WASHINGTON – It was the first Persian Gulf state to establish ties with Israel, the first to welcome Israeli students and the only one to allow direct dialing to Israel. Israeli athletes shine on its courts.
Calls are circulating in the U.S. Congress to isolate Qatar — a state that has polished its pro-Western image in recent years, welcoming in foreign universities, backing the global news channel al-Jazeera and prepping to host the 2022 World Cup — for its championing of Hamas.
Since Hamas assumed control in Gaza in 2007, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the territory and backed Hamas diplomatically, sheltering its exiled leader Khaled Mashaal.
A pro-Israel source, speaking anonymously in order not to preempt lawmakers, said Qatar is under increasing scrutiny from Congress in the wake of this summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict. And with reports proliferating that financing for Islamist insurgents including the Islamic State, or ISIS, throughout the region originates in the oil-rich emirate, it is facing increasing isolation from its neighbors as well.
Qatar’s reasoning in identifying so closely with Israel’s mortal enemies is, paradoxically, grounded in the same strategies that led it to establish open ties with Israel in the 1990s, said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that specializes in Gulf states.
“Qatar’s basic approach to its own security is to maintain cordial relations with a very wide range of political actors and states,” Boghardt said in an interview. “And this accounts for its relationship with Israel on the one hand and its relationship with the most extreme terrorist groups [such as ISIS] on the other hand. This is simply the behavior of a very small state sandwiched between two large and sometimes unfriendly neighbors, Saudi Arabia to the west and Iran to the east.”
Punching above its weight is what led Qatar to establish trade ties with Israel in 1996, along with Oman, the first Gulf states to do so. Israeli businessmen travel to the emirate and Israeli students are welcome at the emirate’s Georgetown University campus. Shahar Peer, the Israeli tennis pro, excelled in the Qatar Open in 2008.
Israel returned the favor, with its government and the pro-Israel community here advocating on the emirate’s behalf in Washington. In 2005, Israel backed Qatar’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, helping to boost its diplomatic profile and influence.
Qatar’s attempts to manifest an outsize voice on regional issues is behind its backing for al-Jazeera. It seeks to maintain and polish its reputation as friendly to Western values.
The tiny emirate pitches itself as a vacation destination and funds a number of influential Washington think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, to where a senior official, Martin Indyk, just returned after a year trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Tensions between Israel and Qatar emerged in 2007 when Qatar was one of the only countries to back Hamas after the group booted the more moderate Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup. In 2012, its then-emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to visit Gaza under Hamas rule, pledging to raise $400 million toward reconstruction.
Qatar’s rationale — shared by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader — was that Islamist groups were proliferating and inevitably would play a role in the region, and therefore it was important for allies of Western nations to maintain ties.
That thinking seemed to be vindicated by the Arab Spring in 2011 when Islamists were reaping most of the gains in the pro-democratization protests throughout the Arab world. Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian progenitor of Hamas, in Egypt and Sunni insurgents seeking to topple the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
By this summer and the Gaza war, Israel was labeling Qatar a terrorist haven in part because it is harboring Mashaal, Hamas’s political leader abroad. Qatar’s fingerprints alone prompted Israel to reject a ceasefire proposal advanced by US secretary of state John Kerry, although trade ties are still in place and Israeli businessmen still travel to Qatar.
Backing Islamists in the long run was a losing bet, said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He noted the ouster last year of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the turning tide against insurgents in Syria, as well as with international disgust at the actions of Islamist extremists in Iraq.
“They’re like the drunk guy at the casino putting down bad bet after bad bet,” he said in an interview, referring to Qatar.
Schanzer, testifying before Congress last week, counseled pressuring Qatar through sanctions that target individuals and entities. The United States has three military bases in Qatar, one of which houses the forward base of the US Central Command — a status that is more important to the militarily weak emirate than it is to the US, according to Schanzer.
“It’s hard to justify a base several miles from where the Taliban had an embassy, from Khaled Mashaal’s headquarters and from where al-Jazeera is hammering the United States,” he told JTA. (Contributor: By Ron Kampeas for Times of Israel)
Prayer focus: God said to Abram (later, Abraham), “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you….” (Gen 12:3). Those promises have not been revoked, which is sufficient basis for the true Church, the Body of Christ, to bless, support, and pray for Israel’s welfare. Pray earnestly about the dangerous drift of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry from America’s long-term support of Israel, our only Middle East ally. The betrayal of that bond may be happening, which will surely portend disastrous consequences for the U.S. Our nation is spiritually adrift at many levels. Intercede for an awakening Church to bring forth prophetic voices to sound an alarm to our leaders.
“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock’— therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.’” (Ezek 34:7-10)
“Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A young lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:7-8)
The decision in federal court in Camden Friday is likely to be appealed, as two of the plaintiffs are also challenging a similar law in a federal appellate court in California.
In her Friday ruling, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson said the law did not violate constitutional rights of therapists because it only regulated conduct, not protected speech.
Arguments about the law being overly broad “are largely irrelevant,” she added.
The dismissal is a victory for the state, which enacted the law in August, and gay-rights groups, which pushed for the law.
“The court’s decision today is a huge victory for New Jersey youth. This law will save lives by protecting young people from these horrible and damaging practices,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Garden State Equality in the case, praised the court’s “clear and thorough decision” that state-licensed therapists don’t have a constitutional right to engage in “discredited practices.”
When Gov. Chris Christie signed the law, he cited concerns about government intrusion on parental rights. But — due in part to his personal beliefs that people are born gay — he could not support change-therapies for youth when there was evidence that it could be harmful.
“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” Mr. Christie concluded.
The plaintiffs in the case, however, argued that their counseling services are needed because they honor clients’ desires to “prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, identities.”
They also argued that their services can be and are successful: Plaintiff and licensed professional counselor Tara King “is a former lesbian” who received sexual-orientation change efforts “and her life is living proof that SOCE counseling can and does work for some individuals,” said legal briefs filed by several lawyers with Liberty Counsel.
In addition to Ms. King; psychologist Ronald Newman, founder of the Christian Counseling Consortium of South Jersey; the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); and the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) are plaintiffs in the case.
Liberty Counsel lawyers could not be immediately reached for comment Friday night.
However, these lawyers, including Demetrios Stratis and Mat Staver, have filed a second lawsuit against the New Jersey counseling law, also in Camden federal court.
Their plaintiffs this time are two unidentified parents and their 15-year-old son. The family claims that the new law is blocking the therapy that has been helping their son. They also claim the law violates their rights to free speech, freedom of religion and “equal protection,” since the law permits them and their son to receive only “gay-affirming” therapy.
A federal judge is scheduled to decide by Dec. 2 whether to grant the family a temporary injunction to stop enforcement of the law.
The New Jersey law forbids state-licensed therapists, psychologists, social workers and counselors from providing sexual-orientation change efforts to a child under age 18. It does not apply to unlicensed counselors and clergy.
Dozens of professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have expressed doubt about sexual-orientation change therapies.
The first law to outlaw change therapies for minors was enacted in California. That law is currently in a court challenge before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with NARTH and AACC as some of the plaintiffs. (Contributor: By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times – U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson – Nominated by George W. Bush on August 1, 2002, to a seat vacated by Nicholas H. Politan. Confirmed by the Senate on November 14, 2002, and received commission on December 4, 2002.)
Prayer focus: Intercessors know issues of sexual identity and attractions cannot be sorted out in the courtroom. Modern culture has forsaken God’s Word as the standard of what is normal. But such views are atheistic (do not acknowledge the Creator) and suggest the DNA code is an “accident” of evolutionary theory. The answer to the confusion is not in psychology but in personal relationship with a loving God through Jesus Christ. God’s acme of creation is in the divine mystery of male and female. Pray that the Church will find the courage, clarity, and renewed authority to speak the truth in love, presenting the Creator’s pattern as the way to a flourishing and fruitful life through the Gospel.
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27)
“[God] created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.” (Gen 5:2)
“Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)
Who is al-Baghdadi?
He’s an Islamic scholar, poet, and Sunni extremist who is as much as an enigma to his followers as he is to his enemies. Born Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai in the central Iraqi city of Samarra, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 43, is believed to have started his career as a preacher of Salafism, a hard-line form of Sunni Islam, and to have a degree in history and a doctorate in sharia law. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, he led a Sunni militant group that fought against American troops. Captured by U.S. forces in 2005, he was held for four years at Camp Bucca, a U.S. military prison. There, he met several al Qaeda commanders. In 2009, the U.S. turned al-Baghdadi over to Iraqi authorities as part of a Bush administration agreement with the Iraqis. Col. Ken King, who oversaw Camp Bucca, recalls al-Baghdadi taunting his American captors at the time, “I’ll see you guys in New York.” He was quickly released by the Iraqis and used his prison contacts to take over an al Qaeda–aligned militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq. Shortly after, he began an offensive to seize territory.
Al-Baghdadi has the megalomaniacal aim of restoring the long-expired caliphate, the original Muslim kingdom that existed under the successors of the Prophet Mohammed and at one point extended from modern-day Spain to Central Asia. “Caliph,” or khalifa, means “successor” in Arabic, and by taking the title, al-Baghdadi has declared himself the chief imam and political and military leader of all Muslims. The last caliphate ended with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and establishing a state to be the home of the faithful has been the dream of Islamic fundamentalists for more than half a century. Al-Baghdadi claims to trace his lineage to the Prophet Mohammed’s Quraysh tribe, and his nom de guerre recalls the first caliph: Abu Bakr, father-in-law and close adviser of Mohammed. In July, he addressed the world’s Muslims in a sermon. “I am the wali [leader] who presides over you,” al-Baghdadi said at the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq. “Obey me as long as I obey God in you.”
What kind of state does he want?
At its height 1,000 years ago, the Islamic caliphate was the world’s center of science and art, a beacon of tolerance during Europe’s Dark Ages. Al-Baghdadi, by contrast, draws inspiration from the earliest form of the caliphate, when the first four successors of Mohammed spread Islam by sword in the 7th century. He also admires the Abbasids, the dynasty of caliphs who founded Baghdad in the 8th century. He models his justice system after theirs — using beheadings, stonings, and crucifixions. “Terrorism is to refuse humiliation, subjugation, and subordination [to infidels],” al-Baghdadi said in July. “Terrorism is for the Muslim to live as a Muslim.”
How did he become so powerful?
By exploiting the Syrian civil war. When al-Baghdadi took over the Islamic State of Iraq, he came into conflict with al Qaeda’s central leadership, which chastised it for fighting Shiites instead of Westerners. Al-Baghdadi defiantly sent his fighters into Syria to seize land and renamed his group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — a power grab that caused al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to disown him. By then, al-Baghdadi had tapped into al Qaeda’s primary funding sources in the Persian Gulf, and when his army seized oil fields in Syria, ISIS became a juggernaut.
What does al-Baghdadi control?
ISIS is now an extraordinarily well-armed and well-funded militant group. Once al-Baghdadi’s fighters entered Syria, he rallied other jihadists to his banner and captured large chunks of territory. At least 10,000 militants are now loyal to him, and more flock to his cause every week. The group is headquartered in the city of Raqqa, Syria, from which it governs a Massachusetts-size territory that straddles parts of Syria and Iraq. ISIS funds its expansion by selling oil, collecting taxes, looting banks, and selling antiquities; it is believed to control some $2 billion in cash and assets, and has amassed vast quantities of weaponry, including hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-supplied artillery and armored vehicles captured from fleeing Iraqi forces.
What is life under ISIS like?
It is medieval. ISIS has imposed the most brutal form of sharia law throughout its territory, destroying Shiite mosques and tombs; slaughtering those it deems infidels; and banning music, drinking, and smoking. Women must wear a face veil, and all residents must attend prayers five times a day. Thieves have their hands amputated, while women suspected of adultery or immodesty are flogged. Thousands of minority Christians and Yazidis have been slaughtered. The U.S. has put a $10 million bounty on al-Baghdadi’s head, and he’s believed to be on the official “kill list” for drone attacks. “Now that he has claimed the caliphate,” said Charlie Cooper, a British counterterrorism analyst, “he has effectively positioned himself as the standard-bearer of jihadism the world over.”
Sowing terror via Twitter
ISIS is by far the most media-savvy militant group to emerge in the Middle East. Its social-media director is believed to be an American: Ahmad Abousamra, 33, a dual U.S.-Syrian citizen who was born in France and raised in the Boston area. Fluent in Arabic and English, he studied computer science at Northeastern University, where he made the dean’s list. Under his influence, ISIS fighters are encouraged to use Twitter and Facebook to promote jihad, and many of them have posted photos and videos of themselves holding up severed heads or executing prisoners. “ISIS understands very well that in order for an act of terrorism to be effective, it needs to actually terrorize people,” says Peter Neumann of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. “The act of communication that follows the act of violence is almost as important as the act of violence itself.” (Contributor: The Week Staff for The Week)
Prayer focus: Let us agree in prayer for our U.S. leaders. The three major officers in deciding and carrying out our military policies are President Obama, Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces; Secretary of State John Kerry; and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. We repeat for emphasis the desperate need for clarity and wisdom beyond human understanding. Analysts from all parts of the political spectrum are reluctantly concluding that President Obama appears overwhelmed by the ISIS terrorist strategy and uncertain about what to do. Intercede for mercy and truth to prevail.
Update: As this Alert is being prepared, credible reports tell us that while Mr. Obama does not want to send a strong military presence to Iraq, he has just ordered 2,500 military personnel to West Africa to assist in battling the Ebola virus epidemic. Please intercede with earnestness. Note that the number of lives lost to ISIS executions is far more than Ebola victims’ totals, though every life is precious.
“For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor 14:7-8)
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face.” (Ps 89:14)
The Pentagon has announced that it expects to train 5,000 Syrian rebels per year as part of President Obama’s new campaign to battle Islamic State militants.
Details of the administration’s $500 million plan to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State began to surface Friday when Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby outlined the goals that U.S. military planners expected to achieve.
That goal includes training and equipping the Syrian rebels in a foreign country over the course of about a year, according to Rear Adm. Kirby.
Mr. Obama had long resisted called to arm and train the rebels, pro-U.S. moderates who had been battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, belittling their ability to take on the government and to control the most extremist elements of the rebel coalition.
The U.S. military has already located a partner nation willing to host the training force, Rear Adm. Kirby said. Saudi Arabia has already indicated that it would play a key component in the Obama administration’s training plan, he said.
“We think that, now that we’ve got a partner in the region to help us with the training, is that we could train more than 5,000 fighters over the course of one year,” he said. “Now, that would be in phases. It would not be all at once. The training itself would not take a full year, but we think that we could get more than 5,000 done in one year.”
The Pentagon is still trying to work out details of that plan, such as how to vet and recruit those Syrian fighters who are qualified to train with U.S. military personnel, according to Rear Adm. Kirby.
Congress has to approve the Obama administration’s request for the funding before military personnel could proceed with their training plan. (Contributor: By Maggie Ybarra for The Washington Times)
Prayer focus: U.S. military advisors concede that this plan has unanswered questions. The president, sadly, is no longer trusted in his declarations because he has often lied to the American people. Yet we must pray for him and for God’s mercy for our nation. Intercessors will apply experience to focus on root causes, not merely surface symptoms. A primary question is this: how can our government be sure that after the huge investment in this training, the Syrian rebels will not sell out to ISIS money or threats? Second, it is becoming very difficult on the various combat fronts to sort out who is on which team and where deeper loyalties are embedded. Some Americans have joined ISIS terrorists. The “wisdom that is from above” is desperately needed. Pray fervently as the Holy Spirit directs.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Prov 3:5-6)
“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” (Ps 18:30)
“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.” (James 3:17)
The old man knew of the $500-a-day fine for people caught wasting water. He heard the plea for conservation from Governor Jerry Brown. But the water police can’t scare a person whose water isn’t running in the first place.
“Look,” said Carlos Chavez, a retired farm hand in the small town of Seville. He turned the wheel on a big outdoor faucet, the kind of high pressure spigot that’s illegal to operate in California without at least a hose attached to it. Nothing came out except air. It was the same story inside his home, where his plates piled up beneath a kitchen faucet as dry as the shop model.
As the California drought approaches its fourth year, Seville’s well is one of hundreds of private water holes coughing up sand and spitting air in the Central Valley, according to Tulare County officials. As many as 100,000 more wells are at risk around the state if the rains don’t come by October.
In what is still the most productive agricultural county in America, the pantry of brands like Hershey’s and Häagen-Dazs, Sun-Maid and Yoplait, the rising number of completely dry homes here has shocked officials and become a visceral symbol of California’s unending dry spell. Thousands of people—most of them farm workers and their families—find themselves with no running water to wash, drink, flush or cook.
“We’re the epicenter,” said Eric Coyne, a spokesperson for the Tulare County Resource Management Agency. “The need here is dire.”
With the help of volunteers, Tulare County has handed out thousands of gallons of emergency bottled water, a lifeline to the modern world. But now the state is also working on the well problem, according to Kelly Huston, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Just don’t expect a solution to flash like lightning. “As the drought continues,” he warned in an email, “more wells are likely to go dry.”
Almost every dollar in Tulare County has deep ties to planting, picking, or packaging food. But this summer, for the first time that residents can remember, the plants and animals got cleaner, more abundant water than many of the people who tend to them. The farms have the resources to drill deeper, taping ancient aquifers the backyard well owner can’t reach.
“It’s never been this bad before,” said Chavez, looking back on nearly 80 years in Seville, which hasn’t had reliable running water in months.
Chavez and his wife spent their prime as fruit pickers and boxers, making a good enough living to buy a little house, raise children, retire comfortably. In his youth, Chavez recalls, “everybody worked in the fields and the water was cold and clean and it tasted good. But now…” He stopped and looked up, pointing to the brown spire on his once-green pine tree, the mark of another drought-induced death.
A few blocks away, Maria Dominguez, a 28-year-old mother of two, pulled over to question a stranger she saw standing near the town’s faltering well. “What can you tell me about my water?” she hollered. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
Since the middle of summer, she’s been filling buckets with a friend a town over, then leaving them outside to warm in the sun. It’s the only way her mother, a picker, can sluice the field dust off before kissing her grandkids goodnight.
‘It’s sad for me to see my children going through this’
“It’s feels like we’re back in Tijuana,” said Dominguez, who came with her family when she was a little girl. “This is how they do it in Mexico.” She was on the way home with boxes of food and water, sixty pounds of drought disaster relief, paid for by the state and pulled off the back of flatbed truck.
One of her neighbors, Ray Quintana, was nearby helping the delivery. He served two combat tours in Vietnam, driving convoys through the jungle. Now, at 62, the water crisis has made his hometown feel like a conflict zone instead of some of the richest farmland on earth.
“To shower, I use a cup, just like when I was in ‘Nam,” he said, stepping away from a stream of glistening neighbors, most of them just back from the fields. Some had dust on their ear lobes and deep in their wrinkles. None had a simple way to shower in town that night.
“We’re living in a third world country now,” he continued.
For more than a decade, Ray and his wife Becky have occupied a cheerful two-bedroom house on Seville’s main road. The carpets are soft and the butter tray is real silver. But like the rest of town, the Quintanas are a hard-working family with no running water. They are a strange hybrid of upright citizens and bewildered refugees, like squatters who happen to own their homes.
“Sometimes I pull over at a gas station and go into the bathroom, just to wet my hair down,” admitted Becky, a school bus driver. “I feel like a homeless person.”
There are people like her all over this county, in places like East Porterville and Monson, people who walk through doors with brass knockers and then live like hobos in an abandoned building. They bathe out of a bucket, which they refill at convenience stores, fire stations, and churches. They flush with a bucket, too, and because the water may be tainted, they teach their kids to close their eyes and mouths when they rinse off. They never feel clean.
And in the morning they have to do it all again.
‘I feel like a homeless person’
“I think of water 24 hours a day,” Becky said. “When I go to sleep, I’m thinking about tomorrow morning. If I don’t have any water, what’s my plan? In the evening I’m thinking, what am I going to do? Am I gonna take a shower at my daughter’s house? Or am I going to take a shower at my sister’s house? I’m constantly thinking about Plan A, Plan B.”
“I think of water 24 hours a day.”
By the sad standards of parched towns, Seville is one of the fortunate places. Its water system has been troubled for years, threatened by fertilizer run-off and old, leaky pipes, lashed together in places by old bicycle tire inner tubes, according to Diane England, an analyst for the county water commission. “The system was already hanging by a shoestring,” she said, “and the drought stressed it to the breaking point.”
But at least Seville had an infrastructure. For that reason, when the well faltered sometime in June, the state stepped in to fund a new well, three times deeper than the old one. It may produce water as undrinkable as the old well, Becky said, showing off an August 2014 flyer that advised residents not to trust what may come from their tap. But, hey, at least the water will flow.
That won’t be the case elsewhere in the county. Aside from the odd chemical spill and poisonous algae bloom, Americans may imagine that access to clean drinking water is a far-off problem, a challenge for people who bath in rivers and sleep under corrugated iron roofs. But roughly 2 million people right here at home lack access to clean water, according to the Rural Community Assistance Program, a federally-funded network of small town water systems.
‘It’s frightening to take a shower’
Most of those people are black or Latino, and they tend to live in the West and South, where climate change could make water problems even more acute. That’s certainly the fear in East Porterville and Monson. In a normal year, the private wells pump water just fine, and the state’s industrial farms are served by a network of snow-and-rain-fed canals.
But this year, the farms of Tulare County got almost no water from the canals, forcing them to drill into the ground water. The result was like everyone at the prom putting a straw in the same punch bowl at the same time, and sucking hard. It lowered the water table until eventually the residential wells were dry.
“It’s literally a race to the bottom,” said Laurel Firestone, a prominent California water activist.
But while farms can invest heavily in deeper wells, most of the agricultural workers they employ can’t afford to do the same at home. When a residential well goes dry in East Porterville—as have more than 150 this year, according to the county—people turn first to their neighbors, who are often happy to help. Jesus Halfaro, a retired carpenter here, said he has almost 20 families on his still-thriving well.
“I’ll give you water until God say I going to be like you,” he said, leaning on a fencepost, his shirt unbuttoned mid-chest, philosophizing about the basic human right to clean water. “I mean, we can endure a little hardship. Everybody does. But try to go to the bathroom with no water? That will mess you up.”
When a neighbor’s well runs dry, and that neighbor’s neighbor runs dry, residents turn reluctantly to store bought water. On a recent morning, Lila Rosales, 17, was headed to the store on a water run, when she paused to calculate the costs of her weekly journey. As she spoke, her infant daughter snoozed nearby in a car seat.
Lila’s father was a picker but that week he was off with a chainsaw, chopping down a grove of parched orange trees. For the work, he expected to take home $300—$80 of which she would pour directly into blue gold. “Well, my baby,” she said, “she’s a hot-head, so I guess you can say I have to bathe her like every day, maybe twice a day, and it’s like, I have to run to the store to get a least a gallon of water.”
“Every night I pray … I pray for water!”
Unlike Seville, there is no long-term plan for helping the people of East Porterville. With enough money, patience, and political will, the homes on the east side of town could be fit to the water system that feeds Porterville proper. The medium term plan, funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the state, is for volunteers to go door-to-door, as Ray Quintana did one recent Friday, dropping off a ration of bottled water per person, per week.
It was grueling work, he found, and he didn’t mean physically.
“God bless, America,” he said, after a day spent peering into one waterless home after another. “It’s still the greatest country in the world, but we need to take care of our people, you know?”
In the absence of a bailout, some people are trying to take care of themselves. One man in Seville installed his own supplemental pump, sucking in enough water to create an oasis just off his back porch. Another man took to YouTube, where the click-count on “Dig Your Own Well” videos expands each day the water table does not.
But prayer is perhaps the most popular option, if not in a church than in the cathedral of one’s own hot shower. Manuel Valdez is a smiley-eyed 70-year-old who decided to show off his shower prayer, shimmy and all, near the chip rack at the Seville corner store: “Please God, you give me some water, you know what I mean—I am all soaped up. Every night I pray. I kneel down and I pray for everything, for everyone. I pray for water!”
Finally, there are the realists. Maria Patcheco is a 29-year-old mother of three, including a 6-week-old who came home from the hospital days before the Patcheco’s well went dry. The faucets gave a final groan, the shower gasped, and the toilet bowl gulped. Then the water was gone.
Soon, the Patchecos will be, too. They’re not planning to be like the Chavez family, struggling through an unnecessarily hardscrabble retirement. They don’t want to live “Mexico-style.”
“Everything was so nice,” admitted Maria. But not any more. “California is going dry.” (Contributor: By Tony Dokoupil for NBC News)
Prayer focus: Readers of these Alerts know we have been praying over the California drought for several months. Three points stand out. First, this isn’t just a “California issue.” Most Americans feed from the Central Valley’s formerly lush fruit and vegetable farms. Thus, intercessors in unaffected areas must avoid the temptation to say the problem is “someone else’s, not mine.” Second, the economic burden, along with human suffering, is already staggering and will affect all Americans. Third, since God controls the climate, and rain is His gift to “the just and the unjust” alike, what are the spiritual implications of a drought that threatens to turn a large part of California into a desert? Is this a biblical judgment as a wake-up call? A huge portion of “the land” needs healing that only sustained rainfall can bring. Pray for God to awaken the Church in America to pray “in one accord” for rain, so He will receive the credit and fame for a miracle.
“Are there any among the idols of the nations that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are You not He, O Lord our God? Therefore we will wait for You, since You have made all these.” (Jer 14:22)
“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 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)
Obamacare—or at least the version of it that the president and his advisers currently think they can get away with putting into place—has been upending arrangements and reshuffling the deck in the health system since the beginning of the year. That’s when the new insurance rules, subsidies, and optional state Medicaid expansions went into effect. The law’s defenders say the changes that have been set in motion are irreversible, in large part because several million people are now covered by insurance plans sold through the exchanges, and a few million more are enrolled in Medicaid as a result of Obamacare. President Obama has stated repeatedly that these developments should effectively shut the door on further debate over the matter.
Of course, the president does not get to decide when public debates begin or end, and the public seems to be in no mood to declare the Obamacare case closed. Polling has consistently shown that more Americans oppose the law than support it, and that the opposition is far more intense than the support. The law is built on a foundation of dramatically expanded government power over the nation’s health system, which strikes many voters as a dangerous step toward more bureaucracy, less choice, higher costs, and lower quality care. The beginning of the law’s implementation does not appear to have eased these fears, and in some cases has exacerbated them.
But opponents of Obamacare must also reckon with the reality that the goal of repealing the law and replacing it with real, market-based health reform to bring down costs and enable more people to get covered is no longer aimed at a system that exists only in theory. When President Obama won reelection in 2012, it became inevitable that some version of the law would get implemented starting this year. And it was also a pretty good bet that, despite the law’s internal contradictions and problems, it would not, as some had surmised, collapse on the launch pad. Massive federal spending authority can prop up many a teetering edifice. The surprise is not that some 6 million people or so eligible for nearly free insurance under Obamacare took advantage of the offer; the surprise is that many millions more who were eligible declined to take it.
Some of the law’s opponents are reacting to these developments with something close to resignation. One prominent proposal would leave much of Obamacare’s government-centric architecture in place on the theory that it can be reformed and made to serve genuine market-oriented purposes. The law’s state and federal “exchanges,” which are the focal points of Obamacare’s expanded federal control over the health system, would be enlarged under this plan with millions of new enrollees from Medicaid. Future Medicare beneficiaries would also be forced to get their coverage through this mechanism.
It is true that exchanges are not, by definition, anti-market. Indeed, in concept, they could facilitate transparency and thus modestly improve consumer choice. But the Obamacare exchanges were built to assert increasing federal regulatory control over the nation’s health system. It is very rare for deregulation efforts to remove all such authority from an agency of government. Even if a deregulation effort partially succeeds in the short run, over the long run, federal regulatory agencies gain power by cleverly creating vested interests in the protection and expansion of that power. It is a very risky bet to place the future of American health care at the mercy of a new and improved system of Obamacare exchanges.
And there is no need to do so. The reality of Obamacare implementation in 2014 does not mean the law is no longer replaceable with something better. It still can be displaced by an appealing conservative alternative if a newly elected president chooses to make repeal and replace a top priority in 2017. But plans to replace Obamacare must now take into account the changes that the law has brought about this year, and stands to deliver over the next few years.
The president and the law’s supporters may pay a heavy political price this November for breaking their repeated promises not to needlessly disrupt pre-Obama-care insurance arrangements or doctor-patient relationships. The law’s opponents must avoid making the same mistake in their plans to replace Obamacare: They should refrain both from promising that all disruption can be avoided and from causing avoidable disruption. A replacement will need to include a transition—a bridge from Obamacare’s broken architecture to a working health financing system.
The nature of such a bridge depends in part on the particulars of the alternative. The best of the replacement plans so far proposed by conservatives are those that address the problems that existed in the health system before Obamacare was enacted without the horrendously misguided government-centered architecture of Obamacare that has made those problems worse. For instance, the reform plan introduced by Republican senators Richard Burr, Tom Coburn, and Orrin Hatch would dramatically expand insurance coverage, control costs with a functioning marketplace, and allow people with expensive health conditions to get affordable and stable insurance—without the high costs and overbearing federal regulatory control of Obamacare. The reform plan developed by the 2017 Project—an organization dedicated to developing a conservative reform agenda—has many key features in common with the Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan, and would also broaden insurance coverage and provide stable insurance for the sick without Obamacare’s excesses. We assume that some synthesis of these plans will form the starting point for replacing Obamacare.
The transition from Obamacare to programs like these would be a move from a more prescribed and regulated to a less prescribed and regulated health system, and therefore would increase rather than reduce the range of options available to Americans. This would make such a transition dramatically different from, and far easier than, the transition to Obamacare that we are now witnessing. Adding options, rather than subtracting them, can make it possible to enable even those people who are most entangled in Obamacare’s new mechanisms to gradually make their way into the new and more functional market-based alternative.
Indeed, for most Americans the transition would not be much of an issue and the new system would offer major benefits. About 160 million Americans receive health coverage through their employers, and in these early stages of Obamacare implementation, that system has remained largely as it was.
The repeal and replacement of Obamacare would reduce some burdens now faced by the employer system—by lifting the threat of the employer mandate and reducing tax and regulatory pressures that have undermined employment. And it would relieve employers of the coming “Cadillac” tax, scheduled to take effect in 2018, and offer a more plausible and less painful way to inject some cost discipline into employer coverage.
The Cadillac tax is a 40 percent excise tax on employer-plan premiums in excess of an upper threshold, set at $27,500 for family coverage in 2018 (the tax also applies to expensive policies sold directly by insurers to consumers). It requires employers to pay the same tax for high-paid and low-paid workers, and since employers would pass on the cost in the form of compensation adjustments, it would particularly harm lower-paid employees of firms with generous plans. A better approach, included in both the Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan and in the 2017 Project proposal, is to place an upper limit on the amount of employer-paid premiums that is tax-free income to workers. Premium costs paid by firms above the threshold would then be taxable income for employees, but higher-salaried employees would pay more because their salaries put them in higher marginal income-tax brackets. Most Americans would never confront the tax, and those who did would be far better positioned to deal with it, or to change their coverage to avoid it.
The transition from Obamacare’s crude regulatory distortions of the insurance market to a system that creates protections for people with preexisting conditions without outlawing insurance could also be made quite smooth for the same reason: People would find themselves with more options and no less protection.
Obamacare outlaws using health status in setting premiums and bans exclusions of pre-existing conditions, which provides an incentive to consumers to delay insurance enrollment until they need it. The law tries to counteract this perverse incentive by imposing a new tax on the uninsured—the so-called individual mandate. The emerging alternative plans take a different approach: They require that anyone who has stayed continuously insured be shielded from higher premiums based on their health status. This would include anyone who needed to move from an employer plan to the individual insurance market. The replacements would thus eliminate the individual mandate immediately, but the protection for those who stay insured would provide at least as strong an incentive to stay covered as the mandate while enabling the creation of a competitive market in coverage.
Some other insurance rules in Obamacare would need to be addressed with explicit transition provisions. For instance, Obamacare limits the allowable premium difference between older and younger consumers in the individual market to a 3 to 1 ratio, which is much narrower than the practice in many states before Obamacare was enacted. If this provision were to be repealed, as it ought to be along with the rest of the law, premiums would likely rise for older insurance enrollees and fall for younger consumers. To address this, a replacement plan should explicitly require states to provide for a brief transition period (of, say, three or four years) from Obamacare rules to the new system. A transition of this length would minimize disruption for consumers.
The challenges of transition are of course greater in the case of the two populations that receive direct benefits under Obamacare—those covered under the Medicaid expansion in their states and those who receive premium subsidies for the purchase of coverage through the exchanges. These individuals are most directly and materially entangled in Obamacare’s architecture, and smoothing for them the transition to a better system would require some special care.
The emerging alternative to Obamacare would help those who do not have access to an employer plan by providing them with tax credits for purchasing health insurance. The value of these tax credits would be roughly equal to the value of the tax preference for employer-paid plans, and thus would undo the unfairness of providing a tax benefit just to those in employer plans (the Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan limits the credits to households with incomes below three times the federal poverty line). Medicaid would then be transformed into a flexible, state-administered program of additional premium and cost-sharing support for low-income families. States would use the funding to supplement the federal tax credits and allow program participants to use the combined support to pick a coverage option from among competing insurance plans.
In both the case of Medicaid-eligible individuals and people without access to employer coverage, therefore, the conservative alternative to Obamacare would provide subsidized access to coverage, though through a different mechanism intended to help people enter a robust and competitive market in coverage that enables them to choose from among affordable options and allows their choices to make the underlying health system more efficient and accessible. This means that people receiving coverage under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and those receiving subsidies through the Obamacare exchanges would have to be given a bridge to the new system with as little disruption as possible.
The best way to transition those in the Medicaid program is through a grandfathering exemption. No one enrolled in Medicaid would be pushed out of the program. People could stay enrolled as long as they remained eligible under the old Obamacare rules, and as long as their states elected to keep the old program structure in place for them. But all new applicants would go into the reformed Medicaid program, and all participants in the old program could voluntarily elect to switch into the reformed Medicaid program.
A great many Medicaid beneficiaries would choose to make that transition as they would be given new choices and the ability to enroll in the same types of mainstream insurance plans available to the middle class—often with significantly greater access to care than they now have in Medicaid. The states would also have an incentive to make it more appealing, smoother, and easier for people to choose the new Medicaid alternative, since the new system would be significantly less costly for state governments. Given these incentives, and the fact that turnover in Medicaid has always been very high, the full transition to the new Medicaid alternative could occur fairly rapidly, yet could be experienced by the people affected as a choice, not a disruption.
The transition to the new health insurance tax credits for those currently receiving subsidized coverage in Obamacare’s exchanges would not be as straightforward, but could follow the same general principle. (Read more.) (Contributor: By James C. Capretta and Yuval Levin for The Weekly Standard – James C. Capretta is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Yuval Levin, also a fellow at EPPC, is the editor of National Affairs and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.)
Prayer focus: Few of us are equipped to interpret an article of this length and technical discussion. All many citizens know for sure is that their health insurance costs have gone up, and many promises made about the president’s Affordable Healthcare Act were not true. Indeed, according to several polls, trust in the administration’s statements at many levels is at an all-time low. That this is true is seen in the lengths to which some Democrat candidates are going to distance themselves from President Obama before the November elections. The healthcare issue is only one complicated example. Pray for God’s mercy on a nation that is in both spiritual decline and emotional disarray. Pray for widespread revival and spiritual awakening for Christians and that the Church will awaken and lead America back to its godly roots. Revival is when God’s people hear His voice and obey.
“’Now, therefore,” says the Lord, ‘turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:12-13)
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years.’” (Heb 3:7-9)
Thousands of Germans, many wrapped in Israeli flags, gathered at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday for a rally against anti-Semitism, which has flared up in Europe following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany organized the rally in response to the anti-Semitism seen in cities like Berlin, as well as Paris and London. Protesters chanting “death to Israel” and “gas the Jews” at pro-Palestinian demonstrations over the summer deeply unsettled many here.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with President Joachim Gauck and leaders of both of the country’s main Christian churches, attended the rally and pledged to fight a resurgence of the hatred that underpinned efforts to wipe out Jewish life in Germany under the Nazis.
“That far more than 100,000 Jews are now living in Germany is something of a miracle,” Ms. Merkel told the estimated 5,000 people who turned out under gray skies. “It’s a gift and it fills me with a deepest gratitude.”
“That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept,” Ms. Merkel said. “It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism.”
Jews from across the country traveled to the capital by the busload to take part in the demonstration that many viewed as an important chance to show their solidarity with Israel, as well as publicly acknowledge their religion. Some Jews say they have been discouraged from wearing outward symbols of their religion in public in recent months as a safety precaution.
Beyond the anti-Semitic demonstrations, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in the western city of Wuppertal and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.
Hedva Lüttge, a teacher from Israel who has lived in Germany for 20 years, said that on the way to Sunday’s demonstration, four pro-Palestinian supporters began shouting at her and her friends, until the police intervened. Hundreds of police officers were in place for the demonstration, which took place without any incident, apart from some heckling by bystanders over Israel’s policies in the Middle East.
Armin E. Husung said he had encountered anti-Jewish sentiments in the course of his career as a lawyer and notary in Berlin. He came to the demonstration, with his partner and his 11-year-old son, because “I wanted to show clearly which side I am on,” Mr. Husung said.
The Anti-Defamation League expressed “deep gratitude” to the chancellor for attending the demonstration, calling it a “vital component” of Germany’s response to the anti-Semitic incidents over the summer.
On Monday, the World Jewish Congress opens its annual conference in Berlin, the first time it has been held here. Leaders of the congress said they had selected the German capital before the outbreak of tensions in the Middle East to mark the rebirth of Jewish life here since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The chancellor sought to reassure Jewish leaders they were not mistaken.
“Jewish life is part of our identity and culture,” Ms. Merkel said. “Let us be unequivocally clear: Whoever discriminates and ostracizes has me, all of us, and the majority of the people in Germany against them.” (Contributor: By Mellissa Eddy for The New York Times)
For Thanksgiving: This is a gratifying praise report. Give thanks for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with President Joachim Gauck, for their open, defiant, and almost militant stance in opposition to any and all forms of anti-Semitism on German soil or under Germany’s present government. True, it is the right thing to do, but this represents a measure of redemption from Germany’s tragic past with Adolf Hitler’s determination to eradicate the Jewish people during WW 2. Pray that Germany will indeed continue to be a safe haven for Jews and others who should be protected. We expect to see God blessing Germany for its stance.
[God said,] “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you….” (Gen 12:3)
“’… for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in….’ 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? …. 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 25:35, 37-38, 40)
Human enterovirus-D68, which starts with flu-like symptoms then leads to serious breathing issues, has already struck a number of children across the U.S. However, nutritionist and biochemist Dr. Ted Broer says adults are at risk, too, so everyone should take precautions.
“It spreads through sneezing, through body fluids, through not washing your hands,” he tells OneNewsNow. “Folks need to realize how important it is to wash your hands every time you use the bathroom, every time you touch a public surface like a stairwell rail or a button for an elevator or a doorknob. It’s absolutely critical that your hands stay washed. In addition to that,” Dr. Broer adds, “you must take a variety of different types of supplements which will help strengthen the immune system.”
This virus was first identified in California in 1962, but it has not been commonly reported in the United States for years.
So far, the new cases have been reported throughout the Midwest, Georgia, Alabama and Utah, and health officials warn it is likely to appear in other areas as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 100 types of the enterovirus. (Contributor: By Russ Jones for One News Now)
UPDATE: More than a dozen cases of Enterovirus D68 have been confirmed in New York state, according to officials.
“EV-D68 is causing cases of severe respiratory illness … sometimes resulting in hospitalization, especially among children with asthma,” the NYS Department of Health said in a statement Friday.
Enteroviruses are quite common in September; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 10 to 15 million people are infected by these viruses each year. But doctors believe this particular type of enterovirus, Enterovirus D68, is causing more serious problems than others have in years past.
As of September 11, more than 80 cases in six other states — Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri — have been confirmed to be EV-D68, according to the CDC.
Prayer focus: This is not a new virus, nor is it consider deadly, though stronger strains of certain viruses create new problems and become more difficult to deal with. Intercessors praying for family members and friends may add “good works” to faith by giving special care to children and to the elderly. Emphasize basic hygiene techniques of careful and persistent hand washing and, when possible, avoidance of exposure to those already ill. Pray against fear, as media sources often relate the “exceptional” case where someone dies unexpectedly. Intercede for pastors and other Christian leaders who are often exposed to the sick when ministering. Urge them to pace themselves and to get sufficient rest.
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they
shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 49:31)