Signs of the Times (2/10/17)

Trump Experiences the Limits of Executive Power

President Donald Trump suffered more than a legal defeat of his immigration ban Thursday night. He ran up against the limits of executive power. Three federal judges unanimously refused to restore the White House’s controversial travel ban. Trump’s responded by tweet: “See You in Court” suggesting he will be taking the “disgraceful” decision to the Supreme Court. Trump’s vision of an administration rooted in the muscular use of executive power — similar to that he enjoyed as a business leader — will not go unchallenged by the U.S. system of checks and balances. In a stinging rebuke, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s argument that the judiciary lacked the authority to block the travel ban as “contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” The tone and content of the decision immediately called into question Trump’s gamble in enacting such a fundamental reshaping of the nation’s immigration laws through presidential order rather than a law debated and passed by Congress.

Trump Right About Media Under-Reporting Islamic Terrorism

President Donald Trump has been severely critical of the news media for doing what he called a poor job of covering instances of Islamic terrorism not only in the U.S. but around the world. As many terrorism experts told WND, it’s not the amount of coverage given to a specific event that counts but rather the type of coverage. A classic example of that can be found by comparing and contrasting the coverage that two news agencies – WND and the BBC – gave to a brutal machete attack at the Nazareth Mediterranean Restaurant one year ago in February 2016 that left four patrons wounded, one critically. In the BBC story, there is no mention of the words Islam, jihad, Muslim, refugee or immigrant. Every one of those words applied to the attacker, Mohamed Barry, who was a Muslim immigrant from the West African country of Guinea, as pointed out in the WND story. The point is not that they ignore the stories, but they deliberately conceal and/or misrepresent the aspects of them that make it clear that they’re Islamic jihad attacks,” said Robert Spencer, editor of Jihad Watch.

Foiled France Terrorists Appear to be ISIS-Inspired

Suspects arrested Friday in a foiled terror plot in France had just started making the same powerful explosive used in the ISIS-directed Paris and Brussels attacks, and they appear to have been inspired by the terror group, a source close to the investigation tells CNN. French police “thwarted an imminent attack on French soil” when they arrested four people, including a 16-year-old girl and three men, in cities across France, the interior minister said in a statement Friday. A partially assembled improvised explosive device was also found as part of the investigation.

Whistleblower Says Immigrant Vetting Process Severely Flawed

A recently retired U.S. State Department veteran has published a whistleblower letter in the Chicago Tribune fingering the refugee resettlement program as fraught with “fraud” and “abuses.” Mary Doetsch said the problems were apparent before President Obama took office but got worse under his leadership. Doetsch retired about two months ago as a refugee coordinator. One of her assignments was at a United Nations refugee camp in Jordan, from which many of the Syrian refugees are flowing into the U.S. She did three tours of duty, in Cairo, Egypt, dealing with Middle East refugees. She says the “vetting” of refugees from broken countries such as Somalia, Syria and Sudan often consists largely of a personal interview with the refugee. These countries have no law enforcement data to vet against the personal story relayed to the U.S. government about the refugee’s background. Sometimes even their name and identity is fabricated and they have no documentation, such as a valid passport, or they have fraudulent documentation.

Venezuela Sold Visas to Terrorists

CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered serious irregularities in the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism. The investigation involved reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting interviews in the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah. A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.

New Poll: Trump Trusted More Than Media

According to a new poll by Emerson College, the Trump administration is considered truthful by 49% of voters, to 48% of voters who consider it untruthful. Meanwhile, the news media is considered truthful by only 39% of voters, while a majority of 53 % find the media untruthful. there is a political split in these numbers. Emerson College Polling indicates 89% of Republicans find the Trump administration truthful, versus 77% of Democrats who find the administration untruthful. When it comes to media, 69% of Democrats find the news media truthful, while a whopping 91% of Republicans consider them untruthful. Independents don’t indicate much trust for either the Trump administration or the media – but trust the Trump administration more by 3% points.

Military Sounds Alarm about ‘Insidious Decline’ in Readiness

For decades, the F/A-18 Hornet has been the Navy’s front-line combat jet – taking off from aircraft carriers around the globe to enforce no-fly zones, carry out strikes and even engage in the occasional dogfight. But the Navy’s ability to use these planes is now greatly hindered as more than 60 percent of the jets are out of service. That number is even worse for the Marine Corps, where 74 percent of its F-18s – some of the oldest in service – are not ready for combat operations. These figures are reflective of the erosion in readiness across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Top service branch officials sounded the alarm in a pair of congressional hearings this week about how bad the problem has become. “Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The vice chiefs pleaded with lawmakers to repeal legislation limiting defense spending, arguing that fiscal constraints have crippled the military’s capability to respond to threats.

Army Issues Permit to Continue Constructing Dakota Pipeline

The US Army Corps of Engineers will grant an easement in North Dakota for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, allowing the project to move toward completion despite the protests of Native Americans and environmentalists. Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to advance approval of this pipeline and others, casting aside efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to block construction. That order directed “the acting secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law.” “The decision was made based on a sufficient amount of information already available which supported approval to grant the easement request,” the Army said. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has long opposed the project near its home, promised a legal fight.

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Price Estimates Increase

The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall will reportedly cost at least $21.6 billion, much more than earlier estimates, and could take more than three years to finish, according to Homeland Security. House Speaker Paul Ryan said last month that the project could cost $8 billion to $14 billion. Trump had previously said the wall could cost $12 billion. The border wall was President Trump’s key campaign promise and his insistence that Mexico would pay for it. Though Trump has insisted Mexico will eventually pay the U.S. back, American taxpayers are expected to initially foot the bill. The report said the first phase would cover 26 miles near San Diego, El Paso, Texas and a part the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The second phase would cover 151 miles in and around the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Texas, Tucson, Ariz., Big Bend, Texas and El Paso. The final phase would cover the remaining 1,080 miles.

Trump Urged to Close Tax-Credit Loophole for Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigrants need only one number to access billions of dollars in free taxpayer cash. The Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) unlocks an exclusive gateway for non-citizens to receive monies meant for working, low-income Americans. The nine-digit code was created by bureaucrats in 1996 for foreigners who had to deal with the IRS. It allows people without a Social Security number, including those in the country illegally, to file taxes. The problem with ITIN, critics say, is gives non-citizens access to federal cash that they should not be entitled to receive. Once illegal immigrants file ITIN tax returns, they can apply for a Child Tax Credit – which entitles them to $1,000 per child. Unlike the Earned Income Tax Credit, which requires a Social Security Number to qualify, the Child Tax Credit is a cash program that does not. Numerous investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have chronicled not only improper Child Tax Credit fraud and error payments ranging from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion, but schemes such as nearly 24,000 ITIN payments going to the same address.

Americans Renouncing Citizenship at Record High

The number of Americans confirmed to have renounced their citizenship has hit a new high, up 26 percent from 2015, to a new record 5,411, according to government data. The number of Americans renouncing citizenship had set a record for 2015 as well, up 58 percent from the previous year. The IRS reportedly publishes the names of those individuals quarterly. Before 2011, fewer than 1,000 individuals chose to expatriate each year, the data found. Still, many cases were not counted, according to Forbes. The report did not show why many Americans made the decision to expatriate. The report pointed out that the U.S. is one of the few countries that taxes based on nationality. American citizens are liable to pay U.S. taxes even if they live abroad.

Sessions Confirmed for AG after Contentious Senate Battle

Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States, capping a Senate fight so contentious that one of the nominee’s biggest critics was forced by majority Republicans to sit out the last leg of the debate. The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present. Sessions became just the sixth Cabinet nominee approved by the Senate, joining Trump’s choices for Defense, Homeland Security, Education, Transportation and State. Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor.

Price Confirmed as Head of HHS, Aims to Dismantle Obamacare

The Senate early Friday morning confirmed President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, placing him in position to lead the way in dismantling Obamacare. It was the Senate’s fourth consecutive contested vote for a Trump Cabinet secretary. Partisan battles for Cabinet posts are usually rare, but the first weeks of Trump’s presidency have seen little collegiality between Republicans and Democrats. Price is a veteran House member and orthopedic surgeon who Republicans call a knowledgeable pick for the job. Democrats say he’s an ideologue whose policies would snatch care from many Americans. On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to pare back elements of ObamaCare that do not require a congressional vote, Price is now expected to carry out that order.

Planned Parenthood Caught Offering Incentives for Abortion

Testimony from a former Planned Parenthood employee has revealed that the organization focuses on selling abortion services and offers incentives for employees to make more “sales.” According to a report from the Washington Examiner, Planned Parenthood employees are offered rewards such as paid time off or free pizza for getting more women to get abortions through Planned Parenthood. Sue Thayer was a former Planned Parenthood employee in Storm Lake, Iowa. She shared in a Live Action video how Planned Parenthood employees are trained to sell abortions to women who come through their doors. “I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal.” This tactic has apparently worked well for Planned Parenthood. They performed more than 300,000 abortions in 2015. However, with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, efforts to defund the abortion provider are on the table.

Public School Children Now Rank in Bottom Half of World

American school children exhibited declining skills in math over the past three years, according to rankings released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They recently released the results of a worldwide exam administered every three years to 15-year-olds in 72 countries. The exam monitors reading, math and science knowledge. Based on their findings, the United States saw an 11-point drop in math scores and nearly flat levels for reading and science. Overall, the U.S. fell below the OECD average – and failed to crack the top ten in all three categories. U.S. 15-year-olds now rank lower than more than 36 countries including the Slovak Republic. This continues a pattern of continuous decline in the performance of our public schools.

NYC Curbs Stop & Frisk Even Though it’s Working

The New York Police Department agreed Thursday to further cut back stop-and-frisk tactics – even as city investigators were using data gleaned from the practice to arrest the man now accused in a vicious sexual assault and murder. The discovery of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano’s body in a Queens park in August made national headlines as authorities had very little information identifying her killer. But The New York Daily News reported it was a review of stop-and-frisk reports from the area near the crime scene that helped cops zero in on 20-year-old Chanel Lewis – who was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree murder. “To the extent that it’s not used as a national tactic, we all lose,” former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Fox News. “It’s helpful in this case and that’s obviously a good thing, and quite frankly that should be standard practice.”

Whistleblower Says Obama Scientist Cooked Climate Change Data

A key Obama administration scientist brushed aside inconvenient data that showed a slowdown in global warming in compiling an alarming 2015 report that coincided with the White House participation in the Paris Climate Conference, a whistle blower is alleging. A blockbuster study by a team of federal scientists led by Thomas Karl, published in the journal Science in June 2015 and later known as the “pausebuster” paper, sought to discredit the notion of a slowdown in warming. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, said in a statement Tuesday, “In the summer of 2015, whistleblowers alerted the Committee that the Karl study was rushed to publication before underlying data issues were resolved to help influence public debate about the so-called Clean Power Plan and upcoming Paris climate conference. Since then, the Committee has attempted to obtain information that would shed further light on these allegations, but was obstructed at every turn by the previous administration’s officials.”

Arctic Ice Set Record Lows

Arctic sea ice extent continues to set record lows. The low amounts of ice, compared to average, in the Arctic region have been an ongoing concern since November, and hasn’t let up through the start of February. Ice extent in the Arctic region set daily record lows through most of January, leading to the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. For January, Arctic sea ice extent averaged an area of about 13.38 million square kilometers (5.17 million square miles), about 1.26 million square kilometers (487,000 square miles) below the 1981-2010 average for that month.

  • We must keep in mind that 38 years of records is infinitesimally small compared to a history of long ice ages and long warm periods

Economic News

OPEC is showing a rare degree of discipline in sticking to its promise to slash oil production. The International Energy Agency said Friday that the cartel achieved 90% compliance in January on its share of production cuts that total 1.8 million barrels per day. The production cuts — made from a very high baseline — were designed to support prices and ease the budget pressure being felt by major producers. While the strategy is working, higher prices are stimulating investment and production elsewhere. U.S. shale producers, for example, are returning to the market after being hammered by collapsing oil prices in 2014. Crude oil prices have increased from lows in the $30s per barrel last year to $53.50 Thursday.

China

President Trump told China President Xi Jinping the U.S. would honor the “one China” policy months after Trump suggested he might use American policy on Taiwan as a bargaining chip between the two sides. Trump “agreed at the request of President Xi,” to honor the policy, the White House said in a statement late Thursday. The one China policy had been a source of friction between the U.S. and China since Trump’s election in November. Trump had questioned Washington’s policy on Taiwan, which shifted diplomatic recognition from self-governing Taiwan to China in 1979. He said it was open to negotiation. China bristled at the comments Trump made.

Israel

Israeli Defense Forces in the south of Israel were on high alert Thursday following a rocket attack launched by the Islamic State terror militia in the Egyptian Sinai against the southern Negev resort city of Eilat. The IDF said an Iron Dome air defense system defending Eilat had intercepted three incoming rockets while a fourth had landed in an open area outside the city, causing no damage or injuries. Four people were reportedly treated for shock at a local hospital, but police said the city was operating normally Thursday morning.

Israeli security forces throughout the country were also on high alert Friday following a terrorist shooting and stabbing attack Thursday afternoon in Petah Tikvah which left six Israelis wounded. The terrorist, an 18-year old Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Nablus, was captured shortly after his attack. “This attack is a direct result of the ongoing incitement of Palestinian leadership,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. “The international community must take decisive and immediate steps against this incitement before it leads to more bloodshed.”

Iran

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday to swear allegiance to the clerical establishment following U.S. President Donald Trump’s warning that he had put the Islamic Republic “on notice”, state TV reported… They carried “Death to America” banners and effigies of Trump, while a military police band played traditional Iranian revolutionary songs. State TV showed footage of people stepping on Trump’s picture in a central Tehran street. Marchers carried the Iranian flag and banners saying: “Thanks Mr. Trump for showing the real face of America.” The rallies were rife with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Syria

The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. airstrikes conducted in Syria last week killed 11 Al Qaeda operatives, including one with ties to former leader Usama bin Laden. The airstrike near Idlib killed 10 operatives in a building used as an Al Qaeda meeting site. A strike the next day killed Abu Hani al-Masri, who U.S. officials said oversaw the creation and operation of Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. “These strikes disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability to plot and direct external attacks targeting the US and our interests worldwide,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Yemen

Yemen has withdrawn permission for U.S. forces to conduct antiterror ground missions in the country after a deadly commando raid last month that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties. The New York Times, citing unnamed American officials, reported Tuesday that neither the White House nor the Yemenis have publicly announced the suspension.  The report said it is unclear if the Yemenis were influenced at all by President Trump’s travel ban order that included Yemen on the list of banned countries. U.S. Central Command said earlier this month that civilians may have been hit by gunfire from aircraft called in to assist U.S. troops, who were engaged in a ferocious firefight on Jan. 29 with militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Times reported that photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire caused outrage in Yemen.

Afghanistan

Gunmen killed six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a spokesman for the aid group said. Ahmad Ramin Ayaz, the group’s Kabul-based spokesman, said the attack took place in the northern Jowzjan province. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Rahmatullah Turkistani, the chief of the provincial police, said militants loyal to the Islamic State group have a presence in the area. The Taliban denied involvement.

At least 20 people are dead after a suicide blast Tuesday outside Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a parking lot near the court in the Afghan capital. The attack at around 3:45 p.m. local time targeted Supreme Court employees as they were leaving for the day. At least 35 people were wounded in the blast.

The number of child casualties in the long-running Afghan war jumped last year, spiking 24% from 2015 in large part from leftover munitions, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report on Monday. “Children have been killed, blinded, crippled — or inadvertently caused the death of their friends — while playing with unexploded ordnance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Of the 11,418 overall casualties in 2016, 3,512 were children: 923 who died and 2,589 who were injured.

East Africa

Severe drought has stricken east Africa. A food crisis is escalating, not only in Kenya but also in northern Uganda, which has absorbed over half a million refugees from South Sudan since last July, mostly women and children. “Children have dropped out of school due to hunger; the elderly, and pregnant women, are the most affected. Cattle, which are the only source of livelihood, are dying and the remaining ones are stolen by bandits,” cries a Kenyan pastor in East Pokot, where the last rainfall was in June 2016. From nearby Marsabit, Pastor Jeremiah Omar reports that 70% of the livestock are already dead from drought – a disaster for the many nomadic communities. In Uganda, deaths from malnutrition are expected to start this month. There will be no relief until June at the earliest, and then only if the rains come at the normal time.

Environment

Rescuers were engaged in a heartbreaking race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand. About 275 of the pilot whales are already dead. Hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in history. Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. And then half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again.

Weather

Snow emergencies were declared in two major Northeast metro areas, Philadelphia and Boston, as the rapidly strengthening storm blanketed the Northeast with up to 2 feet of snow in places.  Governors in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio urged people to stay off the roads Thursday to keep them clear for plows and emergency vehicles. Despite the warnings, the rapid accumulation of snow caught many drivers out in the open. Connecticut State Police responded to more than 600 calls during the storm, including 68 accidents with four injuries and several jackknifed semi-trucks that closed stretches of Interstate 95. New Jersey State Police reduced speed limits to 35 mph along the 122-mile length of the New Jersey Turnpike but still fielded more 600 calls for assistance. In New York, dozens of motorists were stranded on Long Island after they couldn’t make it up icy ramps. Schools in the area remained closed Friday.

Heavy rain and rapid snowmelt in the Sierra Mountains has led to widespread flooding in parts of Nevada and California, triggering numerous mudslides and road washouts. In Oroville, water opened up a massive hole in a dam. Officials shut down flow from the Oroville Dam after chunks of concrete went flying from the spillway and created a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole on Wednesday. The dam break poses no threat to the public but is expected to grow before engineers can make the necessary repairs. High snow levels across parts of California and western Nevada have led to rain falling on areas where feet of snow have fallen in recent weeks, prompting flooding near the Sierras and in the central valley. The final in a series of storms is made its way through the West Coast Thursday and Friday. With the ground already saturated, the risk of additional landslides and flooding will remain elevated to close out the week.

A powerful tornado touched down Tuesday in the New Orleans East neighborhood, flipping cars, smashing homes and injuring several dozen people, some seriously. The severe weather spanned a wide swath of southeastern Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards said seven confirmed tornadoes were recorded in at least six different parishes. The storm system damaged dozens of homes and businesses and left thousands without power. “But the Lord has blessed us because not a single fatality has been reported or confirmed as this time,” Edwards told reporters.

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