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On Watch in Washington April 29, 2015

 On Watch in Washington April 29, 2015 Plain Text PDF Version

HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE CASE IN JUSTICES’ HANDS

The Supreme Court’s historic consideration Tuesday of whether the Constitution protects the right of [homosexual] couples nationwide to marry seemed to come down to a familiar arbiter: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

That’s normally a safe haven for [homosexual] activists — Kennedy has written each of the court’s major victories advancing their movement. But the question after the hearing seemed to be whether forcing reluctant states to allow same-sex unions was a logical extension of the court’s rulings or too much, too fast.

Kennedy seemed to be working it out. On the one hand, he pressed lawyer Mary L. Bonauto, representing gay couples challenging states’ bans, to explain why the court should change the tradition of marriage as only between a man and a woman when the concept of same-sex marriage is so new.

“This definition [of traditional marriage] has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”

But by the end of the arguments, questioning John Bursch, the attorney representing four states that want to keep restrictive laws, Kennedy sounded more like one of the lyrical passages in one of his opinions.

“Same­-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage,” Kennedy told Bursch. “We know we can’t procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled.”

The justices are considering two simple-sounding questions: whether the Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and, if not, whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where they are legal.

But the arguments were filled with discussions of equal protection and fundamental liberties, how an understanding of the Constitution changes with society, and when majority rule must give way to minority rights.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the member of the court who most seemed during arguments to be searching for middle ground, said a decision finding a constitutional right at this time would mean radical change and would short-circuit public debate.

“You’re not seeking to join the institution — you’re seeking to change what the institution is,” Roberts told Bonauto. “The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship, and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.”

Roberts added later: “If you prevail here, there will be no more debate. I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted. People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it’s imposed on them by the courts.”

He also pointed to a different way to look at the case, rather than casting it as discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts said. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

Bonauto wanted a clear ruling on the constitutional question. She said it was the states that had closed the debate, by passing constitutional amendments defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Amending state constitutions and relying on majority vote for rights is not what the Constitution anticipates, she said.

“If a legal commitment, responsibility and protection that is marriage is off limits to gay people as a class, the stain of unworthiness that follows on individuals and families contravenes the basic constitutional commitment to equal dignity,” Bonauto said.

She was making her first argument before the Supreme Court but has been a pioneer in the legal movement to secure same-sex marriage, winning the first major case that found a right to same-sex marriage, in Massachusetts in 2003.

Bonauto received a boost from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who pointed out that definitions of marriage had already changed. “Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female,” she said.

But there was resistance from the conservative justices, and a bit from one of the liberals, Justice Stephen G. Breyer. “Suddenly, you want nine people outside the ballot box to require states that don’t want to do it to change.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked that if the definition of marriage was simply a commitment between loving consenting adults, how could a state withhold that from siblings, or two women and two men who decided to marry. “Would there be any ground for denying them a license?” Alito asked.

Justice Antonin Scalia said that if the decisions on marriage continue to be made democratically by the states, those states could make religious accommodations that would not be possible if there was a decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

“Is it conceivable that a minister who is authorized by the state to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if indeed this court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry?” he asked.

Bonauto said it was well established that clergy are not forced to perform actions that violate their religious beliefs.

The Obama administration weighed in on behalf of the couples, and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that withholding marriage violates equal-protection guarantees.

“In a world in which gay and lesbian couples live openly as our neighbors, they raise their children side by side with the rest of us, they contribute fully as members of the community . . . it is simply untenable — untenable — to suggest that they can be denied the right of equal participation in an institution of marriage, or that they can be required to wait until the majority decides that it is ready to treat gay and lesbian people as equals,” he said.

Bursch, a former Michigan solicitor general representing that state along with Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, pleaded with the justices to allow the democratic debate over same-sex marriage to continue.

“This case isn’t about how to define marriage,” he said. “It’s about who gets to decide that question. Is it the people acting through the democratic process or is it the federal courts? And we’re asking you to affirm every individual’s fundamental liberty interest in deciding the meaning of marriage.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor stopped him there. “Nobody is taking that away from anybody,” she said. “Every single individual in this society chooses, if they can, their sexual orientation or who to marry or not marry.”

Bursch said that the states’ interest in marriage was not to “deny dignity or to give second-class status to anyone. It developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, arise from biology.”

He said the states’ interest in marriage was keeping together men and women to care for the children that they intentionally or accidentally create.

Justice Elena Kagan asked Bursch if he believes that “if one allowed same-sex marriage, one would be announcing to the world that marriage and children have nothing to do with each other.”

He said the state has a child-centric interest in marriage, not to legitimize the relationships of committed adults.

Roberts dominated the second argument, about whether states could be forced to recognize marriages performed in states where they were legal.

The question would be moot if the court declares a constitutional right, but the second argument lent force to the idea that it might be the chief justice’s preferred path and could perhaps win a wider majority.

If states are forced to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, Roberts suggested, it would be “only a matter of time” before same-sex marriage settled in as a national norm. It would effectively allow “one state” or a minority of states to “set policy for the nation.”

At the same time, the Roberts line of questioning suggested he did not view that possibility with great alarm, at least as an alternative to a court decision holding that all states must permit same-sex marriages within their borders.

Isn’t it “quite rare for a state not to recognize” a marriage performed elsewhere? he asked.

The recognition of a constitutional right would mark the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion about gay rights and a dramatic change in the nation’s jurisprudence. Same-sex marriages were practically unheard of in the nation until a Massachusetts court decision cleared the way for unions there just a dozen years ago.

Now, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where [homosexuals] are allowed to marry, according to estimates.

The questions raised in the cases that the court will consider were left unanswered in 2013, when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage. A slim majority of the court said at the time that a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — withholding recognition of same-sex marriages — was unconstitutional and in a separate case allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Since then, courts across the nation — with the notable exception of the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court that left intact the restrictions in the four states at issue — have struck down a string of state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, many of them passed by voters in referendums.

When the Supreme Court declined to review a clutch of those court decisions in October, same-sex marriage proliferated across the country.

Couples may now marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Public attitudes toward such unions have undergone a remarkable change as well. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed a record 61 percent of Americans say they support same-sex marriage. The acceptance is driven by higher margins among the young.

When the justices declined in October to review the string of victories same-sex marriage proponents had won in other parts of the country, it meant the number of states required to allow gay marriages grew dramatically, offering the kind of cultural shift the court often likes to see before approving a fundamental change.

The combined cases now before the Supreme Court are Obergefell v. Hodges. (Contributor: By Robert Barnes and Fred Barbash for The Washington Post – Mark Berman and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report. Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006. Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.)

For Prayer: The oral arguments were heard in depth yesterday (Tuesday, 4/28). The justices were not pushovers for the same-sex marriage presentations, poking back at the liberal side’s pro-homosexual agenda with some surprising retorts. As always, “the [justices’] hearts are in the hand of the Lord” (to paraphrase Prov. 21:1). Intercessors have been primed and active this week, and we urge continued prayer that God will overcome the high court’s liberal majority bias toward finding new so-called “rights” within our tattered U.S. Constitution (“rights” that the founders never dreamed of). Please continue to pray. This struggle is not even close to being over, regardless of the court’s decision.

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

“Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.” (Ps. 85:6-7)

 

SENATE PANEL APPROVES LORETTA LYNCH – VOTE TO COME

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared Sally Quillian Yates Thursday to be the next deputy attorney general, granting her bipartisan support that stood in stark contrast to the bitter partisan divide over Loretta Lynch, the women facing a final vote on becoming the top official at the Justice Department.

Ms. Yates was approved by the committee on an 18-2 vote, winning praise from Democrats who said she was qualified, and from Republicans who said she showed a willingness to be independent of the White House in a way that Ms. Lynch did not.

“The attorney general is not the president’s lawyer,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who voted for Ms. Yates, saying she grasped that concept while Ms. Lynch, whom he planned to oppose, did not.

Ms. Yates’s nomination now heads to the full Senate, where her approval is assured, given the support she had in committee.

Ms. Lynch, meanwhile, faces a vote later Thursday in the full Senate. If confirmed, she would be the first black woman to hold the top law enforcement post, earning a promotion from her current post as federal prosecutor in New York.

Ms. Yates, who is white, is a prosecutor in Georgia, and had strong support of that state’s two Republican senators, which helped her nomination.

During her confirmation hearings she generally defended the president’s policies but did say she viewed the role of the Justice Department as being an independent constitutional authority whose clients are the American people, not the president or Congress.

“This may seem to some like a small point. But it’s important to me,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the committee, who helped shepherd Ms. Yates’s nomination through the panel.

He said Ms. Yates also showed a willingness to be forthcoming on certain questions, including confirming that the Justice Department gave legal advice by email to the White House on the prisoner exchange involving five Taliban warriors and Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in May and June of last year. The swap happened on May 31, which Mr. Grassley said suggests the legal wrangling with the Justice Department continued even after the exchange went down.

Ms. Yates, who has been serving as acting deputy attorney general, said the department’s Office of Legal Council won’t release the substance of those emails because they are considered confidential legal advice.

“I do not intend to revisit that decision,” she said in written responses to questions from Mr. Grassley. (Contributor: By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

For prayer: The prayer focus here is not on Loretta Lynch personally but on the philosophy of government that has become paramount in the United States. A sense of gridlock exists that appears to have polarized and paralyzed the relationship between the executive branch (President Obama and his administration) and the U.S. Congress. Our country is deeply divided, and while ultimate solutions are in God’s hands, healing and reconciliation will only come as an awakened Church prays together in renewed unity. Please pray accordingly. Jesus said that a divided house or kingdom cannot stand.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.” (Ps. 133:1-3)

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)

 

CHINESE SCIENTISTS GENETICALLY MODIFY HUMAN EMBRYOS

In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. The results are published1 in the online journal Protein & Cell and confirm widespread rumours that such experiments had been conducted — rumours that sparked a high-profile debate last month2, 3 about the ethical implications of such work.

In the paper, researchers led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, tried to head off such concerns by using ‘non-viable’ embryos, which cannot result in a live birth, that were obtained from local fertility clinics. The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers say that their results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in medical applications.

“I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

Some say that gene editing in embryos could have a bright future because it could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born. Others say that such work crosses an ethical line: researchers warned in Nature2 in March that because the genetic changes to embryos, known as germline modification, are heritable, they could have an unpredictable effect on future generations. Researchers have also expressed concerns that any gene-editing research on human embryos could be a slippery slope towards unsafe or unethical uses of the technique.

The paper by Huang’s team looks set to reignite the debate on human-embryo editing — and there are reports that other groups in China are also experimenting on human embryos.

Problematic gene

The technique used by Huang’s team involves injecting embryos with the enzyme complex CRISPR/Cas9, which binds and splices DNA at specific locations. The complex can be programmed to target a problematic gene, which is then replaced or repaired by another molecule introduced at the same time. The system is well studied in human adult cells and in animal embryos. But there had been no published reports of its use in human embryos.

Huang and his colleagues set out to see if the procedure could replace a gene in a single-cell fertilized human embryo; in principle, all cells produced as the embryo developed would then have the repaired gene. The embryos they obtained from the fertility clinics had been created for use in in vitro fertilization but had an extra set of chromosomes, following fertilization by two sperm. This prevents the embryos from resulting in a live birth, though they do undergo the first stages of development.

Huang’s group studied the ability of the CRISPR/Cas9 system to edit the gene called HBB, which encodes the human β-globin protein. Mutations in the gene are responsible for β-thalassaemia.

Serious obstacles

The team injected 86 embryos and then waited 48 hours, enough time for the CRISPR/Cas9 system and the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act — and for the embryos to grow to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang says. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

His team also found a surprising number of ‘off-target’ mutations assumed to be introduced by the CRISPR/Cas9 complex acting on other parts of the genome. This effect is one of the main safety concerns surrounding germline gene editing because these unintended mutations could be harmful. The rates of such mutations were much higher than those observed in gene-editing studies of mouse embryos or human adult cells. And Huang notes that his team likely only detected a subset of the unintended mutations because their study looked only at a portion of the genome, known as the exome. “If we did the whole genome sequence, we would get many more,” he says.

Ethical questions

Huang says that the paper was rejected by Nature and Science, in part because of ethical objections; both journals declined to comment on the claim. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its research editorial team.)

He adds that critics of the paper have noted that the low efficiencies and high number of off-target mutations could be specific to the abnormal embryos used in the study. Huang acknowledges the critique, but because there are no examples of gene editing in normal embryos he says that there is no way to know if the technique operates differently in them.

Still, he maintains that the embryos allow for a more meaningful model — and one closer to a normal human embryo — than an animal model or one using adult human cells. “We wanted to show our data to the world so people know what really happened with this model, rather than just talking about what would happen without data,” he says.

But Edward Lanphier, one of the scientists who sounded the warning in Nature last month, says: “It underlines what we said before: we need to pause this research and make sure we have a broad based discussion about which direction we’re going here.” Lanphier is president of Sangamo BioSciences in Richmond, California, which applies gene-editing techniques to adult human cells.

Huang now plans to work out how to decrease the number of off-target mutations using adult human cells or animal models. He is considering different strategies — tweaking the enzymes to guide them more precisely to the desired spot, introducing the enzymes in a different format that could help to regulate their lifespans and thus allow them to be shut down before mutations accumulate, or varying the concentrations of the introduced enzymes and repair molecules. He says that using other gene-editing techniques might also help. CRISPR/Cas9 is relatively efficient and easy to use, but another system called TALEN is known to cause fewer unintended mutations.

The debate over human embryo editing is sure to continue for some time, however. CRISPR/Cas9 is known for its ease of use and Lanphier fears that more scientists will now start to work towards improving on Huang’s paper. “The ubiquitous access to and simplicity of creating CRISPRs,” he says, “creates opportunities for scientists in any part of the world to do any kind of experiments they want.”

A Chinese source familiar with developments in the field said that at least four groups in China are pursuing gene editing in human embryos. (Contributor: By David Cyranoski & Sara Reardon for Nature.com)

For prayer: Intercessors, please note two opposing forces at work here. The first is that technology is developing rapidly that allows laboratory research to experiment with the building blocks of life at the gene level. This is now called “genetic editing.” The other “force” is the determination of the press to “get the story,” whether or not the news is ready for publication. Our own sense is to pray for caution and restraint in what is increasingly a research milieu that ignores the existence of God. The natural mind wants to create and control life, sort of like “building a tower to heaven” (see Gen. 11).

“And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, … ‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel …” (Gen. 11:4-9)

“Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Ps. 100:3)

 

SALE OF U.S. ARMS FUELS THE WARS OF ARAB STATES

To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood.

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

The United States has long put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms can sell to Arab nations, meant to ensure that Israel keeps a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region. But because Israel and the Arab states are now in a de facto alliance against Iran, the Obama administration has been far more willing to allow the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf, with few public objections from Israel.

“When you look at it, Israel’s strategic calculation is a simple one,” said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The gulf countries “do not represent a meaningful threat” to Israel, he said. “They do represent a meaningful counterbalance to Iran.”

Industry analysts and Middle East experts say that the region’s turmoil, and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy, will lead to a surge in new orders for the defense industry’s latest, most high-tech hardware.

The militaries of gulf nations have been “a combination of something between symbols of deterrence and national flying clubs,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, a defense analyst at the Teal Group. “Now they’re suddenly being used.”

Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year — the most ever, and more than either France or Britain — and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.

Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree. Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets. Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next month for meetings with other gulf nations.

American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely to foreign military sales, and the company’s chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business — with a goal of global arms sales’ becoming 25 percent to 30 percent of its revenue — in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom.

American intelligence agencies believe that the proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years, which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons. The plane, the world’s most expensive weapons project, has stealth capabilities and has been marketed heavily to European and Asian allies. It has not yet been peddled to Arab allies because of concerns about preserving Israel’s military edge.

But with the balance of power in the Middle East in flux, several defense analysts said that could change. Russia is a major arms supplier to Iran, and a decision by President Vladimir V. Putin to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran could increase demand for the F-35, which is likely to have the ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses.

“This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran,” Mr. Aboulafia said. “If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events.”

At the same time, giving the gulf states the ability to strike Iran at a time of their choosing might be the last thing the United States wants. There are already questions about how judicious Washington’s allies are in using American weaponry.

“A good number of the American arms that have been used in Yemen by the Saudis have been used against civilian populations,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an assertion that Saudi Arabia denies.

Mr. Kimball said he viewed the increase in arms sales to the region “with a great deal of trepidation, as it is leading to an escalation in the type and number and sophistication in the weaponry in these countries.”

Congress enacted a law in 2008 requiring that arms sales allow Israel to maintain a “qualitative military edge” in the region. All sales to the Middle East are evaluated based on how they will affect Israeli military superiority. But the Obama administration has also viewed improving the militaries of select Arab nations — those that see Iran as a threat in the region — as critical to Israeli security.

“It is also important to note that our close relationships with countries in the region are critical to regional stability and Israel’s security,” Andrew J. Shapiro said in a speech in 2011, when he was an assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. “Our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and many Gulf countries allow the United States to strongly advocate for peace and stability in the region.”

There is an unquestionably sectarian character to the current conflicts in the Middle East, nowhere more so than in the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen. The Saudis have assembled a group of Sunni nations to attack Houthi militia fighters who have taken over Yemen’s capital, Sana, and ousted a government backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States. Saudi officials have said that the Houthis, a Shiite group, are being covertly backed by Iran. Other nations that have joined the coalition against the Houthis, like Morocco, have characterized their participation in blunt sectarian terms.

“It’s a question of protecting the Sunnis,” Mbarka Bouaida, Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview.

But Sunni nations have also shown a new determination to use military force against radical Sunni groups like the Islamic State. A number of Arab countries are using an air base in Jordan to launch attacks against Islamic State fighters in Syria. Separately, the Emirates and Egypt have carried out airstrikes in Libya against Sunni militias there.

Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the ground.

If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones will go to an American ally outside of NATO. (Contributor: By Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper for The New York Times)

For prayer: The Middles East continues to be full of confusion. Who is a friend? Who is an enemy? It is not surprising that U.S. weapons are being recycled and turning up in various national alliances and agreements, many of which are focused against Israel. The greatest irony would be for American-made planes, weapons, and missiles, in some perverse twist, to be turned on Israel. Pray for the peace and protection of Israel in the midst of her sworn enemies. Ask God to bring restraint on those surrounding nations that want Israel destroyed. Pray, too, for Israel, as a nation, to turn to the Lord.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’ For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’” (Ps. 122:6-8)

 

NEW ABORTION CONTROVERSY HITS CONGRESS

The same day that the Senate reached a deal on abortion language in a bill to combat human trafficking, the House of Representatives began considering legislation that is igniting a new controversy over the divisive social issue.

The House Oversight Committee approved a resolution on Tuesday night with a party line vote that would attempt to overturn a law passed by the District of Columbia Council in December that bans employers from taking punitive action against any employees for using abortion services or birth control. The bill could be scheduled for a full House vote as early as next week.

The new House resolution, sponsored by Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, says the D.C. law, the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act,” accomplishes the opposite of what its name implies.

“This coercive measure would ban pro-life organizations in D.C. from even considering a job seeker’s views on abortion as a condition of employment,” Black said in a statement. “This is an affront to the conscience rights of every American who believes, as I do, in the cause of protecting the unborn. Congress must not remain silent while this injustice unfolds.”

The Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups have pressed the GOP-led Congress to block the D.C. law. In an analysis published by two Heritage policy analysts, the group asserts that anti-abortion rights groups based in Washington would be faced with decisions about hiring candidates that could conflict with their beliefs.

“Organizations whose mission is to empower women facing unplanned pregnancies with physical and emotional support or who advocate for policies that affirm the dignity and value of both mother and child could be forced to provide health insurance for the life-ending procedure they oppose,” the report states.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called this latest GOP abortion bill “outrageous.”

“Allowing employers to fire employees for using birth control, or in vitro fertilization, or any other reproductive health care service is an unconscionable intrusion into workers’ personal lives,” said Pelosi in a written statement on Monday. “By disapproving D.C.’s law, House Republicans would even allow employers to fire employees for the reproductive health decisions that their employees’ spouses and dependents make.”

Debate on the measure in the oversight panel became both heated and personal [last] Tuesday.

“This is a continued attack on religion and a person’s 1st Amendment rights of freedom of belief,” Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan, said the committee’s markup on the bill.

But Democrats on the panel argued the GOP was once again raising a controversial issue and imposing its views on the District of Columbia.

“It is absurd and arrogant and ignorant that in 2015 we would be having these discussions,” Democratic Rep. Watson Coleman of New Jersey said Tuesday. She added she would come back for the vote but refused to listen to the debate on the issue.

Congress has the authority under the Constitution to nullify a law passed by the District of Columbia government. To roll back the bill, both the House and Senate need to pass a resolution of disapproval 30 days after the measure was transmitted to Capitol Hill. The resolution would need to be signed into law by the President.

But the chances that this move by the House will actually overturn the law are low. Time is running out, since the legislation was sent up to the Hill on March 6, and even if the measure is approved by the full House and Senate, the President Barack Obama is expected to veto it.

Earlier this year many of the anti-abortion rights groups were disappointed when House Republican leaders pulled a bill from the bill that would have banned so-called “late-term” abortions for women who are beyond 20 weeks into their pregnancy. The decision to move this legislation could help quell the criticism from those groups as GOP leaders are still negotiating changes to that bill to address internal divisions. (Contributor: By Deirdre Walsh for CNN News)

For prayer: To bring this into sharp focus, this could mean, for example, that a Christian, pro-life, pregnancy-counseling ministry in Washington, DC could not ask an applicant for a counseling position whether she (or he) held pro-life or pro-abortion views. Nancy Pelosi said that to do otherwise would be “outrageous.” This is another ruse to discriminate against those who want to preserve the freedom to remain 100 percent pro-life. Please pray with wisdom and discernment.

“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!” (Isa. 5:20)

 

SCIENTISTS CERTAIN THAT DRILLING IS CAUSING EARTHQUAKES

With the evidence coming in from one study after another, scientists are now more certain than ever that oil and gas drilling is causing hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes across the U.S.

So far, the quakes have been mostly small and have done little damage beyond cracking plaster, toppling bricks and rattling nerves. But seismologists warn that the shaking can dramatically increase the chances of bigger, more dangerous quakes.

Up to now, the oil and gas industry has generally argued that any such link requires further study. But the rapidly mounting evidence could bring heavier regulation down on drillers and make it more difficult for them to get projects approved.

The potential for man-made quakes “is an important and legitimate concern that must be taken very seriously by regulators and industry,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

He said companies and states can reduce the risk by taking such steps as monitoring operations more closely, imposing tighter standards and recycling wastewater from drilling instead of injecting it underground.

A series of government and academic studies over the past few years — including at least two reports released this week alone — has added to the body of evidence implicating the U.S. drilling boom that has created a bounty of jobs and tax revenue over the past decade or so.

On Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey released the first comprehensive maps pinpointing more than a dozen areas in the central and eastern U.S. that have been jolted by quakes that the researchers said were triggered by drilling. The report said man-made quakes tied to industry operations have been on the rise.

Scientists have mainly attributed the spike to the injection of wastewater deep underground, a practice they say can activate dormant faults. Only a few cases of shaking have been blamed on fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into rock formations to crack them open and free oil or gas.

“The picture is very clear” that wastewater injection can cause faults to move, said USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth.

Until recently, Oklahoma — one of the biggest energy-producing states — had been cautious about linking the spate of quakes to drilling. But the Oklahoma Geological Survey acknowledged earlier this week that it is “very likely” that recent seismic activity was caused by the injection of wastewater into disposal wells.

Earthquake activity in Oklahoma in 2013 was 70 times greater than it was before 2008, state geologists reported. Oklahoma historically recorded an average of 1.5 quakes of magnitude 3 or greater each year. It is now seeing an average of 2.5 such quakes each day, according to geologists.

Angela Spotts, who lives outside Stillwater, Oklahoma, in an area with a number of wastewater disposal wells, said the shaking has damaged her brick home. She pointed to the cracked interior and exterior walls, and windows and kitchen cabinets that are separating from the structure.

“There’s been no doubt in my mind what’s causing them,” Spotts said. “Sadly, it’s really taken a long time for people to come around. Our lives are being placed at risk. Our homes are being broken.”

Yet another study, this one published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, connected a swarm of small quakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater disposal.

The American Petroleum Institute said the industry is working with scientists and regulators “to better understand the issue and work toward collaborative solutions.”

With the evidence coming in from one study after another, scientists are now more certain than ever that oil and gas drilling is causing hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes across the U.S.

So far, the quakes have been mostly small and have done little damage beyond cracking plaster, toppling bricks and rattling nerves. But seismologists warn that the shaking can dramatically increase the chances of bigger, more dangerous quakes.

Up to now, the oil and gas industry has generally argued that any such link requires further study. But the rapidly mounting evidence could bring heavier regulation down on drillers and make it more difficult for them to get projects approved.

The potential for man-made quakes “is an important and legitimate concern that must be taken very seriously by regulators and industry,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

He said companies and states can reduce the risk by taking such steps as monitoring operations more closely, imposing tighter standards and recycling wastewater from drilling instead of injecting it underground.

A series of government and academic studies over the past few years — including at least two reports released this week alone — has added to the body of evidence implicating the U.S. drilling boom that has created a bounty of jobs and tax revenue over the past decade or so.

On Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey released the first comprehensive maps pinpointing more than a dozen areas in the central and eastern U.S. that have been jolted by quakes that the researchers said were triggered by drilling. The report said man-made quakes tied to industry operations have been on the rise.

Scientists have mainly attributed the spike to the injection of wastewater deep underground, a practice they say can activate dormant faults. Only a few cases of shaking have been blamed on fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into rock formations to crack them open and free oil or gas.

“The picture is very clear” that wastewater injection can cause faults to move, said USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth.

Until recently, Oklahoma — one of the biggest energy-producing states — had been cautious about linking the spate of quakes to drilling. But the Oklahoma Geological Survey acknowledged earlier this week that it is “very likely” that recent seismic activity was caused by the injection of wastewater into disposal wells.

Earthquake activity in Oklahoma in 2013 was 70 times greater than it was before 2008, state geologists reported. Oklahoma historically recorded an average of 1.5 quakes of magnitude 3 or greater each year. It is now seeing an average of 2.5 such quakes each day, according to geologists.

Angela Spotts, who lives outside Stillwater, Oklahoma, in an area with a number of wastewater disposal wells, said the shaking has damaged her brick home. She pointed to the cracked interior and exterior walls, and windows and kitchen cabinets that are separating from the structure.

“There’s been no doubt in my mind what’s causing them,” Spotts said. “Sadly, it’s really taken a long time for people to come around. Our lives are being placed at risk. Our homes are being broken.”

Yet another study, this one published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, connected a swarm of small quakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater disposal.

The American Petroleum Institute said the industry is working with scientists and regulators “to better understand the issue and work toward collaborative solutions.”

The Environmental Protection Agency said there no plans for new regulations as a result of the USGS study.

“We knew there would be challenges there, but they can be overcome,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday at an energy conference in Houston.

For decades, earthquakes were an afterthought in the central and eastern U.S., which worried more about tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Since 2009, quakes have sharply increased, and in some surprising places.

The ground has been trembling in regions that were once seismically stable, including parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

The largest jolt linked to wastewater injection — a magnitude-5.6 that hit Prague, Oklahoma, in 2011 — damaged 200 buildings and shook a college football stadium.

The uptick in Oklahoma quakes has prompted state regulators to require a seismic review of all proposed disposal wells. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, has ordered dozens of disposal wells to stop operating or change the way they are run because of concerns they might be triggering earthquakes, said spokesman Matt Skinner.

“There are far more steps that will be taken,” Skinner said.

Last year, regulators in Colorado ordered an operator to temporarily stop injecting wastewater after the job was believed to be linked to several small quakes. (Contributor: Alicia Chang for Associated Press)

For prayer: While we do not take these smaller earthquakes across the U.S. lightly, not any of them compares with the mega-earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) that has devastated Nepal and was responsible for the loss of more than 4,000 (and counting) human lives. It had been predicted for years as inevitable “someday,” when the earth’s crust shifted as it did along two major plates or fault-lines. We might ask why did Jesus speak of earthquakes in various places as part of “the beginnings of sorrows” and associated with the last days? As we grieve and mourn with these who have lost so much, let us realize that we who escaped also live fragile lives, sustained by God’s grace and mercy.

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 14:8)

“My soul still remembers and sinks within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:20-23)

 

GIRL SCOUTS: ‘GIRL’ IS NOW OPTIONAL

A traditional values leader is exposing the Girl Scouts for its continued move toward far-left causes.

The latest announcement, says Linda Harvey of Mission America, is that little boys from kindergarten through high school can join the Girl Scouts, if the boy considers himself a girl.

“In other words, he calls the shots,” Harvey says of young males. “He is the one that determines the rights and privacy of authentic girls.”

Regarding transgender youth, the website for the Scouts states that if a boy is recognized as living as a girl, “then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.”

The Girl Scouts began the move by pushing liberal sex education, although some local groups refuse to follow along, and then the Scouts decided the girls could define God as they wish – or deny Him.

One News Now reported last year that the CEO of the Girl Scouts was trying to deflect ties to Planned Parenthood but pro-family watchdog groups, already tracking the association, reported otherwise.

The Girl Scouts were the targets of a “cookie boycott” last year after the group was accused of trumpeing Wendy Davis, the pro-abortion Democrat who ran for Texas governor.

In the latest news, a chapter is being organized for homosexual and lesbian families at the Utah Pride Center.

What the Girl Scouts are advocating, says Harvey, is “anything that is anti-Christian, and anything that would dishonor girls.”

Meanwhile, a pro-family rival organization to the Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls, is celebrating 20 years this year. (Contributor: By Charlie Butts for One News Now)

For Prayer: Many American parents, whether Christian or not, continue to grieve over the spiraling decline of the Girl Scouts from their once-noble history of helping to develop morally upright young women of character. The organization has become a political tool of the burgeoning Left-wing of American society. Pray for wisdom for Christian parents who must guard their daughters by removing them from the Girl Scouts and for the girls themselves who will leave friends and a familiar tradition. Give thanks for the American Heritage Girls and their growth as an alternative scouting program.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” (Psalm 32:8)

“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)

 

PENTAGON’S NEW CYBER STRATEGY CITES U.S. ABILITY TO RETALIATE

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is due to unveil an updated cyber strategy on Thursday that will stress the military’s ability to retaliate with cyber weapons, a capability he hopes will help deter attacks.

The strategy presents a potentially far more muscular role for the U.S. military’s cyber warriors than the Pentagon was willing to acknowledge in its last strategy rollout in 2011 and singles out threats from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

“The United States must be able to declare or display effective response capabilities to deter an adversary from initiating an attack,” according to a copy of the document, obtained by Reuters ahead of its release.

The Defense Department, it said, must develop “viable cyber options” as part of the full range of tools available to the United States during heightened tensions or outright hostilities.

It should be able to use cyber tools to disrupt an enemy’s command of networks, military-related critical infrastructure and weapons capabilities.

The full-throated acknowledgement of such possibilities in the unclassified document is a major shift from 2011 and reflects the U.S. hope that it will help dissuade potential enemies.

Officials note that other tools to respond include publicly identifying nations responsible and imposing sanctions.

Carter, speaking to reporters flying with him to California, where he is due to meet Silicon Valley executives and speak at Stanford University, said the primary focus of the cyber strategy was defense.

But he acknowledged that the new strategy was “more clear and more specific about everything, including offense.”

“It will be useful to us for the world to know that, first of all, we’re going to protect ourselves,” Carter said, noting that deterrence included “a threat to retaliate against those who do us harm.”

“We obviously have a capability to do that, not just in cyber but in other ways.”

Carter’s visit comes two months after President Barack Obama visited Silicon Valley, asking U.S. executives for closer cooperation in defending against hackers after high-profile attacks on companies like Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“The North Korean attack on Sony was one of the most destructive cyber attacks on a U.S. entity to date,” the document said.

The document said Russia’s cyber actors were stealthy but had unclear intentions and lambasted China’s theft of intellectual property. Iran and North Korea had “less developed cyber capabilities” but overt hostile intent toward U.S. interests. (Contributor: By Phil Stewart for Reuter’s New Service – Editing by Nick Macfie)

For prayer: It has been said that creating one level of weaponry for warfare constructs a platform for the next level that becomes even more damaging or lethal. If we must have sophisticated weapons, let them be for a strong defense and not for aggression against any nation. Someday, the Prince of Peace will reign, when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Until then, please pray that our government will be strong to serve and defend its citizens.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1)

 

FLORIDA PASSES BILL TO REQUIRE 24-HOUR WAITING PERIOD FOR ABORTION

The Florida Legislature passed a bill Friday that would require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions,  a time span Republicans said they hope will change some women’s minds before undergoing the procedure.

The issue prompted emotional debate in the Senate for nearly an hour, with Democrats saying the proposal was a roadblock to interfere with women’s rights and Republicans saying that women should have to wait before making such a major decision. The bill passed on a 26-to-13 party-line vote.

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who holds antiabortion views. (Contributor: The Washington Post)

For prayer: Intercessors will want to support any measure that protects the lives of preborn babies, even if a few hours, as so much can happen to encourage the mother or the couple to have a change of mind or heart concerning the planned destruction of that tiny, innocent life. Pray for the success of all such measures that extend the waiting period. Pray for God’s mercy on our nation, as we continue to allow such unbridled, wanton killing of millions of healthy, viable, pre-born children. Notice that God’s Word says at least twice that man’s way vs. God’s way leads to death.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12)

“He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he [but] … There is a way that seems right to a man … its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 16:20, 25)

 

MISSISSIPPI TURNING

Some have heard of the movie, “Mississippi Burning.” It is the true account of one struggle for civil rights in the South in 1964. Four young men who were part of a movement called “Freedom Riders” came to Neshoba County, Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to teach African Americans to read, and to register them to vote. They were brutally murdered by the KKK; and Mt. Zion Church, where they had met, was burned to the ground. The FBI surged through the county, spurred on by national calls for justice, and the federal case for civil rights violations was prosecuted. The case became significant to the passage of the national Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although defendants were found guilty for federal crimes, the state of Mississippi refused to prosecute the murders.

In 2001, a group of intercessors was called together to pray into the spiritual strengths and weaknesses of Neshoba County. For the next four years, they prayed and sought the Lord for direction in how to overcome the spiritual strongholds that had taken this county captive. Through this process, they learned several valuable principles in prayer: Know your history; pray in the opposite spirit of what the enemy is doing; find, bless and honor those in spiritual authority; seek reconciliation with those who have been grieved; repent on behalf of those who have committed injustice; and persevere.

In 2004, 40 years after the murders were committed, they saw breakthrough. The State Attorney General of Mississippi, Jim Hood, met with some members of a coalition formed in Philadelphia, who were seeking to reopen the murder case. After serious consideration, he agreed. The trial was held at the Neshoba County courthouse, where the intercessors had been prayer-walking. Testimony from the federal investigation in 1964 was read into the record by family members of those who had originally testified. The intercessors attended the trial along with KKK members who were there to intimidate the elderly saint who had bravely stood alone, the families of the aggrieved, and the national media. Some of the original defendants in the case had since passed away. But Edgar Ray Killen, an operative for the KKK, was found guilty on June 21, 2005, exactly 41 years to the day that the murders had been committed. He had been a pastor of a local church for all those forty years.

As Jerry Mitchel, a reporter from the (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger, later wrote: “What happened in Philadelphia in 2005 continues to serve as an example for this state and this nation as we continue to move toward redemption.” Much has been written about the turn of events surrounding this piece of national history, but little has been mentioned about the power of prayer that transformed Mississippi burning into Mississippi turning. Adapted from the article “Mississippi Turning” by Karen Vercruse in the May 2015 edition of The Connecter (see page 2). To read more about transforming revival, click on The Mobilizer, a monthly newsletter on personal and community transformation.

For prayer: Once each month, on the fourth Wednesday, IFA will share an account like the above from one of our sister publications (either our First Friday Prayer Letter (FF PL), The Connecter, or from The Mobilizer, a monthly e-mail letter promoting and encouraging prayer and fellowship toward transforming revival. Please pray for all aspects of IFA’s ministry. If you wish to receive other IFA publications, click on the provided links. You may sign up to receive these and other special reports and prayer news. Thank you for continuing to pray for IFA’s outreach to intercessors.

 On Watch in Washington April 29, 2015 Plain Text PDF Version

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