Signs of the Times (1/24/17)

President Trump Signs Executive Order to Defund International Planned Parenthood

President Donald Trump today signed an executive order Monday to defund International Planned Parenthood. Most pro-life Americans are anxiously awaiting Congress to pass a bill to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business. While that defunding legislation concerns the domestic-based Planned Parenthood abortion corporation, President Trump has the ability to put in place an executive order that would revoke funding for its International affiliate. When pro-abortion former President Barack Obama took office, Obama overturned a policy that prevented funding of groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. Over $400 million in federal funds flowed to foreign abortion businesses including International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.

Trump Freezes Hiring of Federal Workers

President Trump instituted a government-wide hiring freeze Monday, signing an executive order that he said would affect all employees ““except for the military.” Trump had pledged to halt government hiring as part of his campaign’s “Contract with the American Voter,” which he framed as part of a larger effort to “clean up corruption and special interest in Washington D.C.” That campaign plan, however, also included exemptions for public safety and public health. During the final weeks of the Obama administration, top officials at several government agencies went on a hiring spree in an effort to staff up before the expected hiring freeze hit.

Trump Abandons TPP and Seeks to Renegotiate NAFTA

After meeting with business executives at the White House to discuss the U.S. manufacturing industry, the president signed an executive order formally ending U.S. participation in the TransPacific Partnership. President Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday, pulling away from Asia and scrapping his predecessor’s most significant trade deal. Trump sharply criticized the partnership agreement during last year’s campaign, calling it a bad deal for American workers. Although the deal had not been approved by Congress, the decision to withdraw the American signature at the start of Mr. Trump’s administration is a signal that he plans to follow through on promises to take a more aggressive stance against foreign competitors. The president’s withdrawal from the Asian-Pacific trade pact amounted to a drastic reversal of decades of economic policy in which presidents of both parties have lowered trade barriers and expanded ties around the world.

President Trump also gave notice that he hopes to get a better deal for American workers by renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The President put a bug in the ear of business executives, warning in a meeting they would face huge tariffs if they send manufacturing abroad. And he huddled with union leaders, promising a torrent of new jobs and factories. Tuesday, the President will meet with the heads of the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Trump’s vow to kill or renegotiate multilateral trade deals was an important factor in his narrow November election victories in industrialized states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which upended the political map based on the votes of many workers — including Democrats — who feel left behind by economic globalization.

Trump Signs Orders Reviving Pipeline Projects

President Trump signed executive orders on Tuesday effectively reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, which had been stalled by the Obama administration under pressure from environmental and other groups. The president said both projects would be subject to a renegotiation of the terms.  The president signed a total of five orders related to pipeline construction, including others expediting the permitting process for related projects and directing the Commerce Department to maximize the use of U.S. steel. While the Canada-to-Texas Keystone project was at the center of a heated debate for years until the Obama administration rejected a key permit in November 2015, the Dakota pipeline more recently became the subject of fierce protests until the Army Corps of Engineers in December blocked construction of a controversial segment. The moves are likely to spark a new fight with environmentalists.

Women March Around the World

Marches for women’s rights in the United States and around the world protested against Donald Trump on his first full day in office. More than a million Americans took to the streets of the United States, not including the many thousands of people who took part in the main event — The Women’s March on Washington — for which there was no official crowd estimate. It was not immediately clear what political impact the marches would have on the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress. One central hurdle for protesters was their effort to draw attention to so many different political priorities. Even the signs they carried reflected the diversity of their agendas. Meanwhile, the Democratic mantra so prevalent in the final weeks of the campaign — “when they go low, we go high” — was largely absent. Actress Ashley Judd, for instance, read a poem that said Trump bathes in “Cheeto dust.” Madonna delivered remarks laden with expletives. The march has evolved organically from a post-election call to action on Facebook to an organized effort that included a roster of high-wattage activists and attendees including feminist Gloria Steinem, singer Katy Perry, actors America Ferrera, and Scarlett Johansson.

Thousands of marchers gathered in more than 600 cities across the globe in protest, including Antarctica where 30 people gathered aboard a ship in the international waters of Antarctica. The organizers said the participants include eco-minded tourists and non-government scientists, who are raising signs that read slogans including “penguins for peace” and “seals for science.” On Saturday, thousands demonstrated in London, marching from the US embassy on Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square, to send a message to the incoming administration that “women’s rights are human rights,” according to organizers. Speakers said that at least 100,000 people had turned out, but London’s Metropolitan Police did not provide official crowd estimates.

Trump’s Day Two: Mends Fences with the CIA, Attacks the Media

President Donald Trump moved fast to mend his relationship with the CIA on just his second day in office, then ignited a feud with the media over the size of his inauguration crowd. Trump offered new evidence that he will be as disdainful of convention and protocol as President as he was in the campaign trail. His broadside against the media, which he believes is unfairly representing the size of the crowd on Friday, and the sight of huge anti-Trump crowds in US cities and around the world also made another thing clear: the political acrimony that rattled the nation for the past 18 months is not going away. The visit to the CIA was an important moment for Trump, who raised doubts about his relationship with US intelligence agencies by initially casting doubt on their assessment that Russia intervened in the election by hacking Democratic email accounts. “This is my first stop officially, there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump, there is nobody,” he said.  His comments were warmly received by CIA employees who came in on a Saturday to see their new president.

Ethics Group Sues Trump Over Foreign Business Interests

An ethics group sued President Trump on Monday, charging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments through his business empire. The lawsuit by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal office holders from accepting any “present, emolument, office or title” from a foreign state. The suit argues that the clause prohibits Trump’s business empire from accepting anything of value from a foreign government, including payments at his Washington hotel, without congressional consent. At a press conference earlier this month, Trump promised to turn hotel profits from foreign governments over to the United States Treasury. But the suit says that step in no way solves the constitutional violation. Even if there were an exception, the plan would be insufficient because it has no enforcement mechanism and because it proposes to turn over only profits, not all money from foreign governments, the suit says.

Trump has Resigned from More Than 400 Businesses

President Trump says he has resigned from positions in hundreds of business entities, according to a document provided to CNN by the Trump Organization. The text of the 19-page letter reads: “I, Donald J. Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold” in more than 400 entities listed on the following pages. The letter is signed by Trump and dated January 19, the day before he was sworn in. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are “fully in charge of the company.” A lawyer for Trump, Sheri Dillon, said on January 11 that the chief compliance officer would ensure that the Trump businesses do not take “any actions that could be perceived as exploiting the office of the presidency. She said the ethics adviser would analyze Trump Organization deals for potential conflicts of interest.

Obama Quietly Sent $221M to Palestinians in Obama’s Last Hours

Officials said Monday that the Obama administration– in its waning hours– defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority that GOP members of Congress had been blocking. A State Department official and several congressional aides told The Associated Press that the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning. In addition to the $221 million for the Palestinians, the Obama administration also told Congress on Friday it was going ahead with the release of another $6 million in foreign affairs spending, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for U.N. organizations, the congressional aides said. Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but Congress put a hold on 2017 funding. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding.

Migrant Update

The U.S. has already been taking somewhere in between 70,000 and 110,000 legal refugees per year from various countries, which include up to 10,000 Somalian refugees and 12,000 Syrian refugees per year, WorldNetDaily reports. According to Reuters, Africans, as well as immigrants from Central America, have also been looking to make their way to the U.S. via Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Because Mexico has few diplomatic ties with African nations, it’s difficult for authorities to deport illegal immigrants from Africa back to their homelands. As a result, the Mexican government, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, chose to deal with the situation by giving them temporary transit permits, which gives them 20 days to leave Mexico, according to Reuters. In practice, this allows the immigrants almost three weeks to make their way north to the U.S. border without being detained by Mexican immigration authorities.

Economic News

Foreigners are dumping U.S. debt at a faster rate than we have ever seen before, and U.S. Treasury yields have been rising. This is potentially a massive problem, because our entire debt-fueled standard of living is dependent on foreigners lending us gigantic mountains of money at ultra-low interest rates. If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt just got back to 5%, which would still be below the long-term average, we would be paying out about a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt. If foreigners keep dumping our debt and if Treasury yields keep climbing, a major financial implosion is a distinct possibility

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday that the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank has been approved. The vast majority of the new units will be built in established settlement blocs such as Ariel and Gush Etzion. “We are returning to normative life in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman declared. His office added that plans are also proceeding for the construction of an industrial zone near the Palestinian village of Tarqumyia, to provide jobs for residents there. The announcement signals a new approach by Israel in response to the election of President Trump. The administration of former president Barack Obama opposed the expansion of settlements.

Islamic State

U.S.-led coalition warplanes successfully targeted a flotilla of 90 Islamic State boats being used by the militants to cross the Tigris River in a desperate effort to escape fighting in eastern Mosul, the U.S. military announced Saturday. The airstrikes occurred as coalition-backed security forces seized the eastern portion of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and began preparations for clearing the western side of the city. The city is divided by the Tigris River. The strikes targeted 90 boats and three barges between Wednesday and Friday, the coalition said in a statement. Most were being used by the Islamic State to escape from the eastern part of the city, which has been secured by Iraqi forces in recent days. Since the Mosul operation began in October, the coalition has hit 112 watercraft on the Tigris River in Mosul.

Syria

Syria peace talks in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, got off to an explosive start Monday as rebel groups announced they would not talk face to face with the regime and the chief Syrian delegate slammed the armed opposition as “terrorists.” The talks were aimed at consolidating a shaky ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey, and could potentially open the path to discussing a political solution to end the brutal civil war, which has raged for almost six years. But rebel groups refused to talk directly with the regime, as both sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire in the Wadi Barada area outside the capital Damascus and of controlling the water supply to the capital as a weapon of war.

Yemen

Yemeni security and tribal officials say suspected U.S. drone strikes have killed three alleged al-Qaida operatives in the country’s southwestern Bayda province. They say the two Saturday strikes killed Abu Anis al-Abi, an area field commander, and two others. Saturday’s strikes were the first to be reported since Donald Trump assumed office as Barack Obama’s successor. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said as many as 117 civilians had been killed in drone and other counterterror attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere during Obama’s presidency.

Mexico

Protesters took control of vehicle lanes at one of the busiest crossings on the U.S. border Sunday to oppose Mexican gasoline price hikes, waving through motorists into Mexico after Mexican authorities abandoned their posts. Motorists headed to Mexico zipped by about 50 demonstrators at the Otay Mesa port of entry connecting San Diego and Tijuana, many of them honking to show support. Other protests closed southbound traffic for hours at the San Diego-Tijuana San Ysidro port of entry, the busiest crossing along the 2,000-mile border, and halted southbound traffic at one of two crossings in Nogales, Arizona. The demonstrations, which are unrelated to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, have disrupted Mexican border crossings for weeks. Earlier this month, police in the Mexican state of Sonora fought a pitched three-hour battle to free a border rail crossing at Nogales that had been blocked by people protesting the 20 percent nationwide hike in gasoline prices that took effect on New Year’s Day.

Chile

Fast-spreading blazes in south-central Chile have destroyed around 300,000 acres of forest; many are still burning, and more are expected to flare up. Residents in the town of Pumanque, located in the hard-hit south-central region of O’Higgins, have lost most of their belongings and their very livelihood to some of the worst wildfires ever seen in Chile. Chile’s Public Works Ministry said Monday that heavy machinery will be sent to the area to bury the hundreds of animals that died in the wave of fires, which have been stoked by a prolonged drought and temperatures topping 100 Fahrenheit. “Chile is living the greatest forest disaster in our history,” President Michelle Bachelet said.

Earthquakes

A major 7.9-magnitude earthquake severely shook Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Sunday afternoon local time. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the deep quake, which had a depth of over 84 miles, and was centered on Bougainville Island, an island of approximately 175,000 people in the Solomon Islands chain. Despite its depth, very strong to severe shaking was likely felt near the epicenter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

An enormous storm system that kicked up tornadoes, shredded homes and left other destruction scattered around the Southeast has claimed at least 20 lives after a two-day assault on the region, with dozens injured. The day’s deadliest toll came before daybreak Sunday when an apparent tornado blew through a mobile home park in south Georgia — about 60 miles southeast of Albany — shearing away siding, upending homes and killing seven people. About half of the 40 homes were “leveled.” In Albany, Georgia, a city of roughly 77,000 in the southwestern part of the state, Doughtery County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas described the area as looking like a nuclear bomb went off. From the morning of January 21 through January 22, 41 reports of tornadoes were received by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in five southern states from Louisiana to South Carolina.

A mix of snow, freezing rain, and sleet brought on by a nor’easter has closed numerous schools and made for difficult driving in northern New England and Upstate New York on Tuesday morning. A powerful nor’easter started Monday in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where it toppled trees, slowed travel and knocked out power. One person was killed. Some snow fell across the region, but the big challenge on the roads Tuesday morning was ice and strong winds. Several crashes have been reported Tuesday on Interstate 87 and Interstate 95 in New York. Docked boats were smacking into one another in Rye Harbor, New Hampshire. There were some scattered power outages; utilities prepared for the possibility of more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for 50 California counties that have been drenched by series of storms, including ongoing Winter Storm Leo, which have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. In this latest round of storms to pound the state, at least four people died, three were missing and many others were rescued from raging floodwaters. The governor’s proclamations are designed to provide state assistance to local governments coping with flooding, mudslides and erosion and to help obtain federal emergency funding to fix damaged roads and highways. Brown’s proclamations said the damage has created “conditions of extreme peril” to people and property.

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