The NRA, School Walkouts, Public Sector Unions and so much more! Look At News Daily  (Feb. 24-March 2/Day 36-42) Week 6

By Michael Hernandez

 

February 24 (Saturday): Day 36

Companies abandon NRA; NRA gives its response

Seven companies cut ties with the National Rifle Association, ending discounts for the NRA’s five million members: First National Bank of Omaha; Enterprise Rent-A-Car; Symantec; Metlife; Delta Airlines; United Airlines; and Best Western severed ties following the launch of a PR campaign which made the NRA its focal point following the February 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Other companies planning to end their relationship with the NRA include: Alamo Rent a Car;  Avis; Budget; Hertz; True Car; Allied Van Lines; North American Van Lines; Chubb Insurance; Paramount Rx and SimpliSafe.

The PR campaign targeted the NRA despite the NRA talking about school safety and promoting grants to economically challenged schools to be sure they get the same quality of safety that wealthier schools enjoy.

This push to drive a wedge between businesses and the NRA began with a Think Progress report suggesting there are “at least 22 corporations that the NRA says offer incentives to NRA members.” That report was followed by an Ed Krassentein tweet listing the Twitter handles of many of the companies and urging anti-Second Amendment activists to put pressure on them and “demand change.”

Following news that more than a dozen companies had severed ties with the NRA, ending discounts for the group’s over five million members, the NRA issued a statement pointing out that more companies are ready and willing to step in and partner with law-abiding gun owners.

The NRA’s response: “The more than five million law-abiding members of the National Rifle Association have enjoyed discounts and cost-saving programs from many American corporations that have partnered with the NRA to expand member benefits.

“Since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, a number of companies have decided to sever their relationship with the NRA, in an effort to punish our members who are doctors, farmers, law enforcement officers, fire fighters, nurses, shop owners and school teachers that live in every American community.  We are men and women who represent every American ethnic group, every one of the world’s religions and every form of political commitment.

“The law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement.

“Despite that, some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice. In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.

“Let it be absolutely clear. The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”

Illinois Catholic Bishop asks Senator Dick Durbin to “repent of his sin”

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, says that Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is “cooperating in evil” and persisting in “manifest grave sin” because of his abortion advocacy and must therefore “not be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of his sin.”  The bishop’s statement followed on a recent procedural vote on a bill that would have outlawed abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy, a bill that Durbin supported.

“Because his voting record in support of abortion over many years constitutes ‘obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin,’ the determination continues that Sen. Durbin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of this sin.

“Sen. Durbin was once pro-life. I sincerely pray that he will repent and return to being pro-life,” he added.  In his explanation of his decision, Bishop Paprocki, who holds doctoral degrees in both civil and canon law, cited canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Senator Durbin resides in the diocese of Springfield, which falls under the jurisdiction of Bishop Paprocki. Paprocki reportedly spoke with Durbin in 2014 and the senator told the bishop that he doesn’t go up to receive communion in Springfield because “he doesn’t want to make a scene.”

With this move, the bishop distanced himself from the position of his neighboring bishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who has said he has “no sympathy at all for the whole business of even talking about denying communion.” Cardinal Cupich apparently believes that a history of public support for abortion rights does not constitute “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” since Canon Law calls for withholding communion in such cases.

Senator Durbin has earned an impressive 100 percent rating from the abortion lobby group NARAL.  Durbin famously harassed 7th Circuit Court nominee Amy Barrett for her conservative Catholic faith during confirmation hearings last September, in what the LA Times described as a “cringeworthy interrogation.”

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki’s statement cited New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, who said it was “appalling” that the Senate had failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act in its Jan. 29 vote.

“The U.S. Senate’s failure to adopt the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, prohibiting abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization, is appalling,” Dolan said in his communique. “Abortions performed in the second half of pregnancy usually involve brutally dismembering a defenseless unborn child, while also posing serious dangers to his or her mother.”

Of the 24 U.S. senators who identify as Catholic, 14 voted against the bill, despite the fact that it directly contradicts Catholic teaching regarding the sacredness of innocent human life and the evil of abortion. Five Catholic Senators broke ranks with their parties over the bill, with Democrats Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly favoring the measure and Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voting against it.

Five Catholic Senators broke ranks with their parties over the bill, with Democrats Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly favoring the measure and Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voting against it.

The United States is currently one of only seven countries that allow abortions beyond 20 weeks. The other six are North Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Canada and the Netherlands.

House Democrats released rebuttal to GOP memo on surveillance abuses

The House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a long-awaited Democratic rebuttal to a GOP memo that outlined alleged government surveillance abuses during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The rebuttal claims that officials at the FBI and Justice Department “did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”

The Democratic memo was voted out of committee earlier this month but was ordered to be redrafted after the White House demanded that sensitive information be stripped out before the document be made public after the Justice Department and FBI claimed the initial draft would reveal information about sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and other sensitive information.

Democrats used the memo to undermine claims in the GOP memo released this month that the FBI and DOJ relied on a Democrat-funded anti-Trump dossier to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page.

That Republican memo also claimed that agencies left out the Democratic National Committee’s funding of the dossier, and the anti-Trump motivations of author Christopher Steele in its request for a warrant. Republicans have pointed to the revelations as proof that intelligence agencies had abused surveillance powers.

But the Democratic rebuttal backed the FBI and DOJ in its seeking of the FISA warrant.“In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government,” the rebuttal said, adding that the DOJ met the “rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis” needed to meet FISA’s probable cause requirement.

A Republican source dismissed the rebuttal, saying that the Democrats “want the public to look at the trees, and not the forest, the big picture that DOJ and Justice relied heavily on the dossier to surveil an American citizen, and withheld from the court that the research was funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign.”

Democrats have claimed that the Republican memo was an effort to attack FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in 2016.

Adam Schiff

Supreme Court to rule on “forced dues” to public employees unions

A landmark Supreme Court case to be heard Monday and decided by June could significantly improve the plight of public employees and the people they are tasked to serve.

The case of Mark Janus – the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME: Illinois does not have a right-to-work law, so Janus is forced to pay dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union or risk being fired from his job as a child support specialist for the state.

Janus argues that in negotiating with the government, the union directly affects public policy issues, making its collective bargaining inherently political – and the union advocates on behalf of causes he does not wish to support.

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects against compelled speech, so Janus believes he should not be forced to pay a union that he says “is not my voice.”

An essentially identical case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, ended in a 4-4 tie decision in the Supreme Court in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. With Scalia having been replaced by constitutionalist Justice Neil Gorsuch, some believe Janus will succeed. This would could extend full right-to-work protections to every public employee in America.

Right-to-work protections are already the law for federal employees and in some 28 right-to-work states. But a favorable ruling in the Janus case could free more than 5 million public employees in the remaining 22 states, including Illinois and California.

Government unions are different from private-sector unions in several ways – none more crucial than that they help elect the government officials who sit across the bargaining table. These perverse incentives are why public-sector collective bargaining was banned entirely until relatively recently and why even progressive titans Franklin Roosevelt and former AFL-CIO President George Meany raised objections to it.

Through their collective bargaining, government unions consistently advocate higher taxes and more spending, which is why states with the most powerful government unions are also largely those in the worst fiscal condition

The effects are felt throughout the education system as well. Two Cornell University academics recently released a study concluding that “teacher collective bargaining worsens the future labor market outcomes of students.”

The study states that “living in a state with duty-to-bargain laws” – which mandate that districts recognize and negotiate with unions – “for all 12 grade-school years reduces earnings by $800 (or 2 percent)” and that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by nearly $200 billion annually in the United States.

The study also found “that collective bargaining leads to sizable reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults.” 

Trump’s military parade scheduled for Veteran’s Day in D.C.

Plans for President Trump’s requested military parade in the nation’s capital are moving forward after National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster ordered the military to start planning the event for Veterans Day, a senior U.S. official confirmed Friday to Fox News.

Trump has requested that the procession run from the White House to Capitol Hill on the national holiday, which this year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The date of the planned parade: Nov. 11.

McMaster drafted a memo for the Pentagon earlier this week, reportedly telling Secretary of Defense James Mattis, per a request from Trump, to lay out “concepts of operation for this event,” Politico reported, citing a senior administration official.

Inspiration for a military parade in Washington, D.C., was reportedly first spawned after the president attended France’s Bastille Day as the guest of honor in July. Trump admired the country’s celebrations and called the parade “magnificent.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed on Feb. 6 that Trump requested that the Department of Defense “explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”  “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” she added.

New Mexico private school trains students, educators for active shooter

Vice News interviewed students and staff at a New Mexico private school who work with local law enforcement to train for an active shooter situation. New Life Baptist Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico is led by pastor and former police officer Larry Allen and his wife Lillie. The school is receiving attention following the Parkland, Florida shooting that has reignited the debate over school safety.

Every student from kindergarten through 12th grade undergoes active shooter training and select upperclassmen, called Pastor’s Warriors, go through tactical training. Also, five of the school’s twenty teachers are armed, but nobody knows who carries and who doesn’t.  Pastor Allen says, “We try to tell our kids, okay if you’re gonna die you may as well die fighting.”

February 25 (Sunday): Day 37

Radio Show host:   Conservatives need to “defend” presidency against left

Conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin told CPAC attendees Saturday morning that conservatives need to stand with President Trump and “defend” the presidency against the left.

“We are the first and last line of defense for this country. I don’t care if you agree with this president or not. It is our obligation to defend this man and defend this office,” Levin told attendees Saturday morning.

Levin said that even though President Trump is not a “philosophical conservative,” conservatives should still support him because he supports conservative policies, such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and fighting against sanctuary cities.

Levin added that as someone who writes books explaining American history, he sees that Trump is one of the few presidents since Ronald Reagan who is “serious” about shrinking the size of government. “Not since Ronald Reagan have we had a man so serious about reining in the massive administrative state. It doesn’t have to be a philosophical issue with him,” Levin said, adding that it is important that conservatives support someone who combats liberals to ensure they do not define the narrative in this country.

“We do have a President of the United States who loves his country, loves its history, and we need to stand with him because [Democrats] want to take him out over our dead bodies,” Levin said.

Conservative Commentator:  “Teens used and exploited” on gun control

Teenage students “are being used and exploited as human props” by gun control advocates, said Conservative Review’s Michelle Malkin during an interview on Friday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour. 

“They do not have wisdom,” said Malkin of children, drawing on her latest op-ed entitled, “Do Not Let the Children Lead” and reflecting on her own experience as a mother of two teenage children. “Being able to parrot anti-NRA talking points is not wisdom.”

Malkin’s comments were directed towards students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, advocating for further federal restrictions on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Elevating teenagers as thought leaders impedes the pursuit of effective preventative measures against mass shootings, said Malkin.

“We could not have this discussion of actual, practical school security plans when these children — who are being used and exploited as human props for the likes of Moms Demand Action — were screaming at the likes of Donald Trump when they should be screaming at their school administrators, the Broward County sheriff, and these school resources officers who treated their job like they were Mayberry police,” said Malkin.

Hostility from “left-wing students” should be directed towards local enforcement, said Malkin, pointing to the failures of the Broward County’s Sheriff’s Office, including the refusal of local deputies to engage Nikolas Cruz as he carried out a mass murder.

“There wasn’t a single adult that wanted to take responsibility. And I say this would a caveat because, of course, schools have been forced to turn into these all-purpose social welfare centers, and it does seem quite unfair to expect schools to do all of this. However, that’s what local communities are for.

Malkin speculated that the Baker Act — a Florida state law allowing for involuntary institutionalization and medical examination of a person — could have been used to institutionalize and examine Cruz prior to his commission of mass murder—this she said would have prevented Cruz from legally purchasing firearms. “Clearly there were all these red flags,” said Malkin. “I don’t understand why the Baker Act was not triggered. You  look at the actual criteria: a clear and present danger and imminent threat to oneself or others; and you look at the reams of laws at the local, state, and federal level.”

Henderson Behavioral Health, a mental health facility in Florida, examined Cruz in 2016 and opted against hospitalizing him. “I believe that would have counted as the kind of adjudication… that Nikolas Cruz would’ve had to report on his background check,” said Malkin. Cruz’s 17-year-old brother Zachary was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility — via the Baker Act — two days after the mass shooting last week, noted Mansour.

Malkin also suggested that racial and ethnic quotas regarding school discipline could be related to last week’s mass murder in Florida:

 

February 26 (Monday): Day 38

Ivanka Trump: Arming teachers an option that ‘needs to be discussed’

Ivanka Trump said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday that her father’s suggestion of arming teachers is an option worth discussing. The president made the proposal after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, this month.

In an interview Sunday in South Korea, where Ivanka led the U.S. presidential delegation to the closing ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games, NBC News’ Peter Alexander asked Ivanka, the mother of three young children, whether she thinks providing teachers with firearms would make students safer.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” Trump said. “Obviously, there would have to be an incredibly high standard for who would be able to bear arms in our school. But I think there is no one solution for creating safety.”

“I think that having a teacher who is armed who cares deeply about her students or his students and who is capable and qualified to bear arms is not a bad idea, but it is an idea that needs to be discussed,” Trump said.

Broward County Sheriff:  Deputy failings “not my responsibility”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told a reporter that his deputy failing to enter the school while the shooting was in progress was not his responsibility. “I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training,” Sheriff Israel told an NBC6 South Florida reporter in a video interview tweeted by Erika Glover. “If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.”

His interview with the local NBC affiliate comes after the sheriff fell under increasing scrutiny for his department’s handling of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran called on Governor Rick Scott to suspend Sheriff Israel “for incompetence,” The speaker sent a letter to the governor that 73 House members joined him in signing. The Florida Constitution provides the governor with the authority to “suspend from office any state officer not subject to impeachment, any officer of the militia not in the active service of the United States, or any county officer, for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony, and may fill the office by appointment for the period of suspension.”

Kyle Kashuv, one of the students who survived the attack, told Fox News Sunday that Sheriff Israel should resign.  “He absolutely needs to resign,” Kashuv said. “He failed to act on so many different levels. And he himself is responsible for this massive failure. This could have been stopped by the FBI, and the sheriff’s department had they acted.”

California nurses union seeks support for requiring union membership

A powerful California nurses’ union warned that a coming U.S. Supreme Court decision, which could stop unions from requiring non-union employees to pay dues, could starve unions to death.

The 86,000-member California Nurses Association (CNA) demonstrated at seven hospitals across the state on Feb. 23 to build support for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiffs in Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and preserve a current union rule that requires non-union employees in unionized organizations to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees that approximate the union’s dues.

Bay Area public radio station KQED reported that CNA spokesperson Margarita Harrington told a group at San Mateo Medical Center in the heart of Silicon Valley, “If suddenly people just stop paying dues, then how will the union be able to sustain itself?” She added, “It’s sort of like they’re gonna starve the union. And then it eventually impacts us.”

Mark Janus is a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, whose job is to fight for the rights of very young children in the government run social welfare safety net. He wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune in which he argued, “The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight.”

Janus complained the Illinois union contract forced him to fund a union that is not “working totally for the good of Illinois government.” He emphasized that Illinois’ union “supported candidates who put Illinois into its current budget and pension crisis. Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state’s fiscal situation worse.”

Janus filed a lawsuit to stop automatic paycheck deductions of about $45 per month for a union local branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSME) without his permission. The Janus v. AFSME suit soon became a class action that would affect employees in 22 other states that allow unions to take “fees,” despite individuals refusing to join a union.

The Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in 1997 that government employees, like Janus, who do not join a union could be compelled to pay “fair share” or “agency fees” to unions to negotiate collective bargaining contracts to covers all public employees. The justices reasoned that such fees would help to reduce labor strife and the prospect that non-union members benefiting as collective bargaining “free-riders.”

But the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in Janus’s challenge to the constitutionality of the fee on Feb. 26. Eight of the nine justices on the Court have heard oral argument on the issue twice. The court failed to resolve the issue in early 2016 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association. Most observers expected the plaintiffs to prevail with the 5-4 conservative majority, but then Justice Antonin Scalia died, and the Court deadlocked on a 4 to 4 tie vote.

The Court decision, which is expected around June, will be determined by the court’s newest Associate Justice, Neil Gorsuch. Confirmed to the Court less than a year ago, Gorsuch, as a federal judge never ruled on a labor case involving union dues. But he has a reputation as a proponent of conservative textualism for interpreting the U.S. Constituion.

Illegal alien arrested for threatening New York school shooting

An illegal alien shielded from deportation by the President Obama-created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was arrested after allegedly threatening a school shooting in upstate New York.

On Friday, Rochester Deputy Mayor Dr. Cedric Alexander and Deputy Chief La’Ron Singletary announced that 21-year-old DACA illegal alien Abigail Hernandez had been arrested by the Rochester Police Department after allegedly threatening East High School with a school shooting, according to 13WHAM.

The DACA illegal alien is being held at the Monroe County Jail on a $15,000 bond and has been charged with making terroristic threats. DACA gives temporary amnesty to nearly 800,000 illegal aliens who crossed into the United States as children, oftentimes with their illegal alien parents. In September 2017, President Trump announced that DACA would officially end March 5, 2018, though a court reversal of that policy change is likely to keep the program in tact for a few extra months.

Teen girl held as sex slave by illegal immigrant

A teen girl who is in the U.S. illegally and disappeared from Kentucky in December was discovered in South Carolina being held as a sex slave by another illegal immigrant, police say.

Police in Saluda County, South Carolina, discovered the girl confined in the bedroom of 24-year-old Florencio Gomez Saiche after a tipster told authorities that the 16-year-old missing teen was being held there, WIS Channel 10 reported.

California Democrat Congresswoman seeks Trump impeachment

During Saturday’s California Democratic Party’s annual convention in San Diego, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) continued her effort to have President Donald Trump impeached.

“I say it is time to get ready for impeachment,” Waters said to applause,per The Hill. “I cannot wait and I’m counting on special counsel Mueller to connect the dots.” She added, “Democrats, I don’t care what the Republicans say. I say impeach 45!”  Waters led an “Impeach 45!” chant to conclude her speech.

Georgia conservatives ready to hit Delta $40 million for dropping NRA

Georgia conservatives are attempting to derail a jet fuel tax break that the state government was set to hand out to Delta Airlines after the company cut ties with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” said Casey Cagle.

Atlanta-based Delta was set to get a $40 million per year tax break on jet fuel from the Georgia legislature, something establishment Chamber of Commerce-backed GOP Gov. Nathan Deal supports handing out. But when Delta yanked its relationship with the NRA after the Parkland shooting, conservatives in Georgia have risen up against the airline’s efforts to procure this big government handout.

“I decided to take action against Delta and the way they align with the left in going after the NRA and its members,” Debbie Dooley, an influential Atlanta-based Tea Party leader said.

“Donald Trump tweeted out something I will always remember. I think it was in 2015. He said when somebody challenges you unfairly, fight back. Be brutal. Be tough. That is what we’re going to have to be to fight for his agenda and to fight for the Second Amendment. If you’re in Georgia, I found out that Delta Airlines is asking for a $40 million per year tax break on jet fuel, and I realize the best way that we can be effective and the best way we can combat the boycotts and threats of the left is to hit them. Go after their subsidies. Go after their tax breaks that they’re receiving on the state level, and take it away from them. If we’re successful in stopping Delta’s tax subsidies, we will have cost them $200 million in five years. I think that’s something that’s important that we replicate in other states.”

Delta, this past week, tweeted that it was cutting off its relationship with the NRA:

“Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.”

In response, Dooley—a key organizer on the right with top conservatives nationally and in Georgia—sent out an email to thousands of conservatives across Georgia, imploring Republicans in the state legislature and the governor and lieutenant governor to stand up for the Second Amendment and Constitution of the United States against Delta by blocking the subsidy.

“We can have an impact imploring conservatives across Georgia and around the United States to step up and get involved. There was some Democrats in Clayton County, which is one of the poorer counties in Georgia, that would be negatively impacted if Delta did not have to pay $40 million in gasoline tax. You’re talking about the county schools in Clayton County, the County government. So you already have Democrats opposing this.

 “I just felt this is the best way to have an immediate impact, and we’re going after them. It was smooth sailing. I found out about it and sent out an email yesterday afternoon—I think it was about 2:20. And boy, all heck broke loose after I sent the email out. The email went out to 10,000 hard-core activists in Georgia, and the email went to the state legislators. It also went to the business community in Georgia.”

Dooley noted that there are consequences for Delta’s decisions to engage in extremist political actions against the NRA and the Second Amendment. Until Delta withdraws its attacks on the Constitution and reinstates its relationship with the NRA, Dooley says, it is unlikely that any Republicans in the Georgia State Senate could in good conscience give it this tax break.

Actor criticized for suggesting prayer for filmmaker

Chris Pratt took to social media Monday to urge his followers to pray for Kevin Smith after the filmmaker suffered a serious heart attack Sunday night — only to be attacked by commentators who mocked the actor and questioned whether prayer was an effective way to respond to the health scare.

The 38-year-old Guardians of the Galaxy star and openly religious Christian wrote Monday on Twitter that though he hardly knew Smith, he is a fan of his work and was praying for him to make a full recovery.

Smith tweeted early Monday morning that he had suffered a “massive” heart attack and had nearly died following a performance at a comedy show Sunday night.

“Kevin we don’t know each other too good but I have loved you since Clerks and I’m praying my ass off for you cause I believe in the healing power of prayer. Can you please pray with me people!?” Pratt wrote. In another tweet, the actor said he’d been inspired when he saw Smith’s first film, the low-budget independent breakout hit Clerks, and that he would “continue” to pray for the filmmaker.

But several of Pratt’s followers quickly blasted the star, comparing his call for prayer to politicians who have sent “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of recent school shootings.

“WTF is praying going to do?” wrote one commentator. “Wise up! He’s in hospital, science is the best place for him, diet change and exercise. Not random thoughts by you or anyone else.” “Healing power of prayer? This is a parody right?” wrote another.  The comments were among several by users who slammed Pratt for his initial tweet.

However, numerous commentators defended the star and said they would join in praying for Smith. “These comments to your prayer request are awful. Prayers are a beautiful thing,” wrote lifestyle blogger Vera Sweeney. “I don’t know how this country lost that notion. When did we lose respect for one another’s beliefs? What happened to tolerance?”

Also joining in to defend Pratt was his Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.  “But for me, personally, prayer and meditation are great boons to my life and help me navigate my way through this world, and I don’t want to dissuade others who find those things useful.”

Pratt has been open about his Christian faith and has previously shared how he became religious as a teenager while living in Hawaii, before he moved to California and became a movie star. Last year, the actor shared his favorite Bible verse in an Instagram post. The verse is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In August, the actor credited his faith for his success while accepting a Teen Choice Award for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.

 

February 27 (Tuesday): Day 39

Obama official linked to anti-Trump dossier and to Uranium One purchase

Jonathan M. Winer, the Obama State Department official who acknowledged regularly interfacing with the author of the controversial, largely discredited 35-page anti-Trump dossier, served as senior vice president of a firm that did lobbying work for Tenex, the U.S. subsidiary of Rosatom, the Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow.

In 2010, Rosatom infamously purchased a controlling stake in Uranium One, the Canadian uranium mining company with operations in the U.S. The purchase was approved by the Obama administration in a decision that is currently being probed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

APCO Worldwide, where Winer served as senior vice president from 2008 to 2013, denied that the firm’s work for Rosatom’s subsidiary Tenex was related to the purchase of Uranium One or to the acquisition of uranium in general. Instead, APCO said its work for Tenex, which took place in 2010 and 2011, focused on sales of fuel to the U.S. energy market. APCO also denied that Winer did any work related to Tenex.

After his name surfaced in news media reports related to probes by House Republicans into the dossier, Winer authored a Washington Post oped in which he conceded that while working at the State Department he exchanged documents and information with dossier author and former British spy Christopher Steele.

Winer further acknowledged that while he was working at the State Department, he shared with Steele anti-Trump material passed to him by longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, whom Winer described as an “old friend.” Winer wrote that the material from Blumenthal – which Winer in turn gave to Steele — originated with Cody Shearer, who is tied to various Clinton scandals.

While writing in the Washington Post of his concerns about Russian influence in the U.S., Winer failed to disclose that he worked for a firm that did lobby work for a nuclear company whose parent is owned by the Russian government. Steele was commissioned to produce the dossier by the Fusion GPS opposition research firm, which was in turn paid for its anti-Trump work by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The Steele dossier was utilized by the FBI as part of its probe into Trump and unsubstantiated claims of Russia collusion. According to House Intelligence Committee documents, the questionable dossier was also used by Obama-era federal agencies to obtain a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, who briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. The political origins of the dossier and issues relating to Steele’s credibility as a source were kept from the FISA court, a House Intelligence Committee memo documents.

From 2008 to 2013, Winer worked at APCO Worldwide, where he served as senior vice president. A contract previously obtained by Circa shows that from 2010 to 2011, APCO was paid roughly $3 million by Tenex, the U.S. subsidiary of Rosatom.

Circa reported that it saw the contract between Tenex and APCO, which agreed that the “total fee is comprised of the fixed quarterly fee which shall be $750,000 per each of the four three-month periods of rendering Services here under during the validity period of this contract, including the 18 percent Russian VAT payable in the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Man uses AR-15 to save neighbor attacked with a knife

A man armed with an AR-15 saved a neighbor who was being attacked with a knife Monday in Oswego Township, Illinois. WGN 9 reports that the incident unfolded at an apartment complex on Harbor Drive, “when someone with a knife attacked another person during an argument.”

Dave Thomas witnessed the attack on his neighbor, retrieved his AR-15, and ordered the attacker to stop.  Thomas said, “I poked my head out the door. There was a pool of blood, blood was everywhere in the hall. There was still a confrontation going on, there were about three or four people involved at this point. So I ran back into my house and grabbed my AR-15. I grabbed the AR-15 over my handgun — bigger gun, I think a little more of an intimidation factor. Definitely played a part in him actually stopping.”

Police arrived and arrested the suspect, while the victim was taken to the hospital in an unknown condition.

Thomas gave a statement afterward, saying, “The AR-15 is my weapon of choice for home protection. It’s light, it’s maneuverable. If you train and know how to use it properly, it’s not dangerous. And this is just a perfect example of good guy with an AR-15 stopped a bad guy with a knife. And there were no lives taken, so all in all it was a good day.”

Court decision to allow border wall to move forward

An effort by the state of California to block construction of President Trump’s proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been dismissed. A court decision on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel dismissed California officials’ and other pro-open borders groups’ claims that the Trump administration could not simply waive environmental laws in order to begin construction of the wall in California.

Department of Homeland Security Tyler Houlton praised the decision by the San Diego court, saying that border walls “have proven to be extremely effective in preventing the flow of drugs and illegal aliens across our borders. “Walls have worked in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California, where both areas have seen a 95 percent drop in attempted illegal border crossings,” Houlton said. “Simply put – walls work. The Department of Homeland Security looks forward to building the wall where our frontline operators say it is needed and in accordance with all applicable laws.”

The decision will allow the Trump administration to move forward on construction of the border wall, although the process to build the wall has been stuck in the prototype stage for nearly half a year with no clear vision of when the wall will actually be fully constructed and completed.

 

February 28 (Wednesday): Day 40

Survey shows Americans blame government not guns for shooting

The latest Rasmussen Reports survey shows that Americans blame government rather than guns for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.  According to Rasmussen, 54% of Americans believe government failure is to “blame for the mass shooting.” Only 33% of Americans blame guns. Eleven percent of Americans say they are unsure what contributed to the occurrence of the mass shooting.

When the sample group was adjusted so as to focus only on Americans “who have children of elementary or secondary school age,” the percentage of Americans who cite government failure as causal jumped to 61 and the percentage who blamed guns dropped to 23.

President says he will not build partial wall

President Donald Trump announced that he would not proceed to build the wall on the southern border without the approval of the entire project. “I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed.

“I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved. Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed. OUR COUNTRY MUST HAVE BORDER SECURITY!”

Trump faces staunch opposition in California to his project, despite Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s ruling that the administration could legally ignore environmental laws to speed up border construction.  The president is frustrated with California’s protection of illegal immigrants, even threatening to remove ICE agents entirely from the state.  “We get no help from the State of California. They are doing a lousy management job,” he said.

Democrats in Congress have blocked funding for the president’s wall, despite the construction of eight wall prototypes in San Diego.

“OUR COUNTRY MUST HAVE BORDER SECURITY!” Trump wrote.

March 1 (Thursday): Day 41

GOP Moderates to launch “New Way California” in March

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will join fired Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) to launch “New Way California,” an attempt to re-make the California Republican Party, on March 21.

Mayes was dumped as GOP leader in August after he provided the crucial Republican swing vote that renewed Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown’s cap-and-trade, which is expected to increase gas taxes by up to $.79 a gallon by 2030.

Mayes claimed he would launch a “New Way California” message to urge the California Republican Party to unite all Californians in support of “individual freedom, shared responsibility, educational excellence, environmental stewardship, efficient government and an open economy.”

Named by a newspaper in his local district as the “Benedict Arnold to many California conservatives,” Mayes has had trouble attracting support for his “New Way.” But according to Schwarzenegger spokesman Daniel Ketchell, the former governor and sitting Governor Kasich have committed to speak and lead panels at the March 21 summit in the hopes of boosting the effort at reform.

Ketchell told The Blaze, “They will be focused on reminding the Republican Party we need them to be successful, but in order to be successful, they need to choose policies and messaging that helps them grow rather than continue to shrink.”

Another obstacle is Schwarzenegger’s unpopularity with the party rank-and-file. When Schwarzenegger left office in 2011, California Republicans were thoroughly disgusted with his leadership, after he pushed through cap-and-trade and passed the first across-the-board sales and income tax increases in 17 years. He also supported illegal immigration amnesty and had a child out of wedlock with his maid. Despite championing Democrat causes, Schwarzenegger’s voter approval was just 20 percent, and his disapproval was 75 percent. L.A. Weekly suggested the last “prototypical Schwarzenegger supporter as a young, white, single guy who lives in San Francisco, has no fixed political views and dreams of someday having a lovechild of his own.”

Schwarzenegger re-entered politics by supporting Kasich’s 2016 presidential primary bid. Kasich promised he would not be “getting people riled up about how bad everything is,” but instead be a “Prince of light and hope” that would not attack other candidates. But then Kasich unsuccessfully attacked Trump and finished sixth in the Republican primary.

Kasich has recently begun moving away from traditionally core Republican values. Six days after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Kasich went on CNN to advocate for federal gun control measures. Later that day, he removed his website’s pro-Second Amendment section.

For a movement that claims it will capture political power in America’s biggest state, the New Way California website only has 732 followers and no new posts.

Sporting Goods store and Walmart announce new gun policies

Dick’s Sporting Goods made a February 28 announcement informing the public that the retail chain will end “assault-style rifles”–again.  The retail chain made a similar announcement days after a gunman carried a stolen AR-15 and handgun into a gun-free zone and killed 26 innocents.

On December 18, 2012, Breitbart News reported that DICK’S Sporting Goods was suspending sales of “modern sporting rifles,” a moniker that encompasses AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar firearms. CNN reported that DICK’S expunged “modern sporting rifles” from its website on the same day. In the wake of the February 14 Florida school shooting they are again announcing an end to “assault-style rifle” sales:  Dick’s most current plan to quit selling “assault-style rifles” comes after admitting that the Florida school gunman legally purchased a shotgun from one of the retailer’s stores. The school gunman did not use the shotgun in his attack.

Dick’s tweeted, “[The shotgun] was not the gun, nor type of gun, [the gunman] used in the shooting. But it could have been.”

Also, on Wednesday, Walmart announced that it would no longer sell guns to persons under 21 and would not carry Airsoft rifles that look like AR-15s. Walmart released a statement on its policy shift. USA Today published an excerpt from it, which said, “In light of recent events, we’ve taken an opportunity to review our policy on firearm sales. Going forward, we are raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age.”  The store also announced  that it would rid shelves of toy rifles that resemble AR-15s or AK-47s.

PAC to take on Google and Facebook

In a statement, News Media Alliance President David Chavern declared, “We [have] gotten to the point where we feel we need a political voice to create change for the industry.”  Google and Facebook control the online ad market — Google by itself generates more advertising dollars than the entire global print market. Google and Facebook together control 85 percent of online advertising growth according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. The CEO of WPP, the largest advertising firm in the world, has labeled Google and Facebook a “duopoly.” Just as important as controlling online advertising, the two Silicon Valley titans are responsible for a majority of the traffic referrals to news websites. All of these factors make the two companies a critical component of the future of the news industry.

On its website, the News Media Alliance boasts that it represents outlets “from the largest news groups and international outlets to hyperlocal news sources, from digital-only and digital-first to print news.” “Our work focuses on the key challenges and opportunities of today’s news environment: Freedom of the press, public policy and legal matters, advertising growth, new revenue streams and audience development across all platforms,” the Alliance claims. “The News Media Alliance is dedicated to working with our members, as well as other partner organizations, to advance the industry through advocacy, critical research and resources and events that connect and inspire.”

President Trump:  “Respect 2nd Amendment”

President Donald Trump commented on the dramatic gun control meeting with members of Congress on Thursday, urging them to “respect” the Second Amendment.  Despite tacit endorsement of many of the gun control proposals from Democrats in the meeting, Trump noted on Twitter that some of them were good and “some not so good” on Thursday morning.

The NRA reacted to the meeting by calling it “great TV” but “bad policy.  Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.

On Twitter, Trump only endorsed the idea of background checks for purchasing firearms.  “Gun free zones are proven targets of killers,” Trump wrote. “After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!”

Billy Graham lays in honor in Rotunda of U.S. Capitol

President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell gathered in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday where Rev. Billy Graham lay in honor, one of only four private citizens in American history ever to receive such a tribute. Congress extended this extraordinary honor in tribute to America’s Pastor, who preached the gospel for more than 70 years to millions of people around the world.

 President Trump offered remarks as the head of state, beginning in 1934 when Graham was 15. Graham’s father allowed a group of men from the city to gather on his farm for prayer, where the men prayed that from their area “the Lord would raise up someone to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

“We are here today, more than 80 years later, because that prayer was truly answered,” the President continued. “Just a few months later, [Graham] accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.”

President Trump said that Graham’s coming to Christ “changed our country, and … the world.”  The President recounted some of Graham’s most famous evangelistic meetings and crusades, including “more than two million people at Madison Square Garden, over 16 weeks in 1957.”

“I remember that, because my father said to me, ‘Come on, son,’” the president continued, saying that his father added, “‘Let’s go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium.  Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher,” the President continued.

“We can only imagine the number of lives touched by the preaching and the prayers of Billy Graham,” President Trump told the audience. “Today, we give thanks for this extraordinary life.  Here in this room, we are reminded that America is a nation sustained by prayer,” the President continued. “The painting to my left is of the Pilgrims as they embarked for America, holding fast to the Bible and bowing their heads in prayer.  And today, in the center of this great chamber is the legendary Billy Graham,” President Trump declared, “an ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God’s grace.”

An honor guard of Capitol Police flanked the casket, with formal periodic changing-of-the-guard ceremonies throughout the day. Members of the Graham family took turns at the head of a receiving line, earnestly thanking each of their fellow Americans for taking time to pay their respects to their father or grandfather. Three wreathes were hung around the casket. Both legislative chambers housed in the Capitol – the House and the Senate – each offered one, and the executive branch offered a third.

Only 33 Americans have ever been privileged to lie in honor in the Capitol, 11 of whom were U.S. presidents. Of the three private citizens to lie in honor before Graham, two where policemen who sacrificed their lives protecting innocent people inside the Capitol, and the third was civil-rights hero Rosa Parks.

Billy Graham will be buried in North Carolina on Friday. The President has ordered flags in America flown at half-staff in honor of America’s Pastor.

 

March 2 (Friday): Day 42

L.A. Times questions mayor about homeless issue

The Los Angeles Times has posed a question that may haunt Mayor Eric Garcetti’s presidential ambitions: “How can a city with 58,000 homeless people continue to function?”  That question, presented in an editorial on Thursday that is part of a series on homelessness, presents uncomfortable facts about the city’s failure to stop a problem that Garcetti once called “our top priority.”

The editorial reads, in part:  “Homelessness affects the lives of all Angelenos, not just those forced to live on the streets. And it does so almost daily, in ways large and small.

“As homelessness spreads across Los Angeles County — the official tally shows a 46% increase from 2013 to 2017 — it is drawing two conflicting responses, at times from the same people. There’s sympathy and a desire to help, but there’s also a sense of being invaded and perhaps even endangered — in terms of both physical safety and public health (see, for example, the state of emergency California declared last year over a hepatitis A outbreak that spread among the homeless, or the Skirball blaze that was sparked by a cooking fire in a homeless encampment). There’s an unavoidable, often unspoken, fear that the city around us may be in a state of irreversible decline, and a suspicion on the part of some that the rights of homeless people have trumped the rights of everyone else.

“The increasing visibility of homelessness and destitution contributes to the uneasy feeling that the problem is closing in on everyone. It’s also a daily reminder that the values and systems to which we cling — liberty, democracy, free enterprise, the social contract that’s supposed to hold a community together, the safety net that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable — haven’t steered us out of this mess. Nor have our leaders.”

(Editor’s Note:  Read the full editorial here.)

California PTA organizing March 14 student walkouts

The California State Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is working with public schools across the state to organize student walkouts on March 14 in support of gun control legislation.

The protests are being billed as part of an effort to advance “gun safety” in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month. But parents are not being told that the protest has explicitly political, and radical, connections.

The “#Enough” protests will be part of the nationwide “National School Walkout,” which is being organized by the Women’s March, an explicitly anti-Trump group. One of the its leaders is Linda Sarsour, a rabid anti-Israel activist who has called for “jihad” against President Donald Trump. Another is Tamika D. Mallory, who recently attended an antisemitic speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan specifically praised her from the stage.

The date of the protest, March 14, coincides with the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, and with the PTA’s national legislative conference in Washington, DC. But it also coincides with the 50th anniversary of mass walkouts from Los Angeles classrooms by Mexican-American students in 1968. The event helped fuel the growing Chicano movement, elements of which remain active today and are among the most radical in California politics.

Many school districts are organizing activities to coincide with the March 14 anti-gun protest, even if some of them are also urging students to stay in their classrooms and on school campuses. There appears to be no consideration for students who might support the Second Amendment, nor any effort to represent the alternative point of view, expressed by President Trump and others, that stresses better school security as the primary response to Parkland.

Inspector General accuses FBI Deputy Director with improper leaking

Department of Justice Inspector General (DOJ-IG) Michael Horowitz’s long-awaited report will accuse outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe of improper leaking to the press and deliberately misleading DOJ-IG investigators, according to Thursday reporting in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The New York Times broke McCabe’s alleged leaking to the media first. According to their “four people familiar with the inquiry,” Horowitz’s report will accuse McCabe of authorizing the leaks that led to an October 2016 piece in the Wall Street Journal that revealed on ongoing dispute about how to handle the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails that had just been reopened by the discoveries on disgraced Congressman Anthony Wiener’s laptop. Among other things, the WSJ article reveals that senior Obama Justice Department officials were pressuring McCabe to discontinue their investigation.

“The inspector general has concluded that Mr. McCabe authorized F.B.I. officials to provide information for that article,” the Times sources claim. The Times characterizes McCabe’s leak, which apparently took the form of authorizing a phone call to the press in violation of DOJ policy, as one harmful to Clinton rather than Donald Trump. However, as the Times notes, the WSJ piece also reported that some FBI agents in the field wanted to pursue a “more aggressive approach” than McCabe was willing to allow.

“Such calls are common practice across the federal government when officials believe that journalists have only part of the story. Rather than let incomplete or inaccurate coverage circulate, officials often try to fill out the picture or provide a defense,” the Times writes, but no indication is made which information leaked from McCabe’s alleged improper authorization.

This was followed late Thursday night by a potentially more momentous Washington Post report claiming McCabe would also face accusations he tried to throw off Horowitz’s investigators and may have conducted his leak through Lisa Page, the FBI lawyer as an “insurance policy” against Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.  The Post states that The Journal’s story was written by Devlin Barrett, now a reporter at The Washington Post. Spokesmen for the Journal did not return an email message. Recently released text messages from an FBI agent and FBI lawyer involved in the Clinton email case show that two days before the story was published, the lawyer, Lisa Page, and the FBI’s top spokesman, Michael Kortan, were on the phone with Barrett for an extended conversation.

McCabe refused to recuse himself from the Hillary Clinton email investigation despite extensive links to the Clintons through his wife and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, only to do so one week before the 2016 presidential election. This recusal would have come just as he authorized the leak to the Wall Street Journal about the dispute over the Clinton investigation.

Athlete suing U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics

Aly Raisman spent months urging the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics to get serious about taking a long hard look into how Larry Nassar’s abusive conduct was allowed to run unchecked for so long. Frustrated by what she considers a lack of progress, the six-time Olympic medalist is hoping she can get some answers in court.

Raisman has filed a lawsuit against both organizations, claiming they “knew or should have known” about abusive patterns Nassar, a disgraced former national team doctor now in prison for sexually abusing young athletes. Raisman filed the lawsuit in California on Wednesday. The filing alleges negligence by the USOC and USA Gymnastics for failing to make sure appropriate protocols were followed in regards to monitoring Larry Nassar.

Nassar, who is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, is serving decades in prison for molesting some of the sport’s top athletes and others as well as child pornography crimes. The 23-year-old Raisman, captain for both the gold-medal winning 2012 and 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics teams, says she was abused by Nassar in multiple locations beginning in 2010, including at the U.S. national team training facility at the Karolyi Ranch training center in Texas and the 2012 Games in London.  Nassar spent nearly three decades at USA Gymnastics before being fired in 2015 after complaints about his behavior. He continued to work at Michigan State University through the fall of 2016 before being hit with federal charges.

Raisman said she initially felt she was receiving medically necessary treatment by Nassar before realizing it was abuse. She battled shame, guilt and depression in the aftermath, Raisman said. Raisman said the USOC and USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to continue abusing athletes by not telling the university about the conduct that led them to fire him.  Raisman said USA Gymnastics and the USOC broke their stated mandates to protect children in their programs by not revealing Nassar’s past misconduct to athletes and their parents or guardians, the lawsuit said.

Raisman joins a list of more than 100 civil actions filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics. McKayla Maroney, an Olympic teammate of Raisman’s in 2012, named the USOC as a co-defendant in a lawsuit she filed last December.

USA Gymnastics and the USOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Raisman, who has become a vocal critic of both organizations after initially revealing the abuse in her autobiography released last fall, did not plan to go to court but says she felt compelled to press forward because she believes USA Gymnastics and the USOC are not making a sincere effort to “properly address the problem. I refuse to wait any longer for these organizations to do the right thing,” Raisman said in a statement. “It is my hope that the legal process will hold them accountable and enable the change that is so desperately needed.”

The USOC is conducting an independent review of when former CEO Scott Blackmun and others learned the details about abuse cases at USA Gymnastics and whether they responded appropriately. Blackmun stepped down earlier this week to deal with prostate cancer, though Raisman, several high-profile gymnasts and two U.S. Senators had been calling for his ouster for weeks.

USA Gymnastics has undergone a massive overhaul in the last year. Former president Steve Penny, named as a co-defendant in Raisman’s lawsuit, resigned last March. Longtime chairman of the board Paul Parilla, another co-defendant in the suit, and the rest of the board stepped down in January under heavy pressure from the USOC. USA Gymnastics also ended its relationship with the Karolyi Ranch in January and is currently searching for a new training center.

Raisman doesn’t believe either organization is going far enough fast enough for future generations of athletes. “It has become painfully clear that these organizations have no intention of properly addressing this problem,” Raisman said. “After all this time, they remain unwilling to conduct a full investigation, and without a solid understanding of how this happened, it is delusional to think sufficient changes can be implemented.”

Raisman’s lawsuit claims both organizations focused on medals instead of the well-being of the athletes, a model that allowed Nassar’s behavior to go unchecked for years. The lawsuit says the USOC “had a culture and atmosphere that conceals known and suspected sexual abusers, which transcends all policies and procedures that are set-in place.”  Raisman believes the USOC ignored its own mandates “to protect its reputation and blind itself to known abusers within the ranks of the NGBs (National Governing Bodies) for which it is responsible.”

Russian President speaks of new nuclear weapons

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that NATO cannot intercept a new range of Russian nuclear weapons in a speech Thursday, displaying computer-generated images of the weapons.

In a state of the nation address on Thursday, the Russian strongman boasted of a new array of weapons including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone, and a new hypersonic missile that he claims are unparalleled in strength and would render any NATO missile defense system “useless. I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: all that you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,” Putin declared. “You have failed to contain Russia.”

Putin’s speech was accompanied by a series of computer-generated images showing the strength of his underwater drone, which he says operates at a speed ten times faster than a typical vessel, making it near impossible to intercept. “No one in the world has anything like that,” he said. “It may appear someday, but by that time we will develop something new.”

Such developments are seen largely as a response to President Donald Trump’s substantial increase of the U.S. military budget. “No one has listened to us,” he continued. “You listen to us now.”

Putin insisted that such military developments are purely for defensive purposes and will eventually “guarantee global peace. We will interpret any use of nuclear weapons against Russia and its allies no matter how powerful they are, of low, medium or any other yield, as a nuclear attack,” he said. “It will trigger an immediate answer with all the consequences stemming from it. No one should have any doubts about it.”

“We aren’t threatening anyone, we aren’t going to attack anyone, we aren’t going to take anything from anyone,” he added. “The growing Russian military power will guarantee global peace.”

Putin’s speech comes weeks before Russia’s presidential election, which he is widely expected to win amid concerns over its democratic legitimacy. There are currently seven opposition candidates running against Putin, although many have faced claims that they are in fact part of a ‘controlled opposition’ designed to guarantee Putin’s return to the presidency for another six years.

The most popular opposition candidate, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, is barred from running and has called for a boycott of the election which he argues will be rigged in Putin’s favor. The first round of voting will be held on Sunday, March 18.

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service, founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor.  He has worked 23 years as a middle school teacher.   Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email:  [email protected].

Mr. Hernandez is dedicated himself to advance the 13 spheres—as a “City Upon A Hill”; developing an interactive California citizens news platform as an alternative to mainstream media; while building local school-community partnerships and supporting constitutional awareness and active citizenship.


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