Signs of the Times (1/13/17)

Massive Security Preparations Under Way for Inauguration

The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls.

Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Contradict Trump’s Campaign Promises

Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned. Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States must honor the “imperfect ­arms-control agreement” with Iran that Trump has vowed to dismantle because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.” He also took a more adversarial stance than Trump has toward Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and cited Moscow as one of the nation’s top threats. Mattis, also stated that Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), whom Trump picked to head the CIA, assured the Intelligence Committee that he would “absolutely not” use brutal interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects in contravention of the law, even if ordered to do so by a president who campaigned on a promise to reinstate the use of such measures. Rex W. Tillerson, whom Mr. Trump has chosen to be secretary of state, rejected a ban on Muslim immigrants, called the United States’ commitment to NATO “inviolable” and said he did not agree with Mr. Trump’s previous comments that Japan should perhaps obtain nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted. “I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

CNN: BuzzFeed’s Journalism ‘Hurts Us All’

CNN is throwing BuzzFeed under the bus after President-elect Donald Trump accused the news organization of propagating the allegations in the piece published by BuzzFeed, saying BuzzFeed’s journalism “hurts us all.” During Trump’s press conference on Wednesday, Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta and called CNN “terrible.” In CNN’s statement, they claimed that, unlike BuzzFeed, they did not publish any of the “unsubstantiated memos” about Trump. Jake Tapper defending CNN, stated that, “It’s irresponsible to put uncorroborated information on the internet. I understand why Trump would be upset about that. I would be upset about it too. It’s why we did not publish it and why we did not detail any specifics from it, because it was uncorroborated.” On Tuesday evening, BuzzFeed News released an “explosive” dossier filled with damaging accusations about President-elect Donald Trump’s alleged “deep ties” to Russia. The problem is, however, even BuzzFeed admits the entire document they chose to publish is completely unverified and riddled with mistakes.

New Report Reveals Fake News/Dirty Tricks Group Worked for Planned Parenthood

The Daily Caller has reported Thursday that the same “opposition research group” that was behind the fake intelligence report that made contrived allegations against President-Elect Donald J. Trump, is the same “shady outfit” hired by Planned Parenthood to issue a report saying the Center for Medical Progress videos were “doctored.” But Planned Parenthood did not reveal that the Washington D.C.-based Fusion GPS that came up with those findings was really an opposition research group. Instead, Planned Parenthood portrayed the Fusion GPS “dirty-tricks” group as one that had “expertise” in forensic analysis. Fusion GPS makes no claims to expertise in forensic analysis on their own suspicious two-paragraph website. Those allegations against Trump were found to be completely fictitious. Trump took news organizations Buzzfeed and CNN to task yesterday for publishing the unfounded accusations, and issued a strong rebuke to them for propagating “fake news,” reports Operations Rescue

Planned Parenthood’s Aborted Baby Parts Provider Drops Lawsuit

The biomedical company accused of contracting with Planned Parenthood to harvest and sell aborted baby body parts has dropped its lawsuit against the pro-life undercover investigators at the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), and are walking away with nothing. CMP’s exposure of Planned Parenthood’s baby body parts business via its undercover journalism showed that the company, StemExpress, was intimately involved with collecting aborted babies. In September, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives voted to hold StemExpress in contempt of Congress for stonewalling its investigation into the baby body parts scandal. StemExpress tried to take legal action against CMP by seeking a settlement. But less than a year later, its lawyers at McDermott, Will & Emery stopped representing the company and the lawsuit was dropped. The Select Panel reported that StemExpress destroyed documents shortly after filing their lawsuit, in violation of document retention rules and Congressional subpoenas.

Trump to Turn Over Business Operations to a Trust Run by His Sons

President-elect Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that he would place his vast business empire in a trust controlled by his two oldest sons and take other steps in an attempt to remove any suggestion of a conflict of interest with his decisions as president. But he said he would not sell his holdings. Trump says he will donate to the United States government all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels, top officials with his company said Wednesday, describing the arrangements as voluntary measures taken to answer concerns about potential conflicts of interest that would allow Mr. Trump to focus on running the country. The Trump Organization will also refrain from entering into any new deals with foreign partners, his legal advisers said, backing off from an earlier claim by Mr. Trump that his company would have “no new deals” of any kind during his presidency. Instead, the Trump enterprise will have to clear any new transactions with an ethics adviser to be chosen by the president-elect in coming days. The government’s top ethics monitor said the plan was wholly inadequate and would leave the president vulnerable to “suspicions of corruption.”

President Obama Says U.S. Constitution ‘Just a Piece of Parchment’

President Obama, as he concluded his farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday, called the U.S. Constitution “just a piece of parchment.” “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift,” said Obama. “But it’s really just a piece of parchment.” “It has no power on its own,” he went on. “We the people give it power. We the people give it meaning with our participation and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.” Many of his critics would argue that his statement on the Constitution alone sums up his legacy in which he disrupted the balance of powers specified in the Constitution by using Executive Orders to create de-facto laws which only Congress is authorized to do.

Senate Initiates Obamacare Repeal Process

Senate Republicans launched their effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law early Thursday morning, approving a budget blueprint that they’ve dubbed the Obamacare “repeal resolution.” The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines for the measure, which relies on the same budget process used seven years ago to approve the landmark healthcare law to now attempt to dismantle it. “This resolution will set the stage for true legislative relief from Obamacare that Americans have long demanded while ensuring a stable transition,” Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming said, just after 1 a.m. “The Obamacare bridge is collapsing and we’re sending in a rescue team.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the most vocal GOP opponents of voting on a repeal bill before coming up with a replacement package, voted against the budget resolution and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein was absent.

India/Pakistan Ramp Up Nuclear Capabilities

The Pakistani army has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable cruise missile from a submarine for the first time, less than a month after India launched its Agni-V missile. Pakistan’s military says its missile, the Babur-3, will help bolster the country’s defenses as its neighbors develop their own technology. From a deterrence standpoint, Karnad says it makes sense for Pakistan to publicly trumpet its missile launch in order to dissuade adversaries from moving against Islamabad. But India isn’t overly worried about deterring Pakistan — they’ve got their eye on China, and China in turn is focused on United States, according to Bharat Karnad, a research professor at India’s Centre for Policy Research.

Cartels, Smugglers Exploit Border Wall Fears

Mexican drug cartels and human traffickers are cashing in ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration by exploiting anxiety over his vow to build a border wall and crack down on illegal immigration – fueling the latest surge across the U.S.-Mexico line, according to local law enforcement. The president-elect reiterated his pledge at a press conference Wednesday to build a “wall” – which he claims will curb illegal immigration, reduce gun violence and stop drugs from being smuggled into the country. For now, however, the Obama administration’s leniency, combined with concerns about Trump’s crackdown, is seen as contributing to a spike in crossings from California to Texas, according to Fox News.

Migrant Update

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall are making life even harder for thousands of refugees living in limbo across Europe. The cold snap gripping Europe has left dozens of people dead, including refugees in Bulgaria. Volunteers say thousands of refugees are still living in outdoor tents. “Asylum-seekers on the Greek islands face overcrowding, freezing temperatures, lack of hot water, violence and hate-motivated attacks,” Iverna McGowan, director of Amnesty International’s European Institution’s Office, said. Refugees elsewhere in Europe are not faring much better amid plummeting temperatures.

French Jews have been leaving France in greater and greater numbers and emigrating to Israel following increasing attacks on their communities. According to ChristianToday.com, this year 5,000 Jews have left France to settle in Israel. This continues a trend seen over the last few years. In 2015, 7,900 Jews left France and in 2014, 7,231 left. Since 2006, a total of 40,000 Jews left the country. However, France still maintains one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, with an estimated 500,000 Jews living there. Daniel Benhaim, the head of The Jewish Agency of Israel, maintains that the threat of terrorism is the number one motivating factor for Jews leaving the country. Four Jews were killed in the attack on the Jewish Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris the same day 12 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks which took place two years ago. Another attack occurred at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France in 2012, as well as a kidnapping and murder of a young Jewish man in Paris in 2006.

Persecution Update

Kim Burrell is a black gospel singer whose song “I See A Victory” appears on the soundtrack of the film Hidden Figures, a box-office hit about the true story of three black women mathematicians who played important roles at NASA in the early days of the space program. Burrell, in addition to being a gospel singer is a pastor, and, with the release of Hidden Figures, a video emerged on the Internet of her passionately preaching in her church against homosexuality. Burrell was scheduled, as part of the film’s promotion, to appear and perform, along with the film’s soundtrack producer, Pharrell Williams, on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” But DeGeneres, an open lesbian, canceled Burrell’s appearance as a result of the video. Next, Burrell’s radio show, which is produced at Texas Southern University, was canceled. Then she was disinvited from the BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Awards, where she was a co-honoree.

  • Free speech and tolerance no longer apply to Christians who risk their careers by simply speaking out what they believe

Economic News

The number of people out of work around the world will hit 200 million in 2017, a new record high. The International Labor Organization said global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million this year, and by 2.7 million in 2018, because the workforce is growing at a faster pace than jobs are being created. In a separate report, the ILO said global wage growth, once inflation is taken into account, fell to its slowest pace in four years in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Rising pay in some developed economies, including the United States and Germany, was not enough to make up for declines elsewhere.

The small business optimism index hit a 12-year high in December, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. It rose to 105.8 from 98.4 the previous month, the biggest one month gain since July 1980. Expectations for better sales and more favorable business conditions in the next six months under President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress accounted for the lion’s share of the increase.

The global oil industry is slated to make some big investments in 2017 following a painful two-year spending slump. And the U.S. is expected to lead the recovery. Industry research firm Wood Mackenzie predicts U.S. oil sector spending will grow by 23% to $61 billion this year as American companies capitalize on rising crude prices. Fracking in Texas and parts of New Mexico will really ramp up as American drillers look to extract more oil and gas from the Permian basin.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler of using secret software that allowed illegal excess emissions from at least 104,000 diesel vehicles. Affected models include the light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3-liter diesel engines sold in the United States. The software resulted in excess emissions of nitrogen oxides from the vehicles, which have harmful health effects. The EPA stopped short of calling the software “defeat devices,” which Volkswagen used to cheat on diesel emissions tests.

Volkswagen is now engulfed in a huge scandal over the devices. A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan handed down an indictment to the six “high-ranking” VW executives for their roles in a nearly 10-year conspiracy that enabled the company’s cars to cheat U.S. emissions standards, investigators said Wednesday. The announcement by the Justice Department came as the automaker agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties.

The World Bank says President-elect Donald Trump’s tax cuts and spending plans could deliver a shot in the arm to the U.S. economy, lifting growth around the world, although uncertainty about his trade policies adds to the risks. The Trump administration could squander the economic gains of fiscal stimulus if it imposes new trade barriers that provoke retaliation by other countries, the Washington-based development lender said Tuesday in the latest update to its global economic outlook.

European Union

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Thursday that European countries need to work together to ensure their own security, warning that there is no “infinite guarantee” from tradition partners, especially the U.S. The remarks come just days before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in to office. He has been critical of NATO. She said Europe can only master global challenges if it is willing to “take on more responsibility in the world in the future.” The U.S. is the biggest contributor to NATO’s budget out of the 27 member nations.

Israel

A draft of the summary statement that will be released at the conclusion of a 70-nation peace conference organized by France in Paris has been leaked. This communique is going to call for the division of the land of Israel, for the establishment of a Palestinian state, for the 1967 borders to serve as the basis for final negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and for the condemnation of any officials that refuse to support a two-state solution. This comes on the heels of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which many believe represents America’s greatest betrayal of Israel. Israeli government officials are publicly warning that there is a possibility the principles agreed upon at this conference may form the basis for another Security Council resolution before Jan. 20, President-elect Trump’s inauguration day. Netanyahu says the peace conference is ‘rigged’ against Israel.

The incoming Trump administration has told allies it is moving ahead with plans to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — even as those countries issue stark warnings of the potential impact and the Palestinians and Arab nations are escalating calls not to do it. In Israel, officials have lobbied countries for years to move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital. There is speculation that a U.S. announcement could be made as early as May 24 — “Jerusalem Day” in Israel, a celebratory national holiday. That date comes just days before a waiver signed by President Barack Obama blocking the move expires. While some diplomats said there are signs President-elect Donald Trump may pull back from his campaign pledge, Arab and European allies have warned the incoming administration that the move could unleash further violence, undermine the peace process, damage U.S. standing in the Middle East, and endanger American personnel.

Afghanistan

Deadly attacks ripped across Afghanistan on Tuesday, with two suicide bombings near the Afghan Parliament in Kabul, an explosion at a Kandahar province government compound and a suicide bombing in Helmand province. The strikes left dozens of people dead and wounded, U.S. and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attacks, which killed at least 36 people and injured 76 others in the capital. Separately, an explosion in Kandahar killed at least 11 people and injured 14 others, including the deputy governor of Kandahar. Five Emirati humanitarian workers were also among those killed in the Kandahar attack. In Helmand province, a suicide bomber killed at least seven Afghans, including both civilian and military personnel.

Iraq

Iraqi special forces entered Mosul University on Friday in their latest advance along the eastern front as they battle Islamic State militants for control of the city. “We broke through the terrorists’ defenses and we destroyed their lines and their units and their bases,” said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi, who was overseeing the assault Friday. The university is located in the eastern section of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which is divided by the Tigris River into roughly an eastern and a western half. Over the past two years since the Islamic State seized Mosul in a 2014 blitz that captured much of northern and western Iraq, the militants have had time to prepare for an assault by Iraqi forces, building tunnels and getaways across the city. The push into Mosul University came a day after Iraqi army forces north of the city linked up with troops pushing in from the city’s eastern edge. Iraqi forces have largely surrounded Mosul.

Russia

Russia is willing to work on improving relations with the new US administration — even if American sanctions aren’t lifted any time soon. Relations first went sour over Russia’s annexation of Crimea out of the Ukraine resulting in economic sanctions against Russia. Relations have deteriorated even more over the past year as the two nations have stood on opposing sides of the Syria conflict and locked horns several times at the UN Security Council over the nearly six-year war. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Certainly, sanctions are an element that very negatively affect bilateral relations, but still even under the backdrop of sanctions, Moscow would, undoubtedly, welcome any prospect for dialogue and it is ready for that,” welcoming the change in administrations.

Poland

Thousands of U.S. troops crept up on Russia’s doorstep Thursday, rolling into Poland with a slew of unanswered questions about their future in the region. It marked the first deployment of armored brigade combat teams and armor to Europe after a long drawdown from the continent. Soldiers in camouflage with tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland on Thursday morning from Germany and headed for Zagan, their planned base. Poland’s prime minister and defense minister said official ceremonies will be held Saturday to celebrate the Americans’ arrival. For decades, Poland has asked for help in keeping Moscow at bay, but at the same time, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he would try to pursue a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, the president-elect said Wednesday nothing was off the table. “I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t.” Russia clearly wasn’t happy with the deployment. “We perceive it as a threat,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “These actions threaten our interests, our security, especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders.”

Weather

Freezing rain and ice moving into the Plains has already started to cause trouble on the roads and several governors have declared states of emergency as Winter Storm Jupiter pushes east. The Plains and Midwest states have been preparing for days for the storm, which could cause widespread power outages and leave millions of residents stranded for days. More than three dozen flights out of St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport were cancelled Friday morning as freezing rain moved into the area. Gov. Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency earlier Friday morning after having activated the state Emergency Operations Center Thursday as Missourians prepared for the incoming ice.

Days of heavy rain in California and Nevada spawned flooding, a tornado and mudslides.  The storms have dumped more than 7 inches of rain since Monday and the National Weather Service says 6-12 feet of snow have fallen in the Sierra Nevada. More than 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes as rivers and creeks around the region rose.  At least five deaths have been attributed to the weather conditions brought on by these storms, along with dozens of water rescues. The heavy rains forced rivers out of their banks and toppled trees. The back-to-back storm systems are part of an “atmospheric river” weather phenomenon that draws precipitation from the Pacific Ocean as far west as Hawaii. The heavy rain and snow is helping to ease the drought that has gripped the state for several years.

Shipping was suspended along Europe’s second-longest waterway on Tuesday due to ice. A polar spell heas gripped a large swathe of the continent, causing hardship especially among migrants, the homeless and the elderly. The deep freeze has caused at least 61 deaths since it began last week, a third of those in Poland. Romanian police halted shipping at midday for an undetermined period along a 900-kilometer (565-mile) stretch of the Danube River, which crosses Romania. Croatian and Serbian authorities also stopped river traffic on the Danube.

 

 

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