WHITE HOUSE EXEMPTS EXECUTIVE OFFICE FROM RECORDS REQUESTS
The White House on Tuesday erased a government-transparency rule that required the president’s Office of Administration to make records available to the public, removing the regulation from the books nearly six years after it effectively died under a federal court ruling.
The timing of the move caused an uproar among transparency advocates, who are in the middle of Sunshine Week, a seven-day effort to promote open government and greater compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The law allows the public to access federal documents with limited exceptions.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday characterized the rule change as a matter of cleaning up outdated regulations, noting that the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia decided in 2009 that that the Office of Administration is not an agency as defined under FOIA and therefore not subject to the statute.
“It has no impact at all on the policy that we have maintained from the beginning to comply with the Freedom of Information Act when it’s appropriate,” Earnest said.
The George W. Bush administration first mounted the legal challenge that resulted in the FOIA exemption.
The Office of Administration complied with FOIA requests for years before the Bush administration stopped the practice, prompting a lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The Obama White House has not released any records from the office under FOIA, using the court decision to justify its policy.
CREW criticized the Obama administration for its decision, saying it reversed a decades-long practice of opening office’s files to the public.
“This step makes mockery of the administration’s commitment to transparency, especially given that it’s Sunshine Week,” CREW executive director Anne Weismann said in a statement Tuesday. “Apparently they have abandoned even the appearance of transparency.”
Earnest said the awkward timing of the rule change was unintentional. The action appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday with a note indicating that the action was final, meaning it would take effect without a public-comment period.
The Office of Administration provides a broad range of administrative services for the Executive Office of the President. The support can involve anything from information technology and mail to research and graphics development.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. concluded in its 2009 ruling that the office is not an agency because it “performs only operational and administrative tasks in support of the President and his staff” and therefore “lacks substantial independent authority.”
President Obama promised to run the most transparent government in U.S. history, but the administration has faced doubts and criticism about its efforts.
An Associated Press analysis published last year found that government secrecy had increased during the Obama years, with the administration censoring or outright denying FOIA access more in 2013 than it had ever done before.
Earnest defended Obama’s commitment to openness, saying the rule change is “cleanly in line with the kind of priority that this administration has placed on transparency.” He also noted that the Obama White House was the first to release its visitor logs.
A recent analysis by the Center for Effective Government shows that the Obama administration improved access to information last year, with eight out of the 15 federal agencies that handle the most FOIA requests improving their scores in the group’s annual report card.
Nonetheless, 10 agencies finished last year with unsatisfactory grades, earning less than 70 points out of a possible 100. (Contributor: By Josh Hicks for The Washington Post - Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.)
For prayer: IFA’s ministry in The Informer is to encourage intercessors to pray for our country and its leaders, beginning with President Obama. Mr. Obama often chooses to be secretive with both Congress and the public. However, Americans elected conservative majorities last November in both House and Senate. Pray that God will move in and through the Congress to insist on a return to constitutionally mandated balance of powers. Even presidents are required to keep the law.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom 13:1-2)
BIBI’S MIRACULOUS LANDSLIDE VICTORY WILL HELP IDENTIFY HIS ENEMIES!
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuIn listening to the media and a majority of political analysts, Benjamin Netanyahu had a tough road ahead in the 2015 Israeli elections. So when his Likud party won 30 seats (six seats ahead of Herzog’s Zionist Union party), it was a bit of a surprise for most and even a shock for some. Netanyahu’s victory could be considered a landslide victory, but certainly must be considered a miraculous victory. For the next few years, Israel will continue to thrive under the leadership of one of the strongest Prime Minister in her history.
Bibi’s victory doesn’t make everybody happy, especially after some of the announcements he made hours prior to the elections. His enemies will be quick to denounce and criticize him and his agenda.
At the top of the list we can obviously find the Palestinian Authority and Hamas doing everything in their power to delegitimize Israel. The PA continues to apply pressure at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to force them to investigate possible war crimes during the 2014 Gaza War. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared:“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, and for that, we say clearly that we will go to The Hague tribunal, we will accelerate, continue and intensify.” This is a despicable move akin to accusing Jews of crimes against humanity during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis. Hamas has also called for renewed confrontations with Israel…No surprise there!
Another disappointed enemy is the leader of Zionist Union Isaac Herzog who many had seen as a serious contender in the race for the Knesset. Herzog finally conceded and congratulated Bibi on his victory.
The Israeli government is a complicated political machine. The Knesset demands that the ruling party would form a coalition with other parties since 61 seats are required for a majority over its 120 seats. No party has ever won with a majority in Israel’s 67 years of history. Very often the votes are so close that coalition governments are formed with members of the two parties who were competing for the win only the night before. But this time, with 30 seats, Netanyahu finds himself in a majority position from the start, allowing him to form a government much more center-right than ever before. This is a bigger defeat for the Left in Israel. Netanyahu will certainly gain more power from the get go.
Herzog campaigned on issues that he thought were attractive to Israelis like renewed talks with the Palestinians towards a Palestinian state, a strengthening of US/Israel relations, and a change in Israel’s economy bridging the gap between classes. He wanted to bring “Change” to Israel. I think that someone, somewhere already tried that same socialistic ideology and it failed! As it turned out, Israeli voters were much more interested in the security of their country than the economy of their country. After all how good is a rebounding economy in a country that would be opening its doors to people determined to kill all the Jews. Security over economy doesn’t mean that Netanyahu will not work towards a better Israel economically, but as he has said numerous times and repeated at his address to the US congress, the security of Israel’s people is first and foremost.
It is also interesting to notice that the “Joint Arab List” became the third party in the Knesset. This will undoubtedly create a new dynamics within the Israeli government. What we need to remember is that the “Joint Arab List” comprises three different lists that strongly disagree within themselves. They had to form a mini Arab coalition to even become a reality within the Knesset. Will they find enough of a common ground in their loathing of Israel to work together? Time will tell, but I am certain that we will hear more from the “Joint Arab List.”
Many international leaders are worried about Bibi’s last minute shift to the right to garner the necessary votes from ultra-nationalist factions. They feel that it will only exacerbate the Palestinians and further bury the prospect of any peace in the Middle East. What they really fail to understand is that a more socialistic party like that of Isaac Herzog would facilitate the emergence of a group of people who have absolutely no interest in a two-state solution. They might hypocritically pretend to be open to the idea, but that is only until they have gained enough power to completely annihilate the Jews. Mr. Herzog idealistic vision is obviously blinded by his liberal leanings.
And then of course, there is the leader of the “United Welfare States of America”, Barack Obama! While many heads of states will personally call Netanyahu to congratulate him on the Likud’s victory, Mr. Obama gave the task to a White House aid who congratulated Israel without any mention of Netanyahu or the Likud. Some will accuse me of pettiness, but the least that our President could have done was to call Netanyahu in person. Then again, coming from the same man who chose to snub Bibi’s recent congress speech, it shouldn’t surprise us. What a shame!
It is unclear if Bibi’s speech on March 3rd, 2015 in front of the US congress was a political move or just a heartfelt desire to cry out to the international community. It was probably a bit of both. What is certain is that it facilitated Bibi’s victory. His stance on the “Iranian Deal” was powerful and obviously a slap in the face of our president and “King of Appeasement.”
Relations between America and Israel are tense and fragile at best. There are still many Americans who support the Jewish state. We might expect that the already strained relations between Netanyahu and the White House could lead to a political divorce. The one positive aspect of this win is that Netanyahu will outlive Obama in office and could very well regain a respected position with the next US administration.
So it would appear that Mr. Netanyahu has many enemies to contend with, within and without Israel. Physical rockets will continue to fall over Israel as will the verbal rockets from the liberals, the current US administration and the media. In the meantime, I believe that Bibi’s victory will ensure the best approach to Israel’s security. The road ahead is a rocky one and would greatly benefit from the prayer of the friends of Israel.
Congratulation Mr. Prime Minister, my prayers are with you and Israel! Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, May they prosper who love you. Psalm 122:6 (Contributor: By Oliver Melnick for New Anti-Semitism)
For prayer: Pray for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is a precarious and vulnerable time in the Middle East. No major American newspaper has given a positive report on the Prime Minister’s re-election. Give thanks that Christians around the world believe he is the right man for his job at this time. Pray for Israel and for Mr. Netanyahu’s safety. Pray that the U.S. will support Israel against acts of aggression and not forsake the friendly relationship we have had since 1948. Pray for Israel and Mr. Netanyahu to recognize their Messiah in Jesus Christ.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isa 55:6-7)
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’” (Ps. 122:6-7)
MCCAIN: CONGRESS COULD DEFUND UN IF U.S. BACKS PALESTINE BID
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain said that the president should “get over” his “temper tantrum” following Netanyahu’s election victory on Tuesday.
In a restive interview Saturday, Obama had suggested that Israel’s democracy may “erode” following contentious statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Tuesday’s election. His comments came amid a nadir in ties between the two leaders over the right approach to tackling Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli leader’s controversial speech before Congress earlier this month.
Responding to signals from the White House that the U.S. could stop using its United Nations Security Council veto power to quash unilateral resolutions in support of Palestinian statehood, McCain, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, warned Obama against such a move.
He said that if the U.S. acquiesced to a UN resolution calling for a Palestinian state, and if it were approved at the UN, “the United States Congress would have to examine our funding for the United Nations.” Washington is the single biggest funder of the international body, but current legislation permits defunding of any UN body that recognizes Palestinian statehood.
“It would be a violation because of the president’s anger over a statement by the prime minister of Israel,” McCain explained. “It would contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.”
For years, the U.S. has rejected attempts to dictate the terms of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians through the UN, arguing that the only path to an effective settlement of the conflict is through a two-state solution reached by direct negotiations between the parties.
In the run-up to the Israeli elections, Netanyahu made statements saying that no Palestinian state would be established during his premiership. But in post-election interviews, the prime minister emphasized that the seeming improbability of reaching a two-state solution was not shaped by Netanyahu’s unwillingness, but due to the almost year-old alliance between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as well as the increasing instability of the region.
McCain agreed with Netanyahu’s assessment that regional instability should be at the center of American geopolitical considerations.
“It’s time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of [Islamic State] and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region,” McCain said.
“The president has his priorities so screwed up that it’s unbelievable,” he claimed. “The least of your problems are what Bibi Netanyahu said in a political campaign. It pales in significance to the situation which continues to erode throughout the Middle East and it puts America at risk.”
Speaking after McCain, Jewish Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) rejected the senator’s statements about Obama, although he didn’t get behind the White House’s pugilistic stance toward Netanyahu.
Asked about McCain’s accusations that Obama was “throwing a temper tantrum,” Israel responded “I don’t think its helpful for that strategic asset for people to reduce the relationship between Israel and the United States to a political football.”
Downplaying the tensions with the administration as indicative of a turn in U.S.-Israel relations, Israel said that “Netanyahu has said – and I agree with him – that Israel’s most important strategic asset is bipartisan support in the Congress.”
Israel, who was one of the Democratic legislators who escorted Netanyahu to the House floor as he prepared to deliver a speech challenging the administration’s position in talks with Iran, noted that he had previously publicly disagreed with the Obama administration over a number of Israel-related concerns. Still, he argued, “everybody needs to take a deep breath and step back.”
“There’s the personality and then there’s the policy,” Israel explained, referring to the well-documented acrimony between Netanyahu and Obama. “But what counts is the substance, and on the substance the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has never been closer on military, strategic and intelligence issues.”
Israel was markedly less conciliatory, however, in discussing a very public war of words in recent days between himself and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
Speaking Friday on Boston Herald Radio, King had said that he “didn’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president.”
Israel told CNN Sunday that “I really do not need a lessons from people like Steve King on what it is to be Jewish or a Democrat.”
“I haven’t seen Steve King at the hearings to fund the Iron Dome or the Arrow system,” Israel continued, referring to two joint US-Israel defense projects that are largely funded through Congressional appropriations. “Steve King, who said America is a Christian nation, should not be lecturing Jews about how we should be Jewish.” (Contributor: Rebecca Shimoni for Times of Israel)
For prayer: It is no secret that President Obama dislikes Prime Minister Netanyahu intensely. Our president appears to be unaware of the importance of our country’s history with Israel and the vital necessity of keeping that intact. Pray that God will open his eyes to the importance of supporting Israel and the danger of siding with Iran, which hates both Israel and the United States. God’s purpose for Israel is not yet fulfilled. Please pray into this impasse with so much at stake.
“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’ For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he.” (Jer. 31:10-11)
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills— from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:1-4)
OBAMA'S ROLE IN ISRAELI ELECTIONS WAS LARGER THAN REPORTED
President Obama's role during the Israeli elections was larger than reported, according to a pollster for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.
"What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu," John McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said in an interview on John Catsimatidis's "The Cats Roundtable" radio show broadcast Sunday on AM 970 in New York.
"There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations. And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu," McLaughlin said.
He noted an effort to oust Netanyahu was guided by former Obama political operative Jeremy Bird and that V15, or Victory 15, ads hurt Netanyahu in the polls. McLaughlin said the Israeli leader rebounded after delivering a speech to Congress early this month, prompting more critical ads.
V15 was viewed as part of a broader campaign to oust Netanyahu. The group was linked to Washington-based nonprofit OneVoice Movement, which reportedly received $350,000 in State Department grants. Money to OneVoice stopped flowing in November, officials said, before the Israeli elections.
After Netanyahu's win, V15 co-founder Nimrod Dweck said in an interview with Ronan Farrow aired on MSNBC's "Jose Diaz-Balart" that "not a single cent" of State Department or taxpayer money had gone to their campaign.
"These are false allegations and they have nothing to do with reality," Dweck said.
McLaughlin also cited an effort "to organize the [Israeli] Arabs into one party and teach them about voter turnout."
"The State Department people in the end of January, early February, expedited visas for [Israeli] Arab leaders to come to the United States to learn how to vote," McLaughlin said.
"There were people in the United States that were organizing them to vote in one party so they would help the left-of-center candidate, Herzog, that the Obama administration favored," he added.
Already tense relations between Obama and Netanyahu escalated this week after Netanyahu's pre-election promise to not allow a Palestinian state. He later backed down after White House criticism, though Obama suggested in an interview released Saturday he wouldn't brush off the comments.
"They were running an ACORN, Obama Organizing for America-type campaign over there with the digital ads, the billboards, the phones. They were targeting Israeli voters," Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said Saturday on Fox News's "Justice with Judge Jeanine."
"I think the president, Tuesday night, felt like he lost," said Zeldin, who along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has questioned the Obama administration over OneVoice's funding and nonprofit status. (Contributor: By Jesse Byrnes for The Hill)
For prayer: This is more Washington, D.C. scandal that may never get uncovered. Pray that God will reveal truth that our government may be covering up. Ask Him to bring all false dealings to light. If this report is true, President Obama may have violated the law and, more importantly, directly withstood the unfolding purpose of God.
“Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding.” (Prov. 23:23)
“Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-18, 21 NIV)
PRESBYTERIANS APPROVE GAY MARRIAGE IN CHURCH CONSTITUTION
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved redefining marriage in the church constitution Tuesday to include a “commitment between two people,” becoming the largest Protestant group to formally recognize gay marriage as Christian and allow same-sex weddings in every congregation.
The new definition was endorsed last year by the church General Assembly, or top legislative body, but required approval from a majority of the denomination’s 171 regional districts, or presbyteries. The critical 86th “yes” vote came Tuesday night from the Presbytery of the Palisades in New Jersey.
After all regional bodies vote and top Presbyterian leaders officially accept the results, the change will take effect June 21. The denomination has nearly 1.8 million members and about 10,000 congregations.
“So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities,” said the Rev. Robin White, a leader of More Light Presbyterians, which advocates for gay acceptance within the church.
So far, 41 presbyteries have rejected the redefinition, which includes a provision that no clergy would be compelled to preside at a gay marriage or host such a ceremony on church property. The vote in one presbytery was tied, according to a tally by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a pro-gay group that works to keep Presbyterians united despite theological differences.
Last year, the church had allowed ministers to preside at gay weddings if local church leaders approved in states where the unions were legally recognized. The new wording for the church Book of Order, which authorizes same-sex marriages churchwide, will read, “Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.”
Church leaders released statements Tuesday urging “mutual forbearance” amid disagreements over the amendment. “We hope that such ‘up/down’ voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community,” the two top General Assembly officials said.
Between 2011, when the Presbyterian church authorized gay ordination, and 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, 428 of the denomination’s churches left for more conservative denominations or dissolved, though some theological conservatives have remained as they decide how to move forward.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, said the new definition was “an express repudiation of the Bible” and approved “what God does not bless.” Her group has urged Presbyterians to protest by redirecting donations away from the national church until the original marriage definition is restored.
Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a network of theologically conservative Presbyterian churches that have stayed with the denomination, said his organization will “remain faithfully engaged in conversation” with those of different views in the church. He said the Fellowship’s opposition to the amendment is “in no way intended to be anti-gay,” but aims “with humility” to uphold the traditional Bible view of marriage.
Although several Protestant denominations have taken significant steps toward recognizing same-sex relationships, only one other major Christian group has endorsed gay marriage as Christian churchwide.
In 2005, the 1.1 million-member United Church of Christ became the first major Protestant denomination to back same-sex marriage, urging its individual congregations to develop wedding policies “that do not discriminate against couples based on gender.”
The Episcopal Church, which blazed a trail in 2003 by electing the first openly gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson, does not have a formal position on gay marriage, but allows bishops to decide whether their priests can officiate at the ceremonies. Episcopalians will take up gay marriage at a national meeting in June.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which eliminated barriers to gay ordination in 2009, takes a similar approach, allowing some discretion by clergy and congregations to officiate at same-sex ceremonies without formally recognizing same-sex marriage as a denomination.
The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination and prohibits gay weddings. Many Methodist clergy have been performing gay marriages as a protest of church policy.
The Rev. Brian Ellison, executive director of Covenant Network of Presbyterians, said he recognized “there will be significant disagreement among thoughtful faithful people” about the new marriage definition. “We’re very committed to helping the church continue working through this issue,” he said. (Contributor: By Rachel Zoll for The Washington Times)
For prayer: There is little to say here. After teetering for decades on the edge of increasingly liberal and anti-biblical doctrine and practice, the once-orthodox and spiritually mighty Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has left its deeply rooted biblical Christian faith and doctrine for the slippery slope of “anything goes” and “God wants me to be happy.” History shows that there is almost never a turning back. Pray for the faithful pastors and members who must now decide whether to stay or leave. Such decisions are never easy.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:20-21)
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)
EPA ‘BURNING THE CONSTITUTION’ WITH CARBON, HARVARD SCHOLAR SAYS
As President Obama forges ahead in his fight against climate change, a leading Harvard Law School scholar says a central piece of the president’s strategy is akin to “burning the Constitution” merely to advance an environmental agenda.
In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe said the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants is built on a shaky legal foundation. The proposal, Mr. Tribe argues, far exceeds EPA’s authority under federal law and strikes a blow to the 10th Amendment by essentially making states subservient to Washington on energy and environmental matters.
Mr. Tribe’s testimony — with which other legal scholars strongly disagreed during Tuesday’s hearing — comes about a month before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case that challenges EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Plan,” which would limit pollution from both new and existing power plants and is designed to reduce coal use across the country.
Critics long have argued the proposal, which will be finalized this summer, would cost thousands of jobs and drive up electricity prices for consumers. But Mr. Tribe and others believe there are deeper problems with the looming regulations.
“EPA’s proposal raises grave constitutional questions, exceeds EPA’s statutory authority and violates the Clean Air Act,” said Mr. Tribe, who has argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times and represented Al Gore in the case that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential election.
“EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta — usurping the prerogatives of the states, the Congress and the federal courts all at once,” he continued. “Burning the Constitution of the United States … cannot be a part of our national energy policy.”
The White House, many Democrats in Congress and environmental activists believe the EPA plan is a necessary component in a larger effort to stop climate change. EPA officials also have said they intend to finalize the proposal before Mr. Obama leaves office in 2017, making it much more difficult for the next president to unwind the regulations.
But there are a host of legal questions underneath the EPA’s proposal, and many scholars expect it ultimately will end up before the Supreme Court.
One of the most important questions deals with the agency claiming new authority under the federal Clean Air Act to limit emissions from power plants even though it already restricts “hazardous air pollutants” under a separate portion of the law.
The D.C. court will hear arguments on that question next month in a case brought by Ohio-based Murray Energy. But given that the Murray lawsuit centers on a draft version of the rule and not the final regulations, it’s possible the court could toss the case.
Critics also say the EPA is weakening states’ rights by requiring them to pursue unrealistic and ultimately unattainable greenhouse gas emissions rates. The EPA claims it is giving states a great deal of flexibility in figuring out how to meet emissions standards, but opponents of the plan say the standards themselves cannot be met and the supposed flexibility is an illusion.
If states do not devise their own plans to lower emissions, the federal government would impose its own rules.
The requirements almost surely would require states to take steps beyond simply limiting emissions, such as using more renewable power. Opponents say the EPA does not have the authority to regulate “beyond the fence” of the power-generation facilities.
Some Democrats on Tuesday seemed unphased by the potential legal pitfalls.
“You can get constitutional lawyers and professors to say anything on both sides,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat.
Indeed, other legal scholars who testified at Tuesday’s hearing shrugged off Mr. Tribe’s warnings and said the EPA merely is taking the next step in the effort to protect the air Americans breathe.
“The Clean Power Plan does not give rise to any constitutional problems,” Richard L. Revesz, a professor of law and director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, told the House panel. (Contributor: By Ben Wolfgang for The Washington Times)
For prayer: Pray that ideology will not overcome common sense. Science and “Nature” do not contradict each other when studied and applied with the honest motives to serve people. When so-called science is for sale, then distortions of truth lead to self-serving conclusions. Pray for a national return to the Lord. A nation that honors God as Creator and Sustainer of life will know His protection.
“As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” (Ps. 103:13-18)
WHITE CHRISTIANS ARE NOW A MINORITY IN 19 US STATES
White Christian men have long been the primary movers and shakers in American politics and culture. All 43 U.S. presidents, with the exception of Barack Obama–who was born to a white mother and a black father–were white Christians.
However, the American landscape is changing. White Christians, once the majority virtually everywhere in the United States, are now a minority in 19 states, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
The PRRI’s survey defines “white Christian” as evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians who describe themselves as “white, non-Hispanic.”
The survey also found that the United States is no longer a majority Protestant nation. In 2014, only 47 percent of Americans identified as Protestant.
“There’s more people who were raised Protestant [who are] now unaffiliated, and you combine that with the ethnic shifts, and that gives you this decline in Protestants across the country,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the PRRI.
Those ethnic shifts include the rising number of non-white Catholics; American Catholicism is becoming increasingly Hispanic, and evangelicals are seeing more non-white churchgoers.
While 76 percent of Americans continue to identify with the Christian faith, there is a growing population of non-Christian and non-Jewish religions. Five percent of the country is either Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or some other religion.
“Going toward the future, the kind of 1950s way of thinking about America as Protestant, Catholic and Jewish is really no longer going to be sufficient,” said Jones. “It really is a much more complex landscape.”
Adding to that complexity is the rising number of Americans who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. There’s a so-called “unchurch belt” stretching from up in the Pacific Northwest and into Alaska, Oregon, and Washington State. There are so many people don’t identify with a particular religion that “religiously unaffiliated” is the largest religious group in 13 states, including Vermont and New Hampshire.
It is this rising number of religiously unaffiliated Americans that can be expected to flex its muscle in the coming years. While much of the the political debate in the 1980s and 1990s involved the religious versus the non-religious, that might be about to change.
“I think we’re going to see the fault lines shifting a little bit differently so that we have the religiously unaffiliated really weighing in,” said Jones. “This very large group of religiously unaffiliated Americans, I think, has the real potential to change the equation in terms of politics, in terms of culture, and I think we’re just beginning to see that impact.”
According to PRRI, it derived its information from 50,000 annual telephone interviews. The findings are available in an online tool The American Values Atlas.
States Where White Christians Are No Longer The Majority
(Percentages of white Christians in each state)
- Hawaii – 20%
2. California – 25%
3. New Mexico – 33%
4. Nevada – 36%
5. New York – 37%
6. Alaska – 37%
7. Texas – 37%
8. Maryland – 38%
9. Arizona – 38%
10. Washington – 42%
11. Florida – 42%
12. Oregon – 43%
13. New Jersey – 43%
14. Colorado – 44%
15. Illinois – 46%
16. Georgia – 46%
17. Vermont – 47%
18. Delaware – 48%
19. Louisiana – 49% (Contributor: By Dora Hasan Mekouar for Voice of America)
For prayer: The issue here is not how white or black or brown the population is but whether those who make up what we once called the American “melting pot” (or mixture of races and ethnic backgrounds) have come to America legally and with honest intentions. Pray for a return to the spiritual and moral issues that made our country great. Pray that our ideals to be a God-fearing and God-honoring nation will be restored through widespread revival.
“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17:24-27)
GOOGLE: RECOGNIZES A FACE OUT OF 260 MILLION
“I never forget a face,” some people like to boast. It’s a claim that looks quainter by the day as artificial intelligence research continues to advance. Some computers, it turns out, never forget 260 million faces.
Last week, a trio of Google researchers published a paper on a new artificial intelligence system dubbed FaceNet that it claims represents the most-accurate approach yet to recognizing human faces. FaceNet achieved nearly 100-percent accuracy on a popular facial-recognition dataset called Labeled Faces in the Wild, which includes more than 13,000 pictures of faces from across the web. Trained on a massive 260-million-image dataset, FaceNet performed with better than 86 percent accuracy.
Researchers benchmarking their facial-recognition systems against Labeled Faces in the Wild are testing for what they call “verification.” Essentially, they’re measuring how good the algorithms are at determining whether two images are of the same person.
In December, a team of Chinese researchers also claimed better than 99 percent accuracy on the dataset. Last year, Facebook researchers published a paper boasting better than 97 percent accuracy. The Facebook paper points to researchers claiming that humans analyzing images in the Labeled Faces dataset only achieve 97.5 percent accuracy.
However, the approach Google’s researchers took goes beyond simply verifying whether two faces are the same. Its system can also put a name to a face—classic facial recognition—and even present collections of faces that look the most similar or the most distinct.
This is all just research, but it points to a near future where the types of crime-fighting, or surveillance-enhancing, computers we often see on network television and blockbuster movies will be much more attainable. Or perhaps a world where online dating is even simpler (and shallower) than swiping left or right on Tinder.
Have a thing for Brad Pitt circa 1998? Here are the 500 profiles that look the most like him.
At first we’ll see systems like Google’s FaceNet and Facebook’s aforementioned system (dubbed “DeepFace”) make their way onto those company’s web platforms. They will make it easier, or more automatic, for users to tag photos and search for people, because the algorithms will know who’s in a picture even when they’re not labeled. These types of systems will also make it easier for web companies to analyze their users’ social networks and to assess global trends and celebrity popularity based on who’s appearing in pictures.
Though Google and Facebook’s advances in facial recognition are relatively new, computer systems like this can be found all around us today. They incorporate an artificial intelligence technique called deep learning, which has proven remarkably effective at so-called machine perception tasks such as recognizing objects (by some metrics, machines are now better at this than are people), recognizing voices, and understanding the content of written text.
Aside from Google and Facebook, companies including Microsoft, Baidu, and Yahoo are also investing heavily in deep learning research. The algorithms already power everyday features such as voice control on smartphones, Skype Translate, predictive text-messaging applications, and advanced image-searching. (If you have images uploaded to a Google+ account, go ahead and search them for specific objects.) Spotify and Netflix are investigating deep learning to power smarter media recommendations. PayPal is using it to fight fraud.
There are also several technology startups using deep learning to analyze medical images in real time, and to provide capabilities such as text analysis, computer vision, and voice recognition as cloud computing services. Twitter, Pinterest, Dropbox, Yahoo, and Google have all acquired deep learning startups in recent years. And IBM just bought a Denver-based startup called AlchemyAPI to help make its Watson system smarter and bolster its new Bluemix cloud platform. (The idea: Developers can easily connect mobile and web applications to cloud services and therefore build smart applications without ever studying the complex computer science that underpins artificial intelligence.)
That’s not all. As consumer robots, driverless cars and smart homes become real, deep learning will be there, too, providing the eyes, ears, and some of the brains for our new toys. DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense’s research agency, is also investigating how deep learning techniques might be able to help it make sense of the streams of communications crossing intelligence networks everyday.
Something tells me it’s looking at Google’s FaceNet and getting pretty excited, too. (Contributor: By Derrick Harris for Fortune - Derrick Harris is a freelance writer.)
For prayer: As readers of these midweek alerts know, some articles are for immediate prayer, while others are to help us be aware of trends to watch. Artificial Intelligence technology marches on and will only become more intrusive. Will it be mankind’s servant or our master? Applications that override privacy might also detect planned criminal activity before it starts. Social media have opened windows to share our lives with others; in doing so, we will sacrifice more and more personal privacy. Pray that men and women will recognize God as the Ultimate Intelligence, the One who sees and knows all things, including the secrets of the heart.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:12-13)
NASA: CALIFORNIA HAS ONE YEAR OF WATER LEFT
Plagued by prolonged drought, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year, according to NASA.
In an op-ed published Thursday by the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state's water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight.
"As our 'wet' season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows" Famiglietti writes. "We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too."
Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one-third of the monitoring stations in California’s Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains have recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured.
"Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing,” Famiglietti writes.
He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond "staying in emergency mode and praying for rain."
Last month, new research by scientists at NASA, Cornell University and Columbia University pointed to a "remarkably drier future" for California and other Western states amid a rapidly-changing climate. "Megadroughts," the study's authors wrote, are likely to begin between 2050 and 2099, and could each last between 10 years and several decades.
With that future in mind, Famiglietti says, "immediate mandatory water rationing" should be implemented in the state, accompanied by the swift formation of regulatory agencies to rigorously monitor groundwater and ensure that it is being used in a sustainable way—as opposed to the "excessive and unsustainable" groundwater extraction for agriculture that, he says, is partly responsible for massive groundwater losses that are causing land in the highly irrigated Central Valley to sink by one foot or more every year.
Various local ordinances have curtailed excessive water use for activities like filling fountains and irrigating lawns. But planning for California's "harrowing future" of more and longer droughts "will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon," Famiglietti writes. "Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin." (Contributor: By Zoë Schlanger for Newsweek)
For prayer: We have commented on the California drought in past alerts. Should intercessors look at biblical precedents? Is God seeking our attention to urge America toward nationwide repentance? Note below how 2 Chron. 7:14 reads when we add verses 12 and 13, where the Lord personally visits Solomon to answer his question from chapter 6. We do not claim a direct parallel between Israel and the U.S., but God’s nature and character are the same. Read the larger context (below) and pray as led. Remember, the California issue as actually a national issue. How would our nation’s founders have prayed? How would we pray in a time of revival? How shall we pray today?
[Solomon’s supplication:] “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because [Your people] have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.” (2 Chron 6:26-27)
[God answers:] “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: ‘I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 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 7:12-14)
‘I AM A CHRISTIAN’ AD BLOCKED ON FACEBOOK FOR OFFENSIVE SPEECH
Facebook has blocked an advertisement for the upcoming independent film “I am a Christian,” citing marketing rules against ads that use offensive speech, producers said Wednesday.
Producers of film, set to star Fox News contributor Stacey Dash and “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo, are attempting to raise $500,000 in production costs online. The film will tell the story of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, The Daily Caller reported.
The production company Christian Lives Matter, which so far has only raised $2,400 for the film, says Facebook rejected a promotional ad that asked users to proudly declare their Christian faith.
“Are you a Christian?” the ad asks. “We challenge you to change your profile picture to this ‘I Am A Christian’ photo for one week! Change your picture now, and challenge your friends to do the same. Stand up and declare Yes, I Am A Christian!!!”
One of the film’s producers told The Daily Caller in an interview that he was “shocked” to learn Facebook rejected the seemingly harmless ad.
“Your ad wasn’t approved because it doesn’t follow Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines for language that is profane, vulgar, threatening or generates high negative feedback,” Facebook reportedly wrote to producers of the film. “Ads can’t use language that insults, harasses or demeans people, or addresses their age, gender, name, race, physical condition or sexual preference.”
“Your ad wasn’t approved because it doesn’t follow our language policies,” Frank of the Facebook Ads Team explained further, The Daily Caller reported. “We’ve found that people dislike ads that directly address them or their personal characteristics such as religion.”
“Ads should not single out individuals or degrade people. We don’t accept language like ‘Are you fat?’ ‘Wanna join me?’ and the like. Instead, text must present realistic and accurate information in a neutral or positive way and should not have any direct attribution to people,” Frank wrote.
Though it was rejected as an official ad on Facebook, the decision hasn’t appeared to stop the production group from posting it as a photo on their official movie page.
Ms. Ibrahim and her family have previously spoken out against ‘I Am a Christian’ — the title of which is taken from her words when she was asked to deny her faith — for being made without her consent, Christian Today reported. (Contributor: By Jessica Chasmar for The Washington Times)
For prayer: It appears there are two issues here. The first is Facebook’s position that to declare oneself a Christian constitutes offensive speech. That sounds discriminatory, though there is little the Christian community can do about it without endless lawsuits. The second is the resistance of Miriam Ibrahim and her family who are allegedly against the film, which is being made without her consent. We will not ignore the story, nor will we seek to make it bigger than it is. Pray as you are led.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
AMAZON GETS EXPERIMENTAL AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon Logistics, Inc. unmanned aircraft (UAS) design that the company will use for research and development and crew training. The FAA typically issues experimental certificates to manufacturers and technology developers to operate a UAS that does not have a type certificate.
Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.
The certificate also requires Amazon to provide monthly data to the FAA. The company must report the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links. The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates. (Contributor: FAA)
For prayer: This story is precursor to Amazon’s ultimate plan to use drone aircraft to deliver smaller, lighter packages. It is a wave of the future but is too new to be certified as completely safe. (Imagine dozens of radio-controlled model aircraft buzzing around your neighborhood at a height less than 400 feet above you.) The best prayer focus is for safety and careful regulation.
“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Ps. 20:7)
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Ps. 146:3)
EMPOWERING FOR TRANSFORMATION CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS
Hosted by Intercessors For America and held at Evergreen United Methodist Church in Leesburg, Virginia on March 6-7, 2015.
Snow-covered roads throughout the northeast the night before didn't stop participants from five different states from attending IFA's two-day conference with featured speakers, Alistair Petrie and Doug Abner.
Alistair Petrie of Partnership Ministries shared principles of revival, transformation, and spiritual awakening. His insightful teaching from Scripture illuminated truth in a new way as he shared out of biblical scholarship coupled with prophetic insight into the work and move of the Holy Spirit in our time. He spoke with conviction and clarity about the signs of the times and our need to rightly interpret the headlines from a spiritual perspective. The depth of scriptural teaching and personal application impacted and challenged many, reminding us of the "householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old," referenced in Matthew 13:52. He said his passion is revival. And as he has visited and researched many historical revival sites, he shared significant insights.
Doug Abner of the Appalachian Center for Transformation partnered with Alistair throughout the weekend, sharing the practical application of these truths and principles. His community experienced a supernatural move of God starting in 2004 in Manchester, Kentucky. His down-to-earth experiences, powerful testimonies, and humorous perspective on these processes were refreshing and applicable. Together, he and Alistair inspired and challenged the leaders to look deeper into the workings of the Holy Spirit in our communities and nation and to consider the long-term goals and implications of spiritual awakening and revival.
Several comments were shared by conference participants:
I thought the conference was great! The balance between building the spiritual framework and presenting the practical outworking was amazing. This was a great encouragement to continue pressing into the heart of God for visitation. (Lyman Eddy)
I think the most significant concept I heard about was not going into an area, praying, and leaving. You need to stay and follow through. (Tracey de Blank)
Personally I was enriched by the teachings that Alistair Petrie shared; he's a remarkable teacher. Through it, the Lord challenged me, confirmed things, and inspired me. What a treat Mr. Doug Abner was to the overall experience. The contrast between the two speakers was captivating, yet the joint labor was indeed a powerful demonstration of the Kingdom. His personal stories of his experience of transforming revival were deeply stirring and inspiring. Thank you for hosting them and making this possible in our region. I hope there will be future events hosted by IFA. (Brian F. Hume)
The primary voice I heard from this weekend was it's time to reengage. From both of our speakers this weekend, I felt called to engage with the Lord for personal and city transformation. (Bobby Alger)
I was impacted by the hope that God CAN and WANTS to transform our communities. Doug's time speaking was inspirational. Knowing that my community's transformation story will not look like someone else's brings freedom to pursue what we see God unfolding for us without having to fit into a prescribed set of actions. It is not a formula. We just need to seek God's presence and repent and seek to right the wrongs we have made against God in our lives and community. (Kris Kubal)
We really enjoyed the conference and I have had a great time going over my notes to pull out the "must do" first items...I feel there was ministry going on at many levels simultaneously. (Joan Randell)
Want to hear these messages? You can!
Audio CDs of the entire conference are now available from the IFA Bookstore <Click Here!>.
Hear a sample 5-minute audio clip of Alistair teaching at the conference <Click Here!>
For prayer: IFA staff members attended this conference and found it edifying and visionary. Join us in giving thanks for the vision-casting that took place in the hearts and minds of the participants. Pray that the seeds sown will produce a deep spirit of intercession and anticipation in preparation for widespread revival. This is what the Church and our nation desperately need.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isa. 55:6-9)