On Watch in Washington March 5, 2014

March 5th, 2014

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

 

WHY PUTIN’S GAZE IS FIXED ON THE UKRAINE

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not happy. The government he backed in Ukraine has collapsed. The Ukrainian leader he favored, Viktor Yanukovych is on the run, accused of the “mass murder” of protesters.

I am not so bold as to predict what Mr. Putin will do next. That he will take action — perhaps very bold action — should be the working assumption of American policy planners.

On one level, Mr. Putin is a simple man: He likes to hunt, fish and ride horses bareback. Those who cross him end up in cages in Siberia — or worse. Employing Machiavellian principles, he has become, over the past 15 years, a neo-czar.

He also has demonstrated a remarkable ability to befuddle American leaders. In 2001, President George W. Bush looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and came away with “a sense of his soul” — suggesting it resembled Thomas Jefferson rather than Ivan the Terrible.

Nevertheless, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced themselves that it was Mr. Bush’s cowboy swagger — not conflicting geopolitical interests — that were the root cause of Russo-American tensions. Their solution: “Reset” relations with the Kremlin. That this was a misguided policy became evident when Mrs. Clinton, with elaborate fanfare, presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a button inscribed with the Russian word “peregruzka.” She believed it meant “reset.” In fact, it means “overcharge.” (Reset is “perezagruzka.” True, that’s only a two-letter mistake, but spelling matters when one letter separates “Obama” from “Osama.”)

Two things to keep in mind about Mr. Putin: First, just as a U.S. Marine is always a U.S. Marine, so a KGB colonel is always a KGB colonel. Second, he believes — and in 2005 stated clearly — that the “demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

This does not imply that he is a communist. Ideologies — indeed, ideas — are of little apparent interest to him. What he does care about is power — for himself, certainly — but also for the Russian nation and people. Under both czars and commissars, Russia commanded an empire. If Mr. Putin does not restore Russian hegemony over a vast swath of Eurasia, it won’t be for lack of effort.

No territory is more central to this mission than Ukraine, which Mr. Putin sees as a Russian territory. Not entirely without reason: Rus’, the first eastern Slavic state, was founded around what is now the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the 9th century. “Ukraine” derives from a Slavic root meaning “borderland.” You’ve been reading news stories about “Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine” and “Ukrainian-speakers in the west,” but the two Slavic tongues are actually more mutually intelligible than, say, the versions of Arabic spoken in Morocco and Egypt.

Don’t misunderstand me: Historic, ethnic and linguistic ties are no reason to deny a people self-determination. A few years back, Czechoslovakians decided they’d rather be Czechs and Slovaks. There are no longer Yugoslavs — just Serbians, Croatians, Bosnians and others.

If Ukrainians (most of them in the western part of the country) want to distance themselves from Russia, to become more like their freer, richer, less corrupt (though increasingly effete) neighbors in the European Union, should they not have that right?

On the other hand, if some Ukrainians (mostly in the east and on the Crimean Peninsula, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet) prefer to remain joined at the hip with Putin’s autocratic and unproductive Russia, are they not entitled to make a bad decision?

Most of the media have characterized the Ukrainian crisis as has The Wall Street Journal: “a nationwide movement for wholesale democratic change.” I suspect it’s more about Ukraine’s crumbling economy and conflicted identity than democracy, though the available data leave room for uncertainty.

Perhaps the turmoil is best understood as a belated aftershock of the Cold War. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell (actually it was dismantled by hand; I have a chunk here in my office), and two years later the Soviet Union crumbled.

The Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — had remained essentially Western despite years of Soviet and Russian occupation. They quickly became parliamentary democracies and members of the European Union. Muslim-majority (and not Islamist) Azerbaijan has benefited from petroleum resources and political stability. Other former Soviet republics, though, have been sinking into authoritarianism, poverty or chaos.

Twenty years ago, Ukraine’s major foreign policy objective was integration with the EU. Among the reasons little progress was made: Ukrainians failed to meet the EU’s economic and other standards, the EU was nervous about expanding into the heart of what had been Soviet space, and the United States, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has been reluctant to get deeply involved. (Recall George H.W. Bush’s “chicken Kiev” speech of 1991.)

Last fall, just as Ukraine was about to sign an “association agreement” with the EU, Mr. Putin offered Mr. Yanukovych’s government a $15 billion bailout — if he’d put his pen back in his pocket. That was the spark that ignited the recent explosions.

I’d wager that Mr. Putin is willing to spend a lot more to keep Ukraine within Russia’s orbit. He may be willing to commit troops as well — as he did in Chechnya and Georgia.

Ukraine could descend into civil war. Or Ukrainians could choose, in a referendum, whether to integrate into Europe, reinforce their ties with Russia, split into separate eastern and western states, or attempt to sort out their differences in some other way.

Expect Mr. Putin to set “red lines” and do whatever is necessary to enforce them. He won’t ask permission from Mr. Obama, the EU or the United Nations. You shouldn’t need to look into his eyes to see that. (Contributor: By Clifford D. May for The Washington Times – Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In context, this article is outside IFA’s direct purview. Its focus is Russian-Ukraine relations and Russian President Putin’s political ambitions. But the planet appears to get smaller, and wider implications cannot be ignored. Media coverage already projects a battle of wills between Mr. Putin and U.S. President Obama. Mr. Obama warned of “consequences” should Mr. Putin send troops into Ukraine, but the Russian president did just that. It is too soon to tell what will follow, but faithful intercessors, praying for U.S. safety, are alert. “Lord God, we pray for the coming of the Prince of Peace, when war and violence will end, and Your kingdom will stand secure. Amen!”     

“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.” (Matt 24:6-8)

“He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; 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 anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-4)

 

IRS PLAN IS THREATENED BY OPPOSITION FROM BOTH SIDES

Conservatives call it a scheme to silence President Obama’s critics. Liberals complain the administration risks trampling on the First Amendment.

Protests are coming from all directions over the Obama administration’s proposal to curb secretive groups that play an increasingly dominant role in American politics. In 2012, such tax-exempt organizations poured hundreds of millions of dollars into campaign-related ads, and they are taking the lead in shaping the landscape of this year’s midterm elections.

That kind of spending would be much harder under draft rules the Treasury Department rolled out in November that would define what constitutes political activities for “social welfare” groups organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. But now, the opposition is so intense that many believe the proposed regulations are in serious jeopardy.

The battle over the rules will test the administration’s ability to shape policy through executive action, a tactic Obama is increasingly embracing in the face of a recalcitrant Congress.

More than 23,000 comments — the majority of them sharply critical — have been filed in response to the proposed regulations, shattering the Internal Revenue Service’s previous records.

Republican lawmakers, who say the rules are aimed at constraining Obama’s conservative opponents, are pushing legislation to delay them. But protests have also come from groups on the left such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that the regulations could cause serious free-speech problems, as well as logistical nightmares.

Amid the debate, tax-exempt groups that do not disclose their financial supporters are already emerging as major players in the 2014 midterms. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by the billionaires Charles and David Koch, has pumped $27 million into ads attacking congressional Democrats. On the left, organizations such as Patriot Majority and the League of Conservation Voters have sought to counter the attacks.

The effort to rein in such players is caught up in the charged political atmosphere of the IRS targeting scandal last year, when an audit revealed that agency staffers had singled out nonprofit groups with words such as “tea party” and “patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny.

Critics and supporters of the proposal agree that the vehement objections could delay or even derail the rules. Tax experts now expect the Treasury Department to pull back the regulations and rewrite them — or withdraw them completely.

“There is a valid concern that the IRS is going to back away from any enforcement at all,” said Stephen Spaulding, staff counsel for Common Cause, which backs more limits on tax-exempt groups. “They’re being pummeled,” he added.

Tax attorney Marcus Owens, a former top IRS official, had a more dire prognosis. “I think the regulations are dead in the water,” he said.

Administration officials indicated that the rulemaking was proceeding.

“Treasury and the IRS issued the proposed guidance as a first step in a careful, thoughtful process to clarify the rules governing social welfare and other tax-exempt organizations, consistent with the recommendations of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration,” Treasury Department spokeswoman Victoria Esser said in a statement. “Clarification of these rules is an important goal and one that we are committed to, although there are still many steps remaining before final rules are released.”

But congressional Republicans are seeking to head off any new restrictions. On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced legislation to prevent any rules from taking effect for a year. A similar measure was introduced in the Senate by Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.) and sponsored by 37 additional senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

The proposal “would essentially allow the IRS to bully and intimidate Americans who exercise their right of free speech,” McConnell said on the Senate floor this month.

“The administration knew it could never get anything like that through Congress the democratic way, so it is trying to quietly impose these new regulations through the back door — through the back door — by executive fiat,” he added.

Advocates for tightening the political activities of 501(c)(4) groups say there are flaws in the proposed regulations but contend that conservative critics just want to ensure that nonprofits engaging in campaigns do not have to reveal their donors, as political committees must.

“What we’ve seen from the likes of Leader McConnell and many folks on the right is really egregiously dishonest,” Spaulding said. “It’s been incredibly over the top, and it’s raised the temperature to the point that folks need a reminder as to what this whole controversy is about in the first place — multimillionaires using these (c)(4)s as tax shelters to spend unlimited amounts of money on politics.”

The use of tax-exempt groups as political vehicles took off in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, leading to a flood of applications to the IRS from new organizations seeking recognition as 501(c)(4)s. Such groups have wide latitude under tax laws, governed only by a regulation from 1959 that states that a social-welfare organization must be “primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

A lack of specific guidance about how much such nonprofits can engage in campaigns may have led IRS employees to inappropriately target some groups for extra scrutiny, the Treasury Department’s inspector general concluded in a May audit.

The department sought to begin clarifying the rules in November, releasing draft regulations that for the first time would define what constitutes “campaign-related political activity” for 501(c)(4)s. Those activities would not count toward a group’s social-welfare purpose.

But the proposal sweeps into that category many routine functions of advocacy groups, including nonpartisan voter registration, candidate forums and get-out-the-vote activities. That triggered alarm across the political spectrum.

“The proposed rule threatens to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America,” the ACLU wrote in a 26-page comment that urges the IRS to revamp the proposal.

Among the most troubling aspects, ACLU counsel Gabe Rottman said, is that the regulations would classify as political activity the mere mention of candidates or political parties on a group’s Web site in the run-up to primaries or elections — requiring organizations to scrub their Web sites or try to calculate how much they were spending to maintain those Web pages.

Environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club — while supportive of clearer rules for 501(c)(4)s — are also worried. Cathy Duvall, the Sierra Club’s director of strategic partnerships, said that the proposal “harms efforts that have nothing to do with politics, from our ability to communicate with our members about clean air and water to our efforts to educate the public about toxic pollution.”

Objections have also been registered by labor unions, which are formed under a different part of the tax code and fear the new rules would eventually apply to their activities.

But the loudest protests are coming from groups on the right. Organizations such as FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots have urged members to submit comments objecting to the rules.

Conservative election law attorney Cleta Mitchell said she has spent the past month doing briefings and national conference calls for nonprofit groups, warning them of the potential impact.

In the end, she said, she hopes “the IRS will realize that these proposed regulations are an abomination and will discard any thought of trying to push them to final implementation.” (Contributor: By Matea Gold for The Washington Post)

Readers of these mid-week alerts know IFA’s goal is to encourage unified, standing-in-the-gap intercession. National issues are complex and divisive, as this article represents. Human wisdom offers no solutions. Intercessors focus on our nation’s spiritual well-being, praying for righteous government, so we might lead peaceful lives, with freedom to share the Gospel. In these highly volatile political situations, we carry no partisan banner; instead, we call out to our all-wise, loving God, “Let Your kingdom come; may Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” With that in mind, we know intercessors will seek divine wisdom and intercede as Scripture and conscience direct.

“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.” (1 Tim 2:1-3)

“Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.’” (Dan 2:20-22)

 

FDA BLASTED FOR SECRETLY MONITORING WHISTLEBLOWERS

Lawmakers blasted the Food and Drug Administration last Tuesday for secretly monitoring the emails of agency scientists who went public with allegations that they were pressured to approve certain medical devices.

In a report published in conjunction with a congressional hearing, two Republicans said that the FDA’s computer surveillance may have overstepped federal laws designed to protect government whistleblowers. Using software that took rapid-fire screen shots of employees’ desktops, the FDA swept up emails from several whistleblowers to members of Congress and their private attorneys. Such communications are protected from disclosure by federal law.

The report is the product of a two-year investigation by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Issa acknowledged in his opening statement that federal workers have no right to privacy when using government computers or property.

“But that is not to say that targeting is appropriate. That is not to say that these five scientists’ concerns are unreasonable — they are.” Issa said.

House Democrats defended the surveillance, in part, pointing to the findings of the inspector general that oversees the FDA. In a report released just ahead of the hearing, the inspector general concludes that the surveillance had a “reasonable basis” because the employees were leaking confidential information to the press about devices under review. The report also concluded that the surveillance was not targeted to capture communications with Congress or any other specific parties.

While finding justification for the monitoring, the report also faults the agency for having no system to ensure that “their investigations were conducted in accordance with laws and regulations.” As a result, the program “had significant negative consequences for FDA.”

The report does not make a final judgment on whether the FDA monitoring was lawful, noting that that question is the subject of litigation. Several of the whistleblowers have a lawsuit pending against the FDA, alleging that their right to privacy was violated.

The FDA’s chief operating officer, Walter Harris, told lawmakers that the agency recently put in place guidelines for monitoring employees’ computers.

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Harris said policies issued last September are designed to ensure that “monitoring is utilized for appropriate purposes and takes place for no longer than necessary.”

Not present at the hearing were the FDA whistleblowers themselves, several of whom have since left the agency.

The dispute that prompted the surveillance stretches back to 2009, when Dr. Robert Smith and several other FDA reviewers sent letters to Congress and the incoming Obama administration about alleged misconduct in the agency’s medical device center.

Smith and others later took their complaints to the media, claiming they were bullied and harassed by managers into approving high-tech medical scanners, despite concerns that the devices might needlessly expose patients to excessive radiation levels.

At the request of Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general twice reviewed the employees’ complaints in 2010, but concluded there was “no evidence of retaliation” by FDA managers.

According to the Republican report issued Tuesday, FDA managers hired an outside contractor to begin monitoring Smith’s computer in April 2010, eventually expanding the surveillance to four other employees. At the same time that the whistleblowers were seeking an investigation by the HHS inspector general, their managers were urging the same inspectors to open a criminal investigation into the whistleblowers’ disclosures about products under review.

“The managers kept looking for information that would convince the inspector general to seek a criminal prosecution. It was a sort of management by investigation,” said Grassley, who appeared before the House committee. “That’s no way to run an agency.”

The FDA’s monitoring program eventually became public knowledge in May 2012, after a cache of 80,000 documents collected by the contractor was inexplicably posted online. The documents detailed emails to Congress, the government’s Office of Special Counsel and members of the media, including The Associated Press. (Contributor: By Matthew Perrone for The Associated Press and The Washington Times)

We would all like more ‘feel-good’ news stories, avoiding articles about intra-agency strife in our U.S. government. But for the sake of truth, and to encourage intercessors in their faithful praying, we face the realities of a fallen world and a sinful, declining society. Our Lord said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick.” Give thanks for the dedicated Christians serving in government offices. Many Capitol Hill staff prayer meetings are strong and fruitful. Let our prayers for widespread revival join with theirs. May many more be saved, as there is no hope apart from Christ.

“When Jesus heard it, He said unto them, ‘They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” (Mark 2:17)

“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

 

HOW TO HARNESS BIG MONEY FOR ELECTIONS

As Democratic officials rely more than ever on the big-money super PACs they once scorned, party strategists and donors are caught in sharp disagreements over how to use the newly influential independent organizations.

Tensions are simmering over whether Priorities USA Action and other Democratic groups that can accept unlimited contributions are too focused on the 2016 presidential race and a potential Hillary Rodham Clinton candidacy, even as Democrats face a costly, uphill fight this year to retain a thin Senate majority and gain seats in the House.

The importance of focusing on 2014 was also a topic of considerable chatter this week as President Barack Obama addressed activists and donors at a Washington meeting of Organizing for Action, his issues-oriented grass-roots group. Some party leaders are grumbling that the nonprofit, which raised more than $26 million last year, has been working to rally support for Obama’s health-care overhaul — but is not running television ads aimed at boosting vulnerable Democratic incumbents under fire for their support of the measure.

Concerns over the early focus on Clinton came into view this week, when the executive director of Priorities USA, the super PAC backed by Hollywood moguls and other top pro-Clinton donors, sent a letter assuring donors that the group would not “big-foot” other party super PACs working to help candidates in this year’s congressional elections and asking them to direct money to 2014 efforts.

After the missive, the House and Senate super PACs each got $500,000 from the plumbers and pipefitters union, whose president is on the Priorities USA board.

Still, worries remain among leading party figures that the early 2016 buildup is distracting from the urgent need to combat well-funded groups on the right this year.

“It is much too early, and I don’t think it is particularly helpful to have that kind of focus on 2016,” said Peter Buttenwieser, a Philadelphia education consultant and major donor. “In terms of someone who cares about the Senate and the 2014 election, I find those things to be diverting and getting in the way.”

The debate over tactics and resources has gained steam in recent months as party officials and donors have moved swiftly to accept, even embrace, the growing role of super PACs and other independent groups that many Democrats have criticized for giving the wealthy too much influence over politics.

With each move — building donor lists, organizing volunteers and hiring staff — these groups are in effect supplanting the role of the traditional party organization, only without a built-in framework for picking leaders, setting goals and accounting for spending.

Their expansion further pulls the center of political gravity away from the Democratic National Committee, which is struggling to pay off nearly $16 million in debt from 2012.

Priorities USA, practically a political outcast when it was launched three years ago by two former White House staffers, has a new board of directors with a membership list befitting the national party itself — including labor officials, corporate lobbyists, seasoned political operatives, a former governor and Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.

There is now a near-universal view among top donors and strategists that the party needs its own big-money groups to compete with the growing role such groups are playing on the right.

That consensus has grown as Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group supported by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has poured nearly $29 million into ads against vulnerable congressional Democrats in the past six months.

Obama has agreed to headline fundraisers this year for super PACs raising money to boost Democratic House and Senate candidates — the first time he will appear at events for such groups.

“The proliferation of money in politics continues to be a big concern, but it’s also a reality,” longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod said. “You can’t play by one set of rules while the other side is playing by another.”

But as Democrats have rushed to build out their super PAC infrastructure, Axelrod and other leading party strategists have expressed concern about the early burst of 2016 energy.

“With the Senate seriously at risk, and the Koch Brothers spending prodigiously,” he wrote on Twitter on Feb. 6, “shouldn’t Dem funders be focused on ‘14 and not ‘16 races?”

In an email Thursday, Axelrod said he was not referring to any specific group but added, “Generally, I think efforts should be focused on this election, in which the stakes are very large, before Democrats become consumed by the next.”

As big donors gathered in Washington this week to attend meetings of the OFA and the DNC, some operatives said party financiers need to be further pushed to back the midterm efforts.

“House and Senate Majority PACs have been able to go up against AFP in a handful of incumbent districts to reduce the disparity,” said one senior strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “The problem is that there are not enough resources to defend against the breadth and intensity of these attacks.”

Organizers of the 2016 super PACs say they agree the party must focus for now on the midterms, and some moved this week to quell concerns. Priorities USA, which has been soliciting seven-figure pledges from donors for 2016, has scrambled to emphasize its support for this year’s campaigns. The group is contemplating ways to assist Democratic governors and help expand the party’s voter pool this year.

“Priorities USA Action is all-in for 2014,” senior strategist Paul Begala said. “We will not aggressively raise for 2016 until after the midterms.”

The group also urged its contributors to donate to the two Democratic congressional super PACs and noted that it has given each of the groups $250,000.

“We don’t want to cannibalize the resources from 2014,” said former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who co-chairs Priorities USA with Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.

Officials with Ready for Hillary, which is working to harness grass-roots support for Clinton, said they are going to use their growing network to drive volunteers and donations to congressional Democrats this year. Postcards being sent to supporters in Iowa and other states will seek volunteers to help in 2014 races.

OFA officials have said that the group will not engage in elections, but supporters said that its work advocating for the health-care law improves the landscape for Democratic candidates this year.

Christine Forester, a San Diego donor and co-chair of the OFA advisory board who attended this week’s meetings, said the group’s direct engagement on issues “will get people to the voting booth in a way we may never have seen before.”

Super PAC organizers said worries about the financial advantages of conservative groups have spurred an unusual level of coordination between independent groups on the left.

As they ramp up their 2014 campaigns, the two congressional super PACs — House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC — are again collaborating with an array of environmental advocates, labor unions and women’s groups. Many of the players participate in regular strategy sessions in a conference room at the downtown Washington office of the Perkins Coie law firm.

They synchronize their efforts, divvying up ad buys and swapping polling, and consult with strategists running super PACs backed by hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

American Bridge, an opposition research outfit headed by conservative-turned-liberal activist David Brock, provides the groups with intel and candidate tracking.

“One of the lessons everyone learned over the last few cycles is that we are never going to have as much money as the Republicans will, therefore we can’t waste a dime of it,” said Alixandria Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC.

Clinton allies have now taken that coordinated approach in building an early super PAC infrastructure for 2016.

Priorities USA strategist Sean Sweeney and Buffy Wicks, who came aboard as executive director in January, set out to recruit a high-powered board, snagging representatives of nearly every important Democratic constituency group.

Brock, whose group has launched a 2016 rapid-response project, and Allida Black, co-founder of Ready for Hillary, are members.

The board also includes EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock, former Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, former Clinton White House aide Maria Echeveste and union leaders William P. Hite of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Two veteran campaign strategists that helped the super PAC in 2012, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes and America Votes president Greg Speed, stayed on, joined by Charles Baker III., a lobbyist and Democratic strategist who served as a top aide to John Kerry, Al Gore and Michael Dukakis.

And now there are host of board members with deep ties into corporate America, including Viacom executive Marva Smalls and lobbyist Justin Gray, whose clients include Comcast and McDonald’s. Jonathan Mantz, who served as Clinton’s national finance director in 2008 and is now a lobbyist at the high-powered firm BGR Group, is the super PAC’s senior finance adviser, while longtime party fundraiser Diane Rogalle is finance director.

Priorities USA officials said new board members are expected to be added soon, including environmental advocates and more labor leaders.

In the coming weeks, the super PAC’s strategists plan to hold briefings with Democratic donors in cities such as New York, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles. They aren’t making the hard ask for checks yet — instead, they are working to secure financial pledges of as much as $1 million, so that when 2016 kicks off, the super PAC will have already locked up resources.

This time, the group hopes to raise substantially more than the $79 million it got in 2012, Granholm said.

“I get the sense that people are very, very interested in helping when the time is right,” she said. (Contributor: By Matea Gold for The Washington Post and AmesTrib.com)

Introductory prayer thoughts: Give thanks to God if you possess true riches. One self-test is that you can read this report without coveting the wealth of others. Another is to realize that to have vast sums of money but lack peace with God is to be poor indeed. Most American Christians have long since realized that money controls much of the electoral process. None of this is to say that wealthy people cannot be godly. (See 1 Tim 6:6-10) For them, money is a servant; for others, however, it may be an idol. But God “does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115), so we may pray for morally upright candidates to be elected, then watch God turn the tide at the ballot box and allow His choice to win the office.

 “Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” (Psalm 115:2-8)

“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

 

NATION SLOWER TO BACK GAY SEX THAN MARRIAGE

More Americans support same-sex marriage today than a decade ago, but a majority still believe sex acts between people of the same gender are “morally wrong.”

These and other findings were released the same day the state-level battle over same-sex marriage intensified, as a federal judge in Texas joined courts in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia in striking down a voter-approved provision recognizing only traditional man-woman marriages as legal.

A survey of 4,500 adults said public support for same-sex marriage has grown to 53 percent, a significant jump from 32 percent in 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage.

The increase was driven by younger Americans, ages 18 to 33, as well as more people reporting having gay friends or family members, according to the report from Public Religion Research Institute.

The generation gap is huge — 69 percent of millennials support same-sex marriage, compared with 37 percent of Americans in the silent generation, who are 68 or older, said Robert P. Jones, chief executive and founder of the institute.

Having a close friend or family member who is gay also has “a profound effect” on support, said Daniel Cox, director of research for PRRI.

In 1993, 22 percent of people reported having a close relationship with someone who is gay. By 2013, that number had jumped to 65 percent.

People with friends or family who are gay are much more likely to support same-sex marriage than those without such relationships — 63 percent to 36 percent, said the report, which was funded by the Ford Foundation.

The survey revealed strong support for same-sex parenting and strong opposition to discrimination against sexual minorities, but also — ironically — a widely held belief that gay sex acts are immoral and same-sex marriage violates religious principles.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said “sex between two adults of the same gender” is morally wrong. An equal majority said same-sex marriage “completely” or “mostly” goes against their religious convictions.

The survey further showed that Americans vastly overestimate the number of people who are gay — 22 percent thought it was a third of the U.S. population.

Only 14 percent of respondents correctly answered that 5 percent or less of the U.S. population is gay, said the PRRI study, noting that in its own data, 1 percent of respondents said they were gay, 1 percent said they were lesbian, 1 percent said they were transgender and 3 percent said they were bisexual.

The survey also asked about the origin of homosexuality and found that 44 percent of Americans believe it is inborn, 36 percent think it develops from upbringing or environment, and 14 percent think it is a combination of nature and nurture.

Respondents’ beliefs about the basis of homosexuality influenced their views about same-sex marriage: About 76 percent of those who believe being gay is inborn support same-sex marriage, while 67 percent of those who think it is derived mostly from outside influences oppose same-sex unions.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a gay-advocacy marriage group, praised the PRRI study — and the Texas ruling — but encouraged more discussions.

“With 47 marriage cases in 25 states now moving forward, and the possibility that a freedom-to-marry case will again reach the Supreme Court as soon as 2015, we must continue the conversations and progress — Texan to Texan, American to American — that show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry,” he said. (Contributor:  By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)

There is nothing new here for intercessors who “watch and pray.” Still it offers an important prayer focus for spiritual introspection among Christians and Evangelical churches. We must ask, “Is our own house in order?” That isn’t to suggest sexual confusion runs rampant in the Church. Not at all. It is to suggest we pray for a resurgence of clear Gospel preaching, knowing changed lives result in changed behavior. About immorality, the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And such were some of you. But you were washed … ” (1 Cor 6:11a) Lives are radically changed when Jesus Christ is Lord. Please pray accordingly, knowing God’s love and call to all who need salvation.

“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 6:11)

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Rom 1:16-17)

[The Apostle Paul testifies of his call to evangelize the lost] “… to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in [God].” (Acts 26:17-18)  

 

POLIO-LIKE DISEASE APPEARS IN CALIFORNIA CHILDREN

An extremely rare, polio-like disease has appeared in more than a dozen California children within the past year, and each of them suffered paralysis to one or more arms or legs, Stanford University researchers say. But public health officials haven’t identified any common causes connecting the cases.

The illness is still being investigated and appears to be very unusual, but Dr. Keith Van Haren at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University warned Monday that any child showing a sudden onset of weakness in their limbs or symptoms of paralysis should be immediately seen by a doctor.

“The disease resembles but is not the same as polio,” he said. “But this is serious. Most of the children we’ve seen so far have not recovered use of their arm or their leg.”

But doctors are not sure if it’s a virus or something else, he said. Van Haren said he has studied five cases from Monterey up through the San Francisco Bay Area, including two that were identified as the disease enterovirus-68, which is from the same family as the polio viruses. He said there have been about 20 cases statewide.

“We want to temper the concern, because at the moment, it does not appear to represent a major epidemic but only a very rare phenomenon,” he said, noting similar outbreaks in Asia and Australia.

But for some children, like Sofia Jarvis, 4, of Berkeley, rare doesn’t mean safe.

She first developed what looked like asthma two years ago, but then her left arm stopped moving, and it has remained paralyzed ever since.

“You can imagine. We had two boys that are very healthy, and Sofia was healthy until that point,” said her mother, Jessica Tomei. “We did not realize what we were in store for. We did not realize her arm would be permanently paralyzed.”

Van Haren, who diagnosed Sofia, said polio vaccines do not protect children from the disease, but he stressed that it is still important for children to receive that vaccine.

Dr. Jane Seward of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Monday that the research is still underway in California, and there are a variety of infectious diseases that can cause childhood paralysis.

Any of a number of illnesses could be at work, and it’s possible some of the cases had one infection and some had another. Regarding the presence of EV-68 in at least two cases, “it could be an incidental finding,” Seward said.

Until officials get more information, Seward said they are not looking around the country for similar cases of EV-68.

The California Department of Public Health has not identified any common causes that suggest that the cases are linked, said Dr. Gil Chavez, the deputy director of the Center for Infectious Disease and state epidemiologist.

“Physicians and public health officials who have encountered similar illnesses have submitted 20 reports to CDPH, and CDPH has conducted preliminary tests on 15 of these specimens,” he said. “Thus far, the department has not identified any common causes that suggest that the cases are linked.”

University of California, San Francisco, neurology professor Emmanuelle Waubant said doctors believe, but don’t have proof, that it’s a virus that for most children shows up only as a benign cold. She said a few children, due to their biological makeup, are having much more serious symptoms and she hoped doctors would look for them.

“For a lot of the neurologists who have trained in the last 30 years, it’s extremely rare to see polio or polio-like syndrome,” she said. (Contributor: By Martha Mendoza for Associated Press – Associated Press writer Mike Stobbe in Atlanta contributed to this report.)

A serious call to prayer! Pray that God gives wisdom and insight to the doctors treating the infected children, for the research scientists looking for the exact cause, and for a solution before the disease settles in and affects more children.  Let us pray, too, against fear in families and communities.  Pray for God’s mercy, not only for the people of California, but for the entire country. Is this a divine call for our nation to seek God openly and earnestly? May God be glorified as intercessors pray.

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)

 

“THE MIRACLE OF ISRAEL” TO AIR IN MARCH

Jewish Voice Ministries has long been known for our heart for Israel and the Jewish People as well as the nations throughout the world.  We are currently asking you to join us in covering in prayer a project taking place here in the USA.  For four years now, we have been working on a television documentary to air on secular stations to reach Jewish People. The first three years this documentary was being produced, and last year it was presented, airing in 13 major United States metropolitan areas, and watched by over 2 million viewers!

This award-winning one-hour television special is called “The Miracle of Israel,” and is narrated by Leonard Nimoy.  It is a historical snapshot of the Jewish People and details how their miraculous survival and restoration may hold the key to our future.  It also includes views on Messianic and Last Days’ prophecy and the identity of the Messiah.

This spring, from March 29 through late April, Jewish Voice Ministries International will again air this documentary in a number of large, key U.S. cities. Considering the current political climate, the threats Israel is facing almost daily, and the rise of anti-Semitism, we think you will agree that this is an opportune time to spread the word about God’s heart for Israel and for the Jewish People as individuals.

We are seeking massive prayer cover for this significant and timely initiative. This is yet another important tool that God has given us to fulfill our mandate of reaching the Jewish People with the Good News.

Please pray:

 - For continued favor on all aspects, including the airing and timing in each city

- For the Lord to use this television special to turn the hearts of many Jewish People to their Messiah

- For the successful training and preparation of our follow-up teams in each city, and for all technical aspects of the website and phone centers to be operating perfectly

- That God draws Jewish People supernaturally to watch this program in the areas where it will be broadcast

- That He prepares their hearts to hear and receive the message

- That seeds are planted in the hearts of unbelieving viewers and the Word does not return void

- That God orchestrates divine appointments so those who watch the program will have continued encounters with Believers and events that draw them into salvation

- That thousands will be touched and call or log on to the website for more info

- That Jewish People of influence will come to Yeshua, and as a result, draw many others to Him as well

Last year, the Lord did exceedingly abundantly more than we had asked through this television special.  We ask for your prayers as we know that as we continue to move forward, this kingdom initiative must be bathed in massive intercession to have eternal impact.

Please join us in praying for “The Miracle of Israel,” and log on here for more info and to see the Spring 2014 airing schedule once it is finalized:  www.TheMiracleofIsrael.com

This prayer focus is ready-made and built into the report. The details are laid out in clear language, and all intercessors can cooperate and be part of an anticipated harvest of souls through this film and DVD. Let us pray that many thousands of lives will receive an impartation of God’s redeeming love in this presentation. Israel is indeed a miracle of survival.

“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,  ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Rom 11:1-6)

 

BIBLE-BOOK SHOOTING CASE INVESTIGATED AS HATE CRIME

A biblical booklet in a shirt pocket apparently helped a bus driver survive a shooting, and authorities were looking Tuesday for three suspects, police say.

The driver for the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority told Dayton police he was standing outside the bus early Monday morning when the men shot at him three times, with one bullet hitting his leg. He also was stabbed in the arm.

Rickey Wagoner, 49, of Trotwood, told police he fought back, grabbed the gun and the men ran away. Wagoner told police he fired at them before driving the bus to a safe location and calling for help.

‘‘I stabbed one in the leg, I think, with my pen,’’ he said on the 911 call to police in Dayton, about 60 miles north of Cincinnati.

Police said Tuesday no one was on the bus at the time.

Wagoner said in the 911 call that he felt two shots to his chest, but he didn’t think the bullets got through the booklet in his shirt pocket. Police said in their report that two small-caliber bullets hit the booklet called ‘‘The Message,’’ which has Bible verses in contemporary language and were found lodged inside the book.

‘‘It just feels like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer,’’ Wagoner said. ‘‘I’ve got a book in my pocket, and I don’t think they made it through this book.’’

Wagoner told police he just started carrying the book about a week ago.

Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton confirmed Tuesday that Wagoner remained in the hospital, but the hospital would provide no other information. The authority said in a statement that Wagoner was recovering and doing well.

The initial police report said Wagoner stopped his bus to check a possible mechanical problem. The report also said Wagoner told officers that when the three men approached him, he heard one say: ‘‘If you want to be all the way in the club, you have to kill the polar bear.’’

He told police he grabbed the gun when he was shot in the chest and began struggling with the suspect. He said he was shot again in the leg and began choking the suspect. One of the other men kicked Wagoner in the side, and the bus driver said he was punched several times in the face, according to the police report.

Wagoner said the third man then pulled a knife, stabbing him in the arm as he tried to block the knife.

The bus driver said he then pulled a pen from his pocket, stabbing the suspect.

Police described the aluminum pen as about 6 inches long and wider than normal. It was described as a ‘‘self-defense pen’’ that Wagoner said he always carries.

He told police that in firing on the suspects, he may have struck one of them.

‘‘Amazingly, his injuries are not life-threatening,’’ Dayton Police Sgt. Michael Pauley told the Dayton Daily News. (Contributor: The Associated Press and Boston.com)

This account is reminiscent of other stories that have come out of military conflict, some dating back to WW II, where soldiers carrying a New Testament or small Bible, usually at the behest of a praying mother, were spared from a potentially lethal bullet that struck the book instead of piercing the soldier’s body. No one can explain such rare, providential events, though unseen guardian angels may be more active than we know. Let us give thanks that Rickey Wagoner’s life was protected, even though he was wounded, and pray that he will give glory to God and learn more about the grace that kept him from serious wounding or even death.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you….” (Deut 33:27)

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

On Watch in Washington February 26, 2014

February 26th, 2014

On Watch in Washington February 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF

COLLEGIATE DAY OF PRAYER FEBRUARY 27

12:15 PM to 12:45 PM on February 27, 2014

Call 712-432-0075 and enter participant code 1412452#.

The college campus is a battlefield for the minds and souls of those who will lead this nation for decades.

Recently we received an email from a student at a private college in Florida whose student-led ministry group was blacklisted from campus events because of their conviction that Jesus alone was the source of salvation.  They were told to endorse other paths as equal or disband. They wisely chose to disband rather than deny their faith.

Stand with them and others as we observe the Collegiate Day of Prayer with a prayer conference call, 12:15 PM to 12:45 PM on February 27, 2014.

Call 712-432-0075 and enter participant code 1412452#.

 

IRAN’S URANIUM STOCKPILE SHRINKS AFTER NUCLEAR DEAL

The size of Iran’s most contested uranium stockpile has declined significantly for the first time in four years following a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in November, the U.N. atomic agency reported Thursday.

As a result, Iran’s holding of uranium gas enriched to a fissile purity of 20 percent — a relatively short technical step from the level required for nuclear weapons — is now well below the amount needed for processing into a bomb.

The stockpile is closely watched. Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, warned in 2012 that if Iran amassed enough such refined uranium for a single bomb it would be a “red line” for possible military action.

Iran agreed under a Nov. 24 deal with six big powers to stop its 20-percent enrichment, which it began in 2010, and has since diluted some of the material to a lower concentration and converted some into less proliferation-prone uranium oxide.

“That decrease has been quite important,” a senior diplomat familiar with Iran’s nuclear program said. “That progress has been quite substantial in terms of inventory.”

Thursday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also showed that Iran was meeting its commitments under last year’s interim agreement with the six powers to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in exchange for some easing of sanctions.

“Things are progressing as planned,” the diplomat said.

The IAEA report was issued to member states just hours after Iran and the six countries — the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — ended a first round of negotiations in Vienna aimed at a final settlement of the decade-old dispute over the nature of Tehran’s nuclear activity. The next round was set for March 17.

U.N. nuclear inspectors are playing a critical role in monitoring that Iran is living up to its side of last year’s six-month accord, designed to buy time for the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement over atomic activity that Tehran says is entirely peaceful but which the West fears may have military designs.

Iran’s reserve of 20-percent uranium fell to 354 pounds in February from about 431 pounds in November, the IAEA said. About 550 pounds is needed for the core of one nuclear warhead, experts say. (Contributor: By Reuters and The Washington Post)

Pray that God will remove all obstacles and fulfill His redemptive purpose in the potentially explosive “triangle” formed by Iran, Israel, and the U.S.  Intercessors know that Iran remains shrouded in mystery and contradictions. Truly, “Man proposes but God disposes” (Thomas à Kempis). While the saying is not Scripture, the thought agrees with several Bible passages to form a solid foundation for strong intercessory prayer. Ask God to give supernatural wisdom to squelch Iran’s stated purpose to destroy Israel. Let a united Church press in with strong, prayerful intervention. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all of Israel.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)

“There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” (Prov. 19:21)

“O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23)

 

POSTAL MANAGERS LIMITING CARRIER HOURS, BUT EXPLANATIONS VARY

Some U.S. Postal Service managers in the Washington area and other parts of the country are telling mail carriers to stop their routes at designated times regardless of whether their deliveries are completed, according to the head of the association of postal supervisors.

The move has prompted complaints from the public, including residents in Bethesda, for example, where some have said they’ve been without mail for a week.

Bethesda’s Marcela Zoccali said she went seven days without mail after a snowstorm hit Feb. 13. She said the streets and walkways in her neighborhood were clear by Saturday, but no mail arrived at her home until Wednesday, when a carrier explained that he was ordered to return to his station every day by 5 p.m.

“With this kind of service, no wonder so many people are switching to other mail carriers,” Zoccali said.

National Association of Postal Supervisors President Louis Atkins confirmed Thursday that postal managers are trying to keep carriers off the streets at night to avoid potential violence. He said he knows of stations in the District, Miami and Seattle that have taken that step.

“Bringing [the carriers] in before dark is something we can control that has a significant effect on violence at night,” Atkins said. “You can’t stop it all, but you can do your part.”

Nighttime violence against on-duty workers has become a growing concern for the Postal Service. In November, D.C. postal worker Tyson Barnette was fatally shot while working a new route in Prince George’s County that often kept him out until 7 p.m.

Washington ABC affiliate WJLA, which first reported the postal delays Wednesday, said that concerns about overtime were the cause for the delays.

But Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan denied Thursday that the USPS has implemented a new policy on carrier return times. Employees were instructed last week to be off the streets by 6 p.m. because of severe winter weather, she said.

“This was a unique event,” Brennan said. “As a rule, it is not Postal Service policy, nationally or in Washington, D.C., that carriers are to return to the office at 6 p.m., regardless of whether or not their routes have been completed.”

Brennan said that the Postal Service has begun taking steps to minimize the percentage of carriers out past 6 p.m. She said the measures include adjusting route structures and start times, reviewing employee performance and reevaluating staffing levels.

Atkins said that the Postal Service could ensure that carriers finish their deliveries before nightfall by requiring them to start work earlier and by hiring more personnel.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and four Democrats from the Maryland congressional delegation sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe calling for a Postal Service plan to protect workers from violence while avoiding multi-day delays in mail delivery.

“Surely the Postal Service is capable of delivering the mail before dark and on time, as it has for decades, without endangering its workers,” Norton said in a statement Friday. “We need to see specific remedies immediately.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the killing of Barnette. The USPS and the National Association of Letter Carriers have also agreed to establish a nationwide network to jointly examine offices with safety issues. (Contributor: By Josh Hicks for The Washington Post)

Our call to prayer goes beyond late or cancelled mail delivery, although that has serious implications (e.g., prescription medicines or much-needed pay checks delayed). The killing of the postal worker last November occurred in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. Then, earlier this month, a woman was shot and killed in a Virginia suburb of Washington when she opened her door in response to an apparent stranger’s knock. Police emphasized that there is no known connection between the two shootings, but citizens are nervous and wary. Pray against neighborhood violence and against the spirit of fear. Pray, too, for the families affected and for justice to be served.

“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)

“When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression … ’ says the Lord.” (Isa 59:19-20)

 

SURVEY: U.S. PRESS FREEDOM PLUNGES UNDER OBAMA

The Obama administration’s handling of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaks and the investigation of a string of leaks produced a plunge in the country’s rating on press freedoms and government openness, according to a global survey released Tuesday.

The U.S. under President Obama, who once promised to run the “most transparent” administration in the country’s history, fell from 32nd to 46th in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, a drop of 13 slots. The index, compiled by the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, analyzes 180 countries on criteria such as official abuse, media independence and infrastructure to determine how free journalists are to report.

Officials of the group said press freedoms were under attack around the world as governments grow increasingly sophisticated in collecting sensitive data and in tracking down those who leak it.

“Journalists are being caught up in what is, I think, fairly characterized as a rapidly growing surveillance apparatus, and this is happening all over the world,” said Geoffrey King, Internet advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In the past years, tactics have shifted from surveillance of individual terrorists and spies to a dragnet approach to control information, Mr. King said.

Delphine Halgand, Reporters Without Borders U.S. director, said three events shaped the climate for reporting in the United States last year: Mr. Snowden’s NSA revelations, the trial of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning for giving a trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks, and the Justice Department’s handling of a probe of The Associated Press and other media organizations suspected of receiving leaked data.

“I hope this revelation will play a wake-up-call role,” Ms. Halgand said.

As a whole, the index’s annual global indicator, or barometer of violations of freedom of information, rose 1.8 percent compared with 2013.

The report found that areas with armed conflict correlate with a low level of freedom of the press. Syria ranked among the worst countries for allowing freedom of the press, alongside authoritarian states such as Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

From March 2011 to December 2013, 130 professional and citizen journalists were killed in Syria with connections to distributing news and information. Syria has been dubbed as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists.

“Syria has moved into the worst of the worst,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House project director of Freedom of the Press.

Middle East repression

Despite the hopes of the Arab Spring, countries in the Middle East continued to score poorly in the press freedom rankings. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey imprisoned 40 journalists and Iran imprisoned 35 last year.

“Those regimes are systematically hunting down information and those that report and distribute information, and those primarily are journalists,” said Sherif Mansour, the committee’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

In August, Egyptian officials arrested John Greyson, a Canadian filmmaker, along with Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, in Cairo after protests against the government. Mr. Greyson recalled sharing a cell with dozens of men and sleeping on the ground with cockroaches.

“We were riding in a state of shock,” he said.

The Canadian government attained their release after seven weeks. Now, Mr. Greyson campaigns for the government to do the same for Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian journalist who has been imprisoned for more than a month in Cairo.

Several other journalists are also in custody.

“The world is watching, and we’re trying to make as much noise as we can,” Mr. Greyson said.

Ms. Halgand said a theme emerging in this year’s survey is the rise of private nonstate groups posing threats to journalists, what she called a “privatization of violence.” Latin American journalists, for example, have experienced threats from organized crime groups.

Countries falling the furthest from the previous year’s survey included the civil-war-wracked Central African Republic (down 43 spots to 109), Guatemala (down 29 spots) and Kenya (down 18 slots). Four journalists were killed in Guatemala last year alone.

Other countries have risen on the index after declining rates of violence against journalists, censorship and misuse of judicial proceedings. These include Panama (up 25 positions to No. 87), the Dominican Republic (up 13 slots) and Ecuador (gaining 25 positions).

“They are not perfectly safe at all, but we saw some improvement,” Ms. Halgand said.

Finland, the Netherlands and Norway continue to hold the top three spots on the index, and European countries hold the top 16 spots in the 180-nation survey.

But not all European countries registered progress in press freedoms. Ratings for Greece and Hungary fell because of economic crises and increases in nationalistic populism.

“It’s definitely a case that we need continued vigilance on the issues on media freedom and freedom of expression,” Ms. Karlekar said. (Contributor: By Meghan Drake for The Washington Times)

As various freedoms decline in the U.S., pray that God will uncover and deal with the motivations behind a government administration wanting to control the press and broadcast media. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Pray for God to raise up leadership that will embrace scrutiny and accountability. Leaders are elected fellow citizens and servants of the people, not a ruling class. God’s ways bring truth to the light of day. Pray accordingly.

“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 4:13)

“But [Paul] said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner [but publicly].’” (Acts 26:25-26)

 

U.S. TROOPS ARE EQUIPPED WITH INFERIOR, ANTIQUATED WEAPONS

A two-part expose by The Washington Times’ national security reporter, Rowan Scarborough, on the shortcomings of the M4 carbine is a story of institutional ineptitude that has cost soldiers’ lives.

However, the sad story of the American rifle also serves as a metaphor for a defense culture that slights the little stuff to fixate on buying big war machines that haven’t been employed in serious combat for generations, and probably never will be again.

Propelling this latest rush to buy ships, planes and air- and sea-launched missiles is China, the only country on the planet still worthy of a good dose of American shock and awe. Frustratingly, the Chinese seemed not interested in returning the favor.

The story is different for ground forces, though.

During World War II, the most dangerous jobs belonged to submariners and bomber crewmen. Next came the infantry, who, because of their greater numbers, accounted for about 70 percent of all those killed at the hands of the enemy.

In wars fought since then, no submariner has died in combat. In fact, the U.S. Navy fought its last major sea battle the year I was born — 1944. The last bomber crewman lost to enemy action died during the 1972 Christmas bombing offensive over Hanoi.

In contrast, close-combat troops (Army and Marine infantry, as well as special operators like Delta, Rangers and SEALs) have suffered more than 80 percent of deaths from enemy action in post-World War II conflicts. This is a force that makes up less than 4 percent of all those serving in uniform.

Today, a special operator like Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, honored with a three-minute ovation during President Obama’s State of the Union address, stands about one chance in four of being killed or seriously maimed in today’s wars.

While the defense intelligentsia remain fixated on fighting tomorrow’s techno-wars, the American people seem to have a more realistic and pragmatic view of human conflict.

Polls tell us that Joe Citizen recognizes and respects the sacrifices made daily by (mostly) men fighting the enemy in very close quarters in inhospitable places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

They crowd theaters to watch their blue-collar colleagues perform selfless, amazingly heroic acts in movies like “Acts of Valor,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Lone Survivor,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Captain Phillips.”

One would think that Beltway gurus would strive to keep alive as many of our close-combat warriors, those most likely to die, by giving them the best stuff. Mr. Scarborough’s reports clearly show that they do not. The M4 story is just one of many.

In fact, our primitive, illiterate enemies have better small arms — rifles, carbines and machine guns — than do American close-combat forces.

Our venerable “Ma Deuce” heavy machine gun was designed in 1919 and is an antique by Soviet standards. The Army’s heavy mortar, the most-used infantry-support weapon in Afghanistan, was designed in 1931 and is consistently outranged by virtually all contemporary mortars.

To understand the vital importance of range, one only has to read Jake Tapper’s book “The Outpost,” which recounts the desperate fight by an isolated infantry platoon that might have turned out differently had some form of outside supporting fire been within range.

Recall the moving ceremony when Mr. Obama presented Sgt. Salvatore Giunta with the first Medal of Honor given to a living recipient from the war in Afghanistan. His actions in repelling a Taliban ambush and saving his buddies were extraordinary.

But why in 2007 (and today) could an enemy force approach to within 40 meters of Sgt. Giunta’s position? Why can’t the richest country on earth give these guys a simple early-warning detector like many of you have to protect your homes?

Remember last year’s Medal of Honor ceremony for Capt. William Swenson, who bravely fought off a Taliban ambush to save his soldiers from certain death? According to unclassified reports of the battle, an aerial drone showed up over Capt. Swenson’s unit five hours after the ambush was sprung.

What if our military could put a drone over every ground patrol walking into danger? Surely had a drone been overhead, the Taliban would never have dared to open fire.

The video clip taken of Capt. Swenson carrying his wounded comrade to a medevac helicopter was the first of a Medal of Honor recipient in action.

Did you happen to notice in the video the bulky radio stuffed in Capt. Swenson’s backpack? This battle was fought in 2009, a time when ragpickers in Mumbai had cellphones. Why can’t our fighting men and women have cellphones in combat?

The bottom line is simple: We continue to buy glitzy and insanely expensive instruments of shock and awe while troops in the close fight have to fight a “fair” fight.

Ground troops seemingly only get new stuff after many of them die. That’s when American parents watch the bloodbath on television and call their congressman to demand better weapons, body armor and armor-protected vehicles.

The M4 carbine highlighted in Mr. Scarborough’s expose is virtually the same weapon that jammed and nearly killed me almost 50 years ago in Vietnam.

If the Defense Department really wanted to keep close-combat troops alive, they would re-equip them with first-rate carbines, all for about the price of a single, modern fighter plane. But they won’t.

Maj. Gen. Robert Scales retired in 2001 after 37 years’ service in the U.S. Army. His last assignment was commandant of the Army War College. (Contributor:  By Robert Scales for The Washington Times)

This emotionally charged article by a retired U.S. Army officer is a reminder to pray for our military forces. Give God thanks for the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect American freedom and the way of life we enjoy. Pray that government’s responsibility to protect and defend the U.S. from all threats, foreign and domestic, will extend to supplying our troops with proper weapons. “Lord, we ask for a national spiritual awakening that will bring our nation back to ‘In God We Trust.’” 

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble … Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:1, 7)

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. … No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength.” (Psalm 33:10-12, 16)

 

NATIONAL FORECLOSURE RATE DROPS

Nationally, the rate of new foreclosures initiated in the fourth quarter was at pre-crisis levels, and back in its historical range, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Thursday. But Maryland stood out as having the highest “foreclosure starts” among the states. About 1 percent of all home loans in the state were seriously late and referred to a foreclosure attorney in the fourth quarter.

Virginia ranked 33rd on the list, with a foreclosure start rate below the national average. The contrast is particularly stark given the relative stability of the Washington region’s economy during the recession, Michael ­Fratantoni, the MBA’s chief economist, said in an interview.

“These are two states with a relatively similar experience during the downturn but very different outcomes in terms of the foreclosure start rates they’re experiencing now,” Fratantoni said. ­“Because Maryland has a much slower foreclosure process, the foreclosures have lingered much longer.”

Maryland is a “judicial state,” meaning that every foreclosure must be approved by a court. In Virginia, foreclosures do not require court approval and therefore move more swiftly. Once a foreclosure is initiated, it can take a year or multiple years to complete the process, depending on the state.

Twenty-two states require a court’s oversight for foreclosures. Years after the foreclosure crisis peaked, many of those states continue to feel the impact of troubled loans more acutely, the report concluded. Of the 17 states with a foreclosure inventory above the national average, 15 were judicial states, according to the analysis.

The report singled out the ­Baltimore-Towson area as having the highest rate of loans that were 90 days or more past due in the fourth quarter, with a delinquency rate of 3.87 percent. The performance was better than the previous quarter, when the area’s delinquency rate stood at 4.91 percent.

In 2010, lenders were forced to halt all foreclosures while they addressed widespread mortgage documentation problems. The freeze remained in place until 2012, when lenders reached a nationwide settlement with state attorneys general over their practices. All the while, a backlog of troubled loans grew in judicial states such as Maryland.

The NAACP’s Maryland State Conference, Casa de Maryland and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland plan to hold a rally Monday at the State House in Annapolis to demand a six-month freeze on foreclosures, one of the organizers said. During the moratorium, “we want a third party to verify the foreclosures in the pipeline, one by one, to see if they’re illegal or not,” said Carmen Johnson, housing chair of the NAACP conference.

While Maryland continues to feel the pain, the overall national picture looks brighter. Foreclosure starts in the fourth quarter were at their lowest level since 2006. The delinquency rate for single-family homes fell to 6.39 percent of all loans outstanding, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2008.

The delinquency numbers include loans that are at least one payment past due but not those that are in the foreclosure process. The rate of mortgages that were 90 days or more past due or were in the process of foreclosure was 5.41 percent, down from the previous quarter and from a year ago.

Mississippi showed the highest rate of seriously delinquent loans in the nation. The vast majority of distressed loans date back to 2007 or earlier and are concentrated in a few judicial states. (Contributor: By Dina ElBoghdady for The Washington Post)

Intercessors address root causes in their prayers and thus “stand in the gap” between God’s mercy and judgment. We ask the Lord for righteousness, renewal, and revival for our nation. The mortgage foreclosure rate is tied in with the country’s economic prosperity, with unemployment rates, with job creation (or not). Our overall prayer focus is for God-fearing government to prevail. Our nation is under divine discipline. Let us cry out to God with repentant hearts for mercy to temper justice. We quote from Daniel, not because we equate the U.S. with ancient Israel, but to underline divine principles and to remind us to intercede with humility and repentance.

“Then I 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. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our … fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day….’” (Daniel 9:3-7, excerpted)

 

U.S. AND MEXICAN AUTHORITIES DETAIL COORDINATED EFFORT TO CAPTURE DRUG LORD

The half-dozen Mexican commandos who burst into Room 401 of the Miramar condominium building in the beach town of Mazatlan found the world’s most-wanted drug lord not armed to the teeth, but shirtless and curled up in bed with his beauty-queen wife. An assault rifle was at his side, but he didn’t try to grab it.

The arrival of the elite troops at this seaside condo tower on Saturday morning marked the culmination of nine days of rapid-fire military raids and detective work across the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa.

Mexican and U.S. authorities involved in the investigation offered new details on Sunday about how they put together a jigsaw puzzle that was 13 years in the making. They were helped by U.S.-supplied wiretaps and surveillance technology that allowed them to track the cellphone locations of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and his crew as they tried everything to avoid capture — even fleeing through sewer tunnels.

The arrest is a major victory for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose government and that of his predecessor had faced accusations that they had accommodated Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel while targeting other groups. The drug lord’s capture shows that “we don’t have agreements with anyone,” said Tomas Zeron, the head of criminal investigations in the Mexican attorney general’s office. “The investigation was very good, and very well coordinated over many days, and this was the result.”

American law enforcement officials played a key role in the successful pursuit of the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, one of the wealthiest and most powerful drug-running outfits in the world, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

For at least a year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as well as Drug Enforcement Administration agents and members of the U.S. Marshals Service, had worked the case. A key break occurred in November, at the border in Nogales, Ariz., when a son of Guzmán’s top lieutenant, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, was arrested , according to a U.S. federal law enforcement official.

From that arrest, U.S. federal agents gained information that enabled them to map the upper reaches of the Sinaloa cartel . They learned some of the places Guzman, 56, and his henchmen liked to sleep when they came to cities in the western state. “We were able to penetrate the inner circle,” the official said.

“It was a traditional drug investigation where one phone begets another phone that begets another phone,” he added. “It was really drug investigations 101.” He and other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.

Current and former U.S. officials said that Guzmán’s “sloppiness” — specifically his more frequent trips from his mountain hideout to the cities of Culiacan and Mazatlan — was also key to the arrest.

A break in the case

The Americans shared the intelligence from the Arizona arrest with the Mexicans early this month. “We shared it live so they could do verifications as we were collecting it. They knew the cities,” said another U.S. official. That led to another big break on Feb. 13, when Mexican marines raided a farmhouse outside Culiacan, the Sinaloan capital. At the ranch, the marines arrested five people described as cartel hitmen, including Jose Enrique Sandoval Romero, known as “El Loco,” and two of his brothers, according to Mexican officials.

Using information from that arrest, the marines went to some of Guzman’s safe houses in Culiacan, including one where his ex-wife lived, officials said. In one home, they found one of Guzman’s couriers, who disclosed locations of more safe houses. Guzman was hiding in another of the houses, the officials said. As the marines tried to knock down its steel-enforced door, they said, Guzman escaped through a trap door under the bathtub. He descended a steel ladder that led to a network of tunnels that wove through the sewer system and connected at least seven other houses in the area, U.S. and Mexican officials said.

“He was able to escape from us at least twice,” said the U.S. federal law enforcement official. “He had a direct sense that we were after him.”

Guzman was moving quickly. He would leave behind grenades, rifles, ballistic vests and armored cars. “He was on the run, and he had to leave behind his personal protection,” one federal law enforcement official said.

As police blocked off streets in Culiacan and searched houses, top officials of the Mexican navy and the federal prosecutor’s office were holding emergency meetings to coordinate the hunt for Guzmán, who had escaped from a high-security prison in 2001. U.S. officials said he had since become the world’s most powerful drug lord.

American investigators sifted through the trove of new intelligence, and “all the agencies started to strategize, looking at stash houses, associates — and the puzzle started coming together,” according to Mike Vigil, a retired senior DEA official who worked for 13 years in Mexico and was briefed on the arrest.

Mexican officials said the United States contributed with technology that allowed them to track cellphones and satellite phones used by the cartel.

On Wednesday and Thursday, three more Guzmán lieutenants were arrested in Culiacan , officials said. One of the men had a stockpile of thousands of cocaine-filled bananas and cucumbers.

At that point, “Chapo and his guys realized they needed to drop the cell communication,” another federal official said. “They knew something was up.”

On Friday, instead of heading back to the mountains, Guzman traveled by road to Mazatlan, about 135 miles south of Culiacan.

Meanwhile, one of the wiretaps that originated out of the Nogales arrest had picked up the number for a new cellphone. It turned up in the pocket of Guzman’s traveling companion, a man known as “El Condor.”

Guzmán had arrived at the condo with El Condor and a woman whom U.S. officials initially described as his secretary and lover. But senior American officials, as well as Zeron, of the Mexican attorney general’s office, said the trafficker was with his wife, Emma Colonel, and their twin 2-year-old daughters. The girls were born in a Los Angeles County hospital and are U.S. citizens. The Mexican navy commandos burst into the room at 6:40 a.m. and found Guzmán asleep.

“He didn’t put up any resistance,” Vigil said. “He was physically tired from the stress of being hunted.”

Guzmán has been taken to a maximum security prison in Almoloya de Juarez in the state of Mexico, outside Mexico City.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said that the decision on whether Guzman will be tried in Mexico or the United States “will be the subject of further discussion” between the two countries.

For now, officials were relieved to have captured the trafficker.

“This is a huge case,” a U.S. official said. “A big deal for us and a big deal for the Mexicans.”

Sari Horwitz reported from Washington. Ernesto Londoño and Julie Tate in Washington, as well as Nick Miroff, contributed to this report. (Contributor: By Joshua Partlow and Sari Horwitz for The Washington Post)

Despite the almost-romantic detail of this article, the issue of illegal drugs in the U.S. can be reduced to an equation of supply and demand. Despite the life-destroying nature of the drugs, the bottom line is greed. For every Joaquin Guzmán, there are thousands of middlemen, both Mexican and American, eager to facilitate the high-paying drug trade that results in a near-epidemic death toll. We will not insult intercessors by suggesting this murderous trade will be easily stopped. Pray that the Lord’s Church come together in humility, unity, and power, interceding for transforming revival through which the Gospel will touch many hearts and capture countless lives for allegiance to Jesus Christ.

[God speaking as ‘Wisdom’] “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)

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim 6:6-10)

 

ROBOTS WILL BE SMARTER THAN US ALL BY 2029, WARNS AI EXPERT RAY KURZWEIL

By 2029, computers will be able to understand our language, learn from experience and outsmart even the most intelligent humans, according to Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil.

One of the world’s leading futurologists and artificial intelligence (AI) developers, 66-year-old Kurzweil has previous form in making accurate predictions about the way technology is heading.

In 1990 he said a computer would be capable of beating a chess champion by 1998 – a feat managed by IBM’s Deep Blue, against Garry Kasparov, in 1997.

When the internet was still a tiny network used by a small collection of academics, Kurzweil anticipated it would soon make it possible to link up the whole world.

Now, Kurzweil says than within 15 years robots will have overtaken us, having fulfilled the so-called Turing test where computers can exhibit intelligent behaviour equal to that of a human.

Speaking in an interview with the Observer, he said that his prediction was foreshadowed by recent high-profile AI developments, and Hollywood films like Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix.

“Today, I’m pretty much at the median of what AI experts think and the public is kind of with them,” he said.

“The public has seen things like Siri (Apple’s voice recognition software), where you talk to a computer. They’ve seen the Google self-driving cars. My views are not radical any more.”

Though credited with inventing the world’s first flat-bed scanners and text-to-speech synthesisers, Kurzweil is perhaps most famous for his theory of “the singularity” – a point in the future where humans and machines will apparently “converge”.

His decision to work for Google came after the company acquired a host of other AI developers, from the BigDog creators Boston Dynamics to the British startup DeepMind.

And the search engine giant’s co-founder Larry Page was able to convince Kurzweil to take on “his first actual job” by promising him “Google-scale resources”.

With the company’s unprecedented billions to spend, and some of humanity’s greatest minds already on board, it is clearly only a matter of time before we reach that point when robots can joke, learn. (Contributor: By Adam Withnall for The Independent)

While applauding scientific advances, Christians with biblical perspective believe that mankind’s creative ingenuity stems only from the Creator’s benevolence. Here, there is an absence of reverence or God-consciousness. In the Bible, such arrogance results in judgment. People ignore the Creator at their own peril. God’s invitation is this: Bow the knee now or later, but every knee will bow. God will not be mocked. Pray for another great awakening in the U.S. that will turn our nation back to God.

“And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Gen 11:6-9)

“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:8-11)

 

IN COVERAGE OF OLYMPICS, NBC HAS LARGELY STEERED CLEAR OF CONTROVERSY

The pictures have been spectacular, the competition stirring. Since the beginning of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, nearly two weeks ago, NBC has kept a tight focus on the athletes and their stories, from Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s gold medal-winning performance in ice dancing to Bode Miller’s emotional reaction to winning a bronze medal in the super-G ski race.

Only rarely have some less pleasant realities been allowed to intrude.

NBC hasn’t entirely ignored the non-athletic events and issues surrounding these Olympics, from the widely reported concerns about terrorism to cost overruns, corruption, worker exploitation, shabby hotels, problematic weather, suppression of political dissent and other bummer topics. Anchor Bob Costas’s sharp criticism Friday night of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s regime and its links to the unrest in neighboring Ukraine was a notable exception.

Otherwise, the network has largely pushed the controversial issues to the margins, usually out of prime time and into late-night hours, where the audience is smaller and the downer talk doesn’t distract from the glossy main event.

With the Winter Games drawing to a close Sunday, the network’s presentation seems to have been a solid hit with viewers. Ratings have been strong, if not golden: NBC had attracted an average audience of 22.5 million viewers per night through Thursday, a decline of nearly 9 percent from the comparable nights during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, which had the advantage of live events in prime time. On the other hand, the Sochi Games are drawing about 6 percent more viewers than the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, which, like Sochi, had no live events in prime time.

For many viewers, the biggest controversy has had nothing to do with geopolitics. NBC’s decision to show recorded events in prime time — its usual practice with games in distant time zones — elicited some grumbling. But only some. NBC’s head of research, Alan Wurtzel, told reporters in a conference call last week that its surveys showed that only 15 percent of viewers said knowing the results in advance made them less interested in watching the delayed telecast. “For most viewers,” he said, “it just doesn’t matter.”

No one expected Russian history lessons or penetrating reporting about Russia’s human rights record during the network’s nightly coverage of speedskating and snowboarding. But non-Olympic topics have occasionally leaked through on NBC. And for the most part, it has been quite flattering to the Games’ hosts.

However, Costas’s comments Friday came in sharp contrast to that, as he pulled no punches about Putin’s Russia: “While Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, theirs is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that’s just a partial list.”

Before that, the most hard-nosed analysis that NBC has offered may have come the night before the Opening Ceremonies. In a conversation with Costas, New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, hired as an analyst by NBC, opined that the Games represented an opportunity for Putin to “reassert Russia on the world’s stage.”

He added: “Remember, he’s an autocrat; he’s no democrat. He has no interest in LGBT issues or human rights, all the things that are being discussed. And he doesn’t care that you care that much.”

Fellow analyst Vladimir Pozner, a former Soviet propagandist, noted in the same interview that Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law would have “zero, no effect at all” on visitors, athletes or the conduct of the Games. But Pozner also said: “This is a very homophobic country. I would guess that 85 percent of the population are really, really anti-gay. I mean it can be physical. [Gay Russians] are in a very difficult situation.”

Costas’s set-up piece for that discussion — in which he noted Putin’s role in averting a U.S. military strike against Syria last year and in nudging Iran toward negotiations over its nuclear intentions — was blasted by conservatives as overly friendly to Russia. “Bob Costas ought to stick to sports,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Fox News, “because he obviously didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”

Other conservatives, including Glenn Beck, jumped on NBC the next night for describing communism as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments” during a recorded segment that preceded the Opening Ceremonies. “Pivotal experiment?” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted. “Really, no, it was an evil empire that murdered and oppressed.”

Since then, not much. But NBC, which paid $775 million to the International Olympic Committee for the U.S. rights to the Games, has largely steered clear of controversy by avoiding potentially touchy subjects.

Among others, the absence of further discussion about the anti-gay law has disappointed gay rights advocates. “NBC promised to give adequate coverage to the horrible situation LGBT Russians are facing, but so far little has aired during actual Olympic programming,” said Charles Joughin, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based organization. “NBC should use what little time they have left to report on the hate-based violence taking place across Russia and the government-led campaign to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT people.”

In an interview, Remnick, the author of “Lenin’s Tomb,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the fall of the Soviet Union, declined to assess NBC’s Olympic coverage. But he noted that American TV in general has shown waning interest in international news. “Whether it’s Russia or China, they need to spend more resources to tell those stories,” he said. “That’s a much bigger point than whether it made it into [prime time during] the Olympics.”

When it has focused on Russia during the Games, NBC has tended to put a happy face on the host nation. The primary vehicle has been a series of “travelogue” pieces highlighting regional and historical aspects of Russia, each hosted by correspondent Mary Carillo.

In a segment about Siberia, for example, Carillo noted the region’s vastness and forbidding climate (at one point, she playfully asked a workhorse if he was cold), but said little about its poverty and dark history as part of the Soviet and Russian prison system. Another segment about the Russian tradition of vodka consumption made no mention of the nation’s devastating alcoholism crisis. A third report, about Russian billionaires, featured an opulent Moscow party and an interview with Donald Trump but avoided the word “oligarchs” or any explanation of how so many in Russia became so wealthy so fast.

NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes defended the network’s presentation, noting that it devoted time in its first two prime-time shows to non-athletic subjects. The network “promised we’d continue to address [those subjects] if they became relevant again during the Games. We’re all thankful that security has not been an issue, and the other [issues] have not had any Games relevance, either.”

Carillo’s travel segments, he said, were designed to give the broadcast “texture, and to show the culture of the host country to our viewers, many of whom will never get the chance to visit Russia. We believe viewers tune in for the athletes, the stories and the context of the country that’s hosting them.”

Russia expert Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution in Washington said the Olympics might be the wrong place to look for a greater socio-political understanding of the host nation. “No one saw lessons about British co­lo­ni­al­ism in London [during the 2012 Summer Games] or the torturous history of the settling of the American West in Salt Lake City [site of the Winter Olympics] in 2002,” she said.

The Olympics, she added, “are always kind of overblown, overpriced, and overrated events.” (Contributor: Paul Farhi for The Washington Post)

The Olympic Games have never been free from controversy, political sniping, and behind-the-scenes intrigue. Give thanks for God’s watch-care and restraint, so that threats of terrorist infiltration and disaster did not materialize. Pray especially for the aftermath of the Games, for a great harvest of souls to result from the witness and influence of the many Christian groups who visited the Games to provide a Gospel witness and evangelistic outreach.

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.’” (Jer 1:12)

“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 February 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF

On Watch in Washington February 19, 2014

February 19th, 2014

On Watch in Washington February 19, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

COLLEGIATE DAY OF PRAYER FEBRUARY 27

John R. Mott called a generation of students to pray for their campuses, believing that if students prayed for the Lord would send forth laborers, the students themselves would get caught up in both the intercession and sending of missionaries.

A new generation of students is joining in intercession and missions. Students are meeting to pray, pooling finances to support missionaries, and answering the call.

February 27, 2014 is the Collegiate Day of Prayer. Whether you’re a student or not, you can participate in two ways.

 

  • Go to CollegiateDayOfPrayer.com and adopt a campus to pray for.  Let students know you stand with them!
  • Join us on a prayer conference call, 12:15 PM to 12:45 PM on February 27, 2014 on behalf of our colleges. We will be joined by Collegiate Day of Prayer operations coordinator Thai Lam.   Call 712-432-0075 and enter participant code 1412452#.

IRANIAN LEADER PREDICTING FAILURE BEFORE SIX NATIONS NUKE TALKS EVEN START

The Obama administration will open a fresh round of six-nation talks Tuesday aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, but Iran’s top leader predicted on the eve of negotiations that diplomacy will fail.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that he accepted the talks at the urging of other Iranian leaders but added that Washington will be to blame when the negotiations collapse.

“The nuclear issue is an excuse,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state TV. “Iran will not violate what it has promised, but Americans are hostile toward the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic republic.”

The talks in Vienna will bring together the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., France, Britain, Russia and China — and Germany with the goal of finalizing an interim deal reached in November in Geneva. Under that six-month deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for reduced economic sanctions by the West.

Ahead of the talks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry blasted Iran and Russia for continuing to support the Syrian regime in its 3-year-old civil war, after he arrived Monday in the United Arab Emirates.

President Obama has said the chances of reaching a comprehensive agreement on Iranian denuclearization are no more than “50/50,” but that the U.S. must try anyway.

Analysts expect the talks to last at least six months as negotiators work on resolving issues such as dismantling Iran’s 10,000 centrifuges that enrich uranium and converting the heavy-water plant at Arak, which could be used to create plutonium bombs.

“I’d call it ‘Mission Implausible,’” said Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. “It’s going to be excruciatingly difficult to find the right balance of interests that would satisfy all the constituencies.”

The U.S. and its allies believe Iran’s $100 billion nuclear infrastructure is intended to produce an atomic weapon. Iran denies that and says its program is aimed at peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical treatment.

To fulfill commitments under the interim deal, Iran stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent Jan. 20 and started neutralizing its stockpile enriched to that level — just steps away from weapons-grade material.

U.S. officials are seeking a permanent deal that would allow Tehran, which insists it will never dismantle equipment, to save face with its citizens. Mr. Obama has said any accord must provide a “dignified path for Iran to forge a new beginning with the wider world.”

Mr. Miller said one proposed solution would be for a third party to take possession of Iran’s centrifuges, which would allow Tehran to claim its program is still intact.

Other thorny issues include what to do with Iran’s deeply buried uranium enrichment plant at Fordow. The U.S. and its allies insist that the bomb-resistant site be dismantled because it could enable Iran to create a weapon before Western forces could destroy the complex.

Another question is the length of any potential agreement, Mr. Miller said.

“I would think you’d have to build in some degree of longevity here, a time span that goes well beyond four to eight years,” the analyst said. “Otherwise, what have we done? The best you can do is put enough time on Iran’s nuclear clock that you would have hopefully at least a year to detect, deter or set the stage through diplomacy for an attack.”

The talks are crucial for Mr. Obama, who will meet soon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as he seeks ways forward on Syria’s civil war, Palestinian-Israeli relations and unrest in Egypt. Iran’s influence in the region hangs over many of those issues.

“There are forms of Iranian behavior outside of the nuclear issue that continue to affect the way Washington looks at the mullahs — particularly Iran’s continuing support for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” Mr. Miller said. “These are beyond the scope of the agreement, but they influence and color the political space that is required to sustain an agreement.”

Mr. Miller said Mr. Obama’s bottom line is to avoid a nuclear-capable Iran during his tenure.

“Since the Iranian nuclear issue is the only issue that could seriously muck up the remaining years of his presidency, his objective is to see whether for not he can extract out of this something that’s credible and at the end of the day will not allow anybody to say that Iran on Barack Obama’s watch crossed the nuclear threshold,” he said.

As the talks resume, Tehran’s leaders are leaving no doubt that they mistrust the Obama administration’s intentions.

“Even if one day, against all the odds it is solved based on the Americans’ expectations, then Americans will seek another issue to follow it,” said Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final say in all of Iran’s policies. “Just pay attention to the spokespersons of the U.S. government, who have also raised the issue of human rights, missiles and arms.”

After the interim deal was reached, the U.S. and the European Union announced the lifting of sanctions on petrochemical products, insurance, gold and other precious metals, the auto industry and passenger plane parts and services. They also plan to release $4.2 billion in Iranian assets from oil revenue blocked overseas, in eight installments over six months. The first installment of $550 million was provided to Iran on Feb. 1, Iranian officials said.

Last week, while hosting a visit by French President Francois Hollande, Mr. Obama vowed to enforce existing sanctions against Iran and warned potential violators that “we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

He made the comments after Paris allowed some French business executives to go to Iran.

Mr. Obama said that while some businesses may be evaluating opportunities before a final deal is reached on Iran’s nuclear program, “I can tell you that they do so at their own peril right now.” (Contributor:  By Dave Boyer for The Washington Times)

Ask God for spiritual discernment that you and fellow intercessors pray according to the will of God. Intercession is spiritual warfare, not against flesh and blood but against forces of spiritual darkness. Iran’s people are not our enemies. Offer thanks for the many Christian believers in Iran who have been called out of sin’s darkness to Christ by God’s grace. However, Iran’s leaders are virulently anti-Israel, wishing (planning?) for its destruction. Therefore, we pray those plans will fail, that God preserve His covenant people, and for the peace of Jerusalem, that its divisions be resolved. Pray that our nation’s negotiators have divine wisdom not to be misled.

“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” (John 18:36-37)

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, 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 122:6-9)

 

NORTH KOREA’S KIM JONG-UN FORCED MOTHERS TO DROWN NEWBORN BABIES: U.N. REPORT

North Korea forces women to undergo abortions and young mothers to drown their newborn babies, and has starved and executed hundreds of thousands of detainees at secret prison camps — atrocities that the chairman of a U.N. panel that documented the abuses compares to those of Nazi Germany.

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the U.N. Commission on Inquiry said in a 372-page report released Monday on North Korea’s atrocities. These crimes are ongoing because “the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.”

In an unprecedented act, commission Chairman Michael Kirby wrote to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warning that he could be tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Obama administration “strongly” welcomed the report. She said it “provides compelling evidence of widespread, systematic, and grave human rights violations” by the North.

“The report reflects the international community’s consensus view that the human rights situation in the [North] is among the world’s worst,” Ms. Harf said.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, praised the report as a “clear-eyed account” and the “commission’s commitment to draw attention to North Korea’s human rights horrors.”

“North Korea is the world’s most oppressive dictatorship, and this report gives unprecedented detail on the Kim regime’s brutality,” the California Republican said in Tokyo, where he was meeting with Japanese officials. “This international attention is long overdue.”

“I’ve long argued that U.S. policy toward North Korea must include a strong human rights focus. This report helps build that case,” Mr. Royce said.

The report documents crimes against humanity, including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

It is based on evidence provided at public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington by about 80 victims and witnesses. More than 240 confidential interviews were conducted with victims and other witnesses.

North Korea refused to participate in the investigation, barred visits by the commission and rejected its findings as “a product of politicization of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the U.S. hostile policy.”

The commission will present its findings March 17 to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Its recommendations include U.N. Security Council sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity, but the North’s diplomatic isolation and protection by ally China make it hard to hold its leaders accountable. As a permanent Security Council member, China has used its veto power to shield North Korea from U.N. action.

Like the Nazis

According to witness accounts, North Korean women repatriated from China are forced to undergo abortions because they are believed to be carrying babies conceived by Chinese men. The women are not asked about the fathers’ ethnicity.

“Secondary sources and witness testimonies point to an underlying belief in a ‘pure Korean race’ in the DPRK to which mixed race children (of ethnic Koreans) are considered a contamination of its ‘pureness,’” the report says, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

One witness said she saw seven women given injections to induce abortions. In most cases, guards at the detention facilities “force either the mother or a third person to kill the baby by drowning it in water or suffocating it by holding a cloth or other item against its face or putting the baby face down so that it cannot breathe,” the report says.

Most of the abortions and infanticides were committed at holding centers, and interrogation and detention centers known as State Security Department (SSD) facilities. A former SSD official explaining the concept of “pure Korean blood” to the commission said having a child who is not “100 percent” Korean makes a woman “less than human.”

Mr. Kirby, the commission chairman, said there are “many parallels” between North Korea and the Nazis in World War II: “I never thought that in my lifetime it would be part of my duty to bring revelations of a similar kind.”

The report also identifies North Korean security forces being responsible for detentions, executions and disappearances at secret prison camps known as “kwanliso.” The inmates have been “gradually eliminated” by starvation and executions, says the report, which estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have died in the camps over the past five decades.

“North Korea’s political prison camps have lasted twice as long as the Soviet gulags and five times as long as the Nazi concentration camps,” Sokeel Park, the Seoul-based director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, told The Washington Times in an email. Liberty in North Korea is a nongovernmental organization that works with North Korean refugees.

North Korean authorities last month sent Kenneth Bae, a U.S. pastor detained for 15 months, back to a labor camp. Mr. Bae was last seen Jan. 20, when he was presented to journalists in Pyongyang. He urged the U.S. to work for his release.

‘Formula for change’

North Korea’s 30-something leader came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011. Hope arose that the Swiss-educated successor would provide an opening for the North to improve relations with South Korea and the West.

But Kim Jong-un quickly dashed those hopes: Since he has taken charge, the North has tested a nuclear weapon and threatened to attack the U.S. and South Korea, with which it is still technically at war since a cease-fire ended hostilities in the Korean War in 1953.

In December, Mr. Kim shocked the world with the swift arrest and execution of his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, who was widely seen as the second most powerful man in North Korea.

“There was a lot of hope when Kim Jong-un became the supreme leader that things would change. … That is ashes in our mouth now, especially after the execution of his uncle,” Mr. Kirby said Monday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Kirby, a retired Australian judge, said the international community must take North Korea to task: “We should be ashamed if we do not act on this report.”

Mr. Park said the international community has not paid adequate attention to the human rights crisis in North Korea.

“Twenty-four million North Korean people face one of the worst protracted humanitarian and human rights crises in human history, but the world’s focus has typically gone to Kim Jong-un, the nuclear issue and even [Dennis] Rodman’s bizarre visits,” said Mr. Park, referring to recent visits by the former NBA star to North Korea.

The international community must “increase support for multiple strategies to bring forward change in North Korea, including by working with North Korean refugees and people inside the country to accelerate bottom-up economic, information and social changes that are already happening in North Korean society,” Mr. Park said.

Mr. Kirby said his commission has “given the formula for change” with its report.

Nations cannot say they did not know the extent of the crimes taking place in North Korea, he said. “Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know.”  (Contributor: By Ashish Kumar Sen for The Washington Times)

Will we, as intercessors, be honest and courageous enough to avoid self-righteous anger at Korea’s Kim Jong-un? Instead, let us compare him with American abortionist Kenneth Gosnell (et al.). While Kim forced mothers to drown their babies, Dr. Gosnell did the job himself, killing live-born infants in his Philadelphia “clinic” by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. Give thanks that Gosnell has been deposed and is in prison for murder. Pray the U.N. will deal with Kim similarly. Pray, too, for a return to moral sanity in the U.S. and that the growing movement to overturn Roe v. Wade succeed.

“But we [Christians] have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Cor. 4:2-4)

“So when [the Pharisees] continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last….” (John 8:7-9)

 

POPE OPENS BIG WEEK WITH SEX, DIVORCE ON AGENDA

Meetings this week between Pope Francis and his cardinals will deal with some of the thorniest issues facing the church, including the rejection by most Catholics of some of its core teaching on premarital sex, contraception, gays and divorce.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for “changes and openings” in the church’s treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, will give the keynote speech Thursday to the pope and cardinals attending a preparatory meeting for an October summit on family issues.

The cardinals are in town for Saturday’s ceremony to formally install 19 new “princes of the church,” the first batch named by Francis to join the group of churchmen who will elect his successor. Saturday’s ceremony is the high point of an intensive week of meetings presided over by Francis that include the first proposals to put the Vatican’s financial house in order.

Ahead of Saturday’s consistory, cardinals will meet for two days behind closed doors to begin preparations for the October summit on family issues.

Francis scheduled the summit last year and took the unusual step of sending bishops around the world a questionnaire for ordinary Catholics to fill out about how they understand and practice church teaching on marriage, sex and other issues related to the family.

The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been eye-opening. Bishops themselves reported that the church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.

“On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘That train left the station long ago,’” Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently wrote on his blog, summarizing his survey’s findings. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

German and Swiss bishops released similar survey results earlier this month. German bishops reported this: “The church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control … are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.”

The Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such directives.

Kasper, who retired in 2010 after a decade as the Vatican’s chief ecumenical officer, has for years held out hope that the Vatican might accommodate these remarried Catholics who are forbidden from participating fully in the church’s sacraments unless they get an annulment.

“What is possible with God — namely forgiveness — we should be able to succeed within the church, too,” he told Germany’s Die Zeit in December.

Church teaching holds that unless that first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met — if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation — they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican’s chief doctrinal czar immediately shot down the initiative, insisting there is no way around the rule. Cardinal-elect Gerhard Mueller, like Kasper a German theologian, cited documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should prevail over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.

“It is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the church,” he wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

But Kasper has said the issue can and should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Francis himself has made clear he wants to help these Catholics and that the annulment process itself must be reviewed because the church’s tribunals currently are not able to deal with their caseload. He has said now was a “season of mercy.”

Francis is a big fan of Kasper. During his first Sunday noon blessing as pope, Francis praised Kasper by name, saying he was a terrific theologian who had just written a great book on mercy.

American canon lawyer Edward Peters, who has written extensively on the American annulment process, said Monday that compromise is not possible on annulments themselves since that is the only way baptized Catholics can remarry. But in a blog post, he said the Vatican might consider some “process-smoothing provisions” that were approved for the U.S. church back in the 1970s, including the elimination of the mandatory appeal to Rome. (Contributor: By Nicole Winfield for Associated Press and ABC News)

For intercessors, this is not only a Roman Catholic issue but a God-given call for widespread “house cleaning” within the Christian Church, which is in decline globally, with very low scores in positive influence. The Catholic Church of the 21st century still deals with the papacy scandals of the Middle Ages as well as the horrific pedophile sex crimes against children in modern times. The Church needs healing before it can dispense healing and freedom before it can minister freedom to its constituents. Pray accordingly, and include your own group or denomination. May God’s mercy impart to all Christians a heart of repentance. Let intercessors pull down strongholds in the name of Jesus Christ. (Note: The Isaiah passage was spoken to God’s covenant people, though rebellious and disobedient.)

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”(1 Peter 4:17-18)

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

 

NAVY READY TO DEPLOY LASER SYSTEM THIS SUMMER

Some of the Navy’s futuristic weapons sound like something out of “Star Wars,” with lasers designed to shoot down aerial drones and electric guns that fire projectiles at hypersonic speeds.

That future is now.

The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year, and it intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within two years.

For the Navy, it’s not so much about the whiz-bang technology as it is about the economics of such armaments. Both costs pennies on the dollar compared with missiles and smart bombs, and the weapons can be fired continuously, unlike missiles and bombs, which eventually run out.

“It fundamentally changes the way we fight,” said Capt. Mike Ziv, program manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Navy’s laser technology has evolved to the point that a prototype to be deployed aboard the USS Ponce this summer can be operated by a single sailor, he said.

The solid-state Laser Weapon System is designed to target what the Navy describes as “asymmetrical threats.” Those include aerial drones, speed boats and swarm boats, all potential threats to warships in the Persian Gulf, where the Ponce, a floating staging base, is set to be deployed.

Rail guns, which have been tested on land in Virginia, fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound — enough velocity to cause severe damage. The Navy sees them as replacing or supplementing old-school guns, firing lethal projectiles from long distances.

But both systems have shortcomings.

Lasers tend to lose their effectiveness if it’s raining, if it’s dusty, or if there’s turbulence in the atmosphere, and the rail gun requires vast amount of electricity to launch the projectile, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“The Navy says it’s found ways to deal with use of lasers in bad weather, but there’s little doubt that the range of the weapon would be reduced by clouds, dust or precipitation,” he said.

Producing enough energy for a rail gun is another problem.

The Navy’s new destroyer, the Zumwalt, under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, is the only ship with enough electric power to run a rail gun. The stealthy ship’s gas turbine-powered generators can produce up to 78 megawatts of power. That’s enough electricity for a medium-size city — and more than enough for a rail gun.

Technology from the three ships in that DDG-1000 series will likely trickle down into future warships, said Capt. James Downey, the program manager.

Engineers are also working on a battery system to store enough energy to allow a rail gun to be operated on warships currently in the fleet.

Both weapon systems are prized because they serve to “get ahead of the cost curve,” Ziv said.

In other words, they’re cheap.

Each interceptor missile aboard a U.S. Navy warship costs at least $1 million apiece, making it cost-prohibitive to defend a ship in some hostile environments in which an enemy is using aircraft, drones, artillery, cruise missiles and artillery, Thompson said.

With a laser operating on about 30 kilowatts of electricity — and possibly three times that in the future — the cost amounts to a few dollars per shot, Thompson said.

The “Star Wars” analogy isn’t a bad one.

Just like in the movies, the Navy’s laser directs a beam of energy that can burn through a target or fry sensitive electronics. Unlike the movie, the laser beam is invisible to the human eye.

The targeting system locks onto the target, sending a beam of searing heat. “You see the effect on what you are targeting but you don’t see the actual beam,” Ziv said.

Other nations are developing their own lasers, but the Navy is more advanced at this point.

Most folks are stunned to learn the technology is ready for deployment, Ziv said.

“It’s fair to say that there are other countries working on this technology. That’s safe to say. But I would also say that a lot of what makes this successful came from the way in which we consolidated all of the complexity into something that can be operated by (a single sailor),” he said. (Contributor:  By David Sharp for Associated Press)

Are we to pray for better weapons or for the cessation of warfare? “It fundamentally changes the way we fight,” says the program manager, which may be a positive thing if the war is just. Pray for our nation to experience revival with widespread conversions to Christ that will enable our national leaders to weigh global options carefully and to seek justice with godly wisdom at the negotiating table before committing our troops to combat. Psalm 20 is an example of how a righteous nation, with a righteous cause, may call upon the Lord. For intercessors, we are to cry out for spiritual victory.

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Jacob defend you; may He send you help … We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners! … He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:1-2, 5-7)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

 

MORE STATES LIKELY TO BAN SEXUAL-ORIENTATION CHANGE THERAPY

The push to ban sexual-orientation “change” therapy for children is growing as lawmakers in at least eight states have introduced bills to outlaw the practice and gay-rights advocates expect at least a few to become law this year.

In Maryland, Delegate Jon S. Cardin, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, has filed legislation that would ban such therapy. He said leading medical and psychological organizations have declared that “being gay is not a disease or a choice.”

Lawmakers in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia also have introduced bills to ban sexual-orientation change efforts for minors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association oppose this form of therapy.

“These dangerous treatments that attempt to address depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior may only serve to reinforce self-hatred,” said a summary of a New York bill introduced last year by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman filed a companion bill.

Virginia’s bill has been killed in committee, but the others are expected to move toward passage this year.

The bills resemble laws in California and New Jersey that say “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy is unscientific and harmful, especially for children struggling with their sexual identification. The laws essentially permit children to have only “gay-affirming” therapy.

The bans on sexual-orientation change efforts are likely to “follow the path of marriage equality,” with Maryland and Massachusetts the most likely states to approve bills this year, said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an advocacy group that “fights the ‘ex-gay’ myth.”

Truth Wins Out has created a website, LGBTScience.org, to build the case against sexual-orientation change therapy, which it calls “junk science.”

There is even hope that if California state Sen. Ted Lieu, author of the nation’s first ban on sexual-orientation change efforts, wins his race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat, he will push for a national ban on such therapy for children.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, has filed a resolution with 17 co-sponsors saying that Congress views sexual-orientation change therapy as having no legitimate purpose, and is dangerous and harmful to minors.

But some proposed bans are meeting resistance. Virginia lawmakers swiftly killed such legislation in committee this month, and leaders of organizations that address “sexual brokenness” say sexual-orientation change efforts are essential to helping those who want to escape unwanted same-sex attractions and experiences.

“I know a number of men who felt suicidal because they thought they were stuck with homosexuality and had no hope until they found out about the therapy and ministry opportunities available,” said Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network, an organization with nearly 40 ministries that address sexual and gender issues.

“Each person should have the right to choose the direction of their life and not be prohibited from living congruently with their faith and/or ethics,” she said.

“For children who struggle with same-sex attractions, like I did when I was 18, it’s important for them to know that there’s more than one option, other than, ‘Hey, just accept that you’re gay and find a good gay group and ride happily into the sunset,’” said DL Foster, pastor of Overcomers Network, a Bible-based ministry that helps people live and act in sexually moral ways.

“For those who don’t want to follow a path of being self-identified as gay, they need to have clear and credible options,” Mr. Foster said.

The therapy-ban issue is already before the Supreme Court: A petition for review was filed Feb. 6 over California’s first-in-the-nation law, SB 1172, in a case called Pickup v. Brown.

New Jersey’s law banning sexual-orientation change efforts for minors is also in the courts.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, and colleagues have appealed U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson’s decision to uphold the New Jersey ban. That case, in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is King v. Christie.

Mr. Mat Staver also assisted with the Supreme Court petition for review. (Contributor:  By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)

IFA’s prayer points in these alerts are suggestions only. Intercessors are individuals, not “one size fits all.” Yet we achieve unity when we pray, not from the news or human commentary but by the unchanging Word of God. What does Scripture clearly teach? Answer: mankind was created in God’s image, distinctly as “male and female.” The result was a man and a woman told to be “fruitful and multiply after their own kind.” Every baby since has been either a boy or a girl, both in God’s image. From that perspective, we may pray with compassion for individuals and families with any confusion in the matter. Knowing God’s design, we pray for freedom for all through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.      

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it….’” (Gen. 1:26-28)

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.” (1 Cor. 15:45-47)

 

ASTEROID TO HURTLE PAST THE EARTH AT 27,000 MPH

A ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid which is three times the size of a football pitch and travelling at 27,000 miles an hour will pass close to Earth on Monday night.

Although the speeding chunk of rock – named 2000 EM26 – will be 1.6 million miles away it still represents a close shave for our planet in astronomical terms.

It will be tracked by the online Slooh Space Camera which monitors asteroids but scientists say it poses no threat to Earth.

During its closest approach, the asteroid will fly about 8.8 lunar distances from Earth.

A potentially hazardous object is a near-Earth asteroid or comet with an orbit that makes close approaches to the Earth and is of a size large enough to cause significant regional damage.

2000 EM26′s flyby is almost exactly a year after a meteor unexpectedly exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia, causing damage and injuring more than 1,000 people with falling glass.

“On a practical level, a previously-unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on June 20, 1908 and February 15, 2013,” said Slooh astronomer Bob Berman.

“Every few centuries, an even more massive asteroid strikes us — fortunately usually impacting in an ocean or wasteland such an Antarctica.

“But the on-going threat, and the fact that biosphere-altering events remain a real if small annual possibility, suggests that discovering and tracking all NEOs, as well as setting up contingency plans for deflecting them on short notice should the need arise, would be a wise use of resources.”

Slooh routinely tracks dangerous asteroids which have the potential to cause significant damage if they hit the Earth.

Their work has the side aim of increasing awareness about the dangers of asteroids, and recruiting members of the public to help by scanning the skies with Slooh robotic telescopes.

Paul Cox, technical research director said: “We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids — sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth.

“Slooh’s asteroid research campaign is gathering momentum with Slooh members using the Slooh robotic telescopes to monitor this huge population of potentially hazardous space rocks. We need to find them before they find us. (Contributor: The Telegraph)

Here is an example of what might be called a titillating article. Of marginal interest to Christians, who know the “end of the world” is in God’s hands and according to His plan and purpose, it gives us a momentary respite from the intensity of “standing in the gap” in prayer (on this matter). First, as you read this, the event has passed. The asteroid, at once described as “potentially dangerous” and “posing no threat” to Planet Earth, passed us while 1.6 million miles away. Will our planet be destroyed by an asteroid collision? Perhaps, if God so wills, but not today. Christians may give thanks, while resting in God’s peace, for the assurance that our times are in His hands.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand; 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 In the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion….” (Psalm 31:14-15; 19-20)

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless….” (2 Peter 3:10-14)

On Watch in Washington February 19, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

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