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)
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)
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. 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’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)
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)
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)
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)