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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump travel ban faces biggest legal test yet

Trump travel ban faces biggest legal test yet

AP Photo
Baraah Alawdi, originally from Yemen, poses for photos next to an unidentified artist's mannequin placed outside of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its biggest legal test yet Tuesday as a panel of federal judges prepared to hear arguments from the administration and its opponents about two fundamentally divergent views of the executive branch and the court system.
 
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its biggest legal test yet Tuesday as a panel of federal judges prepared to hear arguments from the administration and its opponents about two fundamentally divergent views of the executive branch and the court system.

The government will ask a federal appeals court to restore Trump's executive order, contending that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States. But several states have challenged the ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations and insisted that it is unconstitutional.

Tuesday's hearing was to unfold before a randomly selected panel of judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was unlikely the court would issue a ruling Tuesday, with a decision expected later this week, court spokesman David Madden said.

Whatever the court eventually decides, either side could ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who on Friday temporarily blocked Trump's order, has said a judge's job is to ensure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."

Trump said Tuesday that he can't believe his administration has to fight in the courts to uphold his refugee and immigration ban, a policy he says will protect the country.

"And a lot of people agree with us, believe me," Trump said at a roundtable discussion with members of the National Sheriff's Association. "If those people ever protested, you'd see a real protest. But they want to see our borders secure and our country secure."

The same day, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told lawmakers that the order likely should have been delayed at least long enough to brief Congress about it.

The Justice Department filed a new defense of the ban Monday. Lawyers said it was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority to protect national security and said Robart's order should be overruled.

The filing with the appeals court was the latest salvo in a high-stakes legal fight surrounding Trump's order, which temporarily suspends the country's refugee program and immigration from seven countries with terrorism concerns.

Washington state, Minnesota and other states say the appellate court should allow a temporary restraining order blocking the travel ban to stand as their lawsuit moves through the legal system.

The panel hearing the arguments includes two Democrat-appointed judges and one Republican appointee.

The appeals court over the weekend refused to immediately reinstate the ban, and lawyers for Washington 
and Minnesota argued anew on Monday that any resumption would "unleash chaos again," separating families and stranding university students.

The Justice Department responded that the president has clear authority to "suspend the entry of any class of aliens" to the U.S. in the name of national security. It said the travel ban was intended "to permit an orderly review and revision of screening procedures to ensure that adequate standards are in place to protect against terrorist attacks."

The challengers of the ban were asking "courts to take the extraordinary step of second-guessing a formal national security judgment made by the president himself," the Justice Department wrote.

It's possible that the panel could make a ruling on a technical point, rather than the larger merits of the case. Under 9th Circuit case law, temporary restraining orders cannot be appealed, a point noted by the states.

An analysis on that point would include examining whether the lower court's order is properly classified as a temporary restraining order rather than as another type of order, a preliminary injunction, noted Arthur Hellman, a federal courts scholar at University of Pittsburgh Law School.

If the case does end up before the Supreme Court, it could prove difficult to find the necessary five votes to undo a lower court order. The Supreme Court has been at less than full strength since Justice Antonin Scalia's death a year ago. The last immigration case that reached the justices ended in a 4-4 tie.

How and when a case might get to the Supreme Court is unclear. The travel ban itself is to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before a higher court takes up the issue. Or the administration could change it in any number of ways that would keep the issue alive.

After Robart's ruling, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - with valid visas could travel to the U.S.

A graduate student who had traveled to Libya with her 1-year-old son to visit her sick mother and attend her father's funeral was back in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday after having been stopped in Jordan on her return trip. She was welcomed with flowers and balloons by her husband and other children.

Syrian immigrant Mathyo Asali said he thought his life was "ruined" when he landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 28 only to be denied entry to the United States. Asali, who returned to Damascus, said he figured he'd be inducted into the Syrian military. He was back on U.S. soil Monday.

"It's really nice to know that there's a lot of people supporting us," Asali told Gov. Tom Wolf, who greeted the family at a relative's house in Allentown.

States challenging the ban have been joined by technology companies, who have said it makes it more difficult to recruit employees. National security officials under President Barack Obama have also come out against it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Appeals court weighs Trump ban as travelers arrive to tears

Appeals court weighs Trump ban as travelers arrive to tears

AP Photo
Nazanin Zinouri, 29, is greeted at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, S.C., with kisses from her dog Dexter and well-wishers holding signs reading "Welcome Home" on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. Zinouri, an Iranian engineer and Clemson University graduate, had been unable to return to the United States because of the executive order President Donald Trump signed that limited travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fierce battle over President Donald Trump's travel and refugee ban edged up the judicial escalator Monday, headed for a possible final face-off at the Supreme Court. Travelers, temporarily unbound, tearfully reunited with loved ones at U.S. airports.

The Justice Department filed a new defense of Trump's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations as a federal appeals court weighs whether to restore the administration's executive order. The lawyers said the travel ban was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority to protect national security and said a judge's order that put the policy on hold should be overruled.

The filing with the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest salvo in a high-stakes legal fight surrounding Trump's order, which was halted Friday by a federal judge in Washington state.

The judges are to hear arguments Tuesday.

The appeals court earlier refused to immediately reinstate the ban, and lawyers for Washington and Minnesota - two states challenging it - argued anew on Monday that any resumption would "unleash chaos again," separating families and stranding university students.

The Justice Department responded that the president has clear authority to "suspend the entry of any class of aliens" to the U.S. in the name of national security. It said the travel ban, which temporarily suspends the country's refugee program and immigration from seven countries with terrorism concerns, was intended "to permit an orderly review and revision of screening procedures to ensure that adequate standards are in place to protect against terrorist attacks."

The challengers of the ban, the Justice Department wrote, were asking "courts to take the extraordinary step of second-guessing a formal national security judgment made by the president himself pursuant to broad grants of statutory authority."

Whatever the appeals court decides, either side could ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

It could prove difficult, though, to find the necessary five votes at the high court to undo a lower court order; the Supreme Court has been at less than full strength since Justice Antonin Scalia's death a year ago. The last immigration case that reached the justices ended in a 4-4 tie.

The president's executive order has faced legal uncertainty ever since Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robart, which challenged both Trump's authority and his ability to fulfill a campaign promise.

The State Department quickly said people from the seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - could travel to the U.S. if they had valid visas. The Homeland Security Department said it was no longer directing airlines to prevent affected visa holders from boarding U.S.-bound planes.

On Monday in Colorado, a graduate student who had traveled to Libya with her 1-year-old son to visit her sick mother and attend her father's funeral was back in Fort Collins after having been stopped in Jordan on her return trip. She was welcomed with flowers and balloons by her husband and other children.

Two Yemeni brothers whose family has sued over the travel ban, and who'd been turned away in the chaotic opening days of the order, arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, where they were greeted by their father.

"America is for everybody," Aqel Aziz said after greeting his sons.

Syrian immigrant Mathyo Asali said he thought his life was "ruined" when he landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 28 only to be denied entry to the United States. Asali, who returned to Damascus, said he figured he'd be inducted into the Syrian military. He was back on U.S. soil Monday.

"It's really nice to know that there's a lot of people supporting us," Asali told Gov. Tom Wolf, who greeted the family at a relative's house in Allentown.

The legal fight involves two divergent views of the role of the executive branch and the court system.

The government has asserted that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States, while Robart has said a judge's job is to ensure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."

His Friday ruling triggered a Twitter rant by Trump, who dismissed Robart as a "so-called judge." On Sunday, Trump tweeted, "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

States challenging the ban have been joined by technology companies, who have said it makes it more difficult to recruit employees. National security officials under President Barack Obama have also come out against it. A declaration filed by John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former secretaries of state, and others said the ban would disrupt lives and cripple U.S. counterterrorism partnerships without making the nation safer.

"It will aid ISIL's propaganda effort and serve its recruitment message by feeding into the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam," they wrote.

How and when a case might get to the Supreme Court is unclear. The travel ban itself is to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before a higher court takes up the issue. Or the administration could change it in any number of ways that would keep the issue alive.

The bench also could be full, with a new ninth justice on board, by the time the court is ready to hear arguments. If Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed this spring as Senate Republicans hope, chances of a tie vote would disappear.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Longtime US residents, aspiring citizens caught up in ban

Longtime US residents, aspiring citizens caught up in ban

AP Photo
CORRECTS SPELLING TO ABDOLLAH INSTEAD OF ABDULLAH - Abdollah Mostafavi, center, arriving from Tehran, Iran, is met by his family including son-in-law Nasser Sorkhavi, left, daughter Mozhgan Mostafavi, second from right, and grandson Kourosh Sorkhavi at San Francisco International Airport Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in San Francisco. Mostafavi was held at the airport for some time as a result of President Donald Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
 







LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.
Here are their stories:
---
Sahar Algonaimi, a 58-year-old Syrian woman coming to the U.S. to care for her cancer-stricken mother was put on a plane Saturday and sent back to Saudi Arabia hours after arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

When her 76-year-old mother became ill, Algonaimi's sister, Nour Ulayyet, asked her to come to their home in Valparaiso, Indiana, to help take care of her. Their mother underwent a mastectomy Friday.
Algonaimi had visited just last year and still had a U.S. visa good until June 2018.

After texting to say her plane had touched down, she never arrived at the gate. A man identifying himself as an immigration officer eventually called Ulayyet to say her sister was being put aboard a flight back to Saudi Arabia, where she teaches school.

"I asked if I could speak to a supervisor," Ulayyet said. "He was very nice, very sympathetic, but he said, 'Literally for me to help I'm going to be breaking the law and I'm not going to break the law.'"

Before Algonaimi left officials had her sign paperwork that she told her sister she didn't understand. It canceled her visa.

"I really can't put it in words how much sadness I feel and the sense of injustice we feel," Ulayyet said Sunday as she choked up.
---
Dr. Sarwa Aldoori, a family physician from Bakersfield, California, was returning home Saturday from an eight-day religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia when she was startled to be pulled aside from the rest of her group.

"Everything was OK until I got to the customs checking point and my colleagues and friends went through and the guy looked at my passport and eyed me and he said step aside," Aldoori said Sunday, her voice shaking as she tearfully described the ordeal.

She was released and reunited with her husband after nine hours.

Aldoori, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., said she made a similar pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year - "a very special visit in the life of every Muslim" - without incident.

As she cried and asked to know why she couldn't leave the airport this time, the doctor, who has lived in the United States since 1996, said an officer finally told her, "It's because you were born in Iraq."

"I looked at him and I said, 'You know, I am 62 years old. What did I do wrong?' He didn't say anything, he just looked at the floor and said have a seat."

Although angry and shaken, she said she still plans to become a U.S. citizen someday.

"I'm not going to let something like that stop me," she said defiantly. "We used to have decent people in government and now we don't."
---

Fateme Farmad was returning from Iran to her Minneapolis home with her 11-month-old son when she was detained and questioned for more than 12 hours at Los Angeles International Airport.

Farmad and her family had traveled to Iran last month to visit relatives. Her husband, Masoud Samet, returned to the U.S. for work on Jan. 6 while she and other family members stayed for a wedding.
When the group returned Saturday, her brother, a U.S. citizen, was immediately allowed back in. She, her son and her mother were detained.

"They are OK, but they are very tired and the situation was unexpected and very horrible," said her husband.
Attorneys who filed legal action demanding Farmad's release accused officials at the airport of attempting to coerce her into signing papers relinquishing her permanent resident status.

Farmad, who has lived in the United States for five years, is scheduled to take her oath of citizenship on Feb. 13.
---
Nazanin Zinouri had only been in Iran a couple of days for a family visit when she began to hear rumors that citizens of Muslim-majority nations would be banned from returning to the United States.

The U.S. resident of nearly seven years tried to return home immediately but flights were delayed in Tehran by heavy snow. She'd only gotten as far as Dubai when the ban went into effect and authorities refused to let her board a plane to the United States.

She said by phone Sunday she's been spending her time following the news and worrying about her rescue dog, Dexter, her home, her car and her job. She works for a technology firm in South Carolina.

"What's going to happen to my dog? My dog is sick. Is anyone going to adopt him?" she asked. "Am I going to lose my job forever?"

Zinouri, 29, has a master's degree from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from Clemson University.
She had gone to Iran to see her mother, brother and sister.
---
Abdollah Mostafavi was traveling to San Francisco for hip replacement surgery when the 80-year-old green-card holder was suddenly stopped at San Francisco International Airport.

Mostafavi, who has relatives in Canada and the U.S., splits his time between those countries and his native Iran.

When he was finally released after six hours Saturday his 8-year-old grandson ran to hug him as his 46-year-old daughter fought back tears.

"I'm worried sick," his daughter, Mozhgan Mostafavi, had told the AP as she waited at the airport for him. "I don't know any Iranians who have been in a terrorist attack. It's so dehumanizing. It's so insulting. I grew up during the Revolution in Iran and I feel that same suffocation. It's hard to breathe."

She said Sunday her father told her he'd been held for hours in a room with about 15 other Iranians.
"He said it seemed they had the order to detain them but had no idea what to do next," she said.
---
An Iraqi immigrant couple who arrived in Maine with two daughters just days before citizens of Muslim-majority nations were banned from entering the country are awaiting word on the fate of their oldest daughter, who didn't get out in time.

Labed Alalhanfy, his wife, Soso, and their 13- and 19-year-old daughters arrived in the United States from Baghdad on Tuesday.

Their 20-year-old daughter, Bananh, a student at the American University in Iraq, had planned to join them shortly.

"She is now very anxious and scared," said Alalhanfy.

He described his family as secular Muslims, which puts his daughter at some risk of remaining in Iraq without her family.

"The neighbors will start to notice. People will start questioning, especially because she is female. It is a critical situation," Alalhanfy said Saturday in an interview with the Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/2k5RGhO).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump proposes big export tax, triggering fight with Mexico

Trump proposes big export tax, triggering fight with Mexico

AP Photo
President Donald Trump walks on the tarmac as he waves to the crowd upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Trump was returning from Philadelphia after speaking at the House and Senate GOP lawmakers at their annual policy retreat.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's determination to wall off America's border with Mexico triggered a diplomatic clash and fresh fight over trade Thursday as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped next week's trip to Washington.

The swift fallout signaled a remarkable souring of relations between Washington and one of its most important international partners just days into the new administration. The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

At the heart of the dispute is Trump's insistence that Mexico will pay for construction of the massive wall he has promised along the southern U.S. border. Trump on Wednesday formally ordered construction of the wall.

The plan was a centerpiece of Trump's election campaign, though he never specified how Mexico would fund the project or how he would compel payments if Pena Nieto's government refused.

The two leaders had been scheduled to discuss the matter at the White House next week. But Pena Nieto took to Twitter Thursday to say he had informed the White House he would not be coming.

In a speech in Philadelphia later Thursday, Trump cast the cancellation as a mutual decision. He said that "unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. We have no choice."

On the flight back to Washington, Trump's spokesman told reporters the president was considering the 20 percent import tax to foot the bill, the most specific proposal Trump has ever floated for how to cover a project estimated to cost between $12 billion and $15 billion.

"By doing that, we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone," Spicer said. "This is something that we've been in close contact with both houses in moving forward and creating a plan."

Spicer said Trump was looking at taxing imports on all countries the U.S. has trade deficits with, but he added, "Right now we are focused on Mexico."

But the announcement sparked immediate confusion across Washington, and the White House tried to backtrack. During a hastily arranged briefing in the West Wing, chief of staff Reince Priebus said a 20 percent import tax was one idea in "a buffet of options" to pay for the border wall.

A 20 percent tariff would represent a huge tax increase on imports to the U.S., raising the likelihood of costs being passed on to consumers. Half of all non-agricultural goods enter the U.S. duty free, according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The other half face import tariffs averaging 2 percent.

Mexico is one of America's biggest trade partners, and the U.S. is the No. 1 buyer from that country, accounting for about 80 percent of Mexican exports. A complete rupture in ties could be damaging to the U.S. economy and disastrous for Mexico's. And major harm to Mexico's economy would surely spur more people to risk deportation, jail or even death to somehow cross the border to the U.S. - undercutting Trump's major goal of stopping illegal immigration.

To some congressional Republicans, Spicer's comments appeared to be a welcome embrace of border adjustment tax, a core element of House Speaker Paul Ryan's tax reform proposal. As part of that proposal, a 20 percent corporate tax rate would apply to goods and services consumed in the U.S. but not applied to exports from America.

Earlier this month, Trump called that concept confusing. And during the White House's clean-up efforts Thursday, Spicer wouldn't say whether Trump agreed with the border adjustment tax being considered by the House GOP.

The new president has previously raised the prospect of slapping tariffs on imports, but had not suggested it as a way to pay for the border wall.

There's also disagreement within his new administration over the effectiveness of tariffs in general. Wilbur Ross, Trump's nominee for commerce secretary, dismissed tariffs for trade negotiations during his confirmation hearing, saying the 1930 Tariff Act "didn't work very well then and it very likely wouldn't work now."

Pena Nieto has faced intense pressure at home over his response to Trump's aggressive stance toward his country. Until this week, Mexico had tried its traditional approach of quiet, cautious diplomacy combined with back-room discussions, sending Cabinet officials for talks with the Trump administration.

But that changed when Trump decided to announce his border wall on Wednesday - the same day that two senior Mexican Cabinet ministers arrived in Washington for preliminary talks ahead of what was to be a presidential tete-a-tete. Many Mexicans were affronted by the timing, and Pena Nieto faced a firestorm of criticism at home.

The diplomatic row recalls the rocky days of U.S.-Mexico relations in the 1980s, prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact that Trump has vigorously criticized.

"There is a change in the understanding that had been in operation over the last 22 years, when Mexico was considered a strategic ally," said Isidro Morales, a political scientist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. "Trump has unilaterally broken with this way of doing things."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump takes charge, assertive but untested 45th US president

Trump takes charge, assertive but untested 45th US president

AP Photo
President Donald Trump smiles with his son Barron as they view the 58th Presidential Inauguration parade for President Donald Trump in Washington. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017
   
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pledging emphatically to empower America's "forgotten men and women," Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States Friday, taking command of a riven nation facing an unpredictable era under his assertive but untested leadership.

Under cloudy, threatening skies at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Trump painted a bleak picture of the America he now leads, declaring as he had throughout the election campaign that it is beset by crime, poverty and a lack of bold action. The billionaire businessman and reality television star - the first president to have never held political office or high military rank - promised to stir a "new national pride" and protect America from the "ravages" of countries he says have stolen U.S. jobs.

"This American carnage stops right here," Trump declared. In a warning to the world, he said, "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America first."

The crowd that spread out before him on the National Mall was notably smaller than at past inaugurals, reflecting both the divisiveness of last year's campaign and the unpopularity of the incoming president compared to modern predecessors.

Demonstrations unfolded at various security checkpoints near the Capitol as police helped ticket-holders get through. After the swearing-in, more protesters registered their rage in the streets of Washington. Police in riot gear deployed pepper spray after protesters smashed the windows of downtown businesses, denouncing capitalism and the new president.

Police reported more than 200 arrests by evening and said six officers had been hurt. At least one vehicle was set afire.

Short and pointed, Trump's 16-minute address in the heart of Washington was a blistering rebuke of many who listened from privileged seats only feet away. Surrounded by men and women who have long filled the government's corridors of power, the new president said that for too long, "a small group in our nation's 
capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost."

His predecessor, President Barack Obama, sat stoically as Trump pledged to push the country in a dramatically different direction.

Trump's victory gives Republicans control of both the White House and Congress - and all but ensures conservatives can quickly pick up a seat on the closely divided Supreme Court. Despite entering a time of Republican dominance, Trump made little mention of the party's bedrock principles: small government, social conservationism and robust American leadership around the world.

He left no doubt he considers himself the product of a movement - not a party.

Trump declared his moment a fulfillment of his campaign pledge to take a sledgehammer to Washington's traditional ways, and he spoke directly to the alienated and disaffected.

"What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people," he said. "To all Americans in every city near and far, small and large from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again."

But the speech offered scant outreach to the millions who did not line up behind his candidacy.

Trump's call for restrictive immigration measures, religious screening of immigrants and his caustic campaign rhetoric about women and minorities angered millions. He did not directly address that opposition, instead offering a call to "speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity."

While Trump did not detail policy proposals Friday, he did set a high bar for his presidency. The speech was full of the onetime showman's lofty promises to bring back jobs, "completely" eradicate Islamic terrorism, and build new roads, bridges and airports.

Despite Trump's ominous portrait of America, he is taking the helm of a growing economy. Jobs have increased for a record 75 straight months, and the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, close to a 9-year low.

Yet Trump's victory underscored that for many Americans, the recovery from the Great Recession has come slowly or not at all. His campaign tapped into seething anger in working class communities, particularly in the Midwest, that have watched factories shuttered and the certainty of a middle class life wiped away.

Trump's journey to the inauguration was as unlikely as any in recent U.S. history. He defied his party's establishment and befuddled the news media. He used social media to dominate the national conversation and challenge conventions about political discourse. After years of Democratic control of the White House and deadlock in Washington, his was a blast of fresh air for millions.

At 70, Trump is the oldest person to be sworn in as president, marking a generational step backward after two terms for Obama, one of the youngest presidents to serve as commander in chief.

The 44th president, who will continue to live in Washington, left the city after the swearing-in ceremony for a family vacation in California. At a farewell celebration with staff members at Joint Base Andrews, he thanked them for having "proved the power of hope."

While Trump bucked convention as a candidate, he embraced the pomp and pageantry of the inaugural celebrations. He was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, reciting the 35-word oath with his hand placed upon two Bibles, one used by his family and another during President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. 

During an afternoon parade, he stepped outside the armored presidential limousine with Mrs. Trump and his 10-year-old son, Barron, to walk two brief stretches of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In a show of solidarity, all of the living American presidents attended the inaugural, except for 92-year-old George H.W. Bush, who was hospitalized this week with pneumonia. His wife, Barbara, was also in the hospital after falling ill.

But more than 60 House Democrats refused to attend Trump's swearing-in ceremony in the shadow of the Capitol dome. One Democrat who did sit among the dignitaries was Hillary Clinton, Trump's vanquished campaign rival who was widely expected by both parties to be the one taking the oath of office.

At a post-ceremony luncheon at the Capitol, Trump declared it was an honor to have her attend, and the Republicans and Democrats present rose and applauded.

While most of Trump's first substantive acts as president will wait until Monday, he signed a series of papers formally launching his administration, including official nominations for his Cabinet. Sitting in an ornate room steps from the Senate floor, the president who had just disparaged the Washington establishment joked with lawmakers, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and handed out presidential pens.

As evening fell, the Senate approved retired Gen. James Mattis to be Trump's secretary of defense and John Kelly, another retired general, to oversee the Homeland Security Department.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The presidency is about to change _ as Trump remains Trump

The presidency is about to change _ as Trump remains Trump

AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday in New York. Donald Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20 just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course. In the 10 weeks since his surprise election as the nation’s 45th president, Trump has violated decades of established diplomatic protocol, sent shockwaves through business boardrooms, tested long-standing ethics rules and continued his combative style of replying to any slight with a personal attack _ on Twitter and in person.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Donald Trump enters the White House on Friday just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course.

In the 10 weeks since his surprise election as the nation's 45th president, Trump has violated decades of established diplomatic protocol, sent shockwaves through business boardrooms, tested long-standing ethics rules and continued his combative style of replying to any slight with a personal attack - on Twitter and in person.

Past presidents have described walking into the Oval Office for the first time as a humbling experience, one that in an instant makes clear the weight of their new role as caretaker of American democracy. Trump spent much of his transition making clear he sees things differently: Rather than change for the office, he argues, the office will change for him.

"They say it's not presidential to call up these massive leaders of business," Trump told a crowd in Indianapolis in December. That was after he negotiated a deal with an air conditioning company to keep jobs in the state, a move many economists derided as unworkable national economic policy.

"I think it's very presidential," he declared. "And if it's not presidential, that's OK. That's OK. Because I actually like doing it."

Even before he takes the oath of office, Trump has changed the very nature of presidency, breaking conventions and upending expectations for the leader of the free world.

Advisers who've spoken with Trump say the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star is aware of the historic nature of his new job. He's told friends that he's drawn to the ambition of Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. He's thinking of spending his first night in the White House sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, according to some who dined with him recently in Florida.

But Trump also views himself as a kind of "sui generis" president, beholden to no one for his success and modeling himself after no leader who's come before. Trump has said he's read no biographies of former presidents. When asked to name his personal heroes in a recent interview, he mentioned his father before replying that he didn't "like the concept of heroes."

"I don't think Trump has a great sense of the history of the White House. When you don't know your history, it's hard to fully respect the traditions," said historian Douglas Brinkley, who recently dined with Trump and other guests at his South Florida club. "This is not somebody who brags about how many history biographies he's read."

"He's somebody who brags about it as this is a big event and he's the maestro," he said.

That's a shift that thrills his supporters, who elected Trump to shake up what they see as an unresponsive and corrupt federal government in the "swamp" of Washington.

"I don't want him to change" said Iowa state Sen. Brad Zaun, one of Trump's earliest backers. "One of the reasons that I supported him is that he told it the way it was. He didn't beat around the bush. He didn't do the standard political talking points."

Trump won election with that approach, but he's yet to win over the country. His Electoral College victory was tempered by a loss in the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots. The protests planned for the day after his inauguration threaten to draw more people to the National Mall than his official events.

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn't like, Trump dismissed them as "rigged" in a Tuesday tweet.
It's exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

"With notable exceptions, we've had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish," said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. "What's striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before."

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He's moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He's questioned the legitimacy of American institutions - appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he'll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.
And he's lambasted the leaders of longstanding allied nations as he questions the post-World War II international order that won the Cold War and maintained peace in Europe for generations.

For Trump supporters, that no-holds-barred style is the very reason he won their votes. But for others in the country, it's a type of leadership they've seen before and fear will spread.

They point to Maine, where a Trump-like governor has roiled the state's government with offensive statements, a combative style and little respect for the Legislature, as a warning of what the nation might expect during a Trump administration.

Gov. Paul LePage's confrontational brand of politics has made it harder to pass legislation, build political coalitions or even conduct the basic workings of state government, say legislators and political consultants in the traditionally centrist state. He's created rifts with would-be Republican allies, demonized the media and tightly controlled basic information. At times, he's banned the heads of state agencies from appearing before legislative committees, making state budgeting and oversight difficult.

"What I'm concerned about nationally is what we've seen up here - that the checks and balances we take for granted disappear," said Lance Dutson, a Republican political strategist who worked to get LePage elected before later speaking out against him. "There are things that are happening up here that I really thought just couldn't happen."

There are signs that Trump's actions are already changing the traditions of government in Washington, freeing lawmakers and other officials from long-respected practices of federal politics.

More than 50 House Democrats plan to boycott Trump's inauguration ceremony, an unprecedented break with the bipartisan tradition of celebrating the peaceful transfer of power. While many Democrats were furious with the outcome of the 2000 election in which Republican George W. Bush defeated Al Gore after recounts and a Supreme Court ruling, they generally attended Bush's inauguration ceremony.

"I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate," tweeted Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman who's bidding to head the Democratic National Committee.

Those who know Trump say the billionaire mogul delights in confounding establishment expectations, even as he craves approval from powerbrokers in New York and Washington.

"He was born with a chip on his shoulder, and he is very much the guy from Queens who looked across at Manhattan and envied but also to some degree hated the elites who occupied Manhattan," said Michael D'Antonio, author of "Never Enough," a Trump biography. "The way that he wants to disrupt institutions reflects this idea that the institutions haven't embraced him."

That's a style that may work better for a CEO of a family corporation - who has little oversight from corporate boards or shareholders - than a president constrained by a system of checks and balances. Former Cabinet officials say the layers of government bureaucracy, myriad regulations and intricacies of Congress will challenge Trump's style.

"A president doesn't have sweeping, universal authority. It is a very different operation than being a CEO who can fire people and hire people at will," said Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat and former health and human services secretary. "He's never been part of any organization with a framework where institutional rules are in place."

President Barack Obama, who's offered Trump advice both publicly and privately, said he's urged the president-elect to hold onto some of the traditions of the office.

"The one thing I've said to him directly, and I would advise my Republican friends in Congress and supporters around the country, is just make sure that as we go forward certain norms, certain institutional traditions don't get eroded, because there's a reason they're in place," said Obama, in a recent interview with CBS' "60 Minutes."

But Trump's supporters say it's the institutions and Washington - and not the next president - that must change.

"Trump believes that he has a better understanding of how things work in the modern world than all of these so-called critics," said Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser and former Republican House speaker, who has spoken with the president-elect about his presidency. "That's who he is.

"The rest of us are going to have to learn how to think through that."


Monday, January 16, 2017

Officials: FBI arrests widow of Orlando nightclub shooter

Officials: FBI arrests widow of Orlando nightclub shooter

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 12, 2016 file photo, law enforcement officials work at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., following the a mass shooting. Audio recordings of 911 calls released Tuesday, Aug. 30, by the Orange County Sheriff's Office show mounting frustration by friends and family members who were texting, calling and video-chatting with trapped patrons of the Pulse nightclub where Omar Mateen opened fire in June. A U.S. law enforcement official says the FBI has arrested the wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter. The official says Noor Salman was taken into custody Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in the San Francisco area and is due in court Tuesday in California. She's facing charges in Florida including obstruction of justice.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter, who was extensively questioned by federal agents in the days after the massacre, has been arrested by the FBI in connection with the attack, authorities said Monday.

Noor Salman was taken into custody Monday morning in the San Francisco Bay area and is facing charges in Florida including obstruction of justice. A Twitter post from the United States attorney's office in Orlando said Salman will make her initial court appearance Tuesday morning in Oakland, California.

Noor Salman moved to California after her husband, Omar Mateen, was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members during the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

FBI agents repeatedly questioned Salman in the aftermath of the shooting about whether she had advance knowledge of her husband's plans. Salman told The New York Times in an interview published last fall that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was "unaware of everything" regarding his intent to shoot up the club. She also said he had physically abused her.

"Noor Salman had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night," her attorney, Linda Moreno, said in a statement.

"Noor has told her story of abuse at his hands. We believe it is misguided and wrong to prosecute her and that it dishonors the memories of the victims to punish an innocent person," Moreno said.

Mateen was the only shooter, and by the time a three-hour standoff with law enforcement had ended, 49 patrons were killed and another 53 people required hospitalization.

Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a 911 call to emergency officials during the standoff. He also made a series of Facebook posts and searches before and during the attack.

Salman, who grew up northeast of San Francisco, wed Mateen in 2011 after the two met online. They lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, at the time of the shooting. Last month, Salman filed a petition in a California court to change the name of the son she had with Mateen.

"We said from the beginning, we were going to look at every aspect of this, of every aspect of this shooter's life to determine not just why did he take these actions - but who else knew about them? Was anyone else involved?" Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an MSNBC interview on Monday.

The Times first reported on the arrest.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that Salman was facing accusations of obstruction of justice and "aiding and abetting by providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization."

"Nothing can erase the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones," Mina said. "But today, there is some relief in knowing that someone will be held accountable for that horrific crime."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he hoped the arrest "provides some comfort to the families who are mourning their loved ones," he added.

Trump, in flap with civil rights icon, meets with MLK's son

Trump, in flap with civil rights icon, meets with MLK's son

AP Photo
President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jr. at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017.
  
NEW YORK (AP) -- Days before taking office, President-elect Donald Trump attempted to navigate the fallout of his flap with a civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while also losing a member of his incoming administration to accusations of plagiarism.

Trump on Monday met with one of King's sons on the holiday marking the life of the slain American icon just days after the president-elect attacked Rep. John Lewis on Twitter. Lewis and the elder King were among the Big Six leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Trump accused Lewis, D-Ga., for being "all talk" after Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump's election. The president-elect also advised the veteran congressman to pay more attention to his "crime ridden" Atlanta-area district. Trump's comments drew widespread criticism and have done little to reassure those uneasy about the transition from the nation's first black president to a president-elect still struggling to connect with most nonwhite voters.

Martin Luther King III downplayed the slight, saying that "in the heat of emotion a lot of things get said on both sides." King, who said he pressed Trump on the need for voting reform to increase participation, deemed the meeting "constructive." King said that while he disagreed with the president-elect's comments, he believed "at some point in this nation we've got to move forward."

"He said that he is going to represent all Americans. He said that over and over again," King told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower after the nearly hourlong meeting. "I believe that's his intent, but I think we also have to consistently engage with pressure, public pressure. It doesn't happen automatically."

Trump, who struggled for support from minority voters on Election Day, briefly joined King in the lobby but ignored reporters' shouted questions about his comments about Lewis.

Lewis had suggested that Trump's November victory was delegitimized due to Russian interference and said he would boycott Friday's Inauguration. More than two dozen Democratic members of Congress have said they will sit out the Trump ceremony. Among them is Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who said Monday that "this president 'semi-elect' does not deserve to be president of the United States. He has not exhibited the characteristics or the values that we hold dear."

The Martin Luther King holiday is meant to honor community service and volunteerism, and many Americans, including President Barack Obama, spend part of the day doing a service project of some kind. Trump, who cancelled a planned trip to Washington, spent the day inside the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name.

Meanwhile, conservative media commentator Monica Crowley will not be joining the Trump administration following accusations of plagiarism, according to a transition official.

Crowley, a frequent on-air presence at Fox News Channel, had been slated to join Trump's National Security Council as a director of strategic communications. On Monday, she withdrew her name from consideration after CNN reported last week that several passages in a 2012 book Crowley wrote were plagiarized. Publisher HarperCollins then pulled the book.

Crowley's retreat was first reported by The Washington Times. The transition official confirmed the decision on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Trump has continued to lash out at his critics in the intelligence community and questioned whether the CIA director himself was "the leaker of fake news" in a Sunday night tweet.

The extraordinary criticism from the incoming president came hours after CIA chief John Brennan charged that Trump lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to the United States, delivering a public lecture to the president-elect that further highlighted the bitter state of Trump's relations with American intelligence agencies.

"Now that he's going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he's going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. and national security interests are protected," Brennan said on "Fox News Sunday," warning that the president-elect's impulsivity could be dangerous.

Trump shot back in a Twitter post Sunday, saying: "Oh really, couldn't do much worse - just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the buildup of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?"

Additionally, European Union nations bracing for Trump's ascension showed defiance Monday in the face of the president-elect's stinging comments on everything from NATO and German cars to the crumbling of the EU itself.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the U.S. president-elect's view that NATO was obsolete and his criticism that European allied members aren't paying their fair share had "caused astonishment."

Trump also said Britain's decision to leave the 28-nation European Union would "end up being a great thing," and he predicted that other countries would also leave.

At a meeting of EU ministers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the best response to such comments was simple - "it is the unity of the Europeans."

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted: "We Europeans have our fate in our own hands."


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

VW pleads guilty in emissions scandal; 6 employees indicted

VW pleads guilty in emissions scandal; 6 employees indicted

AP Photo
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, right, and others, speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, to discuss Volkswagen emissions. Six high-level Volkswagen employees have been indicted by a grand jury in the company's diesel emissions cheating scandal, as the company admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a record $4.3 billion penalty


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Six high-level Volkswagen employees from Germany were indicted in the U.S. on Wednesday in the VW emissions-cheating scandal, while the company itself agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion - by far the biggest fine ever levied by the government against an automaker.

In announcing the charges and the plea bargain, Justice Department prosecutors detailed a large and elaborate scheme inside the German automaker to commit fraud and then cover it up, with at least 40 employees allegedly involved in destroying evidence.

"Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
Prosecutors may have trouble bringing the executives to trial in the U.S. German law generally bars extradition of the country's citizens except within the European Union. Privately, Justice Department officials expressed little optimism that the five VW executives still at large will be arrested, unless they surrender or travel outside Germany.

Still, the criminal charges are a major breakthrough for a Justice Department that been under pressure to hold individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds ever since the 2008 financial crisis.

Lynch held out the possibility of charges against more high-ranking VW executives. "We will continue to pursue the individuals responsible for orchestrating this damaging conspiracy," she said.

VW admitted installing software in diesel engines on nearly 600,000 VW, Porsche and Audi vehicles in the U.S. that activated pollution controls during government tests and switched them off in real-world driving. The software allowed the cars to spew harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.

U.S. regulators confronted VW about the software after university researchers discovered differences in testing and real-world emissions. Volkswagen at first denied the use of the so-called defeat device but finally admitted it in September 2015.

Even after that admission, prosecutors said, company employees were busy deleting computer files and other evidence.

The fines easily eclipse the $1.2 billion penalty levied against Toyota in 2014 over unintended acceleration in its cars. VW also agreed to pay an additional $154 million to California for violating its clean air laws.

The penalties bring the cost of the scandal to VW in the United States to nearly $20 billion, not counting lost sales and damage to the automaker's reputation. Volkswagen previously reached a $15 billion civil settlement with environmental authorities and car owners in the U.S. under which it agreed to repair or buy back as many as a half-million of the affected vehicles.

The company pleaded guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and importing vehicles by using false statements. Under the agreement, VW must cooperate in the continuing investigation let an independent monitor oversee its compliance for three years.

The six supervisors indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit were accused of lying to environmental regulators or destroying computer files containing evidence.

All six are German citizens, and five remained in Germany. The only one under arrest was Oliver Schmidt, who was seized over the weekend in Miami during a visit to the U.S.

Schmidt was in charge of VW's compliance with U.S. environmental regulations. Those indicted also included two former chiefs of Volkswagen engine development and the former head of quality management and product safety. Prosecutors said one supervised 10,000 employees.

All six were charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by making false statements to regulators and the public. Three were also charged with fraud and clean-air violations.

Government documents say one engine development supervisor asked an assistant to search another supervisor's office for a hard drive that contained emails between them. Then another assistant was asked to throw it away, prosecutors said.

According to the plea agreement, Volkswagen officials began deceiving the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators starting in 2006, when they realized new diesel engines wouldn't meet 2007 emissions standards.

Under the direction of supervisors, VW employees borrowed the defeat device idea from VW's Audi luxury division, which was developing different engines with similar software.

In November 2006, some employees raised objections to the defeat device to the head of VW-brand engine development, prosecutors said. That official allegedly directed the employees to continue and warned them "not to get caught."

In 2014, VW employees learned about a West Virginia University study that found emissions discrepancies in VWs. Three of the supervisors and other employees decided not to disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators, prosecutors said.

In August 2015, a VW employee ignored instructions from supervisors and told U.S. regulators about the device.

VW also faces an investor lawsuit and criminal probe in Germany. In all, some 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with the software.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Florida airport shooting suspect appears in new video

Florida airport shooting suspect appears in new video

AP Photo
People take cover outside Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.
 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- A day before the suspect in the Fort Lauderdale airport rampage was to appear in court, a website released footage that appears to show him calmly drawing a pistol and opening fire in the baggage claim area.

The video recording posted on TMZ's websitehttp://www.tmz.com/2017/01/08/ft-lauderdale-shooting-first-shots-video/ appears to show Estaban Santiago walking through baggage claim of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday, pulling a handgun from his waistband and then firing several times before running.

Santiago, 26, is accused of killing five travelers and wounding six others the attack. He was charged Saturday with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death - which carries a maximum punishment of execution - and weapons charges. His first court hearing is Monday.

The FBI said in an email that it was aware of the video but would not comment on its authenticity. TMZ does not say where it obtained the video, although it appears to be from a surveillance camera.

Santiago told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport, a federal complaint said. Authorities don't know why he chose his target and have not ruled out terrorism.

Authorities said Saturday during a news conference that they had interviewed roughly 175 people, including a lengthy interrogation with a cooperative Santiago, who is a former National Guard soldier from Alaska.
FBI Agent George Piro said Santiago spoke to investigators for several hours after he opened fire with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that he appears to have legally checked on a flight from Alaska.

"Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack," Piro said. "We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We're pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack."

Investigators are combing through social media and other information to determine Santiago's motive, and it's too early to say whether terrorism played a role, Piro said. In November, Santiago had walked into an FBI field office in Alaska saying the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, authorities said.

Santiago had been discharged from the National Guard last year after being demoted for unsatisfactory performance.

Bryan Santiago said Saturday that his brother had requested psychological help but received little assistance. Esteban Santiago said in August that he was hearing voices.

"How is it possible that the federal government knows, they hospitalize him for only four days, and then give him his weapon back?" Bryan Santiago said.

His mother declined to comment as she stood inside the screen door of the family home in Puerto Rico, wiping tears from her eyes. The only thing she said was that Esteban Santiago had been tremendously affected by seeing a bomb explode next to two of his friends when he was around 18 years old while serving in Iraq.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Magnitude 7.2 quake hits near Fiji; tsunami alert issued

Magnitude 7.2 quake hits near Fiji; tsunami alert issued
  

SYDNEY (AP) -- A powerful earthquake struck off the coast of Fiji on Wednesday, prompting a brief tsunami warning for the Pacific island nation. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The magnitude 7.2 quake, which hit at 9:52 a.m. local time, struck about 220 kilometers (135 miles) southwest of the tourist hub of Nadi, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was a relatively shallow 15 kilometers (9 miles) deep. Shallower quakes generally cause more damage than ones that strike deeper.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for coastlines within 300 kilometers (190 miles) of the epicenter, then lifted the warning about an hour later. A tsunami of just 1 centimeter (less than an inch) was observed in the capital of Suva, the center said.

Fiji's Principal Disaster Management Officer, Sunia Ratulevu, said there had been no reports of damage or injuries from the quake, and no unusual wave activity had been reported. The quake struck far offshore and was not felt in Suva or Nadi, he said.

When the tsunami alert was issued, people in Suva fled their offices and headed inland, Ratulevu said. But by early afternoon, authorities were telling people the threat had passed and it was safe to return to work.

Fiji is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

North Carolina fails to repeal LGBT law as culture wars rage

North Carolina fails to repeal LGBT law as culture wars rage

AP Photo
State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, speaks on the senate floor during a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly called to consider repeal of NC HB2 in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. North Carolina's legislature reconvened to see if enough lawmakers are willing to repeal a 9-month-old law that limited LGBT rights, including which bathrooms transgender people can use in public schools and government buildings.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Repealing North Carolina's law limiting LGBT protections at the close of a bitter election year was supposed to heal blows to the economy and perhaps open a truce in the culture wars in at least one corner of the divided United States.

The failure of state lawmakers to follow through instead shows how much faith each side has lost in the other, as Americans segregate themselves into communities of us and them, defined by legislative districts that make compromise unlikely.

The deal was supposedly reached with input from top politicians and industry leaders: Charlotte agreed to eliminate its anti-discrimination ordinance on the condition that state lawmakers then repeal the legislation known as House Bill 2, which had been a response to Charlotte's action.

But bipartisan efforts to return both the city and state to a more harmonious past fell apart amid mutual distrust, and neither side seemed to worry about retribution in the next election.

With GOP map-drawers drawing most legislative districts to be uncompetitively red or blue, politicians see little downside to avoiding a negotiated middle-ground. And since the day Republicans passed and signed it into law last March, HB2 has reflected these broad divisions in society.

The failed repeal shows the same polarization, said David Lublin, a Southern politics expert in American University's School of Public Affairs.

North Carolina had been "seen as the forefront of the new South," focusing on education and economic development, and wasn't "viewed as crazy-right wing or crazy-left wing," Lublin said. Keeping the law in effect, he said, "reverses that impression."

It was always more than just a "bathroom bill."

Republican lawmakers commanding veto-proof majorities framed HB2 as a rebuke to the values of Charlotte and other urban, white-collar communities where Democrats are clustered and where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people generally find support.

HB2 - which omits these people from state anti-discrimination protections, bars local governments from protecting them with their own ordinances, and orders transgender people to use facilities that match their birth certificates - created a backlash that has cost the state's economy millions.

Corporations, entertainers and high-profile sporting events backed out to avoid being seen as endorsing discrimination. Two-thirds of North Carolina voters surveyed in November's Associated Press exit poll said they oppose the law, and even Trump's supporters narrowly trended against it.

IBM executives worry that the failure to repeal HB2 is an obstacle to attracting the best employees to its largest North American operation, in Research Triangle Park outside Raleigh, home to an outsized number of college graduates from around the world.

"The state of North Carolina has a tremendous amount to do to recover its reputation as a great place to live, work and do business," IBM chief diversity officer Lindsey-Rae McIntyre said in an interview Thursday. "Our position is that we will fight this, that we are deeply committed to hiring the very best, diverse talents and that this law and this mindset does nothing to fuel our commitment to hiring that talent."

Across the divide, supporters of HB2 express anger against what they feel are challenges to their religious freedoms, and fear that women could be endangered by transgender people in public bathrooms and showers.

"As much as North Carolina's 'reputation' may have been harmed in the eyes of some, just as many - if not more - respected us for the stance we took in support of privacy and security protections of our public restrooms and dressing facilities," said GOP state Rep. Chris Millis, whose district covers all or parts of two largely rural, coastal counties where President-elect Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

The divide cuts both ways in the legislature.

Rep. Cecil Brockman represents a heavily Democratic district in urban Guilford County, where voters chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 by nearly a 4-to-1 margin. Brockman, who publicly identifies as bisexual, pleaded with his colleagues to repeal what he called an "offensive, disastrous" law.

Brockman's district is about to change.

After Republicans were accused of unlawfully clustering black voters to diminish their influence, a federal court panel ruled that about a sixth of the state's 170 legislative districts were illegally drawn. The judges ordered North Carolina lawmakers to redraw districts by March 15 and to hold new elections in November.

If lawmakers don't resolve it somehow, HB2 is likely to be a hot-button issue in those elections, although even the most one-sided districts are unlikely to change enough to unseat Republican majorities in the evenly divided state.

Polls show Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's support for the law played into his loss - by about 10,000 votes out of 4.7 million cast - to Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, who ran in part on repealing HB2.

Republican legislative leaders and Cooper, who appears to have had a significant role in brokering the deal that ultimately collapsed, are still hopeful that a solution can be reached in 2017. The General Assembly, with newcomers elected last month, begins in less than three weeks.

"I certainly believe that negotiations will resume, and frankly we all know that we have to work through this," House Speaker Tim Moore told the AP in a phone interview Thursday, but "an issue with strong social overtones is always a problematic vote for members."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yahoo says hackers stole information from over 1B accounts

Yahoo says hackers stole information from over 1B accounts 

AP Photo
FILE - This Tuesday, July 19, 2016 photo shows a Yahoo sign at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, Yahoo said it believes hackers stole data from more than one billion user accounts in August 2013.
  
NEW YORK (AP) -- Yahoo says it believes hackers stole data from more than one billion user accounts in August 2013, in what is thought to be the largest data breach at an email provider.

The Sunnyvale, California, company was also home to what's now most likely the second largest hack in history, one that exposed 500 million Yahoo accounts . The company disclosed that breach in September. Yahoo said it hasn't identified the intrusion associated with this theft.

Yahoo says the information stolen may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and security questions and answers. The company says it believes bank-account information and payment-card data were not affected.

But the company said hackers may have also stolen passwords from the affected accounts. Technically, those passwords should be secure; Yahoo said they were scrambled twice - once by encryption and once by another technique called hashing. But hackers have become adept at cracking secured passwords by assembling huge dictionaries of similarly scrambled phrases and matching them against stolen password databases.

That could mean trouble for any users who reused their Yahoo password for other online accounts.
QUESTIONS FOR VERIZON

The new hack revelation raises fresh questions about Verizon's $4.8 billion proposed acquisition of Yahoo, and whether the big mobile carrier will seek to modify or abandon its bid. If the hacks cause a user backlash against Yahoo, the company's services wouldn't be as valuable to Verizon. The telecom giant wants Yahoo and its many users to help it build a digital ad business.

In a statement, Verizon said that it will evaluate the situation as Yahoo investigates and will review the "new development before reaching any final conclusions." Spokesman Bob Varettoni declined to answer further questions.

Yahoo said Wednesday that it is requiring users to change their passwords and invalidating security questions so they can't be used to hack into accounts.

Friday, December 9, 2016

John Glenn, astronaut and senator, to lie in state in Ohio

John Glenn, astronaut and senator, to lie in state in Ohio

AP Photo
A Sept. 1966 edition of LIFE Magazine bearing the likeness of John Glenn rests in a showcase at the John & Annie Glenn Museum, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in New Concord, Ohio. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around the planet three times in 1962. Glenn, as a U.S. senator at age 77, also became the oldest person in space by orbiting Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- John Glenn will lie in state in Ohio's capitol building before a celebration of his life of military and government service and two history-making voyages into space.
The public viewing at the Ohio Statehouse and a memorial service at Ohio State University's Mershon Auditorium are planned for late next week. The dates and times were being worked out Friday, said Hank Wilson, of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. Statehouse officials meet Monday to authorize the public viewing.

Glenn, who died Thursday at age 95, was the first American to orbit the Earth, in 1962, and was the oldest man in space, at age 77 in 1998. A U.S. Marine and combat pilot, he also served as a Democratic U.S. senator, representing Ohio, for more than two decades.

Democratic President Barack Obama on Friday ordered flags at federal buildings and on ships around the world flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of Glenn's internment. Glenn is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Tributes from the nation's leaders and others continued Friday.

"Throughout his life, Senator John Glenn embodied the right stuff," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement. "Our military in particular benefited from his courage and dedication. ... But just as important as what John Glenn accomplished is how he accomplished it: with a combination of fierce determination and profound humility, and always with integrity."

Glenn was a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea and served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, among other Washington service.

In his eastern Ohio hometown of New Concord, the John and Annie Glenn Museum, usually available this time of year only for special tours and events, opened Friday with free admission.

Char Lyn Grujoski, of Connersville, Indiana, stopped in after spotting a roadside sign for the museum while driving home from Pittsburgh and listening to a radio report on Glenn. The museum is in the astronaut's converted boyhood home. Grujoski and her daughter left impressed.

"He was a true American hero, someone who loved his country and served it," she said.

Glenn was known for his humility, said Hal Burlingame, who grew up in New Concord and was friends with Glenn for half a century.

"John Glenn that you see is the real John Glenn," Burlingame said. "He would be the same John Glenn if he happened to be sitting here today talking with us. He never took himself too seriously."

Glenn was born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge and grew up in nearby New Concord. He wed his childhood sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor, in 1943. The couple spent their later years between Washington and Columbus.

He and his wife served as trustees at their alma mater, Muskingum College, and he promoted his namesake School of Public Affairs at Ohio State, which houses his private papers and photographs.

His long political career, which included a failed 1984 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, enabled him to return to space in the shuttle Discovery in 1998, 36 years after going into orbit in Friendship 7 as part of Mercury, the first U.S. manned spaceflight program. He turned his Discovery mission into an educational moment about aging.

Schools, a space center and the Columbus airport are named after him.

"For generations, Americans cheered John Glenn as he soared into the heavens," former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican and fellow Ohioan, said in a statement. "Now he has taken his place there for eternity, a well-earned reward for an American life well and heroically lived."


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