On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014

January 8th, 2014

On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

RNC SET TO DELIVER BIG STATEMENT ON ABORTION

In an unprecedented show of opposition to abortion, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is delaying the start of the party’s annual winter meeting so he and other committee members can join the March for Life on the Mall, The Washington Times has learned.

Mr. Priebus, a plain-spoken Greek Orthodox lawyer from Wisconsin, will join members of his party’s national committee and thousands of other abortion opponents in the annual right-to-life march scheduled for Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that declared abortion a constitutional right.

“I saw that there was a real interest among a significant portion of our members to attend and support the Rally for Life,” Mr. Priebus said in an email to The Times. “This is a core principle of our party. It was natural for me to support our members and our principles.”

Mr. Priebus, in his second term as elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, chose to delay the start of the four-day winter meeting of the GOP governing body, also scheduled in Washington, to allow himself and RNC members to attend the march. The delay is unprecedented for a major U.S. political party, several state Republican Party chairmen and other RNC members said in telephone interviews.

Mr. Priebus also decided that the RNC will charter a bus to and from the march for those among the RNC’s 168 members who wish to attend, he said.

“I will attend the March for Life and am making a few simple modifications of the schedule and ensuring that the members have safe and adequate transportation to and from the rally,” he said in his email.

In an email circulated among other members, Alaska RNC member Debbie Joslin said, “I have served under a number of chairmen and not one of them ever made any opportunity for us to attend the March for Life, and they always scheduled critical meetings for the same time as the March for Life. Big thanks to Reince for standing up for the unborn!”

The chairman’s action is an example of the increasingly bottom-up instead of top-down way the RNC functions.

On paper, the RNC is quite democratic in structure — it is made up of an elected state party chairman and an elected committee man and a committee woman from each of the 50 states and five U.S. territories. But for almost its entire history, the national chairman, in an informal alliance with the GOP congressional leadership and top fundraisers, has called the shots.

But this act was different.

“When Reince got wind of what members were planning on their own, he emailed that he would shift our RNC schedule so we could attend, and he offered that the RNC would get transportation for us,” Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin said.

Oklahoma RNC member Carolyn McLarty, an evangelical Protestant, said the schedule change had its origins in an email reminder about the march from Virginia RNC member Kathy Hayden “about a week ago and that we could probably attend at least part of it prior to the start of the RNC meetings. … Things have snowballed from there.”

She said West Virginia RNC member Melody Potter had “contacted the bus company and the emails started flying with members wanting to attend.”

“I am pumped at the opportunity that we have as a party,” Mrs. Potter said. “There is nothing that we cannot accomplish together. We are Republican for a reason.”

The March for Life is one of the biggest events of the year for social conservatives. Although neither the National Park Service nor any other government agency publicly releases estimates of such demonstrations and rallies, organizers said about 650,000 people marched last year.

As testimony to the steady increase since the 1980s of social and religious conservatives — especially evangelical Protestants — in the Republican Party electoral coalition, House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican and a Catholic, addressed the rally last year.

“It wasn’t easy for my mother to have 12 children, but I’m sure glad she did,” Mr. Boehner said. “So I’ve never considered ‘pro-life’ to be a label or a position. It’s who I am, and it’s who we are as a people.”

The pro-life rally and march will run from noon to 1 p.m. with a warm-up event and concert in the hour before the rally begins its route up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court Building on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Priebus made his decision after learning that about 20 members were planning to hire and share the cost of a bus to take them from the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington to the rally and back.

Responses to the march from Mr. Priebus‘ predecessors have ranged from quiet opposition to pro-life language in the party’s platform to a public and determined effort by Haley Barbour to quash attempts to deny RNC financing to pro-choice GOP candidates.

The Democratic National Committee platform has long featured a pro-choice plank supporting the 1973 Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in all states and territories.

“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay,” its plank says.

In vivid contrast, the Republican platform reads in part: “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

Some political observers see the American public in recent years moving in the pro-life direction.

A Gallup poll in May of 1,535 adults found 48 percent saying they consider themselves pro-life and 45 percent pro-choice, with 5 percent saying they are unsure or don’t know what the terms mean. An April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults found 52 percent thinking abortion should be illegal under all or almost all circumstances.

In a reflection of leanings on abortion by the press and the entertainment industry, 51 percent said they think most Americans are pro-choice.

Not so in reality, according the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s resident scholar Karlyn Bowman. Over four decades, she writes, a variety of polls show “opinion about abortion is stable, it is also deeply ambivalent. Americans are at once pro-life and pro-choice.

“On the one hand, substantial numbers tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. On the other, they say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice. … They believe in the sanctity of life and in the importance of individual choice.”

Many major donors — considered vital to the party’s competitiveness in elections — historically have opposed the Republican Party’s embrace of an abortion ban because it would, they feared, alienate female voters, particularly the unmarried and young.

Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue, a Methodist, doubts a backlash from wealthy contributors as a result of Mr. Priebus‘ actions.

“Major donors might feel the RNC should not use party money to pay for buses,” Mr. Yue said. “But during the conservative steering committee conference call, members were talking about booking a bus and sharing the cost. If major donors complain about the bus cost, they will be viewed as petty.”

The conservative movement — whose members usually vote Republican — generally retains its long-held view that someone can be a true conservative regardless of which side of the abortion issue is favored.

Pro-life Republicans in general, however, often are less tolerant of their opposites on the issue, which is the mirror image of the pro-choice Democratic Party, whose pro-life members say they, too, often find themselves muzzled. (Contributor: Ralph Z. Hallow for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for this encouraging answer to the prayers of the many U.S. Christians who pray for “Life” and for the upcoming “March for Life” (January 22nd) throughout the preceding year. Some of you are reading this alert. Thank the Lord for Reince Priebus’ principled stand vs. political pragmatism. Ask God to bless and vindicate his bold pro-life leadership, even within a divided political party and divided nation. Intercede that many of his fellow Republicans will likewise be convicted to “come out” strongly with a stand for “Life” for the innocent not-yet-born babies. Pray, too, for the March and the day itself: for its leaders and all participants, for those who will travel to Washington, DC to be safe and protected from harassment or physical harm. The opposition is often threatening. And where supporting Scriptures call on the Lord to destroy His enemies, Christians understand that these “enemies” are not the spiritually blind people who oppose us, but are spiritual forces of wickedness and demonic powers. 

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

[God says] “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire [of testing], you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

 

NSA WILL NOT SAY WHETHER IT SPIES ON CONGRESS

Congress is just like everyone else. That’s the message the National Security Agency has for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The independent senator from Vermont sent a letter to the agency Friday, asking whether it has or is “spying” on members of Congress and other elected American officials.

The NSA provided a preliminary response Saturday that said Congress has “the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.”

“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,” said the agency in a statement obtained by CNN.

The response goes on to promise the agency will continue to work with Congress on the issues – without ever addressing the senator’s real question.

Sanders defines “spying” in his letter as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or e-mails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The NSA would say nothing more, except that it is further reviewing the letter.

“We will continue to work to ensure that all Members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties,” read the statement.

Attorney General Eric Holder similarly deflected answering the same question at a congressional hearing last summer, telling Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, that the NSA had no “intent” to spy on Congress, but the issue was better discussed in private.

The intelligence community has faced heated criticism from the right and left in 2013 after Edward Snowden’s leaks, and the intensity has continued fiercely in 2014.

On Thursday, the New York Times and the Guardian published scathing editorials that slammed the “violations” Snowden’s leaks revealed and advocated a presidential pardon for him.

Among those charges was the notion that James Clapper Jr., the director of National Intelligence, lied to Congress while testifying last March that the NSA was not collecting data on millions of Americans.

National Intelligence was quick to push back, with a letter to the editor from by general counsel Robert Litt, published in the New York Times on Saturday.

“As a witness to the relevant events and a participant in them, I know that allegation is not true,” writes Litt, explaining that Clapper misunderstood the question, but couldn’t publicly correct his mistake “because the program involved was classified.”

“This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person’s state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure.”

Litt said that Clapper was “surprised and distressed” when he was informed by staff that he gave a misleading answer after the testimony. (Contributor: By Conor Finnegan for CNN–CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.)

We are praying here for the emergence of Truth. The following quote is not from the Bible, but the poet spoke truth when he wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” The “practice to deceive” is rampant across our nation, and many high-ranking political leaders are leading the way. Cheating, scandal, and deception abound on all sides and in all branches of our government. One cover-up leads to the next, until systematic lying or withholding of truth becomes the order of the day. The Framers’ ideal of balance of powers and intra-branch accountability seems hopelessly outdated. How desperately the nation needs a resurgence of truth, moral uprightness, and integrity at all levels. Pray for the Church to awaken as well. It strays from truth by sending an “easy grace” message that obscures the claims of Jesus Christ and compromises the cost of discipleship and holy living. Interceding effectively requires courage and honest introspection. Let us ask God to move by His Spirit with transforming revival, even to the discomfort of our own plans and desire for peace and security. “Come, Holy Spirit, and once again shake everything than can be shaken. Rend the heavens and come down. Visit our nation with Your salvation. We ask You for extended mercy and the grace to repent.” Righteous people can repent on behalf of an unrighteous nation.

“Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence—as fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down; the mountains shook at Your presence.”  (Isaiah 64:1-4)

“He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.”
(Proverbs 12:17-22)

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28)

 

SUING OVER OBAMACARE EXEMPTIONS FOR CONGRESS

If the president wants to change the health-care law, he must ask Congress to do it.

On Monday, Jan. 6, I am filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to make Congress live by the letter of the health-care law it imposed on the rest of America. By arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the administration has exceeded its legal authority.

The president and his congressional supporters have also broken their promise to the American people that ObamaCare was going to be so good that they would participate in it just like everyone else. In truth, many members of Congress feel entitled to an exemption from the harsh realities of the law they helped jam down Americans’ throats in 2010. Unlike millions of their countrymen who have lost coverage and must now purchase insurance through an exchange, members and their staffs will receive an employer contribution to help pay for their new plans.

It is clear that this special treatment, via a ruling by the president’s Office of Personnel Management, was deliberately excluded in the law. During the drafting, debate and passage of ObamaCare, the issue of how the law should affect members of Congress and their staffs was repeatedly addressed. Even a cursory reading of the legislative history clearly shows the intent of Congress was to ensure that members and staff would no longer be eligible for their current coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan.

The law states that as of Jan. 1, 2014, the only health-insurance plans that members of Congress and their staffs can be offered by the federal government are plans “created under” ObamaCare or “offered through an Exchange” established under ObamaCare.

Furthermore, allowing the federal government to make an employer contribution to help pay for insurance coverage was explicitly considered, debated and rejected. In doing so, Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing. They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law’s benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.

Eager, that is, until they began to understand what they had actually done to themselves. For instance, by agreeing to go through an exchange they cut themselves off from the option of paying for health care with pretax dollars, the way many Americans will continue to do through employer-supplied plans. That’s when they went running to President Obama for relief. The president supplied it via the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which issued a convoluted ruling in October 2013 that ignores the clear intent and language of the law. After groping for a pretext, OPM essentially declared the federal government a small employer—magically qualifying members of Congress for coverage through a Small Business Health Options Program, exchanges where employers can buy insurance for their employees.

Neat trick, huh? Except that in issuing the ruling, OPM exceeded its statutory jurisdiction and legal authority. In directing OPM to do so, President Obama once again chose political expediency instead of faithfully executing the law—even one of his own making. If the president wants to change the law, he needs to come to Congress to have them change it with legislation, not by presidential fiat or decree.

The legal basis for our lawsuit (which I will file with a staff member, Brooke Ericson, as the other plaintiff) includes the fact that the OPM ruling forces me, as a member of Congress, to engage in activity that I believe violates the law. It also potentially alienates members of Congress from their constituents, since those constituents are witnessing members of Congress blatantly giving themselves and their staff special treatment.

Republicans have tried to overturn this special treatment with legislation that was passed by the House on Sept. 29, but blocked in the Senate. Amendments have also been offered to Senate bills, but Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to allow a vote on any of them.

I believe that I have not only legal standing but an obligation to go to court to overturn this unlawful executive overreach, end the injustice, and provide a long overdue check on an executive that recognizes fewer and fewer constitutional restraints. Senator Johnson is a Republican from Wisconsin. (Contributor: Ron Johnson for The Wall Street Journal)

Give thanks for Sen. Ron Johnson’s attempt to legally address the logjam that characterizes the healthcare law known as Obamacare. Whether we agree with the senator’s political philosophy or not, all concerned Christian citizens and intercessors can petition God to bring “truth in the inward parts.” Almost all analysts agree that the law is out of control, and news reports make it clear that most members of Congress fear facing voters’ wrath and legitimate charges of hypocrisy and cronyism in an election year. Let us pray for divine restraint on government structures (e.g., the health care law) that are steeped in lies and confusion. Nothing brings division to our nation more quickly or decisively than for elected officials to turn themselves into a ruling class, immune from the laws they sponsor and pass. Let us pray accordingly. These themes will continue into the new year ahead of us. Let us be much in prayer. In a constitutional republic, which Americans have in theory, leaders are elected to serve and represent, not to rule and be “above” the citizenry.

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

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

 

RISE OF THE EXORCISTS IN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Forty years after The Exorcist scared the wits out of cinema audiences around the world, the Roman Catholic Church is training up a new generation of priests to meet a growing demand for exorcisms.

Dioceses across Italy, as well as in countries such as Spain, are increasing the number of priests schooled in administering the rite of exorcism, fabled to rid people of possession by the Devil.

The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the Church said.

The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the Church to sideline unauthorized, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.

The trend comes four decades after the 1973 release of The Exorcist, the American horror film based on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and attempts to exorcise her by two priests.

The diocese of Milan recently nominated seven new exorcists, the bishop of Naples appointed three new ones a couple of years ago and the Catholic Church in Sardinia sent three priests for exorcism training in Rome, amid concern that the Mediterranean island, particularly its mountainous, tradition-bound interior, is a hotbed of occultism.

In Spain, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, chose eight priests to undergo special training in May to confront what he described as “an unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession”. The Church in Spain was coming across many cases that “go beyond the competence of psychologists” and they were occurring with “a striking frequency”, the archbishop said.

“Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism,” said Fr Francesco Bamonte, the president of the Italy-based International Association for Exorcists. “The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help,” he told La Repubblica last month.

The association was founded in 1993 by Fr Gabriele Amorth, who served as the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms.

He has written several books on the subject, including The Last Exorcist — My Fight Against Satan.

A controversial figure, he has claimed that yoga is “evil” because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and other Eastern religions.

During the papacy of Benedict XVI he said that the sex abuse scandals which engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Australia and other countries were proof that the Antichrist was waging a war against the Holy See.

The Church insists that the majority of people who claim to be possessed by the Devil are suffering from a variety of mental health issues, from paranoia to depression. Priests generally advise them to seek medical help.

But in a few cases, it is judged that the person really has been taken over by evil, and an exorcism is required.

The need for exorcisms is “rare, very rare”, said Fr Vincenzio Taraborelli, a priest in a church which lies just a few hundred yards from the Vatican. “In the cases where a mental illness is apparent, we try to send them to a doctor.”

Don Gianni Sini is a priest in Sardinia, an island with a reputation for spiritualism — its interior is dotted with mysterious stone-built structures called nuraghi, which predate Carthaginian and Roman occupation.

“People come to me thinking that with an exorcism they can resolve all the problems they have in their lives. A child is doing badly at school? With an exorcism we can make him study. They see exorcists as a last resort. Out of 100 people that I receive, there will be one who has need of me as an exorcist.”

“Demonic” possession manifests itself in people babbling in languages foreign to them, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon.

They must undergo the official Catholic rite of exorcism, which involves a consecrated priest invoking the name of God, as well as various saints and the Archangel Michael, to cast out their demons. The growth in the number of priests being trained is “a response to public demand, but it’s also about quality control”, said John Allen, an expert on the Vatican from the National Catholic Reporter.

“There are all these guys, some of them priests, who have set themselves up as exorcists. A lot of it is fairly dodgy theologically — they are self-appointed exorcists running around purporting to be acting on behalf of the Church.

“Now there is an attempt to ensure that all this is done in accordance with the Church’s official teaching. The hierarchy don’t want it going on outside the official channels.” Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian and the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, said the Church teaches that evil exists and that in extreme cases it can take possession of a person.

“God has the power to beat his adversary, but Satan never ceases to work. There are people who experiment with subjection to the Devil, even a state of diabolical possession, for which the help of an exorcist can be necessary,” he told La Repubblica.

“When Christians recite the Our Father prayer, they ask for delivery from evil. In every diocese the bishop chooses one or two priests to act as exorcists — they have to be well balanced and discreet.

“The great majority do not have need of an exorcism, but medical treatment. But with those who are possessed we begin a course of conversion, help them to return to prayer, to the sacraments, to enable them to throw off the possession.”

Belief in black magic and Satanism may have been spread by the internet, but there has been a streak of popular superstition in the Catholic Church for centuries. “I’m not sure it ever really went away,” said Mr Allen. “After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, there was a great deal of embarrassment among ‘enlightened’ Catholics about exorcisms and other aspects of the supernatural. It was seen as a medieval anachronism.

“But at the grassroots level there has always been a very strong streak of popular religion, a fascination with the occult and the powers of the Devil.

“We know that Pope Francis is a strong believer in popular religion such as Marian devotion, but that also includes belief in the Devil.”

In May it was claimed that Pope Francis had performed an exorcism during a Mass in St Peter’s Square.

Television images show him laying his hands on a wheelchair-bound man, who appears to go into convulsions with his mouth open before slumping down into his chair. The encounter was shown by TV2000, a channel owned by the Italian bishops’ conference, which quoted experts as saying that there was no doubt the Pope had performed an exorcism.

Fr  Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later dismissed the claims, saying Pope Francis “did not intend” to perform an exorcism — an ambivalently-worded denial that left many convinced that he had indeed done so.

Pope Francis has not publicly commented on exorcisms, but many of his sermons and homilies feature references to the Devil.

During a Mass in November in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he lives, he said that although “God created man to be incorruptible”, the Devil entered the world and there are those “who belong to him”.

At a Mass days before, he talked of the dangers of worldliness, warning that: “When we think of our enemies, we really think of the Devil first, because it’s the Devil that harms us. The Devil enjoys the atmosphere, the lifestyle of worldliness.”  (Contributor: By Nick Squires for Telegraph)

Despite widespread denial, Bible-believing people know that Satan (the devil) is real, as are demonic forces. Jesus recognized demons as having will and intelligence. He had authority over them and when He demanded they stop their torment and leave their victims, in every case they were compelled to obey His commands. The apostles and early disciples were given similar authority in His name, and the demons knew whom they had to obey and who were bogus, without divine anointing or spiritual credentials (see Scripture below). Today, demonic activity persists, and there are those servants of Christ who are able to minister effectively to demon-oppressed people who may have physical and/or emotional symptoms that manifest as diseases. Give thanks for a reawakening to these spiritual realities, and pray that such ministry to the oppressed be approached soberly, reverently, in faith, and in the fear of God. Genuine exorcism or deliverance ministry, when properly given, will always be done by Christian believers in the authority of Jesus’ name and for the glory of God.

“Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him.” (Luke 4:33-35)

“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘Weexorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts 19:11-17)

 

A CENTURY OF BLACK AMERICAN ISLAM

The year 2013 marks the centenary of the reported founding of the Canaanite Temple in Newark, N.J. That was the very earliest form of an indigenous black American Islam, one completely distinct from normative Islam, the 1,400-year-old religion from Arabia founded by Muhammad. From this movement came Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan.

The century divides into two main eras: inventing a new religion (1913-1975) and moving toward normative Islam (1975-2013).

Timothy Drew (1886-1929), an American black who called himself Noble Drew Ali, founded the Newark temple and then, in 1925 another, better verified organization, the oddly named Moorish Science Temple of America. His ideas derived mainly from four unlikely sources — pan-Africanists, the Shriners, Ahmadiyya Muslims and white racists.

From pan-Africanists such as Edward Wilmot Blyden and Marcus Garvey, he appropriated the notion of Christianity as the religion of whites and Islam that of nonwhites. As a practicing Shriner, Noble Drew Ali borrowed traits from this organization, such as the use of “Noble” before one’s name, the requirement that men wear fezzes and a network of lodges. From Ahmadis, he took Arabic personal names, the crescent-and-star motif, the prohibition of pork and the notion of Jesus traveling to India. From white racists came the idea that accomplished black Americans are not Africans at all, but “Moors,” “Moorish-Americans” or “Asiatics,” a mythical northwest African people, the Moabites, who migrated to sub-Saharan Africa.

From this unique mixture, Noble Drew Ali concocted the 64-page scripture of his religion, the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America (Chicago, 1927), which despite its name has almost nothing to do with the normative Islamic Koran but is largely plagiarized from two texts, one occult Christian and the other Tibetan. Even more strangely, his Koran focuses not on the figure of Muhammad, but on Jesus.

Noble Drew Ali hoped that by avoiding association with Africa, inventing a new identity for American blacks and urging them to be loyal to the United States, they would appear to be new immigrants and, like other newcomers, would escape entrenched racist stereotypes and avoid segregation. But such was not to be. As the historian Richard Brent Turner writes, “Noble Drew Ali did not understand that the melting pot was closed to black people in the 1920s.”

MSTA declined with Noble Drew Ali’s death in July 1929. The organization still exists with a following of about a thousand adherents. One member, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, was convicted for his part in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and sentenced to 35 years. Another, Narseal Batiste, got 13 years for planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

The Temple had a key role as precursor to the Nation of Islam (NOI), which came into existence in July 1930. MSTA began the dual tradition, subsequently picked up by NOI, of appropriating the imagery of normative Islam without its content and then using this folk religion as a vehicle to escape white racism. Both focused primarily on un-churched American blacks and served as a bridge for them to convert to normative Islam. Many MSTA traits — the term “nation,” the “Asiatic” identity, the rejection of Negro and Africa, the identification of Islam with “people of dark hue,” the prediction that all whites would be destroyed and the leader’s claim to prophet-hood and even at times divinity — survived in NOI.

Many of NOI’s earliest members had previously belonged to MSTA, and they often saw the Nation as the Temple’s successor. Elijah Muhammad, NOI’s effective founder, himself praised the MSTA forerunner and sometimes modestly portrayed his movement as “trying to finish up what those before us started.”

Since 1975, the momentum has been away from MSTA and NOI in favor of normative Islam, with its more than 1 billion adherents. MSTA and NOI cannot compete against the depth, gravitas and resources of this world faith. NOI has been bleeding members to normative Islam, to the point that it hangs on thanks mostly to the prominence of the elderly and sick Mr. Farrakhan (born 1933). After his passing from the scene, NOI will likely follow MSTA into a rapid decline, with black American Muslims overwhelmingly adopting normative Islam.

Despite their insignificant futures, MSTA and NOI retain their importance because nearly all of today’s approximately 750,000 black American Muslims — and a potentially much larger community in the years ahead — trace their roots to that Canaanite Temple in Newark a century ago. (Contributor:  By Daniel Pipes for The Washington Times – Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.)

When Jesus was on earth teaching, preaching, and healing the sick, He was moved with great compassion, seeing the multitude of people weary and scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Similarly, let us see people—regardless of their religion or of no religion—as needing the peace, security, and inner balance that only He can bring to the human experience. We follow His example through prayer and evangelistic witness, treating all people with respect on the basis that all are made in the image of God; but also knowing that image in us all is tainted and distorted by sin. From the Christian perspective, all pathways do not lead to God or to heaven, which makes true Christianity both inclusive and exclusive. This article reminds Christians that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save men and women from their sins and from the wrath of God that will bring eternal judgment apart from His salvation. In this regard, Christianity is exclusive, in that there is only one way. But the invitation is inclusive, calling “whosoever will” to come and find forgiveness of sin and peace with God through Christ. Let us pray for a resurgence of a powerful Christian witness in our nation. Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior results in changed lives and turning from hostilities toward others, whether they become believers or not.   

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Matt. 9:36-38)

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

 

SUPREME COURT PUTS UTAH HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE ON HOLD

The Supreme Court has put homosexual marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue.

The court issued a brief order Monday blocking any new homosexual unions in the state.

The order follows an emergency appeal by the state following the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state’s ban on homosexual marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since then.

The high court order will remain in effect until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to uphold Shelby’s ruling.

The state’s request to the Supreme Court was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor turned the matter over to the entire court.

The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same-sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby’s ruling. The appeals court had twice rebuffed the state’s plea to stop gay weddings pending appeal.

Utah changed its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage in 2004.

Nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on homosexual marriage, Proposition 8.

Though the church has softened its stance toward homosexuals in recent years, the church still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.” Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.  (Contributor: Mark Sherman for ABC News, The Associated Press)

We have several prayer points. 1) Evangelical Christians can respect and learn from the Mormon solidarity in Utah that creates a state-sanctioned ban on homosexual “marriage” at least for the near future. Pray for renewed unity and for reconnections within the larger Christian Church, to set a similar example and support a united cause represented by this challenge to a biblical lifestyle; 2) Pray for renewal and spiritual awakening in our nation through sweeping revival, where God shows His power while extending His mercy for a nation to return to its roots in God’s Word and in practical righteousness; and 3) Pray for the Supreme Court, for Chief Justice John Roberts, and for the associate justices by name, for salvation to come to those who do not know the true and living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In several pending cases, we will intercede much this year, asking God to intervene, to restrain, and to sovereignly uphold righteous causes and restrain from wrong decisions.   

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

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus …” (1 Timothy 2:1-5)

 

HEALTH OFFICIALS RESPOND TO BEACH RADIATION SCARE

An amateur video of a Geiger counter showing what appear to be high radiation levels at a Coastside beach has drawn the attention of local, state and federal public health officials. Since being posted last week, the short video has galvanized public concerns that radioactive material could be landing on the local coastline after traveling from Japan as a result of the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Government officials say they are looking into the video shot on Dec. 23 and performing their own sampling of the beaches, but they have found no indication so far that radiation levels were hazardous.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” said Dean Peterson, county environmental health director. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

First posted last week on YouTube, the seven-minute video shows the meter of a Geiger counter as an off-camera man measures different spots on the beach south of Pillar Point Harbor. The gadget’s alarm begins ringing as its radiation reading ratchets up to about 150 counts per minute, or roughly five times the typical amount found in the environment.

Counts per minute is a standard way for Geiger counters to measure radiation, but it does not directly equate to the strength or its hazard level to humans. Those factors depend on the type of radioactive particles and isotope.

Nonetheless, the video went viral online, gaining nearly 400,000 views in the last week.

In a blog entry, the unidentified poster of the video noted that he has been monitoring local beaches for two years before noticing a sudden rise in radiation levels in recent days. The Review was not immediately able to contact the man who made the video.

In the following days, other amateurs with Geiger counters began posting similar videos online. The videos follow other alarming news last month that starfish were mysteriously disintegrating along the West Coast, a trend that has not been linked yet to any cause. Past computer simulations had indicated that radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima reactors could begin appearing on West Coast shores by early 2014. Those findings, published in August by the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain, also noted that any radioactive material that crossed the Pacific would likely be diluted and fall below international safety levels.

County health officials first learned of the radiation levels last week, and they sent their own inspector on Dec. 28 to Pacifica with a Geiger counter. Using a different unit, the county inspector measured the beach to have a radiation level of about 100 micro-REM per hour, or about five times the normal amount. REM stands for “Roentgen equivalent man,” a measurement of the dosage and statistical biological effects presented by radiation.

Although the radiation levels were clearly higher than is typical, Peterson emphasized that it was still not unsafe for humans. A person would need to be exposed to 100 microREMs of radiation for 50,000 hours before it surpassed safety guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he explained.

Peterson admitted he was “befuddled” as to why radiation levels were higher than normal, but he was skeptical that the Fukushima meltdown could be the cause. He noted that many innocuous items could spike the radiation levels in an area, including red-painted disposable eating utensils.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” he said.

Peterson forwarded the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Public Health, agencies with more expertise on analyzing radioactivity.

A state Public Health spokeswoman said her office was contacted on Thursday and was still looking into the matter. More information would be available by next week, she said.

“We can’t comment on anybody’s media creation. We really have no way of knowing right now whether it’s valid or not,” said spokeswoman Wendy Hopkins.

An amateur video of a Geiger counter showing what appear to be high radiation levels at a Coastside beach has drawn the attention of local, state and federal public health officials. Since being posted last week, the short video has galvanized public concerns that radioactive material could be landing on the local coastline after traveling from Japan as a result of the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Government officials say they are looking into the video shot on Dec. 23 and performing their own sampling of the beaches, but they have found no indication so far that radiation levels were hazardous.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” said Dean Peterson, county environmental health director. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

First posted last week on YouTube, the seven-minute video shows the meter of a Geiger counter as an off-camera man measures different spots on the beach south of Pillar Point Harbor. The gadget’s alarm begins ringing as its radiation reading ratchets up to about 150 counts per minute, or roughly five times the typical amount found in the environment.

Counts per minute is a standard way for Geiger counters to measure radiation, but it does not directly equate to the strength or its hazard level to humans. Those factors depend on the type of radioactive particles and isotope.

Nonetheless, the video went viral online, gaining nearly 400,000 views in the last week.

In a blog entry, the unidentified poster of the video noted that he has been monitoring local beaches for two years before noticing a sudden rise in radiation levels in recent days. The Review was not immediately able to contact the man who made the video.

In the following days, other amateurs with Geiger counters began posting similar videos online. The videos follow other alarming news last month that starfish were mysteriously disintegrating along the West Coast, a trend that has not been linked yet to any cause. Past computer simulations had indicated that radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima reactors could begin appearing on West Coast shores by early 2014. Those findings, published in August by the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain, also noted that any radioactive material that crossed the Pacific would likely be diluted and fall below international safety levels.

County health officials first learned of the radiation levels last week, and they sent their own inspector on Dec. 28 to Pacifica with a Geiger counter. Using a different unit, the county inspector measured the beach to have a radiation level of about 100 micro-REM per hour, or about five times the normal amount. REM stands for “Roentgen equivalent man,” a measurement of the dosage and statistical biological effects presented by radiation.

Although the radiation levels were clearly higher than is typical, Peterson emphasized that it was still not unsafe for humans. A person would need to be exposed to 100 microREMs of radiation for 50,000 hours before it surpassed safety guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he explained.

Peterson admitted he was “befuddled” as to why radiation levels were higher than normal, but he was skeptical that the Fukushima meltdown could be the cause. He noted that many innocuous items could spike the radiation levels in an area, including red-painted disposable eating utensils.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” he said.

Peterson forwarded the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Public Health, agencies with more expertise on analyzing radioactivity.

A state Public Health spokeswoman said her office was contacted on Thursday and was still looking into the matter. More information would be available by next week, she said.

“We can’t comment on anybody’s media creation. We really have no way of knowing right now whether it’s valid or not,” said spokeswoman Wendy Hopkins. (Contributor: By Mark Noack for Half Moon Bay Review)

Watch Video

It may be wise to approach this kind of article with caution, as it is preliminary at best and will require more study and research to reach any sort of conclusion. Let us give thanks for the knowledge— from Scripture—that God is firmly in control of His creation. While mankind has been given a huge responsibility as stewards, this is often abused by bad personal habits and industrial pollution that would no doubt be avoided and lessened if all people approached life in the recognition of the Creator and in the fear of the Lord. However, the worst pollutant of all is sin, and the world system, not our own system of governance, is not from God’s viewpoint. Much interest in this radiation phenomenon may well be born out of fear. Pray against hysteria and for patience to wait for findings that will indicate what the authorities are to do—if anything—in response. Intercessors should take a patient and long-range view and pray as the emerging facts warrant our intercession.

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

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

 

IT’S SO COLD IN CANADA THE GROUND HAS LITERALLY BEEN CRACKING OPEN

Pavement froze so quickly, it cracked open, known as a “frost quake.” (photo: CTV News)

 

A few nights ago, residents across Canada took to Twitter, announcing the loud noises they heard during the night, CBC News Toronto reported.

Although many called police stations, they didn’t hear gunshots or sonic booms. Instead “frost quakes,” also known as cryoeisems, caused quite a stir.

These occur when temperatures drop so drastically and quickly, ground water (like accumulated rain or even wetness in the soil) immediately freezes and causes the earth to crack open.

When water freezes, it expands. Sometimes the ground, especially rigid surfaces like the pavement pictured below, just can’t take the pressure.

Two years ago in 2011, confused Indiana and Ohio residents reported the same phenomenon.

Temperatures reached about -4 degrees Fahrenheit in Toronto on the night of January 3, CBC reported. Considering temperatures across the U.S. will match and even beat Canada early this week, residents might hear some cracks in the night, as well.

Although frost quakes don’t share their causes with earth quakes, a seismograph — an instrument that monitors movement of the earth — can pick up the events, if the ground cracks close enough to the device. People experiencing frost quakes also often mistake them for earthquakes, perhaps the origin of the name. (Contributor: Christina Sterbenz for Business Insider)

This brief article simply reports some phenomena associated with sudden, extreme cold. In itself, such “frost quakes” have no profound spiritual meaning. However, the story gives us grounds for praise and for prayer. It reminds us of the intense struggle going on in parts of the world where some so-called scientists are determined to prove that a huge global-warming phenomenon will soon engulf the entire world with massive flooding. But once again, “He who sits in heavens [is laughing], and ther Lord holds them in derision.” True science lets data lead researchers to conclusions based on findings and testing, but these false “scientists” insist on making the data support previous, foregone conclusions without supporting evidence. Let us praise God for His consistency and His control over all expressions of weather. And let us pray God continues to express His power and supremacy over all of what we call nature. Pray too that many will turn from their defiance of God’s laws to acknowledge Him as Creator and Sustainer of life on the earth. It is always truth that sets people free.

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.”
(Psalm 2:1-4)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.” (Psalm 111.10)

 

PRIVACY FOR ALL STUDENTS WINS IN COURT

In a strongly worded tentative ruling, a Sacramento Superior Court judge directed the California Secretary of State to count petitions submitted in two northern California counties for a referendum effort to overturn AB 1266, California’s co-ed bathroom law.

The Secretary of State had refused to count signatures timely submitted in Tulare and Mono counties.  In Tulare County, mail room personnel initially refused to accept the petitions from a courier. In Mono County the package was delivered but not opened for a number of days.

The problems in both Counties resulted from the statutory filing deadline falling on a Sunday in the middle of a three day weekend.  Privacy For All Students, the organization that promoted the referendum, arranged for courier delivery before the Sunday deadline in both counties.  While each of the counties reported the signatures to State elections officials, the Secretary of State refused to count any of the signatures submitted in these counties.

“It is a shame that we had to go to court to assure that the citizens of Tulare and Mono would not be disenfranchised by the arbitrary actions of the Secretary of State,” said Gina Gleason, proponent of the referendum.

The opinion, delivered by Judge Allen Sumner concluded that PFAS actually had until Tuesday, November 12 to file the petitions, due to the weekend and the Monday holiday.  The Secretary of State initially told PFAS that signatures needed to be delivered to each of the 58 counties by close of business the previous Friday, or earlier if the registrar of voters in a county was closed on Friday.

PFAS made arrangements with some counties to accept signatures on Sunday, November 10.  The Secretary of State conceded that petitions delivered on Sunday would be accepted, but signatures would not be counted after that.  Based on this, PFAS did not attempt to deliver petitions as late as November 12.  Petitions were delivered to the two counties in dispute on Friday November 8 and Saturday November 9.

“The process of collecting 504,760 valid signatures in 90 days is tough enough.  But the Secretary of State seemed determined to shorten the time we were given wherever possible,” said Karen England, a spokesperson for PFAS.  “We have slowly realized that the Secretary of State is not an unbiased referee in this process but an advocate for the co-ed bathroom law.”

Nearly 620,000 signatures presented in support of the referendum are being validated in a joint process by the counties and the State.  Presentation of those signatures in November suspended the implementation of the law.  However, officials at the office of the Secretary of State are erroneously advising that the law became effective on January 1.  PFAS is advising school personnel that the law was suspended based on the presentation of the signatures and that the law will only go into effect if the signatures are determined to be inadequate or the voters approve the law on the November ballot. (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

Once again, sensitive and sensible Christians stand shocked at the lack of common sense, logic, and common decency that does not recognize the fundamental right of the students to personal privacy, To change such time-honored principles is capricious, arbitrary, and prompted by nefarious motives that are definitely not in the interests of the students’ natural biological identity as either girls or boys. Pray that truth and common sense prevail and that these tender, young, and impressionable lives not be confused and compromised by worldly and sinful manipulation and experimentation.

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

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6)

On Watch in Washington January 8, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014

December 23rd, 2013

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

IS EXERCISE THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH?

Early one morning about eight years ago, my mom, then just shy of 90, stood at the door of my home office and said that her left arm hurt between her shoulder and elbow. Scared she was having heart problems, I called our family doctor, who sent Mom for a full day of cardiac testing. One test required her to walk on a treadmill. The staff hovered, worried that she’d lose her balance and tumble off. The attention was unwarranted. She easily kept up and even had enough breath to inform her attendants: “You know, I work out with a personal trainer every week.” She still does.

Mom has always valued exercise, and I’m convinced — along with her doctors, who are backed by a strong body of research — that her longtime fitness habit has slowed her decline and kept her in generally good health. (That pain in her arm turned out to be nothing.)

Exercise is “the best medicine no one wants to do,” says Ronan Factora, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Even tiny bites of fitness bring big rewards. A 2011 study that aimed to figure out whether a low level of exercise could bring health benefits showed that even 15 minutes of walking a day can add three to five years of life.

“I tell my elderly patients that it doesn’t take very much exercise to benefit them,” Factora says. “We’re not talking about breaking a sweat. I’m not asking you to run a marathon. I’m just asking you to get up and move.”

People at any age benefit from exercise, he says, and the frailest residents in nursing homes benefit the most.

Exercise helps keeps aging bodies healthy by increasing blood flow to the brain, carrying extra oxygen and other nutrients. It also helps keep blood pressure and blood sugar at normal levels, lowering the risk for vascular dementia, Factora says.

Exercise can also lower risk for dementia by keeping the hippocampus — the place in the brain where we make and store memories — a healthy size, according to some research. As we age, the hippocampus shrinks, raising our risk for dementia. In a study published in 2010, researchers tested aerobic exercise on 120 healthy adults. After one year, the hippocampus increased in volume by 2 percent in the group participating in aerobic exercise — “effectively reversing age-related loss in volume” by one to two years, according to the researchers. The volume declined in control-group, members, who were not asked to do aerobic training.

Even frail people with dementia benefit from exercise. According to a new review by the Cochrane Collaboration, eight clinical trials found that people with dementia who exercised improved their performance on tests used to evaluate memory loss. The reviewers expressed cautious optimism about the results, noting that there were differences in results from individual trials and that there was not enough evidence to show that exercise improves symptoms of depression. “Nevertheless, these are encouraging results, as dementia is a debilitating disease that results in progressive decline in cognition and ability to perform” daily activities.

Frailty itself should not keep those with cognitive impairment out of the gym. Researchers at the University of Heidelberg showed recently that people with dementia can be taught to use exercise machines and that the exercise done by people in this group can indeed be rigorous. And these workouts can help them both physically and mentally.

Everyone has limits, and it’s always best to start slowly, but “move from zero to something,” Factora says. He suggests having someone such as a physical therapist help monitor progress at first. Then move to a personal trainer and exercise on a regular schedule.

Mowing the lawn in her 70s

For my mom, exercise hasn’t always meant the gym. When my sisters and I were young and playing in the yard, she’d always race us to the back door. She kept fit in part by cutting the grass in our large yard, a practice she continued throughout her 70s. “I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Mom says. “I used to be a secretary and I sat at a desk five days a week, so I always felt like I wanted to get up and move.”

After Mom was widowed 13 years ago, she moved in with my husband and me. To help with her social life and keep her osteoarthritis at bay, I signed her up for an aerobics class that we took together. She and the instructor hit it off so well that I signed Mom up for weekly private workouts with her.

From the start, the trainer put Mom, then 85, through a challenging, hour-long program that works every major muscle group. Today, Mom’s left knee is bone on bone — end-stage joint disease. She walks in pain every day, and some days are worse than others. But she goes to the gym anyway, climbing the stairs to the weight room even on really achy days.

Mom warms up on a recumbent exercise bike for about eight minutes. Then her trainer starts her on a circuit of resistance machines and free weights. Mom works her abs by sitting on a bench and doing crunches by lifting her knees to her chest. She stays on the same bench and works her legs by repeated standing and sitting. Then, she uses two-pound free weights for her biceps and shoulders. She’ll do some push-ups against the wall before moving to the equipment for more upper- and lower-body work.

She and her trainer finish up on the mat with a few more abs, and they end with some stretches. If Mom’s knee is really bad, they’ll skip the mat and finish with abs and stretches with Mom sitting on a bench. By then, her hour is up. Her doctor is amazed and delighted that she continues this routine, and tells her that he wishes all of his patients were that active.

Years ago, after Mom and her trainer had been working together for a few months, the trainer had Mom on a mat and said to me, “Hey, come here and your feel your mom’s abs.” They were rock-hard.

‘The exercise talk’

Mom hasn’t always had it easy. She survived two bouts with breast cancer. When she was 74, she broke her first bone — her right wrist — when, as usual, she was moving too fast and slipped on the basement floor. At the time I was working as a bone researcher at what used to be Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Every Friday morning, we had a department-wide bone conference. Not long after Mom broke her wrist, Stanley Birge, a gerontologist at Washington University School of Medicine, spoke about exercise and falls in the elderly.

Afterward, I signed Mom up for one of his clinical trials on exercise and aging. During one of the office visits when Birge was taking Mom’s family history, she complained to him that I wouldn’t let her use the StairMaster in her basement unless I was there to supervise. Birge called me, and we had “the exercise talk.” He said that Mom’s spine was so riddled with osteoarthritis that it would “snap like a rusty hinge” if she didn’t keep those muscles strong. He also told me to let Mom use the StairMaster because “we can’t keep our parents in glass houses.”

After that, I let Mom use the StairMaster whenever she wanted, and I added some exercises to strengthen muscles in her upper back.

In 2007, Mom fell while running to answer the phone. Her left side hit the slate floor in our entryway, and she broke her left arm right below the shoulder. Once the break healed, Mom could barely raise that arm. The orthopedic surgeon sent her to physical therapy for eight visits, saying that she’d never regain her mobility. The therapist worked Mom’s shoulder in much the same way as her trainer, using weights and resistance training and a lot of stretching. After four visits, you’d never have known that shoulder was broken. The therapist called the doctor and canceled the rest of the visits, saying we’d be wasting our money if we continued with therapy.

As caregivers know, tending to aging parents takes its toll, even if the person you’re caring for is someone as wonderful as my mother. Three years ago, I began to think I really I couldn’t do it anymore and visited some residential-care facilities.

The places were nice, and the residents looked clean and well tended. But not one facility I visited had an exercise room. David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, assures me that the places I visited are the exception. “Starting about 10 to 15 years ago, it’s become much more common to include gyms in senior housing facilities,” he says.

Ultimately, I decided to keep Mom with us. She was 95 years old then, and I don’t think she would have lived to 98 had she moved into a residential facility.

Here’s what the years of working out with Mom have taught me: We greatly underestimate the sheer physical strength we’re capable of achieving at any age. A few weeks ago at the gym, I filmed my mom doing her second set of leg curls. I counted along, and at 10 reps, thinking she was done, I said, “That’s 10, Mom!” Her trainer corrected me: “She does 15.” (Contributor: By Jeanne Erdmann for The Washington Post – Erdmann is a freelance health and science writer based in Wentzville, Mo. )

You’re never too old to exercise. A 98-year-old show us why. VIDEO LINK

This is a good reminder for seniors to stay as active and healthy as long as they can, including a proper diet and whatever exercising they are able to maintain. And for younger people, who may think “old age” is many years away, it could be a wake-up call to get started on a healthier regimen as a form of “prevention insurance” to help ward off the early debilitations that we all will face in later years. Perhaps it is also a good reminder that “it’s never too late to start,” as we review our eating choices and exercise options. While we cannot (nor do Christians wish to) adjust God’s will and purpose for our lives, including the fact that “our times are in (His) hands” and that the number of our days is written in God’s record book, still we can cooperate with God to remain as healthy and active in His service for as long as possible while continuing our journey toward a bright eternity with Him.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand; Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me for Your mercies’ sake. Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You….” (Psalm 31:15-16, 19)

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16, Amplified)

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

 

U.S. SENATOR COBURN RELEAES 2013 WASTEBOOK

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today released his annual oversight report “Wastebook 2013” highlighting 100 examples of wasteful and low-priority spending totaling nearly $30 billion.

“While politicians in Washington spent much of 2013 complaining about sequestration’s impact on domestic programs and our national defense, we still managed to provide benefits to the Fort Hood shooter, study romance novels, help the State Department buy Facebook fans and even help NASA study Congress,” said Dr. Coburn.

“Had Congress, in particular, been focused on doing its job of setting priorities and cutting the kind of wasteful spending outlined in this report, we could have avoided both a government shutdown and a flawed budget deal that was designed to avert a shutdown.  The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in Wastebook 2013 is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement.   There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps.  What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices – and passage of fiscally-responsible spending bills – possible,” said Dr. Coburn.

“This report speaks volumes about why confidence in government is at an all-time low.  The hard truth is we’d much rather borrow than cut.  The American people are right to expect more,” said Dr. Coburn.

Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2013” include:

  • Uncle Sam Looking for Romance on the Web – (NEH) $914,000

The Popular Romance Project has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) since 2010 to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”

  • Mass Destruction of Weapons – (Department of Defense) $7 billion

As the U.S. war effort in the Middle East winds to a close, the military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment. The military has decided that it will simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home.

  • Millions Spent Building, Promoting an Insurance Plan Few Want and a Website that Doesn’t Work – (Department of Health and Human Services) At least $379 million

With nearly half-a-billion dollars in government funding put behind promoting a product that relatively few people seem interested in purchasing off a website that doesn’t work, Obamacare is perhaps the biggest marketing flop since Coca-Cola introduced the world to “New Coke” in 1985.

  • Government Study Finds Out Wives Should Calm Down (NIH) $325,525

If your wife is angry at you and you don’t want her to stay that way, you might avoid passing along the findings of this government study. Wives would find marriage more satisfying if they could calm down faster during arguments with their husbands, according to government-funded research.

  • Fort Hood Shooter Continued to Collect Government Paycheck (Army) ($52,952 in 2013)

While the families of the survivors and victims were fighting to receive military benefits, the Fort Hood shooter Major Nadal Hasan was cashing his paycheck. Since the shooting, Hasan has received over $278,000 in military benefits because the Military Code of Justice doesn’t allow a soldier to be suspended until they are found guilty.

  • NASA Searches for Signs of Intelligent Life … in Congress – (NASA) $3 million

One of NASA’s next research missions won’t be exploring an alien planet or distant galaxy. Instead, the space agency is spending $3 million to go to Washington, D.C. and study one of the greatest mysteries in the universe—how Congress works.

  • Hurricane Sandy “Emergency” Funds Spent on TV Ads ($65 million)

In January 2013, Congress passed a bill to provide $60.4 billion for the areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  However, instead of rushing aid to the people who need it most, state-level officials in New York and New Jersey spent the money on tourism-related TV advertisements.

  • Federally Funded Solar Panels Covered at Manchester-Boston Airport Because the Glare Blinds Pilots and Controllers (FAA) – $3.5 million

When officials at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire installed new solar panels, they did not anticipate one quarter of them would not be used 18 months later. In Spring 2012, the panels were placed on top of the airport’s parking garage, and 25 percent have remained there, covered with a tarp, rendering them useless. Problems with the new panels were noticed almost immediately by air traffic controllers who claimed that for 45 minutes each day, glare made it difficult to oversee the airport’s runways.

  • Need Brains!  Fighting Zombies with Pluses and Minuses — (NC) $150,000

A grant from NSF went to a company in North Carolina to develop a math learning game based on the zombie apocalypse.

  • NASA’s Little Green Man (NASA) — $390,000

Since NASA is no longer conducting space flights, they have plenty of time and money to fund a YouTube TV show and cartoon series called “Green Ninja” in which a man dressed in a Green Ninja costume teaches children about global warming.\

Supporting documents:

Defense-related waste here.

Tax-related waste here.

Pray that these disclosures will promote greater budget management in 2014 and beyond. Pray that our national leaders will seek wisdom from the Lord who desires to give wisdom and understanding to those who will humble themselves and call upon His name.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

MEDICINE’S GROWING SPIRITUALITY

In a health crisis, patients and families may turn to a member of the hospital staff who offers help beyond the physical aspects of medical treatment: the chaplain.

With growing recognition of the role of spirituality in health care, hospital chaplains are being called on to help patients cope with fear and pain, make difficult end-of-life decisions and guide families through bereavement after a loss. They may help sick or dying patients reconnect with estranged family members. New guidelines call for chaplains to be included on teams of doctors and nurses who provide palliative care—which specializes in relieving the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness. And chaplains often step in to help clinicians deal with their own feelings of stress and burnout.

Nearly 70% of community hospitals surveyed in 2011 provided chaplaincy services, up from 62% in 2003, according to the American Hospital Association.

The New York-based HealthCare Chaplaincy provides chaplaincy services in the city’s health facilities, offers educational programs for professional chaplains, and conducts research in the field. Because so many patients and caregivers are dealing with chronic illness outside the hospital setting, the nonprofit organization is planning to launch a new website, ChaplainsOnHand, which will include a Chat With a Chaplain feature to allow users to communicate by email or phone with a professional chaplain.

In Times of Trouble

“Now seems to be the time for spirituality to come along in health care, as everyone recognizes we are all body, mind and spirit,” says the Rev. Eric Hall, a Presbyterian minister and the group’s chief executive officer. “At times of difficulty, the chaplain is an incredible resource to engage and guide and direct.”

Chaplains are typically board-certified by one of several professional associations following at least 1,600 hours of education. While they may come from different religious affiliations, they are able to minister to all faiths—or to those who don’t have a specific religion but feel the need for spiritual guidance or discussion, Mr. Hall says.

A Pew Research poll last year found that the number of Americans who don’t identify with any religion increased to nearly 20% of all adults from 15% five years earlier. Yet Pew also found that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way, with two-thirds saying they believe in God and more than a third classifying themselves as spiritual but not religious.

The Big Picture

Wendy Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University and author of the 2012 book “Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine,” says she has seen nurses in intensive-care units pray for patients, or respiratory therapists say a prayer when they must remove a breathing tube, in the presence of family. But chaplains “define healing in a much broader, more holistic way than other members of the health-care team,” her research found, and they almost universally they believe they can best facilitate healing by helping patients tap their inner resources, rather than by calling on a higher power to intervene in their outcome.

Until recently there has been little data on what U.S. medical schools teach with regard to spirituality. A 2010 survey by researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that 90% of medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health. Ms. Cadge says such courses, along with an increase in academic research, have helped raise awareness among doctors about spirituality’s importance to health.

At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Sister Kathleen Gallivan directs a chaplaincy-services department with about a dozen chaplains available in the hospital 24/7. Often, they are called in the middle of the night when a crisis occurs, such as a new trauma victim coming in through the emergency room or the death of an infant. Her team will call in outside clergy from a specific faith if requested, but provides rituals and prayers for every religious tradition. They have blessed stem cells before transplant and held bedside wedding ceremonies for dying patients.

Sister Gallivan, a Roman Catholic nun who has a master of divinity degree and a Ph.D in pastoral psychology, says chaplains are a crucial part of the movement known as patient- and family-centered care. “Everyone else has a task in health care, and our job is to listen,” she says. “A lot of what we provide is emotional support, even if we do nothing but sit with someone for presence and companionship.” (Contributor: Laura Landro for The Wall Street Journal – Ms. Landro is a Wall Street Journal assistant managing editor and writes the Informed Patient column.)

Offer thanks to the Lord that many hospitals are recognizing the wonderful power and grace that the Lord brings to the patient in need of His healing touch.

“Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble; I will deliver you, then you will honor me.” (Psalm 50:15)

 

AFTER SENATE BUDGET VOTE, FEW HOPES FOR A PRODUCTIVE 2014

The bipartisan budget compromise that passed the House by a wide margin last week has inspired House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to blast outside conservative groups that he said were using Republican members of Congress for their own gain. It has inspired kind words between the two legislators — Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — who hammered out the deal. And it has inspired hope that, after years of governing by crisis, Congress may begin returning to something resembling regular order.

But that hope masks a deeply divided Senate, where ill will over recent rule changes has heightened a bitter partisan divide. As the Senate prepares to take up the budget deal this week, both sides say it is likely to be one of the final pieces of significant legislation to pass the 113th Congress as midterm elections loom.

Even the deal’s chief Democratic negotiator conceded Sunday that her relationship with Ryan is no sign of things to come.

“I think the grand bargain, you know, that puts everything in a whole lot of tough votes on the table is impossible to find at this point,” Murray said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Despite the broad bipartisan vote to pass the budget deal in the House, Democrats are still trying to come up with the 60 votes necessary to break a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate. On Friday, several key Republicans signaled that they would vote to end debate. That list included Sens. John McCain (Ariz), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Richard Burr (N.C.). Several others, including Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), have indicated that they may vote for cloture. McCain said Sunday he would support the final measure.

“The struggle is still on in the United States Senate; we will need about eight Republicans to come our way. I feel we’ll have a good, strong showing from the Democratic side. But we need bipartisan support to pass it,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The Senate is expected to vote to end debate Tuesday morning, followed by a vote on final passage by Wednesday evening. The chamber is scheduled to end its legislative business for the year on Friday, though aides in both parties suggested that it may adjourn Wednesday or Thursday.

After the Senate reconvenes in January, observers say, the coming year is unlikely to yield significant legislative action. Democrats will probably advance measures intended to draw political contrasts with Republicans — including a proposal to raise the minimum wage and a number of smaller bills that they say would boost jobs and strengthen the economy. None of those measures are likely to win Republican votes or spur action in the GOP-controlled House.

“Senate Democrats have the opportunity over the next year to work with us to make job creation easier rather than pushing job-killing tax hikes; they have the opportunity to work with us to protect consumers from the consequences of Obamacare; and they have the opportunity to undo the damage they’ve done to the legislative process. Sadly, all signs point to more of the same political legislation designed to fail,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “The American people have given us divided government. The administration needs to accept it.”

Congress won’t be completely dormant: House and Senate negotiators are nearing a final deal on the farm bill, and the two chambers are working on a ­water-resources agreement. Democratic and Republican negotiators will also have to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling, probably by mid-February.

Immigration reform, a major priority for President Obama, is stuck in the House; Boehner has said the chamber won’t take up the Senate-passed version of the legislation.

The Senate is likely to take action on a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to make changes to the military’s handling of sexual assault cases, and to consider a new package of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

But in an election year in the sixth year of a presidency, there is little precedent for major bipartisan agreements. John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee, pointed to a tax reform bill that passed in 1986. But Congress had been working on that measure for months, and there is no such significant deal being discussed on Capitol Hill today.

“Even aside from increased partisan polarization, it is hard to see how lawmakers could pull off anything comparable in the remaining months of the 113th Congress,” Pitney said.

And while Ryan and Murray have been highly complimentary of each other, relations between the parties in the Senate have been rubbed raw by a package of filibuster rule changes that Democrats forced through the chamber last month.

The Ryan-Murray compromise “is not a sea change in terms of how the bodies work,” said Jeff Bjornstad, a lobbyist and former Murray chief of staff. “The dynamics of the filibuster change will just reentrench the small ball.” (Contributor: By Reid Wilson for The Washington Post – Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.)

 

Greetings, intercessors, and welcome to a new year of challenge and prayer with IFA. It is a privilege for us to serve our many readers with up-to-date, weekly prayer alerts that carry biblical foundations. Even with Congress out on end-of-year vacation, our primary prayer focus today can only be for unity in a nation seriously and severely divided. Let us agree in prayer: “Father God, we are called ‘The UNITED States’ but are divided at so many levels. We face growing division nationally, politically, socially, economically, and spiritually. We are divided on such basic matters as to whether our Constitution is still valid for guidance and balance in the 21st century. Despite a bloody Civil War and civil rights laws, we are still divided racially. Our country needs a new moral pathway. We who understand repentance want to repent for our many national sins. We pray, in this election year, that Your Church will find unity of purpose in prayer and in voting carefully and prayerfully to raise up morally upright leaders who truly want ‘liberty and justice for all.’ But even beyond the ballot box, we know ‘salvation’ and ‘restoration’ cannot come from Washington, DC. Our nation needs a wellspring of revival to sweep the country with Your transforming power. Please hear us and come to our aid. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord of the Church and coming Prince of Peace. Amen!”

 

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

 

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

 

KATIE FALLON IS NAMED NEW LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR

With congressional elections looming next year, President Barack Obama named a veteran Democratic operative as his new chief liaison to Capitol Hill on Friday, following a long period of bitter partisan fights.

Deputy communications director Katie Fallon, formerly a senior Senate aide, will take over as legislative affairs director in January. She will replace Miguel Rodriguez, a former aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who says he is leaving to work in the private sector.

The change is a recognition that the White House needs to improve relations with lawmakers, after bruising battles over health care and the budget. Congressional Democrats are concerned that the troubled rollout of Obama’s health care law could impact their chances in the 2014 midterms. Obama needs the lawmakers’ help to get any of his agenda passed, after few accomplishments the first year of his second term.

With polls showing a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, outsiders have been calling on the president to make changes to a team made up largely of long-time confidants. Obama is bringing back his legislative director from his first term, Phil Schiliro, to help get his health care overhaul on track.

The most significant staff change was announced earlier this week, when the White House said prominent Democratic adviser John Podesta would be taking on the role of counselor to the president, replacing longtime Obama aide Pete Rouse. Additionally, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has announced she plans to leave in the spring, and other White House staffers may depart in the coming weeks. The rest of the senior staff is expected to stay largely intact.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has been leading an effort to repair relationships with lawmakers, including regular meetings with senators facing re-election. The White House said McDonough wanted to restructure the legislative affairs office to be more responsive to lawmaker concerns and better promote Obama’s agenda, and proposed to the president that Fallon take on the task.

“Katie is whip smart, and fully understands the challenges and opportunities members of Congress face every day,” McDonough said in a statement.

The White House said Obama and Fallon met recently to discuss challenges with the Hill and come up with a plan for addressing them, including strategy around stalled immigration reform and communication about the health care law’s implementation.

Fallon has been deeply involved in the White House’s public response to the health law’s problems, creating “strike force” communications teams of Democrats from the House and Senate to coordinate the message of the day. She is a protégé of New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and helped run his communications “war room” for the Senate Democratic leadership before she moved to the White House earlier this year.

Obama announced Fallon’s new position in a written statement. “She has the deep expertise and strong relationships required to build on the progress we’ve made this year and advance my top priority: creating jobs and expanding broad-based growth and opportunity for every American,” it said. (Contributor: The Associated Press and NPR)

Political restructuring and infighting are endemic to a divided nation, especially as 2014 is an election year. Again, disunity is rampant at every level. Both major parties are divided, and President Obama’s allies in Congress are seriously concerned about his very low approval ratings (meaning very high disapproval ratings!). Please continue to pray, and invite other intercessors to join you and perhaps your prayer group, that we might together ask God, humbly and sincerely, to bring salvation to the White House and to the halls of Congress. Even though we know there are many men and women, people with strong Christian faith, who serve on Capitol Hill and in the Administrative Branch, we pray for direct penetration of the Gospel, by the work and power of the Holy Spirit, to confront the highest levels and branches of U.S. government power, for the glory of God and the salvation of many. Let us agree that our primary pleas for unity must begin with the Church, which itself needs healing and revival to be a source of spiritual prayer power for our country.

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

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all….” (1 Timothy 2:1-6a)

 

EXTREMIST SYRIAN FACTION TOUTS TRAINING CAMP FOR BOYS

At first glance, the training camp appears no different from the many others shown in propaganda videos posted by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Hooded recruits in camouflage shoot at targets or march in formation under the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

But look closer and the “fighters” appear quite small. The tallest are barely chest-high to their instructors, and the shorter ones wear ill-fitting uniforms and appear to struggle under the weight of their weapons. A photo of the recruits without their hoods confirms that all of them are young boys.

They are “Zarqawi’s Cubs,” the youth brigade of Syria’s most fearsome Islamist rebel group and one of the newest manifestations of al-Qaeda’s deepening roots in rebel-controlled sections of the country. Building on earlier efforts to expand their influence in Syrian schools, radical Islamists appear to be stepping up efforts to indoctrinate and train children, some as young as 10, according to independent experts who have studied the phenomenon.

The establishment of the Zarqawi’s Cubs camp — revealed in a video posted last month by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — is viewed as particularly worrisome because of the similarities to Iraq’s “Birds of Paradise.” That brigade was created a decade ago by the same terrorist group, in its earlier incarnation as al-Qaeda in Iraq, to train children for military missions, including suicide bombings.

“This is the future threat,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit organization that has tracked the exploitation of children by Syrian fighting groups over the past two years. “These are the children of al-Qaeda.”

U.N. agencies and human rights groups have accused multiple Syrian factions — including secularist rebels and pro-government militias — of recruiting children for military roles ranging from scouting to actual combat.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch interviewed boys as young as 14 who were used to transport weapons or serve as lookouts. Even younger children were put to work loading bullets into magazines for assault rifles, said Sarah Margon, acting director of the group’s Washington office.

“It’s something that children often do because their fingers are smaller,” Margon said. But such practical considerations aside, “for those looking to indoctrinate, it is a ripe setting for indoctrination,” she added.

The Obama administration last year imposed restrictions on some of its nonmilitary aid to Syria in part because of concerns about the use of child soldiers. Invoking a 2008 law forbidding assistance to countries that use child soldiers, the administration approved restrictions on certain types of nonmilitary aid to Syria as well as the Central African Republic, Burma, Sudan and six other countries, according to State Department documents.

The appearance of training camps for young boys suggests a more systematic effort to incorporate the youngest Syrians into the conflict, as ideological supporters and as combatants in a religious war against a regime led by the country’s minority Alawites, members of an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam, according to experts who study jihadist groups.

Radical groups often post images on social media that highlight the role played by children, and some attempt to tailor their messages to appeal to the very young, said Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadist groups at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“They understand that they are the future and, therefore, need to be exposed and indoctrinated to the ‘cause,’ ” Zelin said. It explains why some groups operate age-based training camps that start with “cubs” and progress to “lion scouts” for older teens and adults, he said.

The ISIS youth group was named in honor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who founded al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group notorious for its spectacular suicide bombings targeting Shiite mosques and bazaars in Iraq’s Shiite neighborhoods, as well as its videotaped beheadings of Western hostages. Zarqawi, killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, remains an inspirational figure for Islamist extremists worldwide, as well as the ideological father of ISIS and other al-Qaeda-allied rebel groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra.

The video depicting the Zarqawi’s Cubs camp describes the location of the facility as near Ghouta, the same eastern suburb of Damascus that was struck in a chemical-weapons attack in August that killed more than 1,000 civilians. Much of the region has been held by rebels for months, despite intense fighting in some villages.

The boys are shown being led by masked instructors through small-arms exercises and sitting in groups under the ISIS banner, some of them weighed down by bandoleers of machine-gun ammunition. Other images show the boys undergoing instruction or, in one instance, talking happily over a lunch of flatbread. Beverages are distributed in colorful cups adorned with the cartoon “happy face.”

In the soundtrack, Arab voices sing a mournful song. “Oh mother, don’t be saddened by my leaving,” it says at one point, explaining that the boys are going away to fight “for the sake of defeating the Jews.”

Experts who viewed the video said it appeared authentic, though precisely when and where the images were recorded could not be established with certainty. Nor is it clear how many children are being trained.

Others who have tracked the recruitment of children by Syrian militant factions see the latest initiatives as intended mainly to indoctrinate young Syrians raised in a country that has a long tradition of secularist rule. The emergence of training camps for youths comes on the heels of school-outreach programs by both ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which control swaths of northern and eastern Syria. Both organizations have posted videos on Twitter and YouTube showing visits to Syrian classrooms by armed militants, who hand out Islamic textbooks, as well as food and gifts.

Another self-identified ISIS video, posted in late November, shows a man in conservative Arab dress leading several dozen children in Syria’s Aleppo province in denouncing a list of “infidels,” including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and President Obama.

“Imagine we had here with us an Alawite, from al-Assad’s family or religion. Would we like him?” asked the leader in Egyptian-accented Arabic.

“No,” the children replied.

“What would we do with him?” the leader asks.

“Slaughter him,” came the answer, in unison.

The speaker congratulates his young listeners. “Slaughter him, right. Because he is an infidel,” he says. (Contributor: By Joby Warrick for The Washington Post)

 

First, let us acknowledge that this is an extremely sad, heart-wrenching news item. But beyond news, it is further evidence of a nation that has lost its soul, as it trains Islamist youth to become killing machines, motivated by demonic principalities and powers. Beyond that, however, we are reminded that the goal of this training—indeed, with every action linked to al-Qaeda’s murderous intentions—is the destruction of Israel and, if it were possible, the United States. The article, chilling as it is to read, supports the assertion that the focus of hatred being taught these boys is the Jewish state. So let us pray accordingly. This is not the last time this year—far from it!—that we will discuss and pray about the four-way, fragile connections among the U.S., Syria, Iran, and Israel. And our special focus of prayer, regardless of personal politics, must be that God will guard and protect our president from the “fatal” blunder for any nation, namely, the failure to stand with Israel in its challenges. Please note the Scriptures below and pray accordingly. The promises of God cannot be abrogated, and the Scripture cannot be broken.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Gen. 12:1-3)

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, You are gods…’ If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken) …” (John 10:34-35)

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

 

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL PRAYER CAUCUS ISSUES FOR PRAYER IN 2014

Opposing hostility towards faith in the Air Force – Congressman Randy Forbes joined Congressman Diane Black and Congressman Todd Akin in sending a letter signed by 66 Members of Congress urging Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to investigate a pattern of hostility towards faith in the United States Air Force.  Over the last year, the Air Force has repeatedly capitulated to pressure from outside groups to remove religious symbols and references to faith from the service.  The letter calls on Secretary Panetta to issue clear Department of Defense policy guidance, consistent with our Constitution, to preserve the place of religious expression in the military at large.

Urging the President to preserve religious hiring rights – Congressman Randy Forbes and Congressman Mike McIntyre sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to maintain current policies that allow faith-based organizations that consider religious criteria in their employment decisions to perform contract work for the federal government.

Supporting legislative prayer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – Thirteen Members of the House of Representatives have joined the Family Research Council (FRC) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of legislative prayer.  The Lakeland City Commission in Florida had a policy of inviting clergy to offer invocations at the beginning of its meetings.  The Atheists of Florida sued, arguing that because most of the prayers were offered by Christian clergy, the prayers were “too sectarian” and thus violated the Establishment Clause.  The brief submitted by the Members argues that courts do not have the jurisdiction to delve into the inner workings of a deliberative body’s meetings because of the constitutional separation of powers between the branches of government.

Supporting the freedom of school boards to open meeting with prayer – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting a resolution introduced by Congressman Tim Walberg that supports the freedom of school boards to open meetings with prayer.  H.Res.662 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that school boards are deliberative bodies similar to city and county councils and state legislatures, and should be treated as such for purposes of analyzing the constitutionality of their prayer policies.

Working to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.489, introduced by Congressman Doug Lamborn, which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those that celebrate Christmas.  Each year during the Christmas season, there are increasing efforts to remove religious symbols and references from the holiday.  H.Res.489 emphasizes that the First Amendment does not require bans on religious references to Christmas, and supports the use of these symbols by those who celebrate Christmas.

Urging Vanderbilt University to protect religious student groups – In October of 2011, Congressman Randy Forbes led 22 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school’s nondiscrimination policy was not being interpreted in a manner that discriminated against religious student groups.  Several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on “provisional status” for requiring their student leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs.  Thirty-five Members then sent another letter in May of 2012, expressing continuing concern that the school’s nondiscrimination policy requires all student groups to open leadership positions to all students, yet exempts fraternities and sororities from the requirement while refusing to exempt religious student groups.

Fighting attempts to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance – Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus lead in sending a letter to NBC, expressing concern over the network’s omissions of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance twice in a video montage aired during coverage of the U.S. Open.  In response to the letter sent by 108 Members of Congress, the network reprimanded the employees responsible for the omissions and implemented safeguards to prevent similar instances in the future.

Opposing efforts to remove a memorial cross honoring military veterans – In January of 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cross displayed at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California was unconstitutional.  Members of the Prayer Caucus signed on to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit asking the full court to reconsider the case, and asserting that the cross’s presence at the memorial is constitutional.  After the Ninth Circuit declined to reconsider the case, Members joined the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to take up the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  In June of 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the case; however, Justice Alito issued a statement saying the appeal may have been premature and the Court may reconsider the case after the district court issues a final order on the fate of the memorial.

Urging religious freedom protections for service members – The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military raised concerns that service members whose consciences or religious beliefs conflicted with homosexual behavior would face discrimination and disapproval.  Members of the Prayer Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, urging that specific religious freedom and conscience protections be adopted during implementation of the repeal to formally assure all Americans that our citizens need not leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.

Affirming America’s rich spiritual heritage – Co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Congressman Forbes and Congressman McIntyre, reintroduced legislation to recognize our nation’s religious history.  H.Res.253, America’s Spiritual Heritage Resolution, affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history, and designates the first week in May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.

Working to decrease frivolous lawsuits challenging public expressions of religion – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.R.2023, introduced by Congressman Dan Burton, which would ensure that the legal system is not used to extort money from state and local governments through frivolous lawsuits against public expressions of religion.  H.R. 2023 would not prevent parties from filing lawsuits alleging Establishment Clause violations, but it would require each side to pay its own attorneys’ fees.  The bill would limit the remedies available to the suing party, so the only relief available would be that the state or local government would be required to stop its public expression of religion, if the court deems it unconstitutional.  The result would be a decrease in frivolous lawsuits and the assurance that state and local governments are not intimidated into halting constitutional public expressions of religion.

Recognizing the significant impact of the Ten Commandments on America’s development – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.211, introduced by Congressman Louie Gohmert, which recognizes the significant contribution that the Ten Commandments have made in shaping America’s principles, institutions, and national character.  The bill supports designating the first weekend in May as “Ten Commandments Weekend.” (Contributor: The Congressional Prayer Caucus)

On Watch in Washington January 1, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013

December 23rd, 2013

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

HARRY TRUMAN’S CHRISTMAS

On May 14th, 1948, President Harry Truman (1945-1953), against strong pressure from the State Department, signed a memo making the U.S. the first nation to recognize the newly constituted Jewish state of Israel. On April 17, 1952 he signed a bill creating an annual National Day of Prayer. On Christmas Eve 1945, Truman addressed the nation:

This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. With peace come joy and gladness. The gloom of the war years fades as once more we light the National Community Christmas Tree. We meet in the spirit of the first Christmas, when the midnight choir sang…”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men…”

It is… fitting for us to remember that the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of peace, of love, of charity to all men. From the manger of Bethlehem came a new appeal to the minds and hearts of men: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”

In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!

This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.

You will remember that Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and his companions, suffering shipwreck, “cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for the day” [Acts 27:29]. Happily for us, whenever the American Ship of State has been storm-tossed we have always had an anchor to the windward… [he spoke of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Jackson; their roles in history]

With our enemies vanquished we must gird ourselves for the work that lies ahead. Peace has its victories no less hard won than success at arms. We must not fail or falter. We must strive without ceasing to make real the prophecy of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

In this day, whether it be far or near, the Kingdoms of this world shall become indeed the Kingdom of God and He will reign forever and ever, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. With that message I wish my countrymen a Merry Christmas and joyous days in the New Year (The American Presidency Project).

America’s Christian heritage is fixed in history. Since prayer and Bible reading were essentially taken out of our public schools a generation ago, America has seen tragic spiritual decline. But America’s Christian roots run deep. With proper care, the American vine can thrive again. We who believe must care for it with prayer and unflinchingly defend the faith once delivered to the saints and proclaimed by our Forefathers. We will overcome (Rev 12:11)! (Contributor: Rev. Pierre Bynum, Chaplain & National Prayer Director Family Research Council)

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Heb 13:8

As we read again President Harry Truman’s Christmas Eve address to the nation in 1945, let us give thanks for his clear statement of biblical faith and complete dependence on God to maintain the sacred heritage his generation received from the Founders and passed on to us. How different are the political declarations of today. “Father God, how desperately we need to return to days of faith and recognition of our dependence on Your grace and providence to bring our country back to Your values. Help us to rebuild the ancient ruins and straighten out the early pathways. How we need to return to ‘the faith of our fathers.’  We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.” Thank you for standing with IFA in prayer and for allowing us to encourage you in these spiritual battles. We look forward to greater victories in 2014 through fervent intercessory prayer. God is showing His that He wants to bring revival into our own hearts first. Many changes we want to see in the nation, God waits to see first in His church.

Do not remove the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set. (Prov. 22:28)

“’Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.’” (Joel 2:12-13)

 

SARAH PALIN: CHRISTMAS

It’s that time of year again – Christmas is in the air. Snow flying in Alaska, jingle bells heard on the street corners, bright-colored lights appearing on rooftops and peppermint chocolate chip shakes at ChickFilA all point to the most wonderful time of the year. Why is it so wonderful? What do we really celebrate? With the hustle and bustle of the season, we can often run ragged and end up missing the mystery of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. With the advent of this beautiful season, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on keeping Christ in Christmas and pondering the meaning of His birth.  More than just a historical event, the arrival of Jesus on the earth was the first step toward atonement, redemption and resurrection. He was “God made flesh”, the true hope of the world. If I’m for Christmas, it’s only because I’m for Christ.

The good news the Christmas message whispers to you is, “Fear not”. That’s what the angel said to Mary, and that’s what God is saying to you now. As you wrangle through whatever challenges are going on in your life – finanancial distress, illness, concerns for your children or parents, even silly expectations you have about this season – it’s natural for you to feel fear. But Christmas is not about the “natural”, it’s about the miraculous. Herbrews 2:14 says Jesus became man “that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death.”

Trials, hardships, and – yes – death are all part of our existence on earth. One day, I’ll get the call and no one likes thinking about it, but the message of Christmas resounds anyway.

Fear not.

Why?

God helpfully elaborates.

“For I am with you”

Be not dismayed.

Why?

“For I am your God.”

It’s so common to receive cards in the mail in December with Scripture verses on pretty paper in gold foil commemorating the season. But the words are more powerful than a decoration to tape around your door frames. Forget the dopey-hopey-changey things you hear from politicians promising an easier life if only you vote the way they tell you. The words of Scripture are the only words powerful enough to change your life and this culture.
“I will help you”, God says. “I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness….Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear….Cast all your anxieties on God because He cares for you…The Lord is my light and my Salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”

Christmas gently encourages you in your weakness.

You don’t have to be perfect. Perfection came, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a humble manger. His life and death free you from others’ expectations, from cultural decay, and even from your own inadequacies.

That’s why you can rest in this season, because perfection doesn’t depend on you. Ever wonder why there are so many candles during Christmas?
“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This year, truly accept the joy and peace the holiday offers.

It can change your life.

It’s already changed the world.

Merry Christmas!

Governor Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate, has written an excellent Christmas letter that doubles as a simple Gospel tract. Let us thank the Lord. Since we surmise her mailing list to be extensive, her message has been widely disseminated. Her friends will welcome the warm, biblically sustained letter, while her political foes will also scan it with the possible motive of finding fault. Either way, the Scriptures will be paramount, words of hope and faith. “Heavenly Father, we do not know your purpose or plans for Sarah Palin’s life, but we thank you for her Christian faith and for this non-political Christmas message of the hope people can have in You and the salvation to be found in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Please guide this message to hearts of those who need to know your power to save, and give the hope of Your presence to the thousands who will read it. Amen.”

 “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:8-10)

 

WHITE HOUSE DELAYED ENACTING RULES AHEAD OF 2012 ELECTION TO AVOID CONTROVERSY

The White House systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election, according to documents and interviews with current and former administration officials.
Some agency officials were instructed to hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls, the current and former officials said.

The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Those findings are bolstered by a new report from the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. The report is based on anonymous interviews with more than a dozen senior agency officials who worked with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversees the implementation of federal rules.

The report said internal reviews of proposed regulatory changes “took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election.”

Emily Cain, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement that the administration’s “approach to regulatory review is consistent with long-standing precedent across previous administrations and fully adheres” to federal rules.

Administration officials noted that they issued a number of controversial rules during Obama’s first term, including limits on mercury emissions for power plants and Medicaid eligibility criteria under the Affordable Care Act.

“OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, but when it comes to complex rules with significant potential impact, we take the time needed to get them right,” Cain said.

But Ronald White, who directs regulatory policy at the advocacy group Center for Effective Government, said the “overt manipulation of the regulatory review process by a small White House office” raises questions about how the government writes regulations. He said the amount of time it took the White House to review proposed rules was “particularly egregious over the past two years.”

Previous White House operations have weighed in on major rules before they were officially submitted for review. But Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration, said the effort was not as extensive as the Obama administration’s approach.

“There was no formalized process by which you had to get permission to send them over,” Holmstead said, referring to rules being submitted to the White House.

The recent decision to bring on Democratic strategist John Podesta as a senior White House adviser is likely to accelerate the number of new rules and executive orders, given Podesta’s long-standing support for using executive action to achieve the president’s goals despite congressional opposition.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, said he’s concerned about the real-world impact of the postponements in the first term.

“Legal protection delayed is protection denied,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve spoken to officials at the top rungs of the White House power structure and at OIRA and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire, and we’re going to make sure they’re held accountable in a series of hearings.”

The officials interviewed for the ACUS report, whose names were withheld from publication by the study authors, said that starting in 2012 they had to meet with an OIRA desk officer before submitting each significant rule for formal review. They called the sessions “Mother-may-I” meetings, according to the study.

The accounts were echoed by four Obama administration political appointees and three career officials interviewed by The Post.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, a former official said that only two managers had the authority to request a major rule in 2012: then-administrator Lisa P. Jackson and deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe. Perciasepe and OIRA’s director at the time, Cass Sunstein, would have “weekly and sometimes semi-weekly discussions” to discuss rules that affected the economy, one said, because they had political consequences, the person said.

“As we entered the run-up to the election, the word went out the White House was not anxious to review new rules,” the former official said.
Sunstein, who has returned to his post as a Harvard Law School professor, declined to comment.

Several significant EPA proposals were withheld as a result of those meetings, officials said, including a proposal requiring cleaner gasoline and lower-pollution vehicles that had won the support of automakers but angered the oil industry.

That regulation, which would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017, was ready in December 2011, said three officials familiar with the proposal. But agency officials were told to wait a year to submit it for review because critics could use it to suggest that the administration was raising gas prices, they said. The EPA issued the proposed rule in March.

Other EPA regulations that were delayed beyond the 2012 election included rules on coal ash disposal, water pollution rules for streams and wetlands, air emissions from industrial boilers and cement kilns, and carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants.

Ross Eisenberg, who serves as vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association for Manufacturers and has criticized several EPA regulations, noted that in the past year the administration moved ahead with proposals such as the rules on greenhouse gas emissions and boilers.
“The agenda certainly did slow down, but it doesn’t change,” he said.

The administration also was slow to handle rules pertaining to its health-care law. Several key regulations did not come out until after the 2012 election, including one defining what constitutes “essential health benefits” under a health plan and which Americans could qualify for federal subsidies if they opted to enroll in a state or a federal marketplace plan.

The latter focused on what constitutes “affordable.” Treasury proposed a regulation in August 2011 saying an employer plan was affordable as long as the premium for an individual was no more than 9.5 percent of the taxpayer’s household income. Several groups — including labor unions — argued that the proposal did not take into account that the premium for a family plan might be much higher than that standard.

Unions represent a vital part of the Democratic coalition, in part because they help mobilize voters during elections.

The Treasury Department held the proposal back while finalizing all the other tax-credit rules on May 23, 2012. Treasury officials later told those working on the regulation that it could not be published before the election, according to a government official familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitive nature. The department made the rule on Feb. 1.

OMB has reduced the length of time that rules are pending this year. The agency has cut the number of rules that were under review for more than 200 days by more than half.

But while the administration is pressing ahead, activists say the delays took a toll. Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO, points to an update of the nation’s silica standards proposed Sept. 12 after a long delay. The rule, which would prevent an estimated 688 deaths and 1,585 silica-related illnesses each year, won’t be finalized until 2016.

Jon Devine, a senior lawyer in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, said small streams and wetlands remain vulnerable because of the administration’s foot-dragging. The EPA recently withdrew a proposal to outline what kind of water bodies deserve federal protection that had been pending since February 2012 and announced it would issue a legally binding rule instead.

“What’s disappointing is it leaves waters subject to the existing, weak state of affairs until they get the rule over the final hurdle,” Devine said. (Contributor: By Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post)

Prayer focus: This article is history, reporting the suppression and manipulation of truth for political advantages during the 2012 presidential campaign. However, intercessors know that such practices are not the exclusive province of one political party, one candidate, or one president. Now, as we enter an election year in our seriously divided country, let us strive to pray beyond personal politics and for truth to come forth in the public square. We know from biblical history that God sets up those who govern, and He puts them down in His broader purposes. The challenge is always that we pray for His will and not remain tied to our own preferences. Let us faithfully intercede, standing in the gap and crying out to God for the blessing, in His mercy, of righteous government. Let us face the truth as we pray, which is to acknowledge that rebellion toward God and His principles is everywhere in the U.S.: in government, politics, the media, the entertainment world—even in the church. Let us pray accordingly, noting the example of our Lord from Scripture. When He suffered, “no deceit was found in His mouth.”

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

 

FDA FINALIZES VOLUNTARY RULES ON PHASING OUT CERTAIN ANTIBIOTICS IN LIVESTOCK

The Food and Drug Administration took steps last week to try to phase out the use of certain antibiotics in livestock and ensure that drugs given to animals on factory farms are prescribed by veterinarians to prevent and treat diseases, rather than merely to boost growth.

The agency finalized recommendations asking animal drug manufacturers to voluntarily alter their labels so that farmers would no longer be allowed to use antibiotics merely to make animals grow faster. In addition, the agency wants to curb over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and require farmers to get approval from a veterinarian before administering the drugs to livestock.

The announcement, welcomed by representatives of the agricultural industry but panned by some consumer advocates who had hoped for more aggressive action, comes amid growing concern that the widespread use of antibiotics in animals is helping to create resistant “superbugs” that sicken and kill thousands of Americans each year.

The vast majority of antibiotics sold each year in the United States — by some estimates as much as 80 percent — are used in agriculture rather than in human medicine. For years, consumer and environmental groups have hounded Congress and the FDA to regulate more stringently the amount of antibiotics given to animals, but the government has done little to forcibly limit the practice.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s top food safety official, said the agency’s action will create significant and meaningful changes to the agriculture industry’s status quo.

“There will be fewer approved uses, and the remaining uses will be under tighter control,” Taylor told reporters Wednesday, adding that agency officials decided to make the new recommendations voluntary because they believed it would offer the quickest and most efficient route to altering current practices. “It avoids legalistic, product-by-product regulatory proceedings that would take years to complete.”

Companies will have 90 days to say whether they plan to sign on, followed by three years to implement the changes. FDA officials on Wednesday said some of the biggest animal-drug producers have already backed the agency’s plan, and Taylor said he remained confident that more companies soon would follow suit.

Public health activists and consumer advocates, who have raised alarms in recent years about the potential consequences of the overuse of antibiotics in animals, praised the FDA for trying to address the decades-old problem of antimicrobial resistance. But they also argued that the agency’s efforts lack teeth, and that companies too easily will be able to ignore or circumvent the new standards. They also said they worried that the policy would allow companies to continue to use the drugs to compensate for cramped and unsanitary living conditions that can foster disease in animals.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a microbiologist who has unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation limiting the use of certain antibiotics to humans and sick animals, called the agency’s efforts “an inadequate response” that “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis.”
Avinash Kar, a health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy “an early holiday gift to industry.”

“It is a hollow gesture that does little to tackle a widely recognized threat to human health,” Kar said in a statement. “FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased.”

Taylor said he understands the strong opinions surrounding the issue and the lingering skepticism about voluntary regulations.

“There are a lot of reasons why companies have an incentive to take this action,” Taylor said. He added, “We reserve our ability to take regulatory action.”

In a call Wednesday afternoon, representatives from industry lobbying groups such as the Animal Health Institute and the National Pork Producers Council reiterated their support of the FDA’s new policies, which the agency first proposed last year.

“It’s going to mean a real change for how antibiotics are used on the farm,” said Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the NPPC.
Richard Carnevale, AHI’s vice president for regulatory, scientific and international affairs, said that even though the new recommendations are voluntary, it makes little sense for companies to try to ignore or avoid them. “They risk the goodwill of their customers, and they risk the potential wrath of the FDA,” he said.

Although the problem of antimicrobial resistance has been acknowledged for decades, the overuse of antibiotics in animals has taken on a higher public profile in recent years, as health officials and consumer groups have issued more and more dire warnings about the potential consequences.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alarming report about the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections, which kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. While most of those infections arise in hospitals and nursing home settings, officials underscored the massive use of antibiotics in animals as a serious concern.

“Resistant bacteria can contaminate the foods that come from those animals, and people who consume these foods can develop antibiotic-resistant infections,” the CDC’s report stated. “The use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.”
In October, a separate report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that pharmaceutical and farm lobbies had successfully blocked legislative reforms to the widespread use of antibiotics in U.S. livestock, and the organization said regulation had grown only weaker under the Obama administration.

Those findings came five years after a detailed report from a Pew Charitable Trust commission, which found that the constant feeding of antibiotics to animals in order to plump them up and ward off potential disease was making those drugs less and less effective and the bacteria they were meant to treat ever-more resistant to medicines. (Contributor: By Brady Dennis for The Washington Post)

Prayer focus: This is an extremely important industrial, social, and now, political issue! Calling all intercessors to pray and to be on guard against a health threat that could well become endemic in the U.S. virtually overnight! The article speaks for itself. Let us give thanks that regulators are stepping up inspections and enforcing controls against the meat industry’s indiscriminant and nearly unrestrained use of antibiotics on cattle farms, which makes the animals mature faster and be resistant to disease. This in turn increases the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections in consumers from so-called “superbugs,” so resistant to disease in humans that thousands of people die every year from infections that cannot be treated effectively with present pharmaceuticals. While we do not believe intercessory prayer is a “magic wand” or talisman to be waved while commanding all such problems to abate, the root cause here, which is greed, can be addressed through prayer, as there are moral implications involved. Pray for just and fair regulatory practices that will protect U.S. citizens from epidemic-like disease patterns the medical community cannot control. The issue is one of greed, and our Scriptures address God’s abhorrence of greed, lying, cheating, and deceptive practices.

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Prov. 10:9)

“He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12)

 

A CHRISTMAS PRAYER FOR THE WORLD’S CHILDREN

In rural Brazil, a group of mothers met for a health class. The missionary was talking about diarrhea. If not treated, the baby loses fluids and the soft spot on the baby’s head sinks in. One mother offered: “That happened to my baby in the morning and she was dead at night.”

Is there anyone hoping to make a child happy this Christmas morning who doesn’t grieve with this mother in Brazil? But what can anyone do about a problem so overwhelming?

Empty Tomb, inc., thinks Christians need not get overwhelmed. Instead, they can get organized.

The first step, according to empty tomb, inc., is for readers of this press release to say a special Christmas prayer for the children around the world who are facing deathly conditions.

The prayer: May church leaders in the U.S. help millions of children around the world who will die if no one cares enough to get organized.
The answer to this prayer will probably involve at least one church leader calling one other church leader to get things moving.
Fact 1: One of the largest identity groups in the U.S. is “Christian.” Perhaps 150-220 million Americans choose that label, according to different sources.

Fact 2: Church networks and Christian nonprofits are already on the frontlines where the children are dying. No new distribution systems are needed to help the children. These groups already on the frontlines need more money to help more children.

Fact 3: Timely help can make a big difference. For example, Figure 24 of The State of Church Giving through 2011 (23rd edition, 2013) shows before and after photos, 11 days apart, of the difference frontline treatment made for a seven-month old baby.

Fact 4: World leaders set the goal in 1990 and again in 2000 to reduce the number of deaths due to preventable poverty conditions in children under age 5. The goal target date is 2015. However, progress was behind schedule as the deadline approaches. As a result, in 2014, the story of the baby in Brazil will be repeated an estimated 2.3 million times around the world. In fact, two of the biggest killers are diarrhea and pneumonia.

Fact 5: According to estimates, an additional $5 billion a year could help close the gap between the number of children dying now and the goal number set by world leaders. $5 billion a year is a lot of money. But power results when each Christian does a little and it’s then put together.
Idea: Church leaders could ask 100 million of the Christians in the U.S. to give $50 a year more, through their own churches or Christian organizations of their choice, to help reach the goal of reducing child deaths.

Question: Who can mobilize 100 million Christians for the common purpose of helping to keep more children from dying? Christians are in many different churches, working through many different distribution systems. Yet, if more Christians could get the big picture, they could unleash power through their oneness. They could help these children in Jesus’ name by each donating $50 a year through their own distribution channels. But who will ask them to do that?

Answer: A movement to keep more children from dying could start with one church leader making a phone call to one other church leader. Church leaders write lots of books and go to many conferences. However, this movement needs to move from the idea stage to the real stage. And things happen because people talk to each other. So, to start, one church leader has to believe Jesus’ promises enough to pick up the phone and talk to one other church leader about this idea.

Who is that church leader who will make the first phone call to get the ball rolling? There are some possible candidates. God may choose someone not on the “dream team” that empty tomb named in The State of Church Giving through 2011. Still, the people on that list have already shown themselves to be national leaders of influence. They include:

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, South Barrington, Illinois, sponsor of the annual Global Leadership Summit, and board chair of the Willow Creek Association.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and also the Billy Graham Association.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, past president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and past chair of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, former general secretary and currently serving as associate for ecumenical relations, of the Reformed Church in America, and a founding energy in Christian Churches Together.

Eileen Lindner, former Associate General Secretary for Christian Unity in the office of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. General Secretary, and NCC Deputy General Secretary and Director of Research and Planning; currently editor of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA, having written about the “five giants” of global need.

Representatives from two other parts of the body of Christ in the U.S. would be very important in such a movement. Those two parts are:
African-American Protestants. One nationally visible leader is T.D. Jakes. Another possibility would be a representative from the Conference of National Black Churches.

The Orthodox Church. Because of its structure, it may be appropriate to contact His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, for a recommendation, if it is not clear from other ecumenical settings who would be a likely leader located in the U.S.

More background and the church member giving and membership research behind these ideas are available in The State of Church Giving through 2011. Chapter 8 of that book is available for download at www.emptytomb.org/leadershelpchildren.html, including the baby photos. (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

This is a call for prayer and reaching out to the world’s needy and threatened children. Millions are at risk in numerous countries. Let us pray accordingly. The article is a general outline of what might happen for the world’s neediest children if certain American and worldwide Church leaders were to join resources to formulate and carry out a unified plan of action. To that extent it is valuable in making its readers aware that millions of children the world over are suffering deprivation from hunger and danger from trafficking. The call is nebulous and may not give sufficient credence that many of the leaders and organizations cited already have programs in place that address these very issues month-to-month and already pour many resources into the care and support of countless children. Still the awareness campaign is admirable, and such an organization helps launch vision and encourages prayer on into the new year of 2014, as the peril of children in many war-torn and refugee-laden countries. Let us pray diligently for helpless and hurting children at home and abroad.

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 19:14)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

“But whoever causes harm to one of these little ones, it would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

On Watch in Washington December 25, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington – December 18, 2013

December 18th, 2013

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

MICH. LAW MAKES WOMEN BUY THEIR OWN INSURANCE FOR ABORTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE STANDARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Common Core demands that teachers toss out Shakespeare.

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

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

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

5. New Core tests will save taxpayers money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OBAMACARE’S TROUBLES ARE ONLY BEGINNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AUSTRALIAN COURT REJECTS LAW ALLOWING GAY MARRIAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHINA TO LAUNCH MOON ROCK-COLLECTING PROBE IN 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOW’S BUSINESS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington December 11, 2013

December 11th, 2013

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

HOUSE, SENATE NEGOTIATORS REACH BUDGET DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS IN HOBBY LOBBY’S CAUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ACTIVISTS URGE OBAMA TO SIDESTEP CONGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIG COMPANIES EXPANDING HOMOSEXUALS RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LEGAL “PERSONHOOD” SOUGHT FOR CHIMPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TEMPLE MOUNT, DREAMS OF PRAYER RAISE FEARS OF VIOLENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War of words

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

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

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

Arab Israeli lawmakers stormed out in protest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ‘This is our job as Jews’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BAKERS SUPPORTERS STAND BY HIS REFUSAL TO ASSIST GAY WEDDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TECH GIANTS ISSUE CALL FOR LIMITS ON GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE OF USERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOSPEL-STARVED NORTH KOREA AND THE BIBLE BOMBING STRATEGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

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

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

On Watch in Washington December 4, 2013

December 4th, 2013

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

TEHRAN TREATY: WINNERS AND LOSERS IN GENEVA NUCLEAR DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran’s Return to the World Stage

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

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

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

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

A Rift Between Saudi Royals and White House

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

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

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

Benefits for Both Sides

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

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

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

Is Saudi Arabia Seeking to Become a Nuclear Power?

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

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

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

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

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

 

SURPRISING NEW ALLIANCES

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

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

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

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

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

Will Funds Be Diverted to Front Companies?

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

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

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

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

More Reading: An Israel / Germany Alliance – The Trumpet

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

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

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

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

 

A MILITARY STRATEGY TO DETER CHINA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Should a Military Strategy Do?

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be visibly credible today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE OTHER ARAB AWAKENING

It turns out that there were actually two Arab awakenings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHILD TAKEN FROM WOMB BY SOCIAL SERVICES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WE HAVE LIFT-OFF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VIOLATING CHILDREN’S DIGNITY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

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

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

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

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

All the ways we miss the point

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which makes our online practices all the weirder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding idle gossip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington November 27, 2013

November 27th, 2013

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

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL FACES UPHILL BATTLE WITH CONGRESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL FUELS ANGER, JITTERS IN MIDEAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THIS IS WHAT PANIC LOOKS LIKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONNECTICUT NINTH STATE TO REJECT OBAMACARE ‘FIX’

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

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

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

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

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

 

AN UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH TO ABORTION, PARENTS’ RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Prov. 21:2-3)

 

NSA INFECTED 50,000 NETWORKS WITH SPECIALIZED MALWARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

COURT CONFRONTS RELIGIOUS RIGHTS OF CORPORATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CALM SOLAR CYCLE PROMPTS QUESTIONS ABOUT IMPACT ON EARTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A magnetic switch

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t seem concerned about the phenomenon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington November 20, 2013

November 20th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HIGH COURT WON’T BLOCK TX ABORTION LAW

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

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

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

The four liberal justices dissented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHY OBAMACARE IS ON LIFE SUPPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TORNADOES: BEING AT CHURCH SAVED OUR LIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar slow years were 1987 and 1989.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13)

 

TEXAS COUNTY ADOPTS SWEEPING POLICY TO PROTECT LGBT INMATES

The sheriff of Houston’s Harris County has adopted a sweeping policy designed to protect and guarantee equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inmates, including allowing transgender individuals to be housed based on the gender they identify with instead of their biological sex.

The new policy, which Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s office believes to be one of the most comprehensive in the country, states “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity is strictly prohibited,” and outlines how such inmates will be searched, booked and housed, according to a copy of the policy obtained by The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement Thursday.

The policy also covers intersex inmates, defined as people born with sex chromosomes or reproductive systems that are not considered standard.

Houston has the third-largest county jail in the U.S., after Los Angeles and Chicago’s Cook County, and processes some 125,000 inmates annually. Other major jails, including L.A., Washington, D.C., and Denver, have taken similar steps to meet new federal standards for protecting inmates from sexual abuse and assault.

But Harris County is the first in Texas to adopt this extensive of a policy, according to Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, a state agency that inspects, regulates and provides technical assistance to county jails.

The 11-page policy, along with a separate three-page document protecting this population from workplace discrimination, went into effect Wednesday.

“It represents a significant step forward,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, who worked closely with Garcia and his staff.

The new policy may be notable because it’s occurring in a staunch red state proud of its conservative values, Tobin said. But she emphasized it’s not about politics.

“This is not a red or blue issue,” Tobin said. “It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe and safeguarding public funds that when sexual abuse happens in prison need to be spent on medical care and mental health care and recovery.”

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the jail currently has about 8,900 inmates and at least 250 of them, or 2.8 percent, identify themselves as lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender.

A “safe zone project” will promote a “positive relationship of solidarity” between the sheriff’s department and the gay community, according to the document. Members of this staff will wear an obvious identifier so they can be easily spotted.

The sheriff’s department will also have “zero tolerance” for staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment toward members of the gay community. Violations could “result in termination” or referral for criminal charges or other action.

Another key section of the policy states that members of the transgender community will be addressed by their chosen name, even if it has not legally been changed, both when spoken to and on their identification bracelets. (Contributor: The Associated Press and Fox News)

How to pray into this situation? A basic U.S. legal principle has always called for “equal justice under the law.” Using this standard, Christians want all people, whether in jail or not, treated as human beings made in God’s image. As long as privately held sexual identity views (even if confused) do not break the law, such persons ought not to be singled out for mistreatment, but neither should taxpayers be charged for the provision of unnatural or unfair advantages for self-determined sexual identity. Issues of inequity arise when self-focused demands of a few seek to overturn logical and natural laws based on a society that recognizes male and female differing requirements. Intercessory prayer will not suddenly change a society’s confusion and rebellion with God’s design and His laws of male and female identity. That is not its purpose. Instead, let us cry out to God for His mercy to make Himself known in a sweeping national awakening with widespread repentance and a great harvest of souls turning to Christ. Only then will a yielding to God’s Word and His reign in human hearts bring salvation and deliverance to those afflicted with sexual confusion. Only the righteousness shared in the Gospel has the power to make crooked ways straight and bring human lives into order. Ponder these Scripture passages that reflect God’s desire and purpose to redeem, to save, to renew, and to deliver from darkness to His light.

Thus says God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it … ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand … to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.’ …Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth … Let [the people] give glory to the Lord, and declare His praise in the coastlands. I will bring the blind by a way they did not know [and] lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.”(Isaiah 42:5-16)

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

 

HOUSE SPEAKER APPLAUDED FOR DITCHING SENATE’S ‘IMMIGRATION REFORM’ BILL

A pro-immigration reform organization is praising U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for effectively ending any chance of amnesty legislation passing this year.

Boehner announced November 13 that the House will not hold formal, compromise talks on the U.S. Senate-passed so-called comprehensive immigration bill, a fresh signal from Republican leadership that the issue is dead for the year.

“Speaker Boehner should be congratulated for taking that awful bill off the table,” says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.

The Senate passed S.744 in June, which would give amnesty to 11 million illegal aliens while only promising to tighten border security sometime in the future.

Mehlman, Ira (Federation for American Immigration Reform)Mehlman observes that Boehner and members of the House recognized that the Senate bill was not immigration reform.

“It was just amnesty for illegal aliens,” he says. “It was millions and millions of new workers for business interests that don’t want to pay Americans decent wages anymore.”

While any amnesty-laden legislation won’t see the light of day during an election year, Mehlman says Congress could pass “common sense” legislation in 2014, which he predicts would be popular with the American people.

“Everybody agrees that we need to do more on border security,” Mehlman tells OneNewsNow. “Everybody agrees that we need to have a system in place that protects the jobs of the American people by having some process that allows employers to determine whether the people they’re hiring are legal or not.”

The FAIR spokesman calls those reforms “non-controversial” ideas that could “go forth” in an election year.

It would benefit both political parties to pass legislation that protects the basic interests of the American people, Mehlman says. (Contributor: By Chad Groenig for One News Now)

Prayer focus: It is both biblical and practical for us to pray diligently for all members of the U.S. Congress, especially as we consider that – together – the House and the Senate create the balance whereby all American citizens have representation. That is why Speaker Boehner’s influence is so important at present, which is well illustrated by his role in keeping the so-called comprehensive immigration bill from consideration this year. Most Democrat support is for this bill, which many observers feel is a thinly veiled move toward granting amnesty to millions of people who have entered the country illegally. The Republican persuasion is that the issue must have more debate and stricter standards of investigation. Either way, the challenges associated with an open or porous border must be handled in a bipartisan manner, and for that reason, the Speaker’s cautions are good news to conservative voters. Pray much as you weigh the issues. Ask God to once again lead the nation to truth and righteous standards.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

“Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

 

ISRAEL CAN STRIKE IRAN ALONE SAYS PM’s FORMER SECURITY AIDE

Israel can stop Iran’s nuclear program militarily and can do so on its own, Yaakov Amidror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said Sunday.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Amidror said the Israeli Air Force has been conducting “very long-range flights…all around the world” in preparation for a potential strike on Iran, which could set back its nuclear program “for a very long time.”

Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, who stepped down earlier this month, said that there was “no question” the prime minister would make the unilateral decision to use military force should it become necessary.

“We don’t need permission from anyone – we are an independent state,” he said, adding “we have our own sovereignty. If Israel is in a position in which Israel must defend itself, Israel will do it.”

Amidror’s statements came just as world powers are set to resume nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva on Wednesday which, according to reports, are expected to lead to a deal — a deal vehemently opposed by Netanyahu, who has spoken relentlessly against the agreement that would ease some sanctions while still leaving Iran with uranium-enrichment capabilities, as it was emerging last weekend.

The prime minister has been increasingly vocal in recent days about his opposition to the potential deal, saying he utterly rejects the brewing agreement. His government has been lobbying American allies in Congress to keep up sanctions.

“It is clear that this agreement is good only for Iran, and bad for the world,” Netanyahu said Sunday at a press conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who is also against the deal with Iran in its present terms. “The choice today is not between a bad deal or war,” he stressed; on the contrary, he asserted, with each passing day Iran is under economic pressure that grows and grows.

In last week’s talks in Geneva between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — Paris’s tough position on Iran was said to have prevented the global powers from signing an interim agreement with Tehran, one that would have included limited sanctions relief in return for a partial freeze of the country’s nuclear program.

“With patience and determination, you can get a good deal,” Netanyahu told Hollande. “This means maintaining pressure and increasing it, achieving a deal that would peacefully dismantle Iran’s military nuclear program, and would cause them to dismantle the centrifuges and plutonium-production heavy water reactor.”

“When someone says they are out to destroy you, we have learned in our Jewish history to take them seriously,” he said. ”It is my duty to prevent anyone from credibly threatening or executing another holocaust against the Jewish people. This is my obligation, but I also believe it’s our common obligation for the sake of mankind, for the sake of our common future.”

Over the past two weeks, Netanyahu and other senior officials have openly sparred with the US over the emerging Iran deal.

Earlier on Sunday, CNN broadcast an interview with the prime minister in which he acknowledged “differences of opinion” with the Obama administration over the way to best thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and over the terms offered by the P5+1 nations. Netanyahu said “the best of friends” can have differences, and emphasized his conviction that the Iranian program poses an existential threat to Israel.

Netanyahu restated the government’s opposition to Iran maintaining a heavy water reactor (at Arak) and its maintenance of centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium even to low levels. The Geneva offer reportedly allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5%. The Iranian regime has contended that it seeks nuclear energy for domestic programs, not for the development of nuclear weapons. (Contributor: By Times of Israel Staff for Times of Israel)

The prayer focus here is clearly to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” This is not a new item on the world news scene or for readers of these alerts, who know we have been closely tracking Israel’s place in the Middle East “pressure cooker” created by the Syria-Iran-Israel triangle. The article speaks for itself and is not complicated. While the U.S. administration wants to trust Iran’s stated intentions to use nuclear energy only for domestic programs, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is justifiably suspicious. With worldwide intelligence mechanisms in place that may be second to none, Israel stands ready to defend itself, even if a unilateral strike is deemed necessary. The question is whether President Obama is changing America’s course of supporting Israel as an ally and friend, or is he more sympathetic toward Iran? This apparent stand-off calls for extended intercession. Let us recall God’s purpose and His promises to bless those who bless Israel and deal in judgment on those who do not. The promises are ancient but have never gone out-of-date.

“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6)

 

ROBOTS LET DOCTORS ‘BEAM’ INTO REMOTE HOSPITALS

The doctor isn’t in, but he can still see you now.

Remote presence robots are allowing physicians to “beam” themselves into hospitals to diagnose patients and offer medical advice during emergencies.

A growing number of hospitals in California and other states are using telepresence robots to expand access to medical specialists, especially in rural areas where there’s a shortage of doctors.

These mobile video-conferencing machines move on wheels and typically stand about 5 feet, with a large screen that projects a doctor’s face. They feature cameras, microphones and speakers that allow physicians and patients to see and talk to each other.

Dignity Health, which runs Arizona, California and Nevada hospitals, began using the telemedicine machines five years ago to diagnose patients suspected of suffering strokes – when every minute is crucial to prevent serious brain damage.

The San Francisco-based health care provider now uses the telemedicine robots in emergency rooms and intensive-care units at about 20 California hospitals, giving them access to specialists in areas such as neurology, cardiology, neonatology, pediatrics and mental health.

“Regardless of where the patient is located, we can be at their bedside in several minutes,” said Dr. Alan Shatzel, medical director of the Mercy Telehealth Network. “Literally, we compress time and space with this technology. No longer does distance affect a person’s ability to access the best care possible.”

Dignity Health is one of several hospital chains that recently began using RP-VITA, which was jointly developed by InTouch Health and iRobot Corp. It’s approved for hospital use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Hospitals are now using this type of technology in order to leverage the specialists that they have even better and more efficiently,” said Dr. Yulun Wang, CEO of Santa Barbara-based InTouch Health.

Nearly 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. and abroad have installed InTouch telemedicine devices, including about 50 RP-VITA robots launched in May, according to company officials. The company rents out the RP-VITA for $5,000 per month.

When a doctor is needed at a remote hospital location, he can log into the RP-VITA on-site by using a computer, laptop or iPad. The robot has an auto-drive function that allows it to navigate its way to the patient’s room, using sensors to avoid bumping into things or people.

Once inside the hospital room, the doctor can see, hear and speak to the patient, and have access to clinical data and medical images. The physician can’t touch the patient, but there is always a nurse or medical assistant on-site to assist.

On a recent morning, Dr. Asad Chaudhary, a stroke specialist at Dignity Health, beamed into a robot at the neuro-intensive care unit at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael to evaluate Linda Frisk, a patient who recently had a stroke.

With his face projected on the robot screen, Chaudhary asked Frisk to smile, open and close her eyes, make a fist and lift her arms and legs – common prompts to test a patient’s neurological functioning.

“If you develop any weakness, any numbness, any problem with your speech or anything else, let us know right away,” Chaudhary told Frisk before the robot turned around and left the room.

“It’s just like being with the patient in the room,” Chaudhary said. “Of course, nothing can replace seeing these patients in person, but it’s the next best thing.”

Frisk, 60, who was flown into the hospital for treatment, said she was surprised when she first saw the robot, but quickly got used to the doctor’s virtual presence.

“You feel like he was right there,” said Frisk, who lives near Merced. “Although I am a little spoiled and like to see him in person.” (Contributor: The Associated Press and Fox News)

As technology advances, some of the parameters of intercession change, but the main focus of prayer, which is to ask God to intervene in human affairs for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom, actually remains constant. As this article illustrates, the practice of medicine continues to advance technically, and even patient care is changing rapidly. If we couple this with the ups and downs of the very complex Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), throwing in the severe shortage of doctors in certain parts of the country, we may see more and more examples of long-distance medical care, as in this example of robotic application. At this point, Christians may well think of missions and medical missionary treatments. Suppose robots, which are computers on wheels and with other moving parts, could be programmed with the necessary data to connect with the Internet from remote locations, and stand ready to examine, diagnose, and suggest treatment for certain endemic conditions, all done electronically, drawing data from a properly “stocked” technical source. The compression of time and space, so to speak, is illustrated in the next article on Bible translation around the world. This would not take the place of the human touch in preaching the Gospel, nor would our basic message be distorted or “modernized.”

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23)

 

BIBLE IS MORE ACCESSIBLE NOW THAN ANYTIME IN HISTORY

The president of the largest Bible translation organization in the world says that more people than ever before can access the Bible in their own language, that translation programs for every native language in the world will be underway in twelve years, and that work to translate the Bible into every tongue brings us closer to the return of Jesus to earth.

“More people have access to scripture than at any other time in history,” Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, told The Christian Post in an interview on Friday. On Thursday, Wycliffe announced that 4.9 billion people can now read the Bible in their native language. Creson declared that by 2025, there will be “translation occurring in every community that needs it.” Only 1,919 language groups still lack access to the Bible, and Creson expects that to drop below 1,900 soon.

Creson states that “the last translator for the last Bible translation is alive somewhere in the world today.” He told CP why he believes that. “Thirty years ago, the average New Testament took over 20 years to translate,” Creson explained. Today, it takes about 8 years.

Even more impressive, however, is the pace at which new translations are started. In 1942, when Wycliffe Bible Translators was founded it was a North American organization that later expanded to Europe. Now, the group has teams in every community to which they reach out.

Ex-patriots, those who choose to work outside of their home country, were previously most often the primary translators, Creson explained. Now, the ex-pat worker’s role has changed to be more of a consultant. Instead of going to a new community, learning the language and customs, and then beginning the painstaking process of Bible translation, these workers check translations produced by members of the community themselves.

A worker in Holland can use Skype to check the translation of a local group in Kenya, the Wycliffe president explained. “We’re highly committed to the accurate translation of God’s Word,” Creson said. “Even though we are translating cheaper and faster, we’re not doing it at a loss of quality.”

Creson explained that a new computer program known as “Adapt It” takes a source text and translates it from one language to a neighboring language. The program even achieves 70% accuracy. “All that work which would have taken years and years to produce is done very rapidly by this computer program,” the president said.

In each new community, Wycliffe proceeds on the assumption that the language is similar to those in the surrounding area, Creson explained. “Even if that one language isn’t necessarily related, we have developed workshops that can support it,” the president said.

Wycliffe Bible Translators also teams with fellow organizations, such as the volunteer support group Wycliffe Associates, the Seed Company, and a “major field partner,” SIL International. In addition, external groups team with Wycliffe worldwide, said Creson.

“When translators have finished the translation of the Gospel of Luke,” the president explained, “The Jesus Film [production team] will then use that text to record the Jesus Film,” a video presentation of the Gospel. An audio group, Faith Comes By Hearing, has also “made a major commitment to put into audio formats all the New Testaments we produce.”

Every Tribe, Every Nation creates an electronic database, then used by the Digital Bible Library, which provides these files to groups like YouVersion, the group behind the Bible App. “It’s just a matter of a few hours until those translations are available on YouVersion,” Creson explained.

The Wycliffe president also testified his belief that organization’s work helps bring about the End Times. “I believe that the work we do hastens the return of Jesus Christ,” Creson told CP. Citing Matthew 24:14, he paraphrased Jesus’ words saying “this good news message has to be preached to the whole world, to every tongue, tribe, and nation, and then the end will come.”

“I also believe that part of God’s plan is to include somebody from every tribe and every nation to worship Him,” Creson added, referencing Revelation. For more information, to pray, give, or volunteer, Creson suggested readers visit the website, Wycliffe.org. (Contributor: Tyler O’Neil for the Christian Post)

Intercessors might well ponder this article and its time-related statistics with a sense of awe as to what God has enabled the translators to accomplish with technology. Note Bob Creson’s reference comparing a previous 20-year span for New Testament translation to the current 8 years. And all readers will instinctively know that the “8 years” will only continue to decrease with faster and faster processors. All this is a gift from God and will serve to advance His kingdom awareness and knowledge of the Gospel as software development continues to serve the global missions enterprise. Intercessors of a certain age (those who were not raised from childhood or youth with computers) may want to intercede for and instruct their children and grandchildren that their easily acquired computer skills can be utilized in the work of missions and global evangelism, when technical expertise stands right alongside of the “sent ones” who are called to preach and plant churches. Many of us know of such skilled and dedicated servants of Christ who are making this time compression work for reaching new people groups with the Bible faster than ever before. As in the Scripture below, the answer to the Lord’s modern day question, “What is in your hand?” might well be, “Lord, it’s a computer.”

“Then Moses answered [the Lord], ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff.’ And He said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put out your hand and catch it by the tail’—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—‘that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’” (Exodus 4:1-5)  

On Watch in Washington November 20, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013

November 13th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

VIVE LA FRANCE ON IRAN

We never thought we’d say this, but thank heaven for French foreign-policy exceptionalism. At least for the time being, François Hollande’s Socialist government has saved the West from a deal that would all but guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear power.

While the negotiating details still aren’t fully known, the French made clear Saturday that they objected to a nuclear agreement that British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama were all too eager to sign. These two leaders remind no one, least of all the Iranians, of Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. That left the French to protect against a historic security blunder, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declaring in an interview with French radio that while France still hopes for an agreement with Tehran, it won’t accept a “sucker’s deal.”

And that’s exactly what seems to have been on the table as part of a “first-step agreement” good for six months as the parties negotiated a final deal. Tehran would be allowed to continue enriching uranium, continue manufacturing centrifuges, and continue building a plutonium reactor near the city of Arak. Iran would also get immediate sanctions relief and the unfreezing of as much as $50 billion in oil revenues—no small deliverance for a regime whose annual oil revenues barely topped $95 billion in 2011.

In return the West would get Iranian promises. There is a promise not to activate the Arak reactor, a promise not to use its most advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium or to install new ones, a promise to stop enriching uranium to 20%, which is near-weapons’ grade, and to convert its existing stockpile into uranium oxide (a process that is reversible).

What Iran has not promised to do is abide by the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which imposes additional reporting requirements on Iran and allows U.N. inspectors to conduct short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has complained for years that Iran has refused to answer its questions fully or provide inspectors with access to all of its facilities. IAEA inspectors have been barred from visiting Arak since August 2011.

In other words, the deal gives Iran immediate, if incomplete, sanctions relief and allows it to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact and keep expanding it at a slightly slower pace. And the deal contains no meaningful mechanisms for verifying compliance. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they’re doing,” President Obama told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview Wednesday. What we have is the opposite.

The President also told Mr. Todd that if Iran fails to honor the deal the U.S. can re-apply existing sanctions: “We can crank that dial back up.”

That’s also misleading. Once sanctions are eased, the argument will always be made (no doubt by Mr. Obama) that dialing them back up will give Iran the excuse to restart enrichment. Any “interim” agreement gives more negotiating leverage to Iran. If Iran really intends to cease its nuclear program, it should be willing to do so immediately and unconditionally.

All of this echoes the strategy Iran pursued after its illicit nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002. Current Iranian President Hasan Rouhani was his country’s nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, when Iran briefly suspended its civilian and military nuclear work in the teeth of intense international pressure (and American armies on its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan). That previous suspension is treated by U.S. negotiators as a model of what they might achieve now.

It’s really a model of what they should beware. “Tehran showed that it was possible to exploit the gap between Europe and the United States to achieve Iranian objectives,” Hossein Mousavian, Mr. Rouhani’s deputy at the time, acknowledged in his memoir. “The world’s understanding of ‘suspension’ was changed from a legally binding obligation” to “a voluntary and short-term undertaking aimed at confidence building.”

Now the U.S. seems to be falling for the same ruse again. This time, however, Iran is much closer to achieving its nuclear objectives. No wonder Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu felt compelled to warn the Administration and Europe that they risked signing “a very, very bad deal,” a blunt public rebuke from a Prime Minister who has been notably cautious about criticizing the White House. The Saudis, who gave up on this Administration long ago, are no doubt thinking along similar lines. The BBC reported last week that the Kingdom has nuclear weapons “on order” from Pakistan.

The negotiators plan to resume talks on November 20, and France will be under enormous pressure to go along with a deal. We hope Messrs. Hollande and Fabius hold firm, and the U.S. Congress could help by strengthening sanctions and passing a resolution insisting that any agreement with Iran must include no uranium enrichment, the dismantling of the Arak plutonium project and all centrifuges, and intrusive, on-demand inspections. Anything less means that Iran is merely looking to con the West into easing sanctions even as it can restart its program whenever it likes. (Contributor: The Wall Street Journal)

These mid-week alerts present many heavy issues for prayer. Therefore, due to the “work” of intercession, we have found it encouraging to open our prayer points with thanksgiving and praise to God. Let us “enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.” Why do this? Because it reminds us and we wish to testify that God is always in control and that His purposes will prevail. Thus, we pray, not to engage in toppling idols, worldly philosophies, or national sins with human wisdom or strength, but to honor and obey our God and King in His call that people “pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). To paraphrase evangelical author, Jerry Bridges, our goal is not primarily to succeed but simply to obey, as to obey is to succeed.

In the immediate issue, pray for President Obama and his advisors. Pray, too, for Secretary of State John Kerry. Seasoned intercessors know that no presidency is fully defined only by the individual filling the office. His close advisors play a big part in formulating presidential policies that lead to momentous decisions. The Iranian terrain is filled with landmines, figuratively speaking. Wisdom and caution, plus divine restraint, are all needed to get through this time without major explosions. Give thanks for France’s foreign minister stepping into the discussion. Also, Israel’s welfare is at stake, and Mr. Netanyahu is properly on guard. Iran must not be allowed to bluff other governments involved. Truly, it is a time for protracted and intense prayer as the Iranian nuclear “solution” is walked out globally. Pray for supernatural help through God’s mercy.      

“Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.’” (Daniel 2:22)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

“Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’” (Psalm 46:1-10)

 

A BAN ON THE FAITH-BASED WORKPLACE

Last week, the U.S. Senate matter-of-factly, with no serious vocal opposition except a last-ditch warning of the consequences by Sen. Dan Coats, Indiana Republican, voted 64 to 32 to expand government and repeal the Bible.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act doesn’t say that directly, but its core meaning is that employers — and their employees — must accommodate every sexual expression under the sun or face federal prosecution and nuisance lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union.

House Speaker John A. Boehner said the bill would not reach the House floor. People who believe in the freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, not to mention what’s left of property rights, had better hope he keeps his promise. This is about so much more than the threat of “frivolous lawsuits.”

Even if you’re not persuaded by moral arguments, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a massive expansion of federal power and a gift to trial attorneys, who are among the largest donors to the Democratic Party. Ten Republicans joined 54 Democrats in the final vote. They’re either spectacularly naive, or they think they’re smarter than God. You can love and cherish friends and family who are homosexual without bringing a government jackboot down on everyone else.

Far from ensuring equality, the bill is a radical departure from civil rights laws, whose protected classes stem from immutable characteristics with no moral content, such as skin color, place of birth or sex. The exception is religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

What makes “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” different is that these categories are vague, not immutable, and the associated behaviors have moral implications. In fact, behavior defines the groups. Otherwise, unlike race or sex, no one would know.

By equating such behaviors with neutral, unchangeable characteristics such as ethnicity, the act says to religious employers: “You will abandon your faith-based morality and instead abet behavior that your faith and Scripture says is wrong and harmful.”

It’s a lot like the Obamacare mandate to religious health care institutions to provide abortions — or else.

If you want to know how laws like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act operate in real life, there are a growing number of cases.

In 2008, a judge in New Mexico affirmed a fine of $6,638 against a Christian couple in Albuquerque who run a photography business. Their crime? Declining to photograph a lesbian ceremony.

Earlier this year, a Gresham, Ore., Christian couple who ran a bakery were investigated for not baking a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. Harassed for months, they closed their business in September.

In California, businesses that decline to provide marital benefits to same-sex couples are denied state government contracts.

In Ohio, a black college administrator was fired in 2008 for writing an article on her own time that disagreed with the notion that race and sexual orientation are equivalent traits.

This is freedom?

Among the Republicans who voted for the bill were Sen. John McCain of Arizona and formerly conservative Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey. There is nothing conservative about giving the federal government and leftist pressure groups another enormous club with which to beat America’s employers senseless.

Conservatives work to reduce government, not to expand its power. It’s no coincidence that homosexual activist groups were among the most aggressive supporters of Obamacare. The act and Obamacare are vast, new liberal government mandates.

The nation’s workplaces have already been subjected to de facto enforcement of quotas despite provisions prohibiting them. Employers are accused of “disparate impact” regardless of sincere efforts to hire more minorities or women.

Imagine “civil rights” lawyers under the Obama Justice Department invading workplaces to ensure that there are an acceptable number of men wearing dresses, along with homosexual-related hires, promotions and celebrations.

Advocates claim that it’s about “simple fairness.” It’s not. The law will criminalize dissent against any initiative by newly empowered “sexual minorities.” Don’t feel like making your employees celebrate “gay pride day” or attend “diversity” brainwashing? Welcome to court. Hope you can afford it.

The biggest mistake that liberty defenders could make is to buy into the “religious exemption” inserted by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican. It’s a fig leaf, and a thin one at that.

Once the law is on the books, a liberal federal judge will void the exemption.

For a lesson in abusing federal law, consider that the Internal Revenue Service has throttled political speech in churches since the 1950s. Texas Democratic Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson inserted a provision in the tax code threatening the nonprofit status of religious institutions if leaders endorse candidates from the pulpit. Johnson did so to shut up overly critical preachers.

Churches in America are untaxed not because they do what Caesar tells them, but because, as Jesus says in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Johnson gag order is unconstitutional, which is why the IRS has not dared to bring a case. Conservative churches, however, have been silenced, while many liberal churches ignore the law. They know that hustlers such as Al Sharpton will run to the media if the IRS gets too frisky.

Add this law to this mix, and we’re well on the way to a day when the feds are editing sermons and punishing churches that don’t have priestesses performing same-sex ceremonies.

Proponents insist that it will never come to that, but don’t believe them. Liberal groups are working to remove the Catholic Church’s tax exemption over its opposition to abortion, and they ran the church out of the adoption business in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Imagine what they will do nationally if President Obama gets to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times. Contributor:  By Robert Knight for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), the only senator to warn of the dangers and constitutional compromises—and worse—lurking in the ENDA legislation. The question is, why were there not more conservative voices raised in protest among the 32 dissenting votes? Perhaps some were quiet for political reasons, hoping that House Speaker John Boehner will keep his promise that such a freedom-snatching law will not reach the House floor. Please follow the ENDA law with prayers and close attention as U.S. citizens and business people. Let us persevere in prayer and not be deceived. The goal of this law, as Mr. Knight honestly describes, is to make illegal all moral convictions in the marketplace (churches also?) that do not accept sinful, deviant behavior as normal, natural, and to be displayed without restraint. Freedoms are eroding. We need a return, at the national level, to God’s standards of right versus wrong as measured by His Word. Please pray as conscience is illuminated by Scripture. May God preserve our freedom to believe and uphold God’s plan for marriage, His laws of sexuality, and the freedom to see righteous government sustained. We may see harsh persecution in the U.S., with egregious fines and businesses going under as basic values are nullified. Pray for divine intervention.

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides. They continue this day according to Your ordinances, for all are Your servants.” (Psalm 119:89-91)

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of …” (2 Timothy 3: 12-14)

 

PROTECTING THE UNBORN FROM PAIN

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 228-196 in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, announced that he would introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate. Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” last weekend, Mr. Graham noted that protecting pain-capable unborn children from the horror of abortion “is a debate worthy of a great democracy.”

There is substantial medical evidence that unborn children are capable of experiencing pain by at least 20 weeks post-fertilization. Abortions performed at this stage of pregnancy use a variety of techniques, including a method in which the unborn child’s arms and legs are twisted off by brute manual force, using a long stainless steel clamping tool.

While most of us can hardly imagine undergoing a dental procedure without the benefit of anesthesia, the law of the land under Roe v. Wade condones this violent dismemberment of unborn children without any regard for their rights or humanity. Common decency demands that this be changed and that these unborn babies be protected.

Based on a 2008 study from the Guttmacher Institute (which was originally founded as a special research affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, currently the nation’s largest abortion provider), we estimate there are at least 140 abortionists in the United States who perform abortions on unborn children who are at least 20 weeks of fetal age.

When the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973, our understanding of pain and the development of the unborn child was so primitive that even a newborn undergoing surgery did not receive anesthesia — only a paralytic to keep them still.

Medical advancements have changed the way we view unborn children. Today, unborn children undergo surgery in utero. Ultrasound technology has allowed a baby’s first pictures to adorn the refrigerators of parents and grandparents long before they meet their newest family member face-to-face. Yet under current law, the same arms and legs seen in ultrasound images can be brutally torn apart during an abortion.

Just how many late abortions are performed in the United States on pain-capable unborn children? While we don’t have a good handle on just how many late abortions are really occurring, there is growing evidence that they are far more common than most people want to think.

The case of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell and hidden-camera videos issued by the organization Live Action provide further evidence that a great deal of the late-abortion iceberg is below the water. Some of the jurisdictions with the most liberal abortion policies have no reporting requirements — for example, California, Maryland and the District of Columbia — or do not collect data on the stage of pregnancy (Florida, for example).

Other jurisdictions have reporting requirements, but don’t enforce them. The grand jury report on Gosnell said that between 2000 and 2010, he reported only one second-trimester abortion to the state. Yet it appears that Gosnell probably performed thousands of second-trimester and third-trimester abortions during that decade. Multiple other practitioners who perform large volumes of late abortions have also failed to report them or have not been required to report them.

Enough is enough. It’s time to revisit Roe v. Wade’s policy of allowing unrestricted abortion.

Ten states have already enacted laws protecting pain-capable unborn children based on National Right to Life’s model bill. Just last week, language protecting pain-capable unborn children went into effect in Texas. The pain-capable unborn child language was written into a larger omnibus pro-life bill that brought on a pro-abortion media frenzy during Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster in June. Late last Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for the challenged provisions of the Texas law to take effect. The language protecting pain-capable unborn children went unchallenged by pro-abortion activists.

A nationwide poll conducted in March 2013 by The Polling Company found that an overwhelming majority of Americans — 64 percent — would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; only 30 percent opposed such legislation. Female voters split 63 percent to 31 percent in support of such a law, and among independents, it enjoyed 63 percent support as well.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,”Mr. Graham said, “The government has a legitimate interest to protect the child after the 20-week period of development because they can feel pain. That is what a rational, humane society should do — protect the child that can feel pain from an abortion.”

One-fifth of the states, nearly two-thirds of Americans, and the U.S. House of Representatives agree. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to do its job and act to protect these vulnerable members of our human family. Carol Tobias is president of the National Right to Life Committee. (Contributor:  By Carol Tobias for The Washington Times)

Pray for the success of this approach. Those who practice abortion as a business (and it is a huge, very profitable business) seem to have become so desensitized to the truth of what they are doing that they deny they are killing babies ruthlessly and without remorse. We are not talking about the ignorant young woman in the “crisis pregnancy” who is frightened and being deceived into thinking she is just having a “procedure” done for convenience. We are speaking of the Kermit Gosnells and those of his ilk who do not want any publicity about the proven fact that the baby is alive, has a beating heart, a developing nervous system, and can feel pain. Let us pray for the success of this movement to educate the public and protect the baby from such suffering in the final moments of innocent life. May God bless this effort to speak truth. May our prayers be more powerful than the brazen efforts of Planned Parenthood to deny and hide the facts.

“[Jesus said,] ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” (John 8:32)

“Then [Jesus] said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend [kill?] one of these little ones.’” (Luke 17:1-2)

 

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS BACK WITH A NEW NAME: BULLYING

Over the past few years, bullying has become a hot topic of conversation. Perhaps I should amend that: Bullying has become a hot topic in the media as it has been pushed by progressives to force mainstream acceptance of their agenda.

The bullying I am talking about is not the big kid pushing around the little kid or the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case. The acts of bullying that are making headlines are about words and feelings. Many times it is used as a catch-all for anyone that challenges the leftist ideas — suspending children for expressing their religious views or making a “gun” with their pointer finger and thumb.

You will recognize that many similarities between the anti-bullying trend today and the political correctness movement in the ‘90s. This is just the latest example of a repressive movement aiming to stifle any and all dissent.

In 1949, George Orwell wrote the ground-breaking book “1984.” In it he describes the idea of Newspeak — a state-created language intended to restrict man’s ability to describe his own thoughts and feelings. One particular aspect of Newspeak was the idea of thoughtcrime — harboring unspoken thoughts that could be deemed contentious or “anti-social.” Lacking the words to express displeasure was not enough; you could be arrested for thinking inexpressible notions.

In America circa 2013, your own intentions do not matter if you express any idea that can be construed as “hate speech.” Intentions only matter when you enact the leftist idea of what is good — even if it destroys people’s lives.

According to the American Bar Association, “hate speech” is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits.

A noble gesture, but what happens when you call someone of a different race a jerk or more colorful explicative? If you are a white male, that is hate speech. If a black man says it to a black woman, that is sexual discrimination or harassment, another form of hate speech.

When it comes to policing language, it is the offendee’s subjective interpretation that matters, not the offender’s intent. In fact, the offendee’s prior actions are not even a consideration — the person may have just run over your pet, but your anger and mental anguish does not compare to the supposed psychological damage the offendee suffers when you express outrage at that person.

All we have to do is look at any criticism of President Obama. Do not agree with his policies? Well, you must be racist. But I am black and disagree; fortunately, I have liberal white folks to tell me I am an Uncle Tom.

These accusations are not meant to point out actual racism; they are meant to discredit and silence opposition. The logical fallacies run wild: hasty generalizations, strawmen, no true Scotsman, and appeals to ignorance just for starters. Needless to say, such indictments are not valid points of debate.

The desire to silence critics is due to the left’s own narcissistic tendencies. A narcissist projects his or her own thoughts onto others; he or she cannot imagine that others think differently. The worst policies are made when we think inductively: from a small sample, they make conclusions at large.

In such cases, a person examines his or her own prejudices and weakness and assumes everyone else has them. “I have racist thoughts and must struggle to contain them, so everyone must feel that way,” or “I have homoerotic thoughts, everyone does.” Such thoughts result in rancor, self-loathing, and knee-jerk reactionary bills that abridge freedom to repress their own demons.

It also results in thinking that someone would never say mean words to others unless there is a darker thought behind it. Better to prevent anyone from saying something mean than risk hurt feelings. One’s own thoughtcrimes become everyone’s. Public shaming of any and all thoughtcrimes is coercion; it is bullying.

When you label dissent as bullying, you stifle discussion. When you endorse the policing of thoughtcrime, you do not change minds, only harden hearts. Consensus and understanding only come through an open dialogue. You cannot change a bigot’s mind by censuring his thoughts; you change it by talking to him about his views and actions and getting him to empathize with others.

But the charge of bullying not only has been used to suppress objection, it has been used to condone bad behavior.

Saying women must be responsible and aware in order to prevent getting into a bad situation is “mansplaining,” or “slut shaming,” or contributing to “rape culture.” No, it is saying that you do not walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town drunk and alone.

Telling someone they are overweight and it is unhealthy, pointing out how a proper diet and exercise actually improve mental disposition and looks is “fat shaming.” There are even court cases where clients sue their trainers for mental anguish because they tell them to stop eating junk food and keeping working out. Is everyone taking crazy pills?

There is a difference between bullying and constructive criticism, but frankly, I do not think that the left and the culture they have helped to create sees the difference anymore.

People can declare that life should just be full of love and acceptance, but to do so is to delude oneself. Life is not rainbows and unicorns. It is a grind that takes perseverance and fortitude to come out ahead.

Denouncing opposing ideas and thoughts as bullying cheapens those who are truly bullied and oppressed. If we are ever to overcome the rancor that permeates our modern society, we must fight against the attempt to give in to political correctness and cry “bully!” any time someone hurts our feelings.

Sometimes we should simply grow thicker skin, but we also need to take a step back and examine our own behavior. Instead of hiding in an echo-chamber of affirmation, we should engage those with different thoughts and experiences to understand their point of view. If we step out of our own projections, we might just find that the person we thought was a bully is actually a friend.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” (Contributor:  By Armstrong Williams for The Washington Times)

Pray for a return to sanity in the use of language. The Bible commands God’s people to speak the truth at all times. One of the Commandments is to not “bear false witness” – i.e., tell lies, whether in court or in conversation. In the Garden, the serpent used beguiling words to deceive Eve into believing that God did not mean what He plainly said about the tree whose fruit was not to be eaten. Only a few generations later, God took note that the power of a common language at Babel made mankind almost invincible, and so he confused the language to disperse them and stop their evil inclinations. Our Lord is called “the Word” because He perfectly conveyed the truth of God the Father and His message of love and redemption. But unrighteous men and women still twist the truth to take control of others. Today, children sue their parents for “bullying” when they are told to do homework or clean their room. Pray for revival resulting in widespread salvation and a return to truth and sanity in communication. Only in God’s mercy can truth once again become the national standard of communication. Pray that the Church will lead the way in speaking the truth in love, making the Gospel message plain in calling people to Christ.

“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

“ Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“…  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— …” (Ephesians 4:15)

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

 

PRESSING AHEAD ON CLIMATE SALVATION

The U.N. is determined to control liberties, livelihoods and living standards

Climate alarmists have gathered in Warsaw for the Monday start of the United Nations‘ annual climate change conference, to lay the foundation for a binding global agreement to replace the now-defunct Kyoto Protocol and “save the planet” from “dangerous global warming.”

However, a new Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change report documents that average global temperatures have not risen in 16 years, even as carbon-dioxide levels have increased steadily, helping plants grow faster and better. Antarctic ice is at a record high, Arctic sea ice is back to normal and, at current rates, Greenland’s glaciers would not melt for 13,000 years.

It has been eight years since a major hurricane struck the United States — the longest such period since 1865. Tornado frequency is the lowest in decades. Sea levels are rising at barely six inches per century. Droughts are shorter and less extreme than during the Dust Bowl era and the 1950s.

Moreover, says the nongovernmental panel, it is simply impossible to separate human influences from the frequent, cyclical, natural temperature, climate and weather variability our planet has always experienced.

Even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has muted previous claims. It now says there has been no warming since 1998, and finally acknowledges that much of the world was as warm during Medieval times as during the late 20th century.

The U.N. panel’s 2013 report finally recognizes the role that solar variability plays in climate change, and acknowledges that its computer models inadequately represent cloud cover, precipitation and “climate sensitivity” to carbon dioxide. The report admits the models failed to predict the temperature standstill and were wrong about polar ice caps, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes.

In reality, the climate and weather events, trends and cycles of recent years are essentially the same as humans have been dealing with for centuries. There is no evidence that we face imminent catastrophic man-made climate change.

Unless we shackle the energy and economic systems that enhance and safeguard our lives, modern technologically advanced societies will be able to respond and adapt to any weather events or climate changes that we are likely to encounter in the coming decades.

Then what is really going on in Warsaw?

Climate campaigners are using claims of “dangerous man-made climate change” to justify global government, treaties in lieu of legislation, anti-hydrocarbon policies, renewable energy schemes, wealth redistribution, and more taxpayer money for perpetual U.N. studies and programs.

In 2000, then-French President Jacques Chirac called the Kyoto treaty “the first component of authentic global governance.” Just months ago, President Obama said, if Congress fails to act, he will “redouble” efforts to “reach a new global agreement to reduce carbon pollution” — and continue using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close coal mines, eliminate coal-fired power plants and regulate U.S. energy use.

Despite actual weather and climate observations, as documented by both the nongovernmental panel and the U.N. panel, alarmists insist that we face imminent cataclysm. Some echo former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, Colorado Democrat, and European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who contend that even if we are “wrong on global warming,” opposing fossil fuels and promoting renewables are “the correct policies, even if they lead to higher prices.”

The U.N. panel’s Working Group III co-chairman Ottmar Edenhofer has been just as blunt. “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy,” he said. It is about “how we redistribute the world’s wealth.”

Island nations and poor countries support climate agreements, because they expect “compensation,” “adaptation” and “mitigation” money to pay for “damages” from rising seas and more frequent, more intense storms and droughts, which they blame on industrialized nations.

Not only does a growing body of evidence say these “disasters” are not happening, with the United States and European Union mired in debt, unemployment and economic stagnation, prospects for such wealth transfers are increasingly dim. Still, the demands grow louder, and the White House and State Department have already promised billions.

For Americans, an even bigger Frankenstein looms. The Obamacare disaster involves government bureaucrats taking over our health care, health insurance and one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Energy is our economy’s lifeblood, and hydrocarbons make up 82 percent of our energy resources. Policies based on climate-chaos claims mean the EPA, the U.N. and environmentalist pressure groups would control 100 percent of our economy and virtually everything we make, grow, ship, eat, drive and do. Imagine the impact on our lives, livelihoods, liberties, living standards and life spans.

As President Obama promised, this would “fundamentally transform” our nation — to “protect” us from climate “cataclysms” that exist only in presidential speeches, Hollywood movies, U.N. computer models and EPA press releases.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow has sent a “truth delegation” to Warsaw to counter climate alarmism’s myths, propaganda and outright lies. CFACT acknowledges that global warming and climate change are “real,” but our organization also understands that the causes are complex and natural, and only minimally man-made. We know the only “climate disaster” on the horizon is from anti-energy policies advocated by the White House, the EPA and the U.N.

We cannot afford to take our nation further down the path to joblessness and economic ruin.

David Rothbard is president of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT.org), where Craig Rucker is executive director. (Contributor:  By David Rothbard and Craig Rucker for The Washington Times)

This is a genuine call to prayer! We must intercede strongly, asking God to assist honest citizens in our nation in defending truth against the fables that so-called scientists are perpetrating for ideological or financial gain. When those once dedicated to “Science” sell out to manipulating their findings in nature or in the laboratory, then truth becomes relative and nothing more than something to be sold or traded to the highest bidder. The Kyoto protocols became hopelessly compromised when certain “scientists” were discovered to be falsifying their data. (No one was prosecuted.) In the past, this deception was seen as the “unpardonable sin” among those supposedly dedicated to discovering truth through experimentation and carefully controlled testing of hypotheses and theories. When integrity is missing in these equations, we will have more “Piltdown man” hoaxes, which we are about to see in these Warsaw meetings. Pray for truth to prevail and deception to be exposed.

“[Jesus said,] ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’  They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:32-34)

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)

“Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well.” (Proverbs 23:23)

 

N.J. SCHOOL DISTRICT DROPS BAN ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS

“Joy to the World” is once again an acceptable holiday message in one New Jersey school district.

After much debate and international attention, the Bordentown Regional School District has changed course and decided that its public schools can deck their halls with Christian Christmas songs in their holiday concerts this year.

Last month, the school district banned all religious Christmas carols in upcoming holiday concerts after some parents in the community deemed such songs inappropriate.

After the ban generated significant controversy, Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer released a brief statement late last week stating, in effect, never mind.

“In reviewing additional legal considerations and advice on this matter and the expressed sentiments of the community at large, I have reconsidered the decision on the musical selection for the upcoming winter programs so that pieces with traditional and historical religious origins will be permitted,” Ms. Bauer said. “Concurrently, the board will continue its review of the larger policy implications for the future.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is an activist group that helped lead opposition to the carol ban.

In a letter written to Mr. Bauer and school board President Lisa Kay Hartman, the alliance wrote that “every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols and other religious music in school choir programs fully complies with the First Amendment.”

Matthew Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said the exclusion of Christian Christmas songs negatively affects students, parents, music teachers and communities as a whole.

“The main [opposing argument] we see is that this violates the separation between church and state,” Mr. Sharp said.

Over the past 30 years, a growing number of Americans are labeling themselves as nonreligious. According to the poll Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, since 1972, the number of atheists globally has nearly tripled.

With this surge of atheism has come a strong push to reduce or eliminate all forms of religion from America’s public schools. The New Jersey school case came just as the Supreme Court was taking up a case involving the propriety of saying prayers before government functions such as town council meetings if it might offend non-Christians or nonbelievers.

Mr. Sharp, however believes “It’s always a dangerous thing to bring up the idea of offensiveness,” because it is virtually impossible to cultivate cultural and religious diversity without offending someone.

Mr. Sharp also points out that it is entirely constitutional to include religious songs in holiday performances.

“Our approach is to educate, and we start with what the courts have said,” he said.

In a previous case concerning Cherry Hill Township School District’s policy, a New Jersey court found that “Christmas and Chanukah are celebrated as cultural and national holidays as well as religious ones, and there is simply no constitutional doctrine which would forbid school children from sharing in that celebration, provided that these celebrations do not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and are consistent with a school’s secular educational mission.”

Said Mr. Sharp, “I would encourage people everywhere to stand up for these songs. … I think they should be encouraged by what happened in Bordentown.” (Contributor:  By Nathan Porter for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for the sense of balance coming back into the discussion of appropriate music for Christian observance of Christmas. The secular commitment to “separation of church and state” (not a statement from the U.S. Constitution) has reached ridiculous proportions, and this discussion is a breath of fresh air. Pray for a reduction of hostility from people who do not believe toward people of faith. We should not be prohibited from calling Christmas and Thanksgiving by their real names (not “Holiday Time” or “Turkey Day”), and the wonderful Christmas carols are statements of Christians’ faith and hope. We can pray that the words of these songs played throughout the malls in America will penetrate hearts and lead people to consider who Jesus is.

“But while [Joseph] thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

 

ATHEIST ‘MEGA-CHURCHES’ TAKE ROOT ACROSS US, WORLD

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia – with more to come – after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

The founders, British duo Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, are currently on a tongue-in-cheek “40 Dates, 40 Nights” tour around the U.S. and Australia to drum up donations and help launch new Sunday Assemblies. They hope to raise more than $800,000 that will help atheists launch their pop-up congregations around the world. So far, they have raised about $50,000.

They don’t bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in the community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago.

“There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

The movement dovetails with new studies that show an increasing number of Americans are drifting from any religious affiliation.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last year that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Pew researchers stressed, however, that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.”

Sunday Assembly – whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More – taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

It also plays into a feeling among some atheists that they should make themselves more visible. For example, last December, an atheist in Santa Monica created an uproar – and triggered a lawsuit – when he set up a godless display amid Christian nativity scenes that were part of a beloved, decades-old tradition.

“In the U.S., there’s a little bit of a feeling that if you’re not religious, you’re not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, `Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it,” said Zuckerman. “It’s still a minority, but there’s enough of them now.”

That impulse, however, has raised the ire of those who have spent years pushing back against the idea that atheism itself is a religion.

“The idea that you’re building an entire organization based on what you don’t believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility,” said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist who was raised Roman Catholic but left when he became disillusioned.

“There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,” said Luciano, who blogged about the movement at the site policymic.com.

That sentiment didn’t seem to detract from the excitement Sunday at the inaugural meeting in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection, an “inspirational talk” about forgotten – but important – inventors and scientists and some stand-up comedy.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” “Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor.

For atheist Elijah Senn, the morning was perfect.

“I think the image that we have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us,” he said. “I’m really excited to be able to come together and show that it’s not about destruction. It’s about making things and making things better.” (Contributor: Gillian Flaccus for The Associated Press)

Even unbelievers and, in this case, professed atheists have some sense of the need for religious expression, even if it is to celebrate what they do NOT believe in. Without looking down on such people in pride, give thanks that you know the truth of the Gospel and that it has set you free from the burden of sin and the fear of the future. Offer prayers for those trying to “celebrate” their unbelief, that the burdens of sin and doubt and the pressures of life will open their hearts to the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Only the Gospel sets people free and offers them a hope and a future in God’s love.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18)

 

PRO-LIFERS IN IOWA APPLAUD BOARD OF MEDICINE FOR BANNING WEBCAM ABORTIONS

An Iowa judge has called for a full trial before deciding whether to end webcam abortions in the state, which is where the procedure originated.

The Iowa Board of Medicine made the decision to ban webcam or telemed abortions effective this week prompting Planned Parenthood to file a lawsuit.

Jenifer Bowen, who heads Iowa Right to Life, says the Judge Karen Romando placed a temporary injunction on the Board of Medicine’s decision, which was made in August.

Romano is also likely to preside at the trial.

After the decision, Bowen checked social media and chatted with ardent pro-aborts who were lauding the decision and pushed back against Bowen’s warnings.

“You know, when I mentioned that there were at least 14 women who have died from complications of chemical abortions, I was accused of using those women as props,” Bowen tells OneNewsNow.

Bowen also noted on social media that more than 2,200 women have been injured or have severely hemorrhaged, and again she was  accused of using women as “props.”

The Iowa Right to Life spokesman suggests that shows a lack of concern, since there are grieving families because of the deaths and serious injuries, and babies that were killed because of chemical abortions.

Bowen says abortion chemicals are dangerous, and she is looking forward to the trial date. (Contributor: By Charlie Butts for One News Now)

Once again, Planned Parenthood officials show their true colors in wanting to perpetuate all portions of the abortion industry that might produce additional revenues despite the discomfort and anguish such procedures can cause abortion victims. Give thanks for this action by the Iowa Right-to-Life ministry in trying to suppress needless and unnecessary abortion “publicity” to those who suffer in the aftermath of such trauma. Pray for a successful verdict in the forthcoming trial, perhaps yet another step in exposing abortionists and the industry for what it truly is.

“The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:11-12)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013

November 6th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

 

TOWN COUNCIL PRAYER CONTROVERSY AT SUPREME COURT TODAY

A pastor at the center of one of this year’s most watched Supreme Court cases will attend arguments before the justices today, Wednesday, November 6, 2013, at 10:00 AM.

The Reverend Patrick Madeiros (Mah’-dare-ose) is Lead Pastor of Greece Assembly of God, a congregation in Greece, NY, and has been a frequent guest clergy member at his local town council meetings. Over the past fourteen years, Pastor Madeiros has delivered countless opening prayers before council meetings. On Wednesday the justices will hear arguments by attorneys for the town that it has a right to continue the prayers. Lawyers for two atheists will assert that the public prayers infringe on their clients’ rights not to believe in God.

Pastor Madeiros traveled from Greece, New York, to Washington, DC, on Tuesday, November 5, where he met over dinner with the Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck (Shank) of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital and chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. The two discussed continuing strategies for preserving the American tradition of public prayers by clergy. This morning, Pastor Madeiros accompanied Rev. Schenck to the High Court to listen to oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, Susan, et al (12-696) Immediately following arguments, the pastor will make comments to the media with Rev. Schenck, and will participate in a news conference and prayer service on the sidewalk in front of the court building.

Rev. Schenck said about Pastor Madeiros and the prayers he offers at his town council meetings:

“Pastor Pat, as everyone knows him, is one of the warmest and most considerate people I have ever met. He is beloved by his congregation and by many, many others. His prayers at town council meetings are only the most visible contributions Pastor Pat makes to the community he loves. It is wrong for the courts to ban a long-held, widely accepted practice that has been going on in legislatures at every level in our country since its birth, and it is even more wrong to deny community faith leaders like Pastor Pat the freedom to pray according to the dictates of their own beliefs and consciences. There are many, many Christians in the town of Greece, but only a few atheists. Under the guarantee of the First Amendment, all parties have equal rights before the law. You can’t take away the rights of Christians in favor of preserving the rights of atheists.” (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

More Reading: Supreme Decision: Public Prayer Faces Most Serious Threat to Date – The  Congressional Prayer Foundation

This case has been followed through the courts, and now, the Supreme Court has opportunity to declare that religious speech, including public prayer, does not violate anyone’s rights. Public prayer and freedom to speak of one’s faith have been cornerstone rights since the founding of our nation. Pray that Christians will not succumb to fear in their public witness to the Gospel. Pray that the wider body of Christ will come forth strongly in expressing full confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture as the power of God. Ask God to sovereignly overrule all evil forces that would suppress God-given freedoms.

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

“And [the religious leaders] called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:18-20)

PRAY FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – NOVEMBER 10

In the traditional church calendar, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stand out in the month of November, set apart to remember the saints of the church and the souls of those who departed this world. It is fitting, then, that the modern church has set apart the month of November to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

Believers in countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam face violence, imprisonment and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. There are other places in the world such as North Korea where acts of persecution take place, but we don’t see or hear of it. Brother Andrew of Open Doors once said: ‘Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison.’

IDOP is a time set apart for us to remember thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

This year our focus includes the plight of Christians in India, who are suffering increasing persecution by militants who want a Hindu-only India. Please download the new 7-minute Free to Follow video (see below), and make use of the prayers for India, as well as those for Nigeria and Azerbaijan.

We invite you to explore the variety of resources on this website and hope you will join Christians worldwide in praying for persecuted Christians this November.

7-minute Free to Follow video <7 Minute Video>

Read More on IDOP Website.

 

BELGIUM: EUTHANASIA TO CHILDREN, DEMENTIA PATIENTS

Belgium is considering children having the right to ask for their own deaths!

In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.

Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives.

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart.

Only a few countries have legalized euthanasia or anything approaching it. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent (there is an understanding that infants, too, can be euthanized, and that doctors will not be prosecuted if they act appropriately). Elsewhere in Europe, euthanasia is only legal in Luxembourg. Assisted suicide, where doctors help a patient to die but do not actively kill them, is allowed in Switzerland.

In the U.S., the state of Oregon also grants assisted suicide requests for residents aged 18 or over with a terminal illness.

In Belgium, the ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right of euthanasia. The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights if it passes. A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months.

In the meantime, the Senate has heard testimony on both sides of the issue.

“It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die,” Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard testified.

Leonard said alternatives like palliative sedation make euthanasia unnecessary — and relieves doctors of the burden of having to kill patients. In palliative sedation, patients are sedated and life-sustaining support is withdrawn so they starve to death; the process can take days.

But the debate has extended to medical ethicists and professionals far from Belgium. Charles Foster, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.

“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”

There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children.

“The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. “It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others (children) if the need is equal.”

And Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric oncologist at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital, says the changes would legalize what is already happening informally. He said cases of euthanasia in children are rare and estimates about 10 to 100 cases in Belgium every year might qualify.

“Children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they’re terminally sick,” van Berlaer said. “Sometimes it’s a sister who tells us her brother doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution,” he said. “Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we’re not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways.”

The change in the law regarding people with dementia is also controversial.

People now can make a written declaration they wish to be euthanized if their health deteriorates, but the request is only valid for five years and they must be in an irreversible coma. The new proposal would abolish the time limit and the requirement the patient be in a coma, making it possible for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to be put to death years later in the future.

In the Netherlands, guidelines allow doctors to euthanize dementia patients on this basis if they believe the person is experiencing “unbearable suffering,” but few are done in practice.

Dr. Patrick Cras, a neurologist at the University of Antwerp, said people with dementia often change their minds about wanting to die.

“They may turn into different people and may not have the same feelings about wanting to die as when they were fully competent,” he said. “I don’t see myself killing another person if he or she isn’t really aware of exactly what’s happening simply on the basis of a previous written request (to have euthanasia). I haven’t fully made up my mind but I think this is going too far.”

Penney Lewis, a professor and medical law expert at King’s College London, agreed that carrying out euthanasia requests on people with dementia once they start to worsen could be legally questionable.

“But if you don’t let people make decisions that will be respected in the future, including euthanasia, what you do is encourage people to take their own life while they have the capacity or to seek euthanasia much earlier,” she said.

In the past year, several cases of Belgians who weren’t terminally ill but were euthanized — including a pair of 43-year-old deaf twins who were going blind and a patient in a botched sex change operation — have raised concerns the country is becoming too willing to euthanize its citizens. The newest proposals have raised eyebrows even further.

“People elsewhere in Europe are focused on assisted dying for the terminally ill and they are running away from what’s happening in Belgium,” Lewis said. “If the Belgian statutes go ahead, this will be a key boundary that is crossed.” (Contributor: By Associated Press)

How we need to intercede and cry out to God for a spiritual restoration in our own country that would give us back the value of each human life. Francis Schaeffer warned us prophetically through his writings and sermons in the last century that the “social killing” would start with abortion. He said that if a society indulged itself in the casual abortion trade (and it is a big business), so that the taking of human life from the womb was practiced easily and wantonly, what would inevitably follow – and soon – would be a similar devaluing of the life of the elderly, the infirm, the weak, those who were a burden on society, on the economy, on their families, and so on. The “culture of death” becomes a habit in a decadent society. Euthanasia means nothing more than a cleansing of society’s dregs, its “excess baggage,” as it were. Let us pray and let loved ones know that we value them and will do what we can to preserve and strengthen life until God intervenes to take them to Himself.

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deut. 30:19)

 

UK PM UNVEILS PLANS FOR ISLAMIC MARKET INDEX

Prime Minister David Cameron is taking strides to tap the burgeoning interest in Islamic finance, announcing the launch of a new Islamic Market Index in London and plans for Britain to be the first non-Muslim country to issue an Islamic bond.

Describing London as “already the biggest center for Islamic finance outside the Islamic world,” Cameron said Tuesday that the U.K.’s ambition is to go further.

“I don’t just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world,” he told an audience of international political and business leaders in London. “I want London to stand alongside Dubai as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the World.”

Islamic finance conforms to Islamic law, or Shariah, which forbids charging interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Speculation is banned, as is dealing in futures. Although still small compared with the world of mainstream finance, Islamic finance is expected to hold growing appeal for Gulf investors seeking to invest oil revenue or pious Muslims who want retail Islamic banking services.

The market in Islamic investments has grown quickly since 2006, and its value is expected to hit 1.3 trillion pounds ($2 trillion) next year. Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is regarded as its hub, but London has been courting the industry aggressively.

Cameron made a case for mutual benefits in his address Tuesday at the World Islamic Economic Forum, which for the first time is being held in a non-Muslim country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were among the nearly 1,800 political and business leaders attending the meeting. King Abdullah II of Jordan told delegates that Muslims worldwide needed to join economic blocs, follow open market trends and engage their country’s youth. Frustrated unemployed youth were a major driver of the revolutions that rocked the Arab world in 2011 and beyond.

“The business world must make it a priority to answer the needs of young people everywhere, for jobs, good jobs, secure futures and the opportunity to excel,” he said.

The London index — which would track the ups-and-downs of Shariah-compliant investments — is being launched on the London Stock Exchange. Cameron also said plans are underway to make Britain the first country outside of the Muslim world to issue an Islamic bond. It is expected to be worth around 200 million pounds and issued next year.

“For years people have been talking about creating an Islamic bond — or sukuk — outside the Islamic world. But it’s never quite happened,” Cameron said. “Changing that is a question of pragmatism and political will. And here in Britain we’ve got both.”

Alex Conroy, a trader at Spreadex, said that the U.K.’s effort to diversify business could be seen as a way to stay competitive in the finance world as Britain faces the prospect of caps on bankers’ bonuses.

“By welcoming all foreign investment this should ensure London remains a leader in global finance,” he said in a note. (Contributor: Cassandra Vinograd for Associated Press – Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.)

Our broader prayer focus: American intercessors are no doubt aware of growing Islamic influence and economic power in the international marketplace and the contrasting decline in U.S. influence and global leadership. Instead of leading the way, our nation is faltering and groping for the image of strength and moral purpose it once possessed. So let us pray for our country’s foundations to be restored. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. Intercede for God’s mercy on the United States, and pray for sweeping spiritual renewal in the Church. When the Church gets it right with God, it is then in a position to address social, moral, spiritual and economic issues in society. Derek Prince taught us, “If you win the battle in the spiritual realm, you have won the battle – period.”

“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon,”  (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

BOLTON: ISRAEL MUST MAKE ‘FATEFUL DECISION’ ON IRAN STRIKE

Israel does not have much time to make a “fateful decision” about whether to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Sunday in a radio interview.

“Israel, I think, now faces the fateful decision whether it will allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, thus constituting a true existential threat to Israel,” he said.

“Or whether they will strike as the Israelis have done twice before against nuclear programs in the hands of hostile states,” Bolton told WABC Radio’s Aaron Klein.

“I don’t think Israel has much time,” Bolton continued. “Frankly, they should have done this years ago because we all know intelligence is imperfect and Iran may have a more developed capacity than we know about, perhaps in cooperation with North Korea.”

Bolton spoke amid U.S. outreach to Iran and amid reports Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced Saturday they are committed to the slogan, “Death to America.”

The former U.N. ambassador reacted to a statement by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said Thursday the while U.S. has “implemented unprecedented sanctions and pressure on Iran, we may very well have to use military force to back up our policy.”

Bolton retorted: “If there is anybody left in Israel who thinks that the U.S. will use military force against Iran’s program, they really need to seriously re-examine their basic values. It isn’t going to happen under the Obama administration. I’ll just say it again. It isn’t going to happen.” (Contributor: World Net Daily)

First, let us give thanks. God’s mercy is evident all over the Middle East. That part of the world has been extremely volatile for months. Yet it has not exploded into the mutual destruction we might have seen. Yes, there is still brutality, lots of fighting, and many casualties. But Syria has capitulated on its nerve gas without the U.S. shooting rockets; Iran has not attacked Israel head-on, despite its hatred; and Egypt’s tensions have remained within its borders. All this is evidence that much intercessory prayer has prevailed, so let us continue to pray. We do not know what will happen, but we can offer thanks for what has not happened. Still, Israel might act unilaterally, so we must pray. Intercessors have continued to stand in the gap. Let us remember that there are many Christians there, and the Church, both visible and underground, is very much at work to see even more souls of men and women being saved.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

SUCCESSOR TO THE SR-71 BLACKBIRD – SR-72

The SR-71, arguably the country’s most recognizable spy plane after the U-2, was retired in 1998. But like many human retirees of the same generation, what became known as the Blackbird has had a healthy post-retirement career. From appearances in the “X-Men” franchise to cameos in the “Transformers” series, this super-speedy jet has taken off in modern popular culture.

So it’s only natural that the Blackbird’s successor might inspire similar appeal. More than a decade after the last SR-71 was decommissioned; Lockheed Martin has unveiled the gorgeous-looking SR-72. It flies just as far and twice as fast as its predecessor — and, in a twist, it’s now lethal, according to Aviationweek:

The SR-72 is being designed with strike capability in mind. “We would envision a role with over-flight ISR, as well as missiles,” Leland says. Being launched from a Mach 6 platform, the weapons would not require a booster, significantly reducing weight. The higher speed of the SR-72 would also give it the ability to detect and strike more agile targets. “Even with the -SR-71, at Mach 3, there was still time to notify that the plane was coming, but at Mach 6, there is no reaction time to hide a mobile target. It is unavoidable ISR,” he adds.

The jet accelerates by way of a two-part system. A conventional jet turbine helps boost the aircraft up to Mach 3, at which point a specialized ramjet takes over and pushes the plane even faster into hypersonic mode.

From Lockheed’s mock-ups, there doesn’t appear to be a bubble for the pilot — which suggests a windowless cockpit or fantasies about a future unmanned version of the plane. (Contributor: By Brian Fung for The Washington Post)

Our prayer here is to look forward to a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares – at least figuratively. Man builds bigger and better weapons, more costly and more deadly. But God rules in heaven and on earth. Continue to intercede for the coming day when the Prince of Peace rules with no rival. The nations are His, and all will bow before Him. Meanwhile, let us be thankful for opportunity to pray and evangelize. Our own nation is a vast mission field. Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers out to bring in the harvest.

“He [God] will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)

“Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places.” (Psalm 135:6)

“But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

 

BUSINESSES SUFFER FROM A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY, STUDY SHOWS

Security vendor McAfee says that small and midsize businesses are suffering from a false sense of security, basing their claims on a recent study conducted with Office Depot. Those who took part in the study showed a high degree of confidence that their data and devices were safe from attackers, despite industry research and evidence that proves otherwise.

McAfee’s claims come from the 1000 SMBs participated in the Office Depot Small Business Index in September. According to the data, 66 percent of the SMB owners who took part were confident that their data and devices were secure and safe from criminal hackers, with 77 percent reporting that their organizations have never been attacked.

According to the 2013 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 40 percent of the incidents examined involved businesses with fewer than 1000 employees, and a majority of them were in the retail or food service industry.

When asked for details, 80 percent of the respondents to Office Depot’s survey admitted to not using data protection. Only about half of them confirmed that they’re using email and Internet security measures. And almost all of them—91 percent—said they don’t use endpoint or mobile device security. Yet, the frightening admission comes from the 14 percent of SMB owners who said they haven’t implemented security measures of any kind in their environment.

“A business that doesn’t have any security measures in place is putting their data and customers’ trust in jeopardy. As enterprises have increased their security defenses, hackers have started to target their attacks downstream to SMBs,” said Bill Rielly, senior vice president of SMB at McAfee.

Your solutions may vary

As incident research gets stronger, organizations are waking up to the fact that single sets of best practices cannot be applied to businesses of all sizes, across industries of all types. Criminals have long targeted the low-hanging fruit, and over the last few years, SMBs have filled that role. But while having no security at all is a step backward, unless the solution is geared towards the organization’s goals and needs, designing and implementing a defensive posture can become a costly, daunting task. In fact, Verizon makes note of this in their most recent DBIR.

“Any attempt to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to securing our assets may result in leaving some organizations under-protected from targeted attacks while others potentially over-spend on defending against simpler opportunistic attacks,” the report explains.

As an example, the report notes that businesses in the retail and food service sectors should focus on the basics as attackers routinely target poorly configured remote administration services and POS systems, but the basics are not enough for the finance and insurance sectors that have to contend with physical attacks as well as those aimed at critical Web applications and services.

Organizations in the engineering, manufacturing, IT services, and consulting sectors also have a different set of issues to deal with, because they face an entirely different set of attacks aimed at exploiting human weaknesses (social engineering).

“Cyber attacks on small businesses rarely make headlines, so it is easy for these business owners to be lulled into a false sense of security, as indicated in this survey. It is especially important for small business owners to secure their systems, as they may not have the resources to survive a cyber attack, unlike a large corporation,” Congressman Chris Collins (R-New York), said in a statement. (Contributor: By Steve Ragan for PCWorld)

This article speaks of small business and the need for data security and cyber security. But in the U.S., businesses will need more far-reaching security to survive and prosper. Pray for our nation. May there be a return to God. Looking at all basic parameters for a busy, successful, thriving nation, where business, when planned well and operated by sound principles, should succeed in the greatest nation ever blessed by God, we see instead many signs of languishing, of hopelessness, of a rapid slide toward mediocrity and even lower. We want our “land” to be healed, yet we need much healing within the larger Church as well. We want the blessing of God on our country. So while business is our focus, let us pray for the atmosphere in which business may develop and prosper.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall directyour paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6)

 

SCHOOL BAN ON RELIGIOUS CAROLS DRAWS CHALLENGE

Silent night, indeed.

A New Jersey school district is facing pressure this week to reverse a new edict that bans religious songs and carols from being used in upcoming holiday concerts.

J. Matthew Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, has asked the Bordentown Regional School District to rescind its policy that “likely crosses [a] constitutional line” by excluding religious music, regardless of its demonstrated cultural value and educational merit.

“Schools are going overboard by banning Christmas songs and carols,” Mr. Sharp said in the letter to school district officials. “… Nothing in the Constitution requires this to be banned. It is an overreaction from schools to think that these things are not allowed.”

Citing in part a 2004 state court ruling, Bordertown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement Oct. 18 notifying Peter Muschal Elementary School that some musical selections for the school’s winter concerts were being questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary programs.”

But Mr. Sharp said school administrators were misinterpreting what the courts have ruled.

“Because singing a wide variety of religious songs, particularly during the holiday season, is simply a result of the dominance of religious music in this field, courts have never considered this fact to either unconstitutionally advance or endorse religion,” he said.

A similar ban nearly took place at a public school in Wausau, Wis., where district officials proposed that the number of religious songs in holiday shows be cut down. Phil Buch, the chair of Wausau West High School protested by temporarily disbanding the school’s Master Singers music ensemble.

Local media reported the story but it eventually made its way into national news. With the weight of national attention and anger the school board backed down and permitted the director’s original choices of music for now. On Tuesday, the student choir began practicing its music again, and the Alliance Defending Freedom claimed victory.

The conservative legal group is now turning its attention to Bordentown’s board of education in its attempts to remove the banning of religious songs.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled on the issue in 2004, after local parent Michael Stratechuk sued the district, claiming the policy violated the constitutional rulings on the separation of church and state.

The judges said public school administrations have the authority to choose which songs are appropriate based on constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”

“The Third Circuit ruled that while the First Amendment does not require schools to include religious music, neither does it prohibit schools from including religious music,” Mr. Sharp said. “What the First Amendment does require is that the Bordentown Regional School District remains neutral towards religion and refrains from demonstrating an unconstitutional hostility towards songs with religious origins.”

Furthermore, Mr. Sharp argued that banning everything related to religion will lead to further complications for schools who wish to teach Shakespeare, certain philosophies and even early American history.

“Our culture is infused with religion,” he said. “Even though the songs have a religious origin, that doesn’t mean they should be banned in school.” (Contributor:  By Matthew Lounsberry for The Washington Times)

Prayer points: Let us say kindly that these lawsuits and protests are brought by self-centered and short-sighted persons who lack both logic and a sense of history. Handel’s Messiah, for example, is music for the ages, and while opinions vary on why King George II of England stood to his feet upon hearing the opening strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus” (and thus, everyone else in the audience stood as well, out of respect for the king), it has become a deeply entrenched tradition of respect for the sacred, and certainly a tribute to Jesus Christ among Christian audiences. Next, we might suppose to hear a protest about writing the date on one’s checks or contracts because A.D., from the Latin, means “In the year of our Lord.” Let us pray for reason to return to the discussion. How can a Christian remember and celebrate Christmas without Christmas music? Pray accordingly.

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15)

 

CRYPTOLOCKER CREATORS EXTORT EVEN MORE MONEY FROM VICTIMS

The creators of CryptoLocker, a piece of malware that encrypts user data and holds it for ransom, are giving users who removed the malicious program from their computers a second chance to recover their files, but at a much higher cost.

CryptoLocker is a malicious program that falls into a category of malware called ransomware. Once installed on a computer, ransomware applications typically prevent victims from accessing their files or even their operating system until they pay money to the malware authors.

Security researchers generally advise users against giving into this kind of extortion and in many cases there is a way to regain access to everything without paying up.

However, CryptoLocker uses solid public-private key cryptography to encrypt files that match a long list of extensions, including documents, spreadsheets, images and even AutoCAD design files. According to researchers from antivirus firm Sophos, the malware’s creators got the encryption process right and there’s no method to get the decryption keys, which are unique for every computer and are stored on attackers’ servers, without paying up.

After it infects a computer, CryptoLocker displays a message informing victims that if they don’t pay the equivalent of $300 or €300 in Bitcoins, a virtual currency, or via MoneyPak, a type of prepaid card, within 72 hours, the unique decryption key for the files will be automatically destroyed.

Users who regularly back up their data can clean their computers and restore the affected files from backups, but users who don’t have backups should consider those files lost, the Sophos researchers said.

Some files might be recoverable using the Shadow Copy technology, which is is an integral part of the System Restore feature in Windows.

However, even users who have backups might realize that they’re not enough to repair the damage done by the malware. Those backups might be too old or they might not include files from remote network shares that have also been encrypted by the malware.

It seems that the creators of CryptoLocker considered that possibility and realized that some users might have initially removed the malware, but then, for whatever reason, changed their mind about paying up. As a result, they’ve recently started offering an online decryption service that allow such users to still recover their files, but at a much higher price.

“Apparently the crooks will now let you buy back your key even if you didn’t follow their original instructions,” Paul Ducklin, the head of technology for the Asia-Pacific region at Sophos, said Monday in a blog post. “Word on the street, however, is that the crooks want five times as much as they were charging originally to decrypt your data after you change your mind.”

The cost of using the service is 10 Bitcoins—around $2300 at the current Bitcoin exchange rate—and requires users to upload one of their encrypted files. The first 1024 bytes of the file will be used to search for the associated private key, a process that can take up to 24 hours.

“We’re guessing that the delay is because the crooks have to run a brute force attack against themselves,” Ducklin said. “Without your public key to help them match up your keypair in their database, it sounds as though they have to try to decrypting your data with every stored private key until they hit one that produces a plausible result.”

However it’s not immediately clear whether using this service is still possible after the initial 72-hour deadline given by the malware. If it is, then the cybercriminals lied and the private keys are not being destroyed after that time period.

This decryption service might have also been created for users whose antivirus programs detected and deleted the malware after it encrypted the files, leaving them unable to buy the decryption key anymore.

“We’re still saying, ‘don’t buy,’ but we’re feeling your pain enough to know how tempting it will be for some people to pay the crooks, even though the blackmail charges have now ballooned to more than $2000,” Ducklin said. (Contributor: By Lucian Constantin for IDG News Service)

For our prayer focus, here is a good example where “faith and works” come into balance. We would like to pray one prayer and have all malicious and dishonest persons repent and turn from their evil ways and all wicked computer viruses be rendered harmless, but we soon find that is generally not how God works. So we do pray for divine protection and we also back up data and invest in strong virus-detection software. This is not to belittle prayer. It is to say that mature intercessors see prayer as a relationship with a loving God and Father, not as a method to get things to go our way.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”  (2 Tim. 3:13-14)

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version