January, 2017

 

Syrian groups see more U.S. support for IS fight, plan new phase

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian militias said on Tuesday it saw signs of increased U.S. support for their campaign against Islamic State with President Donald Trump in office, a shift that would heighten Turkish worries over Kurdish power in Syria.

A Kurdish military source told Reuters separately the next phase of a campaign by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance — which includes the Kurdish YPG militia — aimed to cut the last remaining routes to Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa city, including the road to Deir al-Zor.

The YPG has been the main partner on the ground in Syria for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, fighting as part of the SDF that has driven Islamic State from swathes of northern Syria with the coalition’s air support.

The YPG also has links to a Kurdish party, the PKK, designated by Turkey as a terrorist group.

It forms the military backbone of autonomous regions that have been set up by Kurdish groups and their allies in northern Syria since the onset of the war in 2011, alarming Turkey where a Kurdish minority lives just over the border. The main Syrian Kurdish groups say their aim is autonomy, not independence.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters the U.S.-led coalition supplied the SDF with armored vehicles for the first time four or five days ago. Although the number was small, Silo called it a significant shift in support. He declined to give an exact number.

“Previously we didn’t get support in this form, we would get light weapons and ammunition,” he said. “There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces.”

He said the vehicles would be deployed in the campaign against Islamic State which has since November focused on Raqqa city, Islamic State’s base of operations in central Syria.

The first two phases of the offensive focused on capturing areas to the north and west of Raqqa, part of a strategy to encircle the city.

The third phase would focus on capturing remaining areas, including the road between Raqqa city and Deir al-Zor, the Kurdish military source said.

IS holds nearly all of Deir al-Zor province, where it has been fighting hard in recent weeks to try to capture the last remaining pockets of Syrian government-held territory in Deir al-Zor city.

Cutting off Raqqa city from IS strongholds in Deir al-Zor would be a major blow against the group.

“The coming phase of the campaign aims to isolate Raqqa completely,” said the Kurdish military source, who declined to be named. “Accomplishing this requires reaching the Raqqa-Deir al-Zor road,” the source said.

“This mission will be difficult.”

Silo of the SDF said preparations were underway for “new action” against IS starting in “a few days”, but declined to give further details.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Sonya Hepinstall)


Tuesday Morning Briefing: Not exactly the Monday Night Massacre, but…

(Reuters) – It was one of the biggest acts of defiance from within the government against a sitting president since the Saturday Night Massacre during the Nixon administration in 1973.

Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, had agreed to stay on as acting attorney general until President Donald Trump’s choice, Senator Jeff Sessions, could be confirmed. In that role, she ordered the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. She believed the order was not lawful, a point that will make its way through the courts over the coming months and possibly years. She was summarily fired and replaced with Dana Boente, a U.S. Attorney in Virginia who is expected to enforce Trump’s order.

It’s not quite the Saturday Night Massacre. At that time Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, a Nixon appointee, was ordered to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. Nixon fired both Richardson and his deputy for not carrying out his order. The Saturday Night Massacre played a big role in turning public opinion against Nixon, and led to his resignation less than a year later. Yates was an Obama appointee who was asked by Trump to stay on. The White House called her act a betrayal and Trump supporters called her act political grandstanding.

But Yates’ wasn’t the only act of defiance from within the administration. State Department officials circulated a draft memo criticizing Trump’s order. More than 100 diplomats have signed it, the Washington Post reported.

“The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States; rather it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat towards our economy.” – Draft memo from the State Department “dissent channel”

“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think that they should either get with the program or they can go.” – Sean Spicer, White House press secretary

Digits of the day: 872

The U.S. government granted waivers to let 872 refugees into the country this week, despite Trump’s order, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document seen by Reuters. The refugees were considered “in transit” and had already been cleared for resettlement before the ban took effect.

Are you sure that’s safe?

Children play on a swing in a damaged neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria Jan. 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Children play on a swing in a damaged neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria Jan. 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Around Wall Street

  • The U.S. dollar headed for its worst start to a year since 2008, while world stock losses, already the biggest in six weeks, grew after widespread protests against President Donald Trump’s stringent curbs on travel to the United States. But the usual caveats apply: When the market rallies, you can expect to see the action attributed to optimism about the Trump administration.
  • Executives from the pharmaceutical industry will be the next to rotate through the White House for a meeting with President Trump. You’ll recall that Trump said drug companies were “getting away with murder” on prices the government pays. Drugs stocks took a beating shortly thereafter.
  • Snoopy may get a new owner. Iconix Brand Group is putting its majority stake in Peanuts Worldwide on the block. Iconix took a big hit when MetLife dropped the Peanuts characters it had been using as mascots for more than 30 years.

Around the world

Abdi hit the floor, arms over his head and ears. But he could still hear the men around him praying for their lives until gunfire cut them short. He felt a trio of bullets whisk over his head.

  • A French-Canadian university student, Alexandre Bissonnette, was the sole suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque and was charged with the premeditated murder of six people
  • The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has supplied its Syrian allies with armored vehicles for the first time, expanding support since Trump came to office, a spokesman for the Syrian groups said.
  • “You started it!” “No, you started it!” Ukraine and Russia are blaming one another for a surge in fighting that has led to the highest death toll in weeks. The fighting also cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line in Eastern Ukraine.

Around the country

  • Trump announces his Supreme Court pick tonight to replace Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago. The Republicans refused to take up Obama’s pick, saying they would wait until after the election. So you can expect a fresh round of rancor. Trump’s short list includes three conservative stalwarts.
  • The Boy Scouts of America said will begin accepting transgender boys, bucking its more than a century-old practice of using the gender stated on a birth certificate to determine eligibility.
  • An airline maintenance worker in Oklahoma found 31 pounds of cocaine in the nose cone of an American Airlines jet after it arrived from Colombia.

Today’s reason to live


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 01/31

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

A lead economist with Royal Bank Caribbean banking group, is floating the idea that Barbados adjust the value of its dollar or eliminate the Bajan dollar altogether and use just American currency.  Maria Dukharan, a Trinidadian economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, created a stir last year when she advised the Barbados government to restructure its ballooning debt because the Freundel Stuart administration was running out of options.

A government Senator is rejecting claims by the Opposition of a possible devaluation of the Barbados dollar.  Addressing a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) weekend meeting, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Jepter Ince argued that a value could not be applied to the Barbados currency since it was not recognized internationally.  At the same time, he accused the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) of spreading propaganda and attempting to ignite fear among the public with talk of a possible downgrade.  ‘You cannot devalue anything that has no value.” Ince asserted, adding “I cannot travel with Barbados dollars when I go to the US”.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition, Mia Mottley, has continued to pile on criticism of Parliament’s decision to restore the salaries of MPs and others, insisting that the move was all about securing higher pensions and gratuities.  Addressing supporters at a weekend meeting of the BLP, she also insisted that the payment is retroactive.  Mottley said the information could be easily verified by checking the Renumeration and Allowances of Members Order resolution posted on the Barbados Parliament website.

By getting the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL) off its hands, government is better set to look at the renewable energy sector as a means of earning revenue.  That’s the view of President of the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA), Aidan Rogers, who said with government committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels, the BNTCL was an as asset it would be best to divest of.

Dateline Castries, ST. LUCIA;

The Caribbean has been battling with thousands of criminal and other deportees to the region since the United States immigration reforms in 1996, and St. Lucia was, in fact, one of the affected countries.  Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said, however, that his government plans to continue to lobby for an international treaty to deal with the situation since St. Lucia was threatened on the issue of accepting deportees.  Addressing a press conference yesterday, Chastanet said St. Lucia was told that if it did not accept the deportees, travel for locals would be pulled.  He said this was a major concern, so St. Lucia opted to adhere to the policy.    But Chastanet said he has made it known to the US that St. Lucia is unhappy about the current system.

Serious consideration is being given to raising the age of consent in St. Lucia , due to  what Minister of National Security, Hermangild Francis describes as a breakdown in the island’s social fabric.  The Minister told a media conference on Monday that he had discussions with Attorney General Stephen Julien about the possibility of raising the age of consent from 16 to 18.  Francis said too many children are having children, suggesting that the permission for sex is too much of a responsibility for 16 year olds, who also cannot vote.

Dateline Basseterre, ST. KITTS:

The Ministry of Labour has begin the process of establishing a labour code for St. Kitts and Nevis that will serve to improve the laws governing the world of work and better relations between employers and employees.

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has given an assurance that it is working closely with international partners, especially the United States, Britain and Canada, in strategic areas such as intelligence and information sharing concerning nationals found to be associated with any terrorist group, whether locally or internationally.

Dateline Miami, USA:

In the latest revelation in the rapidly unfolding saga of diplomatic passports allegedly sold by the government of Dominica to questionable individuals, a new report Monday provided another insight into the practice which has been denied by Prime Minister Skerrit.  According to the latest report, a Dominican, posing as a British citizen, recently contacted an agent representing the country’s citizenship by investment programme in South East Asia, asking how he could acquire a diplomatic passport.  The agent is said to have responded that the cost of the dip0lomatic passport is US$500,000, his fee/commission is US$80,000 and the funds have to be deposited in an account at a bank located in Singapore.

Dateline Nassau, THE BAHAMAS:

The Bahamas government has rubbished a report on the American television network, MSNBC, that the terrorist group, ISIS, has members in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.


Fired: Trump dumps top lawyer who defied immigration order

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump fired top federal government lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and refused to defend new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.

It was another dramatic twist in the unusually raucous roll-out of Trump’s directive that put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Friday night ban prompted protests and chaos at airports on the weekend as customs officials struggled to put the order into practise, and the fallout spread to U.S. markets on Monday, where stocks suffered their biggest drop of 2017 and companies affected by the change spoke out against it.

Yates said late on Monday that the Justice Department would not defend the order against court challenges, saying that she did not believe it would be “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

Hours later, she was fired. The White House said Yates “has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States” and portrayed her actions as political.

Trump has argued tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks but critics complain that his order unfairly singles out Muslims and defiles America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.

Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, was days away from being replaced by Trump’s pick for the top spot at the Justice Department, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

“Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House said that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in at 9 p.m. ET and would be acting U.S. attorney general until Sessions is approved.

Boente said in an interview with the Washington Post that he would enforce the immigration order.

DRAMA

There have been only a handful of instances in U.S. history of top Justice Department officials publicly breaking with the White House.

The most famous example was in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

The incident, which became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” was a public relations disaster and is seen as a turning point in Nixon’s administration.

The drama at the Justice Department is another sign of how hastily Trump’s immigration order was developed and how little it was reviewed by the agencies now grappling to implement it.

The White House said key government officials were briefed before Trump signed the order on Friday, but there was little coordination or consultation, resulting in confusion. Most State Department officials found out about it from media reports.

Officials from the State Department circulated a draft memo of dissent on Monday, saying Trump’s move would hurt America’s image abroad and inflame anti-American sentiment.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed the memo. “These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think that they should either get with the program or they can go,” he told reporters at his daily briefing.

An internal Department of Homeland Security document seen by Reuters showed 348 visa holders were kept from boarding U.S.-bound flights this week, and more than 200 people came to the United States but were denied entry.

More than 735 people were pulled aside for questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at airports, including 394 green card holders, who are legal permanent residents of the United States, the document said.

Trump’s administration is granting waivers from the refugee ban to allow 872 people into the country this week – refugees that had already been cleared for resettlement in the United States and were in transit when the order came out.

Tens of thousands of people protested Trump’s order in major American cities and at airports on the weekend.

Obama took the rare step of weighing in, saying through a spokesman that he was heartened by the political activism on the issue.

Employees of Alphabet Inc’s Google in San Francisco, Mountain View, Seattle and other cities held protests. Backed by a sign that said “We are a nation of immigrants,” Sergei Brin, president of Alphabet, said he was outraged by the order.

“The U.S. had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees,” he said in a YouTube video of his remarks.

TECH BACKING FOR COURT CHALLENGES

Federal judges blocked deportation of those detained under the order through the weekend, and more lawsuits were filed on Monday.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s biggest Muslim advocacy group, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of more than 20 people.

Washington state filed a lawsuit, arguing that Trump’s order violates the equal protection clause and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Several other Democratic state attorneys general have said they are considering legal action.

“It is an insult and a danger to all of the people of the state of Washington, of all faiths,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, told reporters.

Amazon.com Inc and Expedia Inc, both of which are based in Washington state’s Seattle area, are supporting the state’s suit.

Amazon scrapped a business trip for a senior company lawyer who was born in Libya but has UK citizenship, according to a declaration filed in support of the lawsuit. Forty-nine of its employees were born in one of the banned countries, and seven new hires may need to be placed in offices outside the United States, it said.

A declaration from Expedia said the order could impact the travel itineraries of at least 1,000 customers, costing it refunds as well as expenses to monitor how the order is applied and who exactly is affected.

The U.S. technology industry, a major employer of foreign workers, has been the most vocal corporate opponent to Trump’s order. A group of top companies plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss how best to support legal challenges. [L1N1FL04H]

(Additional reporting by Dan Levine and Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, Eric Beech, Doina Chiacu, Arshad Mohammed, Susan Heavey, Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brian Snyder in Boston, and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Bill Rigby and Nick Macfie)


Brazil Supreme Court approves Odebrecht graft plea deal testimony

(Reuters) – The president of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Carmen Lucia Rocha, approved plea bargain statements from 77 executives of engineering conglomerate Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] under investigation for paying bribes in the country’s biggest graft scandal, the court said on Monday.

The testimony, which will remain sealed, is expected to name dozens of politicians who received graft money in the corruption scheme centered on Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA).

Testimony from one ex-Odebrecht executive, leaked in December and reported by Globo, alleged the construction company had made illegal contributions to several senior politicians including President Michel Temer.

Prosecutors had asked Rocha not to hold up approval of the statements following the death of Teori Zavascki, the Supreme Court justice handling the case, in a plane crash on Jan. 19.

It remains unclear who will take over the case following Zavascki’s death, with Rocha approving the plea bargain testimony in her capacity as the on-duty minister during the court’s year-end recess.

In the midst of concern Zavascki’s death might stifle the investigation, Rocha’s move maintains for now at least the court’s pace as Zavascki had been expected to approve the testimonies in February.

Rocha has directed auxiliary judges to continue working on the case while Zavascki’s replacement is chosen.

Beyond President Temer, the leaked testimony from former Odebrecht executive Claudio Melo Filho also implicated the President’s Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha, Senate President Renan Calheiros, and Speaker of the Lower House Rodrigo Maia.

The politicians deny all wrongdoing. Reuters was not independently able to verify the contents of the testimony.

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Anthony Boadle and Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama)


After outcry, U.S. loosens curb on re-entry by green card holders

(Reuters) – The administration of President Donald Trump loosened a restriction on legal residents holding green cards returning to the United States from overseas travel after a weekend of confusion, protests and worldwide outcry over a sweeping immigration order.

The executive order signed by Trump on Friday afternoon curtailing travel by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries was met with befuddlement at airports as customs and immigration agents grappled with the new rules.

Protests erupted around the country, lawsuits were filed and a federal judge blocked deportation of those detained under the order, which drew criticism from immigration and human rights activists, Democratic lawmakers and leading Republicans.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Trump supporter, said the president’s order had been poorly implemented, particularly for green card holders.

“The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated,” Corker said.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees customs, border and immigration agencies, struggled to interpret and implement the order over the weekend.

The fate of green card holders was a particular point of confusion, with both DHS and administration officials saying citizens of the seven affected countries holding U.S. green cards would be denied re-entry without a rescreening process.

All U.S. green card holders, who are legal permanent U.S. residents, were included in Trump’s executive action and were required to undergo additional screening before re-entering the country, administration officials said on Saturday.

Late on Sunday, Homeland Security said those legal permanent residents would be admitted, subject to security checks.

“Importantly, however, lawful permanent residents of the United States traveling on a valid I-551 will be allowed to board U.S. bound aircraft and will be assessed for exceptions at arrival ports of entry, as appropriate,” it said in a statement.

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Monday said the green card guidelines were not altered but needed clarification. “It wasn’t a rollback,” she said on CNBC.

Trump defended the executive order as in the interests of national security and said the seven countries targeted had been identified as “sources of terror” by the Obama administration.

In a statement released after a chaotic weekend, the new Republican president expressed compassion for Syrians affected by civil war and others fleeing oppression and stressed that the United States will begin issuing visas to all countries once security measures were reviewed.

Trump rejected criticism that the order amounted to a Muslim ban, saying more than 40 majority Muslim countries were not affected.

In a pair of Twitter posts early on Monday, Trump appeared to blame airport confusion on protesters, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who had teared up while talking about the ban, and even a computer system failure at Delta Airlines late Sunday.

“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage … protesters and the tears of Senator (Chuck) Schumer. Secretary Kelly said that all is going well with very few problems. MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN!” he wrote.

The issue hung over the Screen Actors Guild awards in Hollywood, where stars slammed Trump for restricting entry.

“Because I love this country, I am horrified by its blemishes, and this immigrant ban is a blemish,” said Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won best comedy TV actress for her portrayal of U.S. President Selina Meyer on HBO’s political satire “Veep.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey)


Ex-tycoon Batista held on return to Brazil on graft charges: report

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest man, flew into Rio de Janeiro on Monday and was detained by federal police in connection with charges including an alleged $16 million bribe to a former governor, Globo news television reported.

Batista, a brash entrepreneur who became the face of Brazil’s now-fizzled commodities boom, had been sought since last week by Brazilian police, who raided his Rio mansion and confiscated his luxury cars as part of their bribery investigation.

The 60-year-old businessman, who five years ago had a net worth exceeding $30 billion and was considered among the world’s 10 richest people, arrived aboard an American Airlines flight from New York at Rio’s international airport just after 10 a.m. local time (1200 GMT).

Since the police raid last week, a Brazilian judge declared him a fugitive and requested his name be added to the wanted list of Interpol, the international police agency.

“I am returning to answer to the courts, as is my duty,” Batista said in a brief interview with Brazil’s Globo television network at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “It’s time for me to clear this up.”

Batista told Globo he never intended to flee and was in New York on business. Batista declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether he considered himself guilty or innocent.

Batista’s lawyer, Fernando Martins, told Reuters that he did not yet know to which prison his client would be taken.

Inmates with a college degree – which Batista does not have – are usually separated from the rest of the population in Brazil’s crowded and chaotic prison system, which has suffered a series of violent riots this year.

A former wildcat gold miner, Batista attracted ravenous demand for shares in his mining and energy ventures. With the decline in oil and mineral prices in recent years, Brazil fell into a recession, and Batista’s empire evaporated.

As the bonanza faded, investigators in Brazil discovered large-scale corruption around many major projects from the boom years.

Starting with a probe into kickbacks around state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the investigation shed light on a culture of bribery among government officials, politicians and many big companies, especially engineering, energy and infrastructure groups reliant on public licenses and contracts.

Police said last week that Batista had paid roughly $16 million to former Rio Governor Sergio Cabral in exchange for support of the businessman’s many Rio-based endeavors. Cabral, who resigned from office in 2014, has been jailed since last year in connection with other corruption charges.

The oil companies OGX Petroleo and OGX Oleo e Gas and mining company MMX, which were founded by Batista, said on Monday he no longer holds administrative roles and his arrest would have no material impact on them.

(Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jeffrey Benkoe)


Emboldened by Trump, some police unions seek to overhaul Obama’s reforms

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, had a blunt message for Donald Trump during a meeting in September: court-ordered reforms aimed at curbing police abuses in the midwestern city are not working.

Loomis and two other attendees said Trump seemed receptive to Loomis’s concerns that federally monitored police reforms introduced during the Obama administration in some cities in response to complaints of police bias and abuse are ineffective and impose an onerous burden on police forces.

Trump, Loomis said, was “taken aback by the waste of money” when the union chief told him that federal monitors overseeing his city’s police department earned $250 an hour – a standard salary for the position.

“I think he’s going to have a more sensible approach to rising crime rates,” Loomis said of now President Trump. “What I got from the meeting was that Donald Trump is going be a very strong supporter of law and order.”

Emboldened by Trump’s election, some of the country’s biggest police groups want to renegotiate “consent decrees” agreed to under President Barack Obama, the police labor groups said in interviews.

Consent decrees are agreements between a police force and the Justice Department that can prescribe changes to use of force, recruiting, training and discipline. They are enforced by a federal court with the oversight of court-appointed monitors. Currently 14 police departments, including Seattle and Miami, are operating under the decrees.

The police groups want to discuss the decrees with Jeff Sessions, Trump’s designee for attorney general who has voiced criticism of them, although any renegotiation would be legally complicated because all parties as well as a federal judge must approve any changes.

“There are certainly decrees that are inartfully applied that we’d like to see revisited,” said Jim Pasco, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union with 330,000 members. It endorsed Trump in September and has worked with Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, for years while lobbying Congress for pro-police policies.

“We’ve always found him a man who’s willing to listen to alternatives to a previously charted course,” Pasco said of Sessions.

Civil rights groups are alarmed at the possibility that the decrees could be unraveled, saying they have been an important tool for the government to try to address issues like excessive use of force by police in Baltimore and an officer shooting in Ferguson, Missouri that led to nationwide protests.

Trump officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the meeting with Loomis.

While Trump has not publicly commented on consent decrees, he has expressed strong support for police departments and unions, and on Jan. 20 the White House said he wants to end the “dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”

CURBING ABUSE

There have been questions by police and conservative politicians over the effectiveness of the consent decrees, which give the Justice Department power to obtain court orders imposing reforms on police forces that routinely violate civil rights through practices such as unlawful stops and seizures, racial discrimination, and illegal uses of force.

The federal program was authorized by Congress in 1994 in the aftermath of riots in Los Angeles sparked by the police beating of Rodney King.

Some police unions complain the decrees stigmatize police and impose overly restrictive limits on use of force. They also chafe at what they see as misguided federal prescriptions to local problems and have fought the reforms in court.

A reform agreement that the Justice Department negotiated with the New Orleans police department in 2013, for instance, has been “extraordinarily expensive” to implement, said Donovan Livaccari, the lawyer for the Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police. The city of New Orleans is footing the bill.

The Obama administration negotiated 24 reform agreements with law enforcement agencies during Obama’s eight years in office after finding patterns of excessive force, racial bias, poor supervision and other issues, more than double the 11 agreements reached under the previous Bush administration.

Vanita Gupta, the last Obama-appointed head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which investigates and recommends reforms for police departments, defended the use of consent decrees in an interview, saying they are apolitical ways of improving public safety and making policing more effective.

Bill Johnson, head of the National Association of Police Organizations, which represents about 241,000 officers, said he expects local police associations to examine existing consent decrees to see whether the Justice Department under Obama overstepped in imposing any measures.

    Some police union officials say they have been encouraged by comments by Sessions, who has said that federal inquiries “smear” police departments and “undermine respect for officers.”

“Under Attorney General Sessions, it’ll be more, ‘Okay, there’s a problem, let’s craft an agreement as best we can and cure it, and then move onto the next thing’,” Johnson said.

    Union officials said they expect the Trump administration to initiate and reach fewer binding reform agreements with police departments, and they hope Sessions will work with them to try to re-negotiate some of those existing agreements.

Sessions said in his confirmation hearing on Jan. 10 that he “wouldn’t commit that there wouldn’t be any changes” to existing consent decrees when he becomes attorney general if police departments show improvement before they have fully complied with the terms of the decree.

A Trump transition official said Sessions would not comment on his testimony until after the Senate votes on his appointment. That vote is not expected until February.

DECREES HAVE MIXED RESULTS

Not all union leaders agree that the decrees’ costs outweigh the benefits.

    Sean Smoot, who directs the Police Benevolent & Protective Association of Illinois and serves as a monitor for the Cleveland police reform agreement, said the federal inquiries prompt cities to hire more cops and invest in better equipment.

    The decrees have had mixed results. Reforms in some cities, such as Los Angeles, have resulted in higher public satisfaction with police and declines in reports of police use of force. In other places, such as Ferguson, the city has missed multiple deadlines for implementing reforms required by its decree.

    Civil rights advocates in Chicago say that given Trump’s law and order platform they fear his administration will neglect the Justice Department’s findings from a 13-month-long investigation into the police force.

Issued in the last days of the Obama administration, the Justice Department’s Jan. 13 report found that Chicago police routinely used excessive force and violated the constitutional rights of residents, particularly minorities. City officials signed an agreement to negotiate a consent decree.

But with Trump in the White House, “it’s not clear where the leverage is going to come from for the reforms,” said Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit group which advocates for police transparency.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Kalven’s concerns.

Jonathan Smith, the Obama-appointed former chief of special litigation in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said he is confident that most agreements reached during the Obama era will remain intact because they are overseen by judges who are “committed to their implementation.”

    In Cleveland, for instance, the judge who oversees the reform agreement that Loomis’s union is objecting to recently rejected any efforts to renegotiate it.

(Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin)


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 01/30

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Government is looking to cut back on allocations to ministries and statutory boards in a bid to reduce its high level of expenditure in this area.  Prime Minister Freundel Stuart told the business community recently that transfers to state-owned and other entities along with debt service, wages and salaries, represented “approximately 80 per cent of government vital expenditure on an annual basis.”  The impact this was having on the expenditure column was causing government much concern,” the Prime Minister said.

Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidates say they are ready to debate morality with the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which has signaled that this could be one of its major platform issues in the next general election.  The gauntlet was thrown down by Member of Parliament, Ronald Toppin and candidate Reverend Joseph Atherley at a BLP St. Michael meeting yesterday.  Stating that the decision by government ministers to restore their 10 per cent deduction in salaries was “evil”, Toppin challenged “where is the morality in that?”

Dateline Basseterre, ST. KITTS:

St. Kitts and Nevis has ranked Number One in the CARICOM in the “2016 Doing Business Report” says Kennedy DaSilva, deputy comptroller of Customs in the Office of the Comptroller.

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

A United States counter terrorism expert has labelled Trinidad and Tobago as having more terrorists than the seven predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens have been banned by US President Donald Trump from entering the US.  The claims by Malcolm Nance, were made during a talk show on American news network MSNBC on Saturday.

Dateline Nassau, THE BAHAMAS:

Caribbean countries have made notable progress in making the shift to sustainable energy but more must be done to promote and unlock financing for a clean energy shift in the region.  Representatives from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) made this point during the Fifth Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF V) in Nassau, The Bahamas last week.


Ukraine says more soldiers killed in deadliest clashes in weeks

(Reuters) – The number of Ukrainian soldiers killed in an offensive by pro-Russian separatists over the past two days has risen to seven, Ukraine’s military said on Monday, in the deadliest outbreak of fighting in the east of the country since mid-December.

The clashes between Ukraine’s military and the pro-Russian separatists coincide with U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for better relations with Moscow that has alarmed Kiev while the conflict in its eastern region remains unresolved.

The rebels began attacking government positions in the eastern frontline town of Avdiyivka on Sunday, Ukrainian officials said. Five soldiers were killed and nine wounded on Sunday and two more were killed on Monday, they said.

“The situation in the Avdiyivka industrial zone is challenging. The enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a regular daily briefing.

The separatist website DAN said on Monday shelling by Ukrainian troops had killed one female civilian and wounded three others in the rebel-held town of Makiyivka, south of Avdiyivka. The reports could not be independently verified.

On Sunday the separatists said one of their fighters had been killed during heavy Ukrainian shelling of their positions.

Both sides accuse the other of violating a two-year-old ceasefire deal on a near-daily basis.

Close to 10,000 people have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev first erupted in April 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was due to discuss the state of the conflict on Monday in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who helped broker the Minsk ceasefire deal.

Ukraine and NATO accuse the Kremlin of supporting the rebels with troops and weapons, which it denies. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over the conflict, as well as for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Ukraine is anxious that international resolve to hold Russia to account may waver following the election of Trump, who has spoken of possibly lifting sanctions against Moscow.

Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday and the two men agreed to try to rebuild strained ties and to cooperate in Syria.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)