Nate Halstead, 33, who works with troubled children and lives just a stone’s throw from the leak site. “I don’t know what to do, honestly.”

Most schools and day-care centers will be closed until the water crisis is over. Most restaurants and bars are closed. A few businesses have received permission from the health department to reopen; among the first in Charleston was the Monkey Barrel, which staged a drag show Saturday night.

Hotels are open, but guests can’t shower. Some residents are fleeing the affected area, flooding hotels in such places as Huntington, W.Va., about an hour’s drive from Charleston.

Others are coping by eating a lot of fried food, grilled food, or whatever they can pull out of the freezer and microwave. They are loading up on baby wipes, and when those are depleted at the store they buy the makeup-removing wipes, plus lots of hand sanitizer.

Life here is a lot like camping.

“You just make do,” said Teresa “Tiki” Easter, 49, who works in health care. “I wash my hair in the sink. You take a rag, have an old military-style bath.”

The Rev. Carolyn Hairston captured rainwater with plastic bags.

“Jesus is taking care of us. He sent us the rain,” she said. “I’ve been watching ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ for years, and I didn’t watch those shows for nothing.” (Contributor: Joel Achenbach for The Washington Post)

Give thanks that a quick official response averted disaster. Only 14 people were hospitalized, none in a life-threatening condition. One week later, fresh water is again flowing for more than 10,000 homes, with others scheduled for relief in days rather than weeks or months. Pray that those affected and all U.S. citizens will pause to give thanks for fresh, clean water, not taking God’s gifts for granted.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)     

“And [God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on .. the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord … for in Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:26-28)

 

FLORIDA CITRUS GROWERS WORRY OVER CHINESE BACTERIA

The sprawling citrus orchard that Victor Story toured recently sure looked like a steal at $11,000 an acre. The investors who owned it were going to lose money, and potential buyers such as Story might have stood to reap a handsome reward.

But as he bumped along the 40 acres of groves in a large SUV, Story was taken aback by the sickly look of the trees. Their leaves were an inch shorter than normal and yellowing. Full-size oranges were still apple green. Other mature oranges that should have been the size of baseballs were no bigger than ping-pong balls.

“That fruit’s never going to be of any value,” said Story, 68, who has been growing fruit all his life. He said his pickers wouldn’t even bother to reach for it. “It’s going to fall off the tree. It’s never going to get squeezed,” he said. “These investors paid $15,000 an acre for that grove. I know because they bought it from a friend. I frankly don’t think it will sell for $11,000.”

What Story saw in the orchard in Polk County, Fla., wasn’t an anomaly. It’s the new norm in the Sunshine State, where about half the trees in every citrus orchard are stricken with an incurable bacterial infection from China that goes by many names: huanglongbing, “yellow dragon disease” and “citrus greening.” Growers, agriculturalists and academics liken it to cancer. Roots become deformed. Fruits drop from limbs prematurely and rot. The trees slowly die.

The bacteria is spread by a tiny, invasive bug, also from China, called Asian citrus psyllid. It acquires the bacteria while feeding on the leaves of infected trees, then transmits it when feeding on healthy trees — akin to the way mosquitoes transfer malaria.

Psyllids were first detected in a Broward County, Fla., garden in 1998 and spread to 31 other counties within two years. The Asian strain of the bacteria was discovered in 2005 just south of Miami. The disease ruins the look and taste of the fruit but isn’t known to harm humans.

Florida citrus, which provides up to 80 percent of U.S. orange juice, has been hardest hit, but the disease — which also has an African and Latin American strain — also has been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California. It has spread to other parts of the world, including Mexico, India, sub-Saharan Africa and Brazil, which provide nearly 20 percent of the orange juice Americans drink. In each case, the impact to citrus has been devastating.

Worldwide concern prompted 500 scientists from more than 20 nations to gather in Orlando last February for a conference on huanglongbing. Despite the fact that nearly $80 million has been poured into research on the disease, scientists still don’t know how to eliminate the bacteria or remove it from trees.

Even those who are optimistic about a scientific breakthrough say that if the infection continues unabated for another decade or so — admittedly a worse-case scenario — Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry could be destroyed.

“What’s at stake is orange juice on the breakfast table,” said Michael Sparks, chief executive of Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade association. “I don’t want to indicate that’s going to happen next year. With a 10-year decline, your supply will reduce.”

Researchers funded by the industry, the state and the U.S. Agriculture Department are exploring an option that could save the trees and their citrus, but also turn off consumers: engineering and planting genetically modified trees that are resistant to the bacteria carried by the psyllid.

“Would that be accepted by the public?” Sparks asked. “You don’t have to do a focus group or another survey to know it is a public concern.”

He said he and the growers hope they don’t get to the point where they have to use a genetically modified plant.

The threat to the world’s citrus production is another example of how, in an era of global trade and travel, viruses, insects and animals are inadvertently transported to places they don’t belong. Pythons from Latin America and Africa are threatening the natural balance of wildlife in the Everglades; a fungus from Europe is wiping out bats along the East Coast; stink bugs from China are attacking farm crops and invading homes in the Mid-

Atlantic region; and the voracious Asian snakehead is devouring native fish in the Chesapeake Bay.

Even before being hit by the disease, Florida’s orange, grapefruit and specialty fruit crops faced many threats, including hurricanes, frost and a fungus that causes canker disease. The crops have been declining since the mid-1990s.

But the decline has accelerated since the detection of huanglongbing, said Harold Browning, chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, a nonprofit agency that studies the disease under the guidance of the University of Florida.

Since the disease’s detection in Florida City and Homestead, 90,000 acres of citrus have been wiped out. The high cost of spraying to kill off some of the psyllids is pushing some growers to the financial brink. The average cost of producing an acre of oranges is $1,800, nearly double what it cost in 1995.

“It’s a huge amount of money,” said Stephen H. Futch, a University of Florida extension agent. A 2012 analysis estimated the disease has cost growers $4.6 billion and resulted in the loss of about 8,000 jobs.

In the heyday of Florida citrus, around 1970, the number of acres with orange, grapefruit and specialty fruit orchards surpassed 900,000. Today, it’s only slightly more than 500,000 acres, according to an analysis by Futch.

But consumers have felt only a subtle pinch, he said. “The [orange juice] container got smaller, not significantly, from 64 ounces to 59 ounces. That’s a way to do a price increase without raising the price.”

Growers represented by the industry trade group “believe we are at a crossroads this year,” Sparks said. Banks are watching closely to see if they can produce enough citrus to repay their debts.

“The small growers are saying, ‘Should I continue to invest?’ ” Sparks said. “The citrus industry is built on the backs of smaller growers. In the state of Florida, we have 135,000 acres that have been abandoned.”

Story sprays the 2,000 acres of orchards he owns under his business, Story Cos., in an attempt to kill as many psyllids as possible. He sprays an additional 3,000 acres he manages for investors through a side business called Story Citrus Service.

A team of six sprayers start at 10 p.m., when the winds usually die down. They try to treat 200 acres per night, spraying until 6 a.m.

“I fall asleep looking at the radar on my phone to make sure there’s no rain,” Story said. “We don’t want it to wash off.”

Even then, the spraying keeps the psyllid at bay for only 30 days, “no longer than 45,” he said.

“Four years ago, I would see an occasional tree with this disease. I can remember seeing the first grove and seeing the first tree,” Story said. “This year I can ride around and see greening symptoms on 75 percent of my trees.”

None of that matters, Story said, because he and a determined corps of medium-size growers aren’t about to give up.

“When we lose a tree, we put a tree back,” he said. “We’re constantly resetting. There are people that are committed to this industry.” (Contributor: By Darryl Fears for The Washington Post)

Intercessors, take note! Reports of citrus industry decimation and the invasion of pythons in the Everglades remind us of Biblical plagues. Would widespread repentance for our national sins, chief among which is the abortion atrocity, give us new access to our gracious God, who wants to forgive, redeem, and heal? Pray accordingly, and watch for an upcoming prayer and fasting opportunity.

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work [of discipline].’” (Psalm 95:6-9)

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.  And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:7-9)

 

PLAYING THE SATANIC GAME OF ‘EQUALITY’

It was a devilishly clever scheme.

Last week, the New York-based Satanic Temple garnered a lot of free publicity by releasing a drawing of a proposed statue of Satan at the Oklahoma state Capitol to be placed near a Ten Commandments monument.

They probably won’t get to actually install it, since most Oklahomans can still distinguish between good and evil, and wouldn’t put up with such an abomination.

Besides, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has a moratorium on requests for additions to the Capitol grounds pending an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit over — what else? — the Ten Commandments. So the Satanic Temple probably has already gotten its maximum mileage out of this stunt.

It’s rare that the devil’s disciples come out of the closet so openly. Usually, they mask their real work of undermining the moral order by slyly distorting societal goods, such as freedom of speech or equal rights under the law. Or they twist Scripture, claiming that Jesus, who saved an adulterous woman from stoning and told her to sin no more, would be indifferent to the latest perversities or even endorse them.

The drawing, by the way, should send shivers down the backs of any unsuspecting parents who happen to view it. A horned, goat-headed figure that goes by the moniker “Baphomet” (is that his Facebook handle, too?) sits beneath a pentagram with two smiling children next to him. His lap functions as a chair “where people of all ages may sit … for inspiration and contemplation,” explains temple spokesman Lucien Greaves. Maybe on a hot day in August, when the weather conforms more closely to Baphomet’s usual haunts.

Somehow, “contemplation” doesn’t seem to fit the Satanists’ professed program of freeing humanity from all moral restraints so people can get on with trading their souls for momentary pleasures.

It’s a far cry from the scene in Mathew 19:14, in which Jesus rebukes his followers for trying to shoo away some youngsters whose parents had brought for Him to lay hands on and pray for them: “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

So, who do you think that parents would rather have bless their children, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, by Whom “all things were made,” or the unspeakably evil goat-man?

The underlying premise behind the Satanic Temple’s request is a false claim of equality. In the name of this vastly abused concept that once fueled the righteous aims of the civil rights movement, America is awash in moral confusion.

The Justice Department embraces openly racist policies — in the name of equality. The Internal Revenue Service operates what amounts to an organized theft system in which it seizes earnings from some people and give it to others — in the name of equality. “Marriages” lacking one entire sex are said to be identical to the real thing — in the name of equality. The Pentagon is pushing female soldiers and Marines toward direct combat — in the name of equality.

For years, some liberals saw no real moral difference in the nuclear-arms race between the free West and the communist world, despite the latter’s network of slave-labor camps and extermination of more than 100 million people. The two sides were equally at fault; “two scorpions in a bottle.” Today, some equate Christian conservatives with the Taliban because, after all, both are motivated by “religion.”

Along these lines, a lot of people have the mistaken idea that God and Satan are the flip sides of each other, roughly equal. They might have gotten this from cartoons in which a character such as Donald Duck has a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, both trying to persuade him to either embrace or avoid a temptation. The little devil usually wins.

Another misnomer is that even though God created all things, including taste buds, it’s the devil who came up with devil’s food cake, or anything tasty or fun. The devil cannot create anything; he can only pervert what God has created. Confused people all too often are giving the devil credit for things not of his making.

Is something beautiful? Thank God. Does something taste good? Thank God. Does something feel good? Thank God. Does the thing in question lead to a bad outcome? Thank the devil, who did not invent sensual pleasure, just many ways to misuse it.

Why would anyone erect a monument to a false god whose purpose is to lay waste to human souls? Oh, right — in the name of equality. (Contributor: By Robert Knight for The Washington Times – Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.)

God never designed intercession to make the devil and his malicious work disappear. Instead, we add fervent prayers to our witness so that Satan’s followers will repent and be saved through the Gospel. If devil worshipers erect idols, one day they will topple. Our pattern comes from the early Church, as they “plundered hell to populate heaven” (Bonnke). Let us pray for the advance of God’s kingdom.

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

 

GLEANING FOR THE WORLD PROVIDES 60,000 BLANKETS FOR THE HOMELESS

Gleaning For The World, a non-profit humanitarian aid organization based in Virginia, is providing 60,000 blankets to U.S. families suffering during extreme winter weather this month. These blankets are being distributed in 10 states, including Colorado, Nevada, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida and Georgia.

“Nearly one-third of the homeless are military veterans,” stated Ron Davidson, President of Gleaning For The World. “We are committed to helping those who have faithfully served our country in time of war. It may also surprise you that there is a large group of homeless individuals under the age of 15. They need our help as well.”

The blankets are given to homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens and to homeless communities living on the streets. In 2013 alone, Gleaning For The World distributed more than 100,000 blankets.

Gleaning For The World was founded in 1998 by the Rev. Ronald Davidson and is a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that shares the love of God at home and around the world through the efficient delivery of high quality, life-saving supplies to victims of poverty and devastation by connecting corporate surplus to critical needs.

Forbes Magazine has ranked Gleaning For The World the “most efficient large charity in America” four out of the past five years. This non-profit organization is based in Concord, VA. Jonathan Falwell serves as Board Chairman.

If you would like to help in this effort, you can donate at www.GFTW.org. (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

Intercessors will give thanks for Gleaning For The World and perhaps contribute. The report’s most jarring statement is, “Nearly one-third of the homeless are military veterans.” This brings immense pain to all patriotic citizens. Let us pray that Congress, the Church, and charities like “Gleaning” will soon remedy such a shameful situation. As Christian believers, we may repent for our nation’s sins. 

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him,saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

On Watch in Washington January 15, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

 

On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014

January 8th, 2014

On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

RNC SET TO DELIVER BIG STATEMENT ON ABORTION

In an unprecedented show of opposition to abortion, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is delaying the start of the party’s annual winter meeting so he and other committee members can join the March for Life on the Mall, The Washington Times has learned.

Mr. Priebus, a plain-spoken Greek Orthodox lawyer from Wisconsin, will join members of his party’s national committee and thousands of other abortion opponents in the annual right-to-life march scheduled for Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that declared abortion a constitutional right.

“I saw that there was a real interest among a significant portion of our members to attend and support the Rally for Life,” Mr. Priebus said in an email to The Times. “This is a core principle of our party. It was natural for me to support our members and our principles.”

Mr. Priebus, in his second term as elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, chose to delay the start of the four-day winter meeting of the GOP governing body, also scheduled in Washington, to allow himself and RNC members to attend the march. The delay is unprecedented for a major U.S. political party, several state Republican Party chairmen and other RNC members said in telephone interviews.

Mr. Priebus also decided that the RNC will charter a bus to and from the march for those among the RNC’s 168 members who wish to attend, he said.

“I will attend the March for Life and am making a few simple modifications of the schedule and ensuring that the members have safe and adequate transportation to and from the rally,” he said in his email.

In an email circulated among other members, Alaska RNC member Debbie Joslin said, “I have served under a number of chairmen and not one of them ever made any opportunity for us to attend the March for Life, and they always scheduled critical meetings for the same time as the March for Life. Big thanks to Reince for standing up for the unborn!”

The chairman’s action is an example of the increasingly bottom-up instead of top-down way the RNC functions.

On paper, the RNC is quite democratic in structure — it is made up of an elected state party chairman and an elected committee man and a committee woman from each of the 50 states and five U.S. territories. But for almost its entire history, the national chairman, in an informal alliance with the GOP congressional leadership and top fundraisers, has called the shots.

But this act was different.

“When Reince got wind of what members were planning on their own, he emailed that he would shift our RNC schedule so we could attend, and he offered that the RNC would get transportation for us,” Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin said.

Oklahoma RNC member Carolyn McLarty, an evangelical Protestant, said the schedule change had its origins in an email reminder about the march from Virginia RNC member Kathy Hayden “about a week ago and that we could probably attend at least part of it prior to the start of the RNC meetings. … Things have snowballed from there.”

She said West Virginia RNC member Melody Potter had “contacted the bus company and the emails started flying with members wanting to attend.”

“I am pumped at the opportunity that we have as a party,” Mrs. Potter said. “There is nothing that we cannot accomplish together. We are Republican for a reason.”

The March for Life is one of the biggest events of the year for social conservatives. Although neither the National Park Service nor any other government agency publicly releases estimates of such demonstrations and rallies, organizers said about 650,000 people marched last year.

As testimony to the steady increase since the 1980s of social and religious conservatives — especially evangelical Protestants — in the Republican Party electoral coalition, House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican and a Catholic, addressed the rally last year.

“It wasn’t easy for my mother to have 12 children, but I’m sure glad she did,” Mr. Boehner said. “So I’ve never considered ‘pro-life’ to be a label or a position. It’s who I am, and it’s who we are as a people.”

The pro-life rally and march will run from noon to 1 p.m. with a warm-up event and concert in the hour before the rally begins its route up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court Building on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Priebus made his decision after learning that about 20 members were planning to hire and share the cost of a bus to take them from the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington to the rally and back.

Responses to the march from Mr. Priebus‘ predecessors have ranged from quiet opposition to pro-life language in the party’s platform to a public and determined effort by Haley Barbour to quash attempts to deny RNC financing to pro-choice GOP candidates.

The Democratic National Committee platform has long featured a pro-choice plank supporting the 1973 Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in all states and territories.

“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay,” its plank says.

In vivid contrast, the Republican platform reads in part: “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

Some political observers see the American public in recent years moving in the pro-life direction.

A Gallup poll in May of 1,535 adults found 48 percent saying they consider themselves pro-life and 45 percent pro-choice, with 5 percent saying they are unsure or don’t know what the terms mean. An April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults found 52 percent thinking abortion should be illegal under all or almost all circumstances.

In a reflection of leanings on abortion by the press and the entertainment industry, 51 percent said they think most Americans are pro-choice.

Not so in reality, according the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s resident scholar Karlyn Bowman. Over four decades, she writes, a variety of polls show “opinion about abortion is stable, it is also deeply ambivalent. Americans are at once pro-life and pro-choice.

“On the one hand, substantial numbers tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. On the other, they say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice. … They believe in the sanctity of life and in the importance of individual choice.”

Many major donors — considered vital to the party’s competitiveness in elections — historically have opposed the Republican Party’s embrace of an abortion ban because it would, they feared, alienate female voters, particularly the unmarried and young.

Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue, a Methodist, doubts a backlash from wealthy contributors as a result of Mr. Priebus‘ actions.

“Major donors might feel the RNC should not use party money to pay for buses,” Mr. Yue said. “But during the conservative steering committee conference call, members were talking about booking a bus and sharing the cost. If major donors complain about the bus cost, they will be viewed as petty.”

The conservative movement — whose members usually vote Republican — generally retains its long-held view that someone can be a true conservative regardless of which side of the abortion issue is favored.

Pro-life Republicans in general, however, often are less tolerant of their opposites on the issue, which is the mirror image of the pro-choice Democratic Party, whose pro-life members say they, too, often find themselves muzzled. (Contributor: Ralph Z. Hallow for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for this encouraging answer to the prayers of the many U.S. Christians who pray for “Life” and for the upcoming “March for Life” (January 22nd) throughout the preceding year. Some of you are reading this alert. Thank the Lord for Reince Priebus’ principled stand vs. political pragmatism. Ask God to bless and vindicate his bold pro-life leadership, even within a divided political party and divided nation. Intercede that many of his fellow Republicans will likewise be convicted to “come out” strongly with a stand for “Life” for the innocent not-yet-born babies. Pray, too, for the March and the day itself: for its leaders and all participants, for those who will travel to Washington, DC to be safe and protected from harassment or physical harm. The opposition is often threatening. And where supporting Scriptures call on the Lord to destroy His enemies, Christians understand that these “enemies” are not the spiritually blind people who oppose us, but are spiritual forces of wickedness and demonic powers. 

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

[God says] “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire [of testing], you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

 

NSA WILL NOT SAY WHETHER IT SPIES ON CONGRESS

Congress is just like everyone else. That’s the message the National Security Agency has for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The independent senator from Vermont sent a letter to the agency Friday, asking whether it has or is “spying” on members of Congress and other elected American officials.

The NSA provided a preliminary response Saturday that said Congress has “the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.”

“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,” said the agency in a statement obtained by CNN.

The response goes on to promise the agency will continue to work with Congress on the issues – without ever addressing the senator’s real question.

Sanders defines “spying” in his letter as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or e-mails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The NSA would say nothing more, except that it is further reviewing the letter.

“We will continue to work to ensure that all Members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties,” read the statement.

Attorney General Eric Holder similarly deflected answering the same question at a congressional hearing last summer, telling Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, that the NSA had no “intent” to spy on Congress, but the issue was better discussed in private.

The intelligence community has faced heated criticism from the right and left in 2013 after Edward Snowden’s leaks, and the intensity has continued fiercely in 2014.

On Thursday, the New York Times and the Guardian published scathing editorials that slammed the “violations” Snowden’s leaks revealed and advocated a presidential pardon for him.

Among those charges was the notion that James Clapper Jr., the director of National Intelligence, lied to Congress while testifying last March that the NSA was not collecting data on millions of Americans.

National Intelligence was quick to push back, with a letter to the editor from by general counsel Robert Litt, published in the New York Times on Saturday.

“As a witness to the relevant events and a participant in them, I know that allegation is not true,” writes Litt, explaining that Clapper misunderstood the question, but couldn’t publicly correct his mistake “because the program involved was classified.”

“This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person’s state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure.”

Litt said that Clapper was “surprised and distressed” when he was informed by staff that he gave a misleading answer after the testimony. (Contributor: By Conor Finnegan for CNN–CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.)

We are praying here for the emergence of Truth. The following quote is not from the Bible, but the poet spoke truth when he wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” The “practice to deceive” is rampant across our nation, and many high-ranking political leaders are leading the way. Cheating, scandal, and deception abound on all sides and in all branches of our government. One cover-up leads to the next, until systematic lying or withholding of truth becomes the order of the day. The Framers’ ideal of balance of powers and intra-branch accountability seems hopelessly outdated. How desperately the nation needs a resurgence of truth, moral uprightness, and integrity at all levels. Pray for the Church to awaken as well. It strays from truth by sending an “easy grace” message that obscures the claims of Jesus Christ and compromises the cost of discipleship and holy living. Interceding effectively requires courage and honest introspection. Let us ask God to move by His Spirit with transforming revival, even to the discomfort of our own plans and desire for peace and security. “Come, Holy Spirit, and once again shake everything than can be shaken. Rend the heavens and come down. Visit our nation with Your salvation. We ask You for extended mercy and the grace to repent.” Righteous people can repent on behalf of an unrighteous nation.

“Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence—as fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down; the mountains shook at Your presence.”  (Isaiah 64:1-4)

“He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.”
(Proverbs 12:17-22)

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28)

 

SUING OVER OBAMACARE EXEMPTIONS FOR CONGRESS

If the president wants to change the health-care law, he must ask Congress to do it.

On Monday, Jan. 6, I am filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to make Congress live by the letter of the health-care law it imposed on the rest of America. By arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the administration has exceeded its legal authority.

The president and his congressional supporters have also broken their promise to the American people that ObamaCare was going to be so good that they would participate in it just like everyone else. In truth, many members of Congress feel entitled to an exemption from the harsh realities of the law they helped jam down Americans’ throats in 2010. Unlike millions of their countrymen who have lost coverage and must now purchase insurance through an exchange, members and their staffs will receive an employer contribution to help pay for their new plans.

It is clear that this special treatment, via a ruling by the president’s Office of Personnel Management, was deliberately excluded in the law. During the drafting, debate and passage of ObamaCare, the issue of how the law should affect members of Congress and their staffs was repeatedly addressed. Even a cursory reading of the legislative history clearly shows the intent of Congress was to ensure that members and staff would no longer be eligible for their current coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan.

The law states that as of Jan. 1, 2014, the only health-insurance plans that members of Congress and their staffs can be offered by the federal government are plans “created under” ObamaCare or “offered through an Exchange” established under ObamaCare.

Furthermore, allowing the federal government to make an employer contribution to help pay for insurance coverage was explicitly considered, debated and rejected. In doing so, Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing. They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law’s benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.

Eager, that is, until they began to understand what they had actually done to themselves. For instance, by agreeing to go through an exchange they cut themselves off from the option of paying for health care with pretax dollars, the way many Americans will continue to do through employer-supplied plans. That’s when they went running to President Obama for relief. The president supplied it via the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which issued a convoluted ruling in October 2013 that ignores the clear intent and language of the law. After groping for a pretext, OPM essentially declared the federal government a small employer—magically qualifying members of Congress for coverage through a Small Business Health Options Program, exchanges where employers can buy insurance for their employees.

Neat trick, huh? Except that in issuing the ruling, OPM exceeded its statutory jurisdiction and legal authority. In directing OPM to do so, President Obama once again chose political expediency instead of faithfully executing the law—even one of his own making. If the president wants to change the law, he needs to come to Congress to have them change it with legislation, not by presidential fiat or decree.

The legal basis for our lawsuit (which I will file with a staff member, Brooke Ericson, as the other plaintiff) includes the fact that the OPM ruling forces me, as a member of Congress, to engage in activity that I believe violates the law. It also potentially alienates members of Congress from their constituents, since those constituents are witnessing members of Congress blatantly giving themselves and their staff special treatment.

Republicans have tried to overturn this special treatment with legislation that was passed by the House on Sept. 29, but blocked in the Senate. Amendments have also been offered to Senate bills, but Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to allow a vote on any of them.

I believe that I have not only legal standing but an obligation to go to court to overturn this unlawful executive overreach, end the injustice, and provide a long overdue check on an executive that recognizes fewer and fewer constitutional restraints. Senator Johnson is a Republican from Wisconsin. (Contributor: Ron Johnson for The Wall Street Journal)

Give thanks for Sen. Ron Johnson’s attempt to legally address the logjam that characterizes the healthcare law known as Obamacare. Whether we agree with the senator’s political philosophy or not, all concerned Christian citizens and intercessors can petition God to bring “truth in the inward parts.” Almost all analysts agree that the law is out of control, and news reports make it clear that most members of Congress fear facing voters’ wrath and legitimate charges of hypocrisy and cronyism in an election year. Let us pray for divine restraint on government structures (e.g., the health care law) that are steeped in lies and confusion. Nothing brings division to our nation more quickly or decisively than for elected officials to turn themselves into a ruling class, immune from the laws they sponsor and pass. Let us pray accordingly. These themes will continue into the new year ahead of us. Let us be much in prayer. In a constitutional republic, which Americans have in theory, leaders are elected to serve and represent, not to rule and be “above” the citizenry.

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

 

RISE OF THE EXORCISTS IN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Forty years after The Exorcist scared the wits out of cinema audiences around the world, the Roman Catholic Church is training up a new generation of priests to meet a growing demand for exorcisms.

Dioceses across Italy, as well as in countries such as Spain, are increasing the number of priests schooled in administering the rite of exorcism, fabled to rid people of possession by the Devil.

The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the Church said.

The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the Church to sideline unauthorized, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.

The trend comes four decades after the 1973 release of The Exorcist, the American horror film based on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and attempts to exorcise her by two priests.

The diocese of Milan recently nominated seven new exorcists, the bishop of Naples appointed three new ones a couple of years ago and the Catholic Church in Sardinia sent three priests for exorcism training in Rome, amid concern that the Mediterranean island, particularly its mountainous, tradition-bound interior, is a hotbed of occultism.

In Spain, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, chose eight priests to undergo special training in May to confront what he described as “an unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession”. The Church in Spain was coming across many cases that “go beyond the competence of psychologists” and they were occurring with “a striking frequency”, the archbishop said.

“Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism,” said Fr Francesco Bamonte, the president of the Italy-based International Association for Exorcists. “The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help,” he told La Repubblica last month.

The association was founded in 1993 by Fr Gabriele Amorth, who served as the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms.

He has written several books on the subject, including The Last Exorcist — My Fight Against Satan.

A controversial figure, he has claimed that yoga is “evil” because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and other Eastern religions.

During the papacy of Benedict XVI he said that the sex abuse scandals which engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Australia and other countries were proof that the Antichrist was waging a war against the Holy See.

The Church insists that the majority of people who claim to be possessed by the Devil are suffering from a variety of mental health issues, from paranoia to depression. Priests generally advise them to seek medical help.

But in a few cases, it is judged that the person really has been taken over by evil, and an exorcism is required.

The need for exorcisms is “rare, very rare”, said Fr Vincenzio Taraborelli, a priest in a church which lies just a few hundred yards from the Vatican. “In the cases where a mental illness is apparent, we try to send them to a doctor.”

Don Gianni Sini is a priest in Sardinia, an island with a reputation for spiritualism — its interior is dotted with mysterious stone-built structures called nuraghi, which predate Carthaginian and Roman occupation.

“People come to me thinking that with an exorcism they can resolve all the problems they have in their lives. A child is doing badly at school? With an exorcism we can make him study. They see exorcists as a last resort. Out of 100 people that I receive, there will be one who has need of me as an exorcist.”

“Demonic” possession manifests itself in people babbling in languages foreign to them, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon.

They must undergo the official Catholic rite of exorcism, which involves a consecrated priest invoking the name of God, as well as various saints and the Archangel Michael, to cast out their demons. The growth in the number of priests being trained is “a response to public demand, but it’s also about quality control”, said John Allen, an expert on the Vatican from the National Catholic Reporter.

“There are all these guys, some of them priests, who have set themselves up as exorcists. A lot of it is fairly dodgy theologically — they are self-appointed exorcists running around purporting to be acting on behalf of the Church.

“Now there is an attempt to ensure that all this is done in accordance with the Church’s official teaching. The hierarchy don’t want it going on outside the official channels.” Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian and the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, said the Church teaches that evil exists and that in extreme cases it can take possession of a person.

“God has the power to beat his adversary, but Satan never ceases to work. There are people who experiment with subjection to the Devil, even a state of diabolical possession, for which the help of an exorcist can be necessary,” he told La Repubblica.

“When Christians recite the Our Father prayer, they ask for delivery from evil. In every diocese the bishop chooses one or two priests to act as exorcists — they have to be well balanced and discreet.

“The great majority do not have need of an exorcism, but medical treatment. But with those who are possessed we begin a course of conversion, help them to return to prayer, to the sacraments, to enable them to throw off the possession.”

Belief in black magic and Satanism may have been spread by the internet, but there has been a streak of popular superstition in the Catholic Church for centuries. “I’m not sure it ever really went away,” said Mr Allen. “After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, there was a great deal of embarrassment among ‘enlightened’ Catholics about exorcisms and other aspects of the supernatural. It was seen as a medieval anachronism.

“But at the grassroots level there has always been a very strong streak of popular religion, a fascination with the occult and the powers of the Devil.

“We know that Pope Francis is a strong believer in popular religion such as Marian devotion, but that also includes belief in the Devil.”

In May it was claimed that Pope Francis had performed an exorcism during a Mass in St Peter’s Square.

Television images show him laying his hands on a wheelchair-bound man, who appears to go into convulsions with his mouth open before slumping down into his chair. The encounter was shown by TV2000, a channel owned by the Italian bishops’ conference, which quoted experts as saying that there was no doubt the Pope had performed an exorcism.

Fr  Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later dismissed the claims, saying Pope Francis “did not intend” to perform an exorcism — an ambivalently-worded denial that left many convinced that he had indeed done so.

Pope Francis has not publicly commented on exorcisms, but many of his sermons and homilies feature references to the Devil.

During a Mass in November in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he lives, he said that although “God created man to be incorruptible”, the Devil entered the world and there are those “who belong to him”.

At a Mass days before, he talked of the dangers of worldliness, warning that: “When we think of our enemies, we really think of the Devil first, because it’s the Devil that harms us. The Devil enjoys the atmosphere, the lifestyle of worldliness.”  (Contributor: By Nick Squires for Telegraph)

Despite widespread denial, Bible-believing people know that Satan (the devil) is real, as are demonic forces. Jesus recognized demons as having will and intelligence. He had authority over them and when He demanded they stop their torment and leave their victims, in every case they were compelled to obey His commands. The apostles and early disciples were given similar authority in His name, and the demons knew whom they had to obey and who were bogus, without divine anointing or spiritual credentials (see Scripture below). Today, demonic activity persists, and there are those servants of Christ who are able to minister effectively to demon-oppressed people who may have physical and/or emotional symptoms that manifest as diseases. Give thanks for a reawakening to these spiritual realities, and pray that such ministry to the oppressed be approached soberly, reverently, in faith, and in the fear of God. Genuine exorcism or deliverance ministry, when properly given, will always be done by Christian believers in the authority of Jesus’ name and for the glory of God.

“Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.” (Luke 4:33-35)

“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘Weexorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts 19:11-17)

 

A CENTURY OF BLACK AMERICAN ISLAM

The year 2013 marks the centenary of the reported founding of the Canaanite Temple in Newark, N.J. That was the very earliest form of an indigenous black American Islam, one completely distinct from normative Islam, the 1,400-year-old religion from Arabia founded by Muhammad. From this movement came Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan.

The century divides into two main eras: inventing a new religion (1913-1975) and moving toward normative Islam (1975-2013).

Timothy Drew (1886-1929), an American black who called himself Noble Drew Ali, founded the Newark temple and then, in 1925 another, better verified organization, the oddly named Moorish Science Temple of America. His ideas derived mainly from four unlikely sources — pan-Africanists, the Shriners, Ahmadiyya Muslims and white racists.

From pan-Africanists such as Edward Wilmot Blyden and Marcus Garvey, he appropriated the notion of Christianity as the religion of whites and Islam that of nonwhites. As a practicing Shriner, Noble Drew Ali borrowed traits from this organization, such as the use of “Noble” before one’s name, the requirement that men wear fezzes and a network of lodges. From Ahmadis, he took Arabic personal names, the crescent-and-star motif, the prohibition of pork and the notion of Jesus traveling to India. From white racists came the idea that accomplished black Americans are not Africans at all, but “Moors,” “Moorish-Americans” or “Asiatics,” a mythical northwest African people, the Moabites, who migrated to sub-Saharan Africa.

From this unique mixture, Noble Drew Ali concocted the 64-page scripture of his religion, the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America (Chicago, 1927), which despite its name has almost nothing to do with the normative Islamic Koran but is largely plagiarized from two texts, one occult Christian and the other Tibetan. Even more strangely, his Koran focuses not on the figure of Muhammad, but on Jesus.

Noble Drew Ali hoped that by avoiding association with Africa, inventing a new identity for American blacks and urging them to be loyal to the United States, they would appear to be new immigrants and, like other newcomers, would escape entrenched racist stereotypes and avoid segregation. But such was not to be. As the historian Richard Brent Turner writes, “Noble Drew Ali did not understand that the melting pot was closed to black people in the 1920s.”

MSTA declined with Noble Drew Ali’s death in July 1929. The organization still exists with a following of about a thousand adherents. One member, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, was convicted for his part in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and sentenced to 35 years. Another, Narseal Batiste, got 13 years for planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

The Temple had a key role as precursor to the Nation of Islam (NOI), which came into existence in July 1930. MSTA began the dual tradition, subsequently picked up by NOI, of appropriating the imagery of normative Islam without its content and then using this folk religion as a vehicle to escape white racism. Both focused primarily on un-churched American blacks and served as a bridge for them to convert to normative Islam. Many MSTA traits — the term “nation,” the “Asiatic” identity, the rejection of Negro and Africa, the identification of Islam with “people of dark hue,” the prediction that all whites would be destroyed and the leader’s claim to prophet-hood and even at times divinity — survived in NOI.

Many of NOI’s earliest members had previously belonged to MSTA, and they often saw the Nation as the Temple’s successor. Elijah Muhammad, NOI’s effective founder, himself praised the MSTA forerunner and sometimes modestly portrayed his movement as “trying to finish up what those before us started.”

Since 1975, the momentum has been away from MSTA and NOI in favor of normative Islam, with its more than 1 billion adherents. MSTA and NOI cannot compete against the depth, gravitas and resources of this world faith. NOI has been bleeding members to normative Islam, to the point that it hangs on thanks mostly to the prominence of the elderly and sick Mr. Farrakhan (born 1933). After his passing from the scene, NOI will likely follow MSTA into a rapid decline, with black American Muslims overwhelmingly adopting normative Islam.

Despite their insignificant futures, MSTA and NOI retain their importance because nearly all of today’s approximately 750,000 black American Muslims — and a potentially much larger community in the years ahead — trace their roots to that Canaanite Temple in Newark a century ago. (Contributor:  By Daniel Pipes for The Washington Times – Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.)

When Jesus was on earth teaching, preaching, and healing the sick, He was moved with great compassion, seeing the multitude of people weary and scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Similarly, let us see people—regardless of their religion or of no religion—as needing the peace, security, and inner balance that only He can bring to the human experience. We follow His example through prayer and evangelistic witness, treating all people with respect on the basis that all are made in the image of God; but also knowing that image in us all is tainted and distorted by sin. From the Christian perspective, all pathways do not lead to God or to heaven, which makes true Christianity both inclusive and exclusive. This article reminds Christians that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save men and women from their sins and from the wrath of God that will bring eternal judgment apart from His salvation. In this regard, Christianity is exclusive, in that there is only one way. But the invitation is inclusive, calling “whosoever will” to come and find forgiveness of sin and peace with God through Christ. Let us pray for a resurgence of a powerful Christian witness in our nation. Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior results in changed lives and turning from hostilities toward others, whether they become believers or not.   

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Matt. 9:36-38)

“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.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

 

SUPREME COURT PUTS UTAH HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE ON HOLD

The Supreme Court has put homosexual marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue.

The court issued a brief order Monday blocking any new homosexual unions in the state.

The order follows an emergency appeal by the state following the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state’s ban on homosexual marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since then.

The high court order will remain in effect until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to uphold Shelby’s ruling.

The state’s request to the Supreme Court was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor turned the matter over to the entire court.

The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same-sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby’s ruling. The appeals court had twice rebuffed the state’s plea to stop gay weddings pending appeal.

Utah changed its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage in 2004.

Nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on homosexual marriage, Proposition 8.

Though the church has softened its stance toward homosexuals in recent years, the church still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.” Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.  (Contributor: Mark Sherman for ABC News, The Associated Press)

We have several prayer points. 1) Evangelical Christians can respect and learn from the Mormon solidarity in Utah that creates a state-sanctioned ban on homosexual “marriage” at least for the near future. Pray for renewed unity and for reconnections within the larger Christian Church, to set a similar example and support a united cause represented by this challenge to a biblical lifestyle; 2) Pray for renewal and spiritual awakening in our nation through sweeping revival, where God shows His power while extending His mercy for a nation to return to its roots in God’s Word and in practical righteousness; and 3) Pray for the Supreme Court, for Chief Justice John Roberts, and for the associate justices by name, for salvation to come to those who do not know the true and living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In several pending cases, we will intercede much this year, asking God to intervene, to restrain, and to sovereignly uphold righteous causes and restrain from wrong decisions.   

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

“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. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus …” (1 Timothy 2:1-5)

 

HEALTH OFFICIALS RESPOND TO BEACH RADIATION SCARE

An amateur video of a Geiger counter showing what appear to be high radiation levels at a Coastside beach has drawn the attention of local, state and federal public health officials. Since being posted last week, the short video has galvanized public concerns that radioactive material could be landing on the local coastline after traveling from Japan as a result of the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Government officials say they are looking into the video shot on Dec. 23 and performing their own sampling of the beaches, but they have found no indication so far that radiation levels were hazardous.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” said Dean Peterson, county environmental health director. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

First posted last week on YouTube, the seven-minute video shows the meter of a Geiger counter as an off-camera man measures different spots on the beach south of Pillar Point Harbor. The gadget’s alarm begins ringing as its radiation reading ratchets up to about 150 counts per minute, or roughly five times the typical amount found in the environment.

Counts per minute is a standard way for Geiger counters to measure radiation, but it does not directly equate to the strength or its hazard level to humans. Those factors depend on the type of radioactive particles and isotope.

Nonetheless, the video went viral online, gaining nearly 400,000 views in the last week.

In a blog entry, the unidentified poster of the video noted that he has been monitoring local beaches for two years before noticing a sudden rise in radiation levels in recent days. The Review was not immediately able to contact the man who made the video.

In the following days, other amateurs with Geiger counters began posting similar videos online. The videos follow other alarming news last month that starfish were mysteriously disintegrating along the West Coast, a trend that has not been linked yet to any cause. Past computer simulations had indicated that radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima reactors could begin appearing on West Coast shores by early 2014. Those findings, published in August by the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain, also noted that any radioactive material that crossed the Pacific would likely be diluted and fall below international safety levels.

County health officials first learned of the radiation levels last week, and they sent their own inspector on Dec. 28 to Pacifica with a Geiger counter. Using a different unit, the county inspector measured the beach to have a radiation level of about 100 micro-REM per hour, or about five times the normal amount. REM stands for “Roentgen equivalent man,” a measurement of the dosage and statistical biological effects presented by radiation.

Although the radiation levels were clearly higher than is typical, Peterson emphasized that it was still not unsafe for humans. A person would need to be exposed to 100 microREMs of radiation for 50,000 hours before it surpassed safety guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he explained.

Peterson admitted he was “befuddled” as to why radiation levels were higher than normal, but he was skeptical that the Fukushima meltdown could be the cause. He noted that many innocuous items could spike the radiation levels in an area, including red-painted disposable eating utensils.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” he said.

Peterson forwarded the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Public Health, agencies with more expertise on analyzing radioactivity.

A state Public Health spokeswoman said her office was contacted on Thursday and was still looking into the matter. More information would be available by next week, she said.

“We can’t comment on anybody’s media creation. We really have no way of knowing right now whether it’s valid or not,” said spokeswoman Wendy Hopkins.

An amateur video of a Geiger counter showing what appear to be high radiation levels at a Coastside beach has drawn the attention of local, state and federal public health officials. Since being posted last week, the short video has galvanized public concerns that radioactive material could be landing on the local coastline after traveling from Japan as a result of the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Government officials say they are looking into the video shot on Dec. 23 and performing their own sampling of the beaches, but they have found no indication so far that radiation levels were hazardous.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” said Dean Peterson, county environmental health director. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

First posted last week on YouTube, the seven-minute video shows the meter of a Geiger counter as an off-camera man measures different spots on the beach south of Pillar Point Harbor. The gadget’s alarm begins ringing as its radiation reading ratchets up to about 150 counts per minute, or roughly five times the typical amount found in the environment.

Counts per minute is a standard way for Geiger counters to measure radiation, but it does not directly equate to the strength or its hazard level to humans. Those factors depend on the type of radioactive particles and isotope.

Nonetheless, the video went viral online, gaining nearly 400,000 views in the last week.

In a blog entry, the unidentified poster of the video noted that he has been monitoring local beaches for two years before noticing a sudden rise in radiation levels in recent days. The Review was not immediately able to contact the man who made the video.

In the following days, other amateurs with Geiger counters began posting similar videos online. The videos follow other alarming news last month that starfish were mysteriously disintegrating along the West Coast, a trend that has not been linked yet to any cause. Past computer simulations had indicated that radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima reactors could begin appearing on West Coast shores by early 2014. Those findings, published in August by the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain, also noted that any radioactive material that crossed the Pacific would likely be diluted and fall below international safety levels.

County health officials first learned of the radiation levels last week, and they sent their own inspector on Dec. 28 to Pacifica with a Geiger counter. Using a different unit, the county inspector measured the beach to have a radiation level of about 100 micro-REM per hour, or about five times the normal amount. REM stands for “Roentgen equivalent man,” a measurement of the dosage and statistical biological effects presented by radiation.

Although the radiation levels were clearly higher than is typical, Peterson emphasized that it was still not unsafe for humans. A person would need to be exposed to 100 microREMs of radiation for 50,000 hours before it surpassed safety guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he explained.

Peterson admitted he was “befuddled” as to why radiation levels were higher than normal, but he was skeptical that the Fukushima meltdown could be the cause. He noted that many innocuous items could spike the radiation levels in an area, including red-painted disposable eating utensils.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” he said.

Peterson forwarded the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Public Health, agencies with more expertise on analyzing radioactivity.

A state Public Health spokeswoman said her office was contacted on Thursday and was still looking into the matter. More information would be available by next week, she said.

“We can’t comment on anybody’s media creation. We really have no way of knowing right now whether it’s valid or not,” said spokeswoman Wendy Hopkins. (Contributor: By Mark Noack for Half Moon Bay Review)

Watch Video

It may be wise to approach this kind of article with caution, as it is preliminary at best and will require more study and research to reach any sort of conclusion. Let us give thanks for the knowledge— from Scripture—that God is firmly in control of His creation. While mankind has been given a huge responsibility as stewards, this is often abused by bad personal habits and industrial pollution that would no doubt be avoided and lessened if all people approached life in the recognition of the Creator and in the fear of the Lord. However, the worst pollutant of all is sin, and the world system, not our own system of governance, is not from God’s viewpoint. Much interest in this radiation phenomenon may well be born out of fear. Pray against hysteria and for patience to wait for findings that will indicate what the authorities are to do—if anything—in response. Intercessors should take a patient and long-range view and pray as the emerging facts warrant our intercession.

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

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

 

IT’S SO COLD IN CANADA THE GROUND HAS LITERALLY BEEN CRACKING OPEN

Pavement froze so quickly, it cracked open, known as a “frost quake.” (photo: CTV News)

 

A few nights ago, residents across Canada took to Twitter, announcing the loud noises they heard during the night, CBC News Toronto reported.

Although many called police stations, they didn’t hear gunshots or sonic booms. Instead “frost quakes,” also known as cryoeisems, caused quite a stir.

These occur when temperatures drop so drastically and quickly, ground water (like accumulated rain or even wetness in the soil) immediately freezes and causes the earth to crack open.

When water freezes, it expands. Sometimes the ground, especially rigid surfaces like the pavement pictured below, just can’t take the pressure.

Two years ago in 2011, confused Indiana and Ohio residents reported the same phenomenon.

Temperatures reached about -4 degrees Fahrenheit in Toronto on the night of January 3, CBC reported. Considering temperatures across the U.S. will match and even beat Canada early this week, residents might hear some cracks in the night, as well.

Although frost quakes don’t share their causes with earth quakes, a seismograph — an instrument that monitors movement of the earth — can pick up the events, if the ground cracks close enough to the device. People experiencing frost quakes also often mistake them for earthquakes, perhaps the origin of the name. (Contributor: Christina Sterbenz for Business Insider)

This brief article simply reports some phenomena associated with sudden, extreme cold. In itself, such “frost quakes” have no profound spiritual meaning. However, the story gives us grounds for praise and for prayer. It reminds us of the intense struggle going on in parts of the world where some so-called scientists are determined to prove that a huge global-warming phenomenon will soon engulf the entire world with massive flooding. But once again, “He who sits in heavens [is laughing], and ther Lord holds them in derision.” True science lets data lead researchers to conclusions based on findings and testing, but these false “scientists” insist on making the data support previous, foregone conclusions without supporting evidence. Let us praise God for His consistency and His control over all expressions of weather. And let us pray God continues to express His power and supremacy over all of what we call nature. Pray too that many will turn from their defiance of God’s laws to acknowledge Him as Creator and Sustainer of life on the earth. It is always truth that sets people free.

“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.”
(Psalm 2:1-4)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.” (Psalm 111.10)

 

PRIVACY FOR ALL STUDENTS WINS IN COURT

In a strongly worded tentative ruling, a Sacramento Superior Court judge directed the California Secretary of State to count petitions submitted in two northern California counties for a referendum effort to overturn AB 1266, California’s co-ed bathroom law.

The Secretary of State had refused to count signatures timely submitted in Tulare and Mono counties.  In Tulare County, mail room personnel initially refused to accept the petitions from a courier. In Mono County the package was delivered but not opened for a number of days.

The problems in both Counties resulted from the statutory filing deadline falling on a Sunday in the middle of a three day weekend.  Privacy For All Students, the organization that promoted the referendum, arranged for courier delivery before the Sunday deadline in both counties.  While each of the counties reported the signatures to State elections officials, the Secretary of State refused to count any of the signatures submitted in these counties.

“It is a shame that we had to go to court to assure that the citizens of Tulare and Mono would not be disenfranchised by the arbitrary actions of the Secretary of State,” said Gina Gleason, proponent of the referendum.

The opinion, delivered by Judge Allen Sumner concluded that PFAS actually had until Tuesday, November 12 to file the petitions, due to the weekend and the Monday holiday.  The Secretary of State initially told PFAS that signatures needed to be delivered to each of the 58 counties by close of business the previous Friday, or earlier if the registrar of voters in a county was closed on Friday.

PFAS made arrangements with some counties to accept signatures on Sunday, November 10.  The Secretary of State conceded that petitions delivered on Sunday would be accepted, but signatures would not be counted after that.  Based on this, PFAS did not attempt to deliver petitions as late as November 12.  Petitions were delivered to the two counties in dispute on Friday November 8 and Saturday November 9.

“The process of collecting 504,760 valid signatures in 90 days is tough enough.  But the Secretary of State seemed determined to shorten the time we were given wherever possible,” said Karen England, a spokesperson for PFAS.  “We have slowly realized that the Secretary of State is not an unbiased referee in this process but an advocate for the co-ed bathroom law.”

Nearly 620,000 signatures presented in support of the referendum are being validated in a joint process by the counties and the State.  Presentation of those signatures in November suspended the implementation of the law.  However, officials at the office of the Secretary of State are erroneously advising that the law became effective on January 1.  PFAS is advising school personnel that the law was suspended based on the presentation of the signatures and that the law will only go into effect if the signatures are determined to be inadequate or the voters approve the law on the November ballot. (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

Once again, sensitive and sensible Christians stand shocked at the lack of common sense, logic, and common decency that does not recognize the fundamental right of the students to personal privacy, To change such time-honored principles is capricious, arbitrary, and prompted by nefarious motives that are definitely not in the interests of the students’ natural biological identity as either girls or boys. Pray that truth and common sense prevail and that these tender, young, and impressionable lives not be confused and compromised by worldly and sinful manipulation and experimentation.

“For since the creation of the world His 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)

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6)

On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014

December 23rd, 2013

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

IS EXERCISE THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH?

Early one morning about eight years ago, my mom, then just shy of 90, stood at the door of my home office and said that her left arm hurt between her shoulder and elbow. Scared she was having heart problems, I called our family doctor, who sent Mom for a full day of cardiac testing. One test required her to walk on a treadmill. The staff hovered, worried that she’d lose her balance and tumble off. The attention was unwarranted. She easily kept up and even had enough breath to inform her attendants: “You know, I work out with a personal trainer every week.” She still does.

Mom has always valued exercise, and I’m convinced — along with her doctors, who are backed by a strong body of research — that her longtime fitness habit has slowed her decline and kept her in generally good health. (That pain in her arm turned out to be nothing.)

Exercise is “the best medicine no one wants to do,” says Ronan Factora, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Even tiny bites of fitness bring big rewards. A 2011 study that aimed to figure out whether a low level of exercise could bring health benefits showed that even 15 minutes of walking a day can add three to five years of life.

“I tell my elderly patients that it doesn’t take very much exercise to benefit them,” Factora says. “We’re not talking about breaking a sweat. I’m not asking you to run a marathon. I’m just asking you to get up and move.”

People at any age benefit from exercise, he says, and the frailest residents in nursing homes benefit the most.

Exercise helps keeps aging bodies healthy by increasing blood flow to the brain, carrying extra oxygen and other nutrients. It also helps keep blood pressure and blood sugar at normal levels, lowering the risk for vascular dementia, Factora says.

Exercise can also lower risk for dementia by keeping the hippocampus — the place in the brain where we make and store memories — a healthy size, according to some research. As we age, the hippocampus shrinks, raising our risk for dementia. In a study published in 2010, researchers tested aerobic exercise on 120 healthy adults. After one year, the hippocampus increased in volume by 2 percent in the group participating in aerobic exercise — “effectively reversing age-related loss in volume” by one to two years, according to the researchers. The volume declined in control-group, members, who were not asked to do aerobic training.

Even frail people with dementia benefit from exercise. According to a new review by the Cochrane Collaboration, eight clinical trials found that people with dementia who exercised improved their performance on tests used to evaluate memory loss. The reviewers expressed cautious optimism about the results, noting that there were differences in results from individual trials and that there was not enough evidence to show that exercise improves symptoms of depression. “Nevertheless, these are encouraging results, as dementia is a debilitating disease that results in progressive decline in cognition and ability to perform” daily activities.

Frailty itself should not keep those with cognitive impairment out of the gym. Researchers at the University of Heidelberg showed recently that people with dementia can be taught to use exercise machines and that the exercise done by people in this group can indeed be rigorous. And these workouts can help them both physically and mentally.

Everyone has limits, and it’s always best to start slowly, but “move from zero to something,” Factora says. He suggests having someone such as a physical therapist help monitor progress at first. Then move to a personal trainer and exercise on a regular schedule.

Mowing the lawn in her 70s

For my mom, exercise hasn’t always meant the gym. When my sisters and I were young and playing in the yard, she’d always race us to the back door. She kept fit in part by cutting the grass in our large yard, a practice she continued throughout her 70s. “I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Mom says. “I used to be a secretary and I sat at a desk five days a week, so I always felt like I wanted to get up and move.”

After Mom was widowed 13 years ago, she moved in with my husband and me. To help with her social life and keep her osteoarthritis at bay, I signed her up for an aerobics class that we took together. She and the instructor hit it off so well that I signed Mom up for weekly private workouts with her.

From the start, the trainer put Mom, then 85, through a challenging, hour-long program that works every major muscle group. Today, Mom’s left knee is bone on bone — end-stage joint disease. She walks in pain every day, and some days are worse than others. But she goes to the gym anyway, climbing the stairs to the weight room even on really achy days.

Mom warms up on a recumbent exercise bike for about eight minutes. Then her trainer starts her on a circuit of resistance machines and free weights. Mom works her abs by sitting on a bench and doing crunches by lifting her knees to her chest. She stays on the same bench and works her legs by repeated standing and sitting. Then, she uses two-pound free weights for her biceps and shoulders. She’ll do some push-ups against the wall before moving to the equipment for more upper- and lower-body work.

She and her trainer finish up on the mat with a few more abs, and they end with some stretches. If Mom’s knee is really bad, they’ll skip the mat and finish with abs and stretches with Mom sitting on a bench. By then, her hour is up. Her doctor is amazed and delighted that she continues this routine, and tells her that he wishes all of his patients were that active.

Years ago, after Mom and her trainer had been working together for a few months, the trainer had Mom on a mat and said to me, “Hey, come here and your feel your mom’s abs.” They were rock-hard.

‘The exercise talk’

Mom hasn’t always had it easy. She survived two bouts with breast cancer. When she was 74, she broke her first bone — her right wrist — when, as usual, she was moving too fast and slipped on the basement floor. At the time I was working as a bone researcher at what used to be Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Every Friday morning, we had a department-wide bone conference. Not long after Mom broke her wrist, Stanley Birge, a gerontologist at Washington University School of Medicine, spoke about exercise and falls in the elderly.

Afterward, I signed Mom up for one of his clinical trials on exercise and aging. During one of the office visits when Birge was taking Mom’s family history, she complained to him that I wouldn’t let her use the StairMaster in her basement unless I was there to supervise. Birge called me, and we had “the exercise talk.” He said that Mom’s spine was so riddled with osteoarthritis that it would “snap like a rusty hinge” if she didn’t keep those muscles strong. He also told me to let Mom use the StairMaster because “we can’t keep our parents in glass houses.”

After that, I let Mom use the StairMaster whenever she wanted, and I added some exercises to strengthen muscles in her upper back.

In 2007, Mom fell while running to answer the phone. Her left side hit the slate floor in our entryway, and she broke her left arm right below the shoulder. Once the break healed, Mom could barely raise that arm. The orthopedic surgeon sent her to physical therapy for eight visits, saying that she’d never regain her mobility. The therapist worked Mom’s shoulder in much the same way as her trainer, using weights and resistance training and a lot of stretching. After four visits, you’d never have known that shoulder was broken. The therapist called the doctor and canceled the rest of the visits, saying we’d be wasting our money if we continued with therapy.

As caregivers know, tending to aging parents takes its toll, even if the person you’re caring for is someone as wonderful as my mother. Three years ago, I began to think I really I couldn’t do it anymore and visited some residential-care facilities.

The places were nice, and the residents looked clean and well tended. But not one facility I visited had an exercise room. David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, assures me that the places I visited are the exception. “Starting about 10 to 15 years ago, it’s become much more common to include gyms in senior housing facilities,” he says.

Ultimately, I decided to keep Mom with us. She was 95 years old then, and I don’t think she would have lived to 98 had she moved into a residential facility.

Here’s what the years of working out with Mom have taught me: We greatly underestimate the sheer physical strength we’re capable of achieving at any age. A few weeks ago at the gym, I filmed my mom doing her second set of leg curls. I counted along, and at 10 reps, thinking she was done, I said, “That’s 10, Mom!” Her trainer corrected me: “She does 15.” (Contributor: By Jeanne Erdmann for The Washington Post – Erdmann is a freelance health and science writer based in Wentzville, Mo. )

You’re never too old to exercise. A 98-year-old show us why. VIDEO LINK

This is a good reminder for seniors to stay as active and healthy as long as they can, including a proper diet and whatever exercising they are able to maintain. And for younger people, who may think “old age” is many years away, it could be a wake-up call to get started on a healthier regimen as a form of “prevention insurance” to help ward off the early debilitations that we all will face in later years. Perhaps it is also a good reminder that “it’s never too late to start,” as we review our eating choices and exercise options. While we cannot (nor do Christians wish to) adjust God’s will and purpose for our lives, including the fact that “our times are in (His) hands” and that the number of our days is written in God’s record book, still we can cooperate with God to remain as healthy and active in His service for as long as possible while continuing our journey toward a bright eternity with Him.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand; Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me for Your mercies’ sake. Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You….” (Psalm 31:15-16, 19)

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16, Amplified)

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

 

U.S. SENATOR COBURN RELEAES 2013 WASTEBOOK

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today released his annual oversight report “Wastebook 2013” highlighting 100 examples of wasteful and low-priority spending totaling nearly $30 billion.

“While politicians in Washington spent much of 2013 complaining about sequestration’s impact on domestic programs and our national defense, we still managed to provide benefits to the Fort Hood shooter, study romance novels, help the State Department buy Facebook fans and even help NASA study Congress,” said Dr. Coburn.

“Had Congress, in particular, been focused on doing its job of setting priorities and cutting the kind of wasteful spending outlined in this report, we could have avoided both a government shutdown and a flawed budget deal that was designed to avert a shutdown.  The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in Wastebook 2013 is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement.   There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps.  What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices – and passage of fiscally-responsible spending bills – possible,” said Dr. Coburn.

“This report speaks volumes about why confidence in government is at an all-time low.  The hard truth is we’d much rather borrow than cut.  The American people are right to expect more,” said Dr. Coburn.

Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2013” include:

  • Uncle Sam Looking for Romance on the Web – (NEH) $914,000

The Popular Romance Project has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) since 2010 to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”

  • Mass Destruction of Weapons – (Department of Defense) $7 billion

As the U.S. war effort in the Middle East winds to a close, the military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment. The military has decided that it will simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home.

  • Millions Spent Building, Promoting an Insurance Plan Few Want and a Website that Doesn’t Work – (Department of Health and Human Services) At least $379 million

With nearly half-a-billion dollars in government funding put behind promoting a product that relatively few people seem interested in purchasing off a website that doesn’t work, Obamacare is perhaps the biggest marketing flop since Coca-Cola introduced the world to “New Coke” in 1985.

  • Government Study Finds Out Wives Should Calm Down (NIH) $325,525

If your wife is angry at you and you don’t want her to stay that way, you might avoid passing along the findings of this government study. Wives would find marriage more satisfying if they could calm down faster during arguments with their husbands, according to government-funded research.

  • Fort Hood Shooter Continued to Collect Government Paycheck (Army) ($52,952 in 2013)

While the families of the survivors and victims were fighting to receive military benefits, the Fort Hood shooter Major Nadal Hasan was cashing his paycheck. Since the shooting, Hasan has received over $278,000 in military benefits because the Military Code of Justice doesn’t allow a soldier to be suspended until they are found guilty.

  • NASA Searches for Signs of Intelligent Life … in Congress – (NASA) $3 million

One of NASA’s next research missions won’t be exploring an alien planet or distant galaxy. Instead, the space agency is spending $3 million to go to Washington, D.C. and study one of the greatest mysteries in the universe—how Congress works.

  • Hurricane Sandy “Emergency” Funds Spent on TV Ads ($65 million)

In January 2013, Congress passed a bill to provide $60.4 billion for the areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  However, instead of rushing aid to the people who need it most, state-level officials in New York and New Jersey spent the money on tourism-related TV advertisements.

  • Federally Funded Solar Panels Covered at Manchester-Boston Airport Because the Glare Blinds Pilots and Controllers (FAA) – $3.5 million

When officials at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire installed new solar panels, they did not anticipate one quarter of them would not be used 18 months later. In Spring 2012, the panels were placed on top of the airport’s parking garage, and 25 percent have remained there, covered with a tarp, rendering them useless. Problems with the new panels were noticed almost immediately by air traffic controllers who claimed that for 45 minutes each day, glare made it difficult to oversee the airport’s runways.

  • Need Brains!  Fighting Zombies with Pluses and Minuses — (NC) $150,000

A grant from NSF went to a company in North Carolina to develop a math learning game based on the zombie apocalypse.

  • NASA’s Little Green Man (NASA) — $390,000

Since NASA is no longer conducting space flights, they have plenty of time and money to fund a YouTube TV show and cartoon series called “Green Ninja” in which a man dressed in a Green Ninja costume teaches children about global warming.\

Supporting documents:

Defense-related waste here.

Tax-related waste here.

Pray that these disclosures will promote greater budget management in 2014 and beyond. Pray that our national leaders will seek wisdom from the Lord who desires to give wisdom and understanding to those who will humble themselves and call upon His name.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

MEDICINE’S GROWING SPIRITUALITY

In a health crisis, patients and families may turn to a member of the hospital staff who offers help beyond the physical aspects of medical treatment: the chaplain.

With growing recognition of the role of spirituality in health care, hospital chaplains are being called on to help patients cope with fear and pain, make difficult end-of-life decisions and guide families through bereavement after a loss. They may help sick or dying patients reconnect with estranged family members. New guidelines call for chaplains to be included on teams of doctors and nurses who provide palliative care—which specializes in relieving the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness. And chaplains often step in to help clinicians deal with their own feelings of stress and burnout.

Nearly 70% of community hospitals surveyed in 2011 provided chaplaincy services, up from 62% in 2003, according to the American Hospital Association.

The New York-based HealthCare Chaplaincy provides chaplaincy services in the city’s health facilities, offers educational programs for professional chaplains, and conducts research in the field. Because so many patients and caregivers are dealing with chronic illness outside the hospital setting, the nonprofit organization is planning to launch a new website, ChaplainsOnHand, which will include a Chat With a Chaplain feature to allow users to communicate by email or phone with a professional chaplain.

In Times of Trouble

“Now seems to be the time for spirituality to come along in health care, as everyone recognizes we are all body, mind and spirit,” says the Rev. Eric Hall, a Presbyterian minister and the group’s chief executive officer. “At times of difficulty, the chaplain is an incredible resource to engage and guide and direct.”

Chaplains are typically board-certified by one of several professional associations following at least 1,600 hours of education. While they may come from different religious affiliations, they are able to minister to all faiths—or to those who don’t have a specific religion but feel the need for spiritual guidance or discussion, Mr. Hall says.

A Pew Research poll last year found that the number of Americans who don’t identify with any religion increased to nearly 20% of all adults from 15% five years earlier. Yet Pew also found that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way, with two-thirds saying they believe in God and more than a third classifying themselves as spiritual but not religious.

The Big Picture

Wendy Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University and author of the 2012 book “Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine,” says she has seen nurses in intensive-care units pray for patients, or respiratory therapists say a prayer when they must remove a breathing tube, in the presence of family. But chaplains “define healing in a much broader, more holistic way than other members of the health-care team,” her research found, and they almost universally they believe they can best facilitate healing by helping patients tap their inner resources, rather than by calling on a higher power to intervene in their outcome.

Until recently there has been little data on what U.S. medical schools teach with regard to spirituality. A 2010 survey by researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that 90% of medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health. Ms. Cadge says such courses, along with an increase in academic research, have helped raise awareness among doctors about spirituality’s importance to health.

At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Sister Kathleen Gallivan directs a chaplaincy-services department with about a dozen chaplains available in the hospital 24/7. Often, they are called in the middle of the night when a crisis occurs, such as a new trauma victim coming in through the emergency room or the death of an infant. Her team will call in outside clergy from a specific faith if requested, but provides rituals and prayers for every religious tradition. They have blessed stem cells before transplant and held bedside wedding ceremonies for dying patients.

Sister Gallivan, a Roman Catholic nun who has a master of divinity degree and a Ph.D in pastoral psychology, says chaplains are a crucial part of the movement known as patient- and family-centered care. “Everyone else has a task in health care, and our job is to listen,” she says. “A lot of what we provide is emotional support, even if we do nothing but sit with someone for presence and companionship.” (Contributor: Laura Landro for The Wall Street Journal – Ms. Landro is a Wall Street Journal assistant managing editor and writes the Informed Patient column.)

Offer thanks to the Lord that many hospitals are recognizing the wonderful power and grace that the Lord brings to the patient in need of His healing touch.

“Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble; I will deliver you, then you will honor me.” (Psalm 50:15)

 

AFTER SENATE BUDGET VOTE, FEW HOPES FOR A PRODUCTIVE 2014

The bipartisan budget compromise that passed the House by a wide margin last week has inspired House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to blast outside conservative groups that he said were using Republican members of Congress for their own gain. It has inspired kind words between the two legislators — Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — who hammered out the deal. And it has inspired hope that, after years of governing by crisis, Congress may begin returning to something resembling regular order.

But that hope masks a deeply divided Senate, where ill will over recent rule changes has heightened a bitter partisan divide. As the Senate prepares to take up the budget deal this week, both sides say it is likely to be one of the final pieces of significant legislation to pass the 113th Congress as midterm elections loom.

Even the deal’s chief Democratic negotiator conceded Sunday that her relationship with Ryan is no sign of things to come.

“I think the grand bargain, you know, that puts everything in a whole lot of tough votes on the table is impossible to find at this point,” Murray said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Despite the broad bipartisan vote to pass the budget deal in the House, Democrats are still trying to come up with the 60 votes necessary to break a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate. On Friday, several key Republicans signaled that they would vote to end debate. That list included Sens. John McCain (Ariz), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Richard Burr (N.C.). Several others, including Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), have indicated that they may vote for cloture. McCain said Sunday he would support the final measure.

“The struggle is still on in the United States Senate; we will need about eight Republicans to come our way. I feel we’ll have a good, strong showing from the Democratic side. But we need bipartisan support to pass it,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The Senate is expected to vote to end debate Tuesday morning, followed by a vote on final passage by Wednesday evening. The chamber is scheduled to end its legislative business for the year on Friday, though aides in both parties suggested that it may adjourn Wednesday or Thursday.

After the Senate reconvenes in January, observers say, the coming year is unlikely to yield significant legislative action. Democrats will probably advance measures intended to draw political contrasts with Republicans — including a proposal to raise the minimum wage and a number of smaller bills that they say would boost jobs and strengthen the economy. None of those measures are likely to win Republican votes or spur action in the GOP-controlled House.

“Senate Democrats have the opportunity over the next year to work with us to make job creation easier rather than pushing job-killing tax hikes; they have the opportunity to work with us to protect consumers from the consequences of Obamacare; and they have the opportunity to undo the damage they’ve done to the legislative process. Sadly, all signs point to more of the same political legislation designed to fail,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “The American people have given us divided government. The administration needs to accept it.”

Congress won’t be completely dormant: House and Senate negotiators are nearing a final deal on the farm bill, and the two chambers are working on a ­water-resources agreement. Democratic and Republican negotiators will also have to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling, probably by mid-February.

Immigration reform, a major priority for President Obama, is stuck in the House; Boehner has said the chamber won’t take up the Senate-passed version of the legislation.

The Senate is likely to take action on a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to make changes to the military’s handling of sexual assault cases, and to consider a new package of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

But in an election year in the sixth year of a presidency, there is little precedent for major bipartisan agreements. John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee, pointed to a tax reform bill that passed in 1986. But Congress had been working on that measure for months, and there is no such significant deal being discussed on Capitol Hill today.

“Even aside from increased partisan polarization, it is hard to see how lawmakers could pull off anything comparable in the remaining months of the 113th Congress,” Pitney said.

And while Ryan and Murray have been highly complimentary of each other, relations between the parties in the Senate have been rubbed raw by a package of filibuster rule changes that Democrats forced through the chamber last month.

The Ryan-Murray compromise “is not a sea change in terms of how the bodies work,” said Jeff Bjornstad, a lobbyist and former Murray chief of staff. “The dynamics of the filibuster change will just reentrench the small ball.” (Contributor: By Reid Wilson for The Washington Post – Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.)

 

Greetings, intercessors, and welcome to a new year of challenge and prayer with IFA. It is a privilege for us to serve our many readers with up-to-date, weekly prayer alerts that carry biblical foundations. Even with Congress out on end-of-year vacation, our primary prayer focus today can only be for unity in a nation seriously and severely divided. Let us agree in prayer: “Father God, we are called ‘The UNITED States’ but are divided at so many levels. We face growing division nationally, politically, socially, economically, and spiritually. We are divided on such basic matters as to whether our Constitution is still valid for guidance and balance in the 21st century. Despite a bloody Civil War and civil rights laws, we are still divided racially. Our country needs a new moral pathway. We who understand repentance want to repent for our many national sins. We pray, in this election year, that Your Church will find unity of purpose in prayer and in voting carefully and prayerfully to raise up morally upright leaders who truly want ‘liberty and justice for all.’ But even beyond the ballot box, we know ‘salvation’ and ‘restoration’ cannot come from Washington, DC. Our nation needs a wellspring of revival to sweep the country with Your transforming power. Please hear us and come to our aid. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord of the Church and coming Prince of Peace. Amen!”

 

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

 

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

 

KATIE FALLON IS NAMED NEW LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR

With congressional elections looming next year, President Barack Obama named a veteran Democratic operative as his new chief liaison to Capitol Hill on Friday, following a long period of bitter partisan fights.

Deputy communications director Katie Fallon, formerly a senior Senate aide, will take over as legislative affairs director in January. She will replace Miguel Rodriguez, a former aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who says he is leaving to work in the private sector.

The change is a recognition that the White House needs to improve relations with lawmakers, after bruising battles over health care and the budget. Congressional Democrats are concerned that the troubled rollout of Obama’s health care law could impact their chances in the 2014 midterms. Obama needs the lawmakers’ help to get any of his agenda passed, after few accomplishments the first year of his second term.

With polls showing a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, outsiders have been calling on the president to make changes to a team made up largely of long-time confidants. Obama is bringing back his legislative director from his first term, Phil Schiliro, to help get his health care overhaul on track.

The most significant staff change was announced earlier this week, when the White House said prominent Democratic adviser John Podesta would be taking on the role of counselor to the president, replacing longtime Obama aide Pete Rouse. Additionally, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has announced she plans to leave in the spring, and other White House staffers may depart in the coming weeks. The rest of the senior staff is expected to stay largely intact.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has been leading an effort to repair relationships with lawmakers, including regular meetings with senators facing re-election. The White House said McDonough wanted to restructure the legislative affairs office to be more responsive to lawmaker concerns and better promote Obama’s agenda, and proposed to the president that Fallon take on the task.

“Katie is whip smart, and fully understands the challenges and opportunities members of Congress face every day,” McDonough said in a statement.

The White House said Obama and Fallon met recently to discuss challenges with the Hill and come up with a plan for addressing them, including strategy around stalled immigration reform and communication about the health care law’s implementation.

Fallon has been deeply involved in the White House’s public response to the health law’s problems, creating “strike force” communications teams of Democrats from the House and Senate to coordinate the message of the day. She is a protégé of New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and helped run his communications “war room” for the Senate Democratic leadership before she moved to the White House earlier this year.

Obama announced Fallon’s new position in a written statement. “She has the deep expertise and strong relationships required to build on the progress we’ve made this year and advance my top priority: creating jobs and expanding broad-based growth and opportunity for every American,” it said. (Contributor: The Associated Press and NPR)

Political restructuring and infighting are endemic to a divided nation, especially as 2014 is an election year. Again, disunity is rampant at every level. Both major parties are divided, and President Obama’s allies in Congress are seriously concerned about his very low approval ratings (meaning very high disapproval ratings!). Please continue to pray, and invite other intercessors to join you and perhaps your prayer group, that we might together ask God, humbly and sincerely, to bring salvation to the White House and to the halls of Congress. Even though we know there are many men and women, people with strong Christian faith, who serve on Capitol Hill and in the Administrative Branch, we pray for direct penetration of the Gospel, by the work and power of the Holy Spirit, to confront the highest levels and branches of U.S. government power, for the glory of God and the salvation of many. Let us agree that our primary pleas for unity must begin with the Church, which itself needs healing and revival to be a source of spiritual prayer power for our country.

“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)

“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. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all….” (1 Timothy 2:1-6a)

 

EXTREMIST SYRIAN FACTION TOUTS TRAINING CAMP FOR BOYS

At first glance, the training camp appears no different from the many others shown in propaganda videos posted by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Hooded recruits in camouflage shoot at targets or march in formation under the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

But look closer and the “fighters” appear quite small. The tallest are barely chest-high to their instructors, and the shorter ones wear ill-fitting uniforms and appear to struggle under the weight of their weapons. A photo of the recruits without their hoods confirms that all of them are young boys.

They are “Zarqawi’s Cubs,” the youth brigade of Syria’s most fearsome Islamist rebel group and one of the newest manifestations of al-Qaeda’s deepening roots in rebel-controlled sections of the country. Building on earlier efforts to expand their influence in Syrian schools, radical Islamists appear to be stepping up efforts to indoctrinate and train children, some as young as 10, according to independent experts who have studied the phenomenon.

The establishment of the Zarqawi’s Cubs camp — revealed in a video posted last month by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — is viewed as particularly worrisome because of the similarities to Iraq’s “Birds of Paradise.” That brigade was created a decade ago by the same terrorist group, in its earlier incarnation as al-Qaeda in Iraq, to train children for military missions, including suicide bombings.

“This is the future threat,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit organization that has tracked the exploitation of children by Syrian fighting groups over the past two years. “These are the children of al-Qaeda.”

U.N. agencies and human rights groups have accused multiple Syrian factions — including secularist rebels and pro-government militias — of recruiting children for military roles ranging from scouting to actual combat.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch interviewed boys as young as 14 who were used to transport weapons or serve as lookouts. Even younger children were put to work loading bullets into magazines for assault rifles, said Sarah Margon, acting director of the group’s Washington office.

“It’s something that children often do because their fingers are smaller,” Margon said. But such practical considerations aside, “for those looking to indoctrinate, it is a ripe setting for indoctrination,” she added.

The Obama administration last year imposed restrictions on some of its nonmilitary aid to Syria in part because of concerns about the use of child soldiers. Invoking a 2008 law forbidding assistance to countries that use child soldiers, the administration approved restrictions on certain types of nonmilitary aid to Syria as well as the Central African Republic, Burma, Sudan and six other countries, according to State Department documents.

The appearance of training camps for young boys suggests a more systematic effort to incorporate the youngest Syrians into the conflict, as ideological supporters and as combatants in a religious war against a regime led by the country’s minority Alawites, members of an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam, according to experts who study jihadist groups.

Radical groups often post images on social media that highlight the role played by children, and some attempt to tailor their messages to appeal to the very young, said Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadist groups at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“They understand that they are the future and, therefore, need to be exposed and indoctrinated to the ‘cause,’ ” Zelin said. It explains why some groups operate age-based training camps that start with “cubs” and progress to “lion scouts” for older teens and adults, he said.

The ISIS youth group was named in honor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who founded al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group notorious for its spectacular suicide bombings targeting Shiite mosques and bazaars in Iraq’s Shiite neighborhoods, as well as its videotaped beheadings of Western hostages. Zarqawi, killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, remains an inspirational figure for Islamist extremists worldwide, as well as the ideological father of ISIS and other al-Qaeda-allied rebel groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra.

The video depicting the Zarqawi’s Cubs camp describes the location of the facility as near Ghouta, the same eastern suburb of Damascus that was struck in a chemical-weapons attack in August that killed more than 1,000 civilians. Much of the region has been held by rebels for months, despite intense fighting in some villages.

The boys are shown being led by masked instructors through small-arms exercises and sitting in groups under the ISIS banner, some of them weighed down by bandoleers of machine-gun ammunition. Other images show the boys undergoing instruction or, in one instance, talking happily over a lunch of flatbread. Beverages are distributed in colorful cups adorned with the cartoon “happy face.”

In the soundtrack, Arab voices sing a mournful song. “Oh mother, don’t be saddened by my leaving,” it says at one point, explaining that the boys are going away to fight “for the sake of defeating the Jews.”

Experts who viewed the video said it appeared authentic, though precisely when and where the images were recorded could not be established with certainty. Nor is it clear how many children are being trained.

Others who have tracked the recruitment of children by Syrian militant factions see the latest initiatives as intended mainly to indoctrinate young Syrians raised in a country that has a long tradition of secularist rule. The emergence of training camps for youths comes on the heels of school-outreach programs by both ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which control swaths of northern and eastern Syria. Both organizations have posted videos on Twitter and YouTube showing visits to Syrian classrooms by armed militants, who hand out Islamic textbooks, as well as food and gifts.

Another self-identified ISIS video, posted in late November, shows a man in conservative Arab dress leading several dozen children in Syria’s Aleppo province in denouncing a list of “infidels,” including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and President Obama.

“Imagine we had here with us an Alawite, from al-Assad’s family or religion. Would we like him?” asked the leader in Egyptian-accented Arabic.

“No,” the children replied.

“What would we do with him?” the leader asks.

“Slaughter him,” came the answer, in unison.

The speaker congratulates his young listeners. “Slaughter him, right. Because he is an infidel,” he says. (Contributor: By Joby Warrick for The Washington Post)

 

First, let us acknowledge that this is an extremely sad, heart-wrenching news item. But beyond news, it is further evidence of a nation that has lost its soul, as it trains Islamist youth to become killing machines, motivated by demonic principalities and powers. Beyond that, however, we are reminded that the goal of this training—indeed, with every action linked to al-Qaeda’s murderous intentions—is the destruction of Israel and, if it were possible, the United States. The article, chilling as it is to read, supports the assertion that the focus of hatred being taught these boys is the Jewish state. So let us pray accordingly. This is not the last time this year—far from it!—that we will discuss and pray about the four-way, fragile connections among the U.S., Syria, Iran, and Israel. And our special focus of prayer, regardless of personal politics, must be that God will guard and protect our president from the “fatal” blunder for any nation, namely, the failure to stand with Israel in its challenges. Please note the Scriptures below and pray accordingly. The promises of God cannot be abrogated, and the Scripture cannot be broken.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 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.’” (Gen. 12:1-3)

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, You are gods…’ If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken) …” (John 10:34-35)

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

 

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL PRAYER CAUCUS ISSUES FOR PRAYER IN 2014

Opposing hostility towards faith in the Air Force – Congressman Randy Forbes joined Congressman Diane Black and Congressman Todd Akin in sending a letter signed by 66 Members of Congress urging Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to investigate a pattern of hostility towards faith in the United States Air Force.  Over the last year, the Air Force has repeatedly capitulated to pressure from outside groups to remove religious symbols and references to faith from the service.  The letter calls on Secretary Panetta to issue clear Department of Defense policy guidance, consistent with our Constitution, to preserve the place of religious expression in the military at large.

Urging the President to preserve religious hiring rights – Congressman Randy Forbes and Congressman Mike McIntyre sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to maintain current policies that allow faith-based organizations that consider religious criteria in their employment decisions to perform contract work for the federal government.

Supporting legislative prayer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – Thirteen Members of the House of Representatives have joined the Family Research Council (FRC) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of legislative prayer.  The Lakeland City Commission in Florida had a policy of inviting clergy to offer invocations at the beginning of its meetings.  The Atheists of Florida sued, arguing that because most of the prayers were offered by Christian clergy, the prayers were “too sectarian” and thus violated the Establishment Clause.  The brief submitted by the Members argues that courts do not have the jurisdiction to delve into the inner workings of a deliberative body’s meetings because of the constitutional separation of powers between the branches of government.

Supporting the freedom of school boards to open meeting with prayer – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting a resolution introduced by Congressman Tim Walberg that supports the freedom of school boards to open meetings with prayer.  H.Res.662 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that school boards are deliberative bodies similar to city and county councils and state legislatures, and should be treated as such for purposes of analyzing the constitutionality of their prayer policies.

Working to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.489, introduced by Congressman Doug Lamborn, which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those that celebrate Christmas.  Each year during the Christmas season, there are increasing efforts to remove religious symbols and references from the holiday.  H.Res.489 emphasizes that the First Amendment does not require bans on religious references to Christmas, and supports the use of these symbols by those who celebrate Christmas.

Urging Vanderbilt University to protect religious student groups – In October of 2011, Congressman Randy Forbes led 22 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school’s nondiscrimination policy was not being interpreted in a manner that discriminated against religious student groups.  Several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on “provisional status” for requiring their student leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs.  Thirty-five Members then sent another letter in May of 2012, expressing continuing concern that the school’s nondiscrimination policy requires all student groups to open leadership positions to all students, yet exempts fraternities and sororities from the requirement while refusing to exempt religious student groups.

Fighting attempts to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance – Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus lead in sending a letter to NBC, expressing concern over the network’s omissions of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance twice in a video montage aired during coverage of the U.S. Open.  In response to the letter sent by 108 Members of Congress, the network reprimanded the employees responsible for the omissions and implemented safeguards to prevent similar instances in the future.

Opposing efforts to remove a memorial cross honoring military veterans – In January of 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cross displayed at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California was unconstitutional.  Members of the Prayer Caucus signed on to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit asking the full court to reconsider the case, and asserting that the cross’s presence at the memorial is constitutional.  After the Ninth Circuit declined to reconsider the case, Members joined the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to take up the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  In June of 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the case; however, Justice Alito issued a statement saying the appeal may have been premature and the Court may reconsider the case after the district court issues a final order on the fate of the memorial.

Urging religious freedom protections for service members – The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military raised concerns that service members whose consciences or religious beliefs conflicted with homosexual behavior would face discrimination and disapproval.  Members of the Prayer Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, urging that specific religious freedom and conscience protections be adopted during implementation of the repeal to formally assure all Americans that our citizens need not leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.

Affirming America’s rich spiritual heritage – Co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Congressman Forbes and Congressman McIntyre, reintroduced legislation to recognize our nation’s religious history.  H.Res.253, America’s Spiritual Heritage Resolution, affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history, and designates the first week in May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.

Working to decrease frivolous lawsuits challenging public expressions of religion – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.R.2023, introduced by Congressman Dan Burton, which would ensure that the legal system is not used to extort money from state and local governments through frivolous lawsuits against public expressions of religion.  H.R. 2023 would not prevent parties from filing lawsuits alleging Establishment Clause violations, but it would require each side to pay its own attorneys’ fees.  The bill would limit the remedies available to the suing party, so the only relief available would be that the state or local government would be required to stop its public expression of religion, if the court deems it unconstitutional.  The result would be a decrease in frivolous lawsuits and the assurance that state and local governments are not intimidated into halting constitutional public expressions of religion.

Recognizing the significant impact of the Ten Commandments on America’s development – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.211, introduced by Congressman Louie Gohmert, which recognizes the significant contribution that the Ten Commandments have made in shaping America’s principles, institutions, and national character.  The bill supports designating the first weekend in May as “Ten Commandments Weekend.” (Contributor: The Congressional Prayer Caucus)

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013

December 23rd, 2013

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

HARRY TRUMAN’S CHRISTMAS

On May 14th, 1948, President Harry Truman (1945-1953), against strong pressure from the State Department, signed a memo making the U.S. the first nation to recognize the newly constituted Jewish state of Israel. On April 17, 1952 he signed a bill creating an annual National Day of Prayer. On Christmas Eve 1945, Truman addressed the nation:

This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. With peace come joy and gladness. The gloom of the war years fades as once more we light the National Community Christmas Tree. We meet in the spirit of the first Christmas, when the midnight choir sang…”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men…”

It is… fitting for us to remember that the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of peace, of love, of charity to all men. From the manger of Bethlehem came a new appeal to the minds and hearts of men: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”

In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!

This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.

You will remember that Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and his companions, suffering shipwreck, “cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for the day” [Acts 27:29]. Happily for us, whenever the American Ship of State has been storm-tossed we have always had an anchor to the windward… [he spoke of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Jackson; their roles in history]

With our enemies vanquished we must gird ourselves for the work that lies ahead. Peace has its victories no less hard won than success at arms. We must not fail or falter. We must strive without ceasing to make real the prophecy of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

In this day, whether it be far or near, the Kingdoms of this world shall become indeed the Kingdom of God and He will reign forever and ever, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. With that message I wish my countrymen a Merry Christmas and joyous days in the New Year (The American Presidency Project).

America’s Christian heritage is fixed in history. Since prayer and Bible reading were essentially taken out of our public schools a generation ago, America has seen tragic spiritual decline. But America’s Christian roots run deep. With proper care, the American vine can thrive again. We who believe must care for it with prayer and unflinchingly defend the faith once delivered to the saints and proclaimed by our Forefathers. We will overcome (Rev 12:11)! (Contributor: Rev. Pierre Bynum, Chaplain & National Prayer Director Family Research Council)

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Heb 13:8

As we read again President Harry Truman’s Christmas Eve address to the nation in 1945, let us give thanks for his clear statement of biblical faith and complete dependence on God to maintain the sacred heritage his generation received from the Founders and passed on to us. How different are the political declarations of today. “Father God, how desperately we need to return to days of faith and recognition of our dependence on Your grace and providence to bring our country back to Your values. Help us to rebuild the ancient ruins and straighten out the early pathways. How we need to return to ‘the faith of our fathers.’  We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.” Thank you for standing with IFA in prayer and for allowing us to encourage you in these spiritual battles. We look forward to greater victories in 2014 through fervent intercessory prayer. God is showing His that He wants to bring revival into our own hearts first. Many changes we want to see in the nation, God waits to see first in His church.

Do not remove the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set. (Prov. 22:28)

“’Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.’” (Joel 2:12-13)

 

SARAH PALIN: CHRISTMAS

It’s that time of year again – Christmas is in the air. Snow flying in Alaska, jingle bells heard on the street corners, bright-colored lights appearing on rooftops and peppermint chocolate chip shakes at ChickFilA all point to the most wonderful time of the year. Why is it so wonderful? What do we really celebrate? With the hustle and bustle of the season, we can often run ragged and end up missing the mystery of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. With the advent of this beautiful season, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on keeping Christ in Christmas and pondering the meaning of His birth.  More than just a historical event, the arrival of Jesus on the earth was the first step toward atonement, redemption and resurrection. He was “God made flesh”, the true hope of the world. If I’m for Christmas, it’s only because I’m for Christ.

The good news the Christmas message whispers to you is, “Fear not”. That’s what the angel said to Mary, and that’s what God is saying to you now. As you wrangle through whatever challenges are going on in your life – finanancial distress, illness, concerns for your children or parents, even silly expectations you have about this season – it’s natural for you to feel fear. But Christmas is not about the “natural”, it’s about the miraculous. Herbrews 2:14 says Jesus became man “that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death.”

Trials, hardships, and – yes – death are all part of our existence on earth. One day, I’ll get the call and no one likes thinking about it, but the message of Christmas resounds anyway.

Fear not.

Why?

God helpfully elaborates.

“For I am with you”

Be not dismayed.

Why?

“For I am your God.”

It’s so common to receive cards in the mail in December with Scripture verses on pretty paper in gold foil commemorating the season. But the words are more powerful than a decoration to tape around your door frames. Forget the dopey-hopey-changey things you hear from politicians promising an easier life if only you vote the way they tell you. The words of Scripture are the only words powerful enough to change your life and this culture.
“I will help you”, God says. “I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness….Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear….Cast all your anxieties on God because He cares for you…The Lord is my light and my Salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”

Christmas gently encourages you in your weakness.

You don’t have to be perfect. Perfection came, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a humble manger. His life and death free you from others’ expectations, from cultural decay, and even from your own inadequacies.

That’s why you can rest in this season, because perfection doesn’t depend on you. Ever wonder why there are so many candles during Christmas?
“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This year, truly accept the joy and peace the holiday offers.

It can change your life.

It’s already changed the world.

Merry Christmas!

Governor Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate, has written an excellent Christmas letter that doubles as a simple Gospel tract. Let us thank the Lord. Since we surmise her mailing list to be extensive, her message has been widely disseminated. Her friends will welcome the warm, biblically sustained letter, while her political foes will also scan it with the possible motive of finding fault. Either way, the Scriptures will be paramount, words of hope and faith. “Heavenly Father, we do not know your purpose or plans for Sarah Palin’s life, but we thank you for her Christian faith and for this non-political Christmas message of the hope people can have in You and the salvation to be found in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Please guide this message to hearts of those who need to know your power to save, and give the hope of Your presence to the thousands who will read it. Amen.”

 “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:8-10)

 

WHITE HOUSE DELAYED ENACTING RULES AHEAD OF 2012 ELECTION TO AVOID CONTROVERSY

The White House systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election, according to documents and interviews with current and former administration officials.
Some agency officials were instructed to hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls, the current and former officials said.

The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Those findings are bolstered by a new report from the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. The report is based on anonymous interviews with more than a dozen senior agency officials who worked with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversees the implementation of federal rules.

The report said internal reviews of proposed regulatory changes “took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election.”

Emily Cain, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement that the administration’s “approach to regulatory review is consistent with long-standing precedent across previous administrations and fully adheres” to federal rules.

Administration officials noted that they issued a number of controversial rules during Obama’s first term, including limits on mercury emissions for power plants and Medicaid eligibility criteria under the Affordable Care Act.

“OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, but when it comes to complex rules with significant potential impact, we take the time needed to get them right,” Cain said.

But Ronald White, who directs regulatory policy at the advocacy group Center for Effective Government, said the “overt manipulation of the regulatory review process by a small White House office” raises questions about how the government writes regulations. He said the amount of time it took the White House to review proposed rules was “particularly egregious over the past two years.”

Previous White House operations have weighed in on major rules before they were officially submitted for review. But Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration, said the effort was not as extensive as the Obama administration’s approach.

“There was no formalized process by which you had to get permission to send them over,” Holmstead said, referring to rules being submitted to the White House.

The recent decision to bring on Democratic strategist John Podesta as a senior White House adviser is likely to accelerate the number of new rules and executive orders, given Podesta’s long-standing support for using executive action to achieve the president’s goals despite congressional opposition.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, said he’s concerned about the real-world impact of the postponements in the first term.

“Legal protection delayed is protection denied,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve spoken to officials at the top rungs of the White House power structure and at OIRA and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire, and we’re going to make sure they’re held accountable in a series of hearings.”

The officials interviewed for the ACUS report, whose names were withheld from publication by the study authors, said that starting in 2012 they had to meet with an OIRA desk officer before submitting each significant rule for formal review. They called the sessions “Mother-may-I” meetings, according to the study.

The accounts were echoed by four Obama administration political appointees and three career officials interviewed by The Post.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, a former official said that only two managers had the authority to request a major rule in 2012: then-administrator Lisa P. Jackson and deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe. Perciasepe and OIRA’s director at the time, Cass Sunstein, would have “weekly and sometimes semi-weekly discussions” to discuss rules that affected the economy, one said, because they had political consequences, the person said.

“As we entered the run-up to the election, the word went out the White House was not anxious to review new rules,” the former official said.
Sunstein, who has returned to his post as a Harvard Law School professor, declined to comment.

Several significant EPA proposals were withheld as a result of those meetings, officials said, including a proposal requiring cleaner gasoline and lower-pollution vehicles that had won the support of automakers but angered the oil industry.

That regulation, which would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017, was ready in December 2011, said three officials familiar with the proposal. But agency officials were told to wait a year to submit it for review because critics could use it to suggest that the administration was raising gas prices, they said. The EPA issued the proposed rule in March.

Other EPA regulations that were delayed beyond the 2012 election included rules on coal ash disposal, water pollution rules for streams and wetlands, air emissions from industrial boilers and cement kilns, and carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants.

Ross Eisenberg, who serves as vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association for Manufacturers and has criticized several EPA regulations, noted that in the past year the administration moved ahead with proposals such as the rules on greenhouse gas emissions and boilers.
“The agenda certainly did slow down, but it doesn’t change,” he said.

The administration also was slow to handle rules pertaining to its health-care law. Several key regulations did not come out until after the 2012 election, including one defining what constitutes “essential health benefits” under a health plan and which Americans could qualify for federal subsidies if they opted to enroll in a state or a federal marketplace plan.

The latter focused on what constitutes “affordable.” Treasury proposed a regulation in August 2011 saying an employer plan was affordable as long as the premium for an individual was no more than 9.5 percent of the taxpayer’s household income. Several groups — including labor unions — argued that the proposal did not take into account that the premium for a family plan might be much higher than that standard.

Unions represent a vital part of the Democratic coalition, in part because they help mobilize voters during elections.

The Treasury Department held the proposal back while finalizing all the other tax-credit rules on May 23, 2012. Treasury officials later told those working on the regulation that it could not be published before the election, according to a government official familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitive nature. The department made the rule on Feb. 1.

OMB has reduced the length of time that rules are pending this year. The agency has cut the number of rules that were under review for more than 200 days by more than half.

But while the administration is pressing ahead, activists say the delays took a toll. Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO, points to an update of the nation’s silica standards proposed Sept. 12 after a long delay. The rule, which would prevent an estimated 688 deaths and 1,585 silica-related illnesses each year, won’t be finalized until 2016.

Jon Devine, a senior lawyer in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, said small streams and wetlands remain vulnerable because of the administration’s foot-dragging. The EPA recently withdrew a proposal to outline what kind of water bodies deserve federal protection that had been pending since February 2012 and announced it would issue a legally binding rule instead.

“What’s disappointing is it leaves waters subject to the existing, weak state of affairs until they get the rule over the final hurdle,” Devine said. (Contributor: By Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post)

Prayer focus: This article is history, reporting the suppression and manipulation of truth for political advantages during the 2012 presidential campaign. However, intercessors know that such practices are not the exclusive province of one political party, one candidate, or one president. Now, as we enter an election year in our seriously divided country, let us strive to pray beyond personal politics and for truth to come forth in the public square. We know from biblical history that God sets up those who govern, and He puts them down in His broader purposes. The challenge is always that we pray for His will and not remain tied to our own preferences. Let us faithfully intercede, standing in the gap and crying out to God for the blessing, in His mercy, of righteous government. Let us face the truth as we pray, which is to acknowledge that rebellion toward God and His principles is everywhere in the U.S.: in government, politics, the media, the entertainment world—even in the church. Let us pray accordingly, noting the example of our Lord from Scripture. When He suffered, “no deceit was found in His mouth.”

“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; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

 

FDA FINALIZES VOLUNTARY RULES ON PHASING OUT CERTAIN ANTIBIOTICS IN LIVESTOCK

The Food and Drug Administration took steps last week to try to phase out the use of certain antibiotics in livestock and ensure that drugs given to animals on factory farms are prescribed by veterinarians to prevent and treat diseases, rather than merely to boost growth.

The agency finalized recommendations asking animal drug manufacturers to voluntarily alter their labels so that farmers would no longer be allowed to use antibiotics merely to make animals grow faster. In addition, the agency wants to curb over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and require farmers to get approval from a veterinarian before administering the drugs to livestock.

The announcement, welcomed by representatives of the agricultural industry but panned by some consumer advocates who had hoped for more aggressive action, comes amid growing concern that the widespread use of antibiotics in animals is helping to create resistant “superbugs” that sicken and kill thousands of Americans each year.

The vast majority of antibiotics sold each year in the United States — by some estimates as much as 80 percent — are used in agriculture rather than in human medicine. For years, consumer and environmental groups have hounded Congress and the FDA to regulate more stringently the amount of antibiotics given to animals, but the government has done little to forcibly limit the practice.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s top food safety official, said the agency’s action will create significant and meaningful changes to the agriculture industry’s status quo.

“There will be fewer approved uses, and the remaining uses will be under tighter control,” Taylor told reporters Wednesday, adding that agency officials decided to make the new recommendations voluntary because they believed it would offer the quickest and most efficient route to altering current practices. “It avoids legalistic, product-by-product regulatory proceedings that would take years to complete.”

Companies will have 90 days to say whether they plan to sign on, followed by three years to implement the changes. FDA officials on Wednesday said some of the biggest animal-drug producers have already backed the agency’s plan, and Taylor said he remained confident that more companies soon would follow suit.

Public health activists and consumer advocates, who have raised alarms in recent years about the potential consequences of the overuse of antibiotics in animals, praised the FDA for trying to address the decades-old problem of antimicrobial resistance. But they also argued that the agency’s efforts lack teeth, and that companies too easily will be able to ignore or circumvent the new standards. They also said they worried that the policy would allow companies to continue to use the drugs to compensate for cramped and unsanitary living conditions that can foster disease in animals.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a microbiologist who has unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation limiting the use of certain antibiotics to humans and sick animals, called the agency’s efforts “an inadequate response” that “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis.”
Avinash Kar, a health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy “an early holiday gift to industry.”

“It is a hollow gesture that does little to tackle a widely recognized threat to human health,” Kar said in a statement. “FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased.”

Taylor said he understands the strong opinions surrounding the issue and the lingering skepticism about voluntary regulations.

“There are a lot of reasons why companies have an incentive to take this action,” Taylor said. He added, “We reserve our ability to take regulatory action.”

In a call Wednesday afternoon, representatives from industry lobbying groups such as the Animal Health Institute and the National Pork Producers Council reiterated their support of the FDA’s new policies, which the agency first proposed last year.

“It’s going to mean a real change for how antibiotics are used on the farm,” said Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the NPPC.
Richard Carnevale, AHI’s vice president for regulatory, scientific and international affairs, said that even though the new recommendations are voluntary, it makes little sense for companies to try to ignore or avoid them. “They risk the goodwill of their customers, and they risk the potential wrath of the FDA,” he said.

Although the problem of antimicrobial resistance has been acknowledged for decades, the overuse of antibiotics in animals has taken on a higher public profile in recent years, as health officials and consumer groups have issued more and more dire warnings about the potential consequences.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alarming report about the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections, which kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. While most of those infections arise in hospitals and nursing home settings, officials underscored the massive use of antibiotics in animals as a serious concern.

“Resistant bacteria can contaminate the foods that come from those animals, and people who consume these foods can develop antibiotic-resistant infections,” the CDC’s report stated. “The use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.”
In October, a separate report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that pharmaceutical and farm lobbies had successfully blocked legislative reforms to the widespread use of antibiotics in U.S. livestock, and the organization said regulation had grown only weaker under the Obama administration.

Those findings came five years after a detailed report from a Pew Charitable Trust commission, which found that the constant feeding of antibiotics to animals in order to plump them up and ward off potential disease was making those drugs less and less effective and the bacteria they were meant to treat ever-more resistant to medicines. (Contributor: By Brady Dennis for The Washington Post)

Prayer focus: This is an extremely important industrial, social, and now, political issue! Calling all intercessors to pray and to be on guard against a health threat that could well become endemic in the U.S. virtually overnight! The article speaks for itself. Let us give thanks that regulators are stepping up inspections and enforcing controls against the meat industry’s indiscriminant and nearly unrestrained use of antibiotics on cattle farms, which makes the animals mature faster and be resistant to disease. This in turn increases the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections in consumers from so-called “superbugs,” so resistant to disease in humans that thousands of people die every year from infections that cannot be treated effectively with present pharmaceuticals. While we do not believe intercessory prayer is a “magic wand” or talisman to be waved while commanding all such problems to abate, the root cause here, which is greed, can be addressed through prayer, as there are moral implications involved. Pray for just and fair regulatory practices that will protect U.S. citizens from epidemic-like disease patterns the medical community cannot control. The issue is one of greed, and our Scriptures address God’s abhorrence of greed, lying, cheating, and deceptive practices.

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Prov. 10:9)

“He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12)

 

A CHRISTMAS PRAYER FOR THE WORLD’S CHILDREN

In rural Brazil, a group of mothers met for a health class. The missionary was talking about diarrhea. If not treated, the baby loses fluids and the soft spot on the baby’s head sinks in. One mother offered: “That happened to my baby in the morning and she was dead at night.”

Is there anyone hoping to make a child happy this Christmas morning who doesn’t grieve with this mother in Brazil? But what can anyone do about a problem so overwhelming?

Empty Tomb, inc., thinks Christians need not get overwhelmed. Instead, they can get organized.

The first step, according to empty tomb, inc., is for readers of this press release to say a special Christmas prayer for the children around the world who are facing deathly conditions.

The prayer: May church leaders in the U.S. help millions of children around the world who will die if no one cares enough to get organized.
The answer to this prayer will probably involve at least one church leader calling one other church leader to get things moving.
Fact 1: One of the largest identity groups in the U.S. is “Christian.” Perhaps 150-220 million Americans choose that label, according to different sources.

Fact 2: Church networks and Christian nonprofits are already on the frontlines where the children are dying. No new distribution systems are needed to help the children. These groups already on the frontlines need more money to help more children.

Fact 3: Timely help can make a big difference. For example, Figure 24 of The State of Church Giving through 2011 (23rd edition, 2013) shows before and after photos, 11 days apart, of the difference frontline treatment made for a seven-month old baby.

Fact 4: World leaders set the goal in 1990 and again in 2000 to reduce the number of deaths due to preventable poverty conditions in children under age 5. The goal target date is 2015. However, progress was behind schedule as the deadline approaches. As a result, in 2014, the story of the baby in Brazil will be repeated an estimated 2.3 million times around the world. In fact, two of the biggest killers are diarrhea and pneumonia.

Fact 5: According to estimates, an additional $5 billion a year could help close the gap between the number of children dying now and the goal number set by world leaders. $5 billion a year is a lot of money. But power results when each Christian does a little and it’s then put together.
Idea: Church leaders could ask 100 million of the Christians in the U.S. to give $50 a year more, through their own churches or Christian organizations of their choice, to help reach the goal of reducing child deaths.

Question: Who can mobilize 100 million Christians for the common purpose of helping to keep more children from dying? Christians are in many different churches, working through many different distribution systems. Yet, if more Christians could get the big picture, they could unleash power through their oneness. They could help these children in Jesus’ name by each donating $50 a year through their own distribution channels. But who will ask them to do that?

Answer: A movement to keep more children from dying could start with one church leader making a phone call to one other church leader. Church leaders write lots of books and go to many conferences. However, this movement needs to move from the idea stage to the real stage. And things happen because people talk to each other. So, to start, one church leader has to believe Jesus’ promises enough to pick up the phone and talk to one other church leader about this idea.

Who is that church leader who will make the first phone call to get the ball rolling? There are some possible candidates. God may choose someone not on the “dream team” that empty tomb named in The State of Church Giving through 2011. Still, the people on that list have already shown themselves to be national leaders of influence. They include:

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, South Barrington, Illinois, sponsor of the annual Global Leadership Summit, and board chair of the Willow Creek Association.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and also the Billy Graham Association.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, past president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and past chair of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, former general secretary and currently serving as associate for ecumenical relations, of the Reformed Church in America, and a founding energy in Christian Churches Together.

Eileen Lindner, former Associate General Secretary for Christian Unity in the office of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. General Secretary, and NCC Deputy General Secretary and Director of Research and Planning; currently editor of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA, having written about the “five giants” of global need.

Representatives from two other parts of the body of Christ in the U.S. would be very important in such a movement. Those two parts are:
African-American Protestants. One nationally visible leader is T.D. Jakes. Another possibility would be a representative from the Conference of National Black Churches.

The Orthodox Church. Because of its structure, it may be appropriate to contact His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, for a recommendation, if it is not clear from other ecumenical settings who would be a likely leader located in the U.S.

More background and the church member giving and membership research behind these ideas are available in The State of Church Giving through 2011. Chapter 8 of that book is available for download at www.emptytomb.org/leadershelpchildren.html, including the baby photos. (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

This is a call for prayer and reaching out to the world’s needy and threatened children. Millions are at risk in numerous countries. Let us pray accordingly. The article is a general outline of what might happen for the world’s neediest children if certain American and worldwide Church leaders were to join resources to formulate and carry out a unified plan of action. To that extent it is valuable in making its readers aware that millions of children the world over are suffering deprivation from hunger and danger from trafficking. The call is nebulous and may not give sufficient credence that many of the leaders and organizations cited already have programs in place that address these very issues month-to-month and already pour many resources into the care and support of countless children. Still the awareness campaign is admirable, and such an organization helps launch vision and encourages prayer on into the new year of 2014, as the peril of children in many war-torn and refugee-laden countries. Let us pray diligently for helpless and hurting children at home and abroad.

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 19:14)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

“But whoever causes harm to one of these little ones, it would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

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)

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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