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Five people have died and dozens were injured in a terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament in London including a police officer and the attacker.  The attacker is believed to have acted alone but police are investigating possible associates and do not further attacks on the public are planned.  ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the attacker “a soldier of Islamic State”.

The attack began when 52 year old Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.  He struck and killed three people – two of whom died at the scene and one who later died of his injuries in the hospital.  Masood crashed the vehicle into a wall outside the parliament, where he ran into New Palace Yard.  Armed with two knives, he attacked two police man at the security gates as he tried to enter the building.  There, he stabbed an unarmed police officer multiple times and was subsequently shot by police.

At least 50 people were injured, with 31 requiring hospital treatment. Two victims remain in a critical condition, one with life-threatening injuries. Two police officers are among those still in hospital.  Victims killed in the attack have been identified as 43 year old mother of two Aysha Frade who was hit by a bus while fleeing the attack and 75 year old Leslie Rhode who succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.  Also killed was 54 year old Utah resident Kurt Cochran.  He and his wife, Melissa, were on the last day of a trip to Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Melissa remains in hospital with serious injuries.  Forty-eight year old Police Officer Keith Palmer who was a husband and father, had 15 years of service with the parliamentary and diplomatic protection service.

British-born attacker Khalid Masood was known to police and had been investigated a few years ago by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism but police have said he was not part of any current investigation at the time of the attack. Masood, who was born in Kent, a county east of London, had several aliases including his birth name “Adrian Russell Ajao”.  He  had a range of previous convictions for assaults- including grievous bodily harm, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences. His most recent arrest was in December 2003 for possession of a knife.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, led a vigil attended by thousands in Trafalgar Square where he vowed “Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism”. World leaders condemned the attack and offered condolences. The US president, Donald Trump promised full support by the US government to the UK in responding to the attack.  Leaders of Canada, France, Germany and Spain were among others who sent messages of solidarity.

In the aftermath of the attack, London has been doubled the number of armed police and increased the number of unarmed officers.  Police raided properties in Birmingham — where the culprit’s vehicle was rented from Enterprise — and London.  Defense Minister Michael Fallon described the attack as a “lone-wolf attack” but said investigators were still checking whether others were involved.

President Trump’s proposed budget has received criticism from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The 2018 budget calls for an unprecedented $54 billion increase in military spending while slashing environmental, housing, diplomatic and educational programs. It also calls for a 31% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency and the elimination of 3,200 jobs. If approved, the EPA’s budget would become the smallest it’s been in 40 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department took the hardest hits. The State Department would see a 29% decrease in funding, eliminating climate-change prevention programs, reducing funding for U.N. peacekeeping, reducing funding for development banks and reducing most cultural-exchange programs.

The Agriculture Department would lose 4.7 billion (21%) of its funding, eliminating the $200 million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, eliminating the $500 million Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, reducing the budget for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance from $6.4 billion to $6.2 billion and cuts $95 million from the Rural Business and Cooperative Services program.

The budget proposes cutting 6.2 billion in funding (13%) for the Department of Housing and Urban Development-eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program and eliminates the $35 million of funding for Section 4 Community Development and Affordable Housing.  The cuts would also eliminate the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Choice Neighborhoods program and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

The Department of Health and Human Services would lose 18% of its funding.  The Education Department would see $9 billion (14%) cut from its funding, with a decrease of $3.7 billion in grants for teacher training, after-school and summer programs, and aid programs to first-generation and low-income students.  While “school choice” programs would receive $1.4 billion more in funding, increasing the budget for charter schools and spending $1 billion to encourage districts to allow federal dollars meant for low-income students to follow those students to the public school of their choice.

The Department of Labor stands to lose 2.6 billion (21%) in funding which would eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income seniors find work.  The budget cuts would close poor-performing centers for Job Corps, a job-training program for disadvantaged youth and eliminate grants that help nonprofit groups and public agencies pay for safety and health training.

The proposal also eliminates funding for 19 agencies including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public radio and TV stations nationwide; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Legal Services Corporation, which funds free legal aid nationwide.

These cuts are not set in stone just yet but they do show where President Trump’s priorities are.  Congress will still have to draft a formal budget and Trump’s proposed budget is expected to face fierce opposition in Congress.  Congress completely by-passed President Obama’s budget proposal last year while drafting the formal budget.

Newly released research shows hate crimes in major cities across the United States rose by more than 20% in 2016. The data released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, shows there were more than 1,000 hate-related crimes committed in 2016—a 23% increase over 2015.

Another report released in February 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitoring group showed that the total number of hate groups in the US in 2016 grew to 917 from 892 a year earlier.  There are now more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate and black separatist organizations.  The sharpest increase was among anti-Muslim groups, which grew from 37 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.  The number of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapters, racist skinhead groups and anti-government militias and political groupings has declined, according to the report.

The overall number of hate groups likely understates the real level of organized hatred in America as a growing number of extremists operate mainly online and are not formally affiliated with hate groups.  In the first 10 days after Trump’s election, the SPLC documented 867 bias-related incidents, including more than 300 that targeted immigrants or Muslims.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

Many major cities are reporting an increase in hate crimes since the start of 2017.  In New York City, there were 100 hate crimes from January 1 through March 5, compared with 47 during the same period last year.  In Chicago, the police department tallied 13 during the first five weeks of 2017 — more than triple the number recorded in the first five weeks of last year.

A coalition of civil and human rights organizations has created a national database and a hotline aimed at getting victims help — including lawyers.  The effort, led by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is intended to build upon the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s leading watchdog against hate groups.

Eleven organizations have joined the effort, representing African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Arabs, women and the LGBTQ community. Calling themselves Communities Against Hate, they will aggregate data in an effort to document hate crimes and provide victims with social services and pro-bono attorneys.  In addition, a new Muslim-Jewish coalition is pushing the government to provide more data on hate crimes and focus on punishing offenders. The group represents an effort to get advocates to stand up for people of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

In recent months, incidents of hate have been directed against transgender women, Jews, African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Hindu Americans, Sikh Americans and others. Recently, 156 civil and human rights groups urged Trump in writing to respond faster and more forcefully to hate-based incidents. In his recent address to a joint session of Congress, the president condemned “hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” but critics have said he had taken too long to issue that statement.

A federal grand jury has indicted nine high-ranking active and retired Navy members as part of an investigation into a bribery scandal known as “Fat Leonard.” The Justice Department says the nine have been charged with accepting luxurious dinners, trips, gifts and the service of sex workers as bribes in exchange for handing over classified military information to Singapore-based defense contractor Leonard Francis.

Twenty-seven people have been charged with crimes since the investigation became public in 2013, including the nine Navy officers indicted this month. Authorities say that the case is still unfolding and that more than 200 people — including 30 admirals — have come under scrutiny.

Known as “Fat Leonard” for his 6ft 3inch, 350-pound physique, Francis has pleaded guilty to bribing “scores” of Navy officials for over a decade with prostitutes, cash, hedonistic parties and other gifts. In exchange, according to federal prosecutors, the officials provided Francis with classified or inside information that enabled his firm, Glenn Marine Defense Asia, to gouge the Navy out of tens of millions of dollars.  Leonard also plead guilty to padding invoices for services not rendered so that some of his navy contacts could pocket the money for themselves.

In June 2016, Robert Gilbeau became the first active-duty Navy admiral in modern history to be convicted of a felony.  He is awaiting sentencing.  In January, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Gentry Debord was sentenced to 30 months in prison, ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and $37,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Debord, 41, plead guilty in October 2016 to accepting bribes in the form of cash, luxury hotels and prostitutes from Leonard Glenn Francis.  The fraud occurred from November 2007 to January 2013, while Debord was a supply officer aboard the U.S.S. Essex.

Others charged are current or former U.S. Navy officials, including Commander Bobby Pitts, Captain Daniel Dusek, Commander Michael Misiewicz, Lt. Commander Todd Malaki, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, former NCIS Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau II, Petty Officer First Class Daniel Layug and Paul Simpkins, a former DoD civilian employee who oversaw contracting in Singapore.

Dusek, Misiewicz, Malaki, Beliveau, Sanchez and Layug have also pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme.  On Jan. 21, Layug was sentenced to 27 months in prison and a $15,000 fine; on Jan. 29, Malaki was sentenced to 40 months in prison and to pay $15,000 in restitution to the Navy and a $15,000 fine; on March 25, Dusek was sentenced to 46 months in prison and to pay $30,000 in restitution to the Navy and a $70,000 fine; on April 29, Misiewicz was sentenced to 78 months in prison and to pay a fine of $100,000 and to pay $95,000 in restitution to the Navy; and on Oct. 14, 2015, Beliveau was sentenced to serve 144 months in prison and ordered to pay $20 million in restitution to the Navy.  Sanchez awaits sentencing.  Pitts was charged in May 2016 and his case remains pending.

Military personnel found guilty of serious misconduct are usually demoted and forced to retire – and because pension values are based on rank, losing a star or a stripe leads to a partial reduction in their pension. Seven Navy officers who have pleaded guilty in the corruption and bribery scandal are reportedly still eligible for generous taxpayer-funded retirement benefits.  Disgraced Navy admiral Robert Gilbeau has already begun collecting $10,000 a month.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office over charges of bribery and corruption. The unanimous ruling strips Park of immunity from prosecution, meaning she could face criminal charges. Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote.

Eight justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to unseat Ms. Park for committing “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” throughout her time in office, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a ruling that was nationally broadcast that Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.”

Ms. Park, 65, now faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from companies like Samsung.

Samsung Group scion Lee Jae-yong was arrested on bribery charges in February.  He is accused of paying $36 million in bribes to President Park Geun-hye’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favors. Those are alleged to include government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that helped Mr. Lee, 48, inherit corporate control from his incapacitated father, Lee Kun-hee, the chairman.

Park’s removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest the sprawling corruption scandal and demands for her arrest.  Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn: “In order to stop internal conflicts from intensifying, we should manage the social order and keep a stable government, so that national anxiety and the international society’s concern can be settled.”

Park Geun-hye was the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee.  She had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

After December’s impeachment vote, she continued to live in the presidential Blue House while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home since the age of 9.  She left nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate incidents.

Park is now South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.  Her removal comes amid rising tension with North Korea and China.  A new election will be held in 60 days.

The upheaval comes days after North Korea test-fired several ballistic missiles and as the Trump administration began deploying a missile defense system to South Korea. Chinese officials warn the U.S. is escalating a regional arms race.  Park’s conservative party losing power could mean South Korea’s next leader will take a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.

Three separate shootings have raised worries among Indians and other communities about possible violence against foreign workers in the United States.  The senseless shooting of two technology workers from India and another man at a bar in Olathe, Kansas made national headlines.  The victims, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, both engineers employed by Garmin were at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.

A witness says Adam Purinton, 51, became agitated by the presence of the two men and was asked to leave by regular patron Ian Grillot.  Purinton left but returned a short time later and approached Kuchibhotla and Madasani.  He opened fire, yelling “Get out of my country!”  Kuchibhotla was killed and Madasani was wounded.  Grillot, who was shot in the hand and chest, was praised as a hero for attempting to intervene and subdue the suspect during the shooting.

Purinton was arrested hours later at an Applebee’s restaurant in Clinton, Missouri, about 70 miles away from Olathe.  Applebee’s employees called 911 and an Applebee’s bartender told police that a man had admitted to shooting two “Iranian” people in Olathe and was looking for a place to hide.  Purinton faces one first degree murder charge and two charges of attempted first degree murder.

Another shooting occurred in Lancaster, South Carolina when 43 year old Harnish Patel was shot and killed in front of his home.  Patel was killed after returning home from working at the Speedee Mart convenience store, which he owned. Patel had lived in the United States for 14 years. He was married and had one child in elementary school. He was originally from the Indian state of Gujarat. Police are still looking for the shooter.

Police are investigating a third shooting that occurred in Kent, Washington.  The shooting of Deep Rai, a 39-year-old Sikh man, was shot while cleaning his car in his driveway.  The victim’s family said a man approached and began calling him names, telling him, “Go home to your country!” The shooter then pushed him to the ground and shot him in the arm.

The victim lost consciousness and only realized he’d been shot when he regained consciousness in the hospital.  He was released the next day and is expected to make a full recovery.  Rai is a U.S. citizen originally from Punjab, India.  Rai became the fourth Indian man to be shot within the last few weeks in the United States. All of the shootings are being investigated as possible hate crimes.

The Sikh Coalition said members of its community are at heightened risk of hate-crime attacks -partially because their faith requires the wearing of turbans and beards.  In a statement, spokesman Rajdeep Singh said it’s important the Kent shooting be investigated as a hate crime.  “While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority,” he said. “Tone matters in our political discourse, because this is a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”

“The Sikh community is shaken and very frustrated at the hate and rhetoric that is being spread today about anyone that looks different, who looks like an immigrant.”

New Travel Ban Issued

 

President Trump issued a newly revised ban on refugees and travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.  The ban is set to go into effect on March 16th and prohibits travel for 90 days for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, subject to categorical exceptions and case-by-case waivers.  It also bans all refugees from resettling in the U.S. for at least four months.

The ban will not apply to people from the six countries with green cards or who already have a visa.   The travel restrictions apply to any citizen of the six countries who is outside the United States as of March 6, did not have a valid visa as of 5 p.m. Jan. 27 and do not have a valid visa as of March 6.

The new executive order, which supersedes the order issued on Jan. 27, drops Iraq from the list of countries, drops a provision that would have made the process easier for Christian refugees and does not include the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.  Both versions have capped the number of refugees admitted into the US in 2017 at 50,000.  Despite the changes, immigration advocates say the new ban still discriminates against Muslims.

The delay of the ban going into effect was put in place to avoid the chaos that followed Trump’s first travel ban which was issued with little notice and saw travelers with valid visas detained in airports when they landed.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said his Department will “work closely to implement the order humanely, respectively, and with professionalism but we will enforce the law.”

During the 90-day pause, the Department of Homeland Security will perform a “global, country-by-country review” of the information provided to the U.S. during screenings. Each country will have 50 days to comply with any requests from the U.S. government for better or more information. Officials will still have the ability to issue waivers to certain individuals who wish to enter the U.S. while the ban is in place.

A judge in Wisconsin has already circumvented the new travel ban by allowing the wife and child of a Syrian refugee who had already been granted asylum to enter the country.  The Syrian husband, who has been in the US since 2014, had applied for asylum for his family to join him but the process was halted by President Trump’s initial executive order.

District Judge William Conley, overruled Trump’s travel ban, explaining that the family would face “significant risk of irreparable harm” if they stayed in Syria.  The Judge Conley’s ruling only applies to the Syrian family in this particular case.   Many believe it will be the first of many legal challenges that will be presented to the courts before the executive order comes into force on March 16.

The White House is seeking to dramatically reduce the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, slashing dozens of programs and laying off 20% of the agency’s staff.  The proposed budget cut plans to cut the EPA’s budget by 25% to $6.1 billion, and cut its workforce by 20% to 12,400 employees, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October.  The plans require the complete elimination of EPA programs on climate change, toxic waste cleanup, environmental justice and funding for Native Alaskan villages. It would slash funding to states for clean air and water programs by 30% percent as well.

According to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million.

The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. EPA’s $50 million external grant program for environmental scientists at universities would be eliminated altogether. Cuts in the new budget memo include climate, air, and energy research would fall from $91.7 million to $45.7 million.  Research in chemical safety and sustainability would drop from $89.2 million to $61.8 million.   Water-related science falls from $107.2 million to $70.1 million.  The budget for sustainable healthy communities plunges from $139.7 million to $75.8 million.  The OMB memo also states that the EPA would no longer contribute to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a multi-agency task force that coordinates federal research on global change.

The OMB office says the cuts are needed to help reduce the burden that EPA regulations place on industry and state and local governments. Environmental scientists, regulators, and current and former EPA officials warn the reductions would devastate the agency’s efforts to carry out its mission of protecting human health and the environment.

The Trump administration’s final 2018 budget request is scheduled to be released on March 16th.  It is not clear whether the administration will keep the steep EPA cuts in its final request to Congress, or whether Congress will approve the cuts. Many federal lawmakers, as well as state and local officials, have already expressed strong opposition to some of the cuts.

The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a long EPA foe, has suggested that he will push back against parts of the preliminary White House plan.  Some senior Republicans in Congress have also expressed doubts about the larger Trump administration budget plan driving the EPA cuts.

It calls for boosting discretionary defense spending in 2018 by $54 billion, and paying for that increase by cutting discretionary spending at civilian agencies such as EPA. The shift would likely require Congress to change a 2011 law, called the Budget Control Act, that imposes caps on domestic spending—but Democrats in the Senate have already said they would block any change unless it also includes spending increases for civilian programs.

In January, President Trump said he wanted to empower local law enforcement to act as immigration officers and help with the “investigation, apprehension, or detention” of immigrants in the country illegally.  Traditionally, local police departments are not involved in immigration enforcement and those duties are carried out by federal authorities.

Police chiefs from cities across the U.S. are resisting the move by the administration to enlist local police officers to help deport undocumented immigrants. In a joint letter sent to Congress, 61 sheriffs and police chiefs wrote, “We can best serve our communities by leaving the enforcement of immigration laws to the federal government. Threatening the removal of valuable grant funding from jurisdictions that choose not to spend limited resources enforcing federal immigration law is extremely problematic.”  The White House plan would also withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Some of the cities that have vowed not to participate in the involvement of immigration laws include Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Providence and Denver.  Many expressed concerns that immigrants already wary of reporting crimes or being interviewed as witnesses will retreat further into the shadows.

Trump’s plan is not a new idea but is not regularly practiced throughout the country.   A 1996 federal law opened up the possibility for local agencies to participate in immigration enforcement on the streets and do citizenship checks of people in local jails.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement trained and certified roughly 1,600 officers to carry out these checks from 2006 to 2015.

The Obama administration phased out all the arrest power agreements in 2013, but still let agencies check whether people jailed in their jurisdiction were citizens. If an inmate is found to be in the country illegally, the department typically notifies federal authorities or hands them over to immigration officers. Today, more than 30 local agencies participate in the jail program.

Experts said Trump’s outreach to local law enforcement will create an even bigger split between sanctuary cities that keep police out of immigration enforcement and those eager to help the new president bolster deportations.

During the election, Trump found support among some law enforcement officers who viewed him as more pro-police than his Democratic opponent.  But even officers who privately said they had voted for him- are not eager to help with his immigration agenda.  Many officers feel that they have enough on their plate.  They are too busy answering 911 calls, arresting robbers, stopping erratic drivers and solving homicides to add federal immigration enforcement to their to-do lists.

 

The father of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed during a U.S. military raid in Yemen in January, says he refused to meet with President Trump and is calling for an investigation into his son’s death. When President Trump made his way to Dover Air Force Base to pay his respects to the returning body of Ryan Owens, Bill Owens refused to meet with the president. Bill Owens stated “My conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him.” The SEALs’ widow Carryn Owens met with Trump instead.  The Yakla raid on the Yemeni village left 25 civilians dead, including nine children under the age of 13.

Owens, 36, was a Virginia-based Navy SEAL from Peoria, Illinois and was killed during the controversial nighttime raid.  The married, father of three-joined the Navy in 1998 and joined the Navy Seals in 2002.  Owens was twice awarded the Bronze Star medal with V for valor in combat.

During President Trump’s first speech to Congress, he honored Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and referred to the raid as being “highly successful.”  Owens’s widow, Carryn Owens, fought back tears as Trump called her late husband a “warrior and a hero.”

The raid took place in central Yemen on Jan. 29th and was Trump’s first counter terrorism operation after taking office. Administration and Defense Department officials have praised the operation for gathering intelligence from documents and electronic devices in the house, and for killing at least a dozen combatants including Abdulrauf al Dhahab, a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The aftermath of the raid has been controversial with some lawmakers, pundits and news reports being highly critical of its’ “so-called” success.  The raid has been called an intelligence-gathering operation but it quickly turned into a lengthy firefight that killed Owens and potentially dozens of civilians, wounded three American soldiers, and destroyed a $70 million Osprey. Critics have also questioned the quality of the intelligence gathered.

Senator John McCain has called the operation “a failure” because the terrorists were allegedly tipped off in advance.  The Trump administration has emphasized that a trove of intelligence was gathered but various news reports, citing anonymous administration officials, have produced inconsistent reports about the quality of the intelligence gathered.  There hasn’t been an official investigation or report on the operation yet, so how the event actually played out and the value of the intelligence gathered is not completely clear.

The administration was initially hesitant to confirm reports from local witnesses that Yemeni civilians were killed in the firefight.  On February 1st, U.S. Central Command announced that “regrettably, civilian noncombatants were killed” and “casualties may include children.”

The Pentagon has opened at least three investigations into the Yemen raid. The Pentagon is “following standard procedures for reviews into the death of a service member, the deaths of civilians and the destruction of hardware.”