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On Watch in Washington March 26, 2014

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

EXPANDED SANCTIONS AGAINST PUTIN TOP AIDES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NATO’S WEAKNESS EXPOSED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIRTH CONTROL, CANCER-CAUSING AGENTS, AND HOBBY LOBBY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increased Cancer Risk to Teenaged Girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LONG-TERM JOBLESS FACE BLEAK  FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what?

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

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

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

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

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

 

IRS IMPERSONATORS: ‘LARGEST SCAM OF ITS KIND’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GUINEA SCRAMBLES TO CONTAIN DEADLY EBOLA OUTBREAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PERSONHOOD OHIO THREATENING TO END ABORTION STATEWIDE BY 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MICROSOFT JUST EXPOSED EMAIL’S UGLIEST SECRET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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