Current Events

We begin with the escalating situation in Europe and the USA regarding migrants, refugees and illegal immigrants; showing the disconcerting reactions and the lack of satisfactory solutions for this growing and highly contentious problem. We continue with perceived or real threats and attacks against the freedom of the press in the USA and Germany.

We speak on the disagreements within the GOP as to how to deal with Obamacare; report on an announced “historic increase” in US defense spending; publish reports on President Trump’s first speech to Congress; report on a new scandal involving the Attorney General; and we point out the ongoing attempts of creating a two-speed Europe, more independence from the USA under President Trump, and the creation of an European army; as well as the growing animosity between the EU and Russia.

We report on upcoming elections in Germany and France; and we conclude with articles reporting on “Christianity” and Carnival in Brazil, as well as in Germany; a grim picture about German tourists wanting to spend their vacation in the USA and US citizens wanting to travel to the EU; and the “fuzz” about the discovery of seven allegedly “earth-like” planets in “a galaxy far far away”…

What’s Next in Prophecy?; Wrestling Sin

On March 4, 2017, Norbert Link will present the sermonette, titled, “What’s Next in Prophecy?,” and Michael Link will present the sermon, titled, “Wrestling Sin.”

The live services are available, over video and audio, at (12:30 pm Pacific Time; 1:30 pm Mountain Time; 2:30 pm Central Time; 3:30 pm Eastern Time; 8:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time; 9:30 pm Central European Time). Just click on Connect to Live Stream.

Preaching the Gospel and Feeding the Flock

Below are some recent comments and requests received from our American viewers and subscribers:

“I am a regular recipient of your weekly updates and I really am encouraged by your insights into the future events as prophesied. These updates reinforce what we heard from HWA years ago. I would appreciate if you can send me a hard copy of the following booklets…”

“Hi, I just listened to the latest “Standing Watch” program and would like to request the booklet “The Fall and Raise of the Jewish People”…

“It was a very powerful sermon. In my opinion it was one of the best I have heard in a long time. I say this because I was in the church and baptized back when both Armstrong’s were still living…”

“I am studying the creation of the universe and found your site through It seems to have the same view that I do. I don’t have any way to print out your booklets from the website and would truly appreciate it if you would please send me the following booklets…”

“Lost Innocence,” the sermonette present last Sabbath by Kalon Mitchell, is now posted. Here is a summary:

We live in a world filled with sin.  There is no way to avoid it.  Have we lost our innocence in regards to sin?  Are we warped by it?  Have we come to just “accept”  sin as a normality?  What about our children?  Do we do everything we can to guard their precious innocence?

“Coming and Going,” the sermon present last Sabbath by Norbert Link, is now posted. Here is a summary:

When Gods asks us to come to Him, what does He expect of us? Not everyone who wants to come is truly called by Him. Others don’t come, even though they could have come;  and then there are those who go or depart, even though they did not have to fall away. Why do they forsake God, and what will happen to them, if they do not come back?

“Ist heute der Tag des Heils?” is the title of this Sabbath’s German sermon. Title in English: “Is Now the Day of Salvation?”

The Church Conference for 2017 will be conducted in Escondido, California, with arrivals on March 23 and ending on March 28.

Who was the Angel Mentioned in Exodus 23:20-23?

In Exodus 23:20-23, we read about “an Angel” who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and who would keep them safe throughout their travels. Can we identify this Angel?

Before we answer this question, we will briefly look at other passages in the Bible where angels are mentioned.

In our free booklet, Angels, Demons and the Spirit World, we state the following on pages 5-6:

“We read in Hosea 12:3–4 that Jacob ‘…struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed.’ We also read in Genesis 32:28, 30 that Jacob ‘…struggled with God,’ and that he had seen ‘…God face to face.’

“In addition, we are told in Exodus 3:2 that ‘…the Angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire.’ In verse 4, we are told that Moses was called by God from the midst of the bush. However, in Acts 7:35, Stephen said that ‘…the Angel… appeared to him in the bush.’

“As a third example, Exodus 19:18–21 tells us that ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ spoke to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai. Stephen said in Acts 7:38 that ‘the Angel… spoke to him on Mount Sinai.’

“How do we explain these apparent contradictions?

“In Hebrew, the word for ‘angel’ is ‘malak’ or ‘malech,’ which is derived from the Hebrew, ‘l’k,’ meaning, ‘to deliver a message,’ or ‘to carry out an assignment.’ The word ‘malak’ can be translated as ‘angel’ or as ‘messenger.’ The Greek word for ‘angel’ is ‘angelos,’ which also means ‘messenger.’ The Latin word ‘angelus’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘angelos,’ and means, ‘angel.’ Therefore, the words ‘malak’ and ‘angelos’ can refer to a created angelic being, and they can refer to human messengers. (Compare Genesis 32:3; Haggai 1:13; Matthew 11:10; and James 2:25. In these passages, the words ‘malak’ and ‘angelos,’ referring to human beings, are translated as ‘messenger.’) These words can also refer to Jesus Christ, the ‘Messenger’ of God the Father, as is the case in Malachi 3:1.

“The ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’ who appeared to Moses and Jacob was Jesus Christ. It was Christ who dealt directly with ancient Israel and Judah. (For Biblical proof, please read our free booklet, God is a Family.) Therefore, the above-quoted passages in the books of Hosea, Genesis and Exodus identify the Person within the God Family who struggled with Jacob and who spoke with Moses—Jesus Christ, the ‘messenger’ of the Father. In other passages… the Bible may say that God did certain things, but the context reveals that He did it through His angels.”

We see that we always have to view the context to determine who is meant with a particular “angel.” In Genesis 16:7-13 we find the story of Hagar who has an encounter with “the Angel of the LORD.” The reference to the Angel of the LORD shows that God had a plan for Hagar’s son and that he would become a nation alongside Abraham’s other son.

Reading the account in Genesis 22:10-18, when Abraham was about to kill his son Isaac, we notice that “the Angel of the LORD” is referenced twice. Only God and Christ have the power to make the type of promises to Abraham that are being made here. As nobody has ever heard the voice of the Father or seen His form (John 5:37), the Angel of the LORD could not refer to the Father—but could refer to Christ, the Messenger of the LORD–God the Father; or it could be that the angel was a messenger of the LORD–Jesus Christ. (For proof that the word “LORD” can refer to the Father and the Son, please read our free booklet, God Is a Family, page 21.)

As mentioned above, Genesis 32:24–30 describes how Jacob wrestled with a Man, who is identified in verse 30 as “God” and in the book of Hosea 12:3-4 with God and with the Angel. In this case, the “Angel” was clearly Jesus Christ. This incident had a profound effect on Jacob’s life. It signified his repentance. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, and he came to realize that he needed to obey God in his life from that point on. He had had a rough life and was at a place where he really needed God and His blessings.

Continuing on in Exodus 3:2, we find, as mentioned above, that “the Angel of the LORD” appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and that “the LORD” saw him and that “God” talked to him (verse 4). The personage told Moses to remove his shoes because he was in a holy place. Joshua had a similar experience in Joshua 5:13-15. When created angels have come and talked to people in the Bible, removing one’s shoes was never required. Also, we note that when God sent an angel to John and he fell down to worship the angel, the angel quickly told him not to do such things (Revelation 22:8-9). From this it follows that Moses and Joshua were in fact communicating with Jesus Christ, “the ‘Angel’ of the LORD”—God the Father.

Another passage where “the Angel of the LORD” is identified with God—Jesus Christ—can be found in Judges 13:21-22.

Let us now go back to Exodus 23:20-23, where we read the LORD’s words: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.”

Note the capitalization of the word Angel here in the New King James Bible, whereas in other places in the Bible, we read about angels in the lower case. However, this is just a matter of interpretation of the translator.

We state in our free booklet, Angels, Demons and the Spirit World, on pages 25-26:

“God promised Moses that He would send an angel to go with Israel, to protect them and to bring them to the Promised Land… It is possible that this angel, sent by God, was the archangel, Michael. We read about this powerful angel in Daniel 12:1. Daniel is told in this Scripture that Michael ‘stands watch over the sons of your people.’ We also find another reference to this particular angel, used by God to protect Israel, in Exodus 19:4: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.’ Compare this with Isaiah 63:9: ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old’ (Authorized Version).

“… when Israel left Egypt, God used His angel to save them from harm: ‘And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night’ (Exodus 14:19–20, Authorized Version).”

There is also another possibility as to the identity of this particular Angel. We read that the LORD said in Exodus 23:21: “For My name is in Him.” In Psalm 78:14 we read about the “LORD” (compare verse 4): “Then He led them with the cloud by day and all the night with a light of fire.” This correlates with Exodus 23:20: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.”

As it was Christ—the second Member of the God Family—who led Israel out of Egypt, could it be that He is the one who is referred to as “an Angel” or “My Angel” in Exodus 23:20-23?

But how can this be? How could Christ speak about Himself as “My Angel”?

There are other places in the Bible where something similar is described. In Revelation 2:28 we read that Christ will give us the Morning Star. In Revelation 22:16 we read that Christ is the Morning Star. In other words, Christ will give Himself to us, so that the Morning Star may rise in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

However, a more compelling answer would be that Christ communicated the words of the Father. Christ is the “Logos,” the “Word of God” or the Spokesman, and He passes on what He hears from the Father (compare John 12:49; Revelation 1:1). Something similar occurred when a voice was heard from heaven at the time of Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:17) and on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). In both incidents, the voice from heaven said: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 2 Peter 1:17 even reports that Christ “received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory.” As no one has ever heard the voice of the Father, the words which were heard were communicated, in this case, by an angel, but the angel conveyed the words of the Father.

In the same manner, Exodus 23:20-23 could refer to Christ communicating the words of the Father to Moses. This would mean that it was the Father addressing Christ as “My Angel” or “My Messenger,” and that the “Angel” referred to in Exodus 23:20-23 was in fact Jesus Christ who would not forgive the people if they sinned and refused to repent.

This conclusion could be confirmed by the fact that the LORD told Moses that “My Presence” will go before the people, and Moses answered: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:14-15), continuing that he wanted to see the LORD’s glory. God answered that he could not see His glorified face, but that He would allow Moses to see His glorified back (verse 18-23). In the Hebrew, the words for “presence” and “face” are the same, i.e., “panim.” We read in Isaiah 63:9 that “the Angel of His Presence” saved the people. Again, the Hebrew word for presence is “panim.” Young’s Analytical Concordance defines “panim” as “face” or “countenance.”

All of this could imply that it was indeed Jesus Christ who is being identified in these passages as the “Angel” of the LORD, or the Angel of God the Father’s Presence, because Christ said later that those who have seen Him, have seen the Father (John 14:8-9). When the LORD said that “My Presence” would go with the people, this could imply that it was Jesus Christ’s “Presence” leading the people. Isaiah’s reference to the “Presence of the Angel” saving the people would then apply to the “Presence” of God the Father, who would have been present through His “Messenger,” Jesus Christ.

Lead Writers: Kalon Mitchell and Norbert Link

This Week in the News

“Migrants Face Deportations and Walls in Europe, Too”

The New York Times wrote on February 23:

“Just hours after the German cabinet approved tapping cellphones and attaching electronic bracelets to illegal migrants who might be deemed a threat, a group of Afghan men were put on a plane at a Munich airport Wednesday night and deported. The deportation was only the third such mass expulsion to Afghanistan since last fall, and in combination with new antiterrorism measures, it was a clear sign of the stiffening political headwinds that have made Europe, like America, a less welcoming place for migrants…

“Many governments are restricting their welcome to strangers. Sweden tightened immigration rules last year. Britain is leaving the European Union in large part to stem the flow of foreigners. Italy has embarked on a plan to train Libyans to scoop up migrant boats off their shore. Hungary sees the shift against migration as affirming the ‘correctness’ of its decision to build its own wall to seal its border.

“Then there are some states, like Germany, that are taking more assertive steps to ensure that those who have been denied asylum actually leave, like the 18 Afghans deported Wednesday… The deportation debate has flared in Germany since December when Anis Amri, a young Tunisian asylum seeker, drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 50. He had been expelled from Italy, had registered under at least 14 aliases for welfare and other benefits, and had been listed as a terrorist threat who should be deported. Yet he could not be deported because his native Tunisia failed to provide identity papers. After his attack, he fled first to western Germany, then to the Netherlands and finally to Italy before being killed in a shootout with the police. Ms. Merkel, under pressure from both the right and the left as she seeks a fourth term in September elections, cited Mr. Amri’s attack as she pressed Germany’s 16 states — which are responsible for deportation — to stop ‘this considerable danger to life and limb.’…

“In Central and Eastern Europe, European Union countries have fiercely resisted taking in migrants, particularly Muslims, arguing that they are ill equipped culturally and economically to shelter many strangers. In 2015, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, was the first European Union leader to resist mass migration. He built a fence along his country’s borders with Serbia and Croatia to block refugees fleeing the war-afflicted Middle East via a Balkan route; that route largely shut down last spring after the union persuaded Turkey to stanch the flow, and governments along the way shut their borders for the most part… New measures likely to be passed by Hungary next month foresee the closing of camps where migrants who have been rejected for asylum have effectively waited while planning new attempts to cross into Austria and beyond. Migrants would instead be held in much more restricted conditions…”

Deportations of EU Citizens from Britain?

The Telegraph wrote on February 27:

“EU citizens living in the UK have expressed panic and confusion after it was alleged that Government regulations will allow the Home Office to remove some of them from the country if they do not have a comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI)… A briefing published by a barrister specialising in immigration law claims that the Home Office acquired controversial new enforcement powers against EU citizens from 1 February. It warns those EU citizens who are not considered to have a ‘right of residence’, including some students and spouses of UK citizens, and who do not have CSI, could be deported or refused entry back into the UK if they leave. The majority of EU nationals living in the UK…do not have the insurance.

“The Home Office has said this interpretation of their guidance is incorrect, and that the regulations are not new, nor will the Government remove EU citizens from the country if they do not have CSI. A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: ‘It is completely wrong to say that we have new powers to deport EU citizens without comprehensive sickness insurance. EU citizens will not be removed from the UK or refused entry solely because they do not have this insurance. Their right to remain will remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union and they do not need any additional documents to prove their status.’

“But the briefing… nonetheless provoked a wave of panic from European nationals residing in the UK… The barrister who wrote the briefing, Colin Yeo of Garden Court Chambers in London, said he believed the changes would not have as serious an impact as feared, but that the Home Office was being ‘careless’ and was causing ‘unnecessary panic’ to EU citizens.

“He told The Independent: ‘According to the regulations, if you are perfectly self-sufficient in the UK and you’re not claiming benefits or anything like that, but you don’t have comprehensive sickness insurance, you don’t have a right of residence and therefore you could be removed. I don’t actually think the Home Office is going to enforce this against say, the French wife of a British citizen. I think they’re using it against people they don’t like, like Polish rough sleepers. The position of a Polish homeless person who hasn’t committed any criminal offences or claimed public funds is exactly the same as the wife of a British banker but doesn’t have CSI, according to the regulations. They’re both equally removable as far as the Home Office is concerned. ‘I think they’ve drawn it up without really realising the power they’ve granted themselves and the way that it’s going to make people feel, because this is going to make people feel very insecure.’…

“When contacted by The Independent, the Home Office said it would be ‘securing the status’ of EU nationals in the UK ‘as a priority… as soon as we trigger Article 50 and the negotiations begin’…  It comes amid reports that Ms May is to end rights given to EU nationals under freedom of movement rules when she triggers Article 50 next month, which would establish a ‘cut-off date’ of around 15 March after which EU citizens would not be entitled to live in the UK permanently. It is unclear if the Government’s plan would be a breach of the EU treaties that guarantee freedom of movement. Under the plan, the 3.6 million EU citizens who are already in Britain and others who come before that date would have their rights protected – providing the EU agreed to the same status for UK citizens living in the EU.”

Will EU Nationals Have the Right to Stay in the UK after Brexit?

BBC wrote on March 1:

“The government has been defeated after the House of Lords said ministers should guarantee EU nationals’ right to stay in the UK after Brexit… The amendment backed by the Lords requires the government to introduce proposals within three months of Article 50 to ensure EU citizens in the UK have the same residence rights after Brexit. But it could be overturned when MPs, who have already backed the Brexit bill without amendments, vote on it again. The government is expected to attempt to overturn the defeat when the legislation returns to the Commons…

“[In] Theresa May’s… view, it would be unwise to guarantee the rights of the three million or so EU citizens in this country, before other EU countries are ready to do the same for British citizens abroad.”

Violent Attacks Against Migrants in Germany

AFP wrote on February 24:

“Germany saw more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters last year, interior ministry data showed, amounting to nearly 10 acts of anti-migrant violence a day as the country grapples with a record influx of newcomers. The assaults left 560 people injured, including 43 children, the ministry said in a written response to a parliamentary question…

“The sharp rise in hate crimes came after Germany took in some 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the doors to those fleeing conflict and persecution polarised the country…

“A German neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail this month for burning down a sports hall set to house refugees, causing damage worth €3.5m. In another case that shocked Germany, a crowd of onlookers cheered and applauded as an asylum shelter went up in flames in the country’s former communist east last February.”

Pope Will Meet EU Leaders

AFP wrote on March 2

“Pope Francis will meet with the leaders of all EU nations at the Vatican on March 24 ahead of the bloc’s special summit in Rome, Vatican sources said Thursday. The March 25 summit will mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding treaty. The pontiff will meet the leaders in the afternoon, the sources said.

“The pope has already received EU leaders at the Vatican in May 2016 when he was presented with the bloc’s Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unification. In a speech at that ceremony he called on them to ‘tear down the walls’ and build a fairer society.

“Invoking the memory of the EU founding fathers’ pursuit of integration in the aftermath of World War II, the pontiff said they inspired because they had ‘dared to change radically the models’ that had led to war. The pope also made a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in November 2014.”

Religious Leaders in Southern California Provide Shelter for Illegal Immigrants

The Los Angeles Times wrote on February 23:

“A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smoothes the grain of the wood floor in the dining room. But this home… is no ordinary home… The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California. The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes…

“The religious leaders have a name for their network: the Rapid Response Team. The idea is not necessarily a new one, according to… Zach Hoover, executive director of the interfaith community organization LA Voice. Hoover, 37, wasn’t an active member during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s when US congregations across faiths resisted federal law and provided shelter for Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries. Many congregations offered direct sanctuary, housing the undocumented immigrants, while others offered food and legal assistance.

“The Rapid Response Team mirrors that structure, but goes one step further by also incorporating private homes, which offer a higher level of constitutional protection than houses of worship and an ability to make it harder for federal agents to find undocumented immigrants. Under federal law, locations like churches and synagogues are technically public spaces that authorities could enter to conduct law enforcement actions. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security instituted a policy limiting ICE action at religious locations. The policy ordered ICE to not enter ‘sensitive locations’ like schools and institutions of worship. Religious leaders in Los Angeles that spoke to CNN are skeptical whether that policy will stand under a Trump presidency…

“Hoover points out that’s a tiny fraction of the estimated one million undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles county. The network’s focus would be on families fearing separation and working to keep them together by ‘moving into a place so that ICE can’t find them’… Hoover points to the Bible’s Matthew 25, which teaches the faithful should feed the hungry and fight for those in prison. ‘The God that I worship sent a person to earth in the name of Jesus who did not always get along with the authorities,’ Hoover explains. ‘I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day. That’s who I’m going to see when I die.’…

“[An unidentified] Jewish man offering his home as a safe house says he draws upon his religion’s history during WWII. As the Nazis rounded up Jews for detention and eventual extermination, Germans resisted their government, hiding their Jewish friends and neighbors in attics and basements…

“The growing energy of the network doesn’t mean the members aren’t also apprehensive or fearful about the consequences. The people forming the network are not a crowd with criminal records… there’s… concern about how the new Department of Justice will operate under Attorney General Jeff Sessions… Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, says the law is clear about what these groups are intending to do. ‘They’re committing a felony. Harboring is a felony,’ Krikorian says. ‘Regular folks hiding people in a basement face jail time because it is ultimately a smuggling conspiracy.’”

ICE Becoming Much More Aggressive

The New York Times wrote on February 25:

“In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreigners who had arrived for hearings on other matters…

“In Southern California, in one of the first major roundups during the Trump administration, officers detained 161 people with a wide range of felony and misdemeanor convictions, and 10 who had no criminal history at all.

“Interviews with 17 agents and officials across the country, including in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Washington and California, demonstrated how quickly a new atmosphere in the agency had taken hold…

“At Kennedy Airport, Customs and Border Protection agents checked documents of passengers getting off a flight from San Francisco because ICE… thought a person with a deportation order might be on the plane. They did not find the person they were looking for… Bystanders are now being taken in if they are suspected to be undocumented, even if they have committed no crime, known within the agency as ‘collateral’ arrests…”

Mexico Threatens Retaliation Against the USA

Deutsche Welle wrote on February 25:

“Mexico has threatened retaliation if the US imposes a border tax to pay for Donald Trump’s wall… Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said Mexico could tax US products tit for tat should its northern neighbor impose a levy on Mexican imports to finance Donald Trump’s pledged ‘great’ border wall… Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Mexico could bear any withdrawal of security funding by the United States. And officials have called absurd the notion that the US might deport non-Mexican irregular immigrants to Mexico…

“Politicians in both countries worry that Trump’s novice administration could jeopardize longstanding binational cultural and economic ties through its plans for a ‘military’ anti-migrant operation…”

AFP added on February 26:

“The Catholic Church in Mexico has accused the government of adopting an attitude of fear and ‘submission’ over US President Donald Trump’s immigration measures, which it labeled ‘terrorism.’ ‘Mexican authorities’ only make declarations and promises, their reactions are lukewarm and they also show fear and even worse, submission,’ read an editorial in the Church’s From the Faith weekly. The editorial, entitled ‘Migrant Terrorism,’ criticized Trump’s immigration measures, which aim to expel millions of undocumented migrants from the United States.”

The Puzzling Situation in Sweden—What Is the Truth?

Daily Mail wrote on February 26:

“A trans-Atlantic wave of puzzlement is rippling across Sweden for the second time in a week after a prominent Fox News program featured a ‘Swedish defense and national security advisor’ who’s unknown to the country’s military and foreign-affairs officials. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly convened an on-air face-off Thursday over Swedish immigration and crime between a Swedish newspaper reporter and a man identified on screen and verbally as a ‘Swedish defense and national security advisor,’ Nils Bildt.

“Bildt linked immigration to social problems in Sweden, lamented what he described as Swedish liberal close-mindedness about the downsides of welcoming newcomers and said: ‘We are unable in Sweden to socially integrate these people,’ arguing that politicians lacked a systematic plan to do so. But if viewers might have taken the ‘advisor’ for a government insider, the Swedish Defense Ministry and Foreign Office told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter they knew nothing of him. In fact Bildt is an ‘independent analyst’ who moved to the US in 1994…

“Bildt’s appearance comes  a week after Donald Trump appeared to refer to a terror attack in Sweden which never happened. The president cited ‘what’s happening in Sweden right now’ during a speech on terror across Europe, prompting many to deduce he was out of touch with facts. President Trump later said he was in fact referring to the country’s immigration issues that he’d read on Fox News…”

Deutsche Welle added on February 26:

“This is the second time in a week that Swedes felt themselves forced to react to misinformation in the US media. Last Saturday, US President Donald Trump decried a mysterious incident in Sweden, apparently blaming it on immigration and invoking a Fox News report. While no incident of any great note took place in the country on Friday, Trump supporters pointed to a migrant riot in Stockholm three days later as evidence that the US president was right.”

Subsequently, Daily Mail wrote on February 26:

“A Swedish detective who has triggered a row by blaming violent crime on migrants has gone one step further and accused politicians of turning a blind eye to the problem because of ‘political correctness’. Earlier this month Peter Springare, who has spent more than 40 years in the police, aired his anger on social media when he was told not to record the ethnicity of violent crime suspects… Now Springare has told The Sunday Times: ‘The highest and most extreme violence – rapes and shooting – is dominated by criminal immigrants…

“Springare said he was due to retire soon and therefore no longer feared the disciplinary proceedings which might be brought against a younger officer for disobeying their superiors and raising the issue…”

The Local wrote on February 24:

“US president Donald Trump intensified his verbal attacks on Sweden, France and Germany on Friday, painting swaths of Europe as a jihadist-infested hellscape… Trump trashed long-time allies as he sought to justify his own controversial crackdown on immigrants. ‘Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden. Take a look at what’s happening in Germany. Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris,’ he said…

“Trump also defended contentious comments linking immigration and crime in Sweden. He earlier issued baffingly opaque remarks that suggested the peaceful Scandinavian country was undergoing significant unrest or attack. ‘I took a lot of heat on Sweden,’ he said… Trump’s remarks earlier this week were in fact highly controversial in Sweden.”

“Sweden to Introduce Military Draft for Men and Women”

Deutsche Welle wrote on March 2:

“The Swedish government has decided to reinstate military conscription over fresh security fears, triggered by Russian actions in Ukraine. The conscription would apply to both men and women in the Scandinavian country… Thousands of Swedish youths will be conscripted and selected for military training that is set to start in 2018, the Swedish Defense Ministry said on Thursday. Sweden abolished the draft in 2010, but Russia’s moves in Eastern Europe have since prompted Stockholm to rethink its strategies and boost its armed forces. One of the challenges, according to officials, was shortage of volunteers for the army…

“The draft will cover people born in 1999 or later, with some 13,000 being called upon and 4,000 selected to receive military training in 2018 and 2019. According to the Swedish government, ‘modern conscription is gender neutral and will include both women and men.’ Women already make up 16 percent of Swedish 20,000-people-strong military.

“Although Sweden is not a NATO member, Stockholm maintained a formidable military force during the Cold War. In 1991, the country’s military budget was some 2.5 percent of GDP, but fell to 1.1 percent by 2015…

“Russian airplanes reportedly violated Swedish airspace repeatedly since the beginning of the diplomatic crisis in 2014, with Moscow also boosting defenses in its exclave of Kaliningrad, which is located across the Baltic Sea from Sweden. In December 2016, Sweden’s Civil Contingency Agency asked local authorities across the country to improve readiness for emergency scenarios, including a possible military attack. The recommended measures included maintaining and upgrading underground bunkers as emergency bases of operation.”

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

The New Yorker wrote on February 23:

“… contempt for Jews keeps showing up as a symptom of social stress—even now, and even in the United States. That was blatantly the case in Germany in the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther characterized Jews as ‘vermin’ within the German body politic, ‘a pest in the midst of our lands.’ That belief ultimately came to flower, of course, in the exterminating anti-Semitism of Hitler, who saw the very existence of Jews as a mortal threat to the Thousand-Year Reich. But, as the Holocaust revealed, this fear infected both Nazi ideology and the broader Western consciousness. The crime of genocide may have been enacted by the Nazis, but Jews died as they did because the rest of Europe—and America, too—excluded them from moral concern…

“When Christendom launched the Crusades, the holy wars that shaped Europe, in the eleventh century, Jews were the paradigmatic enemy inside (the infidel near at hand), and Muslims became the defining enemy outside (the infidel far away). Little wonder, then, that the First Crusade coincided with some of the earliest German pogroms, known as the Rhineland massacres. Within a few hundred years, the Spanish Inquisition had instituted its blood-purity laws, which lumped Muslims and Jews together in a new category of biological inferiority. In 1492 and 1502, first Jews and then Muslims were declared personae non gratae in Spain, facing forced conversion, expulsion, or death…

“Islamophobia is thus … a strange secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism…”

President Trump Attacks Media Again… and Changes His Story

The Huffington Post reported on February 24:

“President Donald Trump criticized the media again on Friday while speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Trump claimed it was wrongly reported that he called the media the ‘enemy of the people’ last week, saying he’d actually called ‘fake news’ the enemy…

“Trump also said he thinks news outlets should not use anonymous sources, despite using them himself to make claims that have been proven false…

“Trump’s war with the media is ‘going to get worse,’ Trump adviser Steve Bannon said Thursday at CPAC. ‘Every day is going to be a fight,’ Bannon said.”

President Trump’s recent claim that he only attacked fake news and not the media is false. This is what he twittered on February 17: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” This tweet speaks for itself. The problem is, hard-core Trump supporters only hear what they want to hear.

As USA Today wrote on February 24: “Trump’s constant attacks on the press are designed to undermine the public’s faith in institutions in general and the media in particular, as well as to generate doubt about negative stories regarding the administration… attacking the media at a forum like the Conservative Political Action Conference is the easiest way for Trump to unite conservatives who might otherwise oppose him over issues like entitlement spending, free trade, and limited government.” In reporting on President Trump‘s speech, Der Stern ran an article with the headline, “Trump saws at the main pillar of the freedom of the press.”

Is the USA Becoming a Dictatorship?

The New York Times wrote on February 24:

“Journalists from The New York Times and several other news organizations were prohibited from attending a briefing by President Trump’s press secretary on Friday, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps. Reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times and Politico [as well as The Daily Mail, the BBC, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, the Hill, Al Jazeera, and the New York Daily News, among others] were not allowed to enter the West Wing office of the press secretary, Sean M. Spicer, for the scheduled briefing. Aides to Mr. Spicer only allowed in reporters from a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed. Those organizations included Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Journalists from ABC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox News also attended.

“Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press [as well as USA Today], who were set to be allowed in, chose not to attend the briefing in protest of the White House’s actions. ‘Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,’ Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement. ‘We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.’

“The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the press corps, quickly rebuked the White House’s actions. ‘The W.H.C.A. board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House,’ the association president, Jeff Mason, said in a statement. ‘We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not…’”

Bild Online commented that this step is very disturbing. The White House justified its move by stating that it was an “off-camera” press “gaggle.” Deutsche Welle added that “The briefing had initially been billed as a traditional on-camera daily briefing but was switched to an off-camera press gaggle with restricted access at the last minute.” The White House’s explanation sounds contrived, as it was clearly in retaliation towards those reporters from some outlets that have provided critical coverage of the Trump Administration. Deutsche Welle added that “Fox News anchor Bret Baier noted that CNN and the New York Times stood with Fox in 2009 when the Obama administration attempted to exclude the outlet from interview rounds. Baier said the ‘gaggle should be open to all credentialed organisations.”

The Huffington Post added on February 24: “Though a reporter from the Wall Street Journal attended, the paper said later it would not do so again under such circumstances. ‘The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle,’ a Journal spokesman said. ‘Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.’”

In a damning article, the Daily Mail wrote on February 24:

“White House takes its revenge on the ‘fake news’ media by BANNING outlets from Sean Spicer’s briefing – including Trump’s top target CNN… The ban is the latest round in Spicer and his boss’s war with the media – dubbed the ‘opposition party’ by (Stephen) Bannon …

“CNN issued a defiant statement saying: ‘This is an unacceptable development by the White House. This is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like.’ The news network was already involved in a confrontation with the White House on Friday morning after it reported Thursday night White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had tried unsuccessfully to have the FBI deny there had been contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

The Guardian wrote on February 24:

“The decision to limit access to Spicer… marked a dramatic shift. While prior administrations have occasionally held background briefings with smaller groups of reporters, it is highly unusual for the White House to cherry-pick which media outlets can participate in what would have otherwise been the press secretary’s televised daily briefing. The briefing has become indispensable viewing for journalists trying to interpret the often contradictory statements coming out of the Trump administration, and Spicer’s aggressive handling of the press and delivery of false or misleading statements…

“‘Gaggles’ – more informal briefings – with the press secretary are traditionally only limited to the pool when they conflict with the president’s travel, in which case they often take place aboard Air Force One. At times, impromptu gaggles form with reporters who spend their days in the White House, but denying outlets wishing to participate is extremely uncommon… outlets who made requests to attend were told this would not be permitted. When the Guardian asked to participate, pointing to its possession of a ‘hard pass’ that grants daily entry to the White House, an official declined.”

The Independent added on February 24:

“Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists [said that] ‘President Trump’s calls for an end to anonymous sources was alarming. It is not the job of political leaders to determine how journalists should conduct their work, and sets a terrible example for the rest of the world, where sources often must remain anonymous to preserve their own lives… We are concerned by the decision to bar reporters from a press secretary briefing. The US should be promoting press freedom and access to information.’”

Press Secretary Sean Spicer “said in December the Trump White House would not kick news organizations out of the briefing room over critical coverage. During a panel discussion that month with Politico, he said you can’t ban news organizations from the White House. ‘That’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.’” (The Huffington Post, dated February 24).  Recently, John McCain warned that dictatorships start with censorship of the press. In this context, Breitbart reported on February 27: “During a discussion of the Trump administration banning certain outlets from a press gaggle on Monday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ co-host Mika Brzezinski wondered if the White House was ‘trying to create a dictatorship?’ After playing a clip from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in 2016 [which is quoted above], Brezinski stated, ‘[H]e’s just described himself.’ She added, ‘[A]re they trying to create a dictatorship? I mean, I’m not joking and I’m not angry.’”

FBI Investigation—How The White House Is Making a Mess of Things

The Guardian wrote on February 26:

“The White House made a messy attempt on Sunday to control public perceptions of a widening scandal over alleged contacts between aides to Donald Trump and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 election, alleging that the FBI had dismissed reports of such links. The scandal has shown little sign of coming under control, with a Republican congressman calling for an independent inquiry, multiple congressional committees pursuing investigations and Trump escalating a war with the media in an apparent attempt at distraction.

“While the White House has, by its own clumsy admission, been working behind the scenes to try to manage the conduct of Congress and intelligence agencies in the scandal, those efforts have so far backfired. Contacts between the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and top FBI officials have come in for particular criticism as a violation of a necessary line separating the White House from justice department investigations with potential targets inside the administration…

“The FBI has in fact made no public comment on its investigation into alleged contact between Trump associates and Russian operatives, which was first reported two weeks ago by the New York Times and CNN… The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, has confirmed that Priebus had asked top FBI officials to publicly debunk the matter, which they declined to do.

“… White House attempts to write the story off as a confabulation were undermined, however, by expressions of alarm on Capitol Hill. In an appearance on HBO on Saturday, Republican congressman Darrell Issa, a fiercely partisan warrior, called on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was a member of the Trump campaign, to recuse himself from justice department investigations of the affair. ‘You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office,’ Issa said. ‘You can’t just give it to your deputy. That’s another political appointee.’”

President Bush Speaks Out in Rare Interview

Today wrote on February 27:

“Early on in the exclusive sit-down, the former president expressed a clear-eyed support for the news media, saying a free press was ‘indispensable to democracy.’ ‘We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,’ Bush told TODAY’S Matt Lauer. ‘Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.’

Bush was asked about the media’s role in light of President Donald Trump’s recent characterization of the media as the ‘enemy of the American people.’ He noted he spent a lot of time during his two terms trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to embrace an independent press. ‘It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves,’ he said.

“Bush also addressed the controversy over Trump advisers and the role they may have played in the scandal involving Russian hackers who tried to intervene in the election, saying he would leave questions about whether a special prosecutor should investigate up to the Senate intelligence committee leaders. ‘I think we all need answers,’ he said, going to on praise North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the head of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee. ‘I’m not sure the right avenue to take. I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered.’

“Bush, the last Republican to occupy the White House, also was asked about President Trump’s controversial executive order that banned immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations.  Asked pointedly if he favored or opposed the policy, Bush said, ‘I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law.’”

The Huffington Post added on February 27:

“Bush also called the right to worship freely a ‘bedrock of our freedom’ and took a dig at Trump’s January executive order on immigration, which sought to indefinitely ban Syrian refugees and temporarily block visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. ‘I understood right off the bat … that [the executive order] was an ideological conflict,’ Bush told Lauer…”

Why a Special Prosecutor?

Salon wrote on February 26:

“Press Secretary Sean Spicer had strong words when trying to dismiss a reporter’s question about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia: ‘A special prosecutor for what?’ After a brief but tense exchange with the reporter during Monday’s press conference, Spicer said: ‘We have now for six months heard story after story come out about unnamed sources, say the same thing over and over again. And nothing has come of it. Right? We’ve heard the same people, the same anecdotes, and we’ve heard reports over and over again. And as Chairman Nunes made very clear today, he has seen nothing that corroborates that. So at what point are you gonna ask yourself, What are you investigating?’

“Spicer’s comment about Rep. David Nunes, R-California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, referred to Nunes’ assertion that ‘there’s no evidence of anything’ tying Trump’s presidential campaign to Russia’s ruling class.

“Spicer also confirmed that the administration is working with the CIA and Congress to discredit reports about Trump’s connections to Russia. ‘We have continued to give reporters information and sources that went to the accuracy or lack thereof of a report that was in a newspaper,’ Spicer said. He again referred to Rep. Nunes, who claimed that reports about Spicer coordinating a press campaign to counter reports of contact between Trump and the Russians were simply attempts by the administration to be ‘transparent.’

“Despite Spicer’s dismissal of these claims, there are a number of sound reasons to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. He has had two powerful aides resign due to their relationship with Russia or pro-Russian politicians — former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn — and his own son admitted in 2008 that ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’ Because Trump has refused to release his tax returns, it is impossible to determine his potential conflicts of interest with that country.”

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions Recuses Himself 

The Times of Israel reported on March 3:

“US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he would recuse himself from any investigation into Donald Trump’s election campaign, which faces intense scrutiny over contacts with Russia…

“Sessions has faced increasing demands that he resolve the seeming contradiction between his two conversations in the summer and fall with Moscow’s US envoy, Sergey Kislyak, and his sworn statements to Congress in January, when he said he had not had communications with Russians during the campaign…

“Trump has been trailed for months by questions about potential ties to Russia. He’s vigorously denied being aware of any contacts his associates had with Russia during the campaign and has also insisted he has no financial ties to Russia.

“The Justice Department acknowledged two separate Sessions interactions with Kislyak, both after cybersecurity firms had concluded that Russian intelligence agencies were behind cyber-hacking of the Democratic National Committee…

“Sessions, an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy and a policy adviser during the campaign, did not disclose those discussions at his Senate confirmation hearing in January when asked what he would do if ‘anyone affiliated’ with the campaign had been in contact with officials of the Russian government. Sessions replied that he had not had communications with the Russians, and answered ‘no’ in a separate written questionnaire when asked about contacts regarding the election…

“At the confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions about allegations of contact between Russia and Trump aides during the 2016 election. Sessions said, ‘I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have, did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.’”

“Trump Is Following Bannon’s Agenda”

Deutsche Welle wrote on February 25:

“[President] Trump… announced that he would do something to prevent media from basing their reporting on insider sources without naming those contacts. If something like this were really drafted into legislation, it would constitute a major attack on press freedom. Without protection for sources, without anonymous informers and ‘whistleblowers,’ the media would not be able to effectively carry out its job – keeping the powerful in check.

“Trump did stress that his attacks were not directed at the media as a whole, that there were ‘good’ examples too. But by ‘good,’ the president was referring to those outlets that tend to take his side: for instance, the openly pro-Republican broadcaster Fox News. Trump himself has often singled out the breakfast show Fox and Friends, whose hosts revere the president with a devotion that borders on sycophancy.

“Nevertheless, Fox also has some serious anchors who apply their critical faculties to all, like Shephard Smith and Chris Wallace. The channel does at least try to bring in voices from the left and liberal side of the spectrum in measured doses. You can’t say that about some of Trump’s other media pals like conservative radio crusader Rush Limbaugh. Or there’s the even more irate Alex Jones (of Infowars), who propagates conspiracy theories online, on the radio and via video. And of course there is the online platform Breitbart, which was managed for four years by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon…

“At the end of the day, it is principally Bannon who wants to fundamentally shake up the ‘Grand Old Party’ and ultimately America itself. His tool for these renovations is President Trump, supported by the nationalist ‘movement’… ‘Nationalist’ is not a ‘mainstream-media’ exaggeration. Bannon himself often used this term, just like many other CPAC speakers and participants.

“And what of the more moderate conservative forces in the Republican Party, in Congress and in the Trump administration? They are playing along in order to realize their political goals… They had better tread carefully. Bannon and Trump might be hitting the media now, but their target is the entire establishment – including the Republican Party.”

Scandal in Germany: BND Spied on Foreign Journalists

Der Spiegel wrote on February 25:

“Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, apparently spied on large numbers of foreign journalists overseas over the course of several years, including employees of the BBC, Reuters and the New York Times. Critics see a massive violation of press freedoms.

“Arnaud Zajtman, 44, is not exactly the kind of person you would mistake for a terrorist, weapons trader or drug dealer. The Belgian journalist has been reporting from Africa for almost 20 years, with a keen interest in Congo. For 10 years, he was stationed in Kinshasa as a correspondent, first for the BBC and then for the television broadcaster France 24. His stories focused on the forgotten children of Congo, on the battles fought by the rebels and on the country’s first free elections since 1965. In that election year, in September 2006, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, took an interest in the journalist’s work… German officials never informed him that his phone had been tapped…

“The Belgian journalist isn’t the only reporter who was spied on… the BND conducted surveillance on at least 50 additional telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses belonging to journalists or newsrooms around the world in the years following 1999…

“Journalists in Germany enjoy far-reaching protection against state meddling. They enjoy similar legal protection to lawyers, doctors and priests: occupations that require secrecy. Journalists have the right to refuse to testify in court in order to protect their sources. German law forbids the country’s domestic intelligence agency from conducting surveillance on persons who have that right. The German chapter of Reporters without Borders says that the BND’s systematic surveillance of journalists is an ‘egregious attack on press freedoms’ and ‘a new dimension of constitutional violation’… Reporters without Borders is concerned that the BND will continue conducting surveillance on foreign journalists…”

The Obamacare Debacle

The Huffington Post wrote on February 26:

“White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to assure Americans on Sunday that anyone currently covered under the Affordable Care Act would not lose their coverage under President Donald Trump’s health care plan… A consulting firm told governors Saturday that the Republican plan to replace Obamacare could lead to millions losing their health coverage, with many people covered under the Medicaid expansion suddenly unable to afford health insurance.

“… in January, Trump vowed ‘insurance for everybody,’ but congressional Republicans have taken to guaranteeing ‘access’ to health care, rather than health care itself, meaning if individuals have the money to pay for insurance, they can get it.

“According to the presentation given to governors on Saturday, the effect of the GOP replacement bill would be huge insurance enrollment losses and greater budget pressure on states to make up the loss in federal money for programs like the Medicaid expansion.”

While some within the GOP [including President Trump] demand repealing and replacing Obamacare, others just speak about amending Obamacare, as—so they say—no acceptable plan for replacement has been proposed. [Even some of those who want to appeal Obamacare are apparently willing to retain certain provisions, for instance guaranteeing somehow the insurance of those with preexisting conditions. At the same time, President Trump rejects the concept of a personal mandate.]  While Republicans were right in pointing out the unsatisfactory consequences of Obamacare, they have now a mess on their hands.

“Historic Increase” for US Military

The Telegraph wrote on February 27:

“Donald Trump is ordering a $54billion surge in defence spending… as he tries to make good on the populist programme that propelled him to the White House… ‘It will include an historic increase in defence spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it,’ he said… It will leave expensive federal welfare programmes such as Social Security and Medicare [and Medicaid] in place… the money will be found from a significant reduction in foreign aid along with cuts at most domestic agencies…

“That sets up a showdown with Democratic opponents in Congress and the possibility of a government shutdown. Agencies will have the chance to negotiate changes before the 2018 budget is published in March…

“He has also promised to return the US ‘to the top of the pack’ on nuclear weapons…”

Deutsche Welle added on February 27:

“The US military already spends significantly more on defense than any other country. The defense budget will be officially unveiled to Congress next month… During a speech to conservative activists on Friday, Trump said he would lead ‘one of the greatest military buildups in American history.’’

First Speech to Congress—“Media Left and Right Give Trump’s Speech Thumbs Up”

The New York Times wrote on March 1:

“At precisely the moment he needed to project sobriety, President Trump delivered the most presidential speech he has ever given.”

The Hill wrote on February 28:

“President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress exceeded expectations among the pundit class on Tuesday night. CBS’s Gayle King felt Trump’s speech was authentic. ‘He said from the beginning he was going to speak from his heart, and I certainly think he did that.’ Fox News’s Chris Wallace echoed King’s sentiment. King’s sentiment. ‘I thought it was by far the best speech I’ve ever heard Donald Trump give,’ he said. ‘It was one of the best speeches in that setting I’ve ever heard any president give.’

“Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Kirsten Powers echoed Wallace’s sentiments, calling it Trump’s ‘best speech’ ever. MSNBC’s [network’s highest-rated host] Rachel Maddow said the speech would be ‘well-received.’… But Maddow’s analysis wasn’t all positive. ‘It will be a notable thing that the president spent a big portion of what was in effect a State of the Union telling the country what vicious, murdering criminals immigrants are,’ Maddow said.

“Media analysts estimate 40 million to 45 million people watched Trump’s address Tuesday night.”

Breitbart wrote on March 1:

“A CNN poll of Americans who watched President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening showed that nearly four out of five had a ‘positive reaction’ to the speech. The survey, conducted among 509 respondents with a 4.5% margin of error, showed that 57% had a ‘very positive’ reaction to the speech, while 21% had a ‘somewhat positive’ reaction, adding up to 78% ‘positive’ overall. Only 21% of those who watched the speech had a ‘negative’ reaction. In addition, 69% of viewers thought that the speech ‘would move the country in the right direction,’ while only 26% said it would move the country ‘in the wrong direction.’…

“On specific issues, Trump scored the highest marks for his proposed policies on the economy, with 72% saying those went in the right direction. Almost as many, 70%, said the same about his terrorism proposals. Slightly fewer, but still a majority, felt his policies on taxes (64%), immigration (62%) or health care (61%) were heading in the right direction.

“Ideologically, about two-thirds saw Trump’s speech as about right, while roughly one quarter (26%) pegged it as too conservative. Just 8% said it wasn’t conservative enough. The numbers, CNN said, were similar to those of similar president[s]. The poll sample was more Republican than the country in general by 8%, due to the inherent bias of viewers who identified themselves beforehand as interested in watching the speech.”

Politico wrote on March 1:

“The president’s hope-infused address before Congress was the most unifying moment of his divisive and chaotic first 39 days in office. For 60 minutes and 14 seconds Tuesday night, President Donald Trump abandoned the dark rhetoric and narrow vision that have long defined his politics and offered an aspirational message stocked with bold promises for the country in his first address before a joint session of Congress. While Trump still offered some charged language — including his use of the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ — the speech was notably less confrontational than his ‘American carnage’ inaugural address. It was, in fact, by far the most unifying moment of his divisive and chaotic first 39 days in office. Reading almost exclusively from prepared remarks on a teleprompter, the president pledged to provide ‘massive’ tax relief for the middle class, extinguish the ‘vile enemy’ that is ISIS, and rebuild America’s military… For the most part, the president’s specific policy prescriptions were as broad and vague as they were sweeping and ambitious…”

The Los Angeles Times wrote on February 28:

“[His] well-delivered speech to Congress on Tuesday night answered one major question — whether he could offer the country a less divisive tone — but provided almost no clarity about how he hopes to fulfill the promises that he made in his campaign. In addition to ‘massive’ tax cuts and additional write-offs, Trump talked of spending tens of billions more on the military and $1 trillion on infrastructure projects, with no explanation of how to achieve that without expanding the debt, which he criticized his predecessor, President Obama, for having increased.”

The Editorial Board of The Washington Post wrote on February 28:

“… the sunny tone and a laudable condemnation of recent attacks on minorities soon gave way to the same dark and false vision of the country featured in the president’s grim inaugural address — one in which borders are open, drugs are pouring in, illegal immigrants prey on law-abiding Americans and globalization has impoverished vast swaths of the nation. When it came to specific policy proposals, Mr. Trump similarly offered a few encouraging signs — but many more reasons for skepticism.

“In describing his bleak vision of a ruined United States exploited by foreigners, Mr. Trump wrote a series of checks he almost certainly cannot cash. He promised that ‘dying industries will come roaring back to life,’ that ‘crumbling infrastructure will be replaced’ and ‘our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately stop.’… Mr. Trump called for a $1 trillion ‘program of national rebuilding,’ ‘one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history’ and ‘massive tax relief for the middle class,’ all issues on which he could work with Democrats…

“The ugliest moment in the 60-minute address came when Mr. Trump announced the formation of an office on ‘Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,’ and then introduced families of people allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants. It was an appeal to raw prejudice and fear that will do nothing to promote the national unity he claims to be seeking.”

The Chicago Tribune wrote on February 28:

“”[What was] really missing was a respect for reality.. Nothing is beyond him… Did we elect a president or a messiah? From this speech, you wouldn’t know that Republicans once emphasized the limits of government’s power to solve problems. Or that once upon a time — like, a year ago — they understood that every expenditure has to be paid for and has to be the best use of that money.

“House Speaker Paul Ryan gushed over the speech until he was asked how it would all be paid for. At that point, he walked away without answering. But it’s easy to guess: A bill will be sent to the taxpayers of the future.”

Russia and USA Clash Over Syria

The New York Times wrote on February 28:

“Russia and the Trump administration clashed in a vote at the United Nations Security Council for the first time on Tuesday, as the Kremlin vetoed a measure backed by the United States and its Western allies to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. While the Russians had long signaled their intent to block the resolution, which was supported by dozens of countries, the clash offered insights into the big divisions that remain between the Kremlin and President Trump, who has vowed to improve ties.

“Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the Council, blocked the measure. It was the Kremlin’s seventh Security Council veto in defense of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria over the war that has been convulsing his country for nearly six years. The American ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, who has called chemical weapons attacks in Syria ‘barbaric,’ accused Russia and China of putting ‘their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security’ in her blunt rebuke of the vetoes…

“Diplomats said that Ms. Haley had insisted on putting the measure up for a vote this week, signaling a desire to take a tough stand on Russia. In recent weeks, Ms. Haley has condemned what she called Russia’s ‘aggressive actions’ in eastern Ukraine, vowed to maintain sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, in her Senate confirmation hearing, went as far as saying that Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria.”

Two-Speed Europe Fast Approaching

Express wrote on February 24:

“‘TWO-SPEED EUROPE’ Juncker backs ‘EU at different speeds’ in [a] bid to quell populism. JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER has proposed a ‘two-speed’ Europe in a desperate attempt to smooth over internal fractures amid discontent with Brussels from EU nations.

“European Commission President Mr Juncker has revived the idea, which has been frequently proposed as a way to deal with the differing rates various European countries are developing… But… the ‘multiple-speed’ Europe is controversial and has attracted criticism and fierce debates… Mr Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg, is a self-confessed fan of the two-speed approach… He said: ‘This is no longer a time when we can imagine everyone doing the same thing together.’

“… one of the bulwark’s of Europe, Germany, is said to be behind the proposals. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Mr Juncker on Wednesday, said ‘an EU at different speeds’ was approaching… Other founding members France and Italy, widely tipped to be in the fast-stream of a two-speed Europe, also acknowledged the move was likely.  And the news was met with delight in Rome, which is hosting a summit next month to reinforce closer cooperation to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome… One notable example of a differing layers currently with the EU is the single currency, the Euro, which is only used by 19 of the 28 members.”

Germany and Austria Call for EU-Wide Solutions

Deutsche Welle wrote on February 27:

“Germany’s foreign minister and Austria’s chancellor have said the US and Russia were openly trying to destabilize the EU. Sigmar Gabriel called for EU-wide solutions to current challenges… [and] to close ranks in the face of pressures from the new US administration and from Russia… Gabriel stressed that Europe needed above all a common foreign, defense and security policy…”

“Europe Is Starting to Get Serious about Defense”

 The Economist wrote on February 23:

“Donald Trump’s team has spent much of the last week in Europe cleaning up the boss’s mess. At the Munich Security Conference, James Mattis, the defence secretary, called NATO (which Mr Trump had written off as obsolete) ‘the best alliance in the world’. In Brussels, Mike Pence, the vice-president, assured his audience of America’s ‘strong commitment’ to the European Union, a club the president has dismissed as a ‘vehicle for Germany’. Europeans remain baffled by the mixed messages emanating from Mr Trump’s administration…

“But on one issue the president is in full agreement with his team… Mr Trump grouches that America’s NATO allies are not paying their bills. Only four other countries in the 28-member alliance meet its target of spending 2% of GDP on defence…

“Mrs Merkel needs a story to persuade sceptical German voters of the wisdom of ramping up military spending from its current level of just 1.2% of GDP… Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich conference, suggests a 3% target for military, development and humanitarian spending…

“Germans in particular will chafe at devoting more money to a cause they dislike to please a foreign president they detest. Slamming American-inspired militarism could prove a useful campaign tactic for Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat who wants to thwart Mrs Merkel’s bid for re-election in September…

“Mr Trump’s warnings could even prove counter-productive… Make NATO conditional, and you force your partners into independence, and a foreign policy that may not suit American interests…”

Concern about Trump’s Contradictory Messages on Europe

Reuters wrote on February 24:

“When Donald Trump called the European Union ‘wonderful’ and said he was ‘totally in favor of it’, some Brussels officials feared the headline was a hoax, given the U.S. president’s earlier apparent disdain for the bloc. Trump’s remarks in an interview with Reuters late on Thursday appeared to contrast sharply with comments he made last month when he labeled the EU a ‘vehicle for Germany’, called Brexit a ‘great thing’ and said more countries would follow Britain out of the bloc.

“European diplomats were quick to credit Vice President Mike Pence with persuading his boss of the Union’s merits… Officials said it was unclear, however, if Trump’s policies would match the pro-EU language which Pence used on Monday or that of White House strategist Steve Bannon, whose scepticism about the bloc had been reflected in Trump’s earlier comments… Bannon told Germany’s ambassador last week that Washington would deal with individual states, but not the EU…”

Europe No Longer Toeing Washington’s Line?

Sputnik News wrote on February 24:

“The issue of a pan-European army reflects the Europeans’ desire to break free from US patronage and take their security into their own hands… ‘European policy needs its own concepts,’ said Johen Scholz, a member of the Society of International Policy of Peace and a former Bundeswehr officer. He recalled German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s statement about the EU’s need for an equal-footed partnership with the US instead of simply toeing Washington’s line…”

“Germany Takes Command of Czech Army

Prague Morning wrote on February 24:

“Czech Defense Minister, Martin Stropnický, has signed a defense bill with his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, signaling an era of closer military cooperation. The meeting took place in Brussels last week and the bilateral agreement was rushed through. Vladimíra Vítová, head of the Czech Peace Forum called the deal a subordination of the Czech military to Germany and denounced the defense minister’s authority to make such a move.

“The 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade, considered amongst the Czech Republic’s finest, is to be moved under the command of the German Bundeswehr… Some within the army top brass are pleased with the move as it allows for the army to gain experience at working alongside troops from other nations… We want to better prepare our troops for a possible joint deployment in the context of larger army groups,’ [according to Czech army spokesman, Jan Šulc.].”

Growing Russian-German Estrangement

Deutsche Welle wrote on February 24:

“Russia and Germany are becoming increasingly estranged… and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Schoigu’s announcement that a replica of the German Reichstag will be built near Moscow and used for teenagers to ‘storm’ at a theme park hasn’t helped the situation… ‘The building of a Reichstag replica comes out of a deterioration of Russia’s relationship with Germany,’ said Stefan Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations… ‘This will lead to a negative picture being created about Germany. It is a glorification of Soviet history.’

“For Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament and until recently head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, the crucial point is what kind of ‘Reichstag’ is going to be built. ‘I don’t have any objections if it is a recreation of how the Red Army occupied the Reichstag in the battle against Hitler,’ Brok said. ‘But if it is Germany’s modern home of democracy, then it is unacceptable.’ Such a step would look like threatening military action against modern Germany, he added… Since the end of World War II, Germany has used the term ‘Bundestag’ to refer to the country’s parliament while the ‘Reichstag’ is used to connote the building that houses the parliament.

“Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven, head of the Moscow office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which is tied to Germany’s free-market liberal Free Democratic Party, also described Moscow’s plans as disturbing. ‘Even if such an exercise is done for the purpose of a historical recreation, by building a replica Reichstag, it is unavoidable that those taking part in such military exercises will have the current Reichstag in mind,’ he told DW. He said Germans view Russia’s increasing militarization and identification with a belligerent period of history as rather sinister… ‘It seems that some in Germany have forgotten that Hitler and those who built the Third Reich started their bloody march from the Reichstag,’ [Russian Defense Military] spokesperson Igor Konaschenkow told DW. ‘The attacks from German politicians are met not only with a complete lack of understanding [in Russia] but also make one wonder about what views they may really have about the founders of the Third Reich.’”

The Associated Press added on February 24:

“The Reichstag Parliament building in Berlin was the scene of bitter fighting in 1945 between the Red Army and Nazi troops. The building, first opened in 1894, was refurbished after German reunification and in 1999 became the home of the German parliament… In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov lashed out at the German officials for their reaction and vigorously defended the ministry’s plan, saying the Reichstag replica ‘will contribute to the patriotic education of young citizens and foreign guests.’

“Konashenkov also referred to the 1933 Reichstag arson, which is seen as a pivotal moment in establishing Nazi Germany… ‘Verbal attacks by certain German politicians are not only dismaying but they also make one wonder about how these people really feel about the creators of the Third Reich,’ Konashenkov said Friday…”

The relationship between Russia and a coming unified Europe under German leadership will ultimately result in nuclear war between these two power blocs.

Germany Condemns Turkey

Deutsche Welle reported on February 28:

“[Deniz] Yucel’s case is unparalleled: He is the first German journalist who has been jailed in Turkey since President Erdogan’s party, AKP, came to power in 2002. Yucel has both German and Turkish citizenship. Turkish authorities had initially detained the German correspondent of Die Welt newspaper on February 14 on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting violence. A formal indictment is still pending…

“The arrest is part of a widespread crackdown by the Erdogan administration that has targeted the media, civil service and academics, as well as military and police sectors, following last year’s failed July 15 coup. Since July 2016, more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended, tens of thousands have been arrested. So far, foreign reporters have mostly been spared, and they have enjoyed more liberties than local journalists. But Turkish authorities reportedly chose to treat dual-citizen Yucel as Turkish, rather than a German.

In Germany, a country that used to be one of Turkey’s close allies and cooperated closely with Turkey as part of NATO, the case of Deniz Yucel has been criticized harshly by both the German government and the opposition parties. In fact, Yucel’s treatment is the one topic that all parties in the German parliament are currently able to agree on – from the Left Party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

“Relations between Turkey and Germany have been tainted by a number of incidents in 2016, including the vote in German parliament to recognize the Armenian genocide. Death threats, especially against the 11 members of the Bundestag with Turkish roots, came pouring in after the vote, while German politicians weren’t allowed to visit German troops at the Turkish military base Incirlik. Yet after the failed coup attempt in Ankara in July, Merkel and her government were slow to condemn the events. But Germany, and especially Angela Merkel, who has come under pressure because of her refugee policies, desperately need Turkey to uphold a so-called ‘refugee deal’ that controls the flow of migrants into Europe.

“Since the deal was cut between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, the number of migrants crossing the Sea from Turkey to Greece has dropped from an average 1,740 to 89 per day, according to the European Commission.

“Merkel has often refrained from harsh criticism of Turkey’s human rights practices in the past and has been strongly criticized for her lack of ‘clear words’ by the opposition in parliament. The case of Deniz Yucel puts the German chancellor in a tough spotonce again, just six months ahead of a federal election in Germany that Merkel said will be the toughest she has had to face in her career.

“Angela Merkel’s assessment of Yucel’s detainment, however, was untypically candid. She criticized Yucel’s arrest as ‘bitter and disappointing’ as well as ‘disproportionate.’ ‘The German government expects that the Turkish justice system keeps in mind the great importance that press freedom has in any democratic society in its treatment of the Yucel case,’ she said. ‘We will continue to insist on a fair and legal treatment of Deniz Yucel and hope that he will soon regain his freedom.’

“Germany’s top diplomat Sigmar Gabriel was even more candid in his response to the case. The new foreign minister expressed his dismay, saying Ankara was exacerbating what were already ‘dramatic times for German-Turkish relations.’… But at a time when German-Turkish relations are at their lowest point in decades, Yucel is only the tip of the iceberg. But one that will most certainly inflict further serious damage to the two countries’ relationship.”

“Could This Man Be the Next Chancellor of Germany?”

BBC News wrote on February 24:

“His critics say he is more Brussels than Berlin… But they have failed to damage his bid for Germany’s top job… Recent polls suggest that, given a choice between Mr Schulz and Mrs Merkel, he would be Germany’s preferred chancellor… After 12 years as its chancellor, Germany is, some say, simply fed up with Mrs Merkel… For years there has been no realistic alternative, until now…

“Mr Schulz has yet to unveil a manifesto but he has promised generous, and controversial, welfare reforms. A future coalition of the left is no longer out of the question, although commentators point out that it may be difficult to smooth over fundamental differences with some of the smaller parties. The left wing party, Die Linke, for example, urges the dissolution of Nato.

“A month ago it was possible to predict, with some certainty, that Mrs Merkel would win the September election, albeit having taken a hammering from the AfD. Now, for the first time in years, she faces significant opposition from a different political direction.

“Germany, like much of Europe, appeared to be edging to the right. Now it is just as likely to turn instead to the left… And, after a year of global political surprise, there is a sense here too now that anything could happen.”

“French Election Turns Ugly”

AFP wrote on February 27:

“Journalists accused of bias. Judges said to be taking orders from the president. The country in a state of ‘near civil war.’ This isn’t America’s bitter presidential election campaign last year, but France’s in 2017… Seven police officers were injured on Saturday in Nantes including one with serious burns when anarchists and vandals began throwing rocks and firebombs during an anti-Le Pen protest…

“Both [conservative Francois] Fillon and [far-right leader Marine] Le Pen have also attacked judicial investigations into their use of allegedly fake parliamentary aides as an attempt by outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande to influence the election. Fillon has described an inquiry launched in January as an ‘institutional coup d’etat’ and has accused journalists of trying to carry out a ‘lynching’ and an ‘assassination’.

“Herve Le Bras, a veteran political observer and head of research at the EHESS social sciences university in Paris, said he could detect the influence of US President Donald Trump in the French campaign. ‘The way that Trump has defied the justice system and attacked the media, calling them “fake news”, I think in a way it’s encouraging Fillon and Marine Le Pen to copy,’ he told AFP. ‘They can see that it seems to work in the United States,’ he said.

“Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister, faces allegations he paid his wife for 15 years as a fake assistant, while one of Le Pen’s aides was charged last week over allegations the party defrauded the European parliament. Both deny any wrongdoing but their attacks have repeatedly questioned the independence and neutrality of the justice system ahead of a two-stage presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

“Polls currently show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron as the most likely winner, though analysts caution against any firm forecasts after a rollercoaster campaign and the surprises of Brexit and Trump in 2016. Fillon was the clear frontrunner until January when newspaper Le Canard Enchaine brought his wife’s job to light… Le Pen went ahead with her rally in Nantes on Sunday where she delivered a speech laced with criticism of how French democracy had been corrupted by the political establishment, the media and financial interests…”

Carnival and “Christianity” in Brazil

The Associated Press wrote on February 23:

“While campaigning last year to become Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Marcelo Crivella, a retired Pentecostal bishop, insisted his faith would not get in the way of governing the nation’s most famous city. The former gospel singer and missionary, a high-profile member of one of Brazil’s most powerful evangelical churches, captured 59 percent of the vote and took office January 1. But less than two months into his four-year term, Crivella’s promises are about to be tested by the Carnival, Rio’s annual week-long party often marked by heavy drinking and drug use, wild sex and round-the-clock dancing. The mayor’s office signaled this week that Crivella may not participate in the festivities…

“Participating in the Carnival is not unheard of for evangelicals, some of whom organize street parties and use the event to recruit church members. Evangelicals have enjoyed a growing role in politics in a country that is both a center of extraordinary growth for their churches and also home to more Catholics than any other country in the world. Twenty-two percent of Brazilians currently identify as evangelical Christians, up from 5% in 1970. A shortage of Catholic priests combined with evangelicals’ willingness to work in slums plagued by drug-trafficking and violence have helped them mobilize voters… Still, many Brazilians still reject evangelical faiths, seeing them as contrary to the live-and-let-live attitude that remains a strong part of national culture…

“When [Criviela] was running last year, the 59-year-old former bishop in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God promised he would not try to alter major city events, such as the Carnival or an annual gay parade. He also apologized about disparaging comments he made about gays, Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian religions in a book about working as a missionary in Africa…”

German Carnival Floats Show No Mercy for Trump and Other Political Figures

The Local wrote on February 27:

“The floats at Karneval parades across southern and western Germany are known for their biting satire. This year the main target of their derision was only ever going to be one man. Carnival is known as die fünfte Jahreszeit (the fifth season) in German. It is a time when the usual rules of polite society are thrown out the window. In the major cities of the Rhine region the inhabitants become Narren (jesters) for a week, mocking the political establishment of the day with satirical floats which parade through the city centres. The past twelve months have clearly provided plenty of ammunition to the west German satirists.

“In Düsseldorf one of the central floats on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) showed US President Donald Trump standing next to French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen, Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and Adolf Hitler—all of them sporting carefully coiffed blond manes. The four populist leaders of past and present held a banner reading ‘Blond is the new brown’. Another float in Düsseldorf appeared to show Trump raping the Statue of Liberty…

“In Mainz, the US president was depicted as an elephant crashing through crockery. The sign on the float read Trumpel-tier, a pun on the word for a two-humped camel Trampeltier. The word (literally: lumbering animal) is also an insult meaning klotz or clumsy person. In [a] piece of quite literally biting satire, Trump was portrayed, along with Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leaders of Poland and Hungary, as a caterpillar munching away at the leaf of democracy.

“But Trump wasn’t the only leader to invite the scorn of the Karneval Narren. Theresa May, Prime Minister of United Kingdom, was shown pointing a pistol through her own teeth inscribed with the word Brexit. Erdogan, who has been accused of human rights abuses after imprisoning thousands of people following an attempted coup in July 2016, was shown screaming ‘terrorist’ at a clown in Düsseldorf. In Mainz, meanwhile, he had mounted a lawn mower and was cutting down the flowers of democracy and free speech.”

“Heightened Controls—How Trump Frightens Away [German] Tourists”

Der Stern reported on March 1:

“In 2015 alone, 2.27 million Germans traveled to the United States… But now, President Trump diminishes the eagerness of German visitors to travel to the US… Currently, nearly every second German is opposed to vacationing in the US… they feel unwelcome and do not want to support the politics of Donald Trump by coming to the US. Only 17 percent say they don’t care about the politics of the President and are still willing to spend their vacation in the US…

“Especially New York City and San Francisco suffer from restrictive entry permits. ‘We have no influence on the controls at the airport,’ said Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Travel Association… The Foreign Affairs Office in Berlin announced: ‘Heightened security controls exist in the USA. Travelers should arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance to be able to go through security controls before their departure.’ It also states that it is within the discretion of the particular US custom agent whether or not to allow entrance at arrival.

“According to statistics, approximately two German travelers per day are being rejected by the Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBP) and have to fly back to Europe with the next plane. A much larger percentage can only enter the USA after a lengthy interview—even though they had received clearance through ESTA or are in possession of a valid visa stamped in their passports.

“Recently, NASA co-worker Sidd Bikkannava had to produce the PIN number of his business cell phone in order to prevent arrest, even though he is a participant of the Global-Entry program.

“The Department of Homeland Security includes now a section on the ESTA document [which must be submitted to be able to enter the USA under the visa waiver program], asking for personal information regarding participation on social networks, such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or Youtube. The official document states: ‘List the username, handle, screen-name, or other identifier associated with your social media profile.’ Presently, the answers are still ‘optional.’”

“Visa War” between EU and USA Escalates

The Telegraph wrote on March 2:

“Americans should be forced to apply for visas to travel to Europe, the European Parliament has said, in response to Washington refusing to allow all Europeans to travel to the States visa-free. The vote by show of hands is the latest in the ongoing ‘visa war’ between Brussels and the US capital… A European Parliament source told Telegraph Travel this was a ‘serious negative step in the EU-USA visa war’…

“The need to apply for a visa to travel to a country is widely seen as a turn-off to potential visitors, given the extra cost and time an application requires…

“It was in April 2014 the European Commission was first made aware that the US – along with Australia, Brunei, Canada and Japan – was failing to ensure the same visa waiver rights for its citizens that Europe offered in return. The Commission then gave the countries a deadline of two years before retaliating. Since, Australia, Brunei and Japan have all lifted their visa requirements, with Canada set to do the same by the end of the year, but the US has failed to act…

“Some 30 million American tourists visit Europe each year, spending more than $54billion (£44bn)… Most British nationals do not require a visa to enter the US, but must apply for an ESTA that costs $14 (£11.50) if arriving by air.”

Deutsche Welle added the following on March 2:

“The European Parliament on Thursday called on the EU’s executive body to reintroduce visas for US citizens ‘within two months’…

“By a show of hands, parliamentarians passed a [non-binding] resolution demanding that the European Commission impose visas by May, ahead of the traditionally-busy tourist season…

However, a similar parliamentary attempt in 2014 fell to the wayside after Brussels allowed a deadline to pass without a response. The Commission said European officials have contacted US President Donald Trump’s administration ‘to push for full visa reciprocity.’… European officials said they hope to resolve the issue at an EU-US ministerial meeting slated for June 15…”

Reuters wrote on March 2:

“The European Commission stressed it was pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the row, leaving it unlikely that it would act on the vote by lawmakers setting a May deadline to impose visas…

“Washington refuses to grant visa-free access to people from four east European states and Cyprus, while those from the other 23 member states can enter using the U.S. visa waiver program. EU rules call for equal treatment for all Union citizens…

“Former Communist countries Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, have been calling on Brussels to end U.S. discrimination against their citizens. But the economic cost of imposing visa restrictions on the millions of American tourists and business travelers who visit Europe each year is a major disincentive…”

What Is All the Fuss About Discovery of Seven “Earth-Like” New Planets?

Forbes wrote on February 26:

“On Wednesday, the scientists at NASA kind of freaked out. They announced the discovery of some seemingly Earth-like planets outside of our solar system… They’re about 40 light years from Earth. That means using today’s rocket technology (and a whole lot of cash), it would probably take about 11,250 years to get [there]…

“I called up one of NASA’s exoplanet experts, Aki Roberge, to help us break down the find…

“At the moment, all you really tell from the transits is these are small black dots… Six of the seven planets look like they’re rocky… There are, however, several reasons to think that being a rock in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star is not actually a nice place to live, and that those environments are very different from our solar system… maybe they could have liquid water on their surfaces. But that’s a huge maybe. Just look at our solar system… We’ve got Earth, Venus and Mars in or near what astronomers call the ‘habitable zone’ – and they couldn’t be more different!… The Earth is unique in the solar system in one really important way: it’s the only planet that has surface life so abundant that it’s affecting the atmosphere. That is noticeable from interstellar distances…”

This does not sound like convincing proof that there could be any life on these “earth-like” planets.

Spiritual Growth

Most of our spiritual growth and understanding comes from Christ working through the ministry. If angels can learn something being said from the pulpit (compare 1 Peter 1:12), then logic dictates there certainly is something for us to learn. People who think they do not need the ministry and can just sit at home are guilty of overlooking several biblical concepts.

For one, they reject the admonition to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). In addition, they forget that iron sharpens iron and that cannot be done at home alone (Proverbs 27:17).

There is also a tendency of being wise in our own understanding, which usually leads down the path of self-righteousness and error.  I have noticed that over time, the arrogance of knowing better than the ministry is self-delusional.

What we need to accept is the fact that God, not man, places the offices of the ministry in the Church. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us:

“And [Christ] Himself gave some to be apostles, some, prophets, some, evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Notice the purpose for God doing this: To become a perfect man, to be more Christ-like.

Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), and the Church is likened to a woman. We are spiritual embryos, as it were. A baby in the womb is protected. The ministry has the responsibility to protect the sheep from wolves and their false doctrines. The baby in the womb is also fed by the mother. We are being fed by our mother, the Church.

The umbilical cord connected to the baby carries blood, food and oxygen for growth and nourishment to the baby. Imagine if the baby in the womb decided that it no longer needed the mother; that it was mature enough to be on its own, wanting independence.  How long would it survive, once being disconnected from the mother?

This analogy can be applied to the independent Christian who feels mature enough so that he no longer needs the ministry for spiritual growth. The outcome is predictable. It is usually only a matter of time until the “babe in Christ” suffers premature spiritual death, unless genuine repentance and forgiveness prevents this from happening.

Our continued growth in spiritual understanding hinges on our understanding and belief that the ministry is a vital part of that growth. We should be grateful to God when He provides faithful servants who fulfill their responsibility of feeding, nourishing and protecting God’s sheep in a non-compromising manner (John 21:15).

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