Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In France, National Front’s Marine Le Pen takes lead in new opinion poll

January 20, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© AFP archive

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-01-20

National Front leader Marine Le Pen has edged ahead of conservative rival and former frontrunner François Fillon of Les Républicains party, a major poll released on Thursday showed.

According to French daily newspaper Le Monde, Le Pen now commands between 25 and 26 percent support among likely voters compared to 23-25 percent for Fillon, who held a three-point lead over Le Pen in December with 28 percent support.

Independent Emmanuel Macron has risen to third place with the support of 17-20 percent, depending on which other candidates choose to run.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos Sopra Steria for Sciences Po university Research Centre (Cevipof) and Le Monde.

The report did not include a prediction for who would win the second round on May 7. Most previous polls have predicted that both Fillon and Le Pen would advance to the second round but foresee an eventual victory for Fillon.

Le Pen is hoping to ride the same wave of populist sentiment and anti-immigrant anxiety that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House.

The National Front (FN) leader has said the children of illegal immigrants should not have access to French public schools and has been a sharp critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which allowed 890,000 people from mostly war-torn countries to seek refuge in Germany in 2015 alone.

Le Pen has said France was simply not capable of handling any more arrivals. “We cannot take care of hundreds of thousands of people arriving here, because our first obligation is to protect the French people,” she said in a BBC interview in November.

She also wants France to leave the euro single currency and hold a Brexit-style referendum on leaving the European Union.

‘Economic patriotism’

Le Pen said last week that she would like to see the production of French vehicles and other industrial goods return to France, just as Trump has said he hopes to do in the United States.

Trump has also threatened to slap tariffs on cars made abroad, saying the practice costs American jobs. He has praised Ford Motor Company’s decision to scrap a plan to build a plant in Mexico and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ plans to create 2,000 jobs at its US factories.

Asked whether she would like to see the same thing happen with French manufacturers, such as Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën, Le Pen said: “He (Trump) is putting in place measures I have been demanding for years.”

Speaking on France 2 Television, she described the policy as “economic patriotism [and] intelligent protectionism”.

“I don’t mind explaining to French companies that they cannot escape tax that they should be paying in France, that they cannot go offshore without suffering the consequences … A choice has to be made, a choice of patriotism.”

Le Pen told a meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association earlier this month that she supported Trump’s presidential bid because his proposals were good for France.

“He is against TAFTA, and I am delighted because it’s very bad for France,” she said, referring to faltering negotiations to establish a free-trade across Europe and North America that would be known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area.

Le Pen also said that Trump appeared to be less inclined than his predecessors to deploy troops around the world.

It is the National Front’s dealings with Russia that have raised the most concern, however. The party received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank in late 2014, sparking outrage at the European Parliament, after French banks refused to lend. The FN also broke with most of Europe in hailing Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier that year. Le Pen regularly praises Putin as a like-minded “patriot” and a bulwark against enroachments on “traditional” European values.

“Is Putin making decisions that weaken France or that go against French interests? So far, no – so why should I be against him?” she asked.

Le Pen has also accused NATO of having lost its raison d’être and denies that Moscow poses any threat to Europe.

“NATO continues to exist even though the danger for which it was created no longer exists,” Le Pen told the BBC.

“What is NATO protecting us against, exactly? Against a military attack from Russia? … In fact, NATO today has become a tool to ensure that its member countries comply with the will of the United States.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)


Turkish Army: IS Attack Kills 5 Turkish Soldiers in Syria

January 20, 2017

ISTANBUL — The Islamic State group on Friday killed five Turkish soldiers and wounded nine others in a car bomb attack in a northern Syrian town, Turkey’s military said.

A military statement said the attack occurred near Al-Bab, a town that opposition Syrian fighters with Turkish backing are trying to retake from IS militants.

The new deaths raise to 54 the total number of Turkish losses since August, when Turkey launched its offensive in northern Syria.

The military said none of the wounded soldiers was in serious condition. The statement conveyed condolences to the families of the slain soldiers and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

Earlier, Turkish armed forces said they had hit more than 200 Islamic State group positions in northern Syria and killed 23 militants in operations on Thursday and Friday.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said IS “is now fleeing completely” from Al-Bab.

Losing ground in Iraq, Islamic State holds on in Syria

January 20, 2017


Fri Jan 20, 2017 | 10:59am EST

By Tom Perry and Laila Bassam | BEIRUT

Islamic State is fighting hard to reinforce its presence in Syria as it loses ground in Iraq, deploying fighters to seize full control of a government-held city in the east while at the same time battling enemies on three other fronts.

It underlines the residual strength of Islamic State even after its loss of a cluster of cities in Iraq and half of Mosul, and points up the challenges facing U.S. President Donald Trump in the war he has vowed to wage against the group.

The jihadists have opened their most ferocious assault yet to capture the last Syrian government-controlled area in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, a pocket of Deir al-Zor city that is surrounded by Islamic State territory.

The assault has raised fears for tens of thousands of people living under government authority in the city. Their only supply route has been cut off since Islamic State severed the road to the nearby air base earlier this week.

A military commander in the alliance of forces fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad said Islamic State was seeking to turn Deir al-Zor city into a base of operations.

“They want to take it by force – and right now,” said the commander, a non-Syrian who declined to be identified because he is not an official spokesman for the alliance that includes a range of Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Russian air force.

“The situation in Deir al-Zor is very difficult.”

Islamic State appears focused on strengthening its hold over a triangle of Syrian territory connecting its main base of operations – Raqqa city – with Palmyra to the southwest and Deir al-Zor to the southeast.

The group seized Palmyra from government forces for a second time last month, a reversal for Assad just eight months after he had retaken control of the city and its world heritage site with the help of the Russian air force.

Islamic State fighters are also putting up stiff resistance against separate campaigns being waged against them in northern Syria, one by U.S.-backed militias including Kurdish groups, and another by Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups.

“They are able to fight on four fronts, if they were in a state of great weakness, they would not be able to do this,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization reporting on the war.

A senior commander in the pro-Assad alliance, also a non-Syrian, said: “The strength of Daesh is that it is a cancerous tumor, and when you remove it from one place, it goes to another.”

The commander urged the U.S.-led alliance and “every air force” to attack Islamic State to stop it moving its convoys in the Deir al-Zor area, an apparent sign of dissatisfaction with the current level of support from the Russian air force there.


Though Islamic State has faced military pressure in Deir al-Zor province, including raids by U.S special forces, the attacks against it there have been less intense than in other parts of its self-declared caliphate.

Deir al-Zor has so far been a secondary priority for the Syrian army and its allies, which are most concerned with their battle against rebel forces in western Syria.

The U.S.-backed campaign led by Syrian Kurdish groups has meanwhile focused on encircling and taking Raqqa city.

Islamic State has been asserting itself in Syria with trademark brutality, this week killing civilians execution-style in Palmyra’s Roman Theatre, the Observatory reported.

IS has also generated headlines by blowing up more of Palmyra’s ancient ruins, with satellite imagery emerging on Friday showing the destruction of one of its most famous monuments.

Russia seized on the capture of Palmyra from Islamic State last year as evidence of its efforts against the group in Syria, after critics accused it of mostly targeting moderate rebels.

As yet there has been no sign of a major effort to take back Palmyra a second time, though the Syrian army and its allies are currently battling Islamic State to the west of the city.

If Trump follows through on suggestions that he may cooperate with Russia in the fight against Islamic State, eastern Syria would be an obvious target. This would however mark a major shift in U.S. policy because it would help Assad.

U.S. policy under President Barack Obama was built on the idea that Assad had lost legitimacy. Obama rejected any cooperation with Assad in the fight against IS, describing his rule as part of the problem.

A Syrian official said the U.S.-led coalition was doing nothing to prevent Islamic State from moving its forces into Syria. “This is what’s helping Daesh,” the official said.

“After losing Mosul, Daesh will think of reinforcing its capacity in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor because at the end of the day, they don’t have any sanctuary. The final battle will certainly be there.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Giles Elgood)

Rusal’s Deripaska Skeptical of Market’s Post-Trump Optimism

January 20, 2017

Russian tycoon says U.S. foreign relations uncertain, China’s financial overhaul slow

Oleg Deripaska, billionaire and president of United Co. Rusal, says he doesn’t know how people could be so bullish following the election of Donald Trump, given uncertainties remain and the Fed will increase rates.

Oleg Deripaska, billionaire and president of United Co. Rusal, says he doesn’t know how people could be so bullish following the election of Donald Trump, given uncertainties remain and the Fed will increase rates. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

Jan. 20, 2017 9:09 a.m. ET

DAVOS, Switzerland—The mood among the world’s economic elite here is upbeat—after all, rising stock markets and the prospect of lower taxes and lighter regulation mean the rich get richer.

Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, the president of United Co. Rusal PLC, isn’t so cheery. “We have uncertainties again about the U.S. Who knows what the new administration will do?” Mr. Deripaska said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the gathering of the World Economic Forum. “I don’t know how people could be so bullish, based on this situation, that the Fed will increase rates.”

He said he has “no idea” whether the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will improve frosty World Economic Forum as Mr. Trump has made plain he would try to do.

Mr. Deripaska said Russian private businesses and the U.S. have a “very friendly” relationship, but added the U.S. State Department during the Obama administration did “a lot of things just to make Russia isolated.” Mr. Trump’s secretary of state pick, former Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson, has long business experience in Russia.

“The reality is the first thing which should be softened is the Russia-Europe relationship, and Germany must really define what they want,” Mr. Deripaska said. He said he is more concerned about the German election this year than Mr. Trump’s new administration.

Rusal, an aluminum giant, competes with low-cost producers in China, and Mr. Deripaska has long complained that his Chinese rivals enjoy state benefits and subsidies—among them lax loans from state-owned banks—that make their prices unfairly low.

He said the rest of the world is too complacent about the pace of China’s overhaul of its financial system. “There is not much progress done, but people seem relaxed,” he said.

Mr. Deripaska said he was watching Zhongwang USA LLC’s planned purchase of Cleveland-based Aleris Corp. for $1.1 billion. Zhongwang USA is an affiliate of China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd., a giant aluminum maker. The Aleris deal is its “window” into the U.S., Mr. Deripaska said. Some of China Zhongwang’s trade practices, including whether it evaded import restrictions, are being probed by U.S. officials. China Zhongwang says it has done nothing wrong.

Mr. Deripaska also doesn’t think that the deal reached by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers, including Russia, to cut crude oil output will hold. “It’s impossible,” Mr. Deripaska said of compliance. With the oil price about $50, it is too tempting and “there are so many opportunities” for producers to boost output and benefit from the higher price. “We’re not betting oil will go up. We’re not hedging at this level,” he said. “We believe it will be $40 to $50.”

Write to Charles Forelle at and Elena Cherney at


Gambia’s Jammeh offered last chance for peaceful exit before troops advance

January 20, 2017

Gambians take to the street in jubilations as Adama Barrow is sworn-in as President of Gambia in Banjul. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

By Tim Cocks | BANJUL

West African leaders on Friday extended a deadline for Gambia’s longtime leader Yahya Jammeh to leave office or face action by a regional military force to install President Adama Barrow, the winner of an election in December.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinean President Alpha Conde flew to the capital Banjul on Friday to try to persuade Jammeh to cede power peacefully.

Troops spearheaded by Senegal and Nigeria had crossed into Gambia on Thursday at the request of Barrow, who was sworn in on Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Dakar as Jammeh refused to step down. But no further military action would take place until negotiations are complete, sources in the regional organization ECOWAS said.

Jammeh wants an extension of the midday deadline until 4 p.m. (1600 GMT), according to Gambian government sources. It was not clear what he planned to do, though diplomats said his departure looked increasingly possible.

“It’s out of the question that he stays in place,” said Marcel de Souza, head of an ECOWAS commission.

Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, initially conceded defeat to Barrow following a Dec. 1 election before back-tracking, saying the vote was flawed and demanding a new ballot.

Diplomats said regional leaders had been close to a deal before but talks broke down over where Jammeh goes. While Barrow’s aides say Jammeh can remain in the country on his Kanilai estate, Senegal insists he leave Gambia, diplomats said.

His estate is heavily fortified, witnesses say, and just 1 km from Senegal’s border.

“There is a real possibility this could work. I don’t think he is going the (Saddam) Hussein route,” said a regional diplomat, referring to the Iraqi leader who was arrested in 2003 following an invasion, tried and hanged.

One of Africa’s smallest countries, Gambia is of little strategic significance. But if a peaceful transition of power fails, it would be a setback for the advance of democracy in Africa, a continent where autocrats have often held sway since the end of Western colonial rule.

Jammeh, who once vowed to rule Gambia “for a billion years”, earned a reputation for torturing and killing perceived opponents. He pulled Gambia out of the Commonwealth in 2013 and declared the country an Islamic state in 2015.


Gambia’s only land border is with Senegal and the regional coalition, which ECOWAS says involves 7,000 troops, which is backed by tanks and warplanes, entered from the southeast, southwest and north.

U.N. officials including Mohammed Ibn Chambas, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, were already in Banjul.

Streets in the capital were mostly deserted on Friday and shops, restaurants and petrol stations were shut.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said about 45,000 people, mainly children, have fled to Senegal since Jan. 1. It cited figures from the Senegalese government.

Residents near the border said army defectors were among them and one resident said he saw four Gambian military vehicles crossing into Senegal overnight.

Thousands of tourists have also left the country. Gambia, with its Atlantic beaches, is a popular holiday destination for Europeans and tourism is a mainstay of an economy otherwise reliant on peanut production and remittances from overseas.

Barrow has been recognized as Gambia’s new president by world powers and Jammeh is increasingly isolated at home as ministers abandoned his camp.

Hundreds of people celebrated Barrow’s swearing in and the ECOWAS advance into Gambia.

Jammeh on Thursday dissolved the government – half of whose members have resigned – and pledged to name a new one.

Support for him remained strong in some quarters, reflecting his years of power in the country of 1.8 million people.

“Why should the other countries interfere. Why should they force him to leave?” said Momodou Badji, 78, in Banjul’s Kanifing neighborhood.

On Thursday night, army chief General Ousman Badjie, who had stood by Jammeh, was seen smiling on the streets, wading through a mass of jubilant Banjul residents shouting and dancing.

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge and Diadie Ba in Dakar and Kissima Diagana in Nouakchott; Editing by Angus MacSwan; Writing by David Lewis and Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Editing by Angus MacSwan)


European hackles are up as Trump takes office

January 20, 2017

European Union lawmakers are calling for an official complaint over Trump’s fatalistic view of the EU. Leaders have been unnerved by some of the incoming president’s words, but are now sounding more assertive.

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Europe has spent the period between the shock election of Donald Trump and his ascension to the White House biting its nails. But the new president’s recent disparagement of the future of the European Union — basically that it may not have one at all — has leaders finally sounding less worried and more assertive.

In the European Parliament’s plenary session Wednesday, the head of the ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, raged against the remarks, demanding a formal EU response. “It’s insane!” he said. “We should be very conscious this will be a turning point on the 20th of January.”

Guy Verhofstadt ✔ @GuyVerhofstadt
The EU should give an official reaction to Trump’s provocations.Would the US fail to react if foreign leaders suggested it would fall apart?
12:00 PM – 18 Jan 2017
379 379 Retweets 633 633 likes

Verhofstadt also suggested to fellow lawmakers the “American ambassador” should be summoned to “explain Trump’s statements”.

The problem with that is that there is no “American ambassador” to the EU anymore. As of January 20, Anthony Gardner will no longer be in his office in Brussels as President Trump takes over his in Washington. Gardner, along with his counterparts at NATO and the EU, is among those the new president told in no uncertain terms to vacate their premises by inauguration.

It is likely to be many months before Trump-appointed ambassadors arrive in Brussels. One US diplomat explained that usually during presidential campaigns, there is a shadow administration — with skeleton cabinets already assembled — which can move into place the minute the keys are handed over after inauguration. The Trump campaign, this diplomat said, had no such system in place on election day.

US Ambassador’s ire precedes EP’s

Gardner, an unabashed EU admirer who spent his three-year tenure campaigning for the Transatlantic Free Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] and other forms of closer cooperation, said he’d decided he would rather go out “in a ball of flames” than be seen to acquiesce with the new administration’s views on Europe.

“It’s critically important,” Gardner said in his last roundtable with journalists, “that while being loyal to the new team — which is absolute right and appropriate in a democratic system — that people speak truth to power and don’t be shy in sometimes saying what [they] believe in.”

Gardner said he had received no communication from incoming officials asking him for guidance on EU relations — only a single phone call asking if he needed logistical help moving out by the deadline. He had, however, heard from EU contacts that the new president’s team had made some calls to EU leaders — with the priority being to inquire which country was most likely to leave the bloc, he said.

Gardner made no secret of his views. “The EU, despite all of the issues that we see everyday living and being here,” Gardner insisted, “is not about to fall apart!” But he confirmed that the prevailing view at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave from Friday forward appears to be that “2017 is the year” in which the EU disintegrates.

One NATO commander upbeat

Across town at NATO headquarters, officials are equally concerned about what’s to come, especially after the same interview that suggested multiple EU mutinies also reiterated the disparagement of NATO as “obsolete”. One NATO diplomat said he’d been asked by a European colleague whether “obsolete” could possibly have more than one meaning in American English, but that he’d had no euphemistic alternatives to offer.

Top military officials in the alliance for the most part dismiss such characterizations, as do Trump’s own cabinet nominees. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has also done his share to buff the rough edges of Trump rhetoric, saying NATO “will go on”.

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The Hill ✔ @thehill
Pence calms fears over Trump’s NATO criticism: NATO “will go forward” under Trump
5:55 PM – 18 Jan 2017
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After a meeting of alliance chiefs of defense earlier this week, Czech General Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s Military Committee, asserted the “relevance of NATO is not in question” and people are free to debate how the alliance will adapt to changing security needs. Asked whether Trump’s friendlier line with Russia might itself embolden the Kremlin to further push the limits, Pavel wouldn’t hedge any guesses, saying military planners don’t “build assessments” based on mere statements.

The one military official who didn’t seem to be put on the defensive by Trump’s comments is the French general in charge of NATO’s Transformation command, Denis Mercier. His job is to plan how NATO should evolve, so by nature he agrees that some parts of the organization can and should be updated.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, Mercier confronted one of the worst-case scenarios: if Trump were to decide US troops — currently posted in eastern allies due to the Russian threat — should not be deployed in Europe. “Speaking frankly,” Mercier said, “if the US forces would stop deploying it would be some kind of a strategic shock in Europe…really, really.”

But, brightening, Mercier said he doesn’t believe that will happen. On the contrary, he hopes the Trump team’s skepticism of NATO may simply mean it’s more open to ideas for change. “It’s a huge opportunity for my headquarters!” he said. “We have ideas…a more federated approach, with more commitment from all nations. I believe they will like that.”

Civil society pushes back

Human rights activists aren’t so enthusiastic about their prospects. A group of non-governmental organizations – Amnesty International, Avaaz, Greenpeace International, the International Trade Union Confederation, Oxfam International, and Transparency International – released a joint statement aimed at the World Economic Forum in Davos against what they called “new climate of permissiveness for hate crimes and discrimination” in all countries. However, Amnesty, for one, headlined it “As the world prepares for Trump…”

Amnesty International’s Julia Hall was in Brussels this week to present new statistics on how European governments’ heavy focus on counter-terrorism is trampling basic freedoms. Hall said she hopes Europe will “reestablish itself as a standard-bearer of human rights in the counter-terrorism context” in light of the fact that Trump has, for example, raised the possibility of reinstating waterboarding as an acceptable interrogation technique. “Of course we don’t want to go back there!” she said.

And while they didn’t have a say in him winning the office, thousands of people across Europe will march in opposition Friday as Donald Trump is sworn in. In solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, an event called “Lights for Rights” will take place in downtown Brussels with similar gatherings planned in other European cities.

Civil Society Europe @EuCivilsociety
Join “Lights for Rights” 20 January 17.00 Place de la Monnaie for women’s rights in support of Washington march:
3:59 AM – 13 Jan 2017
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Joan Card Redemer, an American who’s now also a Belgian citizen after years living in Antwerp, has taken her protest one step further and is flying back to Washington with her husband to take part in the big march there in support of the rights of women and minorities. Redemer says she’s never been “particularly politically active” but has become “angry beyond words” with the new president’s position on “nearly every single issue”. They left Brussels for Washington early Thursday morning. “Even though we don’t live in the US,” she said, “it is still our country and it deserves better.”


Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, January 22, 2017 — The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light. — The Lord is my light and my salvation.

January 20, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 67

Reading 1 IS 8:23—9:3

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali;
but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan,
the District of the Gentiles.

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 4, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Reading 2 1 COR 1:10-13, 17

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

AlleluiaMT 4:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom
and cured every disease among the people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Or MT 4:12-17

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

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Reflection from The Abbot in The Desert

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah and is the same one that is used at Midnight Mass for Christmas.  We can hear the prophecy of the Savior to come.  Great joy can be present in our world because God has sent a Savior and has freed us from all bondage and sin.

The second reading comes from the First Letter to the Corinthians and encourages us to work together.  If Christ has come to free us from all bondage and sin, then we must all belong to Christ and there should be no divisions among us.  Yet as we look about in our world today, we Christians have all kinds of divisions.  Yes, in many ways we have less divisions and hatred among us than we had perhaps a 100 years ago or even 60 years ago, but we are still terribly divided.  Saint Paul wants there to be no divisions among us, but that we be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

Part of the challenge of this Sunday is to work against divisions among us Christians, both with those who belong to other Christian denominations and with those who are alienated without our own Catholic Church.

The Gospel of Matthew today is at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Christ.  Matthew cites the portion of the Prophet Isaiah which we read as the first reading today and tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy.  Many times we Christians forget that Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole of the Old Testament, the whole of Jewish Scripture.  The more that we can understand the Old Testament, the more we can understand Jesus Himself.

Matthew tells us today of the call of Peter and Andrew and then the call of James and John.  We can only imagine the call of Jesus.  Why would these fishermen respond so readily to the call of Jesus?  Why don’t we respond as strongly to His call?  He will free us from all bondage to sin if we let Him!  He will help be united with one another and with all Christians, if we let Him.

My sisters and brothers, we are in Ordinary Time once more and we are ordinary followers of Christ.  Jesus Himself invites us to become extraordinary and to give our lives completely to Him.  This whole world can be transformed in the place of salvation if only we walk in the ways of Christ.


Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

Monastery of Christ in the Desert



Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore


A New Dawn For America — January 20, 2017

January 20, 2017

By Peter Grier
Christian Science Monitor
January 20, 2017

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Inauguration Day Morning, January 20, 2017

Buckle up and brace yourself: Here comes the Trump swerve. After eight years of President Obama there’s a new chief executive entering the Oval Office, and he’s eager to grab the reins of government and steer the United States in a sharply different direction.

The G-forces created by this coming turn might be intense. Seldom in American history have the policy disagreements between a president and his predecessor been so great. Consider that the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement, is high on President Trump’s most endangered list. Mr. Trump is pushing the GOP Congress to repeal the ACA (also known as “Obamacare”) and replace it with something else as soon as possible. And ASAP in this case may mean “days.”

Trump’s likely to sweep away a number of Obama-era business and environmental regulations before inaugural balls get going. The new president’s approach to foreign policy – from Day 1 – promises to be transactional and unilateralist, whereas Obama’s was more alliance-oriented.

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Donald Trump. Credit Carolyn Kaster, AP

The incoming and outgoing presidents seem to get along on a personal level about as well as could be expected for two people with wildly different personalities and political views. So Transition 2017 won’t be awkward on that level. That’s not always so: In 1933, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt so despised each other that neither spoke a word as they rode from the White House to the Capitol for F.D.R.’s swearing-in.

On policy substance it’s another matter. The change from Obama to Trump might not constitute the U-turn of Hoover to F.D.R., when a tight money approach to the Depression gave way to an expansionist New Deal overnight. But it may be at least as consequential as, say, the switch from Democrat Harry Truman to Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, or from Ike to Democrat John F. Kennedy eight years later. Both those transitions produced real change in how the US approached the world.

One caveat: Trump himself is a big variable. Allegations about his connections to Russia could morph into a story that consumes his time. And it remains unclear how many of his campaign promises should be taken literally. As a novice politician he has little ideological record. How will he adapt to being president, as opposed to running for office? Are his tweets real policy signals or just noise?

And Trump, like some other president-elects before him, will find it’s harder than he thinks to send the government careening off on a new tangent. The federal bureaucracy is skilled at absorbing and diffusing presidential orders. Congress and the courts have a lot to say about what happens in the District of Columbia. “Continuity” may be more Washington’s watchword than “change.”

But Republicans now control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. After eight years of Obama there’s a lot of pent-up demand on the right for GOP-led initiatives.

“I think [Trump] can be transformative not just because of himself but because the conditions are pretty good right now for an aggressive Republican administration,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

Like most modern presidents, Trump has already produced a list of things he vows to do in his first 100 days in office. That’s a benchmark that dates back to F.D.R. of course. In his first 100 days F.D.R. pushed 15 major pieces of legislation through Congress. This unprecedented burst of activity established federal insurance of bank deposits and – for the first time – regulated Wall Street. It created US agricultural supports and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It laid the foundation for today’s federal government structure.

Trump’s list is neither that sweeping nor, needless to say, that liberal. It includes potentially big changes nonetheless.

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Inauguration Day Morning, January 20, 2017

Some aren’t likely to actually take effect – for instance, Trump said in October that he’s going to propose a constitutional amendment to put term limits on Congress. The process to approve that would be lengthy and complex.

But others can be done easily. Trump has promised that he’ll immediately terminate what he terms Obama’s “illegal amnesties” for unauthorized immigrants. That would include the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as kids to stay in the country. He’s said he’ll withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Obama officials have worked on for eight years.

Presidents have lots of power to levy tariffs on imports of specific products or from particular countries, as Trump has threatened to do. They have plenty of leeway on foreign policy as well. In that regard Trump has vowed that on Day 1 he’ll go after China by labeling it a currency manipulator – a move that may have little actual effect but will annoy Beijing. And he insists that at the earliest possible moment the US will begin working on Trump’s Great Wall for the southern border (a barrier Obama has called “half-baked”).

The new president has not changed his position in regard to where the funding for this project is coming from.

“Mexico will pay for the wall,” insists Trump’s website still, highlighting the vow in red type.

In some ways obama’s legacy is uniquely vulnerable to reversal or alteration by a new chief executive. That’s because a substantial portion of it is built on a foundation of executive orders and other direct manifestations of presidential power.

Obama did not feel he had much choice. In his first two years in office he enjoyed safe congressional majorities, and he was able to get Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill through Congress. But in the 2010 midterm elections Democrats lost control of the House and barely held onto the Senate. After that the route through Capitol Hill for Obama’s legislative agenda was pretty much blocked.

So he turned to executive actions. DACA is a case in point: There was no way Obama could get a bill through Congress allowing unauthorized immigrants brought here as youngsters to stay in the US. Instead, he invoked his authority as the boss of federal law enforcement and ordered US prosecutors to use their discretion to leave such people alone. Republicans fumed (and sued) but now that’s a moot point.

“The great thing about executive power is that you can use it with efficiency and speed. The bad thing is that the next president can attack it with the same efficiency and speed,” says Mr. Zelizer.

The Iran nuclear deal is another example of this approach. It’s not a treaty approved by the Senate and enacted into US law. Instead, Obama used his presidential authority to lift Iranian sanctions, his ability to strike political international agreements, and the US vote in the United Nations Security Council to stitch together an accord aimed at curbing Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.

Trump could reverse much of that. During his campaign he vowed he would, saying that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal” and extract more concessions from Tehran. Whether he’ll fulfill this promise is an open question – at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said ripping up the agreement would create an international “crisis” and isn’t likely to happen. But Trump’s unpredictable. The power to act on this issue is in his hands.

Whoever follows Trump into the Oval Office may have the same sort of leeway on other important matters. Heavy reliance on executive actions has become a feature of the modern presidency, says former Senate historian Donald Ritchie. Given the GOP’s current hold on the House and Senate, it might be hard to foresee a day when Trump finds the legislative pathway blocked. But disputes can be intraparty as well as partisan. And the American electorate seems to have become used to punishing the party in power in midterm elections.

“If you look at the last couple of years of every president … once they lose control of Congress they have got to turn to executive orders if they want to leave a stamp on things,” Mr. Ritchie says.

For now, though, the US government is in united Republican hands. And the congressional GOP is more ideologically unified than ever. The party has moved to the right on many overarching domestic issues such as government spending and taxes. The few moderate Capitol Hill Republicans that remain could caucus in the back of a compact car.

Trump’s constructed a cabinet along similar lines. Even his picks from outside Washington are generally in concert with the congressional GOP’s thinking on domestic issues. Some nominees – such as the secretary-designate of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price – were plucked from Congress itself.

It’s almost certain that Congress will move a tax cut bill, probably shaped along lines long favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

It’s also virtually certain that lawmakers will repeal Obamacare and enact some sort of GOP health plan in its place. It’s likely that they’ll also try to substantially alter Medicaid and perhaps Medicare.

Trump continues to talk about an infrastructure bill, but that seems to be dropping on his list of priorities. Transition officials say it is no longer “core” and is likely to be addressed only after the Trump administration’s initial burst of action.

On most of these issues Democrats will be involved only on the margins. The US isn’t entering an era of bridge building. It’s continuing a period of partisan divide and rule in government.

Trump won’t transform Washington as a Republican who builds a new coalition with Democrats, says Zelizer. “He’ll transform it as a Republican who might achieve what his Republican predecessors were unable to do in terms of cutting down a lot of government and in some ways using the military more aggressively,” says the Princeton professor.

But there is a wild card here, a known unknown, an X-factor. That’s Donald Trump himself. As president, Trump is singular. Some historians compare him to Andrew Jackson, the first populist president, a man whose supporters the elite felt to be uncouth.

But Jackson had been a state governor and a general. Trump’s the only US chief executive in history who has never held political office or been a military officer. He’s the first to use social media to attack his adversaries. His blunt campaign style has been unique and refreshing to some, and horrifyingly transgressive to others.

What will he actually do? That remains an open question. Some of his recent tweets, if serious, have vast policy implications. In December he tweeted that the US “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” for instance. That implies he will propose a large new atomic weapons program, perhaps launching a new arms race. Unless the tweet was just a random musing thought, the kind all presidents probably have but haven’t previously made public.

Trump’s also tweeted that flag burners should face loss of US citizenship or some other sort of legal punishment. That would likely run afoul of First Amendment protections. Is he serious? He often complains about unfair media treatment and labels particular newspapers or TV programs “failing.” He’s talked about loosening libel laws. Will he use legal powers to go after the press?

The Trump Cabinet is conservative – predictably so, says David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University. With a few exceptions, its members are the same sort of people any of the Republican presidential candidates would have picked.

But Trump has also selected for his inner circle some “wild outsiders” who want to blow up the current political system, says Mr. Greenberg, such as former Breitbart News chair Steve Bannon. In that sense the 2017 transition might be similar to the 1969 handover of power from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon.

Nixon picked a conservative cabinet but generally ignored it and dealt mostly with a favored few aides, such as Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Nixon’s temperament wasn’t so much conservative as authoritarian, Greenberg adds. “The worry most people have about Trump is along those lines,” he says. “People worry he will govern the way he has campaigned … [that] he will show the same contempt for norms that he has throughout the campaign.”

In that sense the transition from Obama to Trump will involve more than just a change in policies, says the Rutgers historian.

It’s also possible that Trump is less a breaker of Washington’s crockery and more a rookie politician who hasn’t yet figured out how to translate his business experience into presidential leadership.

If that’s the case, the best comparison might not be Nixon, but Jimmy Carter. President Carter was an outsider who knew little about how to get things done in the nation’s capital. To some extent, he never did figure it out. Carter, a former Georgia governor, treated Congress as if it were the Georgia state legislature – something you could go around via direct appeals to voters. That just did not work on the national level after he won the presidency.

“He had huge Democratic majorities and didn’t make the most of [them],” says Ritchie, the former Senate historian.

That example would foreshadow friction between Trump and the congressional Republican majority. There have been some examples of that in the pre-inaugural period: Trump objected to the timing of the House GOP effort to downgrade the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Many Republican lawmakers have questioned Trump’s developing geopolitical “bromance” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

For now, the GOP congressional leadership appears willing to accommodate Trump’s tweets and other eccentricities to get his presidential signature on long-sought conservative legislation. But this accommodation has shallow roots. Remember that back in June Mr. Ryan called Trump’s complaints about a Hispanic judge a “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

“Who is going to check [Trump]? It might be his own party in Congress,” says former House historian Raymond Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.

Reality might checkTrump’s policy ambitions, too.

The US government isn’t actually a Ford Mustang (American made!) that a new president can whip into a tight slide and turn. It’s more like a container ship, a behemoth of the seas that has lots of inertia and takes miles to stop. Not exactly maneuverable.

All presidents come into office wanting to make an immediate impact. But that is harder than it looks.

“There is a lot more continuity than people think,” says George Edwards III, a presidential expert and distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University.

For one thing, the bureaucracy resists. This is a matter of procedure as much as obstinacy. It’s easy for a new president to sign an executive order undoing a predecessor’s executive order. But will there be a new regulation replacing an old one? Does it need to be published in the Federal Register for public comment? What’s its effect on the budget? And so forth.

For another, existing laws and/or regulations usually develop constituencies. Take Obamacare. Republicans might want to go back to the era prior to the ACA, but doing so would involve taking health insurance away from millions of Americans. It would mean insurers could again deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Whatever its faults, the Obama health effort has moved the goal posts on the issue. Trump and the GOP need to take that into account.

Congressional Republicans are struggling with that right now as they try to put together an Obamacare replacement as quickly as possible. “You might make some adjustments, but they’ll provide health care to those millions of people,” Mr. Edwards predicts.

Nor do American interests in foreign policy change just because the nation held an election. A new president, taking office, often finds that there are good reasons the US has taken the international positions it has. The Iran deal might be a good example of this. If Trump rips it up, what will he do next? Lots of other nations had a say in its creation and aren’t eager to return to what existed before. That will greatly lessen US leverage. Meanwhile, Iran will demand changes of its own.

North Korea remains one of the biggest problems facing US diplomacy. Trump has already vowed that North Korean development of an intercontinental ballistic missile “won’t happen.” But as it happens, China is a huge influence on North Korea. It’s Pyongyang’s biggest neighbor and only friend. Will plunging into a trade war with Beijing help the US control Kim Jong-un?

Finally, presidential honeymoons are short. Trump is working with congressional majorities, which is good news for him, but he is also not particularly popular with voters for an incoming president, which is bad news. That will lessen his ability to get difficult things through Capitol Hill.

“Once he does things that really irritate people and there is pushback – ‘here is the guy who wants to make the air dirty’ or ‘business leaders say this will be bad for jobs’ – he is going to be even less popular,” says Edwards.

All presidential transitions are uncertain. The new president and the new executive branch team are untested. Other countries (Russia?) may see the transition period as a time to prod and test the US. Others (Israel?) may see it as an opportunity to get on better terms with the American administration. “But this one seems more uncertain. Trump has never held public office and he doesn’t have a long history of opinions in public policies,” says David Clinton, chair of the political science department at Baylor University.

Today’s situation might be comparable when Eisenhower took over from Truman in 1953, according to Mr. Clinton. Eisenhower had vowed during the campaign to go to Korea, then the theater of a shooting war. He hinted there would be a dramatic change in US strategy. He also instituted Project Solarium, a famous discussion in which three groups argued for three different US grand strategies in the developing confrontation with the Soviet Union.

In the end, Ike made tweaks in the US approach in these areas, but they were minimal. Containment remained the White House watchword for the cold war. “As it turns out, there wasn’t as much change as people thought there might be,” says Clinton.

That’s the way it has often been with transitions, he says. New presidents discovered that the US ship of state has so much inertia, and takes so much energy to change course, that it is best to single out priorities and work hardest on those.

“They just focused on a few issues, on a few things they thought they could handle. And that’s what happens with most presidents,” Clinton says.

Contributor Gail Russell Chaddock and staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report.