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Russian officials are condemning a move by the United States to speed the delivery of weapons to Syrian fighters, calling it a “hostile act” that threatens Russian forces and could lead to terrorist attacks on airplanes. The criticism follows President Obama’s signature of a massive Pentagon spending bill, known as the NDAA, which eases restrictions on weapons transfers to Syrian opposition groups. Russia says that will allow for the U.S. to arm rebels with shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS. At the State Department, spokesperson Mark Toner said the Obama administration is opposed to such a move.
Mark Toner: “We’ve seen this before, this language before, this kind of rhetoric. I mean, our position on MANPADS has not changed. We’re—we would have a very deep concern about that type of weaponry getting into Syria.”
Despite those comments, the incoming Trump administration could choose to arm Syrian rebels with MANPADS. Critics say the weapons could be used to down commercial jetliners. Last year, Amnesty International reported that much of the arsenal held by ISIS comes from U.S.-made weapons acquired from the Iraqi Army and Syrian opposition groups.
Meanwhile, the United States topped the list of global arms merchants in 2015, driving about half of all weapons sales worldwide. A new report from the Congressional Research Service finds that, despite an overall drop in the global arms trade, U.S. weapons exports increased to about $40 billion in 2015, and the U.S. appears on track to post similar numbers in 2016. Among developing nations, Saudi Arabia was the leading buyer, purchasing over $93 billion in arms since 2008. Most of those weapons were made in the U.S. and included F-15 fighter jets, Abrams battle tanks and cluster bombs. U.S. arms were used in attacks on Yemen, where U.N. officials have called for an international probe into possible war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition.
Donald Trump has selected Tom Bossert as his top adviser on homeland security, counterterrorism and cybersecurity. Bossert previously served as deputy homeland security adviser during the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency. Bossert is a staunch defender of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he has called a “just” war.
Donald Trump has tapped his company’s top lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, to fill the newly created position of special representative for international negotiations. Greenblatt is an expert in real estate law, with little foreign policy experience. The Trump transition team said Greenblatt’s new role would be to assist on “international negotiations of all types, and trade deals around the world.” During the campaign, Greenblatt defended Trump against charges of anti-Semitism, serving as his adviser on Israel. Last month, Greenblatt said he doesn’t see Israel’s construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian lands as an obstacle to peace.
In Hawaii, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the U.S. naval station at Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, expressing regret for Japan’s attack on the base 75 years ago. Abe was welcomed by President Barack Obama, and the pair laid wreaths at the site and offered prayers for the dead. As expected, Abe did not issue a formal apology.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war. We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is a solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken.”
Chinese officials blasted Abe’s comments at Pearl Harbor, calling the prime minister unrepentant for war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers in China and Korea before 1945. The comments came amid mounting tensions in the Western Pacific, where China recently steamed an aircraft carrier and other warships near the southern coast of Taiwan.
In North Dakota, water protectors fighting the Dakota Access pipeline say police arrested four people on Tuesday near a construction site where workers with Energy Transfer Partners hope to drill under the Missouri River. Water protectors say the four were taking part in a peaceful prayer walk and encountered police armed with a water cannon, riot gear and armored vehicles.
Meanwhile, the company building the Dakota Access pipeline suffered another setback this week, after a pair of major investors held off on a purchase of a $2 billion stake in the project. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows Enbridge Energy Partners and Marathon Petroleum Corporation won’t meet a previous deadline of December 31 to complete a sale. The companies will now have until March 31 to consider whether to walk away from an investment in the pipeline. Energy analyst Antonia Juhasz called the filing very bad news for Energy Transfer Partners, writing, “If Enbridge and Marathon thought that completion of the pipeline was a done deal, the money would have been a done deal too. This means they are worried and are not feeling secure enough to turn over their cash, putting even more financial pressure on Energy Transfer Partners.”
In Cuba, President Raúl Castro said Tuesday that his country’s economy contracted in 2016, as its major trading partner Venezuela suffered an economic crisis. Castro said Cuba’s gross domestic product shrank by almost a percentage point, but promised the economy would recover in 2017 without major reforms.
President Raúl Castro: “We should shake off fake fears about foreign capital. We are not headed, nor will we head, toward capitalism. We can dismiss that completely. That is what is in our constitution, and it will maintain it.”
Last year, the Obama administration restored U.S. diplomatic ties with Cuba and began easing travel and investment restrictions, but a decades-old U.S. embargo remains in place. Many Cubans blame the embargo for widespread poverty on the island. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has vowed to “terminate” the Obama administration’s improved ties with Havana unless Cuba offers what Trump calls a “better deal.”
Members of Congress who stream video or hold sit-in protests on the House floor could suffer fines and ethics inquiries, under new rules proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The move comes in response to a demonstration held by Democrats in June, when lawmakers held a 25-hour vigil to call for new gun control measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando. When Speaker Ryan called the floor into recess, C-SPAN’s cameras went dark, prompting lawmakers to stream video of their action on social media sites. Under Ryan’s new rules, such behavior could incur fines of up to $2,500 per violation.
In Buffalo, the former New York state co-chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign refused calls on Tuesday that he step down from the Buffalo school board, after he was quoted wishing President Obama dead and comparing first lady Michelle Obama to a gorilla. Carl Paladino submitted the comments by email to Artvoice, an alternative weekly newspaper in Buffalo. Paladino is quoted saying he hopes Barack Obama would have sex with a cow and die from mad cow disease. Of first lady Michelle Obama, Paladino wrote, “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” In a statement published Tuesday, Paladino insisted he was not a racist, and said he meant to forward the comments to friends, rather than submit them to Artvoice. Paladino is a longtime ally of Donald Trump. Earlier this month, he met with the president-elect for one hour at Trump Tower in New York City.
In Montana, a neo-Nazi leader has promised a march of heavily armed white supremacists in the city of Whitefish in January, continuing a campaign of intimidation against the community’s Jewish population. Andrew Anglin said on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer that at least 200 people will march next month carrying high-powered rifles. Earlier this month, Anglin called for online attacks against Jewish residents of Whitefish, listing their names and personal information. Whitefish is the hometown of Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who has drawn favorable coverage from the right-wing website Breitbart News. That coverage came while White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon served as executive chair of Breitbart, before he joined the Trump campaign.
In Philadelphia, a professor of history at Drexel University says administrators are supporting his right to free speech, after a satirical tweet prompted a backlash from white nationalists, who called for him to be fired or to commit suicide. On Christmas Eve, George Ciccariello-Maher wrote on Twitter, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” Ciccariello-Maher says the tweet was meant to satirize a conspiracy theory common among white nationalists. After the quote was picked up by Breitbart News and white supremacist websites, Ciccariello-Maher says he received hundreds of death threats. Drexel University officials initially condemned the comments as “inflammatory,” but Ciccariello-Maher says he’s been assured he won’t be disciplined.
Germany’s government has reached a breakthrough in negotiations with Namibia that could soon see reparations paid for a series of massacres in the southern African nation in the early 20th century. Beginning in 1904, German colonial troops responded to an uprising in Namibia with extreme violence, driving villagers into the desert, starving them, poisoning wells and rounding up survivors in concentration camps. Last year, German officials began using the word “genocide” to describe the killings. Under emerging details of the agreement, Germany won’t pay direct reparations to individuals, but will instead set up a foundation for youth exchanges and will pay for new infrastructure. A formal apology is expected by June.
And Carrie Fisher, who catapulted to stardom as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” film franchise, died Tuesday morning at the age of 60 from complications following a heart attack. After balancing her film career with struggles against drug and alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder, Fisher helped to break down stigmas over mental illnesses. This is a clip from Carrie Fisher’s one-woman performance, “Wishful Drinking,” which debuted in 2006.
Carrie Fisher: “Oh, oh, oh. This will really, really impress you. I am in the abnormal psychology textbook. How cool is that? Now, keep in mind, I am a Pez dispenser, and I’m in the abnormal psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?”
Most recently, Carrie Fisher was a fierce critic of Donald Trump. After Trump denied sexually assaulting one of his many accusers by implying she was too ugly, Fisher wrote, “So you have to be attractive to be groped uninvited by Trump. Finally! A reason to want to be ugly!” Carrie Fisher was the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.