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Updated: 11 hours 21 min ago

Censorship of Infowars Exposes Larger Problem of Silicon Valley Bias

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:27

This week, the conspiracy website Infowars, which is run by Alex Jones, was either "banned" or had content stripped from most social media platforms.

YouTube cited "hate speech and harassment" as reasons to remove Infowars from the platform, Apple explained that "hate speech" wouldn't be tolerated, and Facebook announced: "Upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying violence ... and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies."

Private companies can, of course, censor whomever they like, but the pattern of behavior from Silicon Valley toward speech in general -- and continual inability to treat conservative views fairly on their extremely powerful platforms -- is rightly concerning to conservatives who use those platforms.

Infowars is hardly a conservative website, but some fear that the social media "deplatforming" of its content will bleed over to other more mainstream outlets -- especially right-leaning ones that don't conform with the overwhelmingly left-wing values of the tech industry.

Given the vague and increasingly expanding use of the term "hate speech," it's not unreasonable to think that purging Infowars is the tip of the iceberg.

This belief was exacerbated by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who took to Twitter to suggest just that.

Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) August 6, 2018

Unfortunately, there has been a troubling pattern of behavior from social media companies.

For instance, YouTube, an internet video company, has relied on the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left activist organization, to police its website under the "Trusted Flaggers" program.

While SPLC is often used by media companies to designate "hate groups," it has been loose with the definition, lumping in traditional conservative and religious organizations, like the Family Research Council, in with the Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups.

And there have been other troubling signs of looming censorship of conservative views in particular.

When Google launched a fact-checking tool in January, it almost exclusively targeted conservative publications and made some dubious claims about incorrect information on those websites.

Google backed away from this fact-checking tool after it was hammered by conservative -- and even some liberal -- media outlets for displaying embarrassingly rank bias -- whether the product of faulty algorithms or perhaps other reasons.

Facebook threatened to demonetize the satirical website The Babylon Bee after Snopes.com, a fact-checking website, labeled some of its content "fake news."

The article focused on a joke about CNN using a literal washing machine to "spin news," and was quite clearly a joke.

Facebook later apologized for the situation and relinquished its threat.

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The Infowars ban also comes in the wake of widespread rumors that Twitter has been "shadow banning" some prominent conservative accounts, meaning that it somehow filters out some content without outright banning accounts.

Twitter denied any kind of shadow ban, but seemed to admit in its denial that it had made it harder to find content from some conservative users.

"We do not shadow ban," Twitter said in a statement. "You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile)."

That response was hardly comforting.

"Uh, call me crazy, but that parenthetical sounds a lot like an admission that Twitter effectively shadow bans users," wrote Alex Griswold of The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

Many of these actions could be innocuous, or they could be the way an overwhelmingly liberal industry, as fired Google employee James Damore has warned, suppresses information it doesn't agree with.

It's fair to say that social media platforms, like Twitter, have seemed far from even-handed in how they define things like "hate speech" for liberals and conservatives, which is their prerogative. And it is our prerogative as conservatives to use other platforms.

In May, a coalition of conservatives published a missive directed at tech companies, laying out four ways in which they can gain conservatives' trust: "Provide Transparency," "Provide Clarity on 'Hate Speech,'" "Provide Equal Footing for Conservatives," and "Mirror the First Amendment."

You can read the proposal here.

However this issue is dealt with, it must be acknowledged that there is an increasing problem with media and social media bias that can't simply be ignored.

 

Copyright 2018 The Daily Signal

In November, a Blue Wave Is Unlikely. A Blue Ripple? Maybe.

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:09

The tale of a wave, as told by three races:

Democrat Joel Ossoff ran for Congress last year against now-U.S. Rep. Karen Handel. He spent about $31.5 million. That's about 4 times as much as Handel spent. Ossoff lost.

Handel got a nice boost from outside groups that ran ads supporting her ($18.2 million v. about $8 million for Ossoff). But the math stands: Ossoff still had Handel beat by about $40 million to $26 million.

Earlier this year in Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone by two-tenths of one percent -- in real terms, 627 votes. In this case, Lamb was outspent by Saccone by a margin of 2-1. He won and did so in a district that went for Donald Trump by nearly 20 points.

And yet: Take a glance at his website. Lamb emphasizes his service as a U.S. Marine. He lists seven priorities, not a one of them dealing with the inflammatory issues of the Left (abortion, "transgender rights," redistributing income, etc.). In appearance, he is so clean-cut he makes Beaver Cleaver look like a hippie. He even admits that Obamacare has flaws.

It's possible the GOP will lose a number of seats in Congress and state races in the fall. But will there be sweeping changes? I don't buy it.

Finally, the election Tuesday in Ohio looks like it has come up for the Republican, Troy Balderson. As of this writing, it looks like he won by about 1,700 votes.

Donald Trump came in and seems to have pulled Balderson across the line. The candidates seem to have spent about the same amount, although outside spending is unclear.

And now, the question: This is a "wave?"

An Upcoming ‘Blue Wave?’

Yes, more than 40 state legislative seats have gone from the GOP to the Democrats since November 2016. But bear in mind that more than 900 went from Democratic to Republican during Barack Obama's eight years in office. As CNN reports, "Republicans grew their numbers massively at the state legislative level during the Obama presidency," which means "there is considerable fat to trim from Republican ranks before you come anywhere close to cutting to the bone."

I don't want to whistle past a political graveyard. It's possible the GOP will lose a number of seats in Congress and state races in the fall. But will there be the kind of sweeping changes we saw in 1994 or 2006? I don't buy it.

I am by no means the ultimate authority on these things, but I've been involved in presidential, state-wide, and congressional races for more than 30 years. After a while, experience joins with instinct to give one a healthy sense of things. And, for me, that sense is anything but one of panic.

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In the seven "toss-up" upcoming U.S. Senate races, there are at least seven current Democratic seats at risk, some seriously. The GOP is almost in a lock to retain 46 of its current 51 seats, meaning the Democrats would have to win no less than five seats to recapture the upper chamber. This is tough sledding any time, but especially in mid-term elections, when public interest is much less acute than a presidential election year.

Moreover, there is a very strong possibility that Republicans might actually pick up seats in Florida, North Dakota, and Vice President Pence's home state of Indiana.

As to the House, Republicans currently enjoy a 42-seat advantage over the Pelosi party. Could the GOP lose 25 seats and give the House to the Dems? It's conceivable, but unlikely.

Why?

Good Signs for the GOP

The economy is booming. The President just held a White House summit with 20 corporate business leaders (oh -- you read about that in the mainstream media, right?) about how to get more skilled workers.

Think about that for a second. America's companies are trying to find enough people with the training they need to fill jobs. Is that a good problem to have, or what?

In this kind of environment, one in which employment is soaring and American economic dominance in the international marketplace is re-emerging, it will be hard for the Left to trot out its typical message of doom, gloom, division and demagoguery. Bernie Sanders is weeping somewhere.

Things can change very quickly in politics. But right now, there seems to be no gathering wave.

Most Americans are looking around and seeing prosperity. As ever in a fallen world, not everyone is prospering equally in every neighborhood in the country. But most Americans are doing well or at least doing better. In the words of that great philosopher Chico Marx, "Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?"

The looming Kavanaugh battle. It will be surprising if Democrats don't overplay their hands, pummeling Kavanaugh to energize their very liberal base. But in doing so, they will arouse the ire of conservatives, who will again be reminded of why a Republican majority is needed. The Democrats will, I suspect, help with their own undoing.

Kavanaugh is an originalist. He has the audacity to claim, in an era of relativism and judicial activism, that words mean what those who use them say they do. Applied to the Constitution, that's a dagger aimed right at the heart of liberalism. In their frantic efforts to stop him, the Left will expose its foolishness, not to mention its scariness. Extremists on full display is a great visual -- for Republican candidates.

Finally, President Trump's base is incredibly loyal. After 500 days in office, 87 percent of Republicans say they like what the President is doing. That's ten points higher than Ronald Reagan's approval rating at the same point of his historic presidency.

This extends not only to candidates the President endorses but to the profound dissatisfaction with "business as usual" shown by millions of Americans in the 2016 election. Discounted by political professionals and much of the media, these voters show up. And liberals wonder who they are and where they came from. Again and again and again.

I am no prophet. Things can change very quickly in politics. But right now, there seems to be no gathering wave. If anything, it's a ripple.

How to Save the American Catholic Leadership from Itself

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 11:15

This is not a banner year for Catholic Church. We learned last month that Theodore McCarrick, former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C. was an aggressive homosexual. He preyed on seminarians, promoting those who succumbed to his advances, and punishing those who refused them. (His former bedmates he called "nephews," and they called him "Uncle Ted." Are you vomiting yet? Read on.)

McCarrick molested an underage boy -- and not just any boy. No, it was the son of a family he'd befriended, whom he had baptized as a baby. Roll that around in your head for minute. Imagine holding a baby in your hands, pouring the water of salvation over his head. Watching him grow older, visiting with his parents. Then choosing your opportunity to sexually molest him. This is a work of Satan.

Uncle Ted Groomed and Picked Our Bishops

The man who earned that millstone helped pick bishops all across the United States. Names include Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Tobin of Newark, and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, now running the (cough) Vatican office for Laity, Family, and Life. Farrell shared an apartment with McCarrick for years, but claims he had no idea about McCarrick's sordid habits. Right. We believe that, don’t we?

Imagine holding a baby in your hands, pouring the water of salvation over his head. Watching him grow older, visiting with his parents. Then choosing your opportunity to sexually molest him. This is a work of Satan.

McCarrick’s colleagues knew all about his taste for seminarians. Most knew about the legal settlements two separate dioceses made with underage male victims. Prominent Catholic laymen even knew, including William Donohue, of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston knew, but still went on a fundraising cruise with McCarrick to Cuba.

McCarrick Exempted Himself and Other Bishops from Sex Abuse Rules

It has emerged that McCarrick was key in crippling the anti-abuse Charter of 2002, issued the last time homosexual predation swamped the Catholic priesthood. He changed its language to exempt himself, and other bishops, from any consequences. This at a time when two thirds of Catholic bishops (according to the Dallas Morning News) were complicit in cover-ups.

This week, another of McCarrick's proteges, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. proposed yet another panel of bishops, to investigate itself. At that, a nationwide chorus of outrage and bitter laughter erupted from Catholic laymen.

Too many Catholic laymen are cowed by a clerical collar to the point where they fawn like old timey English butlers.

Rightly, they said that any committee convened to discipline these bishops be led by laymen. That's good, but it doesn't go far enough. 

Laymen Are Not Enough.

Too many Catholic laymen are cowed by a clerical collar to the point where they fawn like old timey English butlers. ("Yes, Your Eminence. Of course, Your Eminence. May I kiss your ring?") 

Too many of the "prominent Catholics" on the A-list who would likely make the committee probably knew about McCarrick. But they said nothing, did nothing. The kind of people who buy tables at the Al Smith Dinner featuring pro-infanticide Barack Obama. Who golf with the cardinals complicit in this squalor.... They would do more harm than good. They'd just be a lay fig leaf on another gay clericalist coverup. The problem, we've now learned, extends even to some "conservative" dioceses

Straightening Out the Priesthood

Unless the Church takes radical steps to undo it, the American priesthood could be swamped by a homosexual subculture, as normal men rightly repulsed by the queenly cabal of cardinals find other uses for their lives.

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Are you wondering why so many parishes flout the Church's biblical teaching on homosexuality? Follow the blog of the heroic apostle Joseph Sciambra, himself a repentant escapee from the gay lifestyle and the porn industry, to see how many prominent bishops and priests are cooperating with the LGBT agenda. The details are too seedy and scandalous for me to repeat here, but if you need proof go read the reporting of this loyal son of the Church.

Sex Abuse Victims Must Lead Here

I have some concrete suggestions. Yes, fast and pray, of course. But we should already be doing that. And it's not enough. Prayer alone wouldn't have stopped the Muslims at Vienna or Lepanto, without courageous soldiers and intelligent strategy.

So, let me offer some battle plans for the soldiers out there. So, let me offer some battle plans for the soldiers out there.

The abuse panel should be 90 percent lay, with a fair representation of Catholic mothers of sons. It must include at least 20 percent sex abuse victims -- people who filed complaints that were found to have merit, or resulted in legal settlements against priests. Any final document should require the sign-off of two thirds of the victim members on the panel. In other words, they can't be window-dressing. They should wield a veto. Grab the Purse Strings and Squeeze

So much for the panel. Let's pray that it issues strong, even draconian recommendations. Catholics should withhold participation in "bishop's appeals" until those recommendations are put into practice by their bishop. Wealthy Catholics who make major generic gifts to the Church should stop. Today. They should organize a campaign like "St. Escrow's," which I floated some weeks ago. Every bishop should see the monies he'd counted on go instead into an escrow account. It will only be released after he opens his books and seminary records to the auditors sent by the laymen, and they are satisfied with his efforts at reform.

What about ordinary lay Catholics, not the moneybags? Remember that 8% of what you give your parish, however faithful, gets taken by the bishop. Start writing personal checks, written out to your pastor. He can spend that however he wishes. No bishop has a claim on it.

A Time to Prune

In order to root out the gay subculture which clearly commands some of the highest echelons of the Church, bishops will have to get much, much stricter, and implement Benedict XVI’s ban on gay seminarians. Seminary classes will dwindle. Some will close. The staffs of entire seminaries where this subculture has reigned? Their Eminences and their Excellencies will need to fire them. Or else St. Escrow’s won’t open its coffers. We won’t get fooled again.

Without organized, relentless financial pressure from faithful laymen, I don't see bishops making the kind of drastic reforms we need. (Some might still refuse, and subsist on the millions they bring in from federal contracts via groups like Catholic Charities.) But we owe it to Christ to try.

Think of it as setting a small, contained forest fire to stop a much bigger conflagration. If we can't put out the flames, within our lifetime the American Church could be a vast field of ashes, relieved only by all the millstones.

To Save Kids From Euthanasia, We Must Revive a ‘Radical’ View of Life’s Value

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 09:36

"The precedent for euthanizing children has been established," declares Charles Lane in The Washington Post. As he explains in his Monday column, three children were euthanized in Belgium between January 2016 and December 2017. But the precedent for euthanizing children was established long ago. And there's only one way to overturn it.

The three children were 17, 11 and nine. He asks: “What, exactly, convinced doctors that these children's cases were hopeless, that their deaths were imminent -- and that the kids fully understood not only euthanasia but also the treatment options that might have alleviated their condition?”

Discriminatory and Arbitrary

He hints at the answer earlier in his column: “Euthanasia advocates insist that some children, even very young ones, may possess the same decisional capacity as some adults, and it's therefore discriminatory to deny them the freedom to choose euthanasia based on an arbitrary age limit.”

Kids aren't stupid. Some understand a lot. If we're allowing people to elect death, why not allow kids to as well? There's no good reason. Once we assume the power of life and death, any limit is indeed arbitrary. As I argued previously:

The only safe, right way to value human life is to value it at all stages in all forms, starting at conception. Otherwise, we start down a slippery slope to a brutal world of euthanasia, eugenics and selfish taking of innocent life. In fact, we're basically there.

But wait. Ghoulish as Belgium's child euthanasia law is, it's only applicable to children who want to die, right? As Lane reports, the law requires the child be "in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term." There are a series of tests the child must endure before his or her request is approved.

So there's no "selfish taking of innocent life," is there?

Euthanized Against Their Will

Don't be so sure. Belgium has come under recent scrutiny for its practices. For one, it allows mentally ill people to be euthanized. What was that about "decisional capacity"? I guess it doesn't apply to adults whose capacity is most certainly compromised.

Once we assume the power of life and death, any limit is indeed arbitrary.

Worse, the "Federal Commission for Monitoring and Evaluation of Euthanasia" is "failing to prosecute doctors who shirk the required safeguards under euthanasia law." One doctor allegedly euthanized a dementia patient without his consent. The doctor was not prosecuted.

What are lawmakers and doctors trying to get across when they justify euthanasia for anyone in a "hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering"? That their lives are not worth living. Even if those people think their lives are worth living.

That's how they justify euthanizing the mentally ill. Supposedly their lives are so not worth living that doctors who kill them against their will are not even prosecuted.

Unprotected Children

But no one would euthanize a mentally ill child against his or her will, would they? Again, don't be so sure. In Love They Body, Nancy Pearcey describes the callous attitude toward children in ancient Rome. The Romans frequently aborted, abandoned, abused or even killed their children. The law let them.

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When did that begin to change? With Jesus' teachings. "We no longer realize how radical Christianity was when it first taught the value of children," Pearcey notes. What happens when a society loses its grounding in Christian belief? "The practices of a pre-Christian society,” she explains, “signal the direction that our post-Christian society is likely to take." It’s already happening. We live in a society where

Having a child is merely a lifestyle choice, an accessory to enrich adult lives and meet adult needs. Take away a Christian view of childhood, and there is no guarantee that our society will continue to offer special protections to children.

There's no guarantee that in Belgium or anywhere else, euthanasia "safeguards" for children will be upheld.

Reversing the Tide of Death

"Special protections" for kids are vanishing before our eyes.

"Experts" argue for infanticide. Young children are euthanized. And abortion is rampant. Science tells us that human life begins at conception. Taking innocent life on purpose at any point after that is murder, plain and simple.

So what do we do? We acknowledge the darkness of the times we live in. And we take Pearcey's reminder to heart. Christianity is radical in its teaching of the value of human life, including children's lives. It has changed society before. The only way to reverse the tide of death, from abortion to euthanasia, from conception to old age, is to revive that radical view.

Military Photo of the Day: Clearing Out That Cave With a Bang

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 09:01

A 40-mm grenade explodes in a cave entrance during a joint clearance operation between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the Makhmour Mountains of Iraq on July 16, 2018.

We are praying for the safe return of our brave men and women in uniform serving in Iraq and around the world. Thank you for risking your lives in defense of liberty.

 

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Feds Conduct Massive Worksite Raid in Two States, Arrest Business Owners for Employing Illegal Immigrants

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 01:00
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a major worksite enforcement operation at multiple businesses in Minnesota and Nebraska on Wednesday Agents arrested not only more than 100 illegal workers, but also 14 business owners and managers who allegedly conspired to build a workforce of illegal immigrants The operation is part of the Trump administration's efforts to more closely scrutinize businesses that hire illegal immigrants in order to cheat on their taxes or pay below market wages

Federal agents conducted a multi-state worksite raid at several Midwestern agricultural businesses on Wednesday, arresting more than 100 people including owners and supervisors who allegedly conspired to employ illegal aliens at the expense of American workers.

Homeland Security Investigations -- the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- led the operation against at least 11 companies in Nebraska and Minnesota, The Grand Island Independent reported.

Along with more than 130 suspected illegal workers, agents arrested 14 business owners and managers for allegedly using bogus Social Security numbers to build a workforce of underpaid, exploitable illegal immigrants. Three other people involved in the scheme were also indicted but not taken into custody during the operation.

The operation was one of the largest worksite raids in HSI's 15-year history, according to Tracy Cormier, the special agent in charge of the agency's St. Paul field office, which covers Minnesota and Nebraska.

 "I would say the amount of criminal warrants that are being executed will be one of the largest for HSI," Cormier said, according to The Associated Press. "I'm not aware of a bigger one."

Wednesday's operation is notable because it targeted business ownership and management, not just illegal workers. Two of HSI's recent worksite raids, one at a slaughterhouse in Tennessee and one at an Ohio landscaper, nabbed hundreds of illegal immigrants but have not resulted in federal charges against the employers themselves.

The raids are part of an effort by President Donald Trump's administration to more closely scrutinize companies that hire illegal immigrants or foreign nationals without proper work authorization. Former Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in October 2017 he would make worksite enforcement investigations a priority in the coming year, and the agency appears to have made good on that promise.

Employer audits and investigations into workplace immigration violations have surged in fiscal year 2018, leading to criminal and civil arrests that far exceed the number recorded in the previous year, according to ICE statistics released in May.

 There were 2,282 employer audits -- known as I-9 audits -- opened between Oct. 1 and May 4, according to the ICE data. That was about a 60 percent increase from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Total worksite investigations also spiked in the same period: ICE's criminal investigators opened more than 3,500 worksite investigations, compared to 1,716 for all of fiscal year 2017.

The operation in Minnesota and Nebraska was the culmination of a 15-month investigation that also involved state and local investigators. Authorities say the suspects knowingly hired illegal immigrants and forced the workers to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for hefty fees. The managers also withheld the workers' taxes but never paid them to the government.

The illegal arrangement allowed the companies in question to operate at an advantage over other firms who followed immigration and labor law, authorities said.

"The whole investigation was initiated, basically, because we knew that these businesses were cheating these workers and cheating taxpayers and cheating their competition," Cormier said, according to the AP.

Some of the workers arrested in the operation will be given notices to appear before an immigration judge and released. Those with criminal background will remain in ICE custody.

Search warrants were served at the following businesses, according to ICE:

Christensen Farms with numerous locations in Appleton, Minnesota; Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; and Atkinson, Nebraska; Elkhorn River Farms in O'Neill, Nebraska O'Neill Ventures in O'Neill, Nebraska La Herradura Restaurant in O'Neill, Nebraska El Mercadito (grocery store) in O'Neill, Nebraska A private ranch in O'Neill, Nebraska La Herradura Restaurant in Stromsburg, Nebraska GJW LLC with three locations in Ainsworth, Nebraska J.E. Meurets Grain Company in Ainsworth, Nebraska Herd Co Cattle Company in Bartlett, Nebraska Long Pine (farm) in Royal, Nebraska.

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New Title X Rule Will Hold Planned Parenthood Accountable on Reporting Abuse

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 00:34

Since the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule to update compliance with legal requirements of the Title X family planning program, the move has received apocalyptic -- and unwarranted -- pushback from pro-abortion advocates on the left.

The liberal media have predicted the rule would spell "doomsday" for women's health.

Title X is a grant program, originally authorized in 1970, that is administered by the Office of Population Affairs at HHS. State health departments and private nonprofits are both eligible to apply for grants.

The proposed rule, which the Trump administration proposed in May, modifies existing requirements for Title X family planning grants in several ways.

 These include requiring recipients to maintain physical and financial separation from abortion facilities and prohibiting Title X projects from referring for abortions. They would be able, however, to provide a list of licensed, qualified, comprehensive health service providers, including those that provide abortion.

While pro-abortionists are up in arms about the possibility of restricting funds to the nation's most prominent abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, little attention is being paid to a key part of the proposed rule: a new regulation ensuring protection for women and children who have experienced sexual abuse or molestation, incest, rape, intimate-partner violence, and human trafficking.

The proposed rule would require Title X grant recipients to comply with state and local reporting laws, require annual training for staff at Title X clinics, ensure that they have a site-specific protocol in place to protect victims, and provide counseling to minors on how to resist attempts to coerce them into sexual activity.

The regulation rightly comes after years of reported cases of Planned Parenthood's neglecting to notify the proper authorities about cases of abuse.

In 2004, a 16-year-old girl who was being sexually abused by her father was taken to a Planned Parenthood facility in Ohio to have an abortion, where she reported the abuse to staff. Planned Parenthood refused to report the abuse to authorities. It later settled with the victim in a lawsuit.

In December 2013, a Planned Parenthood counselor in Arizona intentionally coded a sexual assault as a "consensual encounter," explaining to the victim that reporting would be too much of a hassle.

Live Action, a pro-life group, recently released an entire report documenting Planned Parenthood's long-standing failure to report child sex abuse.

Rather than retrain staff to identify traffickers and trafficking victims, Planned Parenthood instead opted to retrain staff to identify undercover journalists investigating the abortion giant.

This disturbing display of skewed priorities is particularly troubling in light of a recent study by the Loyola University Chicago's Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy, which found that Planned Parenthood was one of the most visited care providers for sex-trafficking victims, second only to emergency rooms.

Sex traffickers often have complete control over their victims, and encounters with health professionals, at establishments such as Planned Parenthood, may be the only opportunity for victim identification and intervention.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, and with the rise of sex trafficking, it's puzzling that groups that claim to protect women's rights are blatantly ignoring this injustice and the Trump administration's willingness to address it, simply because it doesn't fall in line with its political agenda.

Articles on Slate and The Huffington Post have bashed the Trump administration's proposed rule as harmful to women, but neither mentioned the parts of the rule that protect women and children from sexual abuse.

While all health establishments should follow mandatory reporting laws, it is especially important that federal dollars do not go to institutions that willfully refuse to report cases of sexual abuse.

It is sickening to know that women and children in need are being snubbed by the people that should be helping them the most--and getting taxpayer dollars to do it.

That's why I have joined 55 of my colleagues, led by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., in sending a letter to HHS calling on the department to investigate reports of Planned Parenthood's failure to report abuse.

The Trump administration and HHS should be applauded for the new Title X rule. It will prevent federal dollars from continuing to be used as a slush fund for the abortion industry, and hold grant recipients accountable if they fail to help victims of sex abuse and trafficking.

 

Copyright 2018 The Daily Signal

GOP Congressman From New York Charged With Insider Trading

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 00:19

NEW YORK (AP) -- Republican U.S. Rep. Christopher Collins of western New York state was arrested Wednesday on charges he fed inside information he gleaned from sitting on the board of a biotechnology company to his son, helping family and friends dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses when bad news came out.

Collins, 68, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump who was among the first sitting members of Congress to endorse his candidacy for the White House.

He pleaded not guilty to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court. The indictment charges Collins, his son and the father of the son’s fiancee with conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

Prosecutors said the charges stem from Collins’ decision to share with his son insider information about Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited, a biotechnology company headquartered in Sydney, Australia, with offices in Auckland, New Zealand. Collins was the company’s largest shareholder, with nearly 17 percent of its shares, and sat on its board.

According to the indictment, Collins was attending the Congressional Picnic at the White House on June 22, 2017, when he received an email from the company’s chief executive saying that a trial of a drug the company developed to treat multiple sclerosis was a clinical failure.

Collins responded to the email saying: “Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???” the indictment said. It said he then called his son, Cameron, and, after several missed calls, they spoke for more than six minutes.

The next morning, according to the indictment, Cameron Collins began selling his shares, unloading enough over a two-day period to avoid $570,900 in losses before a public announcement of the drug trial results. After the announcement, the company’s stock price plunged 92 percent.

Prosecutors said the son passed the information to a third defendant, Stephen Zarsky. Their combined trades avoided over $768,000 in losses, authorities said. They said Zarsky traded on it and tipped off at least three others.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman told a news conference that Collins was supposed to keep the trial results secret.

“Instead, he decided to commit a crime,” he said. “Representative Collins, who, by virtue of his office, helps write the laws of this country, acted as if the law did not apply to him.”

Collins, a conservative first elected in 2012 to represent parts of western New York between Buffalo and Rochester, has denied wrongdoing. When the House Ethics Committee began investigating the stock trades a year ago, his spokeswoman called it a “partisan witch hunt.”

“We will answer the charges filed against Congressman Collins in court and will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name,” his attorneys, Jonathan Barr and Jonathan New, said in a statement Wednesday. “It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share of Innate Therapeutics stock. We are confident he will be completely vindicated and exonerated.”

All three defendants were expected to be freed on $500,000 bail Wednesday after they pleaded not guilty.

Collins has a track record of publicly backing Trump, most recently calling for an end to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into campaign collusion and blaming the Obama administration for failing to push back on Russia.

“I share President Trump’s continued frustration as the left continues to try to nullify the 2016 Presidential election with claims of Russian interference,” he said.

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On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was removing Collins from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, calling insider trading “a clear violation of the public trust.”

In a written statement Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the charges against Collins “show the rampant culture of corruption and self-enrichment among Republicans in Washington today.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a Democrat, called on Collins to resign.

Collins ran unopposed in the Republican primary and holds what’s largely considered a safe Republican seat in a state that went to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. He’s being challenged in November by Democrat Nate McMurray.

McMurray told reporters Wednesday at a western New York union hall that Collins has brought shame to the region but he stopped short of saying he should resign.

“That’s his decision to make. I’ll leave it up to him but I know what I would do if I was in his place,” said McMurray, the town supervisor in the Buffalo suburb of Grand Island.

The advocacy group Public Citizen filed a request for an investigation of Collins’ stock dealings with the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Securities and Exchange Commission in January of 2017.

Tom Price, who was Trump’s first secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, also came under scrutiny for his purchases of Innate stock while he was a Republican member of Congress from Georgia.

Democrats made an issue of Price’s purchase at his Senate confirmation hearings in early 2017, after the Wall Street Journal reported that company officials had said Price was allowed to buy the stocks at a low price. Price, who bought about 400,000 shares of the stock, said he’d learned of the firm through Collins but said the price he received was available to any investor.

Price resigned as health secretary last September under criticism for taking pricey charter flights at taxpayers’ expense.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington, Larry Neumeister in New York, David Klepper in Albany and Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo contributed to this story.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Collins was first elected in 2012, not 2014

 

Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Joy Break: That’s No Poor, Shaggy-Haired Stranger You’re Helping

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 21:00

When we turn on our television or smart phones we are bombarded with news that brings us down. Where are all the good stories? Those stories are still there. Here’s one that we hope will bless you.

When a woman in Medford, New Jersey, saw that a man ahead of her in line at a local convenience store was having trouble paying, she stepped in to help. She didn't realize that she was about to meet a major country music star.

Acts of Kindness

In an interview with CBSPhilly, Ruth Reed said that she and her husband frequently paid for military folks' purchases at the gas station or donut shop. "We decided when we saw military people we would treat them at Wawa or Dunkin' Donuts or whatever."

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This time was different. The man turned around and asked her name. "He said, 'Ruth, I'm Keith,' and I said, 'That's who you look like, Keith Urban. Do people ever tell you that you look like Keith Urban?'" When he said he was Keith Urban, she scoffed.

"And I said, 'Really? Really? Then where's Nicole? And who was that woman you were with?'" She admits she was rude with him. "He said, 'That's my sister, we can ask her,' and I said, 'OK, I don't think she would lie to some old lady.'"

When he told her to check with his bodyguard standing behind them, she realized it was true. He was Keith Urban. "And I just fell apart, fell apart and he was gracious. He really could have said, 'Lady, get away from me,' and he didn't, he was very kind."

Reed only agreed to the interview with CBSPhilly if they agreed to tell others about how important it is to perform "acts of kindness" for others.

Urban didn’t just take a picture with Reed. He also donated $5 to the Wawa's donation box.

Watch:

Make Men Masculine Again: Demonizing Masculinity is Not the Solution

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 20:00

Proponents of modern feminism tell us that men are toxic and that masculinity should be snuffed out. But is that really the best solution to the problems in our world?

In a new video for Prager University, Allie Stuckey, host of Allie on CRTV, delivers an emphatic “no.” Stuckey says, “Bad men don’t become good when they stop being men; they become good when they stop being bad.” The answer, then, “isn't less masculinity; it's better masculinity.”

How can we work against the evils committed by men in this world? By encouraging good men to stand up. As Stuckey says, “It's not masculinity that's toxic. It's the lack of it.”

Be sure to watch the full video above and visit PragerU on YouTube to see more of their insightful video commentaries.

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The Loud Message of a Quiet Universe

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 18:37

So just how many alien civilizations are out there in the vast expanse of space? Let's do some number-crunching.

In the universe imagined by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series and its many spinoffs, extraterrestrial life is everywhere. In fact, science fiction has trained us all to think that our galaxy is crawling with life-forms, many of which are intelligent and similar to us.

So far, science reality, however, has told a different story. After a half-century of searching for alien civilizations, the result is zilch. And now, a new paper published by three researchers at Oxford University casts serious doubt on Star Trek's picture of a crowded universe.

The authors begin by reevaluating what's known as the Fermi Paradox, which notes that even though an intelligent civilization should be capable of building colonies throughout the Milky Way galaxy in just a few tens of millions of years, we've never heard a peep from anybody.

Put simply, the Fermi Paradox asks: "Where is everybody?"

[T]he fact that the conditions necessary for life exist on even one planet is a statistical miracle.

In their paper, the researchers at Oxford argue that the paradox is built on a false expectation: that intelligent life is a common occurrence. But is it?

In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake proposed a way of answering that question. In what's called the Drake Equation, he multiplied the probability of life evolving by the likelihood of life developing the intelligence necessary for interplanetary travel and communication. The result of the equation, of course, depends on which numbers of probability you plug in.

Most people who use Drake's equation assume that the appearance of life and the development of intelligent life are common phenomena. When those assumptions are multiplied, they estimate hundreds or even thousands of extraterrestrial civilizations should be in our galaxy alone!

It's those assumptions that the Oxford scientists are questioning in their paper. In other words, what if intelligent life isn't common at all?

As Seth Shostack, senior astronomer at SETI, recently pointed out, we may be dramatically overestimating the probability of life arising on other planets. Maybe "no one has colonized the galaxy," he writes, "because no one else inhabits it."

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And that might even understate the problem. Given what we know about the conditions required to support living things, the Oxford scientists estimate there's at least a 53 percent chance we're alone in the Milky Way, and at least a 40 percent chance that we're the only intelligent civilization in the known universe! And even that estimate may be too generous.

As Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards write in their book, The Privileged Planet, the fact that the conditions necessary for life exist on even one planet is a statistical miracle. That those conditions might exist somewhere else, let alone that extraterrestrial organisms there would evolve the brain power necessary to travel the stars is -- there's no other way to put it -- astronomical.

Now of course, SETI stands for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence," and Shostak may want to keep his job. So he punts, assuring readers that with further exploration, we may very well find life on other planets or moons within our lifetimes, thus rewriting our expectations about alien civilizations.

But folks, this is a worldview talking, not evidence. The search for extraterrestrial life is fueled in large part by a materialist assumption that life on this planet is nothing special.

Of course, the Scriptures don't necessarily teach that God didn't create life anywhere else in the universe. That possibility -- however remote -- shouldn't bother us at all. But for the materialist, who sees all of life as a cosmic accident, there are few things scarier than the thought that our planet is the only place ever to play host to an intelligent species -- not because they're afraid of a quiet universe, but because of how loudly such a universe would proclaim that Someone actually put us here.

 

Co-authored with Shane Morris.

Originally published on Breakpoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

‘Terrorism Cannot Stop the Gospel,’ Say Niger Missionaries Who Faced Violent Attack

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 15:20

In two decades as Christian missionaries in Niger, Africa, Neal and Danette Childs have faced a host of challenges. Critics have doubted their approach to ministry. Supporting funds and personnel have been slow to come at times. And violent attacks have forced them to rebuild.

While the remote nation regularly ranks as one of the world's poorest, the Childs and their multi-national team are seeing their long-term efforts bear fruit. One large-scale terrorist incident particularly revealed to the missionaries how the Gospel has changed Niger.

"Terrorism cannot stop the Gospel," says Neal Childs, who followed in his father's footsteps as a missionary and now leads RUN International. “RUN” stands for “Reaching Unreached Nations.” "It's definitely not something that would drive us away from serving in Niger. We've been able to build back better, and our faith has grown stronger."

Faith Like a Child

Founded in 1992 by Ron and Jerry Childs, Vie Abondante ("Abundant Life") is a ministry of diverse pastors and missionaries in Niger. Six years later, their son Neal and his wife Danette joined the work. "Our ministry is very focused on discipleship," says Neal. "We started working alongside local leaders and planting churches."

Danette and Neal Childs

Within a few years, the next-generation Childs were providing leadership to the network. They helped establish multiple Bible schools in Niger to train pastors. By 2018, Vie Abondante had grown from eight to 52 churches established across the nation over two decades. One reason for the growth, the Childs believe, is a unique ministry strategy that enables them to marshal resources and give children a hands-on faith experience.

"Where we have churches in villages, the Christians there are a minority," explains Neal Childs. "They are few in number, always around a Muslim environment. Once a year, to create a strengthening of fellowship and community, all the children in our churches come together." Pew Research Center reports the population of Niger as currently 98 percent Muslim.

Their annual children's camps are usually held in two parts of Niger. In addition to Vie Abondante pastors and leaders, teams from the U.S. come prepared to perform Bible-based dramas, lead worship and encourage the children in their faith.

"These are young people who have made their choice to receive Christ and follow him," continues Childs. "The children's camps are discipleship-oriented rather than evangelistic. It has helped them to go back and continue to shine as a light wherever they're at. After the camps, they know they're not isolated or on their own."

After 12 years of camps, the Niger missionaries are seeing a difference. "A lot of churches have sent short-term teams to help in these children's camps," says Danette. "They don't get the benefit of seeing the long-term impact. It's been so many years now, the kids who started as campers are now adults. They're helping with the camp as team captains and counselors."

It provides the backdrop for how they began to see societal change in the midst of crisis.

When Protests Inflamed Muslim-Majority Nations

Despite terrorist threats around Niger, the nation has been recognized for its stability.

"An official at the U.S. Embassy once told us: Niger is the good home in a bad neighborhood," relates Neal. "You have Boko Haram out of Nigeria, coming in from the east. Libya has things going on, coming down from the north. In Mali, the rebels stir up conflict. Yet Niger has been strongly opposed to allowing terrorism to have any foothold."

On January 11, 2015, nearly two million people including 40 world leaders gathered in Paris, France for a rally of national unity following the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists.

Yet tensions flared in early 2015 after the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo published an inflammatory cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. The publication was viewed by many Muslims as sacrilege, leading some to violence. In Paris, al-Qaeda terrorists killed 12 newspaper employees and injured another 11.

Some Muslim leaders condemned the attack, stating Islam supports free speech rights. Yet extremist factions in Muslim-majority nations -- including Niger -- saw an opportunity to stir up conflict. A week after the attacks, more than 40 world leaders addressed a rally of nearly four million people in Paris. They honored the victims and extolled free speech rights.

"The Niger President had gone to Paris to stand in solidarity with the people that had been killed," recalls Childs. "It is said that the Niger opposition party, who opposed the president, used that opportunity for political gain." To exploit President Mahamadou Issoufou's absence, his political opponents mobilized the criminal element with extreme Islamist rhetoric.

Terrorists Burned Churches

On January 17 and 18, 2015, terrorists in Niger attacked and burned 72 churches. Four of those churches were part of the Vie Abondante network. The Childs could not stop the arsonists from attacking several local churches. Then word reached them that their largest church, an eight-hour drive away in Maradi, was under siege.

Over 1,000 people were gathered at the gates of the Maradi ministry base. As young men in Maradi became violent during protests, law enforcement took a step back. Protesters saw an easy target in the city's largest church.

It was not the first time the Maradi base had been attacked. Fifteen years earlier, a terrorist incident had left the church and local pastor's home little more than rubble. "Because of the attack in 2000, we built that wall really high with spikes," says Neal. "The base had a double-ply steel gate, with an I-10 beam across it. Yet without people there holding the gate on the inside, it could be compromised."

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The rebuilt Maradi base had become a hub for the annual children's camps. "Our pastor who lives there and one of the local missionaries began to evacuate the church compound," recalls Danette. "They got the pastor's wife to safety, along with other women and children. But the youth that were there refused to leave."

The Young Men Stood Firm

Fifteen young men stood firm at the gates of the church compound. Having seen them grow up from boyhood in the summer camps, Neal recounts their heroic actions. "They stayed there," he recalls. "They said, We're not leaving Pastor Hashimou. We're jealous for the house of the Lord. If we die today, we'll be in heaven."

Those 15 Christian Nigerien men stood and physically held the gate closed as over 1,000 protesters attempted to enter the ministry base. "They couldn't get in," he says. "But they threw stones over the walls and broke all the glass windows in the compound. Finally, after four or five hours of the young men inside holding the gate, the police showed up and broke up the protest."

The crisis averted, the Childs had the opportunity to relate what happened in the attack to friends in the U.S. Ultimately, some aspects of the story were broadcast on Fox News.

Bearing Fruit That Remains

Rebuilding of the four Vie Abondante churches soon began, as did repairs to the Maradi ministry base. "The next day, our guys gathered up all the stones that had been thrown into the compound," recounts Neal. "They posted a picture on Facebook, standing in front of this huge pile of rocks. They stated: This is a tribute to the faithfulness of God."

His wife eagerly joins in sharing details of the story. "To us, this was a tribute that there are disciples of Jesus in Niger," says Danette. "We realized the impact of our work. As kids, they had all been discipled over the years through the children's camps. Now as men in their late teens and early 20's, they were ready to literally give their lives to save this church."

On January 17, 2015, terrorists used fire and rocks in an attack on the Vie Abondante ministry base in Maradi, Niger. They were unable to breach the church compound due to several young African men inside who held the gates.

Three years later, Neal and Danette face a new chapter ahead. They have released leadership of Vie Abondante to a local Nigerien pastor, while remaining on the ministry board as support. Through R.U.N. International, they plan to branch out into other African nations as well as into Asia.

"We've been blessed to work as a team with several Nigerian and American missionary families," says Danette. "It's not just us. Through the years, all these church plants have been pastored by Nigerien nationals. The goal all along was that a Niger pastor would be at the helm of the Vie Abondante ministry."

Next-Generation Minded

While continuing to support the work in Niger, the missionary couple plan to build on the work of the past two decades. "Now we're freed up to go out to some other countries," says Neal. "The experiences we've had in Niger and things we've learned, we will take those into similar settings. That's what is in our hearts and where we're headed."

The Childs lament injuries, property damage and, most tragically, lives lost to persecution against believers. Yet they have also observed a strange paradox. "People always ask, Aren't you afraid living in Africa -- the snakes, the heat and terrorism?" Neal responds, "I've always said two things. First, churches have always grown after persecution."

"And if there's anything I would be afraid of in my time in Niger," he continues, “it's that after I've served and given my life for the gospel in this land, that the work wouldn't continue were I to leave. What we're doing is not just about this moment. We've always been next-generation minded."

"Every time we plant a church, it's so the Gospel will go forward into the future."

 

Watch the video below and visit RUN International to learn more about the work of Neal and Danette Childs. Look for further stories with the Childs coming soon in The Stream.

Advocates Condemn Psych Techniques Used to Keep Kids Online

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 14:32

CHICAGO (AP) -- Children’s advocates want the American Psychological Association to condemn the tech industry’s practice of using persuasive psychological techniques to keep kids glued to their screens.

The advocates, citing research that links excessive use of social media and video games with depression and academic troubles, say it’s unethical for psychologists to be involved in tactics that risk harming kids’ well-being. Skeptics say the research is inconclusive, and they note that psychologists have been involved in other industries’ marketing and advertising for decades.

The group seeking intervention includes 60 U.S. psychologists, researchers, children’s advocates and the Children’s Screen Time Action Network, a project of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The network was publishing a letter Wednesday to the American Psychological Association, coinciding with the association’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

“There are powerful psychology principles and technology that are being used against kids in ways that are not in their best interests,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

That technology uses computers to help figure out what motivates people and influence their online behavior. It’s built on age-old tenets of behavioral psychology that marketers and advertisers have long used to get people to buy their products. The difference is smartphones are ubiquitous and unlike human marketers, they don’t get tired, said B.J. Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford University who has been called the technology’s pioneer.

Fogg said he has aimed to use persuasive tech to enhance people’s lives. But he also said he has long warned that it has a “dark side,” including potential loss of privacy and the potential for encouraging behavior that isn’t in users’ best interests.

The letter to the psychology association cites a recent study that found that teen girls who spend a lot of time on digital devices, including on social media, are at risk for depression and suicidal behaviors. That study couldn’t show whether depressed girls might be more prone to using social media than other teens.

The letter also notes evidence that some teen boys overuse video games “at the expense of obtaining real-world competencies,” including college educations and jobs.

“Families don’t understand why their kids are so strongly attracted and pulled to these devices,” said Richard Freed, a Walnut Creek, California, psychologist who signed the letter. He said the World Health Organization’s decision in June to declare excessive video gaming an addiction shows that the problem is real.

Under Fogg’s model, technology can change a person’s behavior by tapping into hard-wired motivations, simplifying the activity and getting people to perform it with a “well-timed” trigger. That could mean an app prompting a person to go running or it could be an alert persuading someone to spend more time on social media based on their innate desire to win acceptance and avoid social rejection.

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It’s not just the big tech firms. BuzzFeed reported Tuesday, based on a confidential company memo, that founders of a startup recently acquired by Facebook boasted of using a “psychological trick” -- custom social media profiles and mysterious calls to action -- to get high schoolers to download a polling app. Facebook later shut down the app.

In job postings, big tech companies have sought psychologists and people with psychology training for research into user experiences. Microsoft’s Xbox user research division is led by psychologists. Amazon looks for hires who “geek out over user research, psychology, ethnography.” Google’s preferred qualification for some positions includes a doctorate in experimental psychology.

“We strive to learn and understand our users’ needs, behaviors, and emotions to yield insights that inform product strategy and guide the design of the experiences we create,” says one Google job posting online this week.

Facebook and Google didn’t return requests for comment Tuesday on whether they use psychological persuasion techniques to build digital products for children. Apple said Wednesday that it doesn’t. Microsoft and Amazon declined to comment.

This year, those companies have promoted better digital well-being amid rising concerns about kids’ digital distractions.

The Internet Association, an industry trade group, said its member companies endeavor to create safe and positive online experiences.

“This is an important conversation, and the internet industry remains committed to developing and sharing best practices, partnering and collaborating with experts, and developing resources and programs that will ensure positive online experiences,” the association’s Noah Theran said in the statement.

Apple is introducing new tools meant to make its iPhone less addictive after two major shareholders earlier this year called on the company to curb smartphone addiction among children. Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft have introduced similar tools.

The American Psychological Association has no policy on using psychological research to develop persuasive digital technology.

But in a statement responding to the advocates’ letter, association CEO Arthur Evans Jr. said the group “is concerned about the increasing amount of time children are spending on digital devices.”

He said the association is examining psychology’s role in technology development, and that an association committee will discuss the letter and whether to recommend any action.

___

O’Brien reported from Boston. Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner on Twitter @LindseyTanner . Her work can be found here .

 

Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Every Customer of Planet Fitness Needs to Read This Shocking Story

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 14:00

How do you describe something that is beyond ridiculous, beyond absurd? How do you paint a picture of something that is so upside down that it defies logic and reason? Let me give it my best shot. Not a word here is exaggerated or made-up.

In 1997, a woman whom we'll call "Mrs. H." was jogging when a man jumped out of the woods and tried to rape her. She was able to fight him off and ran for her life, bruised and cut on the outside and deeply traumatized on the inside.

Police were called; trained dogs searched the area; helicopters came in to aid the search. Who can imagine the lasting pain of an incident like this?

Mrs. H and Planet Fitness

Then, earlier this year, Mrs. H. went to her local Planet Fitness to work out, as she does most days of the week. But when she went into the locker room to change, there was a young man standing there, putting on make-up as he looked in the mirror.

Thinking he had walked into the wrong locker room by mistake, Mrs. H. asked him why he was there, pointing out that he was a man but was in the women's changing area. He did not reply.

So Mrs. H. went to talk to the manager, who informed her that this man identified as a woman and by Planet Fitness policy, he was allowed to use the ladies' locker room.

When she explained that she was not comfortable changing in the presence of a man (her locker was two feet from where he was standing), she was told she would have to wait.

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Mrs. H. waited for roughly an hour. (Think of waiting for one hour to use a locker room.) But when she went back, he was still inside.

She asked him, "How long will you be here?" but again, he didn't reply.

She then explained that she was not comfortable changing in his presence, just as she wouldn't be comfortable changing in the presence of her four sons. So, it was nothing personal against him. It was a simple male-female privacy issue. (And who uses a Planet Fitness locker room to put on make up for more than an hour?)

Just then, one of the female employees told her she had better leave, lest she get in trouble. When Mrs. H. asked why, the female employee said she had been "saying things." Oh, what a terrible crime! (Somehow she had become the offender.)

Not wanting to create a scene, Mrs. H. left quickly, only to be followed by the man, who was on the phone. He had called 911, claiming that he had been sexually harassed. (I am not making this up.)

He was trying to give a description of Mrs. H. (his harasser!) to the 911 operator. But when she saw she was being followed, she began to run, and he began to run after her.

Twenty years earlier, she was running from an attempted rapist. Now she was running from a man who invaded the woman's locker room and was accusing her of sexual harassment.

Yet it gets worse.

Membership Revoked for ‘Lunking’

She immediately received a letter in the mail from Planet Fitness telling her that her membership was revoked. Yes, her membership was revoked.

For what transgression? She was guilty of lunking! Yes, that was the term used by Planet Fitness.

And what, exactly does "lunking" include? Well, you can't make grunting noises when you work out. You can't drop weights. And you can't judge. Mrs. H. was guilty of judging!

So severe was her crime that she was informed that she has been banned from 66 Planet Fitness branches. Banned!

Did I tell you this was beyond ridiculous?

But it gets more absurd still. According to an article on the LGTBQ Nation website, Mrs. H. is the culprit and the young man is the victim. As the headline proclaims, "A cis woman got banned from a gym for insulting a trans woman. She thinks she's the victim."

Oh, this poor deluded woman. How could she possibly think that she was the victim?

Consumer Fraud?

Thankfully, Mrs. H. had the presence of mind to call Liberty Counsel, even before she got the letter from Planet Fitness. And as Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel's Founder and Chairman explained on my radio show, Planet Fitness could well be guilty of consumer fraud.

That's because the written agreement signed by their patrons states that there are locker rooms for men and for women. It does not say a word about a man who identifies as a woman being able to use the women's locker room. Yet, Planet Fitness has now stated that this is indeed their policy, contrary to their written, contractual agreement.

I urge every single patron of Planet Fitness, both female and male, to ask the manager at your gym if a man who identifies as a woman can use the women's locker room. If the manager says yes, ask him or her to please show you this on the contract you signed.

And let's be candid here. If a contract says that there are separate locker rooms for men and women, it's understood that we're talking biology. Who cares how the person identifies? Females don't expect to change in the presence of males. Simple. (Remember also that many men who identify as women are still attracted to women.)

If the manager says that their new policy allows people to use the locker room that corresponds with their gender identity, point out to them that is not what their contract says. And then inform them that if they will allow males in the women's locker room, you will have to cancel your membership. Then document what happened and send the information to Liberty Counsel. I also encourage you to share this article with all your friends as well.

Recent Case Law

The good news is that the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled against Planet Fitness in an almost identical case. As reported on the Club Industry website, "A Planet Fitness health club misled an ex-member by failing to fully explain its transgender-inclusive locker room policies when she signed a membership contract in 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on July 26."

So, there is a little sanity left in this world after all. Let's do our best to keep it that way.

And now that you've read this story, listen to Mrs. H. tell it her own words. You'll also hear part of the 911 call from the young man, who could really use our prayers. As I said at the outset, not a word here is exaggerated or made-up. Who needs fiction with true stories like this?

Marine Veteran David Brooks Calls Out Media for Comparing Themselves to Soldiers

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 13:45

On Fox & Friends Wednesday, Marine veteran and deputy editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation, Dave Brooks, called out a CNN opinion piece for comparing journalists to military soldiers.

"Let's start with the obvious point. The vast majority of journalists didn't sign up to protect our nation and values," Brooks said.

The op-ed, written by Notre Dame professor Joseph Holt and titled 'The Press Isn't The Enemy, It's The Protector," tried to compare members of the media with soldiers in the military.

"This professor wasn't even talking about journalists who do put themselves in harm's way. He was talking about White House reporters who go to the press briefings and instead of asking questions, they pull out a soapbox and deliver sermons until Sarah Sanders shuts them down," Brooks said.

"Then they head to Twitter like it's their personal diaries and make the stories about themselves," he added. "To compare the two does a disservice to our service members and those men and women who signed up to protect the nation."

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Brooks said real soldiers are usually awkward about discussing their achievements and would never ask the public to thank them for their service.

"A lot of us are very awkward talking about our service," he said. "Many of us, myself included, never saw themselves in the line of fire. Never had to fire their weapon in combat. But we went to our jobs every day and we tried to do what we could do and leave the military a better placed than they found it."

"The difference being is that a lot of these journalists out there right now, especially those White House reporters who want to grandstand and make the stories all about themselves, they could take a lesson from that," Brooks added.

Brooks said journalists are too hungry for praise and don't exhibit the same qualities as a solider who is serving his or her country.

"That's the problem right now, is that these journalists that are wanting to be thanked that go out and seek the self-adulation, have fragile egos and a self inflated sense of worth," he concluded.

 

 

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Ohio and Kansas Races Too Close to Call; Trump’s Picks Lead

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 13:36

WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Two high-stakes elections that tested President Donald Trump’s clout and cost both parties millions of dollars were too close to call early Wednesday. Trump claimed victory in one nevertheless.

In battleground Ohio, the president took credit for Republican Troy Balderson’s performance, calling it “a great victory,” even though the contest could be headed to a recount. Democrats could also celebrate their showing in a district that has gone Republican for decades.

“We’re not stopping now,” Democrat Danny O’Connor told cheering supporters. He’ll reprise his campaign against Balderson from now through November’s general election.

In deep-red Kansas ‘ Republican gubernatorial primary, the candidate Trump backed on the eve of the election, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was neck and neck with current Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.

The day’s races in five states, like many before them, tested the persistence of Trump’s fiery supporters and the momentum of the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump resistance.

The results were helping determine the political landscape -- and Trump’s standing within his own party -- as the GOP defends its House and Senate majorities this fall.

In Kansas, Republicans were fighting among themselves in an unusual battle for governor in which the president sided with the incumbent’s challenger.

Should the polarizing Kobach win the primary, some Republican operatives fear he could lose the governorship to Democrats this fall. The race could become further disrupted if Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman makes it onto the November ballot. He submitted petitions Monday with more than 10,000 signatures for what could become the most serious independent run for Kansas governor in decades.

Trump made his preference clear for Kobach.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military,” the president tweeted on the eve of the election.

Republicans were hoping for Democratic discord in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, a suburban Kansas City district where several candidates were fighting for the chance to take on Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

The five-way Democratic primary featured labor lawyer Brent Welder, who campaigned recently with self-described democratic socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ascending political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congressional candidate.

Also in the race: Native American attorney Sharice Davids and former school teacher Tom Niermann.

In Ohio, the script for the special election was somewhat familiar: An experienced Trump loyalist, Balderson, was fighting a strong challenge from O’Connor, a fresh-faced Democrat, in a congressional district held by the Republican Party for more than three decades. As voters were going to the polls, Trump said Balderson would make a “great congressman.”

The winner takes the seat previously held by Pat Tiberi, a nine-term incumbent who resigned to take a job with an Ohio business group.

Balderson and O’Connor will reprise their race in the general election in just three months. There were at least 3,367 provisional ballots left to be reviewed. That’s enough for O’Connor to potentially pick up enough to force a recount.

The Associated Press does not declare winners in races subject to an automatic recount.

In a special election season that featured nearly a dozen congressional contests, Democrats claimed just a handful of wins, but they may have cause for optimism this fall. In virtually every special election test dating back to the spring of 2017, Democratic candidates performed significantly better than their party in those same places two years earlier.

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Trump won Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, for example, by more than 11 points in 2016; on Tuesday night, Balderson and O’Connor were separated by less than 1 point.

There are 79 House races this fall considered more competitive than the Ohio district -- at least looking at Trump’s 2016 performance -- according to data compiled by the Democrats’ national campaign committee.

Despite the deadlocked race, the specific Ohio returns suggest considerably higher Democratic enthusiasm less than 100 days before the midterms.

O’Connor’s total of nearly 100,000 votes far exceeded what the district’s former Republican congressman Pat Tiberi’s Democratic opponent got in 2014. Balderson’s total -- just more than 101,500 votes -- is barely two-thirds of Tiberi’s 2014 mark of about 150,000.

The two will face off again in November to see who holds the seat in 2019 and 2020.

“Over the next three months, I’m going to do everything I can to keep America great again, so that when we come back here in November -- get ready, we gotta come back here in November -- I have earned your vote for a second time,” Balderson told supporters.

It’s unclear how much Trump’s support helped or hurt Balderson. Described by campaign operatives as a “Whole Foods” district, the largely suburban region features a more affluent and educated voter base than the typical Trump stronghold.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a leading voice in the GOP’s shrinking anti-Trump wing, once represented the district in Congress.

At times, the race centered on Trump’s tax cuts as much as the candidates.

O’Connor and his Democratic allies railed against the tax plan, casting it as a giveaway for the rich that exacerbates federal deficits and threatens Medicare and Social Security. Balderson and his Republican allies have backed away from the tax plan in recent weeks, training their fire instead on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor dominated Balderson on the local airwaves. His campaign spent $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000, according to campaign tallies of ad spending. The Republican campaign arm and its allied super PAC were forced to pick up the slack, spending more than $4 million between them.

In Michigan, former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She won the Democratic nomination to run unopposed in November.

And in suburban Seattle, three Democrats vied in a jungle primary for the seat held by another retiring Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

The field was set in two Senate contests.

In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed her party’s nomination, while state Attorney General Josh Hawley will represent the GOP.

And in Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow will take on military veteran and business executive John James, who won the Republican nomination. He would join Tim Scott of South Carolina as the only black Republican senators if he wins in November.

Trump has tweeted that James is “a potential Republican star.”

___

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Angie Wang in Westerville, Ohio, contributed.

 

Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Winnie the Pooh Is a Threat to Chinese National Socialism

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 11:38

There's a cliche in science fiction called the "Butterfly Effect." Taken by Ray Bradbury from some more recondite real-world science, it suggests that the flapping of a single butterfly's wings can spark a causal chain with epic results. We see this truism play out in virtually every depiction of time travel. As a lover of alternate history, I come across it all the time. There's certainly something to it: Imagine the impact of any of the following tweaks to the "timeline." What if:

Muhammad had found Jesus. Pope Leo X had listened to Martin Luther on church corruption. The British Parliament had agreed to repeal its taxes on the 13 colonies. John Wilkes Booth had fired at Abraham Lincoln, but missed. Hitler had gotten into art school. Stalin’s Mustache

Here's another "What If" that might surprise you: What if Stalin hadn't had a mustache? It was making fun of that mustache in a private letter (opened by the secret police) that got decorated Red Army veteran Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn sent to a labor camp. Which is where he rediscovered Christ. And wrote The Gulag Archipelago, which exposed the profoundly evil effects of Marxism in action. That book, smuggled out of Russia, helped shatter the dominant pro-Marxist, or pro-appeasement, opinion of intellectuals throughout the West. Its witness gave hope to dissidents throughout the Eastern Bloc. And its power gave anti-Communists in Europe the spine they needed to (just barely) cooperate with Ronald Reagan's rearmament -- the cost of which bankrupted the Soviet Union, and finally caused its collapse.

Xi Jinping, the dictator of China, looks exactly like Winnie the Pooh.

So the fall of the Soviet Empire, in part, we can trace to the goofiness of Stalin's droopy stash.

It’s a Blustery Day in Beijing

Will the radically nationalist autocracy now ruling China go over the brink thanks to a similar goofy cause? By the fact that Xi Jinping, the dictator who has consolidated power there, looks exactly like Winnie the Pooh?

The Chinese government seems to think so. And it's not taking any chances. As the Daily Mail reports:

Disney’s Winnie the Pooh film, ‘Christopher Robin’, has been denied release in China.

The live-action family film, an adaptation of AA Milne’s classic story, has been banned by Chinese censors, according to various media reports.

While no official reason has been given, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appearance was previously unfavourably compared to Winnie the Pooh’s, prompting a large-scale crackdown on the honey-loving cartoon bear.

...

The lovable but dimwitted bear has become a symbol of dissent in China with foes of the ruling Communist Party, which is highly sensitive to unfavourable depictions of its leader.

Government censors has been erasing the images that mocked Xi on social media. In June, Chinese authorities blocked HBO after ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver highlighted Xi’s sensitivity over being compared to Winnie the Pooh.

In 2015, the political analysis portal Global Risk Insights called a picture of Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car paired with an image of a Winnie the Pooh toy car ‘China’s most censored photo’ of the year.

China’s Paranoid, Expansionist Dictator

Asia expert, pro-life leader, and author of Bully of Asia Stephen Mosher explained Xi’s paranoia to The Stream a few months ago. How thin-skinned is China's leader about the illegitimacy of his personal power? He banned the use of a letter in the Latin alphabet. The letter "N":

But why in the world ban the letter "N"? The answer lies in Chinese algebra. The letter "N" represents an unknown variable. Where we in West use "X," the Chinese use "N." When the Chinese Communist Party secretly eliminated the two-term limit for president, the equation "N = ?" (N equals what?) became popular overnight. It meant, "How many terms is Xi Jinping going to serve?" The censors were not happy.

The Chinese people could not be allowed to directly criticize President Xi's plan to stay in power forever. Not even indirectly by sending the letter "N" to each other. That subtly suggests that they oppose an indefinite number of five-year terms for Xi. The ever-alert censors quickly banned the letter "N" from all electronic communications.

No criticism of the new Red Emperor, however subtle, is allowed.

As Mosher explained, it no longer makes sense to speak of China as "communist." That ideology, which Mao Zedong tried to implement more consistently than any world leader (except for Pol Pot) led China to famine and ruin. Deng Xiaoping sought to enrich China by accepting some market reforms, while cracking down fiercely (at Tienanmen Square) on citizens who sought political and religious freedom. What Xi Jianping is peddling there now is radical nationalism and a cult of the leader, combined with massive military outlays and a limited, managed capitalism. In other words, as Mosher documents, it's National Socialism.

China's rearming even faster than Hitler did in the 1930s. And it's doing so with money it makes from one-sided trade deals that the U.S. signed under presidents Clinton and Bush.

Arming Faster than Hitler

China's rearming even faster than Hitler did in the 1930s. And it's doing so with money it makes from one-sided trade deals that the U.S. signed under presidents Clinton and Bush. As I commented on Breitbart Radio:

We have allowed China to become an economic powerhouse in one generation, effectively by destroying America's industrial heartland; letting them cheat on trade deals; manipulate their currency; [and] steal hundreds of millions of dollars of our intellectual property. Every weapons system that we build at the cost of billions of dollars in research and development, they just pick up and copy it because we let them.

President Trump has aggressively challenged many of these one-sided deals. So China is pressuring businessmen whose companies benefit from the transfer of American industries and trade secrets. As Trump critic Marco Rubio told Fox News back in May:

You know, every day some group of CEOs comes marching into the White House and tries to talk the president down from the strong stand that he has taken on China. There's a lot of voices in the administration that want to back down a little bit on the China thing. This confrontation with China is by far the most important thing facing this country on a global scale. This is going to define the next 80 years ... They intend to replace us.

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“Don’t Be Evil” Be Damned

Which companies are playing footsie with Winnie the Fascist Dictator? Google is one. The same company that games Internet searches to hurt conservatives in the U.S. is apparently willing to collaborate with Chinese political censorship, NPR reports.

We just learned that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had a Chinese spy on her payroll for 20 years.

Hey, at least the FBI is keeping us safe from clumsy Russian Facebook ads.

God has a sense of humor. He uses little things like Stalin's mustache as the stone that brings down Goliath. Maybe the face of Winnie the Pooh, and the narrow vote margin in a few key states that elected Donald Trump, will prove to be the wind in the butterfly's wings that blows down an evil empire.

The Intimate Enemy

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 09:00

When somebody knows you, they have power. That alone keeps some of us from letting anyone in.

If knowledge is power, then knowledge of a person's weakness is a double-threat. It logically follows that if someone knows me well, they'll know my weaknesses, empowering them to hit me where it hurts.

Nowhere is that more evident than in marriage, that covenant relationship where two become one in solidarity or, in some tragic cases, intimate enmity.

To Love, Honor, and Not be Bitter

"Husbands, love your wives," Paul admonishes in Colossians 3:19. Well, we've heard that before, but then he adds an interesting challenge: "and be not bitter towards them."

It's as though she's somehow gained admission to parts of his soul no one else has ever touched, giving her unusual power.

Hmmm. As a former Pharisee, Paul had almost certainly been married at one time, then probably widowed. He knew something firsthand about the man-woman bond, and from that knowledge sprang a command to husbands: Avoid bitterness towards your wives.

That's a command given, it seems, with the assumption that bitterness can be a common problem to husbands. It can, and it is.

After a few years of marriage a man realizes his wife can affect him like no one else. A verbal jab from a friend or co-worker can be a minor irritation, but if it comes from her, it's an injury. An irritated look from someone else? Who cares. From her? Trouble.

It's as though she's somehow gained admission to parts of his soul no one else has ever touched, giving her unusual power. Of course, that works both ways. Because of her intimate position with him, she can provide comfort and encouragement like no one else. But closeness brings the power to heal or wound, and a wound from an intimate enemy strikes a horrific blow.

The One-Flesh Access

That's because the one-flesh union between man and wife is an exquisite physical experience with untold emotional ramifications. It gives both partners access to the other's most private, delicate parts, a prospect that's both scary and fantastic.

But there seems to be an emotional counterpart to the physical, in that we also gain access, as spouses, to the most private parts of our partner's soul: his insecurities; her weaknesses; his old wounds; her personality flaws. As with the physical, you can be a source of comfort and pleasure to these parts. Or, knowingly or not, you can bruise, injure and even destroy if you misuse your power.

Problem is, you may not have a clue how much power you wield.

OK, maybe you do. Some people -- my least favorite type, for what it's worth -- delight in manipulating their spouse, enjoying the power they have to dominate and control. I trust you're not one of those. If you are, you've got some serious self-examination and repenting to do.

But most husbands and wives who are hurting each other aren't doing it maliciously. They simply don't understand or appreciate how deeply their words and actions land in the soul.

Intimate Injuries

It's that lack of understanding, and the bitterness it can cause, that seems to have dismantled David's marriage to Michal (II Samuel 6:16-23).

David was pumped and unrestrained, dancing with everything he had in celebration of the Ark of the Lord's return to its rightful place. Having celebrated publicly, he went home to assume the priestly role of blessing his own household, when his wife openly called him more of a Bozo than a Blesser.

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Michal had seen him from a distance, despising his enthusiasm, so she greeted him with a searing "You made a fool of yourself!" kind of remark. He'd put himself out there, vulnerable and raw, and she shot a bullseye.

He never came near her again.

Neither a Wounder nor a Wounded Be

Michal's sin of wounding, and David's responsive sin of bitterness, are two of the commonest marital crimes I see people commit. They're also the kind of crimes that strike a death blow to trust, so we can ill avoid letting them get a foothold in our marriages.

So if your spouse is wounding you where it hurts, be honest. Don't sit on it when you feel insulted or demeaned, because your own experience has probably taught you that you'll simply poison yourself with resentment if you keep it all in.

Let him know specifically what was said or done that hurt, and (without whining or accusing) make it clear you two won't get very fair by verbally punching each other. I encourage couples to remember they're a team, and teammates who cut each other down win very few games together.

While you're at it, remember to be humble. Make sure, when you point out something hurtful your spouse is doing, that she knows you're fully aware of your own imperfections, and thereby fully open to hearing any concerns she has about your words or actions.

Then be proactive. If a Wounder-Wounded pattern is common in your home, it's probably time to get some help from a pastor, counselor or trusted mentor, because if the two of you could solve this on your own, you probably would have by now.

So find someone with experience in helping couples rebuild, set the appointment and make sure you stick to a recovery program that's Biblically based.

Bitterness is a preventable disease, and a lethal one, too. But above all, it's treatable. So if it's gotten a foothold in you and your marriage, rally to action now, because inaction in the face of bitterness is a set up for disaster.

 

Originally published at joedallas.com. Reprinted with permission. 

For God or Party? China’s Christians Face Test of Faith

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:00

NANYANG, China (AP) -- The 62-year-old Chinese shopkeeper had waited nearly his entire adult life to see his dream of building a church come true -- a brick house with a sunny courtyard and spacious hall with room for 200 believers.

But in March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the frightened congregants disperse. They ordered that the cross, a painting of the Last Supper and Bible verse calligraphy be taken down. And they demanded that all services stop until each person, along with the church itself, was registered with the government, said the shopkeeper, Guo.

Without warning, Guo and his neighbors in China's Christian heartland province of Henan had found themselves on the front lines of an ambitious new effort by the officially atheist ruling Communist Party to dictate -- and in some cases displace -- the practice of faith in the country.

"I've always prayed for our country's leaders, for our country to get stronger," said Guo, who gave only his last name out of fear of government retribution. "They were never this severe before, not since I started going to church in the 80?s. Why are they telling us to stop now?"

https://storage.googleapis.com/afs-prod/media/media:8f46eedda4bb4365977d1dcacb1fc962/576.mp4 Xi Jinping’s Persecution

Under President Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

The crackdown on Christianity is part of a broader push by Xi to "Sinicize" all the nation's religions by infusing them with "Chinese characteristics" such as loyalty to the Communist Party. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, and a campaign has been launched to "re-educate" tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims. Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools and banned from religious activities during their summer holidays, state-run media report.

This spring, a five-year plan to "Sinicize" Christianity in particular was introduced, along with new rules on religious affairs. Over the last several months, local governments across the country have shut down hundreds of private Christian "house churches." A statement last week from 47 in Beijing alone said they had faced "unprecedented" harassment since February.

Authorities have also seized Bibles, while major e-commerce retailers JD.com and Taobao pulled them off their sites. Children and party members are banned from churches in some areas, and at least one township has encouraged Christians to replace posters of Jesus with portraits of Xi. Some Christians have resorted to holding services in secret.

A dozen Chinese Protestants interviewed by the Associated Press described raided gatherings, as well as interrogations and surveillance. One pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith. Like Guo, the majority requested that their names be partly or fully withheld because they feared punishment from authorities. After reporters visited Henan in June, some interviewees said they were contacted by police or local officials who urged them not to discuss any new measures around Christianity.

The party has long been wary of Christianity because of its affiliation with Western political values. Several Chinese human rights lawyers jailed for their work, including Jiang Tianyong and Li Heping, are outspoken Christians. So too are many Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, not least among them 2014 protest leader Joshua Wong.

"Chinese leaders have always been suspicious of the political challenge or threat that Christianity poses to the Communist regime," said Xi Lian, a scholar of Christianity in China at Duke University. "Under Xi, this fear of Western infiltration has intensified and gained a prominence that we haven't seen for a long time."

Christianity in China

Guo, who keeps a small storefront selling ornate doors in a riverside district, once had eyesight so poor that he could not distinguish the sky from the earth. But after finding God at 27 years old, he made a seemingly miraculous recovery that he attributes to his faith.

For decades, he, like many Christians in China, shuttled from one unregistered house church to another, where folding chairs served as pews and coffee tables as lecterns. Two years ago, he and 10 other Christians pooled their money to erect a permanent church on his property.

They are part of what experts describe as a spiritual awakening in China.

The number of Chinese believers of all faiths has doubled in two decades to an estimated 200 million, by official count, as the hold of the Communist party has weakened. Among them are an estimated 67 million Christians, including Catholics -- a number that is expected to swell to become the world's largest Christian population in a matter of decades. This rapid growth has reinvigorated the party's longtime mission to domesticate a religion traditionally aligned with the West.

Historians believe that Christianity was known to China as early as the seventh century, and was later propagated by Jesuit missionaries starting in the 1500s. In recent decades the religion has faced by turns heavy persecution and tacit acceptance.

During the Cultural Revolution, when Mao sought to eradicate all religions, Christians were jailed, tortured and publicly humiliated. But they survived by operating covertly and grew steadily in number after Mao's death in 1976, when a populace disillusioned with the Communist Party began to seek moral guidance elsewhere.

Chinese Christians say the Bible gives them a sense of right versus wrong and the strength to endure in a country where power often trumps justice. While China's rapid growth has brought prosperity to many, others despair at what they see as a deterioration of public morals. The deaths of children in scandals involving tainted infant formula and shoddily built schools in recent years have led to the sense that modern China was in the midst of an ethical crisis.

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"After the 'collapse' of communist ideology, no value system has been in place to fill the spiritual vacuum," said writer Zhang Lijia. "China has witnessed a religious revival in recent decades precisely because of this vacuum and relaxed control."

Officials once largely tolerated the unregistered Protestant house churches that sprang up independent of the official Christian Council, clamping down on some while allowing others to grow. But this year they have taken a tougher approach that relies partly on "thought reform" -- a phrase for political indoctrination. Last November, Christian residents of a rural township in southeast Jiangxi province were persuaded to replace posters of the cross and Jesus Christ inside their homes with portraits of Xi, a local official said.

"Through our thought reform, they've voluntarily done it," Qi Yan, a member of the township party committee, told the Associated Press by phone. "The move is aimed at Christian families in poverty, and we educated them to believe in science and not in superstition, making them believe in the party."

The poster campaign appears to symbolize what analysts see as the underlying force driving the change in the party's approach to religion: the ascendance of Xi.

"Xi is a closet Maoist -- he is very anxious about thought control," said Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church, because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly, to Xi himself."

Sinicization

Various state and local officials declined repeated requests to comment. But in 2016, Xi explicitly warned against the perceived foreign threats tied to faith, telling a religion conference: "We must resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means." And in April, the religious affairs department published an article saying that churches must endorse the party's leadership as part of "Sinicization."

"Only Sinicized churches can obtain God's love," the article stated.

The state-backed Chinese Catholic church at recent conferences has also stressed the need to remain independent of the Vatican and to "Sinicize" itself.

The government is also cracking down on Christians more aggressively through legal means. In March, a prominent Chinese house church leader with U.S. permanent residency was sentenced to seven years in prison after he built Christian schools in Myanmar. And half a dozen Christians were sentenced last month to up to 13 years in jail for involvement in a "cult," according to U.S.-based Christian non-profit ChinaAid.

The pressure has pushed several dozen pastors and their families to flee to the United States in recent years, ChinaAid says. The wife of one pastor under house arrest left for Midland, Texas about a year ago, after authorities warned that their children might have trouble getting an education in China. She said members of their church in China were barred from being baptized, and even a simple Christmas service was interrupted.

"The government says that we have religious freedom, but really there is no freedom at all," said the pastor's wife, who asked to remain anonymous for her husband's safety. "Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are upset and fearful."

Those who resist pay the price.

After Jin Mingri, a prominent pastor who leads Zion Church in Beijing, refused local authorities' request to install surveillance cameras inside his house church, police individually questioned hundreds of members of the 1,500-person congregation, he said. The congregants faced veiled threats, Jin said, and many were asked to sign a pledge promising to leave Zion, which the government agents called illegal, politically incorrect and a cult. Some people lost their jobs or were evicted from rented apartments because police intimidated their bosses and landlords.

For 11 years, the church has been housed on one floor of an office building, but the property management informed Jin in May that they would have to move out at the end of the summer. Jin said the management admitted to being influenced by external "pressures."

"A lot of our flock are terrified by the pressure that the government is putting on them," he said. "It's painful to think that in our own country's capital, we must pay so dearly just to practice our faith."

Province of Henan

At the epicenter of the drive to control the Christian community in China is Henan, the cradle of Chinese civilization and the entry point for many of the earliest foreign missionaries. Today, the province is one of the most populous in the country and a key part of Xi's fight against poverty, as proclaimed by red banners across acres of peanut farms and oil fields.

Around the time authorities ordered Guo's church to stop congregating in March, his district announced a crackdown on private Christian meeting spots. On a single Sunday morning, the announcement said, 700 religious banners were removed, 200 religious texts seized and 31 illegal Christian gathering places shut down. Officials went door-to-door stripping decorative scrolls bearing the cross from home entrances.

In Zhengzhou, Henan's capital, all that is left of one house church is shattered glass, tangled wires and torn hymn books, strewn among the rubble of a knocked-down wall. Pegged to another wall is a single wooden cross, still intact.

The church inside a commercial building had served about 100 believers for years. But in late January, nearly 60 officials from the local religion department and police station appeared without warning. Armed with electric saws, they demolished the church, confiscated Bibles and computers and held a handful of young worshippers -- including a 14-year-old girl -- at a police station for more than 10 hours, according to a church leader.

The authorities called the church illegal. The church leader said they had brought documentation to the religion department three or four times in an attempt to formally register it, but never received a response. Now, they have ceased to congregate.

The church leader prays that the government will change its mind.

"We support President Xi," he said. "All we ask for is a space for our faith."

That space for Xu Shijuan, a 63-year-old Seventh-Day Adventist, was her living room, where she held house church gatherings for four years. She stopped in March, after a group of men led by a local official ordered her to disband the meeting of about two dozen elderly Christians.

"If you don't heed our orders, the next group to come will be law enforcement," he said, according to Xu. "They will use force to disband you."

Xu readily complied. "The people have dispersed, but our faith has not," she told the Associated Press at her home in Zhengzhou. "God's path cannot be blocked. The more you try to control it, the more it will grow."

Even Protestant churches already registered with the state have not been spared greater restrictions. When reporters visited five such churches in Henan this June, all bore notices at their entrances stating that minors and party members were not allowed inside. A banner above one church door exhorted members to "implement the basic direction of the party's religious work." Another church erected a Chinese flag at the foot of its steps.

Some congregations now sing the national anthem during services, according to a house church pastor named Liu. Another pastor said his government-approved church shut down its Sunday school and cancelled all activities for children after receiving orders in February.

Across Henan, house churches that once hosted gatherings of hundreds have now sealed their doors and split into groups of no more than a handful. Services are announced last-minute and held in different locations each week, often under the cloak of darkness.

For a time, Guo's church did the same. They avoided congregating on Sundays to escape authorities' notice.

But the church members were scared, and the group dwindled to 30. Authorities appealed to Guo to help gather information on his fellow Christians. He was given a form, reviewed by AP, which asked for churchgoers' names, educational background and addresses, as well as the length of time they had been faithful and whether they were baptized.

The brick house was largely deserted this summer. Around the door frame, tattered red outlines remained of a scroll that once read "God's love is as deep as the sea."

Inside, Guo has refused to remove the cross and other decorations, telling authorities they are within his private property.

Among them, pinned to a wall in the nave, is a bright blue poster that quotes China's constitutional promise of religious freedom.

 

 

AP writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report from Midland, Texas.

Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

How to Save the Planet — By Work, Not Placards!

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 07:32

If you're a churchgoer, you've heard about heroes of faith in the Bible. But rarely do we hear in church about people who changed the world through science and technology.

The United States and many parts of Europe are going through strange times. It is difficult to scout for talent that will save our planet from its problems.

Today, too many of youth rally behind a handful of thought leaders with policies based on pseudoscientific theories. Protests and demonstrations address climate change, freebie-demand, abortion, gender identity, income inequality, even cake baking. They keep young people from pursuing stable careers.

Millennials and others abandon time-tested principles like hard work, tolerance, academic freedom and entrepreneurship. So their hostile lives, embrace of socialism and aversion to hard work make them unable to contribute to society.

In our dark times, we need to remember people who, through hard work, faith and willingness to embrace challenges, changed our world.

One such man was Norman Borlaug.

Borlaug witnessed poverty in his youth. His Christian faith wouldn't let his sensitive conscience ignore it. His compassion drove him to leave a high-paying job at DuPont and find solutions.

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He went to Mexico. There he developed new crop varieties with higher yields to bring down food prices. He identified and grew new varieties with greater resistance to disease and drought. He developed new technologies that lowered the cost of production.

His step of faith was preceded by his willingness to leave the comfort of life in the United States. It was rooted in the Biblical call to love his neighbor as himself.

Soon, Borlaug's fame spread. India and Pakistan invited him to do help develop their agricultural sectors. As a result, though on the brink of collapse in the 1960s, the countries flourished using Borlaug's rice, maize and wheat varieties.

His work in India and Pakistan won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He continued to work for the rest of his life to extend crop yields and relieve hunger and poverty. He received America's Congressional Gold Medal, the Padma Vibhushan (India's second-highest civilian honor), and many other awards.

More importantly, his innovations helped billions to have food on their plates (including the bowl of rice I had this afternoon).

But Borlaug gave us an important lesson. It should be retold to young people:

You can change the world! Look beyond political class, personal prejudices and ideologies. Commit to work you're passionate about, work hard, respect the law and genuinely love others.

 

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.

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