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President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. The reported selection prompted outrage and condemnation among environmental groups. Exposés by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times have revealed Exxon knew that fossil fuels cause global warming as early as the 1970s but hid that information from the public and instead poured millions of dollars into PR efforts aimed at sowing doubt over the science of climate change. Responding to the likely nomination, 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said, “ExxonMobil is still a leading funder of climate denial and is pursuing a business plan that will destroy our future. Tillerson deserves a federal investigation, not federal office.” Tillerson has spent the past 41 years at Exxon, where he became chair and chief executive more than a decade ago. He has no experience in government service nor in the diplomatic corps. Donald Trump praised Tillerson during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.
President-elect Donald Trump: “He’s much more than a business executive. I mean, he’s a world-class player. He’s in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world. He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of his next nearest competitor. It’s been a company that’s been unbelievably managed. And, to me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company—not for himself, for the company.”
Tillerson is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who awarded him the country’s Order of Friendship decoration in 2013. Both Senate Democrats and Republicans have expressed concern over the potential nomination. This is Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Sen. John McCain: “It’s matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, and obviously they’ve done enormous deals together, that that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.”
News of Tillerson’s potential selection came one day after President Obama ordered a review of Russia’s role in influencing the presidential election. The CIA has reportedly concluded Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win. This is incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “For years, foreign adversaries have directed cyber-attacks at America’s physical, economic and military infrastructure, while stealing our intellectual property. Now, our democratic institutions have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American.”
Donald Trump rejected allegations that Russia aided his Electoral College victory as “ridiculous.” In a statement, the Trump transition team said, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump was questioned by Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday over his plans to continue skipping daily presidential intelligence briefings.
Chris Wallace: “I just want to ask you about your skepticism about the intelligence community. You are getting the presidential daily brief —”
President-elect Donald Trump: “Yes.”
Chris Wallace: “— only once a week.”
President-elect Donald Trump: “Well, I get it when I need it.”
Chris Wallace: “But is that—is there some skepticism?”
President-elect Donald Trump: “No, no, I get it when I—first of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, if something should change from this point, immediately call me. I’m available on one minute’s notice. I don’t have to be told—you know, I’m like a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
During his interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump also promised he would quickly decide the fate of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines once taking office. He said he was studying the Paris climate agreement to see if it would give China or other countries an advantage over the U.S.
Trump’s comments came just days after the Trump transition team sent a memo to employees of the Department of Energy questioning their work on climate change. The 74-page questionnaire requests, among other things, information on which employees attended U.N. climate talks, and demands justification for a program tracking the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution. One Energy Department employee, speaking anonymously, told Reuters, “This feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list.”
In international news, Syrian government forces backed by intense Russian airstrikes have captured most of eastern Aleppo, pinning down remaining anti-government fighters in a tiny part of the city. The offensive is now poised to give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad one of his biggest victories in the nearly six-year-old civil war. Reuters is reporting that rebels in Aleppo have been offered a U.S.-backed proposal that would see them put down their weapons in exchange for safe passage to a place of their choice. Russia is denying any such deal has been reached.
Elsewhere in Syria, fighters with the self-proclaimed Islamic State have recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra, along with surrounding oil and gas fields. ISIS previously held Palmyra from May of 2015 until last March, when its fighters were driven out by fighters from Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Palmyra is home to about 50,000 people, and its ancient ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the ruins, which date back to the Roman Empire, were destroyed by ISIS the last time the group held the city.
In Turkey, a pair of bombs ripped through crowds outside an Istanbul soccer stadium on Saturday night, killing 38 people and wounding 166 others. A splinter group of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, claimed responsibility for the bombings. In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened an emergency security meeting and vowed to crush Kurdish militants.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “What we must focus on is this terror burden. Our people should have no doubt we will continue our battle against terror until the end. If they plan to intimidate us with these attacks, we have not degraded ourselves to leave the arena to these cowards.”
A report by Amnesty International last week estimated a half-million people have been forced from their homes in southeastern Turkey amid a brutal government crackdown in majority-Kurdish regions.
In Egypt, a bomb exploded during Sunday mass in Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral, killing 25 people and wounding nearly 50 others. The blast tore apart pews and seared pillars, leaving at least six children among the dead. There’s been no claim of responsibility. It was the worst violence against Egypt’s minority Christian population since a series of attacks in 2011.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, a suicide truck bomb exploded at Somalia’s biggest port on Sunday, killing at least 29 people. Militants from the group al-Shabab have claimed responsibility.
France’s Socialist government will ask Parliament to extend a state of emergency granting officials sweeping powers of search, seizure and detention. If approved, it would be the fifth such renewal of emergency rule since terrorist attacks in November of 2015 that killed 130 people. The French prime minister said the extension was needed at least through presidential and general elections next spring.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve: “Each of us should bear in mind the reality of the context that we’re living in: a particularly high level of terrorist threat.”
France’s emergency rule curtails freedom of assembly and includes measures that permit police raids without a warrant. Human Rights Watch has said the emergency powers undermine human rights and the rule of law.
In Alabama Thursday night, a condemned prisoner heaved and coughed for nearly 15 minutes after prison officials injected him with the first of three drugs meant to stop his heart. Witnesses to the execution said Ronald Bert Smith moved his lips, clenched a fist and opened one eye after prison officials administered him the sedative midazolam, a drug that has been linked to other botched executions. The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in Smith’s case in a 4-4 tie vote. Smith was placed on death row in 1994, after a judge overruled a jury’s decision to sentence him to life in prison. Alabama is the only U.S. state to allow that practice.
In Denver, Colorado, Mayor Michael Hancock says he will no longer order police to seize winter survival gear––including tents and sleeping bags––from the city’s homeless residents. The move came after videos of officers snatching blankets from homeless men and women went viral. Advocates for the homeless say the practice threatened the lives of people at risk of freezing to death.
The U.S. Senate has approved a bill granting $170 million to Flint, Michigan, to help replace pipes that are leaching toxic lead into Flint’s drinking water. Flint’s lead poisoning crisis began last year when an unelected emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder switched the source of the city’s drinking water to the corrosive Flint River. Today, the water in Flint is still poisoned and unsafe to drink. Meanwhile, environmentalists are warning of a provision of the bill which rolls back protections to California’s Bay-Delta Estuary. Environmentalists say the changes threaten delicate ecosystems and undermine the Endangered Species Act.
In Philadelphia, hundreds of people gathered Friday for a march and protest to demand life-saving medication for imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, and for all Pennsylvania prisoners suffering from the unconstitutional denial of treatment for their hepatitis C. The protest marked 35 years since December 9, 1981, when Mumia Abu-Jamal was shot by Philadelphia police, arrested and then charged with the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence, and Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent the majority of his time in prison on death row. This is Baltimore Reverend C.D. Witherspoon.
Rev. C.D. Witherspoon: “We understand that when they took him off of death row, what the strategy was was for him to die sick, behind bars. But we’re not going to allow for our brother to die behind bars, because when we were in incarceration, he fought for our liberation. And so, brothers and sisters, we’re going to fight for him to be liberated. We’re going to be fighting for him to receive dignity and respect. What kind of nation would have our brother be imprisoned and not to receive the proper medication that he deserves? I call that barbaric.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in crafting a peace deal with FARC rebels, ending a half-century of civil war that left a quarter-million people dead. At a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, President Santos hailed the Nobel Prize as a “gift from heaven” and dedicated it to all Colombians affected by the fighting. In his wide-ranging acceptance speech, Santos also said nations, including the U.S. and Colombia, need to “rethink” the war on drugs.
President Juan Manuel Santos: “It makes no sense to imprison the peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States. The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined. It’s time to change our strategy.”
And the Nobel Committee presented prizes for medicine, economics, physics, chemistry and literature in a gala ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. Notably absent was Bob Dylan, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Accepting the award on Dylan’s behalf was legendary singer, poet and author Patti Smith, who performed “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”
Patti Smith: “It’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”