The the partial shutdown of the federal government now guaranteed to continue over the New Year holiday weekend, the standoff with president Donald Trump becomes first priority as the new Congress convenes late next week with a new party in control of the House of Representatives.
“If they can’t do it before January 3, then we will do it,” says Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., incoming chairman of the Rules Committee. “We’re going to do the responsible thing. We’re going to behave like adults and do our job.”
Trump admitted the standoff is all about him in a tweet Thursday.
“This isn’t about the Wall,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “This is only about the Dems not letting Donald Trump & the Republicans have a win.” He added Democrats may be able to block him now, “but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
Trump couldn’t even leave politics at the door during his unannounced trips to Iraq and Germany to visit troops.
His series of partisan attacks in comments to soldiers ignored the traditional norms of a presidential visit to troops in far away places and in war zones and angered military leaders.
“As long as the message from the president is how wonderful it is that they are doing a service for the country, that’s great,” Charles Blanchard, a former general counsel for the Army and the Air Force told The Washington Post. “But when it turns into a political rally, what do people see? They see enthusiastic soldiers clapping and yelling for a partisan message.”
Armed Forces leaders say Trump “erodes public faith in a military” that enjoys 74 percent of American confidence according to a 2018 Gallup poll.
They say the military earns that trust by steering clear of politics, which is why it is the most trusted government institution by Americans.
“Lyndon Johnson went to Vietnam and visited the troops,” presidential historian Robert Dallek says. “Did he attack the Republicans? Did he attack his Democratic critics? No. It’s inappropriate. But, once again, what you have with Trump is someone who bends the rules and violates the norms in order to make himself look special or exceptional.”
Rosa Brooks, law professor and national security expert at Georgetown University, says it is important that the incredible power of America’s military is not “being used for partisan ends.”
“We have the line because we don’t want to turn into a banana republic,” she said, adding Trump’s comments to troops on a foreign base “uses an address to military personnel as a partisan opportunity.”
In Iraq, Trump attacked House Minority Leader, and expected new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and said “we have a problem with the Democrats because Nancy Pelosi is calling the shows.” Then he questions the chain of command of forces in Iraq, saying the officers were wrong and promised “we’re doing it a different way.”
Soldiers brought Trump campaign hats, an officer displayed a Trump campaign banner and other political signs at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and lined up to have Trump autograph the hats.
Defense Department Directive 1344, emphasized in training of military personnel, prohibits active-duty members of the military from participating in political rallies, giving the appearance of endorsing a candidate or displaying partisan political posters, banners or signs.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., in an article for Joint Force Quarterly in 2016, said the military must “protect the integrity and political neutrality of our military profession.”
Even Republican political strategists say Trump hurt himself and the nation with his partisan actions in Iraq and Germany,
“He diminished himself and the office by using it as an opportunity to politicize,” said GOP strategist Rick Tyler.
On this Christmas, the feeling of yuletide joy is missing, thanks to the destructive actions of a president gone mad in the White House and the greetings of the season are less than celebratory.
With some thousands of federal employees affected by the partial closing of the government last Friday at midnight, many of them spend this Christmas pondering the return to gifts to help pay mortgages and bills.
President Donald Trump’s Christmas morning appearance in the Oval Office was primarily a threat to keep the federal government closed until he gets his way.
“I can’t tell you when the government is going to reopen,” he said. “I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it. I’ll call it whatever they want. But it’s all the same thing. It’s a barrier from people pouring into our country.”
Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like reading briefing books, consulting government experts before making major changes and appointing a competent staff — so absent, his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation.
I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.
Our sources on Capitol Hill says a slowly increasing number of Republicans — especially in the Senate — are muttering the same thing in closed-door gatherings.
They realize Trump is out of control. It’s only a matter of time before they start coming out.
“If America starts to behave as a selfish, shameless, lying grifter like Trump, you simply cannot imagine how unstable — how disruptive — world markets and geopolitics may become,” writes Friedman. “We cannot afford to find out.”
The reality that presidential unfitness matters for investors seems to have started setting in only about three weeks (and around 4,000 points on the Dow) ago. First came the realization that Trump’s much-hyped deal with China existed only in his imagination. Then came his televised meltdown in a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, his abrupt pullout from Syria, his firing of Jim Mattis and his shutdown of the government because Congress won’t cater to his edifice complex and build a pointless wall. And now there’s buzz that he wants to fire Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Oh, and along the way we learned that Trump has been engaging in raw obstruction of justice, pressuring his acting attorney general (who is himself a piece of work) over the Mueller investigation as the tally of convictions, confessions and forced resignations mounts.
Trump has shown himself to be even more of a despicable human being than he appeared then, and utterly incapable of growing into the office. He is just as petty, just as impulsive, just as narcissistic, just as dishonest and, perhaps, even more corrupt than we realized. Not only does he seem to be using every available opportunity to exploit the presidency to enrich himself and his family, but a recent, meticulously documented investigation showed that Trump, his father, and his siblings engaged in a years-long scheme to commit tax fraud on an absolutely massive scale, a story that, in the endless waves of White House madness, has been almost forgotten.
Not a lot of Christmas cheer floating around on what is supposed to be a day of celebration.
Trump claims he has supports from those he put out of work with the government shutdown.
“Many of those workers have said to me, communicated — stay out until you get the funding for the wall,” Trump added. “These federal workers want the wall.”
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 150,000 of those federal workers, disputes that claim.
“Federal employees should not have to pay the personal price for all of this dysfunction,” Reardon said in response to Trump’s claim. “This shutdown is a travesty. Congress and the White House have not done their fundamental jobs of keeping the government open.”
No rank and file federal worker affected by the shutdown has come forward to say he or she supports Trump or the shutdown.
In other words, another lie from a lying president.
To hear Donald Trump talk, you’d think Barack Obama was the president who stole Christmas.
Although Trump doesn’t generally single him out by name on this subject, the president’s meaning is unmistakable when he declares, as he has done since long before the holiday season, that’s he making it OK to talk about Christmas again. Obama, it would seem, did not. But that’s not what the record shows.
A look at that matter and others that arose in a week bristling with action on taxes and Trump’s words on foreign policy, politics and more:
TRUMP: “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! — a tweet Christmas Eve.
THE FACTS: “Merry Christmas,” the president said when presiding over the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and celebrating “the birth of our Savior.”
That president was Obama, marking “my family’s Christian faith” and other faiths in his final Christmas tree ritual in office, in 2016.
The White House holidays under the Obamas had plenty of Christmas trappings and cheer. Obama offered a more general holiday message on the official greeting card, but wished “Merry Christmas” at the National Tree lighting, on his Twitter account and in his weekly address.
Trump explicitly criticized Obama in 2011, tweeting that the president had “issued a statement for Kwanzaa but failed to issue one for Christmas.” In fact, that year Obama wished people “Merry Christmas” from his Twitter account and gave a video address with wife Michelle Obama in which he wished people a “Merry Christmas and happy holidays.”
Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also offered greetings marking Kwanzaa, the weeklong African heritage festivities starting Tuesday. The White House said Trump will also have a statement on Kwanzaa.
TRUMP: “The bottom line is, this is the biggest tax cuts and reform in the history of our country. This is bigger than, actually, President Reagan’s many years ago.” — remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: Not so, in either case. For months Trump has refused to recognize larger tax cuts in history, of which there have been many, or to grant that other presidents have enacted big tax cuts since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The White House won’t explain how he arrives at his conclusion.
An October analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that it would be the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II. Trump’s plan is also smaller than cuts in 1948, 1964 and 1921, and probably in other years.
Additionally, a Treasury Department analysis found Reagan’s 1981 tax cut had an annual average cost of nearly 2 percent of GDP. This would translate into roughly $400 billion in today’s dollars. The current tax cuts peak at $280 billion in 2019.
Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product. The government uses percentage of GDP to measure most budget and tax issues over time because that measure puts tax revenues and federal outlays in context relative to the entire economy.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “You’re delivering on that middle-class miracle.” — to Trump at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Modest doesn’t usually make for a miracle. Pence’s praise to the boss reflects Trump’s assertion that “it’s a tax bill for the middle class,” as he often put it, but average people are not the prime beneficiaries of the tax cuts. Aside from businesses, rich people get the most.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the biggest benefit of the new law will go to households making $308,000 to $733,000. Households making over that should get a tax cut worth 3.4 percent of their after-tax income. For the richest 0.1 percent (making over $3.4 million), the tax cut should be worth 2.7 percent of their after-tax income. For middle-income earners: 1.6 percent, the center estimates.
Moreover, only high-income people would get a meaningful tax cut after 2025, when nearly all of the plan’s individual income tax provisions are due to expire.
Republicans argue that the middle class will also see benefits from the business tax cuts, in the form of more jobs and higher wages.
DEMOCRATIC SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: “Their bill increases taxes on lots of middle-class people. … According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of earners in our country gets 83 percent of the benefits.” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The tax cuts are not nearly as lopsided as many Democrats are portraying them. Almost all of the middle class would initially pay less in taxes.
For the next eight years, the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers — those earning between $49,000 and $86,000 — will receive a tax cut, albeit a small one. In 2018, nine-tenths of the middle class will get a cut, according to the Tax Policy Center. In 2025, 87 percent will. The tax cut won’t be very big: just $930 next year for the middle one-fifth of taxpayers, the center’s analysis concludes. For those paid twice a month, that’s about $40 a paycheck.
Schumer and other Democrats who have blasted the plan as a middle-class betrayal are basing their assertions on the fact that nearly all personal tax cuts expire after 2025. That would result in a slight tax increase for about two-thirds of the middle class by 2027. The top 1 percent would still get a cut that year.
Only in 2027 do the wealthiest taxpayers get 83 percent of the benefit, as Schumer says. In 2018, roughly 21 percent of the tax cut’s benefits go to the richest 1 percent, a much smaller figure, though still a disproportionate share. Just 11 percent will go to the middle one-fifth.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, House Democratic leader: “86 million middle class families get a tax hike.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: She’s ignoring all the middle-class tax cuts before 2027; that year, taxes will be slightly higher for the middle class unless the cuts are extended.
TRUMP on his tax legislation: “Obamacare has been repealed in this bill.” — remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It hasn’t. The tax plan ends fines for people who don’t carry health insurance. That’s a major change but far from the dismantling of the health law.
Other marquee components of Barack Obama’s law remain, such as the Medicaid expansion serving low-income adults, protections that shield people with pre-existing medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums, income-based subsidies for consumers buying individual health insurance policies, the requirement that insurers cover “essential” health benefits, and the mandate that larger employers provide coverage to their workers or face fines.
Also, the tax law doesn’t repeal fines for uninsured individuals until the start of 2019, meaning the “individual mandate” is still in force for next year unless the administration acts to waive the penalties.
TRUMP: “When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed because they get their money from the individual mandate.” — remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This is also wrong. The fines on people who don’t carry health insurance only provide a small fraction of the financing for the program. Most of the money comes from higher taxes on upper-income people, cuts in Medicare payments to service providers, and other tax increases.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that fines from uninsured people would total $3 billion this year, while the government’s cost for the coverage provided under the health law would total about $117 billion.
TRUMP on his predecessors: “They put American energy under lock and key.” — speech Monday.
THE FACTS: On the contrary, energy production was unleashed during Obama’s presidency, largely because of advances in hydraulic fracturing that made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports. Before the presidential election last year, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. The government estimated this year that the U.S. could switch from being a net importer of energy to being a net exporter as early as 2019, depending on what happens to oil prices, energy resources and economic growth.
Trump, a Republican, has rolled back some obstacles for the coal industry, which indeed complained of overregulation by Obama, a Democrat. But coal’s decline in recent years was driven mainly by competition from cheap natural gas.
Despite his rhetoric about U.S. energy production, one of Trump’s most consequential actions as president has been to open the U.S. to another source of foreign oil, with his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.
Obama’s two-term predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, was no adversary of the energy industry. Neither president put energy “under lock and key.”
Find AP Fact Checks at https://apnews.com/tag/APFactCheck
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
There’s no mistaking President Donald Trump’s “Merry Christmas” message — he wields it as a weapon against political correctness.
For weeks, he’s been liberally sprinkling his public remarks with Christmas tidings. And then pointing it out in case anyone fails to notice.
Trump has long promised that this year would be different after what he saw as a trend toward giving the Christian celebration short shrift in favor of a more generic and inclusive “happy holidays” message.
“Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump announced in October at a Values Voter Summit of conservatives.
For all of that, though, it turns out the 2017 holiday rhythms at the White House are similar to those of years past.
The president participated in the annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. The house has been decked out for the season with an array of traditional trimmings, including the longstanding crèche in the East Room. There has been a whirlwind of parties — roughly 20 receptions and more than 100 open houses, including a reception to mark Hanukkah.
“It is as beautiful as it has always has been. It is as special as it always has been,” said Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff.
The White House holidays under Barack and Michelle Obama also included plenty of Christmas trappings and cheer. Obama offered a more general holiday message on the official greeting card, but wished “Merry Christmas” at the National Tree lighting, on his Twitter account and in his weekly address.
Trump has expressed concern about a diminished “Merry Christmas” message for years. In 2011, he criticized Obama’s approach, saying on Twitter that the president had “issued a statement for Kwanza but failed to issue one for Christmas.” In fact, that year Obama wished people “Merry Christmas” from his Twitter account and gave a video address with his wife in which he wished people a “Merry Christmas and happy holidays.” Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also offered greetings marking Kwanza, the weeklong African heritage festivities in December.
The White House said Trump will also have a statement on Kwanza.
At the official lighting of the National Christmas Tree this year, Trump offered an overtly religious message, noting that “for Christians, this is a holy season.” He added that the “Christmas story begins 2000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son, and the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of God’s love for all of humanity.”
But his predecessor also made remarks grounded in Christian traditions. At his final tree lighting, Obama opened with “Merry Christmas,” and spoke about this being a time to “celebrate the birth of our Savior, as we retell the story of weary travelers, a star, shepherds, Magi.” He went on to discuss the message of the holiday, saying that it “grounds not just my family’s Christian faith but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, non-believers— Americans of all backgrounds.”
Asked if the White House thought the previous administration did not acknowledge Christmas, first lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said, “We are focused on our administration.”
Trump’s emphasis on Christmas has been welcomed by evangelical Christians who see it as evidence of his commitment to religious liberty.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Trump “has talked about it more frequently and with more intensity.”
Conservative angst over a perceived shift away from “Merry Christmas” has long percolated. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly talked about the “war on Christmas” on his show for years, highlighting businesses that opted to say “Happy Holidays.”
“Among the conservative Christians, they really do feel embattled,” said Mark Alan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Washington. “They have a sense of ‘we’re being persecuted.’ This Merry Christmas thing is part of it.”
Jeffress, who attended holiday events at the White House this year, said Trump’s Christmas comments were one of many moves supported by evangelical Christians, who have cheered as Trump appointed conservative judges, sought to weaken rules governing political activity by religious groups that received tax exemptions, and declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
“I believe a lot of Christians see his willingness to say Merry Christmas as the proxy for religious liberty,” Jeffress said.
But critics say Trump is using Christmas as a cudgel in cultural warfare.
“This is like kneeling during the national anthem,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Cassino, who has polled and written on the issue, said there’s no real downside for Trump in keeping up the Christmas talk.
“People who believe it is important feel much more strongly than people who feel you should say Happy Holidays,” Cassino said. “The people who are opposed feel much less strongly.”
Still, Trump’s efforts became a punch line on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” recently as Alec Baldwin portrayed a festive Trump wishing people a “Merry Christmas.”
He added: “You can finally say that again, because the war on Christmas is over. It will soon be replaced by the war on North Korea.”
As Christmas approaches, a sense of impending doom envelops us, driven by a narcissistic tyrant in the White House, a compliant Congress that values political partisanship over service to the country and a society filled with mass shootings, sexual harassment run amok and a need for greed.
With all this going on, how in the hell can we celebrate a holiday like Christmas.
Perhaps we need Christmas this year like never before.
We can speed money we don’t have — but are promised in a tax cut that always seems to benefit someone else — and celebrate a time that seems lost in an amoral time when physical and financial gratification takes precedence over spiritualism and hope.
As a newspaperman, i thrive on cynicism and distrust, especially when it comes to politicians and elected leaders like a president elected by a minority of voters who sees himself as a king and not a servant of the people.
Yet we still live in a country forged by men more than two centuries ago on a type of democracy that seems to somehow arise when needed to set things straight during difficult times.
We survived the assault on the Constitution during the Nixon era and Watergate so, the argument does, we can survive the threat to individual rights and threat of greed and injustice of the Trump march against our laws and way of life.
Congress late Thursday gave the nation another month to try and work out a budget and spending package that might keep the government from shutting down. We have a “tax reform” plan that seems to be more of a welfare plan for the very rich that will be paid for by the poor and middle class, who can’t afford the bill.
So why celebrate Christmas?
As mountain climbers say: “Because it’s there.”
President Donald Trump retreats to his luxurious digs in Florida — at massive taxpayer expense — and Congress goes home to try and sell a tax plan that appears to be beyond description or rationalization before returning to Washington in January with a large pile of unfinished business.
Let’s forget about all that and take a few days to celebrate Christmas and try to remember that it is a holiday to celebrate the birth of a religious icon with the largest collection of believers in America.
Let’s also remember that this is the season when we speak civilly to one another while wishing them a “Merry Christmas” if you’re a Christian or “Happy Holidays” if you’re not.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas.
I say that as a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Old Dominion and can celebrate that my home rejected Donald Trump at the polls in November of 2016 and sent many members of the Republican party packing in this year’s state and local elections.
On Friday nights in my hometown, clogging regulars and visitors from around the world dance the night away at the Friday Night Jamboree in a fun evening where booze is not served and politics, for the most part, is avoided.
Which, of course, is why politicians of both parties flock to the Jamboree before each election to curry favor with the crowd that would rather spend time listening and dancing to banjo and fiddle music.
I will be there on this Friday night and most others and I won’t give a damn about Donald Trump or what is happening — or not happening — in Washington.
Merry Christmas from Capitol Hill Blue. May your wishes come true.
President Barack Obama is one of the most powerful men in the world. He’s commander in chief of one of its mightiest militaries, too.
Yet in spite of all that, Obama feels inadequate from time to time. Especially when he’s vacationing in Hawaii and working out alongside strapping Marines at their gym.
“The only problem I’ve got when I’m here is having to work out with Marines in the gym,” Obama said during his annual Christmas Day visit with U.S. troops at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. “Because I generally feel like your commander in chief is in pretty good shape, and then I get next to some guy, you know, curling 100 pounds and it makes me feel small.”
Obama works out at the base gym just about every day when he vacations here. With New Year’s Day approaching, though, he told the troops he’s inspired “to work harder so I can keep up with you next year.”
Perhaps using the “workout stuff” his wife, Michelle, had said she was getting him for Christmas.
The 6-foot-1 Obama is known to enjoy a daily workout whether he’s at home in the White House, traveling or on vacation. He also plays golf practically every weekend in Washington when the weather cooperates, and he swings his clubs just about daily during extended vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, or here in his native Hawaii.
The Christmas visit with the troops has become a yearly tradition for the Obamas during their annual vacation on Oahu.
Obama said it’s one of their favorite things to do because they get a chance to “say thank you on behalf of the American people.”
This year’s visit came four days after six U.S. service members were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. In his first public comments on the attack, Obama praised the six individuals as “outstanding, brave men and women.”
“As we know, when you’re deployed overseas, it’s tough,” Obama said Friday. He said that although his administration has brought home troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, “there are still folks over there every single day and it’s still dangerous, as we saw this past week, where we had some outstanding, brave men and women who were killed.”
“So we never take for granted what all of you do for the American people,” Obama said. “You help keep us free. You help keep us strong. Whatever service you’re in, whatever branch, we are extraordinarily grateful for everything that you do every single day.”
The six service members, including a New York City police detective who served in the U.S. National Guard, were killed Monday at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the largest U.S. facility in the country, when a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Before the afternoon visit, Obama opened Christmas gifts and sang carols with his family at their vacation rental in nearby Kailua, about a half hour from downtown Honolulu.
Obama also spent part of Christmas Eve telephoning U.S. service members stationed around the world to thank them and their families for their service, the White House said.
Obama is on a 16-day vacation from Washington. He is scheduled to return to the White House just after the start of the new year.
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In Alabama, a Presbyterian church wanted to be able to hire its own police for protection. Mosque leaders around the country are meeting with law enforcement officials as an anti-Muslim furor fuels arson attacks and vandalism. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been holding specialized training for congregations for “all hazards, including active shooter incidents.”
Religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before following a season of violence, from the slaughter unleashed in June by a white shooter at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the killings this month in San Bernardino, California.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said 2015 is shaping up as the worst year ever for U.S. mosques, amid the backlash to the Islamic-extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the intensifying anti-Muslim rhetoric from Donald Trump and others seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Preliminary 2015 data collected by the civil rights organization found 71 reported cases of vandalism, harassment and threats, with 29 of those incidents occurring since the Nov. 13 assaults in France.
The Anti-Defamation League, which works to secure Jewish sites, has been organizing safety training around the country with other faith groups, including an Austin, Texas, event with local police and the African Methodist Episcopal Churches of Greater Austin that drew participants from 35 churches and three mosques. The Charleston church attacked in June, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is part of the national African Methodist Episcopal denomination.
Christian churches have been refining their security plans ahead of receiving some of their largest crowds of the year for Christmas. On a FEMA webinar last Wednesday on protecting houses of worship, the chief security executive at The Potter’s House, the Rev. T.D. Jakes’ megachurch in Dallas, gave tips about behavior that should raise concern, such as a congregant arriving in a long coat in hot weather. If needed, church greeters could give a hug and feel for weapons, said the executive, Sean Smith.
“I call it the Holy Ghost pat-down,” Smith said.
Congregations and other religious sites have long been targets of violence and vandalism, especially African-American churches going back at least to the civil rights movement. In 2007, a young man on a shooting spree killed two people at an evangelical ministry and two more at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2012, a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. And last year, a white supremacist killed three people at a Jewish Community Center and retirement home in suburban Kansas City.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Jewish groups led an effort that persuaded Congress to provide grants through the Department of Homeland Security to improve protection of congregations. Even so, a 2013 poll by the Barna Group for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance found nearly 60 percent of Protestant churches nationwide did not have a formal security plan for worship services.
Now anxieties over security are reaching a new level with national attention focused on mass shootings and terror threats, renewing debate about how far congregations should go to protect themselves given the religious imperative to be open to newcomers.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church, which draws about 30,000 worshippers to its weekend Masses, this month alerted parishioners to beefed-up security, such as uniformed and plain-clothes police officers at services, and a ban on backpacks, baby strollers and diaper bags in worship areas.
“People feel that is almost like a weight lifted, in light of what is happening in the world today,” said Antoinette Usher, the facilities and operations director at St. Matthew, which has held three security training sessions for staff, including active-shooter training. “They were feeling a little concerned about being a house of worship. You’re facing forward. Someone could come in from behind.”
Rod Pires, who runs a church security ministry in the Atlanta area, said he is getting more and more requests for help, including several calls daily from churches asking whether they should arm their members or develop a security plan. Several states allow concealed weapons in churches, including Arkansas, Illinois and North Dakota.
A bill the Alabama Legislature passed in August would have let Briarwood Presbyterian Church in metro Birmingham hire at least one police officer and perhaps more, giving them the same authority as city or county enforcement on properties that include the church and a large private school. Gov. Robert Bentley refused to sign the legislation, which died on his desk as some lawmakers and administration officials worried the bill could open the door to private police forces statewide.
“As soon as there’s a mass shooting the phone just starts ringing off the hook, and everyone wants a quick solution,” said Pires, CEO of Church Security 360 Degrees and former security chief at First Baptist Church of Atlanta. But guns in worship? Pires rejects the idea without a full security assessment and competent people trained to handle firearms.
Most recently, concern has been focused on mosques. Last Monday, the White House convened meetings of Muslim and Sikh leaders to discuss the uptick in hate crimes against their houses of worship and individual members of their faiths. Sikhs, who wear turbans, are often mistaken for Muslims.
The alarming cases of harassment include a November anti-Muslim rally with some armed demonstrators outside of an Irving, Texas, mosque, and an arson attack at the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley in California, about 75 miles from San Bernardino. Last weekend, two mosques in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne were vandalized with paint and a fake grenade was left. And the Anti-Defamation League, which also tracks hate crimes, said three California houses run by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement received hand-written letters saying Jews should get out of “our white country” and “take the Muslims with you.”
At ADAMS in Sterling, Virginia, one of the largest Muslim congregations in the country, the security guards resigned, saying they felt they could no longer protect the mosque amid the anti-Muslim uproar, ADAMS board chairman Rizwan Jaka said. The guards have been replaced with a more experienced team and the center’s leaders are trying to reassure Muslims worried about the risks of attending Friday prayers.
“Mosques are targets, so it’s a natural fear they might have,” Jaka said. “We’re probably back to normal from a congregational attendance perspective since we got the upgraded security.”
On the FEMA webinar, officials emphasized the need for heightened security for all houses of worship. Katherine Schweit, chief of the active-shooter section in the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement, explained how congregants could create confusion to distract shooters.
“You can fight by everyone throwing a Bible at them,” Schweit said, “and I mean that in a very respectful way because I am a Bible-fearing person.”
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.
Travelers setting out for the holidays could face trouble, with anticipated Christmas Eve snow around the Great Lakes states and heavy rain expected along the East Coast.
National Weather Service meteorologists predicted rain that would turn into snow for some parts of Missouri to Michigan, with several inches expected Wednesday in portions of Illinois. Officials at both airport hubs in Chicago readied for the potential of holiday delays and cancellations, particularly with more people expected to fly this year.
“I would definitely make plans about possibly staying put or doing something else,” said Chicago-area meteorologist Charles Mott. “Same for the roads. If you’re not going to fly, the roads are not going to be getting any better.”
About 4.2 million passengers are expected through O’Hare and Midway international airports during an 18-day holiday travel period ending Jan. 6, said Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride. That would be a 3 percent increase at O’Hare and a 9 percent jump at Midway compared with last year. Pride urged travelers to allow plenty of time and monitor airlines closely.
On Tuesday, a storm system developed in the Gulf States, generating tornadoes that left four people dead, damaging some buildings and leaving thousands without power. It was expected to drop rain along the East Coast.
The severe weather caused some delays at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — though airport spokesman Reese McCranie said in an email he was not aware of any cancellations. He said the airport did not expect a ground stop.
Elsewhere, a blast of cold and snowy conditions affected travel Tuesday.
In Nevada, the National Weather Service says a strong cold front will move through the western part of the state Wednesday night into Thursday on the heels of record-high temperatures.
The heaviest snow is forecast after 4 p.m. Wednesday, with up to 10 inches expected on mountain passes by Thursday morning.
Dozens of flights in and out of Philadelphia International Airport were canceled and others saw delays of about two hours due to bad weather and low clouds.
In eastern Colorado, Interstate 70 was shut down into Kansas for eight hours because of strong winds and blowing snow. Farther west, blowing snow also led to part of U.S. Highway 285 being closed at some points Tuesday.
Parts of western South Dakota saw snow accumulations of a foot or more through Tuesday morning. Higher elevations in the Black Hills got close to 2 feet.
But not all winter enthusiasts were so lucky.
Snow isn’t expected in other parts of South Dakota until Friday. Sioux Falls resident Alana Amdahl said she’s disappointed about the lack of snow projected for Christmas.
“We live in South Dakota for a reason,” said Amdahl, 27. “We don’t have palm trees to put Christmas lights on, we have evergreens. Of course, we need snow. It can melt after the new year.”
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .
Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Colleen Slevin in Denver; Phillip Lucas in Atlanta; and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this report
Christmastime is here and a new poll reveals the cards and gifts that are part of celebrating the holiday are ubiquitous, even among those who don’t share the Christian beliefs behind the story of the Magi who gave the first Christmas gifts.
According to the Associated Press-GfK poll, 77 percent of Americans plan to exchange gifts this holiday season and 48 percent will send greeting cards. The gift-giving set includes about 8 in 10 Christians and 73 percent of those who say they have no religious beliefs.
Greeting cards also cross denominational lines, with 53 percent of Protestants, 55 percent of Catholics and 40 percent of those without religious beliefs saying they will send cards this year.
Here’s a look at how Americans view this season’s greetings:
THE PHOTO CARD GENERATION
Americans who aren’t religious are less likely to send cards because they tend to be younger, and young people are less apt to send cards, regardless of their religious beliefs. Fifty-two percent of non-religious Americans over age 50 plan to send cards, not far off the 57 percent of Protestants and 64 percent of Catholics in that age group who will send them.
Young people are the least likely of all demographic groups to say they’ll send cards this year. Just 29 percent of Americans under age 30 plan to, compared with 64 percent of seniors. The young are also the least likely to receive cards. Two-thirds under age 30 receive five Christmas cards or fewer per year. Among seniors, just 18 percent receive five or fewer cards in a typical year.
Those under-30s, raised in the age of email, are most likely to reject the concept of cards altogether. Asked what type of card they prefer to receive, 21 percent say none, thanks. Just 8 percent of seniors share that view.
Younger adults who do like holiday cards are more likely to say they want a photo card, while the older set tends to prefer handwritten notes or Christmas letters. A third of those under age 50 say photo cards are their favorites, compared with 18 percent of those age 50 or older. Among those 50 or older, 54 percent prefer a pre-printed or boxed card with a note or a personal signature, compared with 36 percent of younger adults. Another 12 percent age 50 or older say they’d really like a Christmas letter. And regardless of age, no one embraces the holiday e-card: Just 2 percent say they want one of those.
MARRIAGE, GENDER GAPS ON CARDS AND GIFTS
Women are more likely than men to say they will send seasonal greetings to friends or loved ones this year, with married women most likely of all to send a card full of holiday cheer. About two-thirds of married women said they will send out cards, compared with 52 percent of married men, 42 percent of unmarried women and just 31 percent of unmarried men.
On the gift front, married people are more apt to give presents than those who aren’t married (82 percent plan to exchange gifts this year compared with 66 percent of those who have never been married), though the gap between men and women among married people is significantly smaller than the card gap (84 percent of married women plan to give gifts compared with 80 percent of married men).
HANDMADE VS. STORE BOUGHT
DIY is not on Americans’ wish list. Asked whether they prefer to receive a store-bought gift or a handmade one, Americans err on the side of the stores. By a 62 percent to 35 percent margin, people prefer their gifts to come from the store. Women (41 percent), rural residents (43 percent) and whites (38 percent) are most apt to favor handmade presents.
When giving, however, the preference for store-bought wares is even stronger. Overall, 85 percent of Americans who will exchange gifts this year say they would rather buy a gift than make one. Women (17 percent) are still more likely than men to prefer handmade gifts.
HOW MANY STAMPS?
When it comes to cards, Americans receive more than they give. Although half say they won’t send any cards this year, just 11 percent say they don’t typically receive any cards.
Among the 48 percent who say they will send a card this year, half say they will send fewer than 20 cards. Those who plan to send more drive up the average to about 30 cards per sender, including 11 percent who say they plan to send more than 50 cards this year, presumably including one for the postman.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar. Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers.
Here’s a look at how the new recreational marijuana industry is trying to attract holiday shoppers.
Traditional retailers sell some items below cost to drive traffic and attract sales. Recreational marijuana retailers are doing the same.
The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper. Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he’s selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers. As Colorado dispensaries approach a year of being able to sell weed to all adults over 21, not just card-carrying medical patients, Fox says retailers have to do more than just sell pot to get public attention.
Pot shops are using old and new media to tout the sales. One dispensary is taking out a full-page “Happy Danksgiving” ad in The Denver Post and is inviting shoppers to text a code for extra savings.
VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS
Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air. One of the state’s largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint. The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home. Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. “It just tastes too good, we had to do it,” Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company’s holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies.
Some shops are angling for high-end holiday shoppers, not an increase in foot traffic. Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they’re “sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price.”
What holiday shopper doesn’t appreciate free gift wrapping? Or a gift set ready to pop under the tree? The Growing Kitchen is making $49.99 gift sets for both the medical and recreational pot user. The sets include the edible-pot maker’s new Mighty Mint cookie, a pot-infused confection new for the holiday shopping season, along with marijuana-infused salves for muscles sore from the ski slopes. Other dispensaries are offering free gift totes and stockings with purchases.
For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn’t know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado’s 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That’s because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.
Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.
CANNAGIFTS FOR THE MAIL
Just because marijuana can’t legally leave Colorado doesn’t mean dispensaries don’t have items for out-of-state friends and family. Some dispensaries are highlighting some non-cannabis gift items — things like T-shirts, rolling papers and lotions made with legal herbs. The sets are for shoppers who want to give a taste of Colorado’s new marijuana industry without breaking federal law by mailing it or taking it out of state.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt