On Watch in Washington April 16, 2014

April 15th, 2014

On Watch in Washington April 16, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

FOUR BLOOD MOONS: SIGN OF ‘WORLD-SHAKING EVENT’

The heavens are putting on a celestial show this week — and one Christian pastor is convinced it’s a sign from God.

Bestselling author and televangelist Pastor John Hagee says the four blood moons that will soon appear in the skies over America are evidence of a future “world-shaking event.”

The blood moons are part of a tetrad, a set of complete and consecutive lunar eclipses that will begin on April 15 and continue in roughly six-month intervals until October 2015.

According to NASA, seeing four complete lunar eclipses in a row is very rare. The skies were tetrad-free from 1600 to 1900. But in the 21st century, there will be many.

What’s even stranger is that Americans have a front row seat.

“The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA,” NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak told CNN.

Hagee, founder of Texas’ Cornerstone Church, thinks this is no coincidence. For him, it’s a sign of the end times.

The 73-year-old preacher has been preparing for the tetrad for years. He released a book about the blood moons last October and will go in depth about his speculations during a special TV event on April 15 on the Global Evangelism Television channel.

He points to Acts 2:19-20, which reads, “And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

In sermons to his flock, Hagee said that each of the blood moons happens on a religiously significant day.

The April 15 event happens during Passover. On Oct. 8, the blood moon will occur during the Feast of Tabernacles. Another blood moon will occur during Passover on April 4, 2015. The last will happen on Sept. 28, 2015, another Feast ot the Tabernacles.

For proof of his theory, Hagee finds connections between past tetrads and important events in the life of the Jewish people.

In 1493, a tetrad occurred while the Jews were being expelled from Spain. Another tetrad occurred in 1949, soon after the state of Israel was founded. The last tetrad happened in 1967, during the Six-Day War between Arabs and Israelis.

“Just as in biblical times, God is controlling the sun, the moon, and the stars to send our generation a signal that something big is about to happen. The question is: Are we watching and listening to His message?” Hagee writes in his book. (Contributor: By Carol Kuruvilla for the NY Daily News)

Intercessors have been praying and will continue to intercede for whatever event or events God has planned in relation to this eclipse pattern over the next two years. It will be consistent for us to continue to pray in unity for another national Great Awakening to revive the Church, that clear Gospel preaching, teaching, and witnessing will lead many to salvation in what the Apostles and Church Fathers called “these last days.” We must not predict but we may expect God to reveal Himself. The Scripture from Joel’s prophecy is applied by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. 

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:17-21)

 

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC REPORT ON THE LUNAR EVENT

The first total lunar eclipse in more than two years graced the skies this past Monday, and it was all the more rare because it was visible above the entire Western Hemisphere.

During the overnight hours of April 14-15, skygazers there had a front-row seat as the full moon is painted red, creating what many call a “blood moon,” as Earth’s shadow creeps across the lunar disk.

Lunar eclipses are exciting because [God through] nature puts on a free show for everyone to enjoy, and it causes us to look back at the sky and reexamine our place in the solar system and beyond.

Lunar eclipses occur only when there is a full moon and the sun, Earth, and moon are precisely aligned for our planet’s shadow to turn out the lunar lights.

During a lunar eclipse, the moon passes behind our planet so that Earth blocks the sun’s rays from striking the moon. Due to the moon’s tilted orbit around the Earth, one doesn’t occur every month. And total eclipses usually happen once every few years, though there are sometimes more than one in a year.

“Since the moon’s orbit around the Earth is slightly inclined, it doesn’t pass through the shadow every month, therefore every year we get an eclipse twice a year—very rarely we can get up to five,” said Samra.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar ones are safely visible to the unaided eye. (A solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the Earth and the sun and blocks the disk of the sun.)

Lunar eclipses have been considered an awe-inspriring sky event for millenia, and ancient astronomers could do rudimentary but fundamental science with them, says Samra.

“Many cultures have mythologies associated with lunar eclipses so there has always been interest in the eclipses,” said Samra. “The ancient Greeks were able to use the Earth’s shadow cast on the moon to predict the approximate relative sizes of the two bodies.”

Lunar eclipses make the scene in skies over heavily populated cities and towns, making next week a special event for all sky-watchers. Here’s our viewing guide:

Why was this eclipse so noteworthy?

Beyond its occurrence over two heavily populated continents, this week’s event kicked off a lunar eclipse tetrad (group of four). For two years, a lunar eclipse will occur over the Western Hemisphere every six months. In addition to this past April 14, mark your calendars for this October 8 and for April 4 and September 28, 2015.

If you were clouded out or on the wrong side of the Earth for this month’s eclipse, don’t fret. You can watch the entire disappearing act online, via a robotic telescope webcast from the SLOOH Observatory live feeds from throughout North America including the Prescott Observatory in Prescott, Arizona.

Why does the moon turn orange-red during a lunar eclipse?

During an eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface.

As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color during the partial phase of the eclipse to a reddish-orange color during totality. The same effect is at work when the sun turns red at sunset.

The moon’s color during totality can vary considerably depending on the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. Active volcanoes spewing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere, for instance, can trigger blood-red eclipses.

No one can predict exactly what color we’ll see before each eclipse.

Who gets to see the sky show?

The best views will be from the entire North and South American continents and much of the Pacific Basin, including Hawaii. Eastern Australia got to see the second half of the show on the night of April 15, as the moon rose during totality.

Europe, Africa, and central Asia, meanwhile, missed the entire eclipse because it was daytime in those regions at the time of the event. (Contributor: National Geographic)

Here is some additional scientific data and explanation of the eclipse phenomena. It is interesting but not divine revelation. Intercessors have our “marching orders” from the Bible, which teaches us that we should “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). The follow Scripture describes how God would have His Church poised, awake from slumber, hear His Word, and obey His direction. Pray accordingly, as led. Let us all remain on “high alert” in the Spirit.

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:11-14)

 

NSA SAID TO EXPLOIT HEARTBLEED BUG FOR YEARS

The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agency’s reported decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts. The NSA, after declining to comment on the report, subsequently denied that it was aware of Heartbleed until the vulnerability was made public by a private security report earlier this month.

“Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Heartbleed appears to be one of the biggest flaws in the Internet’s history, affecting the basic security of as many as two-thirds of the world’s websites. Its discovery and the creation of a fix by researchers five days ago prompted consumers to change their passwords, the Canadian government to suspend electronic tax filing and computer companies including Cisco Systems Inc. to Juniper Networks Inc. to provide patches for their systems. (Contributor: By Andrew Fazekas for National Geograph)

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

Controversial Practice

“It flies in the face of the agency’s comments that defense comes first,” said Jason Healey, director of the cyber statecraft initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former Air Force cyber officer. “They are going to be completely shredded by the computer security community for this.”

Experts say the search for flaws is central to NSA’s mission, though the practice is controversial. A presidential board reviewing the NSA’s activities after Edward Snowden’s leaks recommended that the agency halt the stockpiling of software vulnerabilities.

When new vulnerabilities of the Heartbleed type are discovered, they are disclosed, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in response to the Bloomberg report. A clear process exists among agencies for deciding when to share vulnerabilities, the office said in a statement.

“This administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet,” Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for the office, said in the statement. “Unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need, this process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.”

Hunting Flaws

The NSA and other elite intelligence agencies devote millions of dollars to hunt for common software flaws that are critical to stealing data from secure computers. Open-source protocols like OpenSSL, where the flaw was found, are primary targets.

The Heartbleed flaw, introduced in early 2012 in a minor adjustment to the OpenSSL protocol, highlights one of the failings of open source software development.

While many Internet companies rely on the free code, its integrity depends on a small number of underfunded researchers who devote their energies to the projects.

In contrast, the NSA has more than 1,000 experts devoted to ferreting out such flaws using sophisticated analysis techniques, many of them classified. The agency found Heartbleed shortly after its introduction, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, and it became a basic part of the agency’s toolkit for stealing account passwords and other common tasks.

NSA Spying

The NSA has faced nine months of withering criticism for the breadth of its spying, documented in a rolling series of leaks from Snowden, who was a former agency contractor.

The revelations have created a clearer picture of the two roles, sometimes contradictory, played by the U.S.’s largest spy agency. The NSA protects the computers of the government and critical industry from cyber-attacks, while gathering troves of intelligence attacking the computers of others, including terrorist organizations, nuclear smugglers and other governments.

Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization.

One Agency

“If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.”

When researchers uncovered the Heartbleed bug hiding in plain sight and made it public on April 7, it underscored an uncomfortable truth: The public may be placing too much trust in software and hardware developers to insure the security of our most sensitive transactions.

“We’ve never seen any quite like this,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at Zscaler, a San Jose, California-based security firm. “Not only is a huge portion of the Internet impacted, but the damage that can be done, and with relative ease, is immense.”

The potential stems from a flawed implementation of protocol used to encrypt communications between users and websites protected by OpenSSL, making those supposedly secure sites an open book. The damage could be done with relatively simple scans, so that millions of machines could be hit by a single attacker.

Exploiting Flaw

Questions remain about whether anyone other than the U.S. government might have exploited the flaw before the public disclosure. Sophisticated intelligence agencies in other countries are one possibility.

If criminals found the flaw before a fix was published this week, they could have scooped up troves of passwords for bank accounts, e-commerce sites and e-mail accounts worldwide.

Evidence of that is so far lacking, and it’s possible that cybercriminals missed the potential in the same way security professionals did, suggested Tal Klein, vice president of marketing at Adallom, in Menlo Park, California.

The fact that the vulnerability existed in the transmission of ordinary data — even if it’s the kind of data the vast majority of users are concerned about — may have been a factor in the decision by NSA officials to keep it a secret, said James Lewis, a cybersecurity senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Determining Risk

“They actually have a process when they find this stuff that goes all the way up to the director” of the agency, Lewis said. “They look at how likely it is that other guys have found it and might be using it, and they look at what’s the risk to the country.”

Lewis said the NSA has a range of options, including exploiting the vulnerability to gain intelligence for a short period of time and then discreetly contacting software makers or open source researchers to fix it.

The SSL protocol has a history of security problems, Lewis said, and is not the primary form of protection governments and others use to transmit highly sensitive information.

“I knew hackers who could break it nearly 15 years ago,” Lewis said of the SSL protocol.

That may not soothe the millions of users who were left vulnerable for so long.

Panel’s Recommendation

Following the leaks about NSA’s electronic spying, President Barack Obama convened a panel to review surveillance activities and suggest reforms. Among the dozens of changes put forward was a recommendation that the NSA quickly move to fix software flaws rather that exploit them, and that they be used only in “rare instances” and for short periods of time.

“If the NSA knows about a vulnerability, then often other nation states and even criminal organizations can exploit the same security vulnerability,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington. “What may be a good tool for the NSA may also turn out to be a tool for organizations that are less ethical or have no ethics at all.”

Currently, the NSA has a trove of thousands of such vulnerabilities that can be used to breach some of the world’s most sensitive computers, according to a person briefed on the matter. Intelligence chiefs have said the country’s ability to spot terrorist threats and understand the intent of hostile leaders would be vastly diminished if their use were prohibited. (Contributor: By Michael Riley for Bloomberg News)

The ultimate source of national security is not computers or surveillance, but from God, whose Word declares, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Ps. 33:12). But where is such a nation today? We learned through Abraham’s intercession that God would have spared Sodom if only 10 righteous were found there (Gen 18). Let this give us hope! Surely, there are thousands of righteous persons in the U.S. Pray for God’s mercy, asking Him to awaken His Church to unified prayer, with fasting, for a national turning back to Him. He knows all the secrets and holds the keys for mercy or judgment.

“Then [Abraham] said, ‘Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?’ And [God] said, ‘I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.’” (Gen. 18:32)

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

“For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3)

 

U.S. NAVY CHRISTENS USS ZUMWALT

The US Navy on Saturday christened the first of its newest class of destroyers – the more than $3 billion (£1.8 billion), 610-foot (186-metre)-long USS Zumwalt.

Named after the late Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, the warship sports advanced technology and a stealthy shape designed to minimise its visibility on enemy radar and reduce the size of its crew.

Among the 15,000-tonne destroyer’s cutting-edge features are a composite deckhouse with hidden radar and sensors and an angular shape that officials say will allow it to be confused for a small fishing boat on radars. It also has a wave-piercing hull designed to reduce the ship’s wake.

It’s the first US ship to use electric propulsion and produces enough power to one day support the futuristic electromagnetic rail gun, which will be tested at sea in 2016.

Rail guns fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound – enough velocity to cause severe damage. The Navy sees them as replacing or supplementing old-school guns.

In the future, it could also be fitted with even more advanced weaponry. This summer, the US Navy plans to test the viability of a laser weapon device in the Persian Gulf. It will be used to shoot down aerial drones at ultra-low cost – it is thought one shot of laser will cost about $1.

It is also hoped the Zumwalt will, like its reformer namesake who spearheaded changes that helped shape the Navy by offering new opportunities to women and minorities, shepherd the fleet into a new era, officials said.

“This ship is a modern marvel, and it’s going to take smart and creative and hardworking sailors like Bud Zumwalt to operate it,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told the crowd of thousands at Bath Iron Works, where the ship has been under construction since 2009.

Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers and Ann Zumwalt, the former admiral’s daughters, each christened the ship by smashing a bottle of champagne near its bow, followed by cheers and bursts of red, white and blue streamers. They were joined at the ceremony by Zumwalt’s son, retired Marine Lt. Col. Jim Zumwalt, who recalled 55 years ago, as a young boy, attending the christening of the USS Dewey, which his father commanded.

Inside, sailors will have more space to work and live because the Zumwalt will only require about half the crew of the current generation of destroyers. Meanwhile, fewer sailors will need to stand watch because of cameras and video monitors that show what’s going on outside.

That will allow the Navy to “carry out its crucial mission at a time of budget constraints,” said US Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

The Zumwalt was originally supposed to be christened in October, but the ceremony was rescheduled because of the federal government shutdown. The ship is expected to be delivered to the Navy late this year and to enter service in 2016. It will be joined by two other destroyers in its class, which are also being built in Bath. (Contributor: Antonia Molloy for The Independent -  Additional reporting by Associated Press)

Pray for God to give elected officials wisdom in stewarding the costs of maintaining national security through our military. He alone knows where our nation will be in 2016, when the USS Zumwalt has been outfitted, tested, and enters service. With growing national debt, as well as our budget straining and in need of balance, the country needs strong defense, coupled with thrifty use of its resources. Pray, too, for the moral concerns of military life, such as placing women in direct armed conflict, and the curtailed freedom of Christian chaplains to share the Gospel. When it was young, our nation sought God’s ways. Pray that we will return to those roots.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” (Luke 14:28-32)

 

ISRAEL TO PA: SUSPEND UN MOVE OR WE’LL TOUGHEN SANCTIONS

In wake of unilateral Palestinian move to seek further international recognition, Israel sends clear warning to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas • White House: Unilateral moves by both sides will not accelerate the peace process.

Israel has imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority in response to the PA’s recent submission of applications to 15 different international organizations and conventions.

An Israeli official said that Israel would deduct debt payments from tax transfers that the PA routinely receives, and limit the PA’s bank deposits in Israel.

The Israeli official said Israel had “decided this evening to deduct debts of the Palestinian Authority to Israel from tax revenue transfers,” but would not say what amounts were involved.

Israel has made it clear to the Palestinians that if they further pursue their unilateral moves in the international arena, Israel will escalate its own unilateral steps.

On Wednesday, Israel said it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, citing the unilateral move by the Palestinians to seek further international recognition. Israel also said it would suspend its participation in a gas exploration project off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Israel viewed that move as an attempt by the Palestinians to assume the trappings of statehood outside the framework of the U.S.-backed negotiations, which appear to be in danger of collapsing before an April 29 deadline.

Abbas, for his part, has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, the last group of about 100 Israel pledged to free, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed in July.

The revenues that Israel collects on goods bound for the Palestinian market amount to about $100 million a month and accounts for about two thirds of the Palestinian budget. Based on Israeli media reports, Palestinian debts to Israel for such services as electricity total at least a month’s worth of revenue.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the Israeli move “unfortunate” on Friday.

“We’ve seen these press reports, but we have not seen an official public announcement by the government of Israel. That said, we would regard such a development as unfortunate. We believe that the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy,” Psaki said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “Unilateral moves by both sides will not accelerate the peace process, but will rather do the opposite.”

The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the remarks made by American officials and, at this point, it is unclear where the efforts to keep the peace talks alive stand.

Senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said, “These sanctions will not scare us and they’re evidence to the world that Israel is a racist occupation state that has resorted to the weapon of collective punishment in addition to other practices including settlements and their expansion and the denial of our most basic rights as a people.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that “the Israeli decision to withhold these funds is piracy. … It cannot be maintained.”

Meanwhile, an Abbas adviser told The Economist magazine that the PA was in a no-win situation regarding the framework peace deal U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to formulate. “If we say yes, we are doomed,” because of the Palestinian ridicule that would ensue, the adviser said. “And if we say no we are doomed; the blame game is waiting for us as usual.” (Contributor: Israel Hayom)

There is nothing new here. American Christians must live with the fact that our government continues to pull back from its fair support of Israel. This observation should guide our prayers. We know God is fully in control and has an ultimate plan and purpose for each of the nations. This includes the preservation of Israel. Pray accordingly, asking God to remove the veil so Israel will turn to the Lord, recognizing Jesus as Messiah. Isaiah speaks of a future day when light will come to Israel and the glory of the Lord will again rise over His Old Testament people (see all of Isaiah 60).

“But their (Israel’s) minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Cor 3:14-16) 

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)

 

YOUNGER AMERICANS LOSE FAITH IN THE BIBLE

More Americans are doubting the infallibility of the Bible, treating it as a guidebook rather than the actual words of God, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The State of the Bible survey, conducted by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, shows that 19 percent of American adults are “skeptical” about the Bible and 19 percent are “engaged” with the book.

It’s the first time in the four years of the survey that the two groups are tied, with skeptics growing by 10 percentage points since 2011. The shift is attributed in large part to the growing doubts of the millennial generation and Generation X.

“I think young people have always questioned their parents, questioned the church,” said Roy Peterson, president of the American Bible Society. “In our experience, they may not necessarily be coming back like previous generations. Young people might have said, ‘God’s word is written by God, and it’s an important book.’ Today the skeptics are saying, ‘It’s just like any other piece of literature, and it’s no different from that.’”

Millennials, generally described as those born since 1980, are less likely to own, read and respect the Bible. Survey conductors predicted this trend would continue through the next five years.

“It is a concern for us,” Mr. Peterson said. “You know how ideologic we are when we’re young, hoping the church lives out what Jesus said to do, seeing the church meeting injustice and hurts of our society. We have to help people find answers in Scripture.”

Bible skepticism is on the rise. The survey showed that 79 percent of Americans believe the Bible is sacred, down from 86 percent in 2011.

The survey found that 88 percent of Americans have a Bible in their home, but only about 37 percent of them read it on a regular basis. Forty percent of respondents said the main reason they were not reading the Bible was that they were too busy. Other reasons included significant life changes or events that created doubt in the Bible owner’s faith.

Mr. Peterson said the “too busy” excuse will be a focus for the American Bible Society in the next year.

“It’s not possible to live to the standard of the Gospel without a vibrant relationship with the Lord,” he said. “No one is too busy to stop and eat; that’s really how we have to see the Scriptures. We have to disciple people to the point where they can’t live — can’t live their life — without Scripture.”

Another trend the survey found was a change in the way people read the Bible. Among Bible readers, 84 percent said they use print editions, but the share of people who use smartphones or tablets to access Scripture has increased from 18 percent to 35 percent since 2011.

About 11 percent of survey respondents who increased their Bible reading said that watching the successful TV miniseries “The Bible” last year inspired them to read more of the book on which it was based.

Also on the topic of media, about 33 percent of respondents, — compared with 29 percent last year — blamed television, music and movies for a decline in American morals. About one-third of those surveyed in 2013 blamed a lack of Bible reading as the problem, but that number dropped this year to 26 percent.

The survey of roughly 1,000 adults was conducted via phone and online Jan. 8-20. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

The California-based Barna Group conducts a variety of surveys and studies on faith and culture. Its work has included what sacrifices Christians make during Lent and how voters’ faith affects their decisions. (Contributor:  By Meredith Somers for The Washington Times)

This is a sobering report. Its focus for prayer is the Church, the body of Christ. May all of us first humble ourselves and pray without pointing at others. For perspective, every era in our nation’s history has seen spiritual decline. In each case, a remnant has stepped up with conviction to pray, with fasting, for national renewal, which God has granted. Will we press in again, as our forbears did, and ask God for wide-scale renewal? Let us seek Him. Consider first a Messianic Psalm that foretells our Lord’s victory with willing servants to move in God’s power. Then note that God’s grace redeems and renews!

“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be [willing] volunteers in the day of Your power…” (Psalm 110:1-3a)

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9)

 

 ‘WHY SCIENCE DOES NOT DISPROVE GOD’

In “Einstein, God, and the Big Bang,” a colorful chapter of his new book, Amir D. Aczel maintains that Albert Einstein truly believed in God. He points out that Einstein attended synagogue during his year in Prague (1913). He repeats several famous Einstein utterances mentioning the Deity: “Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not” and “I want to know God’s thoughts — the rest are details.” And he quotes from a letter the great physicist wrote to a little girl in January 1936: “Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.”

Aczel goes on to express strong displeasure with such people as physicist Lawrence Krauss and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (who, in his bestseller “The God Delusion,” says that Einstein “didn’t really mean it”) when they cast Einstein as an atheist in support of their diatribes against religious belief.

Dawkins; Krauss, with his bestseller “A Universe From Nothing”; and Sam Harris, with his bestseller “The End of Faith,” are prominent New Atheists, who use modern science to argue that God is not only unnecessary but unlikely to exist at all, even behind the curtains. There’s a certain religious fervor in all these books. Atheists, unite.

Aczel, trained as a mathematician, currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University and the author of “Fermat’s Last Theorem,” takes aim at the New Atheists in his intelligent and stimulating book “Why Science Does Not Disprove God.” He attempts to show that the New Atheists’ analyses fall far short of disproving the existence of God. In fact, he accuses these folks of staining the scientific enterprise by bending it to their dark mission. (“The purpose of this book is to defend the integrity of science,” he writes in his introduction.) Yet Aczel has a sly mission of his own. Invoking various physical phenomena that do not (yet) have convincing scientific explanations, he sets out not only to debunk the arguments of the New Atheists but also to gently suggest that the findings of science actually point to the existence of God.

In stockpiling his arguments, Aczel quotes from his interviews with dozens of leading scientists and theologians, and interprets statements in a range of popular writings. The resulting book is part science (interesting but superficial summaries of cosmology, quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, chaos theory), part history of religion, part philosophy, part spirituality, and a modicum of backbiting and invective. The latter applies to the writings of the New Atheists as well.

Let’s start with the origin of the universe. There is plenty of good scientific evidence that our universe began about 14 billion years ago, in a Big Bang of enormously high density and temperature, long before planets, stars and even atoms existed. But what came before? Krauss in his book discusses the current thinking of physicists that our entire universe could have emerged from a jitter in the amorphous haze of the subatomic world called the quantum foam, in which energy and matter can materialize out of nothing. (On the level of single subatomic particles, physicists have verified in the lab that such creation from “nothing” can occur.) Krauss’s punch line is that we do not need God to create the universe. The quantum foam can do it quite nicely all on its own. Aczel asks the obvious question: But where did the quantum foam come from? Where did the quantum laws come from? Hasn’t Krauss simply passed the buck? Legitimate questions. But ones we will probably never be able to answer.

In his foray into biology, Aczel says the theory of evolution is flawed. In particular, he points out that it does not explain altruistic behavior with no apparent survival benefit to the genes of the do-gooder. He cites a recent example of a Mount Everest climbing expedition in which an Israeli climber was well on his way to the top when he discovered a fallen Turkish climber who had lost his face mask and oxygen supply. At the cost of his own fingers and toes to frostbite, and sacrificing the glory of reaching the summit, the Israeli stopped and saved the life of the Turkish fellow. Why did he do it? “Human decency and goodness,” Aczel writes, with the implication that such qualities come from religion and spirituality. (In another chapter, he explains how a code of morality developed in early religions.)

Aczel discusses the mysteries of “emergent” phenomena — when a complex system exhibits a qualitative behavior that cannot be explained in terms of the workings of its individual parts: for example, the emergence of self-replicating life from inanimate molecules or the emergence of consciousness from a collection of connected neurons. He writes, “The inexplicability of such emergent phenomena is the reason why we cannot disprove the idea of some creative power behind everything.”

I disagree. It is not the inability of science to explain some physical phenomenon that shows we cannot disprove the existence of a creative power (i.e., God). Science is a work in progress, and phenomena that science cannot explain now may be explained 100 years from now. Before the 18th century, people had no explanation for lightning. The reason that science cannot disprove the existence of God, in my opinion, is that God, as understood by all human religions, exists outside time and space. God is not part of our physical universe (although God may choose to enter the physical universe at times). God is not subject to experimental tests. Either you believe or you don’t believe.

Thus, no matter what scientific evidence is amassed to explain the architecture of atoms, or the ways that neurons exchange chemical and electrical signals to create the sensations in our minds, or the manner in which the universe may have been born out of the quantum foam, science cannot disprove the existence of God — any more than a fish can disprove the existence of trees. Likewise, no matter what gaps exist in current scientific knowledge, no matter what baffling good deeds people do, no matter what divine and spiritual feelings people have, theology cannot prove the existence of God. The most persuasive evidence of God, according to the great philosopher and psychologist William James in his landmark book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” (1902), is not physical or objective or provable. It is the highly personal transcendent experience.

There is one scientific conundrum that practically screams out the limitations of both science and religion. And that is the “fine tuning” problem. For the past 50 years or so, physicists have become more and more aware that various fundamental parameters of our universe appear to be fine-tuned to allow the emergence of life — not only life as we know it but life of any kind. For example, if the nuclear force were slightly stronger than it is, then all of the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than it is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together.

In another, even more striking example, if the cosmic “dark energy” discovered 15 years ago were a little denser than it actually is, our universe would have expanded so rapidly that matter could never have pulled itself together to form stars. And if the dark energy were a little smaller, the universe would have collapsed long before stars had time to form. Atoms are made in stars. Without stars there would be no atoms and no life.

So, the question is: Why? Why do these parameters lie in the narrow range that allows life? There are three possibilities: First, there might be some as-yet-unknown physics that requires these parameters to be what they are. But this explanation is highly questionable — why should the laws of physics care about the emergence of life? Second possibility: God created the universe, God wanted life (for whatever reasons), so God designed the universe so that it would allow life. Third possibility, and the one favored by many physicists today: Our universe is one of zillions of different universes with a huge range of parameters, including many different values for the strength of the nuclear force and the density of dark energy.

Some universes have stars and planets, some do not. Some harbor life, some do not. In this scenario, our universe is simply an accident. If our particular universe did not have the right parameters to allow the emergence of life, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. In a similar way, Earth happens to be at the right distance from the sun to have liquid water, a nice oxygen atmosphere and so on. We can ask why our planet has all these lovely properties, amenable to life. And the explanation is that there is nothing special or designed about Earth. Other planets exist. But if we lived on Mercury, where the temperature is 800 degrees, or on Neptune, where it is 328 degrees below zero, we could not exist. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that we cannot prove the existence of these other universes. We must accept their existence as a matter of faith.

And here we come to the fascinating irony of the fine-tuning problem. Both the theological explanation and the scientific explanation require faith. To be sure, there are huge differences between science and religion. Religion knows about the transcendent experience. Science knows about the structure of DNA and the orbits of planets. Religion gathers its knowledge largely by personal testament. Science gathers its knowledge by repeated experiments and mathematical calculations, and has been enormously successful in explaining much of the physical universe. But, in the manner I have described, faith enters into both enterprises.

Several years ago, I thought that the writings and arguments of such people as Dawkins and Aczel, attempting to disprove or prove the existence of God, were a terrible waste of calories. I have changed my mind. I now believe that the discussions of science and religion, even the attempts of one side to disprove the other, are part of the continuing and restorative conversation of humanity with itself. In the end, all of our art, our science and our theological beliefs are an attempt to make sense of this fabulous and fleeting existence we find ourselves in. (Contributor: By Alan Lightman for The Washington Post – Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist and professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT. His latest book is “The Accidental Universe.”)

Christians should love this article, copy it, and share it with saint and skeptic alike. First, it stimulates great praise and worship toward the true and living God. The hymn writer exclaimed, “Great God of wonders…” The glories of creation are prelude to the exceeding glories of redemption. Second, we feel compassion for both Professors Aczel and Lightman as they try to fathom the unfathomable. Pray that God may be pleased to “reveal His Son” to them and millions of others before the end of the age. Christians know we need not “prove” God, but a revived Church will demonstrate His glory in changed lives prepared for eternity. Pray fervently for the body of Christ to emerge in power.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood…” (Galatians 1:15-16) 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

On Watch in Washington April 16, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington April 9, 2014

April 9th, 2014

On Watch in Washington April 9, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

THE HEAVENS ARE SPEAKING

This month marks my 5th anniversary as president of Intercessors for America, and while I have never ventured into prophetic waters, followers of our ministry know IFA’s his­tory of reliability and accuracy. With that in mind, I offer a prophetic word for our day, believing we are about to see a great move of God. How do I know? Let us read God’s Word.

“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth…The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:30-31)

This prophecy, spoken by Joel centuries ago, had the same authority then as it did when Peter quoted it on the Day of Pentecost, and as it does today. Very rarely are there such obvious signs—or signals, as the Hebrew is often translated—pointing to a move of God. But Scripture is clear; at times the “heavens” tell us something is about to occur.

When Joel spoke of the sun turning dark, he no doubt referred to a solar eclipse. And if you have witnessed a lunar eclipse, you will remember that the moon turns red. So, the question is this: can we see, throughout history, certain times—remarkable historic sequences that only God could orchestrate—where this pattern of solar/lunar eclipses has occurred?

There have been many solar and lunar eclipses over the past 2,000 years, but there are only eight instances when lunar eclipses occurred exactly on Jewish holy days. All eight coincided with significant events for God’s people. The dates are noteworthy, as they occurred exactly on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover recalls God’s mercy of “passing over” homes with lamb’s blood applied to doorposts for protection of the firstborn on the night before the Israelites left Egypt. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates God’s provision for His people in the wilderness as they stayed in temporary tabernacles (or tents).
Let us trace what has happened in the past. When lunar eclipses occurred on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, significant events coincided with those eclipses each time.  Four lunar eclipses in two years is referred to as a “tetrad.”

1. Tetrad of 1967-1968. In 1967, tensions built between Israel and its neighbors with threats to drive the Jews “into the sea.” Israel was surrounded by almost 500,000 troops, including heavy artillery. Yet in six days, Israel claimed the victory, with only 779 casualties compared to 21,000 enemy casualties. Miraculous circumstances included bringing the Old City under Israeli control.

2. Tetrad of 1949-1950. With the conclusion of WW II, Israel was reborn in 1948. It was well into 1949 that the Israeli government moved into its offices and signed peace agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, establishing Israel’s borders. After centuries, the Jews existed again as a restored nation!

3. Tetrad of 1493-1494. During the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, concerns arose over the rising influence of the Jews in that country. Consequently, an inquisition process examined the scope of the issue. In 1492, Jews were ordered to leave Spain through the Edict of Expulsion. Given an August 1 deadline, they were not permitted to take their wealth with them. Accounts record that over 200,000 Jews were expelled. Many suffered duress and abuse.  As we recall the passage, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3), it is interesting to note that the prosperity Spain enjoyed before this time has not been seen since, even to the point where they have recently struggled with national bankruptcy.

The year 1492 is a very important year in Jewish history, just as it is in American history. In the first few days of August 1492, Spanish harbors were filled with Jews being evacuated. As Christopher Columbus left port on August 3, his ships passed the Jews’ boats as he set sail and would soon “discover” a land destined to become a safe haven for Jews for centuries to follow. As if marking the pain of Jewish rejection with the later birth of a nation that would be used of God like none other (for many Gospel purposes in addition to being a great ally of Israel), a series of the lunar tetrads began on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles in the following two years.

4. Tetrad of 860-861. This tetrad marked the halting of millions of Christians’ deaths at the hands of Arabs in Northern Africa and Spain with the Battle of Lalakaon.

5. Tetrad of 842-843. The Vatican’s treasuries were looted in an Islamic jihad attack just three years after this tetrad.

6. Tetrad of 795-796. This tetrad marked a significant shift in power as Charlemagne was able to create a buffer zone in modern day Spain and France that resulted in the halting of the Islamic invasion of the Moors.

7. Tetrad of 163-165. In 162 AD, before the first lunar eclipse, the Tiber River flooded its banks in the spring, wreaking havoc to the city of Rome and killing most animals resulting in severe famine. Two years later a plague broke out killing one-third of the Roman Empire.  This was also a time of great persecution in the Roman Empire under the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

8. Tetrad of 32-33. Historical records are not totally conclusive, but it is very possible that Jesus was crucified between a series of two lunar eclipses occurring on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles with a solar eclipse (“… there was darkness …” see Matt 27:45) on Passover in 33 AD.

These are the only instances when lunar eclipses occurred in the last 2,000 years, with significant happenings each time: the restoration of Israel as a
nation, the birth of the most Christian nation the world has ever known, devastation, destruction of the second (Herod’s) Temple, and possibly the crucifixion of our Savior.

As you can see, God “shows us wonders in heaven,” and we know that God “does nothing without first telling His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) There are many modern prophets worldwide that are recognizing the significance of these events.

The next occurrence is this month!  Passover 2014, April 14, will mark the first in a series of four lunar eclipses over the next two years occurring on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. The last eight times, something of major significance occurred. This phenomenon will not occur again for nearly 500 years.

To add even more interest (or warning), lunar eclipses on April 14, 2014 (Passover) and October 9 (Feast of Tabernacles) will take place on the EXACT DATES as did the 70 AD lunar eclipses on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Roman Army destroyed the second temple, ending more than 1,000 years of Jewish rule of Israel.  (These occurrences were not tetrads—a series of four—but instead a series of two lunar eclipses with remarkable timing, almost acting as exclamation points to this prophetic message for today.)

What will the message be, and how should we prepare?

First, we should have hope. After Joel pronounced his prophetic word, he concluded the section by saying, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved…there will be deliverance….” (Joel 2:32) We need not fear the future, but let us trust in the Lord.

Second, if there were ever a time to pray, it is now!  Those not aligned with the Word of God are especially vulnerable during the days ahead. Disobedient nations will expose themselves to times of great pain and anguish. We must pray 2 Chr 7:14 like never before. The Church must realize its own tenuous state and humbly seek the Lord with repentance.

What can we expect?  As most of you know, God has been doing an amazing work around the globe in the form of transforming revivals.  In these mighty moves of God, His divine presence comes into a community or region and changes everything.  The Church sees exponential rates of salvation, righteousness is brought back to government, godly cultural norms are established or renewed, and in many cases even the land is rejuvenated.

As the pace of these transformations seems to be accelerating around the globe (800+ to date), it is my prayer that we would see more revivals. We have only seen a handful in the U.S. We must pray that God would find the condition of the Church in the U.S. worthy to host His transforming presence. If you are interested in learning more about the transformation movement or want to know how to involve your community, please give us a call at 800-USA-PRAY.

Intercessors, now is the time to pray and watch for the heavens are speaking! (Contributor: By David Kubal —Resources for this article includes Four Blood Moons by the Rev. John Hagee and http://redmoonrapture.com/.

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:30-32)

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13)

 

EXECUTIVE ORDER PUSHES CONGRESS ASIDE

Lacking congressional support to raise wages or end gender pay disparities, President Barack Obama is again imposing his policies on federal contractors, in keeping with presidents’ tradition of exerting their powers on a fraction of the economy they directly control.

Obama will sign an executive order Tuesday barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other. The order is similar to language in a Senate bill aimed at closing a pay gap between men and women. That measure is scheduled for a vote this week, but is unlikely to pass.

The president also will direct the Labor Department to adopt rules requiring federal contractors to provide compensation data based on sex and race.

He plans to sign the two executive orders during an event at the White House where he will be joined by Lilly Ledbetter, whose name appears on a pay discrimination law Obama signed in 2009.

The moves showcase Obama’s efforts to seek action without congressional approval and demonstrate that even without legislation, the president can drive economic policy. At the same time, they show the limits of his ambition when he doesn’t have the support of Congress for his initiatives.

Republicans say Obama is pushing his executive powers too far and should do more to work with Congress. His new executive orders are sure to lead to criticism that he is placing an undue burden on companies and increasing their costs.

Federal contracting covers about one-quarter of the U.S. workforce and includes companies ranging from Boeing to small parts suppliers and service providers. As a result, presidential directives can have a wide and direct impact. Such actions also can be largely symbolic, designed to spur action in the broader economy.

“This really is about giving people access to more information both to help them make decisions at the policy level but also for individuals,” said Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. She has been working with the administration to get compensation information about the nation’s workforce.

“This is definitely an encouraging first step,” she said.

Federal contractors, however, worry that additional compensation data could be used to fuel wage related lawsuits, said James Plunkett, director of labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What’s more, he said, such orders create a two-tiered system where rules apply to federal contractors but not to other employers. Those contractors, knowing that their business relies on the government, are less likely to put up a fight, he said.

“Federal contractors ultimately know that they have to play nicely to a certain extent with the federal government,” he said.

In a separate action Monday, Obama intends to announce 24 schools that will share more than $100 million in grants to redesign themselves to better prepare high school students for college or for careers. The awards are part of an order Obama signed last year. Money for the program comes from fees that companies pay for visas to hire foreign workers for specialized jobs.

The moves represent a return to economic issues for the president after two weeks devoted almost exclusively to diplomacy and the final deadline for health insurance coverage. A trip to Asia in two weeks is sure to change the focus once again.

Still, Obama has declared this a year of action, whether Congress supports him or not.

In February, Obama signed an executive order increasing the hourly minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per to $10.10. While White House officials estimated such an increase would affect only a small percentage of federal contract workers, they said the move could encourage states or individual businesses to act on their own to increase workers’ wages.

Obama has also pushed his workplace initiatives beyond just federal contractors where possible.

Last month he instructed the Labor Department to come up with new workplace overtime rules for all employers, a power the administration has under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

But presidents have most direct power over the workforce that is paid with taxpayers’ money.

Obama’s go-it-alone strategy is hardly new.

The most enduring workplace anti-discrimination laws began with an executive order signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in June 25, 1941, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, creed and national origin in the federal government and defense industries.

President John F. Kennedy broadened that in 1961 with an order that required government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure hiring “without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.”

President George W. Bush also acted on his own when he ordered federal contractors to ensure that their workers were in the country legally by requiring the use of an electronic employment-verification system.

Jeffrey Hirsch, a former lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board, said presidential executive orders that affect federal contracting workforces can over time demonstrate that those practices are less onerous than initially imagined.

“It’s an important step in implementing things in a broader scale,” said Hirsch, now a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Through executive actions, Obama also has drawn attention to areas where he has chosen not to act on his own.

The White House has resisted pressure from gay rights advocates who want have Obama to sign an anti-discrimination executive order that would protect gays and lesbians working for federal contractors. The White House wants the House to approve a Senate-passed bill extending those protections to all Americans.

On Friday, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest homosexual rights group, criticized the White House for saying such an executive order would be redundant if Congress were to pass a White House-supported bill. It’s an argument the White House has not made when it comes to minimum wage or anti-”gag rule” orders imposed on federal contractors. (Contributor: Jim Kuhnhenn for Associated Press)

Modern Christians have sparse New Testament instruction to guide our intercession. What we do have, however, is clear and without equivocation. First, we must submit to human government, “for there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Disobedience is permissible only when one must choose between obeying God’s Word or man’s laws (Acts 4:18-20). Second, we are to intercede and give thanks for “all who are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1-4). On the basis of God’s sovereignty then, we pray for President Obama and all who govern. They are accountable to Almighty God, as are we all.

“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 Tim 2:1-4)

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)

 

U.S. SENDING 2 WARSHIPS TO JAPAN TO COUNTER NORTH KOREA

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a two-pronged warning to Asia Pacific nations Sunday, announcing that the U.S. will send two additional ballistic missile destroyers to Japan to counter the North Korean threat, and saying China must better respect its neighbors.

In unusually forceful remarks about China, Hagel drew a direct line between Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the ongoing territorial disputes between China, Japan and others over remote islands in the East China Sea.

“I think we’re seeing some clear evidence of a lack of respect and intimidation and coercion in Europe today with what the Russians have done with Ukraine,” Hagel told reporters after a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. “We must be very careful and we must be very clear, all nations of the world, that in the 21st century this will not stand, you cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe.”

Hagel, who will travel to China later this week, called the Asian nation a “great power,” and added, “with this power comes new and wider responsibilities as to how you use that power, how you employ that military power.”

He said he will talk to the Chinese about having respect for their neighbors, and said, “coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict. All nations, all people deserve respect no matter how large or how small.”

Still, he said he looks forward to having an honest, straightforward dialogue with the Chinese to talk about ways the two nations and their militaries can work better together.

The announcement of the deployments of additional destroyers to Japan came as tensions with North Korea spiked again, with Pyongyang continuing to threaten additional missile and nuclear tests.

In recent weeks the North has conducted a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches that are considered acts of protest against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for invasion.

North and South Korea also fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other’s waters in late March in the most recent flare-up.

Standing alongside Onodera at the defense ministry, Hagel said they discussed the threat posed by Pyongyang. He said the two ships are in response to North Korea’s “pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions” that violate U.N. resolutions and also will provide more protection to the U.S. from those threats.

On Friday, North Korea accused the U.S. of being “hell-bent on regime change” and warned that any maneuvers with that intention will be viewed as a “red line” that will result in countermeasures. Pyongyang’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ri Tong Il, also said his government “made it very clear we will carry out a new form of nuclear test” but refused to provide details.

The two additional ships would bring the total to seven U.S. ballistic missile defense warships in Japan, and it continues U.S. efforts to increase its focus on the Asia Pacific.

The ships serve as both defensive and offensive weapons. They carry sophisticated systems that can track missile launches, and their SM-3 missiles can zero in on and take out short- to medium-range missiles that might be fired at U.S. or allied nations. They can also carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can be launched from sea and hit high-value targets or enemy weapons systems from afar, without risking pilots or aircraft.

Hagel is on a 10-day trip across the Asia Pacific, and just spent three days in Hawaii meeting with Southeast Asian defense ministers, talking about efforts to improve defense and humanitarian assistance cooperation. Japan is his second stop, where he said he wants to assure Japanese leaders that the U.S. is strongly committed to protecting their country’s security.

Japan and China have been engaged in a long, bitter dispute over remote islands in the East China Sea. The U.S. has said it takes no side on the question of the disputed islands’ sovereignty, but it recognizes Japan’s administration of them and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.

Onodera said he and Hagel talked about the islands, known as Senkaku by Japan and Diayou by China, and the concerns about any changes to the status quo there.

Hagel said the U.S. wants the countries in the region to resolve the disputes peacefully. But he added that the United States would honor its treaty commitments.

The ships are just the latest move in America’s effort to beef up Japan’s defenses. Last October, the U.S. and Japan agreed to broad plans to expand their defense alliance, including the decision to position a second early warning radar there by the end of this year. There is one in northern Japan and the second one would be designed to provide better missile defense coverage in the event of a North Korean attack.

The U.S. will begin sending long-range Global Hawk surveillance drones to Japan this month for rotational deployments. They are intended to help step up surveillance around the Senkaku islands. (Contributor: By Lolita Baldor for Associated Press)

IFA will not dilute our encouragement of intercessors by adding “news analysis” to its prayer points. It seems obvious, however, that Secretary of Defense Hagel has been dispatched to Asia not only to show support for Japan in the face of Chinese aggression, but also, if only indirectly, to speak to Russian authorities. While every normal American longs for peace, we cannot ignore our Lord’s prophetic words of “wars and rumors of wars” before “the end.” Let us remember that intercession is not aimed at the manipulation of circumstances but at standing with God in His purposes for His own everlasting kingdom. Pray for revival that will bring forth humble, God-fearing leaders.   

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:6-8)  

“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44)

 

MILITARY HITTING THE BREAKING POINT ON MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

As more details come to light surrounding Spc. Ivan Lopez’s state of mind before he fired on fellow service members at Fort Hood last week, the clearer it becomes, lawmakers and military leaders say, that the mental health of returning veterans no longer can be relegated to the back burner.

The shooting spree, in which the gunman killed three people and injured 16 others before taking his own life, once again has thrust the mental health issue into the spotlight and brought into focus the sheer inadequacy of both the overall understanding of troubled, disturbed individuals and the professional services to reach them before tragedy strikes.

Before he unleashed horror at Ford Hood, Lopez, a 34-year-old Iraq War veteran, took to Facebook to express frustrations, fears and other emotions on a variety of subjects. CNN and other media outlets reported over the weekend that the Army truck driver wrote cryptic, alarming messages under the screen name “Ivan Slipknot,” an apparent reference to the dark heavy metal band.

“My spiritual peace has just gone. Full of Hate. Now I think I’ll be d———,” he wrote.

Lopez also reportedly was being treated for depression and other issues.

Those clear warning signs and, more important, that no one intervened after seeing them, have left lawmakers and others once again grasping for answers.

“We have this crazy standard in the United States that says unless a person is on the verge of holding a knife to their own throat or someone else, we’re not going to step in. And that’s a real problematic standard,” Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican and a clinical psychologist, said Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Although attention is turning to mental health, the families of the victims at Ford Hood continue to grieve. Lopez’s rampage was the second mass shooting in five years on the sprawling Texas military base.

In 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 30 others at Ford Hood.

Just as in 2009, the White House announced Sunday that President Obama will travel to the base Wednesday and attend memorial services for the victims.

“The president and first lady send their thoughts and their prayers out to the victims and families and everyone on the base,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In Killeen, Texas, home to Fort Hood, dozens of community members gathered Sunday to honor the victims. Pastor Robert Sperbeck tried to comfort the congregation at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Killeen and said most everyone is asking why a shooting like this would happen again.

According to The Associated Press, Mr. Sperbeck told mourners that “the devil is the author of what happened,” but “the way of God leads to the way of comfort.” He said God gives individuals choice and the gunman chose to follow darkness.

For officials, the search to understand Lopez’s motive only intensified.

Lopez reportedly got into a verbal altercation with fellow service members just before he began shooting, leading to speculation that he was harboring deep trauma that was ignited into violence by a specific event.

Military officials have said there is no evidence that Lopez was wounded in battle while in Iraq or suffered any other traumatic event, but specialists say it’s not uncommon for civilians or military personnel who didn’t see combat to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Known as non-deployment PTSD, the illness is becoming much more common, said Royce Lee, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Lee said non-deployment PTSD is common in first responders who have been exposed to victims repeatedly, like those who responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a truck driver in Iraq, Lopez could have been exposed over and over again to traumatic events of victims, Mr. Lee said.

“It is plausible if that were the kind of duties he had,” he said.

Military leaders say there simply aren’t enough mental health professionals in either the military or the nation as a whole to deal with the scope of the problem. As more veterans return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental illness may become more common and more serious.

“I think our force, because it has been away so much, has not had to deal with those [mental health and other issues] as directly as they may have in the past, and now that we’re going to be home more, I think we’re going to actually see an increased number of challenges associated with that,” Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We all need to wrap our arms around the force to help us deal with those.”

Adm. Mullen said the availability and quality of services must be increased, along with the understanding of the human mind.

“This really is a national resources issue. … I think we need to do a lot more to understand the brain and how these [traumatic] injuries affect our young people who have done so much for our country,” he said. (Contributor: Ben Wolfgang and Meghan Drake for The Washington Times)

Here, intercession must of necessity be deep, wide, and broad. All suicides have spiritual implications and ramifications that are beyond human understanding, and a secularized culture cannot plumb the depths that go far beyond psychology and psychiatry. But we can be certain that when a suicidal person plans and carries out the killing of others along with himself, there are dark spiritual forces at work. Jesus Christ, our Lord, said, “The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy, but I have come to bring abundant life.” Do we need better mental health care for our battle-scarred veterans? No doubt we do. But our nation needs much more through revival and the spread of the Gospel, so let us humbly intercede accordingly.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11)

[Moses, speaking for God,] “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)

 

SOME GAY ACTIVISTS FEAR SAME-SEX SUPPORTERS ARE BECOMING INTOLERANT

The resignation of a Silicon Valley executive who opposed homosexual marriage and refused to recant has sparked an online fight among homosexuals about whether proponents of same-sex marriage are now going too far in trying to marginalize their opponents socially and economically.

The announcement by popular Web browser Mozilla Firefox that co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich was stepping down after two weeks on the job for a 2008 contribution has sparked furious debate over civil rights, privacy and corporate responsibility.

A leading homosexual blogger has accused the movement of displaying the same intolerance activists accuse their opponents of practicing, while the website Slate.com published a satirical list of other California companies that should be purged of homosexual-marriage skeptics, which presumably include the 52 percent of Californians who voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.

Mr. Eich’s semivoluntary resignation — “under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader,” he wrote — resulted from a furor that began when online dating service OKCupid.com, urged its users not to use Mozilla Firefox as a browser.

“OKCupid is for creating love,” it said, but Mozilla Firefox is not because in 2008 Mr. Eich donated $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure,” said a now-removed Web message that OKCupid automatically showed to everyone who tried to access the site using Firefox.

Mozilla employees also protested and three board members quit, prompting Mr. Eich’s resignation and an apology from Mitchell Baker, Mozilla executive chairwoman and co-founder. “We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry,” Ms. Baker said.

Homosexual writer Andrew Sullivan, who more or less began the public campaign for same-sex marriage in the 1990s, erupted with an article warning homosexuals and liberals about “becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists.”

“The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some homosexual activists,” Mr. Sullivan wrote on The Dish, before invoking the imagery of Maoist and Puritan purges.

“Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks?” Mr. Sullivan wrote. “The whole episode disgusts me — as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.”

Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network, agreed that Mr. Eich should not have been pressured into resigning.

“As much as I disagree with the donation, this is America, and I believe he has a right to support the political causes he believes in,” Mr. Lee said.

An avalanche of comments in the blogosphere lashed back, particularly at Mr. Sullivan, who was described more than once as an “Uncle Tom queer.”

“You can’t say you’re pro-equality when you hire a CEO who is not,” “Drew2u” wrote on Joe.My.God, an award-winning homosexual blog. “I’m glad the ‘homosexualstopo’ got revenge” on Mr. Eich, said “John T.” The Eich resignation is a “big blinking warning sign to the next aspiring CEO who thinks he’ll fund bigotry,” said a writer called “uhhuhh.”

Homosexual journalist Michelangelo Signorile also chided Mr. Sullivan but also seemed to broaden the base for unacceptable conduct to include decades-ago support of candidates perceived as anti-homosexual.

Mr. Eich also was revealed to fund the 1992 campaign of “far-right extremist” Patrick J. Buchanan and a recent campaign of former Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, Mr. Signorile noted in The Huffington Post.

“It all just became too much for Mozilla to bear, and who knows what else may have been dug up on Eich,” he wrote.

The nation’s biggest homosexual-rights groups also defended Mozilla. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman called the resignation “entirely a measure of our success as a movement.”

“I don’t believe this is a question of suppressing free speech,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications. “It’s a question of the market regulating itself.”

Leslie Gabel-Brett, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, wrote in The New York Times on Friday that to call Mr. Eich a victim of discrimination “flips the idea of victimization on its head.”

“Eich is being held accountable for having freely donated his money to a campaign to strip lesbian and homosexual people of legal rights,” she wrote. “Eich expressed his views. Employees and others expressed their anger. And the board decided he was bad for business.”

“Mozilla’s strong statement in favor of equality today reflects where corporate America is: inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of GLAAD.

California-based Mozilla and Mr. Eich have declined to make any public comment since Thursday’s resignation.

Mr. Sullivan didn’t back down: “It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason,” he wrote Friday.

“When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is the definition of intolerance,” he added.

A minority of commenters at the more radical homosexual blogs defended Mr. Sullivan.

“Hounding a guy out of his job is a terrible thing. I have read all the arguments, but we could be setting a bad precedent here,” “daveinsf” wrote on Joe.My.God.

“Lefty Coaster” on DailyKos also came out in support of Mr. Sullivan, as did a few commenters such as “Jonathan B,” who worried about the media “painting us “as bullies, and “scaring people as to how we will treat them if we win in their state.”

Even OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagun expressed some trepidation by telling reporters Friday that “there was no interest in creating an Internet lynch mob” and saying his company never demanded that Mr. Eich resign.

“I am opposed to that with every bone in my body,” he said. (Contributor:  By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/6/some-homosexual-activists-fear-same-sex-supporters-are-be/

Homosexual groups have won victories at many levels in their quest for acceptance and equality. Many thought the apex of “success” for homosexual men and women was legal recognition of marriage between two men or two women. But that wasn’t enough. By forcing the resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Web browser Mozilla Firefox because he gave a donation in 2008 to Proposition 8 in California, those persecuting Mr. Eich are saying a traditional view will not be tolerated. Such intolerance has caused a huge split among homosexuals. Pray for God’s mercy to open eyes to this deception. Ask the Lord to open doors for renewed dialogue and debate about God-given gender identity. May Christians rise to the occasion, engaging in civil discourse that might open doors for personal evangelism. Pray for a united body of Christ, men and women prepared spiritually and intellectually to lovingly challenge homosexuals still searching for their true personhood. May many consider the claims of Jesus Christ as Lord.     

[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 11:28-39)

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.” (Genesis 5:1-2)

 

SERIOUS READING TAKES A HIT FROM ONLINE SKIMMING, RESEARCHERS SAY

Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to.

“I give it a few seconds — not even minutes — and then I’m moving again,” says Handscombe, a 35-year-old graduate student in creative writing at American University.

But it’s not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel.

“It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” she confessed. “When I realize what’s happening, I have to go back and read again and again.”

To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”

If the rise of nonstop cable TV news gave the world a culture of sound bites, the Internet, Wolf said, is bringing about an eye byte culture. Time spent online — on desktop and mobile devices — was expected to top five hours per day in 2013 for U.S. adults, according to eMarketer, which tracks digital behavior. That’s up from three hours in 2010.

Word lovers and scientists have called for a “slow reading” movement, taking a branding cue from the “slow food” movement. They are battling not just cursory sentence galloping but the constant social network and e-mail temptations that lurk on our gadgets — the bings and dings that interrupt “Call me Ishmael.”

Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.

The brain is the innocent bystander in this new world. It just reflects how we live.

“The brain is plastic its whole life span,” Wolf said. “The brain is constantly adapting.”

Wolf, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the Web and hundreds of e-mails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.”

“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”

Adapting to read

The brain was not designed for reading. There are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision. But spurred by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and, finally, the Gutenberg press, the brain has adapted to read.

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

Brandon Ambrose, a 31-year-old Navy financial analyst who lives in Alexandria, knows of those consequences.

His book club recently read “The Interestings,” a best-seller by Meg Wolitzer. When the club met, he realized he had missed a number of the book’s key plot points. It hit him that he had been scanning for information about one particular aspect of the book, just as he might scan for one particular fact on his computer screen, where he spends much of his day.

“When you try to read a novel,” he said, “it’s almost like we’re not built to read them anymore, as bad as that sounds.”

Ramesh Kurup noticed something even more troubling. Working his way recently through a number of classic authors — George Eliot, Marcel Proust, that crowd — Kurup, 47, discovered that he was having trouble reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses full of background information. Online sentences tend to be shorter, and the ones containing complicated information tend to link to helpful background material.

“In a book, there are no graphics or links to keep you on track,” Kurup said.

It’s easier to follow links, he thinks, than to keep track of so many clauses in page after page of long paragraphs.

Kurup’s observation might sound far-fetched, but told about it, Wolf did not scoff. She offered more evidence: Several English department chairs from around the country have e-mailed her to say their students are having trouble reading the classics.

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.”

Wolf points out that she’s no Luddite. She sends e-mails from her iPhone as often as one of her students. She’s involved with programs to send tablets to developing countries to help children learn to read. But just look, she said, at Twitter and its brisk 140-character declarative sentences.

“How much syntax is lost, and what is syntax but the reflection of our convoluted thoughts?” she said. “My worry is we will lose the ability to express or read this convoluted prose. Will we become Twitter brains?”

Bi-literate brains?

Wolf’s next book will look at what the digital world is doing to the brain, including looking at brain-scan data as people read both online and in print. She is particularly interested in comprehension results in screen vs. print reading.

Already, there is some intriguing research that looks at that question. A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students — who grew up in the world of screens — looked at their comprehension while reading the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete the task.

The students believed they did better on screen. They were wrong. Their comprehension and learning was better on paper.

Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be studied more thoroughly and that the differences should be dealt with in education, particularly with school-aged children. There are advantages to both ways of reading. There is potential for a bi-literate brain.

“We can’t turn back,” Wolf said. “We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It’s both. We have to ask the question: What do we want to preserve?”

Wolf is training her own brain to be bi-literate. She went back to the Hesse novel the next night, giving herself distance, both in time and space, from her screens.

“I put everything aside. I said to myself, ‘I have to do this,’ ” she said. “It was really hard the second night. It was really hard the third night. It took me two weeks, but by the end of the second week I had pretty much recovered myself so I could enjoy and finish the book.”

Then she read it again.

“I wanted to enjoy this form of reading again,” Wolf said. “When I found myself, it was like I recovered. I found my ability again to slow down, savor and think.” (Contributor: By Michael Rosenwald for The Washington Post)

Today’s parents and grandparents are aware of the trend toward brevity in communication and the lack of sustained reading among our nation’s youth. So many live in a small-screen world of texting and “tweeting,” while modern education often accommodates itself to lower reading and writing standards rather than raising the bar. Christians understand that to educate the mind, without winning hearts for Christ, will not bring success. Only “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2). Give thanks for Christian homes and schools, including colleges, where prayer and instruction in reading and writing go hand-in-hand with the Gospel to bring forth truly educated men and women who know God and know history.

“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,  that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining 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 2:1-3)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

 

WV PRO-LIFE DEMOCRATS URGE TOMBLIN TO CALL SPECIAL SESSION

Democrats For Life of America (DFLA) is calling on West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special session to allow further action on HB 4588, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate, was vetoed on the last day of the session.

“Although the Governor cited Constitutional concerns, there is room for disagreement on the 40-year old law,” said Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life of America. “The issue of fetal viability has advanced tremendously since Roe v. Wade and, as a pro-life Democrat, Governor Tomblin should join us in pushing for greater protection for the unborn.”

Pro-life Democrats are also calling on more support for the women and families facing difficult decisions with their pregnancies including: ensuring that they are informed about and referred to perinatal-hospice, which provides a caring and supportive environment for both mother and child; providing accurate information regarding genetic testing; and providing adoption counseling and adoption referral information.

“Fetuses with abnormalities, which is sometimes the case with later term abortion, are still human persons and Democrats should value them fully,” said Day. “We should recognize how difficult these situations are for the family; that is where the social supports are crucial. There are two lives in these situations and we should never put one over the other.”

You can read the letter to the Governor at www.democratsforlife.org. (Contributor: Kristen Day for Democrats for Life and Christian Newswire)

WV Gov. Earl RayTomblin is on record as having pro-life convictions, yet he vetoed a bill that would protect unborn babies from abortion after a date where they will experience pain. The circumstances suggest the governor came under pressure to act politically rather than by his convictions. However, intercessors are aware of the invisible and intense spiritual warfare going on around us by “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Eph. 6:12). Pray with sustained and focused intercession for the DFLA’s success. The issue is far beyond Gov. Tomblin as an individual; it represents a life-and-death struggle in principle for the lives of many not-yet-born babies. Ask for divine intervention to re-open the legislature, where votes will overturn the veto and save many lives. You may be assured that “Life” is the will of God.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” (Prov 21:1-3)

[Jesus said,] “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

On Watch in Washington April 9, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington April 2, 2014

April 1st, 2014

On Watch in Washington April 2, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

LAWMAKERS AIM FOR DIPLOMACY IN RUSSIAN DEALINGS

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian officials Sunday to discuss a diplomatic solution to tensions along Ukraine’s borders, as American lawmakers expressed concerns that Vladimir Putin has designs on more territory in the region.

Mr. Kerry met with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Paris as U.S. analysts and members of Congress weighed the build-up of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern edge.

“Frankly, I think he wants to pocket the Crimean victory,” Gen. Michael Haydon, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think he wants to make that a fact beyond contradiction. I think the talks between Lavrov and Secretary Kerry will not talk about Crimea. That’ll be locked in and will not change.”

The unfolding confrontation between the U.S. and Mr. Putin is part of the fallout from the Russian president’s decision to seize the Crimean peninsula in the wake of Ukrainian protests that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In Paris, the meeting between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov ended without any reported breakthroughs, though the Russian minister agreed noncommittally to take back to Moscow some U.S. proposals for pulling back Russian troops from the border with Ukraine.

Russia says Ukraine should be unified in a federation allowing wide autonomy to its various regions, a proposal Mr. Kerry ruled out as long as the Kremlin continues to threaten Ukraine by amassing its forces.

“The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after the meeting. For his part, Mr. Lavrov held a separate news conference at which he didn’t mention the troop buildups.

On Friday President Obama, in a call initiated by Mr. Putin, said he wants to see a diplomatic solution that includes Moscow engaging in a direct dialogue with the government in Kiev and a pullback of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. The U.S. also wants to ensure fair and free elections in Ukraine on May 25.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Sunday the phone call gives her hope for a diplomatic solution.

“I get the Crimea thing … the Ukrainian situation is very, very different,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” She hopes that Russia “will find, as has been termed, an off ramp and not go ahead with this and that diplomacy is able to make up for it.”

While some say Mr. Putin does not want a nasty confrontation with the West, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said the Russian leader is “not looking for a way out,” either.

Specifically, Mr. Putin appears to be eyeing a “land bridge” of sorts along the top of the Black Sea, from its holdings near Georgia in the east to Moldova in the west, with Crimea in between.

“So if you look at all the possibilities that they lay out on the table, it is really concerning,” Mr. Rogers, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who said this week he will not seek re-election, told “Fox News Sunday.” “And I doubt Putin called [Mr. Obama] because he thought that he wasn’t in the best spot in that particular conversation.”

For its part, Russia’s insists it will not resort to force.

“We have absolutely no intention of, or interest in, crossing Ukraine’s borders,” Mr. Lavrov said Sunday. (Contributor:  By Tom Howell Jr. for The Washington Times – This story is based in part on wire reports.)

“Neither, I am the Commander of the Lord’s army.” The Church must pray “in one accord” for God’s purpose to prevail, even over our comfort. Our Lord promised eternal and internal peace, not necessarily national peace. As “Intercessors for America,” we want our much-loved U.S. to triumph and prosper, of course. Yet, wisdom dictates that we see beyond national pride and pray that our Commander-in-Chief, “Fulfill Your purpose, O God of the nations.” Russia is not our enemy, but negotiations are tense, and prayer is vital as we watch God shape history.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?’ So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’ Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:13-15)

“I [Nebuchadnezzar] 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 4:34-35)

 

CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS APPEAL VOTER REGISTRATION FORM RULING

Civil rights groups on Friday appealed a federal court decision that said states can require proof of citizenship on their voter registration forms — a ruling the activist groups said runs counter to Supreme Court precedent.

The groups also asked Judge Eric F. Melgren to stay his own ruling from earlier this month, pending the outcome of the appeal.

Judge Melgren had ruled that the federal Election Assistance Commission couldn’t refuse requests by Kansas and Arizona that voter registration cards distributed in their states include proof of citizenship requirements.

But the activists said that imposes an illegal burden on would-be voters.

“The EAC has the authority to reject the states’ unproven claims and unreasonable request to require more paperwork from eligible Americans who want to vote,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.”

Last week’s ruling was viewed as a major boost for states’ rights and a setback for President Obama and other allies who’d fought against stiffer checks.

The judge said the Constitution gives states the power to determine voter qualifications, and if states want to insist on proof of citizenship the election commission cannot overrule them.

“The EAC’s nondiscretionary duty is to perform the ministerial function of updating the instructions to reflect each state’s laws,” Judge Melgren ruled in a decision out of Kansas. “The court orders the EAC to add the language requested by Arizona and Kansas to the state-specific instructions of the federal mail voter registration form immediately.”

The activists, in their call for a stay, said they at least wanted the old rules to remain in place this year.

“Unless stayed, the March 19 decision will prevent Arizona and Kansas citizens who lack the required proof of citizenship from registering to vote for the upcoming 2014 federal elections,” they said.

Kris W. Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, said he was confident in the court’s ruling, saying the Constitution gives states the right to determine qualifications for voters.

“These groups want the EAC to have the power to second-guess the decisions of the sovereign states about how to protect the integrity of the voter rolls. The Constitution makes clear that not even Congress has that power, much less an unelected federal agency,” Mr. Kobach said.

Both Kansas and Arizona have state requirements that voters must prove their citizenship at the point they register. The registration cards printed by the state included that requirement.

But the EAC, which under federal law also distributes voter registration forms in the states, refused to include the proof-of-citizenship requirement.

In a complex ruling last year, the Supreme Court said states had to accept the federal forms — but also left open the chance for states to go back to the EAC and demand that it include proof of citizenship on forms distributed within their borders.

The EAC refused, and the states sued, leading to Judge Melgren’s ruling last week.

A number of civil rights groups in both states joined in Friday’s appeal, which was filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Kobach said the appeal will have a tough time.

“The judge’s opinion is a very careful one that follows the Supreme Court’s precedents,” he said. (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

In summary, several issues are in conflict in the area of voter registration. Curiously, these battle lines are drawn and redrawn during every election cycle. Shouldn’t an enlightened, modern nation know how to regulate and oversee the voting franchise so as to keep it honest and within the law? Pray that truth, justice, and integrity prevail, and those with ulterior, political and fraudulent motives be exposed. Pray, too, that all eligible voters be free to vote peacefully and without intimidation.

“But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.(Amos 5:24)

“It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.” (Prov 21:15)

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

 

DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS PREPARE FOR NEW ROUND OF BATTLES OVER HEALTH-CARE LAW

The first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ended at midnight Monday, closing one chapter on President Obama’s landmark health-care law and paving the way for a new round of confrontations that could ultimately determine the law’s long-term prospects.

Supporters face an array of political, financial and legal challenges in the coming months. Democrats and insurance industry officials are already seeking ways to blunt what may be the next big controversy: an expected increase in monthly insurance premiums next year for the health plans sold through the federal and state marketplaces.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to use the law to attack vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the midterm elections, which will decide whether the GOP wins control of the Senate.

Combatants on both sides debated the administration’s report last week that 6 million people had signed up for private plans. “The law’s working,” White House senior adviser David Plouffe said on ABC’s “This Week.” He added: “And this was a seminal achievement.”

But Republican Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) expressed skepticism about the figure. “They are cooking the books on this,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

In the months and years ahead, other questions will loom: How will Americans react when they get fined next year for not having insurance? Will more states expand Medicaid under the law? And will the federal courts make future changes to the law, including barring the use of government subsidies to help pay for coverage in the federal marketplace?

The unresolved issues mean it is far too soon to know how President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — and one of the most polarizing pieces of U.S. social policy — will turn out. So far, the action has been “a warm-up act for what lies ahead,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Here’s a road map of what comes next:

Premiums’ trend

Monthly insurance premiums almost always go up, because costs typically rise. So the big questions are: How much will premiums increase for next year, how widespread will the increases be, and how will consumers be affected?

Many plans “low-balled” prices for 2014 to attract customers. “It’s like opening day at the hardware store, and you’re going to have a special,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

Although some plans may continue to keep rates low to build market share, others probably will raise prices — perhaps to bolster profits or to compensate for getting a higher-than-expected percentage of older, expensive enrollees, analysts say.

During the first five months of open enrollment, younger people signed up for health plans at a lower rate than older ones. But some insurance experts say they are getting more young people than they expected; in any case, final demographic data are not in. The law provides some financial help for plans that end up with too many unhealthy customers.

Some industry officials are predicting double-digit increases in premiums in some states, but information about the new rates won’t emerge until later in the spring, the summer or later. Increases in premiums are likely to vary by health plan and location.

Even if premiums rise substantially, consumers who get federal subsidies to help buy insurance may not feel the blow. The subsidies, available to people with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, limit premium bills to a proportion of income.

That doesn’t help people who aren’t eligible for subsidies. Insurers say adding a cheaper level of coverage, as some Democratic senators have proposed, would help to attract healthier people who might not otherwise be motivated to buy coverage.

The political impact

The political challenges for Obama and the Democrats may be even more daunting than the policy dilemmas — and have a bigger effect on the health law’s long-term future. If the GOP does well in congressional races in the fall, winning control of the Senate — and then the White House in 2016 — the law could be dismantled.

Republicans and their allies already are using the health law as a dominant theme. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is spending more than $30 million on ads alleging that the law will increase what consumers pay for insurance and deprive them of access to the doctors they trust.

Several Democratic senators who voted for the law and will face the electorate this fall — including Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark R. Warner (Va.) — have suggested ways to improve the law. But congressional Republicans have shown no interest in legislative remedies, and National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said Democrats have a major liability.

“Obamacare is a vehicle that drives home a bigger problem Democrats have with voters: Either they didn’t understand the law that they championed, which makes them inept, or they blatantly lied about what this law would do, which makes them dishonest,” he wrote in an e-mail.

In an interview, Begich said he thinks the law will be a “neutral” factor in his race, in part because “Alaskans are not necessarily one-issue voters,” and he added that the debate is shifting as more people buy health plans.

Still, Democrats may be disappointed if they expect the newly insured to emerge as a politically powerful constituency, as senior citizens did for Medicare. Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said polls suggest that nine of 10 people who vote in midterm elections are insured. Thus, they are unlikely to benefit from the law.

There are some silver linings for Democrats. Polls show that a majority of Americans do not favor repealing the law — rather, they want it to be improved. Also, the enrollment process has resulted in the training of a slew of new organizers who will help turn out the Democratic vote in November. One is Dee Lila Peterson, a Service Employees International Union chapter president at a nursing home in Doylestown, Pa.

Before she started, she said, “I wasn’t really political.” But now, she plans to encourage Democrats to vote in November. “You need to let them know what’s actually going on,” she said.

Rising enrollment

For the enrollment period that is coming to a close, health experts are eager to find out more information about the 6 million people who signed up for private plans. It’s unclear, for example, how many have paid for policies — a necessary step in getting coverage.

“It’s going to be quite a while before we know the real meaningful numbers,” Blendon said.

Looking ahead, congressional budget analysts expect enrollment through the federal and state exchanges to rise to 13 million people by early next year, and to 24 million people by two years after that. That estimate is based on what happened in programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, for which enrollments started slowly but then accelerated rapidly. But some health policy analysts say the pattern might be different because the health law is so controversial.

In any case, there is wide agreement that outreach efforts — such as the “navigators” and others who assist with enrollment — will be vital. And there are concerns that there might not be enough government funding to do an adequate job of reaching people.

“To really ramp up enrollment and make inroads into the uninsured, they need to figure out how to reach hard-to-reach low-income people,” Kaiser’s Levitt said.

One problem is that many people don’t realize they are entitled to subsidies. When they are told, they often embrace the law, according to those who are assisting in enrollment.

Efia Joseph, a 35-year-old home care worker in Fairfield, Conn., who was uninsured for two years, got a plan through the state’s exchange. Because her subsidy is close to $300 a month, she pays only $122 in premiums. After seeing three doctors in January and scheduling an MRI, she is traveling around the state promoting the insurance marketplace. “People are calling back and saying, ‘I love you!’ ” she said.

Penalties kick in

Monday is the day by which most Americans are required to have picked a health plan or face a fine. This mandate has long been the most unpopular part of the law, and it’s likely to affect millions of people, though at this point it’s not clear how many. (The administration decided last week to extend the deadline for some.)

The fine is $95 per uninsured adult or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher, for the first year. It gradually rises through 2016 to $695 per uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of income. The fine will be collected at tax time, when the Internal Revenue Service will deduct the amount from tax refunds.

Some people have made up their minds to defy the requirement. Paul Alexander Clark, 35, an entrepreneur in Nashville, said he has decided to pay the fine this year rather than pay $132 a month for an insurance policy with an annual deductible of more than $6,000. “It was simple math combined with the knowledge and confidence of being able to navigate the health system,” he said.

(Contributors: By Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashekhar for The Washington Post – Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.)

This detailed overview of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) speaks to issues still to be faced. Intercessors already know our country is seriously divided at many levels, including politically, socially, and spiritually. The uncertainty is causing fear and confusion, especially among seniors. Pray that what looks like a virtual “tower of Babel” will be clarified, and that God’s will and purpose be accomplished. May the conflicts reveal our nation’s need for spiritual revival. Pray for unity.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4-7)

 

CHINA’S PLAN FOR GLOBAL NETWORK OF SURVEILLANCE

China is considering a plan to cover the entire world with a network of surveillance satellites.

If it went ahead the plan could see more than 50 observation satellites in orbit within two years, The South China Morning Post reported. This would put the country’s satellite surveillance capabilities on a par, or greater than, the US.

The paper said support for the massive upscale was fuelled by China’s frustration over the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

After a three-week search satellites have been unable to locate for certain debris from the disappeared plane, which was carrying mainly Chinese passengers on a scheduled flight to Beijing.

“If we had a global monitoring network today, we wouldn’t be searching in the dark. We would have a much greater chance to find the plane and trace it to its final position,” Professor Chi Tianhe, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, told the paper.

There are currently about 1000 satellites in orbit above the planet, though most are only for communications. Of these around 150 are for observation, remote-sensing and spying, according to statistics from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

China’s current satellite surveillance capabilities are a state secret, though most of them are thought to be carrying out surveillance over China and the surrounding region. (Contributor: news.com.au)

This is a potential fear-mongering article, suggesting that China’s technology will control all surveillance. Christians need not succumb to fear but walk in confidence that God’s purpose will prevail. Let us remember that the nations are not independent of God’s ownership or guidance. An old hymn reminds us that “… nations may rise and nations fall; [God’s] changeless purpose rules them all.” Pray for revival, bringing a divine visitation of the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. In the end, God’s purpose will prevail, as the nation’s are the Son’s inheritance.

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure:Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:1-6)

 

GUINEA BATTLES TO CONTAIN EBOLA AS SENEGAL CLOSES ITS BORDER

Guinea is racing to contain a deadly Ebola epidemic spreading from its southern forests to the capital Conakry, as neighboring Senegal closes its border.

The European Union pledged 500,000 euros ($690,000) to fight the contagion, while the Senegalese interior ministry said border crossings to Guinea would be closed “until further notice”.

The order affects crossings at Kolda and Kedougou in the south of Senegal which are heavily used by traders, particularly during a weekly market attended by thousands from neighbouring countries.

Eight cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Conakry, the Guinean health ministry said late Friday, including one fatality.

Across the country, “the total number of suspected cases recorded from January to 28 March 2014 is 111 cases of haemorrhagic fever including 70 deaths … or a fatality rate of 63 percent,” the ministry said in a statement.

Samples taken from 45 of the suspect cases included 19 which tested positive for Ebola.

Most of the cases were recorded in southern Guinea, but the disease has spread to the capital since Wednesday.

Those infected have been put in isolation to prevent the virus from spreading, while aid organisations have sent dozens of workers to help the poor west African country combat the outbreak of haemorrhagic fever.

Deeply concerned

The EU’s aid offer came after a plea for assistance from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc said it was “deeply concerned” about the epidemic which presented a “serious threat to the region”.

The tropical virus — described in some health publications as a “molecular shark” — leads to haemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

No treatment or vaccine is available, and the Zaire strain detected in Guinea — first observed 38 years ago in what is today called the Democratic Republic of Congo — has a 90 percent death rate.

Sakoba Keita, who heads the Guinean health ministry’s prevention division said it remains unclear how Ebola had arrived in Guinea.

Tests on the other cases of haemorrhagic fever are still ongoing to determine their origin.

“We hope to get (the results) quickly as these cases should be treated like Ebola as they are also deadly,” he said.

Guinea is one of the world’s poorest nations despite vast untapped mineral wealth, with a stagnating economy, youth unemployment at 60 percent and a rank of 178th out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.

The World Health Organisation said Liberia had reported eight suspected cases of Ebola fever, including six deaths, while Sierra Leone had reported six suspected cases, five of them fatal.

Ebola can be transmitted to humans from wild animals, and between humans through direct contact with another’s blood, faeces or sweat, as well as sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

MSF said the spread of the disease was being exacerbated by people travelling to funerals in which mourners touch the bodies of the dead.

Guinea has banned the consumption of bat soup, a popular delicacy in the country, as the fruit bat is believed to be the host species. (Contributor: By Mouctar Bah for AFP)

Pray for wisdom to be granted to all the health officials who are working on stopping this aggressive disease before it spreads to other nations and communities. Pray for those who are already exposed to this Ebola epidemic. Pray for those families and friends who have been affected by this deadly outbreak. Call upon the grace and mercy of the Lord to heal and deliver them from this affliction.

“And Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” (Mark 1:34)

“At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.” (Luke 7:21)

 

DIET DRINKS LINKED WITH HEART DISEASE, DEATH

Women who drink the most diet sodas may also be more likely to develop heart disease and even to die, according to a new study published Saturday.

Researchers found women who drank two or more diet drinks a day were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular “event,” and 50 percent more likely to die, than women who rarely touch such drinks.

The findings, being presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, don’t suggest that the drinks themselves are killers. But women who toss back too many diet sodas may be trying to make up for unhealthy habits, experts say.

“Our study suggests an association between higher diet drink consumption and mortality,” said Dr. Ankur Vyas, a cardiovascular disease expert at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic, who led the study.

“It’s not an extreme risk,” he added.

Research has long shown that artificially sweetened drinks are not health drinks. While they may help people avoid more dangerous sugary sodas, studies show they don’t help people lose weight.

Vyas’s team studied nearly 60,000 middle-aged women taking part in a decade-long study of women’s health. They filled out a questionnaire on food and drinks as part of the study, including detailed questions on diet sodas and diet fruit drinks.

After just under nine years, the researchers checked to see what happened to the womens’ health. They found that 8.5 percent of the women who drank two or more diet drinks a day had some sort of heart disease, compared to 6.8 percent of those who drank four or fewer drinks a week and 7.2 percent in those who drank none or just a couple a month.

“We only found an association, so we can’t say that diet drinks cause these problems,” Vyas said.

And that’s a fairly low risk, given that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States and is very, very common.

The women who drank the most drinks were also more likely to smoke, to be overweight, to have diabetes and to have high blood pressure, Vyas noted.

About one in five people in the U.S. consume diet drinks on a given day, according to federal survey data. (Contributor: Maggie Fox for NBC News)

There have been countless reports about the dangers of use and overuse of diet soft drinks through the years. This report that identifies heart attacks with the drinking of these products and even causing related death should make it clear that this is a dangerous activity at best. Ask the Lord to help us in our discernment regarding the use of these products in our daily lives.

 “19 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? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[a] and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

 

IT WAS MARCH MISERY IN FRIGID NORTHERN, EASTERN USA

What spring?

Many parts of the northern and eastern USA took a serious chill pill in March, and several places probably will record one of their 10 coldest Marches.

“Several cities in the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and northern New England are flirting with a top 10 coldest March,” says Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce. “It’s a huge turnaround from two years ago in March 2012, when many of these same cities saw their warmest March on record.”

Dolce reports that Burlington, Vt., and Caribou, Maine, are seeing their coldest March since weather records began. (Burlington’s weather records began in 1884 and Caribou’s in 1939, according to the National Weather Service.)

Despite what happens in the final days of the month, both cities are likely to see top 10 coldest Marches.

Other cities that have been unusually frigid in March include Green Bay, Wis. (fourth coldest), Buffalo (fourth), Detroit (sixth) and Chicago (eighth). Most of those cities should remain in the top 10 regardless of temperatures this weekend.

Nationally, according to data from the National Climatic Data Center, 2,071 record low temperatures have been set this month, compared with 242 record high temperatures.

March also has been snowier than average in several locations, including Northern Virginia’s Dulles International Airport, which recorded its snowiest winter since records began in 1963. Detroit has seen more than a foot of snow in March, almost double the average.

While the central and eastern USA has been shivering, cities in the Southwest are enjoying an unusually warm month, the weather service reports. Tucson is having its sixth-warmest March (records date to 1895), and Las Vegas is having its seventh warmest (data date to 1937).

March continued a season-long pattern — the frigid central and eastern USA and the mild West. The reason: a persistent ridge of high pressure over the western half of the USA balanced by a trough of low pressure in the East.

“This winter, there was a big blocking ridge of high pressure in the western U.S., all the way up into Canada, and that redirected the flow of the jet stream and allowed that very cold air to come down into the Midwest and Northeast.,” Weather Channel meteorologist Carl Parker says.

High pressure usually brings clear skies; low pressure brings clouds and precipitation.

Some good news about the chilly March has been the lack of severe storms, including tornadoes. Through the first three weeks of the month, the USA saw four tornadoes, one of the lowest marks on record.

Final March weather data for individual cities will be available Tuesday. Data for states and the nation as a whole will be out in mid-April. (Contributor: By Doyle Rice for USA Today)

Offer thanksgiving to the Lord, that through the extremely chilled weather, the northeastern states have not faced the devastation of tornados. Ask the Lord to deliver our nation from violent and destructive winds that could accompany the early April weather patterns.

“35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”[a] 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

 

DRY, WINDY CONDITIONS HAVE SOME TEXAS FARMERS TALKING DUST BOWL

It’s scary to think the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, with its relentless drought and wind that ravaged millions of acres in West Texas, could return.

But there are some worrisome  signs, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Reports this week from county agents in the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains indicate farmers and ranchers are working with “very difficult” conditions, according to a news release.

Lubbock County, on the southern edge of the Panhandle, has seen only a trace of moisture in March with sustained high winds and gusts of 58 mph on March 18, according to the county’s AgriLife Extension agent Mark Brown.

In Knox County, east of Lubbock County and south of the Panhandle, agent Jerry Coplen said cotton producers were trying to prepare their planting beds in between dust storms.

Rick Auckerman, AgriLife agent for Deaf Smith County in the western Panhandle, reported that producers were running out of tools to stop soil from blowing away in punishing winds of 30 to 50 mph, the news release said.

The state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, said blowing dust in the past few weeks seems to have come mainly from southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico.

“So we’re not having a problem with widespread soil loss in Texas so far, but it’s something that could happen if conditions don’t allow for spring green-up, which they haven’t yet,” Nielsen-Gammon said in a statement March 25.

Grasses haven’t turned green because the three-month period from December through February is the 10th driest in the last 10 years, and March hasn’t helped, the climatologist said.

“The last time (the first quarter of the year) was drier was in 1996, which was the start of this string of droughts that we’ve been having,” he said.

Another looming issue is a possible rural-urban struggle over water.

“Reservoir levels are lower this time of year than they have been previously during this drought,” Nielsen-Gammon said in the statement. “If we don’t see summer months of more than average rainfall, we will likely see conflicts between agricultural and municipal/industrial uses.” (Contributor: By Carol Christian for Chron)

More on the current drought conditions…

The U.S. Drought Monitor this week saw areas of deterioration in conditions across portions of the Southeast, South, Great Plains, Great Basin, and Southwest while minor improvements were seen in the Pacific Northwest.

Oklahoma saw a further deepening in the D3 & D4 categories over the panhandle region and western Oklahoma.

California is immersed in a record drought centered over the San Joaquin Valley, which produces a significant amount of our vegetables,fruit, cotton.

If you look at the United States map you will see an area of extreme and exceptional drought centered over the Texas panhandle region.  There are 3 arms extending from this center, reaching into New Mexico, Nebraska and central Texas.  Pray that these 3 arms would be cut off.

Release the sword of the Lord against the powers of hell in the name of Jesus. Judges 7:18-20) Gideon divided 300 men into three companies of 100.  The three companies of Gideon against the Midianites and Amalekites.

Declare over the land daily, remind the land and the enemy.

Isaiah 62:4

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

You will no longer be spoken of as ‘Azuvah [Abandoned]
or your land be spoken of as ‘Sh’mamah [Desolate];
rather, you will be called Heftzi-Vah [My-Delight-Is-In-Her]
and your land Be‘ulah [Married].
For Adonai delights in you,
and your land will be married.

We have examples in the Bible where Jesus spoke to the winds and they were calmed. We also have many present day examples where the Lord calmed the winds in the face of imminent danger. Let us ask the Lord to bring His rain and bless those who are in distress over this drought in the western portions of our nation. He says to come in humility and make our petitions known to Him for that which we have need of, and He will answer with His grace and mercy.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39)

On Watch in Washington April 2, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington March 26, 2014

March 25th, 2014

On Watch in Washington March 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

EXPANDED SANCTIONS AGAINST PUTIN TOP AIDES

President Obama expanded sanctions against top aides and reputed financial associates of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on Thursday as punishment for the annexation of Crimea, and laid the groundwork for far broader measures against “key sectors of the Russian economy” if Putin further escalates his actions in Ukraine.

The broad measures potentially include Russia’s financial services, energy, mining, engineering and defense sectors, according to language in what was Obama’s third executive order in two weeks. If implemented, he acknowledged, they would not only significantly affect the Russian economy, “they could also be disruptive to the global economy.”

But “Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community,” Obama said in a brief statement on the White House South Lawn.

For now, the measures target Putin’s inner circle and stop well short of the kind of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Those would be triggered only by a wider military incursion, and Russian troops remain massed on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders. And although Putin has said Russia has no further territorial designs on Ukraine, he has proved indifferent to Western threats.

Russia promptly retaliated by banning nine U.S. lawmakers and officials from entering the country. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and three top Obama aides, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“We have warned repeatedly that using sanctions is a double-edged sword and will hit the United States back,” it said in a statement on its Web site.

“Washington has been repeatedly assured that it is unacceptable and counterproductive to talk with our country in such a way,” the statement said. “However, the U.S. seems to continue believing blindly in the efficiency of such methods, taken from the arsenal of the past, and does not want to admit the obvious — in complete accordance with international laws and the U.N. charter, Crimean residents voted democratically for rejoining Russia.”

The Obama administration said it is reviewing a Ukrainian request for non-lethal military assistance to help deter a Russian incursion. But a senior official, one of several who briefed reporters in a conference call about the new measures, said that “nobody wants the outcome here to be a full-bore military conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” and repeated that the United States is not considering “the introduction of U.S. military forces.”

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to focus attention on the president’s public remarks.

The U.S. actions came as European leaders, beginning a two-day meeting in Brussels, struggled to agree on how far they are prepared to go with measures against Russia that are likely to be far more economically damaging to their countries than to the United States. As the administration tries to coordinate with Europe, the timing of Thursday’s announcement was designed in part to stiffen European spines.

On Friday, the European Union plans to sign an agreement with Ukraine’s interim government aimed at gradually bringing it closer to membership. The Ukraine crisis began four months ago, when pro-Europe demonstrators began protesting their then-government’s refusal to sign the agreement.

Obama will travel to Europe next week to meet with the Europeans and other allies in several forums, including the European Union, NATO and the Group of Seven industrialized nations, which has been at least temporarily downsized to exclude Russia. In the current “political circumstances,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday, “there is no G-8.”

The U.S. sanctions announced Thursday added 20 people to a handful of Russians whose U.S. and dollar assets the administration froze this week, along with what a senior administration official described as “a crony bank that handles the funds” for wealthy Russians within and outside the government.

Among those on the list are government and business leaders who have been close to Putin, some for many years. They include some of the richest men in Russia — and one Russian, Gennady Timchenko, who is in the oil-trade business in Switzerland.

Putin interests in the Swiss-based Gunvor Group, of which Timchenko is listed as a co-founder, have been long rumored but never detailed. A Treasury Department statement saying that “President Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds” was immediately disputed by a company statement that said “President Putin has not and never has had any ownership, beneficial or otherwise in Gunvor. . . . Any understanding otherwise is fundamentally misinformed and outrageous.”

In a later statement from its Geneva headquarters, Gunvor said that as of Wednesday, “anticipating potential economic sanctions,” Timchenko had sold all his shares in the company to his partner, Torbjorn Tornqvist, a Swedish citizen.

The sanctions list also includes key officials such as Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, and Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration, as well as influential Russians in the banking and business communities, including several from Putin’s home town, St. Petersburg. Among them is Yuri Kovalchuk, a longtime Putin friend who is known as “Putin’s banker.” Kovalchuk and another person on the list, Putin aide Andrei Fursenko, are owners of Rossiya Bank, the sanctioned bank.

Senior U.S. officials said that Rossiya Bank has $10 billion in assets and that it handled financial transactions for many senior Russian officials.

“We expect that this will have a significant impact on its ability to operate,” one official said. “It will be frozen out of the dollar. All the correspondent accounts that it has with U.S. financial institutions will be terminated.” The United States would work with governments and the private sector around the world to “prevent it from operating to the greatest extent possible,” the official said.

Longtime Putin associates Arkady and Boris Rotenberg also were named. An administration official noted that the St. Petersburg-based brothers were close to the center of power, receiving $7 billion in contracts connected to the Sochi Olympics.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John F. Kerry spoke again by phone Thursday about Ukraine. Lavrov, a separate ministry statement said, accused the United States of “condoning” the activities of “ultranationalist and extremist forces” that he said were targeting businessmen, journalists, dissenters, Russian speakers and “our compatriots.”

The Pentagon said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, who told him that Russian troops along the Ukrainian border were there only to conduct exercises.

Defying U.S. and European warnings, Russia moved troops several weeks ago into Crimea, a part of Ukraine with an ethnic-Russian majority population. In short order, it organized a referendum in which Crimea voted to become part of Russia and Putin announced this week that Russia would annex the region.

On Thursday, the lower house of the Russian parliament voted 443 to 1 to admit Crimea and the metropolitan region of Sevastopol into the Russian Federation, putting some of the final procedural touches on the takeover. The bill is scheduled to be taken up Friday by the upper house, the Federation Council, where its expected approval will make Crimea officially part of the country under Russian law. (Contributors: By Karen DeYoung and Will Englund for The Washington Post – Englund reported from Moscow. Kathy Lally in Moscow and William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.)

The purpose of these alerts is to encourage both intercession and the intercessors. All biblical intercession is twofold: to declare God’s Word and to pray. Thus, when reading of “wars and rumors of wars,” we remind ourselves that all the nations on earth belong to God. We petition the sovereign Lord God to overrule man’s plans for evil and to bring forth righteous results—results consistent with His purpose for Russia, the U.S., and other nations. We see God as the Supreme Reality, not any human leader “O Lord, You are able to restrain Russian President Putin from escalating any illegal empire-building plans. Amen!”  

“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’s, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)

“This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.” (Daniel 4:17)

 

NATO’S WEAKNESS EXPOSED

Even as Russia’s annexation of Crimea is answered with an economic, rather than a military, response from the West, the crisis is provoking some uncomfortable reckoning on the part of NATO. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called it a “wake-up call” that should prompt both the U.S. and Europe to ratchet up their commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

He’s right. And if North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials are serious, they will seize the occasion to rediscover a mission that once defined the alliance, but has fallen into disregard: deterrence.

In recent years, NATO has been distracted by the war in Afghanistan, its first extended “out of area” combat operation, which has proved long, costly and deeply unsatisfying for publics on both sides of the Atlantic. Discouraged and, at the same time, beset by monetary and financial crises, Europe has systematically dismantled its military capabilities. For its part, the U.S. withdrew the two potent heavy-armored brigades in Germany that had anchored its European presence.

U.S. officials have complained for years about Europe’s abdication of defense responsibilities. Among NATO’s 28 member countries, only a handful come close to the goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. The U.K., France, Greece and Estonia meet or almost meet the target, but the European average is about 1.5 percent. (That compares with U.S. defense spending of more than 4 percent of GDP.) The result, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in his farewell speech to NATO in 2011, is a two-tiered alliance: a select group of members capable of contributing to intensive military operations, and a larger group of free riders.

Lately even the strongest European partners have been drastically trimming their forces. Britain and France have retrenched to the point where they have contemplated sharing a single aircraft carrier. Pentagon leaders fear that reductions in armored ground units could render U.K. forces incapable of operating alongside their U.S. counterparts. Meanwhile, the Dutch have eliminated heavy tank forces altogether, and Germany is in the process of cutting its ground and tank forces roughly in half.

In light of Russia’s second military incursion into a neighbor’s territory in recent years, the Pentagon’s decision to withdraw heavy tank forces from Europe also looks questionable. Keeping these units in the U.S. is only marginally cheaper than keeping them in Germany, where their deterrent value is maximized. Last week, to steady the nerves of shaky Eastern European allies, the U.S. dispatched fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltics. But nothing says military commitment quite like heavily armored forces on the ground.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army redeployed to Germany for training and exercises a battalion of roughly 22 M1A1 Abrams heavy tanks. It should go much further and return to Europe at least one heavy brigade, and position three to four tank brigades’ worth of equipment where it can be quickly accessed. European partners should be encouraged to help foot the bill.

None of these actions could be expected to disturb Vladimir Putin’s calculus in Crimea or Ukraine. But NATO’s flagging European forces conveyed a message of weakness that could not have been lost on the Russian strongman. To express a new resolve will require reinforcing the foundation of deterrence on which NATO was built. (Contributor: By The Bloomberg Editors for Bloomberg View)

One translation of Heb 11:1 says, “Faith…makes us certain of realities we do not see.” Commenting here, Elisabeth Elliot asks, “What realities can we be sure of?” She warns about prayer that assumes the thing(s) asked for become the objects of faith, as in, “Lord, give me this or that.” She reminds her readers that the “realities” are absolutes stated in Scripture, such as the character of God, His love, His will that we be conformed to His Son’s likeness, His sovereign control of the universe, and His unshakable kingdom. If we focus elsewhere, faith will dissolve if the answer is no or wait. Yes, we do pray through the news, but always with a God-focus, not a NATO- or Russia- or military-focus.

“I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:11-14)

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” (Psalm 18:30)

 

BIRTH CONTROL, CANCER-CAUSING AGENTS, AND HOBBY LOBBY

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in two lawsuits involving Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation that challenged ObamaCare’s contraceptive mandate. It coerces employers to purchase insurance coverage for “free” contraceptive and abortion-inducing hormonal steroids and sterilizations for employees, despite employers’ first amendment rights to religious freedom.

The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer and other groups, represented by attorneys at the Bioethics Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief (as “friends” of the court).[1] Karen Malec, the Coalition’s president, said:

“We contest the administration’s absurd claim that use of contraceptive steroids constitutes women’s ‘preventative’ healthcare. In 2005, the World Health Organization classified the birth control pill as a Group 1 cancer-causing substance for cancers of the breast, liver and cervix. [2,3]

“Although the WHO said the Pill reduces risk for cancers of the endometrium and ovaries, the number of breast cancer cases every year in the U.S. is four times greater than the number of cases of ovarian and endometrial cancers combined.” [4]

Supreme Court justices will learn about these additional health risks as they read the brief:

The Pill (which can be delivered orally or via skin patch, vaginal ring or injection): increased risks for heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular complications and greater susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases;

ParaGard Intrauterine Copper IUD: “can result in uterine perforation and other malpositioning that can result in increased bleeding or pain, and injury or damage to the surrounding organs;”

Mirena IUD (which releases levonorgestrel, a synthetic steroid hormone, into the uterine environment): risks include uterine perforation, pelvic inflammatory disease and (if conception occurs during use) miscarriage and possible permanent loss of fertility;

Implanon (an implant rod that releases a steroidal progestogen): increased risks of ectopic pregnancy and (as per manufacturer’s warning) “serious thromboembolic events, including cases of pulmonary emboli (some fatal) and strokes;”

Depo Provera (an injectable steroidal progestogen): increased risks for breast cancer, loss of bone mineral density and HIV; and

Increased Cancer Risk to Teenaged Girls.

“Clearly, the administration is doing what’s best for big business — Big Pharma and Big Abortion — despite the harm its mandate will inflict on women’s health,” asserted Mrs. Malec.

Additional amici represented in the brief include the Polycarp Research Institute, the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, CatholicVote and 286 members of Legatus. (Contributor: Karen Malec, Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer for Christian Newswire)

References: http://www.abortionbreastcancer.com/press_releases/140320/Lawsuits-Against-Mandate-WHO-Designate-Pill-as-Carcinogen.pdf

An important prayer focus here comes down to the family. With more teenagers becoming sexually active early, it behooves parents to be aware of the risks exposed in this report. Further, it is essential that parents and teens be in trusted communication on matters of health and sexuality, which is far less frequent in today’s culture of broken homes and teens claiming “privacy issues.” Let us pray into the larger concerns of family and our country’s steep decline in spiritual concerns. Pray with the “big picture” in mind, asking God to visit our nation with another Awakening through widespread, transforming revival. We invoke God’s Word to pray for spiritual victory, realizing we do not battle against people, as they need God’s redemption, but against “spiritual wickedness in high places.”

“Arise, O Lord, in Your anger; lift Yourself up because of the rage of my enemies; rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded!” (Psalm 7:6)

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Are You not the arm that … and wounded the serpent? Are You not the One who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a road for the redeemed to cross over?” (Isaiah 51:9-10)

 

LONG-TERM JOBLESS FACE BLEAK  FUTURE

Princeton University professor Alan Krueger dives deep into the problem of long-term unemployment in a paper presented Thursday at the Brookings Institution. He calls people who have been out of a job for six months or more an “unlucky subset of the unemployed” who exist on the margins of the economy — with faint hope of returning to productivity. Here are five takeaways from his paper, co-authored with Judd Cramer and David Cho of Princeton.

1. Long-term unemployment has little impact on inflation.

One of the many questions arising from the Great Recession that has perplexed economists is why inflation has not fallen even further than it has. Conventional economic theory calls for a decline averaging one percentage point a year from 2009 to 2013, when the unemployment rate averaged 8.7 percent. Instead, inflation declined by an average of just 0.2 percentage points.

What happened? Krueger’s paper builds on previous work suggesting that the reason is because many of the unemployed have been out of work so long that they no longer exert much pressure on wages, and, hence, inflation. Instead, it’s the short-term unemployment rate that correlates most closely to changes in pay and prices.

2. The long-term unemployed have a hard time not only finding a job, but also keeping one.

The paper uses data from the Current Population Survey to track what happens to the long-term unemployed over 16 months. It found that only about a quarter of people were hired within a few months of the survey. Of those, about 35 percent were unemployed once again or left the labor force within a year. Overall, only about 11 percent of the long-term unemployed were in steady, full-time work after 16 months.

3. Long-term unemployed who leave the labor force are unlikely to come back.

About one in 10 of the long-term jobless left the workforce altogether within a few months of the survey, and most of them stayed out of the labor market after a year. The paper notes that the most common reason for leaving is that they no longer wanted a job, suggesting that the decision is permanent.

4.The long-term unemployed stay in their field.

Krueger analyzed the short-term and long-term jobless who were rehired in 2012 and the industries in which they found work. His finding: There was no sign that the long-term unemployed will make a big career switch. Despite discussion about retraining workers for jobs in fast-growing industries such as health care, they tend to find employment in the fields they know best.

5. A stronger economy does not hurt — but it does not help much, either.

The paper homes in on how the long-term unemployed have fared in the 13 states with the lowest jobless rates as of last fall: Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming. The average unemployment rate in those states was 4.3 percent, compared with the national rate of 7 percent.

Yet even the states with strong labor markets suffered a sharp rise in long-term unemployment. And the difference in the probability of finding a job since the recession ended is only slightly better in strong markets than in weak ones.

“Overall, there is little evidence in this comparison to suggest that the long-term unemployed fare substantially better in the states with the lowest unemployment rates, consistent with the idea that the long-term unemployed are on the margins of the labor force, even where the economy is stronger,” the paper said.

So now what?

The stubbornly high rate of long-term unemployment is a reason that some officials at the Federal Reserve have cited for keeping interest rates near zero. Some have even argued that the Fed should keep rates low even after the unemployment rate has returned to more acceptable levels in hopes of drawing people who have left the labor force back into the fore. But Krueger’s paper seems to suggest that there is little more the Fed can do to help those workers — and that it risks stoking inflation if short-term unemployment falls too far in the process.

In the paper, Krueger deftly dodges those issues directly, befitting someone who until last year was the chief economist at the White House. He merely points to the need for a “broad array of policies” to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment. The responsibility, he says, falls on all of us and “will likely require a concerted effort by policy makers, social organizations, communities and families, in addition to appropriate monetary policy.” (Contributor: By Ylan Q. Mui for The Washington Post)

While our nation faces crushing national issues, intercessors know we still wield strength through the power of intercessory prayer. We know the country is in very serious straits. Challenges proliferate, especially spiritually. In spiritual weakness, other needs expand unchecked. We must not trivialize prayer by shouting at problems, “Go away!” Instead, through continued intercession, the Church does battle in the spiritual realm, praying for national revival. In addition, many Christians are searching out their communities to find churches and non-profit ministries, where they help alleviate local economic pressures by food and clothing distribution to their neighbors in need.   

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matt 25:37-40)

“He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.(Prov 19:17)

 

IRS IMPERSONATORS: ‘LARGEST SCAM OF ITS KIND’

The Internal Revenue Service watchdog on Thursday warned taxpayers of a sophisticated nationwide phone scheme that has become “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.”

The plot involves callers claiming to represent the IRS and demanding immediate payments with a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Russell George announced that “thousands of victims” have already paid more than $1 million to fraudsters and that his agency has received more than 20,000 reports of contact.

The callers have used roughly the same scripts to bilk money from taxpayers, suggesting they may be connected, TIGTA officials said in an interview with reporters.

Officials also said the perpetrators often know the last four digits of the victims’ Social Security numbers and threaten arrest, deportation and removal of driver’s licenses — something the IRS is not authorized to do.

“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” George said in a statement.

The callers tend to use common names and fake IRS badge numbers, in addition to manipulating their caller ID to appear more legitimate, according to officials. Some also follow up with false IRS e-mails and phone calls in which they pretend to represent the police or department of motor vehicles officials, TIGTA said.

The IRS generally contacts taxpayers first by mail or with personal visits by field agents, and the agency does not accept credit card information by phone, according to TIGTA officials. (Contributor: Josh Hicks for The Washington Post)

Ever since the serpent beguiled Eve in the Garden, the hearts of sinful and wicked people have gravitated toward victimizing others instead of working legally. Be sure to warn family and friends. Pray especially for senior citizens, who often fall prey to such tactics out of fear they have done something wrong or because they want to make a good independent decision without checking with family, etc. Some are easily bullied. Pray that law enforcement agencies find ways to track and apprehend such criminals. Pray for the victims to find comfort and help in their losses.

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

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)

 

GUINEA SCRAMBLES TO CONTAIN DEADLY EBOLA OUTBREAK

Aid workers and public health officials battled Monday to contain west Africa’s first outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus as tests on suspected cases in Conakry allayed fears that it had spread to the capital.

At least 59 people have died in an outbreak of the virulent virus raging through Guinea’s southern forests but tests on three haemorrhagic fever cases — two of them fatal — in Conakry were negative, the government said.

“The Pasteur Institute in Dakar worked urgently all last night on samples taken from suspected cases here in Conakry, which were all negative,” said Sakoba Keita, the health ministry’s chief disease prevention officer.

“So for now, there’s no Ebola in Conakry, but haemorrhagic fever whose nature remains to be determined.”

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement on Sunday that the Ebola virus “has quickly spread from the communities of Macenta, Gueckedou, and Kissidougou to the capital, Conakry.”

Keita said however that the Pasteur Institute was still working on identifying the virus behind the fever cases in the capital and would know more “in the coming hours”.

Officials from the health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) met on Sunday in Conakry for urgent talks on the crisis.

“From January to March 23 Guinea has recorded a total of 87 suspected cases of viral haemorrhagic fever, including 61 deaths,” they said in a statement on Monday, indicating that most cases had been reported in the south of the West African country.

The first analyses of samples conducted by the Pasteur Institute in the French city of Lyon showed that cases in southern Guinea were due to the Ebola virus.

To date, no treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organisation.

The disease is transmitted by direct contact with blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact and the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

UNICEF said on Sunday at least three victims of the outbreak were children and eight health workers had been among the first to die after treating infected patients.

The organization urged Guineans not to attend funerals wherever possible and to avoid all contact with the sick and the dead.

Ebola, one of the world’s most virulent diseases, was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1976. The central African country has suffered eight outbreaks.

The most recent epidemic, also in the DRC, infected 62 people and left 34 dead between May and November 2012, according to the country’s health ministry.

Although there have also been outbreaks among humans in Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, the disease had never before been detected in people in West Africa.

According to researchers, the virus multiplies quickly, overwhelming the immune system’s ability to fight the infection.

Aid organization Plan International warned that the epidemic risked spreading to neighbouring countries because of the free movement of people across borders.

“Communities, especially children, in the border areas between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are vulnerable and need immediate support. A large-scale preventive action will need to be put in place rapidly,” Ibrahima Toure, Plan’s country director in Guinea, said in a statement.

Guinea’s health ministry said it was offering free treatment in isolation centres and raising awareness through all the media of good hygiene, while tracking people who may have been in contact with the infected.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and WHO teams already on the ground are being strengthened to help the government and distribute sanitation kits and protective equipment in the affected areas.

Meanwhile, experts in haemorrhagic fevers were expected from Dakar and Lyon to help in the quick identification of further samples.

Neighbouring Senegal and Ivory Coast have reactivated their epidemiological surveillance systems while the French embassy in Liberia has warned its nationals to avoid travel to southern Guinea.

Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer Brima Kargbo said there were no suspected cases in the country but added that medical teams had been sent to areas bordering Guinea to look for unusual cases of fever.

Local aid organization the Health For All Coalition warned that while no Ebola cases had yet been reported, “the tendency of its transmission remains high” in the border areas.

“People, goods and animals — such as sheep, goats and cows used in Sierra Leone — come from Guinea and it is these districts that they are brought into. And in these areas, people hunt for birds, monkeys and baboons for food.” (Contributor: Mouctar Bah and Yahoo News for AFP)

Pray that those who are charged with the responsibility of containing the Ebola virus be given God’s wisdom in protecting any further outbreaks. Pray that those who have contracted this virus be healed and given support in their recovery. Pray for the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones in this recent outbreak.

“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

 

PERSONHOOD OHIO THREATENING TO END ABORTION STATEWIDE BY 2015

Personhood movements are gaining momentum in several states, posing a major threat to legal abortion this year.

President of Georgia Right to Life Dan Becker was featured at Cleveland Right to Life’s annual conference, where he spoke on Personhood. He received a standing ovation after his lecture and volunteers gathered over 1,400 signatures for the Ohio Personhood Amendment and gave away hundreds of petitions.

Historically, Personhood movements and large pro-life groups like Cleveland Right to Life have not always walked hand-in-hand. In the 2011 campaign for Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment, the Catholic bishops were divided, with only half of them supporting the Amendment. Ohio Right to Life has not supported the Ohio Personhood Amendment and National Right to Life leaders have opposed Personhood Amendments, preferring to spend their resources regulating abortion and electing Republicans to office. In the past year, however, there appears to be a growing tsunami of support for attempts to protect every unborn child statewide in state law.

Personhood received a huge endorsement from a former Personhood opponent in North Dakota, Christopher Dodson. He is the Executive Director and General Counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic bishops of North Dakota. He used to train personhood-opposing attorneys on behalf of the Catholic bishops. But not anymore.

Now, he encourages support of North Dakota’s Personhood Amendment, which will be on the ballot this November: “It gives the people of North Dakota the opportunity to decide whether the state should recognize a legal right to life for North Dakotans. A state constitutional amendment respecting the right to life is not unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states may enact their own laws and constitutional provision to protect human life, including unborn human life. Nor is a state constitutional amendment respecting the right to life made moot by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion… Let’s affirm in our state constitution that which this Legislative assembly and the people of North Dakota consistently affirmed with its own laws – that every human being has a right to life that should be respected and protected to the greatest extent possible.”

Following Esq. Dodson’s lead, the Catholic bishops of North Dakota donated $100,000 to North Dakota’s Personhood campaign.

Dr. Patrick Johnston, the family physician who directs Personhood Ohio, states, “As the Catholic bishops of Ohio have discouraged signature-gathering in their churches on the basis of some of the bad arguments that the North Dakota bishops firmly reject, pray that the Ohio bishops will now be open to protecting every preborn Ohioan in state law this year.” He says that Personhood Ohio will continue to lobby pro-life groups to endorse their Personhood Amendment and help with signature-gathering. If their goal of 385,000 signatures is reached by July, the Ohio Personhood Amendment will be on the ballot in November and a simple majority vote could protect every preborn child statewide by January 1, 2015 – including children threatened by abortifacient drugs.

Certainly, if Ohio passed their Personhood Amendment, the battle would be far from over, but it would be refreshing to see opponents of abortion unify behind a two-sentence Amendment that, for once, simply expresses what they all believe: that human life begins at conception and every person should be protected by law. (Contributor: Dr. Patrick Johnston, Personhood Ohio for Christian Newswire)

Offer thanksgiving to the Lord for the hope that is expressed in this article concerning Ohio’s progress in thwarting abortions in their state legislation. Pray that other states within the U.S. will be encouraged by the progress of Ohio’s legislative progress.

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, [that] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  (Luke 17:2)

 

MICROSOFT JUST EXPOSED EMAIL’S UGLIEST SECRET

If you’re hiding something from Microsoft, you’d better not put it on Hotmail.

It came out on March 20 that the company had read through a user’s inbox as part of an internal leak investigation. Microsoft has spent today in damage-control mode, changing its internal policies and rushing to point out that they could have gotten a warrant if they’d needed one. By all indications, the fallout is just beginning.

But while Microsoft is certainly having a bad week, the problem is much bigger than any single company. For the vast majority of people, our email system is based on third-party access, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, Apple or whoever else you decide to trust. Our data is held on their servers, routed by their protocols, and they hold the keys to any encryption that protects it. The deal works because they’re providing important services, paying our server bills, and for the most part, we trust them. But this week’s Microsoft news has chipped away at that trust, and for many, it’s made us realize just how frightening the system is without it.

We’ve known for a while that email providers could look into your inbox, but the assumption was that they wouldn’t. Even a giant like Microsoft is likely to sustain lasting damage, simply because there are so many options for free web-based email. Why stick with Microsoft if you trust Apple or Google more? But while companies have created a real marketplace for privacy and trust, you’ll find the same structural problems at every major service. Ad-supported email means companies have to scan your inbox for data, so they need access to every corner of your inbox. (That’s been the basis of Microsoft’s Google-bashing “Scroogled” campaign.) Free email also means someone else is hosting it; they own the servers, and there’s no legal or technical safeguard to keep them from looking at what’s inside.

A close look at company privacy policies only underlines the fact. As Microsoft pointed out its initial statement, “Microsoft’s terms of service make clear our permission for this type of review.” Look at the company privacy policy, and you’ll see that’s true: “We may access or disclose information about you, including the content of your communications, in order to … protect the rights or property of Microsoft.” That’s a straightforward description of what happened in the Hotmail case.

You’ll find similar language in the privacy policies from Yahoo and Google. Yahoo reserves the right to look through your emails to “protect the rights, property, or personal safety of Yahoo, its users and the public.” Google’s language is nearly identical, saying it will access user data “if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to … protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google.” Apple is a little better, but not much, promising to disclose user content “if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate.” What counts as public importance, exactly?

What’s worse, the current laws won’t do anything to stop them. For standard law enforcement, it takes a warrant to read a person’s email — but there’s no such restriction on hosting providers. Peeking into your clients’ inbox is bad form, but it’s perfectly legal. Even if the rights weren’t reserved in the terms of service, it’s not clear there are even grounds for a lawsuit. Without stronger privacy laws, all companies have to worry about is bad PR.

Microsoft’s mole hunt isn’t unprecedented either. There have been LOVEINT-style abuses of sysadmin access, as when a Google engineer was fired for spying on friends’ chat logs. Last year, Harvard searched its own professors’ email accounts as part of a cheating investigation. (The dean behind the search stepped down a few months later.) But those are just the instances we’re aware of. In all likelihood, there are dozens of similar incidents that were simply never made public, encouraged by the open nature of third-party hosting. As long as the access is legal and technically feasible, there’s no reason to think it will stop.

Anyone living a modern and complicated life over email is left in an awkward place. The crypto crowd has an easy answer: use end-to-end encryption, locking up emails with GnuPG and online chats with programs like Cryptocat. You can hold your own keys, making sure no one can decrypt the message but the person you’re sending it to, and count on open-source code reviews to expose anyone who tries to slip a backdoor into the code.

It’s a good system and it works, but for most users, it’s still a bunch of extra inconvenience for no obvious benefit. In the end, it’s easier to blame Microsoft for violating our trust and move onto the next company, with the same data practices and the same terms of service. With Google, Apple, Yahoo, and countless other free webmail services waiting in the wings, there are plenty of options to choose from. They’d never do a thing like this… right? (Contributor: By Russell Brandom for The Verge)

With all of the privacy issues coming to the forefront in the past few years, it would be good for us as intercessors to ask our Heavenly Father to cover our nation with His protective arms. Pray that hidden agendas that could bring harm to individuals in any form would be exposed and dealt with by those charged with securing our individual as well as national interests.

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 10:26)

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

“My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” (2 Samuel 22:3-4)

On Watch in Washington March 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington March 19, 2014

March 19th, 2014

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

WHITE HOUSE REJECTS RESULTS OF CRIMEA REFERENDUM

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke after residents of Ukraine’s Crimea region voted in favor of seceding to Russia, with the White House saying it would reject the results of the referendum held “under threats of violence and intimidation.”

More than 95 percent of Crimea voters, who are largely ethnic Russians, approved splitting off and joining Russia, with more than 50 percent of the ballots being counted, the referendum committee said late Sunday.

The expected results came as Obama told Putin that a diplomatic solution can still be achieved but only if Russian military forces end their incursions into Ukrainian territory.

Obama also said the referendum would “never” be recognized by the international community and that the United States and its European partners are prepared to “impose additional costs” on Russia for its actions, according to the White House.

Hours earlier, the White House rejected the referendum results before the final tally, which was no surprise. But the message that Russia had intimidated voters was remarkable in its force and clarity, especially after weeks of criticism that Obama was being outmatched by Putin on the world stage.

“Russia’s actions are dangerous and destabilizing,” said the White House, in a statement from the Office of the Press Secretary.

The remarks were echoed across Washington, which is shifting its focus to deterring possible Russian military advances elsewhere in Ukraine.

Putin sent troops into the neighboring region days after Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month in a political uprising.

“The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991,” the White House also said Sunday. “The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

In addition, U.S. officials warned that any Russian moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.

Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to return its troops in Crimea to their bases, pull back forces from the Ukraine border, halt incitement in eastern Ukraine and support the political reforms in Ukraine that would protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and others in the former Soviet republic that Russia says it is concerned about.

Obama had already talked twice by phone to Putin, saying his movements in Crimea are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, words the White House said he repeated Sunday.

Putin says he is trying to protect his country’s economic and other interests in the region.

In a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry urged Russia “to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralization through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities,” the State Department said.

It was their second call since unsuccessful talks Friday in London.

Kerry expressed “strong concerns” about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, just north of Crimea where Russian troops appeared Saturday, and about “continuing provocations” in cities in east Ukraine, the department said.

A senior State Department official said Lavrov’s willingness to discuss Ukraine political reforms was positive. But the official stressed that the Russian military escalation was of “greatest concern” and must be reversed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Russia faces penalties that would hurt its economy and diminish its influence in the world if Putin didn’t back down.

U.S. and European officials have said they plan to announce sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and potential asset freezes, on Monday if Putin does not shift course.

On Capitol Hill, members of Congress said they were prepared to enact tough sanctions on various Russian leaders, but $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the Ukrainian economy is on hold while Congress is on a break.

California GOP Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the referendum “phony” and “a throwback to the Soviet era.”

“No vote occurring under military occupation deserves to be treated as legitimate,” he said. “This referendum is clearly unconstitutional.”

Royce also called on the administration to start “working overtime to help break Putin’s energy grip on Ukraine and eastern Europe.”

Washington officials also said the Crimea vote was not necessary, considering the new Ukrainian government has made clear its willingness to discuss increased autonomy in that region.

Russia has so far rejected the offer and the request to allow international monitors into the region to ensure that the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine are being upheld.

The White House said Obama asked again Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee accused the Obama administration of showing “wishy-washiness” toward Putin.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said Secretary of State John Kerry is sending the wrong message by saying Putin’s military troops taking control of facilities in the Crimea peninsula was “not a threat” and “nothing personal.”

“Our administration has created an air of permissiveness,” Corker told “Fox News Sunday.” “We have to show more resolve. It’s not helpful. It shows wishy-washiness.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, told Fox News that the United States has to be more firm with Putin because he has “started a game or Russian roulette … and he will see how far he can go.”

The EU is also taking steps to increase sanctions against Russia over what many believe is a planned annexation of Crimea, as Moscow has changed from a wary partner to a diplomatic adversary in the space of a few months.

EU foreign ministers will decide on Monday whether to impose asset freeze and visa sanctions and, if so, who to target.

EU diplomats were working feverishly over the weekend to set up a list of Russian and Moscow-leaning officials from Ukraine who have been involved in pushing for the southern peninsula’s secession and possible annexation.

This story is based in part on Associated Press and other wire service reports. (Contributor: Fox News)

This article illustrates IFA’s approach to praying into the news. Our mission banner defines The Informer ‘s alert ministry as follows: “A biblical, prophetic look at current events for those who have a heart to pray for our nation.” Intercessors do not “use” prayer to manipulate God, but seek to pray in cooperation with His purposes, seeking His mercy for our nation in its distress. Pray for revival to begin in the Church and for lost people to be saved through the Gospel. May God’s kingdom come and His will be done. Pray for President Obama and other world leaders to be guided by His wisdom and restraining power. Our prayers, together, reinforce our unity in intercession.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
(Matt 5:6:9-13)

“For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together … For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.” (Psalm 47:7-9)

 

HOUSE GOP PASSES ‘ENFORCE THE LAW’ ACT

Tired of watching helplessly from the sidelines as President Obama decided how to enforce the laws they wrote, House Republicans on Wednesday pushed back, passing a bill they said would at least rope in the courts to serve as potential referees between the branches of government.

The bill, which passed on a near party-line 233-181 vote, says that when either the House or Senate passes a resolution finding that a president is failing to execute a law, lawmakers will have legal standing to sue in federal court, with a speedy appeal to the Supreme Court.

“We are not held in high public esteem right now. Maybe members of Congress would be respected more if we respected ourselves enough to require that when we pass something, it be treated as law,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who wrote the legislation.

It’s the latest in an escalating battle over Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority to do an end run around Congress. The president says he has stayed within his rights and has threatened to veto the House bill if it reaches his desk.

The fight erupted as Mr. Obama was making last-minute adjustments to his health care law and as he was preparing to face fierce pressure from immigrant rights groups that want him to expand his executive action and grant tentative legal status to most illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

Republicans said they have no recourse when they think Mr. Obama is abusing his authority. Under federal courts’ strict interpretation, members of Congress are hard-pressed to claim they are injured by the president’s decisions. The same goes for ordinary citizens.

That standard makes it difficult to challenge moves such as Mr. Obama’s 2012 policy granting many young adult illegal immigrants a chance at avoiding deportation. Immigration agents tried to sue to overturn that policy, but a judge threw out their case.

Congressional Republicans said their legislation would give them legal standing so courts would have to hear their cases.

The dispute centers on the Constitution’s admonition that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Republicans say Mr. Obama has regularly broken faith with that clause through claims of prosecutorial discretion or in the name of efficiency and workability.

Mr. Obama, though, says he has the right to decide how to faithfully execute the laws, and that Congress can’t drag judges into the dispute.

“Congress may not assign such power to itself, nor may it assign to the courts the task of resolving such generalized political disputes,” the White House said in its veto threat.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, replied: “The fact that the president would threaten to veto a measure requiring him to uphold his Constitutional obligations underscores why this bill is needed, and why Senate Democrats should pass it immediately.”

Five Democrats voted with Republicans to pass the bill Wednesday, breaking with Mr. Obama and defying his veto threat.

Some legal analysts disputed the arguments of the bill’s sponsors, saying the courts likely would refuse to hear the cases.

Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said if Republicans really wanted to defend Congress‘ rights and prerogatives, they would have written the bill differently. As it is, he said, it’s a political document.

“You guys just don’t like the president. I get it. But get over it,” he said. He said the bill is “likely unconstitutional” and would result in scores of lawsuits.

Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said what Mr. Obama has done in carrying out the laws is no different from what President George W. Bush or his predecessors did, though Mr. Obama is doing it often.

He said with complex laws, the president must have the ability to delay implementation of pieces in order to ensure the overall law is carried out.

“It’s not illegal and it’s certainly not a violation of his constitutional duty,” Mr. Lazarus said. “It’s actually exactly what the Constitution contemplates.”

Mr. Lazarus said Congress already has ways to overcome what they see as presidential obstruction — either by enacting laws or winning elections.

“This legislation is a recipe for moving the forum, the political theater, to another venue, namely the courts, and that is not what the Constitution created the courts to do,” he said.

Immigration rights activists viewed the House move as an effort by Republicans to try to roll back Mr. Obama’s 2012 order that gave tentative legal status to a subset of illegal immigrants called “dreamers.”

“It seems House Republicans want us all to know that they not only hate the president, they hate immigrants, too,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

Perhaps nothing illustrates the frustration U.S political leaders are experiencing than for the Republican led House of Representatives to pass a bill they know the Senate will not support and, even if passed, President Obama will not sign into law. Opinion polls show both political parties in steep decline, while the president’s own ratings continue to plummet. “Conservative” and “liberal” media outlets boldly state their concerns about government gridlock. Now, with new domestic and international crises looming, Christians must ask, “Where can we go but to the Lord?” Let us pray!

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men.” (Hosea 10:12-13)

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2, RSV)

 

ERIC HOLDER BACKS PLAN TO SHORTEN DRUG SENTENCES

The Obama administration is forging ahead with its plan to refocus the war on drugs and reduce the size of the U.S. prison population. Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission proposed changing federal guidelines to reduce the average prison sentence for dealing drugs by a year, from 62 months to 51 months. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the commission to endorse the plan. “Certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for far too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason,” Holder plans to testify, according to an excerpt provided to the Washington Post.

About half of the 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system are doing time for drug crimes, and the change would affect the suggested sentences for roughly 70 percent of drug offenders. The government estimates that under the new guidelines, the federal prison population would decrease by about 6,550 inmates in the next five years.

If the commission votes to approve the plan, the revised guidelines judges must consider would go into effect in November. Until then, Holder will instruct prosecutors not to push judges for the longer sentences.

Congress could vote to reject the proposals, but Holder’s previous efforts to reform prison sentences have had bipartisan support, since they reduce government spending. In addition to pointing out that the sentencing adjustment would “send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Holder plans to argue that it would “help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.” (Contributor: by Margaret Hartmann for Washington Post and New York Magazine)

Rather than praying about “symptoms,” guided by personal opinion or political views as regards shorter drug sentences, let us pray for widespread revival throughout our nation. Such revival can bring rehabilitation to those inside and outside of prison, through conversion by the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is well known that drug lords often remain in control of vast narcotics empires even from prison, so the issue may not be the length of sentences, but in stemming the demand of such substances through redeemed lives. Pray accordingly.

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)

[Jesus said,] “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

 

U.S. TO RELINQUISH REMAINING CONTROL OVER THE INTERNET

U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely on the smooth functioning of the Web.

Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.

The change would end the long-running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group. That contract is set to expire next year but could be extended if the transition plan is not complete.

“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement.

The announcement received a passionate response, with some groups quickly embracing the change and others blasting it.

In a statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) called the move “consistent with other efforts the U.S. and our allies are making to promote a free and open Internet, and to preserve and advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance.”

But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted: “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”

The practical consequences of the decision were harder to immediately discern, especially with the details of the transition not yet clear. Politically, the move could alleviate rising global concerns that the United States essentially controls the Web and takes advantage of its oversight position to help spy on the rest of the world.

U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying a new oversight system must be developed and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the world. An international meeting to discuss the future of Internet is scheduled to start on March 23 in Singapore.

The move’s critics called the decision hasty and politically tinged, and voiced significant doubts about the fitness of ICANN to operate without U.S. oversight and beyond the bounds of U.S. law.

“This is a purely political bone that the U.S. is throwing,” said Garth Bruen, a security fellow at the Digital Citizens Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group that combats online crime. “ICANN has made a lot of mistakes, and ICANN has not really been a good steward.”

Business groups and some others have long complained that ICANN’s decision-making was dominated by the interests of the industry that sells domain names and whose fees provide the vast majority of ICANN’s revenue. The U.S. government contract was a modest check against such abuses, critics said.

“It’s inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world. That’s the equivalent of being accountable to no one,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing major Internet commerce businesses.

U.S. officials said their decision had nothing to do with the NSA spying revelations and the worldwide controversy they sparked, saying there had been plans since ICANN’s creation in 1998 to eventually migrate it to international control.

“The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance,” Strickling said in a statement.

Although ICANN is based in Southern California, governments worldwide have a say in the group’s decisions through an oversight body. ICANN in 2009 made an “Affirmation of Commitments” to the Commerce Department that covers several key issues.

Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, disputed many of the complaints about the transition plan and promised an open, inclusive process to find a new international oversight structure for the group.

“Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet,” he said.

The United States has long maintained authority over elements of the Internet, which grew from a Defense Department program that started in the 1960s. The relationship between the United States and ICANN has drawn wider international criticism in recent years, in part because big American companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft play such a central role in the Internet’s worldwide functioning. The NSA revelations exacerbated those concerns.

“This is a step in the right direction to resolve important international disputes about how the Internet is governed,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, a group that promotes open access to the Internet.

Verizon, one of the world’s biggest Internet providers, issued a statement saying, “A successful transition in the stewardship of these important functions to the global multi-stakeholder community would be a timely and positive step in the evolution of Internet governance.”

ICANN’s most important function is to oversee the assigning of Internet domains — such as dot-com, dot-edu and dot-gov — and ensure that the various companies and universities involved in directing digital traffic do so safely.

Concern about ICANN’s stewardship has spiked in recent years amid a massive and controversial expansion that is adding hundreds of new domains, such as dot-book, dot-gay and dot-sucks, to the Internet’s infrastructure. More than 1,000 new domains are slated to be made available, pumping far more fee revenue into ICANN.

Major corporations have complained, however, that con artists already swarm the Internet with phony Web sites designed to look like the authentic offerings of respected brands.

“To set ICANN so-called free is a very major step that should done with careful oversight,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. “We would be very concerned about that step.” (Contributor: By Craig Timberg for The Washington Post)

The Internet is a vast electronic world of commerce and communication. Like any instrument, tool, or medium, it is morally neutral. Through it, one can gain an education or learn how to devise evil plans of destruction. One can hear the Gospel unto salvation or feed habits of lust with pornography. Its use produces millionaires and reduces others to poverty. It can be a servant or a harsh taskmaster. Like the human tongue, its use can bless or be a curse. For a prayer focus, think of family and others you know and love. Pray for each to be a master of the Internet and not its slave.

“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell…. But no man can tame the tongue… With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:5-10)

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

 

ISRAEL LAW SAYS REFERENDUM NEEDED FOR JERUSALEM

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday passed a law requiring a national referendum to approve any future withdrawal from east Jerusalem — adding a new hurdle to any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The U.S. is mediating peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in which the fate of Jerusalem is being debated. There has been little sign of progress in the talks so far.

The issue of sovereignty over east Jerusalem, home to key religious sites, is the most sensitive in peace talks. Israel captured the area in 1967 from Jordan and says it is part of its eternal capital.

The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as their capital.

The law, passed by a 68-0 margin Wednesday, would require a referendum on any withdrawal from “sovereign” Israeli territory. Israel annexed east Jerusalem, though its control is not internationally recognized. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

Zeev Elkin, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said the law provided another “wall” to prevent Israel from relinquishing the “homeland.”

A referendum on such a sensitive issue could potentially stymie an agreement if Israel and Palestinian negotiators reach final stages of hammering out a deal.

There is widespread opposition to dividing Jerusalem in Israel due to its religious and historic significance for Jews along with security concerns.

The law also calls for a separate referendum on the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. With Syria’s future uncertain as rebel forces battle the regime of President Bashar Assad it is unclear when such a referendum might realistically be held on that front. (Contributor: By The Washington Post and Associated Press)

According to the Bible, Jerusalem belongs to Israel by divine edict—the city of the great King. Yet, in its turbulent Old Testament relationship to God, Israel had so many years out of favor with Him that the wall of the city and the temple had to be rebuilt following periods of captivity (divine discipline). Now, Jews have been restored to their land, as God promised. But is the nation restored to God? Prayerfully imagine that, in its valiant battle for survival and for Jerusalem, modern Israel returns to the Lord. Would He not come to their aid swiftly and decisively? Intercede for Israel, for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray from the Scriptures for full restoration and reconciliation with the Lord God.

“Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages.’” (Isaiah 49:8)

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’” (Psalm 122:6-7)

“I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6-7)

 

BIBLE VERSE ON COLORADO CADET’S DOOR SPARKS DEBATE

A Bible verse on the door of an Air Force Academy cadet’s dorm room has touched off a constitutional debate.

Mikey Weinstein, director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Wednesday that the message on a white board amounted to a cadet in a position of authority forcing an opinion on subordinates. Weinstein says he received complaints from cadets, and might file a lawsuit to ensure church-state separation on campus.

The academy says the issue was resolved earlier this week when cadets decided to erase the message.

But Mike Berry of the Liberty Institute says the right to post such messages is a matter of religious freedom. Berry’s institute says it fights to defend religious liberty, and Berry says he plans to take up the matter with the academy. (Contributor: The Associated Press and Miami Herald)

We don’t have all the details here, but if the Liberty Institute spokesman is correct, the Air Force Academy cadet’s religious freedom and expression are being denied. Sadly, it is reasonable to assume the worst, as a wide-scale war is being waged against the freedom to express Christian and other morally upright views. These attacks are unremitting, and there is no biblical promise that followers of Christ will be immune to attack. Pray for relief, where possible, and also for faith and courage of believers to remain strong in the struggle for God-given freedoms to prevail. 

“So they 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)

“But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.
(Jeremiah 1:7-8)

 

ATHEISTS’ ZEALOTRY IN DISMANTLING CROSSES DISHONORS THE FALLEN

The cross has long been a symbol of sacrifice. In America, it has become synonymous with a symbol of honor and respect for the valiant men and women who have given their lives for a grateful nation.

Yet, that symbol of honor has come under attack across America. A small but vocal subset of atheists have such a visceral reaction to the cross that they rush to federal court every chance they get to tear one down.

The memory and honor of the brave men and women these crosses commemorate become mere collateral damage in their unrelenting assault on the cross.

Recently, one of these angry atheist groups filed a lawsuit to have a nearly 90-year-old World War I memorial torn down, because it was a cross.

Never mind the fact that in 1925 when the Bladensburg Cross or “Peace Cross” was erected, it honored 49 hometown heroes in Prince George’s County in Washington’s Maryland suburbs who gave their lives for a grateful nation.

Today, the angry atheists who now claim “unwelcome contact” with the cross say it “shocked” and “upset” them, and are demanding it come down. A memorial that for nearly a century has honored the brave military members who have given their lives for our freedom is now threatened to be dishonored.

This same atheist group, the American Humanist Association, has, for the time being, obtained a court order to block construction of a war memorial inside of a city-owned baseball stadium in California, because the planned memorial includes a soldier kneeling before a cross.

Never mind that in cemeteries and at monuments throughout America, brave members of our military kneel in front of crosses each and every day in remembrance of their fallen comrades.

In that same city, one member of the American Humanist Association has also engaged in a crusade to rid the roadsides of crosses marking where loved ones have died.

One grieving mother can’t understand why someone would try to take down the small roadside memorial she placed to remember her son. “It’s still not fair,” she said. “There’s no reason why the cross had to come down. The cross is up here for [my son] Anthony.”

In the more famous case of the Ground Zero Cross — two intersecting steel beams found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after Sept. 11, 2001 — another perpetually angry atheist group, the American Atheists, argued before a federal appeals court last week that the cross cannot be included in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum because it offends them.

In fact, they actually argue that the mere “existence” of the cross has caused them physical pain, headaches and mental anguish. We represent more than 230,000 Americans in that case and have filed an amicus brief with the appeals court defending this display.

These angry atheist groups have no respect for those who have experienced true pain and mental anguish. Nothing stands in their way, not the memory of the fallen, not grieving loved ones.

If it is a cross, it offends them and, therefore, must come down. It is a pervasive, unrelenting obsession with rooting out every vestige of religion from American life. They conflate their feelings with the Constitution.

The reality is that the Constitution, despite their self-righteous claims, does not support their view.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Constitution’s “goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.”

It even recently recognized the historical context and important place that crosses have in America, stating: “A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this nation and its people.”

The Constitution is not an atheist manifesto. Despite constant agitation, the cross will continue to stand to honor the fallen, for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A small but vocal band of agitators should not be allowed to dishonor the heroes who have fought and died for our freedom.

At the American Center for Law and Justice, we’re fighting back, and the American people are standing with us. We are filing amicus briefs in a number of these cases, and more than 40,000 people have signed our petition to defend the cross and honor our heroes.

It’s time we remember to honor those for whom the cross stands. (Contributor: Joordan Sekulow and Matthew Clark for The Washington Times – Jordan Sekulow is executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, where Matthew Clark is a lawyer.)

This kind of response is becoming prevalent among those who oppose Christian expression and traditional moral values. Not only does atheism and other non-belief or anti-Christian systems want an equal voice, many vigorously oppose the rights of others and are working to have the conservative view stamped out—literally, to disappear. Pray for this case to preserve the Bladensburg (MD) memorial “Peace Cross” to be successful. Follow the news in other such cases about marriage and religious freedom of expression, and pray for victory in the courts for the side of righteousness.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’” (1 Cor 1:18-19)

“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 16:1-4)

 

GOV’T COMPUTERS RUNNING WINDOWS XP OPEN TO HACKERS AFTER APR 8

The deadline for installing secure operating systems on federal government computers will pass next month with the job incomplete, leaving hundreds of thousands of machines running outdated software and unusually vulnerable to hackers.

Federal officials have known for more than six years that Microsoft will withdraw its free support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. Despite a recent rush to complete upgrades, an estimated 10 percent of government computers — out of several million — will still be running the operating system on that date, company officials said.

That includes thousands of computers on classified military and diplomatic networks, U.S. officials said. Such networks have stronger defenses generally but hold more sensitive material, raising the stakes for breaches if they occur.

Security experts warn that hackers have been preparing for what Microsoft calls the “end-of-life” for Windows XP by stockpiling “vulnerabilities” that amount to skeleton keys that can give intruders remote access.

Hackers who break into a single computer on a network can use the passwords they steal to work their way into other machines, even ones that have updated operating systems and other protections, experts say. Intrusions often are limited to espionage but can be the first step toward cyberattacks capable of disabling critical systems.

“Once XP goes out of support and is no longer patched, you’ve just raised the vulnerability significantly on the whole Windows platform in your organization if you haven’t moved off XP,” said Richard Spires, a former Department of Homeland Security chief information officer. He called the problem “urgent.”

Some federal officials said that they asked Microsoft to extend its deadline for ending support for Windows XP. The company declined and instead offered — for new fees — “custom support agreements” that give protection that likely will fall short of what the company long has provided to most XP users for free, according to experts.

That included routine security patches whenever a cyberattack, virus or other intrusion revealed an exploitable weakness in the operating system anywhere in the world. That comprehensive protection, amounting to a global early-warning system based on data from hundreds of millions of computers, is slated to disappear after the April deadline. Some agencies have declined to contract for custom support agreements because they deemed them an unnecessary expense.

“For all the money we collectively give Microsoft, they were not too receptive to extending the deadline,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid about relations with a major vendor. “There was some grumbling that they were not willing to extend.”

Microsoft said that, based on its surveys with federal agencies, it expects the transition to continue during the next several months and be virtually complete by year’s end, although there are likely to be a small number of Windows XP machines operating into 2015.

“Because we are tightly working with our customers, and because of the types of systems that have yet to make the move off XP, we do not feel there is a substantially greater risk for the federal government on April 9 than there is on April 7,” Mark Williams, Microsoft’s chief security officer for federal systems, said in an e-mail. “That being said, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the most safe system is a modern one.”

Windows XP, released in 2001, is the last operating system that Microsoft built before the company made a range of significant security improvements, including systems that limit the ability of hackers who break into one program to move into others and gain control of the computer’s most basic functions.

Federal officials have been working on the transition — which involves buying hundreds of thousands of new computers, updating operating systems on older machines and revamping custom software designed to run on Windows XP — for more than two years and express optimism that the bulk of the work will be completed in time.

They note that private companies and individual users are lagging even farther behind, with analysts reporting that nearly 20 percent of computers worldwide are still running the outdated operating system.

The government’s move away from Windows XP has been hobbled by budget crises and a shortage of top-level coordination despite regular warnings from top U.S. officials that the threat of cyberattack is one of the leading national security concerns facing the nation, current and former federal officials said.

“There is something broken in the process if they are letting this many machines be un-updated at this point,” said Steve Bellovin, former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, now a computer science professor at Columbia University. “Some of it is budget cuts. Some of it is not very good management, I suspect.”

Responsibility for overseeing cybersecurity policy at federal agencies is shared — somewhat uneasily — by the Department of Homeland Security and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. In April 2012, DHS sent OMB a draft plan for warning federal agencies that they needed to prioritize moving their computers off of Windows XP before Microsoft ended support, but OMB officials never acted on the plan, several current and former government cybersecurity officials said.

DHS officials said that they collect data on federal computers running Windows XP but declined to reveal it because, they said, doing so would compromise security by helping hackers target their attacks. Officials also declined to reveal the number of federal government computers overall, but several experts put the number at more than 4 million.

Several individual agencies,when queried by The Washington Post, shared estimates for how many of their computers would be updated by the deadline. DHS said that all of its systems would be off Windows XP by April 8.

Defense and State said that nearly all of their unclassified machines would be, even as some on classified networks lagged behind. The Justice Department said its goal was to have more than 75 percent of its nearly 230,000 computers upgraded, leaving tens of thousands running XP. The Department of Veterans Affairs will still have about 2 percent of its computers, up to 6,000 units, on the outdated operating system by the deadline.

Managing the costly, logistically intense transition away from Windows XP has fallen to the chief information officers of the government’s cabinet-level departments, independent agencies and, in some cases, the individual bureaus within departments.

The Commerce Department, for example, said that “a majority” of its bureaus had moved off of Windows XP but that, overall, officials didn’t know how many of the department’s 85,000 machines were using the outdated operating system because updating is left to bureau-level officials.

“As a matter of law and policy, all agencies are responsible for the security of their networks and systems, and that includes addressing these known software vulnerabilities through ongoing patching,” DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said in an e-mailed statement.

The inability to complete the transition from Windows XP on time has drawn fire from critics who say it highlights broader flaws in how the federal government deploys information technology and manages critical assets at a time of rising cybersecurity threats.

“It is troubling that a list of current [computer systems] isn’t more readily available,” said a congressional aide familiar with cybersecurity policy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.

The federal government for years has been a regular target of hackers — mainly foreign intelligence services — with significant breaches at many agencies. The Navy recently battled an intrusion in which Iranian cyberspies spent several months moving within the service’s unclassified system before being detected and expelled.

The risks of running Windows XP were highlighted in 2009 when Chinese hackers managed to exploit a vulnerability in the browser on XP computers at Google, enabling the theft of valuable source code. Operation Aurora, as it was dubbed by security researchers, targeted more than 30 other U.S. companies.

The need to update computer operating systems has come at a time of major new investment in cybersecurity, including the creation of the new military U.S. Cyber Command, based at Fort Meade. But the unglamorous work of updating operating systems was a lower priority than buying expensive, high-tech systems to monitor and rebuff cyberattacks, critics said.

“Nobody is going to be promoted on the back of moving from XP to Windows 7,” said Christopher Soghoian, a computer security expert and principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s so mundane but so important.”

A computer’s operating system is only one factor in how secure a system is. Monitoring systems, anti-virus software and strict rules about access also contribute to better security.

“Running Windows XP is like living in a bad neighborhood. There are other things you can do to protect yourself. I can get locks for my house and reduce my likelihood of getting robbed. I can go out only in the daytime,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Research, a consulting firm. “Hopefully the government has done something to try to make these machines less vulnerable.”

DHS is moving to deploy a government-wide program that will let agencies automatically detect which hardware and software runs on their networks, as well as whether they are configured correctly and if programs need patching.

Although the Defense and State departments together will have thousands of computers linked to classified networks running Windows XP, officials say, such networks are less vulnerable because they are not connected to the Internet, which is the source of most hacker intrusions, and do not allow the use of flash drives, another major source of infections.

The transition away from Windows XP has been slowed by the large amount of custom government software built to run on the operating system. Just a year ago, a senior State Department official said, nearly all of its 85,000 computers on unclassified systems ran on XP, even though three generations of newer, safer Windows operating systems were available from Microsoft.

Richard Hale, the Pentagon’s deputy chief information officer, said that the few Defense Department computers that will still be running Windows XP next month rely on software built for the operating system and are hard to replace amid heavy use, for example, on Navy ships. Their systems cannot be taken down without affecting operational effectiveness, he said. “So the migration requires re-engineering the entire platform,’’ he said. (Contributor: By Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima for The Washington Post)

This article serves to remind Christians that our safety and security—indeed, that of our nation and the nations of the world—is not in technology but in the Lord and His providential grace and mercy. Hackers are everywhere, and few secrets are safe. Someday, all will be exposed and open to God, who will judge righteously. Pray that God will overrule evil and give us peace, so that those who believe the Bible, with its Gospel message of hope and life, will have time to evangelize, as “God is not willing that any should perish.”

“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)

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

“For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3)

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March 12th, 2014

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WILL THE CRIMEA BE PUTIN’S UNDOING?

In 1990, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn emerged from his isolation in Cavendish, Vermont, and issued a vatic manifesto entitled “How to Revitalize Russia.” Published at great length in Komsomolskaya Pravda, it was a document out of time, written in a prophetic nineteenth-century voice, with archaic diction and priestly cadences. Solzhenitsyn, a heroic dissident, was always at the nationalist end of the spectrum, but he was not calling for some sort of tsarist revival and imperial maintenance. Rather, he endorsed a hyper-local, Swiss-style democratic politics, a transition to private property, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “We do not have the energy to run an Empire!” he wrote. “Let us shrug it off. It is crushing us, it is draining us, and it is accelerating our demise.” Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, along with the Caucasian republics, were to make their own way. But on the question of Ukraine he had a different view. Russia must be at the center of a “Russian union,” he declared, and Ukraine was integral to it.

At the time, Ukrainian nationalists, particularly in the western part of the republic, were joining the Baltic states in their bold drive for independence, and had formed a “people’s movement” called Rukh. Leonid Kravchuk, a dreary Communist Party hack who had previously shown nothing but indifference to Ukrainian nationalism, won the Presidency, in 1991, by deciding to stand with Rukh. This was a trend that Solzhenitsyn, in the woods of New England, and so many Russians throughout the Soviet Union, could not easily abide. It defied their sense of history. To them, Ukraine was no more a real nation than Glubbdubdrib or Freedonia. Vladimir Putin, a former officer of the K.G.B., was the first post-Soviet leader to deliver a state prize to Solzhenitsyn, who had spent a lifetime in a death struggle with the K.G.B.; a large part of their common ground was a rough notion of what Russia encompassed. As Putin told the second President Bush, “You have to understand, George. Ukraine is not even a country.”

Solzhenitsyn, one of the great truth-tellers of the twentieth century, harbored an exceedingly benign view of one of the more ominous figures of the twenty-first. Putin is an unabashed authoritarian. He masks the Pharaonic enrichment of his political circle by projecting an austere image of shrewd bluster and manly bravado. He is also the sum of his resentments. His outrage over the uprising in Kiev, like his subsequent decision to invade Crimea, is stoked by a powerful suspicion of Western motives and hypocrisies. Putin absorbed the eastward expansion of NATO; attacks on his abysmal record on human rights and civil society; and the “color” revolutions in Tbilisi and Kiev—even the revolts in Tehran, Tunis, Cairo, Manama, and Damascus—as intimations of his own political mortality. He sees everything from the National Endowment for Democracy to the American Embassy in Moscow as an outpost of a plot against him. And the U.S. clearly does want to curb his influence; we can’t pretend that he’s entirely crazy to think so. The Olympics was his multi-billion-ruble reassertion of Russian power on the level of pop culture; the invasion of Crimea is a reassertion of Russian power in the harsher currency of arms and intimidation.

The invasion demands condemnation: Ukraine is a sovereign state; it has been for a generation. Its cultural, linguistic, and historical affinities with Russia do not make it a Russian vassal. Putin’s pretext—that frightened masses of Russian-speakers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine were under physical threat from “fascists,” and were crying out for “fraternal assistance” from Russia—is a fiction generated by his intelligence services and propagated by Russian state television. (Pro-Russian Cossacks in Crimea are no less anti-Semitic than the racists among the Ukrainian nationalists—something you are not likely to learn on Channel One, in Moscow.)

Putin’s aggression took Western leaders—especially Barack Obama and Angela Merkel—too much by surprise, but they have acted since with clarity and prudence. The decision to forgo martial threats and to concentrate on strong economic sanctions and diplomatic exertions is, in a world of radically limited options, wise. But not all those most directly involved in this crisis evince an understanding of the complicated politics of Ukraine. It is worth remembering that, in the back-and-forth of Ukrainian governments since 1991, both the pro-Russian leaders, like Viktor Yanukovych, and the pro-Europeans, like Yulia Tymoshenko, have been brazen thieves, enriching themselves at fantastical rates. Both sides have played one half of the country against the other. And the fact that the protests in Kiev were not, as Moscow claims, dominated by fascists and ultra-nationalists does not mean that such elements are absent from the scene. Ukraine has yet to develop the politicians that its fragile condition and its dire economy demand. In December, when John McCain spoke to demonstrators in Kiev’s Independence Square, he stood side by side with Oleh Tyahnybok, who was once expelled from his parliamentary faction after demanding battle with “the Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Perhaps this was bad advance work from team McCain—much like the advance work on the Sarah Palin nomination—but it did manage to fuel Moscow’s bonfire of suspicion.

McCain’s allies in the Senate have shared his propensity for incautious grandstanding. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who is facing a Republican primary challenge from his right, says that the invasion of Crimea “started with Benghazi.” He tweeted, “When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression.” And McCain, who alternates with Graham as the voice of the G.O.P. in foreign affairs, told AIPAC that the invasion was “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.” Soon Hillary Clinton, who should know better, pitched in with an unhelpful analogy to Hitler.

Right now, Putin retains his familiar strut and disdain. His opposition at home is on tenterhooks, fearing a comprehensive crackdown, and the West, which dreams of his coöperation in Syria and Iran, is reluctant to press him too hard. But it may be that his adventure in Crimea—and not the American Embassy in Moscow—will undo him. Last month, a Kremlin-sponsored poll showed that seventy-three per cent of Russians opposed interfering in the political confrontations in Kiev. The Kremlin has proved since that it has the means, and the media, to gin up support for Putin’s folly—but that won’t last indefinitely.

In other words, Putin risks alienating himself not only from the West and Ukraine, to say nothing of the global economy he dearly wants to join, but from Russia itself. His dreams of staying in office until 2024, of being the most formidable state-builder in Russian history since Peter the Great, may yet founder on the peninsula of Crimea. (Contributor: By David Remnick for The New Yorker)

“But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.” Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Luke 21:9-10)

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!’” (John 4:35)

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming….. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matt 24:42, 44)

Evangelist Mordecai Ham, of an earlier generation, said, “I read the news to see what man plans to do; then I read my Bible to see what God intends to do.” This could be a time of great fear in the U.S. and globally. Pray that divine intervention guides Russian President Putin and our U.S. leaders. Is Russia preparing for extended war? Intercessors, let us appeal to God, our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble. “Father God, we feel the reality of our Lord’s words, ‘Wars and rumors of wars’ and ‘nation shall rise up against nation.’ Help Your Church pray in unity and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We intercede for divine restraint against war. Lord of the harvest, raise up a great army of workers to evangelize before the return of the Lord, as ‘the fields are white for harvest.’”

 

ISLAM’S INADVERTENT ADVERSE EFFECTS ON ADHERENTS

How does Islam shape the way Muslims live?

The religion’s formal requirements are the narrow base for a far wider array of patterns that extend the formal rules of Islam, stretching them in unexpected and unplanned ways. A few examples:

The Koran strictly bans the consumption of pork, leading to the virtual disappearance of domesticated pigs in Muslim-majority areas, then their replacement by sheep and goats.

These herds have overgrazed the land, which has led, as the geographer Xavier de Planhol observes, to “a catastrophic deforestation” that in turn “is one of the basic reasons for the sparse landscape particularly evident in the Mediterranean districts of Islamic countries.”

Note the connection between a Koranic dietary injunction and the desertification of vast tracts of land. The scriptural command was not intended to cause ecological damage, but it did.

Islam’s unattainably high standards for governmental behavior meant historically that existing leaders, with their many faults, alienated Muslim subjects, who responded by refusing to serve those leaders in administrative and military service, thereby compelling rulers to seek personnel elsewhere.

This led to their systematically deploying slaves as soldiers and administrators, thereby creating a key institution that lasted from the eighth century for a millennium.

Islamic doctrine ingrains a sense of Muslim superiority, a disdain for the faith and civilization of others, which has had two vast implications in modern times: making Muslims the most rebellious subjects against colonial rule and obstructing Muslims from learning modernization from the West.

Those scriptures also imbue a hostility toward non-Muslims, which in turn generates an assumption that non-Muslims harbor a like hostility toward Muslims.

In modern times, this projection has created a susceptibility to conspiracy theories, which have had many practical consequences: For example, because only Muslims worry that anti-polio vaccinations secretly render their children infertile, polio has effectively become a Muslim-only scourge in 26 countries.

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Islamic hajj, began in the seventh century as a local custom that then became an international meeting that facilitated the transfer of everything from Islamist ideas and political movements (the Idrisis of Libya) to luxury goods (ivory), plants (rubber to Southeast Asia, rice to Europe), and diseases (meningococci, skin infections, infectious diarrheal and blood-borne diseases, and respiratory-tract infections, including perhaps the brand-new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

Other Islamic injunctions also have unintended, negative health implications. The imperative for modesty has led some Muslim women to wear full head and body coverings (niqabs and burqas), which cause Vitamin D deficiency, discourage exercise, and are implicated in a host of medical problems, including rashes, respiratory disease, rickets, osteomalacia and multiple sclerosis.

The daytime fast during Ramadan often leads observant Muslims to exercise less and to “tend to overeat upon breaking their fast, and usually the meal involves heavy, fatty foods that are high in calories,” notes the head of the Emirates Diabetes Society. One survey in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, found 60 percent of respondents reporting excessive weight gain after Ramadan.

A preference for first-cousin marriages, which harks back to pre-Islamic tribal practices (to keep wealth in the family and to benefit from daughters’ fertility) over approximately 50 generations has led to widespread inbreeding with negative consequences, including about twice the incidence rate of such genetic disorders as thalassemia, sickle-cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, diabetes, deafness, muteness and autism.

With regard to women, injunctions about protection by male relatives, and a vastly lower social and legal status combined to create such inadvertent patterns as physical seclusion, obsession with virginity, honor killings, female genital mutilation, and (Saudi-style) gender apartheid. Polygamy creates permanent anxiety in wives.

Although orphans enjoy an honored status in Islamic law, that honor is tied to a tribal structure incompatible with modern society, resulting in Muslim orphans today persistently discriminated against, even by Muslims in the West.

Islam’s scriptures have provided the base from which many other patterns evolved, including: the establishment of dynasties through conquest, not by internal overthrow; recurrent problems with dynastic succession; power leading to wealth, not the reverse; the near absence of municipal governments; inadequate regulation of cities; laws arising from ad hoc decisions rather than formal legislation; reliance on informal money transfers; and the practice of suicide terrorism.

Inadvertent patterns change over time, with some, such as slave soldiers, becoming defunct, and others, such as polio, starting only recently. These patterns remain as powerful today as in premodern times and are key to understanding Islam and Muslim life. (Contributor: By Daniel Pipes for The Washington Times – Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.)

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev 7:9-10)

“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.’” (Rev. 5:9-10)

Seasoned intercessors find encouragement in God when they “pray the news.” This is not to brush up on culture but to remind ourselves that “God is not willing that any should perish,” and that from “every tribe and nation,” He is calling men and women from “the power of darkness and into the kingdom of His dear Son.” (Col 1:13) Regardless of cultural differences, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) Let us intercede passionately for a great end-time harvest of souls for the Lord Jesus Christ, from every tribe, nation, culture, tongue, and false religion.

 

IN A FIRST FOR THE SENATE, THE DALAI LAMA GIVES THE OPENING PRAYER

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, delivered the opening invocation in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, praying “to Buddha and all” and suggesting that purity of thought will guide humanity’s actions.

In his saffron robe, the Dalai Lama climbed the few steps to the Senate dais and delivered the three-line prayer, first in the Tibetan language, then in English. He chuckled over his English pronunciation.

“With our thoughts we make our world,” the prayer began. “Our mind is central and precedes our deeds. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you like a shadow that never leaves.”

The Buddhist monk  is continuing a U.S. visit, after meeting last month with President Obama at the White House despite objections from China, which accuses the Nobel Peace Prize winner of instigating a Tibetan independence campaign to separate from China.

The Dalai Lama planned to hold visits with congressional leaders Thursday across Capitol Hill.

Guest chaplains occasionally open the House and Senate chambers, but Thursday marked the first time the Dalai Lama gave the invocation, according to the Senate Historical Office.

He was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and greeted on the Senate floor by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the only Buddhist in the Senate, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) a longtime ally of the world-renowned monk and champion of human rights in Tibet.

“This is my favorite prayer,” he said when he arrived at the final line, pointing at his notes. “Daily I pray this. That gives me inner strength. So I am asking to serve humanity as long as space remains and as long as beings remain, until then, may I, too, remain and help dispel the misery of the world.”

Only a small number of senators — almost a dozen Democrats and fewer Republicans — were present on the Senate floor for the occasion.

“I know I speak for the entire Senate family when I express our gratitude for that beautiful prayer, and for his words of encouragement and blessing,” Reid said.  (Contributor: By Lisa Mascaro for The LA Times)

“[Jesus said,] ‘Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.’” (Matt 15:14)

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 18:20)

“But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23)

Jesus, our Lord, never compromised. Regardless of consequences, He always spoke the truth. He knew that when and where truth was received, freedom and life followed. The inclusion of this article in our mid-week Informer points out the further decline, if not rapid disappearance, of the historical honor given to our nation’s Christian heritage. Pray for a new revival of truth-seeking to prevent a betrayal of these chaplain positions in the Senate and the House. Give thanks that only a few senators attended. Pray for a public outcry against giving non-Christian religions equal recognition.   

 

THE DALAI LAMA’S CAPITALIST CONTRADICTIONS

The Dalai Lama is wrapping up more than two weeks in the U.S. with a speech Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington. The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has had a packed agenda, including leading the Senate in prayer, a meeting with President Obama at the White House, and a speech for a Los Angeles crowd that included newly minted Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o. But meeting with heads of state is nothing new for the Buddhist leader. Meeting with free-market capitalists is another story.

The Dalai Lama is a longtime Marxist—a fact the media tend to play down—yet on this trip he met with prominent capitalists on both coasts. At Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school in Silicon Valley, he spoke to business leaders, emphasizing the importance of “compassion” in the workplace, and telling them to focus less on a materialism and adopt a sense of “mission.” In Washington, he was hosted for two days by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and participated in panel discussions on happiness and free markets.

Amazingly, the Dalai Lama initiated the contact with AEI. He said he was drawn to the message of the organization’s president, Arthur Brooks, who says that maximizing human happiness—not just increasing material wealth—should be the goal of public policy. The Dalai Lama seemed to win over the AEI crowd with his humility and humor—and by telling them: “I develop more respect about capitalism.”

But that respect seems grudging. He also criticized “the capitalist country, United States,” as “the richest, but you also see a big gap between rich and poor.” And he said of capitalism that it “only takes the money, then exploitation.”

While the Dalai Lama was bringing his critique of capitalism to Washington, Venezuelans were continuing their sustained protests against a Marxist government that they blame for high inflation, rampant crime and the imprisonment of opposition leaders. Then there are the Communist regimes in China, Cuba and North Korea, which remain far more repressive and unequal than any capitalist democracy. Yet the Dalai Lama didn’t mention Communist oppression.

The fact that Marxism has achieved the opposite of what it promises hasn’t seemed to move the Dalai Lama. On this trip, the Dalai Lama told a Vanity Fair reporter that the issue is not Marxist ideology, just its practitioners: “I think the Marxist economics is right. But gradually Lenin, [though he was] supposed to apply that concept, he sacrificed individual rights, individual freedom.”

As much as the Dalai Lama may dislike capitalism in the abstract, he does appear to enjoy the fruits of it. Midway through his visit to the U.S., he sent out to a note to his 8.5 million Twitter followers announcing, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama is now on @Instagram.” His tens of thousands of Instagram followers were soon able to see pictures of him with Maria Shriver and Larry King.

Instagram launched in 2010 and was bought by Facebook for $1 billion two years later. Twitter went public in November and now has a market value of nearly $29 billion. The men and women who took risks to launch and fund these companies are now wealthy people. So while the Dalai Lama uses their products to further his global message, he suggests that their work isn’t virtuous since it has a profit motive.

How can a wise man fail to see this connection? Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, suggested at one of the AEI panels that critiques of capitalism thrive because “we judge people based on their intentions. And when people do something for us without intending to help us, we don’t tend to give them much credit.” In other words, the “invisible hand” of the markets gets no respect.

If capitalism’s morality is judged not by intentions but by measurable outcomes, there’s no question it’s more humane than anything Marxism has produced. As capitalism has spread over the past 200 years, global per capita income has increased more than tenfold. Average life expectancy has more than doubled, according to the HumanProgress.org, a website that collects data on global living standards. That’s to say nothing of railroads, planes, cellphones, air conditioning, antibiotics, the Internet and dramatically improved educational opportunities for boys and girls. Meanwhile, the most memorable entry on Marxism’s scorecard is nearly 100 million deaths from genocides, extrajudicial executions and man-made famines.

But comparisons of outcomes distract from an essential point: the inherent morality of free markets. Riches do not come from exploitation or at the expense of others, but a “spiral of mutual gain,” high-tech investment guru George Gilder explains in “Wealth and Poverty.” He writes: “Far from a system of greed, capitalism depends on a golden rule of enterprise: The good fortune of others is also your own.”

That case for capitalism sounds remarkably similar to the words of the Dalai Lama himself during the AEI event. “We are selfish. It’s important for our survival,” he said. “But because things are interdependent, it’s in your own interest to take care of others. It should be wise selfish, not foolish selfish. If you take care of others, you get more benefit.” Those words may be wiser than the spiritual leader realizes. (Contributor: By Mollie Ziegler Hemingway for The Wall Street Journal  –  Ms. Hemingway is a senior editor at TheFederalist.com.)

“Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:6-11)

“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10:4)

“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 … Professing to be wise, they became fools …” (Romans 1:20-22) 

Christians may pity the “homeless” Dalai Lama (in permanent exile from Tibet), but it doesn’t follow that his teachings or prayers should command respect simply because he holds a religious title. Note a strange phenomenon: when unbelief puts on religious clothing, it is able to masquerade as wisdom, which it is not. In our Lord’s most scathing denunciation, bar none, He called the Pharisees “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” (That was Jesus, not Peter.) Why would wolves disguise themselves? Only to deceive, so as to “kill, steal, and destroy” the sheep. Let us not give honor where honor is not due. Courtesy, yes, but not honor. Pray for such deception to be unmasked in all religious circles.    

 

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY SHOULD TRUMP HHS MANDATE

Like many startups, Hobby Lobby began in founder David Green’s garage. Now, more than 40 years later, the Green family business has 16,000 full-time employees in stores across the country with 70 new stores opening this year. They are a quiet family that loves God, honors their employees and enjoys serving people in their stores around the nation.

But two years ago, the rules changed for every business. As of 2013, the Green family had to decide if they would follow their faith or follow the Obama administration’s new regulations.

The Green family, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will file its brief with the Supreme Court Monday seeking relief from paying a daily fine of potentially more than $1.3 million for refusing to violate their biblically based views on life. They are currently not complying with insurance coverage requirements issued by the Department of Health and Human Services pursuant to Obamacare. Their opposition to the HHS mandate is not a frivolous one; it is due to their deeply held religious beliefs.

The Green family’s faith influences the day-to-day operation of their stores, including paying their employees a starting salary of $14 an hour, giving their employees family-friendly hours, closing on Sunday and offering their employees a generous health care package.

The HHS mandate requires employers to fully pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance plans, which includes potential life-ending drugs. The Greens do not object to birth control, but they do have a religious objection to providing coverage for drugs and devices that can cause the death of newly conceived human embryos, specifically two types of IUDs and the drugs known as “Plan B” and “Ella.”

Without a positive result from the Supreme Court, the Greens will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal fines if they maintain their convictions.

Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and work according to their religious beliefs. The HHS mandate demands that ordinary Americans bend to the administration’s religious preferences and violate their principles or stand up for their religious rights and be fined up to $100 per day, per employee. For the Greens that would be more than $36,500 annually per employee. The other option would simply be to drop health care coverage for all employees and direct them to the Obamacare exchanges. This option would only cost an employer $2,000 per employee, per year — potentially over $26 million annually for the Greens.

The fines alone are revealing of Obamacare’s priorities. A business can pay a $2,000 fine per person, per year, to provide no health insurance at all, or a business can pay a $36,500 per person, per year fine, to provide health insurance that does not align with the president’s religious preferences. Either way, fines will force companies to cut jobs or drop health coverage altogether, which is not good for families or women.

At the core, the HHS mandate is the next instance of how Obamacare will impact your job, family and health care. This issue is not just about companies like Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood or ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor. This intrusive federal mandate will set a precedent of government intervention in determining who the faithful are, what faith is and where, when and how that faith may be lived out.

The Greens and other family businesses who are challenging the intrusive HHS mandate are not alone. A new Family Research Council/Alliance Defending Freedom poll (ADF represents Conestoga Wood) found that 59% of likely voters opposed the HHS mandate overall, including 54% of women ages 18-45 and 61% of Independents. The poll found that more likely voters disapprove of the HHS mandate than disapprove of Obamacare overall.

Americans realize, as James Madison once said, that “conscience is the most sacred of all property,” and similarly that other people’s consciences should be protected and defended.

In America we respect freedom of conscience, hard work and dedicated families. Freedom is the backbone to our continued flourishing. Let us hope that the Supreme Court recognizes that the owners of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and others should not be forced to violate their conscience as a condition for placing the sign, “Open for Business,” on their front doors.

Prayer Guide: 9 Weeks of Prayer for Religious Freedom – Alliance Defending Freedom

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., represents the fifth district where the Green family lives. Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which has submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Hobby Lobby. (Contributors: By James Lankford and Tony Perkins for the USA Today)

“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)

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

[The Pharisees] “… said, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But He said to them … ‘Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.’ … And He said, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And Jesus answered … ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.” (Mark 12:14-17)

This U.S. Supreme Court case will, without doubt, result in either reaffirmation of our foundational religious liberty, or it will represent one of the most pivotal, radical (i.e., going to the root), and redefining decisions in our nation’s history. This is not an overstatement in the slightest. We have been praying about these issues and the pending hearing by the high court since last year. Now is the time to step-up intercessory prayers, where IFA readers are dedicated. Nothing more needs to be said here. To keep in step, please follow the provided prayer guide. The decision will be rendered in the summer, so we have ample time to intercede. Ask the Lord for mercy and to restore our freedom.      

 

CHINA’S DISTURBING DEFENSE BUDGET

China is causing new anxieties in Asia with a defense budget for 2014 that totals $132 billion, up 12.2 percent over the previous year. These numbers should not be used as an excuse to ratchet up America’s military spending. But they do raise legitimate concerns about China’s motives that Beijing should seek to dispel, especially at a time when regional tensions are rising.

Although China’s overall economic growth rate has declined, the new defense budget reflects the biggest increase in three years and continues a several-decades-long trend of double-digit increases. Many experts assume that the real total is higher. Even so, the budget is far below that of the United States, which was $526.8 billion for fiscal year 2014 and finances the world’s largest, most expensive and advanced military program. It is reasonable to expect that as the world’s second-largest economy, China, over time, would invest more on defense to protect its security and economic interests.

But the budget increases are not taking place in a vacuum. With its aggressive new approach to the region, China has sowed suspicion among its neighbors, who fear not only economic but military dominance. China is engaged in a dangerous dispute with Japan over the sovereignty of islands administered by Japan in the East China Sea, raising fears that frequent movements around the islands by Chinese military patrols and Japanese fishing vessels could spark a conflict. Last November, China stunned Japan, South Korea and the United States by declaring a new air defense zone over parts of that sea.

China has also been intimidating Southeast Asian nations that oppose its territorial claims in the South China Sea, with its fisheries and reputed oil and gas reserves. While some experts predict that it could be decades before the Chinese military catches up with the United States, China is investing in new systems, including submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles, that could be used to further intimidate neighbors or deny the United States access to Asian waters to defend its allies.

China says the world has nothing to fear, but it could mitigate concerns by explaining why it needs such hefty increases and where the money will be spent, as the United States does. More consultation between the Chinese and American military would also be useful. So would a serious effort to resolve the territorial disputes, or at least agree on a code of conduct for managing them.

Meanwhile, Congress should resist the impulse to pump up military spending. The better response is to support President Obama’s policy of expanding America’s economic, political and military engagement in Asia while remaining clear-eyed about China’s capabilities. (Contributor: The New York Times Editorial Board)

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov 16:7)

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” (Psalm 33:12)

“The rich [man] rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Prov 22:7)

No, we do not compare the U.S. with Old Testament Israel. China is not our nation’s overt enemy, but tensions can quickly mount if the relationship becomes strained. As you pray, keep in mind how deeply the U.S. is in debt to China, with that country’s huge investment in and ownership of U.S. business. Truly, “the borrower is servant to the lender.” While China increases its military spending, our own administration seeks to reduce military might, though few seem to understand why. As you pray, imagine the strength of our nation were it to return to the Lord. Such strength would be a powerful deterrent to other nations’ aggression.  Pray as Scripture and conscience direct.    

 

ABORTION LAW PUSHES TEXAS CLINICS TO CLOSE DOORS

Shortly before a candlelight vigil on the sidewalk outside, employees of the last abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas shut the doors early Thursday evening, making legal abortion unavailable in the poorest part of the state in the wake of tough new restrictions passed last year by the Texas Legislature.

The closings on Thursday of two clinics operated by Whole Woman’s Health — the one here in McAllen and another in the East Texas city of Beaumont — are part of a wave of clinic closings brought on by the new law.

There were 44 facilities that performed abortions in Texas in 2011, abortion providers said. After the two closings on Thursday, there are now 24, they said. When the law is fully implemented in September, that number is expected to drop to six.

“It’s heartbreaking for us,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which has challenged provisions of the law in court. “It’s been a very difficult decision. I tried everything I can. I just can’t keep the doors open.”

Anti-abortion groups said some of the reasons for the clinic closings were “deplorable conditions,” violations of state safety regulations and high staff turnover, accusations the operators denied. Still, abortion opponents expressed satisfaction that the two clinics, which together treated nearly 3,000 patients annually, were shutting their doors.

“We are pleased that women will never again receive substandard care from either of these abortion facilities,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

Abortion was a heated political issue last year in Texas, when Republican lawmakers, backed by Gov. Rick Perry, passed some of the toughest restrictions in the country, despite a marathon filibuster that turned State Senator Wendy Davis into a national political figure. The politics have since been toned down. Ms. Davis did not attend the clinic closings on Thursday and has not emphasized the issue in her campaign for governor.

But the real-world impact has played out in the months since the law passed.

In McAllen, the shuttering of the city’s only abortion clinic has increased the costs, the time and the travel distance for women seeking abortions. Women have been making a roughly four-hour, 240-mile trip to San Antonio or a five-hour, 310-mile trip to Austin to get abortions. There had been only two clinics that performed abortions in the Rio Grande Valley, but by the end of the day Thursday there were none. The other one in nearby Harlingen closed days ago.

Activity at the McAllen clinic had slowed recently. It stopped performing abortions last year after parts of the law went into effect. On Tuesday, the aftercare room, where women who had received abortions were taken to recuperate, was cluttered with boxes of files as workers prepared for Thursday.

“Sometimes on my lunch break, I’ll come back here, and I’ll just sit here,” said Lucy Carreon, the clinic’s patient advocate, who is moving to San Antonio to work at the Whole Woman’s Health facility there. “It’s very sad. I can’t believe it.”

The leaders of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates clinics in Texas and two other states, said they closed the ones in McAllen and Beaumont in large part because of one restriction in the law: the requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Ms. Miller said that nearly all their doctors were unable to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that some hospitals declined to even provide doctors with applications for admitting privileges.

Another part of the law, which takes effect in September, requires clinics to meet surgical-center standards, meaning all abortions, including nonsurgical procedures, must take place in hospital-style operating rooms. It is that requirement that abortion providers say will probably reduce the number of clinics in the state to six and that Ms. Miller said played a role in the decision to close the McAllen and Beaumont clinics.

Republican supporters of the law said it would protect women’s health and hold abortion clinics to safer standards. Opponents said that it was an unconstitutional attempt by Republicans at a backdoor ban on abortion and was designed to force clinics to close. Mr. Perry has stated that one of his goals in office is to “make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past,” and another Republican leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, suggested last year on Twitter that shutting clinics was part of the purpose of the law, known as House Bill 2.

In a statement, Ms. Davis, who is running for governor against Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who has defended the law in court, pointed out the other services the clinics provided, beyond abortions, that were now unavailable to many women.

“These health centers provide lifesaving preventive care, cancer screenings and birth control to Texan women,” she said. “Politicians like Greg Abbott are forcing their personal political agenda and threatening the health of women across the Rio Grande Valley.”

Even before the full regulations kick in, women in rural areas have already had more difficulty getting abortions than those living in urban centers like Houston and Dallas.

In the West Texas city of Lubbock, Planned Parenthood closed the only clinic there providing abortions, sending many women on a five-hour trip to Dallas or to Albuquerque, some 320 miles away. The closing of the clinic in Beaumont has made Houston the nearest option, more than an hour’s drive away. A clinic in Corpus Christi, which is closer to McAllen than San Antonio but is still more than two hours away, is closing in September because of the surgical-center requirements.

In McAllen, the problems associated with traveling 240 miles to San Antonio one way — including additional costs for gas, lodging or child care — have caused some women to go to Mexico to buy a widely available “abortion pill” that can induce miscarriages and that abortion providers and advocates said poses significant health risks. Ms. Carreon, the patient advocate, said she believed 30 to 40 women who had contacted the clinic since last year had decided on their own to take the pill.

Some women interviewed at the McAllen clinic said they had considered taking the 30-minute trip to Mexico to get the pill — a drug called misoprostol known by the brand-name Cytotec — but ultimately decided against it.

“Honestly, I think they’ll go south of the border, if they have to,” said a 23-year-old woman who was one of the last patients to be seen at the clinic and who went to San Antonio for an abortion last month. “It’s cheaper and it’s closer. To go to San Antonio is so much more of a hassle and costs a lot more.”

On the day of her appointment in San Antonio, the woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she left with a friend at about 3 a.m. to arrive at the clinic by 8 a.m. She had to spend the entire day there waiting to be seen. The San Antonio clinic, it turned out, was packed with patients from the Rio Grande Valley area. (Contributor: By Manny Fernandez for The New York Times – Lucinda Holt contributed reporting from Lubbock, Texas)

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’ Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Let the trees of the forest sing; let them sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Cry out, ‘Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations that we may give thanks to Your holy name, and glory in Your praise.’”  (1 Chron 16:30-35)

“For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:3)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18)

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

This is a praise report, one for which intercessors have long waited. Give heartfelt thanks to the Lord, proclaiming His goodness and mercy. After years of fervent prayer and pro-life activism, often with sparse results in confronting this hideous national sin, God’s wisdom pointed the efforts back to the states’ level. Here, the Texas legislature, more than any other, began a series of steps backed by strong conservative legislation. The result is seen in numerous victories to get abortion centers shut down. Keep watching and praying. This may be the Lord’s pathway to saving lives by reducing the opportunities for abortion. Full victory is coming as intercessors persevere! Pray accordingly. 

 

SENATE JUDICIARY INVESTIGATION OF ILLEGAL FDA TESTING IN PATIENTS

Since 2008, the Honorable Senator Grassley has investigated Northwestern University for allegations surrounding human experimentation without informed consent. According to FDA documents, 667 patients received the non-approved FDA devices from 2006-2008, prior to FDA approval.

The FDA approval came only after the device was tested in 100 unsuspecting patients during open heart surgery. The results of the study published in the Harvard Based Surgical Journal, Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular surgery in 2008 claimed “informed consent.” Recent publically available court documents from Cook County demonstrate that the patients consent was waived.

Some of these critical documents were never provided by Northwestern University to the Honorable Senator Grassley during the senate finance investigation, and now are the subject of a reopened senate investigation as of March 4, 2014. The lack of disclosure violates USC 1001.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published the senate judiciary investigation today in a report entitled: Northwestern U. Gets Renewed Grilling Over Unauthorized Tests on Patients

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has accused Northwestern U. of withholding key documents from an inquiry into allegations that its chief of cardiac surgery experimented on unsuspecting patients. By Paul Basken

For years, the Senate Finance Committee investigated the testing of the non-approved devices in patients during open heart surgery without informed consent. However, key documents surrounding the patients’ testing were withheld from the Senate Committee, the FDA, and the patients.

www.medscape.com/viewcollection/32913

Northwestern University Board of Trustees have known about the human experiments, since July 2009. Yet the board, has not set up a meeting with the former Northwestern Professor, Dr. Nalini M. Rajamannan, to help inform the patients, provide proper health care for the patients, and restore the integrity of this great University.

The Myxo Files released on Amazon.com contain summaries, and documents from the public domain, to try and get help for the innocent unsuspecting patients. (Contributor: By Nalini Rajamannan for Christian Newswire)

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

“Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance [of money] which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” (2 Cor 8:20-21)

Give thanks for Senator Grassley. He leads the Judiciary Committee that patiently and persistently investigated the scandal-ridden FDA, seeking to uncover fraud and cheating in an effort to save lives and promote safety. The egregious sinfulness and disregard for patient-welfare during surgery by the agency charged with upholding standards of protection, can only be attributed to greed and payoffs—the love of money. Pray for the patients and families of those so defrauded. May the perpetrators of this scheme be held accountable and brought to swift justice.  

 

U.S. DEADLY PIG VIRUS CASES ON THE RISE

Cases of the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, a highly contagious pig disease, are increasing across the U.S. farm belt, a group of animal health researchers said.

Confirmed cases of PEDv increased by 252 in the week ending March 1, bringing the total number to 4,106 in 26 states, according to data released on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

While one case can represent an individual animal or an entire herd at a single site, swine specialists estimate PEDv has killed at least 4 million U.S. hogs since it was discovered in May 2013.

Pork processors were finding it more difficult to purchase hogs for slaughter due to the virus, which is starting to affect the pork supply and could eventually boost pork prices for consumers, industry sources said.

The Canadian Swine Health Board has confirmed that four provinces also have cases of the virus. The provinces are Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

PEDv causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. While older pigs have a chance of survival, 80 to 100 percent of piglets that contract it die.

The virus does not affect humans and is not a food safety risk. (Contributor:  By Meredith Davis in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis for Reuters)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-14)

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

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

Offer thanks to the Lord that this virulent porcine virus does not affect humans and is not a food safety risk. Still, an epidemic that has killed 4 million U.S. hogs since May 2013 represents huge economic losses to people and families involved with pork production. Our Scriptures do not suggest a divine conspiracy or “plague.” They are cited to underscore the uncertainty of the best of human planning. Pray for a remedy to be found before the virus mutates to affect other animal species and perhaps becomes a risk to humans. May researchers have wisdom, protection, and quick success.  

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

On Watch in Washington March 5, 2014

March 5th, 2014

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

 

WHY PUTIN’S GAZE IS FIXED ON THE UKRAINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matt 24:6-8)

“He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-4)

 

IRS PLAN IS THREATENED BY OPPOSITION FROM BOTH SIDES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administration officials indicated that the rulemaking was proceeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Tim 2:1-3)

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

 

FDA BLASTED FOR SECRETLY MONITORING WHISTLEBLOWERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOW TO HARNESS BIG MONEY FOR ELECTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NATION SLOWER TO BACK GAY SEX THAN MARRIAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11)

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

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

 

POLIO-LIKE DISEASE APPEARS IN CALIFORNIA CHILDREN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“THE MIRACLE OF ISRAEL” TO AIR IN MARCH

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIBLE-BOOK SHOOTING CASE INVESTIGATED AS HATE CRIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington February 26, 2014

February 26th, 2014

On Watch in Washington February 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF

COLLEGIATE DAY OF PRAYER FEBRUARY 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IRAN’S URANIUM STOCKPILE SHRINKS AFTER NUCLEAR DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POSTAL MANAGERS LIMITING CARRIER HOURS, BUT EXPLANATIONS VARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SURVEY: U.S. PRESS FREEDOM PLUNGES UNDER OBAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East repression

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

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

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

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

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

Several other journalists are also in custody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

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

 

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

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

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

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

The story is different for ground forces, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NATIONAL FORECLOSURE RATE DROPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our … fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day….’” (Daniel 9:3-7, excerpted)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A break in the case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington February 26, 2014 Plain Text PDF

On Watch in Washington February 19, 2014

February 19th, 2014

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

COLLEGIATE DAY OF PRAYER FEBRUARY 27

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

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

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

 

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

IRANIAN LEADER PREDICTING FAILURE BEFORE SIX NATIONS NUKE TALKS EVEN START

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’ For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122:6-9)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like the Nazis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Formula for change’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POPE OPENS BIG WEEK WITH SEX, DIVORCE ON AGENDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NAVY READY TO DEPLOY LASER SYSTEM THIS SUMMER

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

That future is now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But both systems have shortcomings.

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

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

Producing enough energy for a rail gun is another problem.

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

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

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

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

In other words, they’re cheap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MORE STATES LIKELY TO BAN SEXUAL-ORIENTATION CHANGE THERAPY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ASTEROID TO HURTLE PAST THE EARTH AT 27,000 MPH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Watch in Washington February 12, 2014

February 12th, 2014

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

THE GIFT OF SIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AFGHAN SOLDIERS DESPERATE FOR PACT WITH U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s been a huge headache,” he said.

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

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

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

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

Mohammadi declined to comment for this report.

No money for salaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constant conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF IRS WATCHDOG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE COUNTRY’S OPIOID EPIDEMIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CALIFORNIA DROUGHT HITS FARMERS HARDEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In cities, inconvenience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better prepared in the south

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TOO MUCH SUGAR LINKED TO FATAL HEART DISEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As sugar intake increased, risks climbed steeply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOLLYWOOD FILMS A TESTAMENT TO RENEWED INTEREST IN BIBLE STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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