Signs of the Times (1/31/17)

Trump Fires Acting AG Who Declined to Defend Travel Ban

President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” the White House said. Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in at 9 p.m. ET, per an administration official. A few hours later, Boente issued a statement rescinding Yates’ order, instructing DOJ lawyers to “defend the lawful orders of our President.” The dramatic move came after Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees. Yates was appointed by President Barack Obama and was set to serve until Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, if confirmed. Currently, there are cases filed in at least five states including Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Washington and California that are challenging Trump’s order. Amazon and Expedia have joined a legal challenge to President Trump’s travel ban arguing that it will hurt their employees and their business.

Christian Groups Express Concern over Trump’s Refugee Ban

As the Trump administration seeks to move on to new issues, protests against his controversial refugee ban continue — including from a community that supported him significantly during the election. White evangelical voters backed President Donald Trump by 80% in the presidential election, according to exit polling, but some members of the community involved in resettling refugees are speaking out against his executive order clamping down on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, said he understood concerns about the vetting process but alienating refugees does not solve perceived problems. And Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, a Christian nonprofit that helps resettle refugees, said those fleeing are often the people harmed most by terrorists. Leaders at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, argue that a ban isn’t necessary in promoting national security. However, the American Center for Law & Justice says that ISIS is publicly calling for jihadists to use refugee programs as camouflage to infiltrate and terrorize America.

Trump’s Immigration Ban Sends Shockwaves Worldwide

President Donald Trump’s seismic move to ban more than 218 million people from the United States and to deny entry to all refugees reverberated worldwide Saturday, as chaos and confusion rippled through US airports, American law enforcement agencies and foreign countries trying to grasp Washington’s new policy. Trump’s executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days. A federal judge in New York on Saturday night blocked the deportation of people stranded in US airports under the executive action. Two Iraqis who were named as the petitioners in the motion had been released by Saturday night, but lawyers said in a court filing that “dozens and dozens” of people remained in detention at JFK. Protesters converged on at least eight major U.S. airports, demonstrating against the policy, which critics see as a Muslim ban. The White House reversed a part of the order Monday, allowing people from banned nations who hold green cards to return to the United States.

President Donald Trump enters the second week of his presidency facing a growing political backlash — with protesters in the streets, lawsuits mounting and his own party fracturing over his executive order banning travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations. Meanwhile, stories of students, public figures and even a military translator who are suddenly unclear on whether they can enter the United States are setting social media ablaze. It all comes as the nascent Trump administration enters a critical period, with Trump still seeking Senate confirmation for most of his Cabinet nominees. Trump released a statement defending his ban Sunday evening, while also lashing out at two Republican senators who had opposed it and the news media over its coverage of the ban. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” On Monday, the order was modified to allow travelers from the seven banned countries who had green cards to enter the U.S.

Trump Reviving Plan to Empower Police to Enforce Immigration Law

To build his highly-touted deportation force, President Donald Trump is reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law. The program received scant attention during a week in which Trump announced plans to build a border wall, hire thousands more federal agents and impose restrictions on refugees from Middle Eastern countries. But the program could end up having a significant impact on immigration enforcement around the country, despite falling out of favor in recent years amid complaints that it promotes racial profiling. More than 60 police and sheriff’s agencies had the special authority as of 2009, applying for it as the nation’s immigration debate was heating up. Since then, the number has been halved and the effort scaled back as federal agents ramped up other enforcement programs and amid complaints officers weren’t focusing on the goal of catching violent offenders and instead arrested immigrants for minor violations, like driving with broken tail lights. Sheriff Joe Arpaio used the program most aggressively in metro Phoenix, and he became arguably the nation’s best-known immigration enforcer at the local level in large part because of the special authority.

Trump Leaves Intact LGBTQ Work Protections

The White House says President Trump will leave intact a 2014 executive order that protects federal workers from anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In a statement released early Tuesday, the White House says Trump “is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community” and that he “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election.” The directive protects people from LGBTQ discrimination while working for federal contractors. The statement says the protections will remain intact “at the direction” of Trump.

Six Dead in Quebec Mosque Shooting

Six people are dead after a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, according to Quebec Provincial Police. Eight people were injured. Thirty-nine people who were at the mosque during shooting were unharmed. The attack, which took place at the city’s Quebec Islamic Cultural Center, is being investigated as an act of terrorism by police. Authorities charged a 27-year-old Canadian man with murder and attempted murder with a firearm Monday following the deadly attack. Alexandre Bissonnette was charged with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder, according to officials. The Sûreté du Québec, the Quebec provincial police, said two men were arrested Sunday night, though authorities said Monday that only one of the men is now a suspect in the mass shooting. Police provided no motive as they began their investigation of the attack in one of Canada’s safest cities.

VP Pence is First VP to Speak at March for Life

In his first major address as vice president, Mike Pence championed a cause that he tirelessly spoke about on the campaign trail: his anti-abortion stance. “Life is winning,” Pence declared Friday at the March for Life rally in Washington. His address to the anti-abortion rally marked the highest ranking US official to speak to the group in person. “More than 240 years ago, our founders wrote words that have echoed through the ages. They declared these truths to be self-evident, that we are all endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said to a sizable crowd who braved the cold for the speeches. Pence referenced the Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade, saying the court had “abandoned” ideals in the first amendment but now things were turning around with the new administration. “That is evident in the election of pro-life majorities in the congress of the United States of America.”

Women’s March Leader a Kidnapper, Torturer & Murderer

A leading black feminist and featured speaker at the Women’s March on Washington – who speaks on women’s issues and prison reform – is a convicted murderer and kidnapper who was part of a seven-person gang that abducted, tortured and killed a 62-year-old white man, reports WorldNetDaily. Donna Hylton was convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree kidnapping on March 12, 1986. She had been an accessory in the gruesome murder of Long Island real-estate broker Thomas Vigliarole, whose body was found locked inside a trunk in a Manhattan apartment in 1985. He was starved, beaten, raped, burned and tortured. Hylton served 27 years at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for the crime. After the Women’s March, Hylton was interviewed by the Chinese Government Television Network. In that interview, she claimed “black and brown women” are being “criminalized for our color.

Mayors to Fight Trump over Sanctuary Cities

Democratic mayors of the nation’s largest cities are quickly banding together to fight President Donald Trump’s crack down on so-called sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that White House press secretary Sean Spicer said will “strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants.” But mayors in cities including Los Angeles, Boston and New York, as well as legal scholars, are confident their status as sanctuary cities is secure, pointing to Supreme Court cases that have made it difficult for Washington to punitively withdraw money from state and local governments.

Trump Administration Starts Obamacare Rollback

The Trump Administration said on Thursday night that it is pulling back advertising promoting HealthCare.gov as open enrollment draws to a close for this year. The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement that the government has pulled back about $5 million in ads as part of an effort to cut costs. The statement said HHS had already spent more than $6 0million to promote sign-ups this year under former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. Former Obama officials immediately accused the new administration of ‘sabotage’.

Trump Issues More Executive Orders

President Donald Trump signed three executive actions Saturday, imposing a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials, reorganizing the National Security Council’s structure and calling for a plan to be delivered to him within 30 days on how to defeat ISIS. Like Trump, Obama campaigned on a vision of Washington reform, promising to target the revolving door of political service and lobbying jobs. Once in office, he ordered a two-year ban on administration officials from lobbying. Trump said on Saturday Obama’s ban was insufficient. Trump’s move to ban his aides from cashing in on their current jobs may be easier said than done. Lobbying can be ambiguously titled in practice, and while former staffers may not become registered lobbyists, they could potentially trade influence and government experience for a hefty paycheck all the same. The action on ISIS outlined specific requirements of the plan Trump wants, including a “comprehensive strategy,” recommended changes to the rules of engagements and use of force as well as the “identification of new coalition partners.”

Senate Panel Backs Perry, Zinke Nominations Amid Sessions Fight

A Senate panel on Tuesday approved President Trump’s nominees to lead the Energy and Interior departments, even as senators clashed elsewhere on Capitol Hill over the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general. In early-morning action, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nominations of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for Interior secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy secretary. The votes come on a very busy day for Senate lawmakers as they vote on a half-dozen Trump’s picks in committee. But the biggest showdown is occurring before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote, eventually, on the nomination of Sen. Sessions to become the next United States attorney general. His nomination was complicated by the fallout from Trump’s controversial executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Economic News

Volkswagen’s huge emissions scandal is still unfolding, but it hasn’t stopped the German company from dethroning Toyota as the world’s biggest selling automaker. Toyota announced Monday that its global sales last year inched up 0.2% to 10.2 million vehicles. That leaves it behind the 10.3 million that VW delivered over the same period. The Japanese giant had held on to the top spot for four years in a row after recapturing it from General Motors in 2012.

Amid the hue and cry over President Trump’s travel ban, news of another potential change to American immigration rules has set off a panic attack in India’s tech industry. Major Indian tech shares took a nosedive on Tuesday on reports that Trump is planning to make changes to the H-1B visa program that allows skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. Shares in Tata Consultancy Services, India’s biggest private sector employer, plunged more than 5% on Mumbai’s stock exchange, while other top firms like Infosys and Wipro fell by more than 4%. India’s vast outsourcing industry employs millions of people. Its business in the U.S. is highly dependent on the H-1B visa.

NATO

NATO members flexed their military muscle in Russia’s backyard Monday, as allied warships headed toward the Black Sea while American tank fire echoed across Polish plains.  The naval force “Standing Maritime Group 2,” which consists of eight vessels from eight NATO member states, is going to the Black Sea to participate in an exercise off the coast of Romania known as “Sea Shield.” The Black Sea, like the Baltics, is becoming an increasingly contested space between Russia and NATO as Moscow has militarized Crimea, according to the alliance. “This is a demonstration of the alliance’s resolve to defend all allies against any threat, and to enhance maritime security in the region,” said a NATO official.

Mexico

President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke on the phone Friday after a blowup the day before between the two leaders over the proposed border wall. Both Trump’s and Peña Nieto’s offices released statements after the call, saying the two leaders spoke about the importance of their relationship and issues — such as stemming the sale of illegal drugs and arms — that they could work on together. But the respective statements differed on one key point: a promise, per the Mexican side, to not speak publicly about who would pay for the wall. Nieto promised not to speak publicly about the wall, but Trump’s statement did not include that promise.

Israel

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave an interview with Israel Radio on Friday in which he said, among other things, that it is “completely clear that the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.” Palestinian officials reacted with outrage to the comment, which is supported by extensive historical writings as well as archeological evidence unearthed over the last 150 years. Fayez Abu Eitah, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that “[The statements] are a direct attack on the Palestinian people’s right in the holy city, biased in favor of the site of occupation, and akin to granting legitimacy to Israel’s illegal presence in Jerusalem.”

Islamic State

A notorious ISIS executioner who beheaded hundreds of innocent citizens has been stabbed to death by a hit squad in northwest Iraq. Abu Sayyaf was one of the terror group’s main executioners and appeared in many of the group’s propaganda videos showing brutal decapitations. He is the second ISIS executioner to be killed in region in the last few days. A group of unknown assailants ambushed Sayyaf in his car killing him instantly. Another ISIS killer accompanying the executioner also died in the attack, according to local sources.

Iran

Iran has conducted its first missile test since US President Donald Trump took office, giving the nascent administration an early opportunity to show the world how they plan to deal with a key US adversary. Intelligence reports confirmed Monday that Iran had conducted a test of a nuclear-capable missile in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. The reports also indicated that the the re-entry vehicle on the Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile failed to function properly, resulting in the missile’s destruction after flying approximately 600 kilometers. The United States Mission to the United Nations says it’s requesting that the UN Security Council hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the test, which it said involved the launch of a ballistic missile. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his Monday briefing confirmed the test occurred, but didn’t give any details on how the White House plans to deal with the Iranian show of force.

Yemen

A U.S. service-member died of wounds suffered during a raid in Yemen against al Qaeda — the first American combat death under President Donald Trump, US Central Command said Sunday. The U.S. operation resulted in an estimated total of 14 members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula being killed and the capture of information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots. A U.S. defense official said the operation was authorized by Trump. The military said there were no civilian casualties as a result of the raid.

South Korea

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has reaffirmed the U.S.’ commitment to defend South Korea “against the evolving North Korean threat”. Mattis spoke with the South Korean Defense Minister Han Minkoo Tuesday ahead of his inaugural trip as secretary of defense to visit Japan and South Korea, the U.S.’ closest Asian allies. Han and Mattis expressed their commitment to proceed with the THAAD missile defense system deployment and the need for closer co-operation on policies on North Korea.

Chile

A chain of wildfires has unleashed a catastrophe over wide swaths of central and southern Chile, killing at least 11 people, destroying thousands of homes and consuming an area about three times the size of New York City, authorities said. “We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” President Michelle Bachelet said. Many of those killed are firefighters battling more than 100 separate fires, about half of which are still uncontrolled, according to government reports.

Weather

Heavy lake-effect snow impacted portions of the Great Lakes snowbelts from Thursday into early Monday, particularly east of lakes Erie and Ontario. Snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour were reported in a band of snow east of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Some locations in upstate New York picked up more than two feet of snow during this event. Lacona, New York, saw the most snow with 40 inches reported east of Lake Ontario. The Tug Hill town of Redfield, New York, reported 38 inches of snow, including 28 inches on Sunday alone. This put Redfield over the 200-inch mark for the season. Early Monday morning, a band of heavy lake-effect snow impacted the Cleveland metro area. Up to a foot of snow was reported on the west side of Cleveland in Lakewood. Parts of the Mid-Atlantic states received about an inch of snow Sunday night into Monday morning. Dozens of schools were closed or delayed in the Washington, D.C. area Monday and in Baltimore, the snow prompted school delays.

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