Time for US President-elect Trump to ‘grow up’, says VP Biden

Associated Press
Fri, 2017-01-06

WASHINGTON: Vice President Joe Biden told President-elect Donald Trump Thursday to “grow up.”
Biden dismissed Trump’s complaint on Twitter about how the Obama administration has handled the transition. The vice president told “PBS NewsHour” in an interview that it’s time for Trump “to be an adult.”
Biden said to Trump: “You’re president. You’ve got to do something. Show us what you have.”
The vice president also said that Trump as president will have to propose legislation that Congress and the public can then assess. He said that it’ll be “much clearer what he’s for and against” once he’s in the position of governing.
Vice President Joe Biden says it’s “dangerous” for President-elect Donald Trump to publicly criticize the US intelligence community.
Biden also said it’s “absolutely mindless” for a president not to have confidence in or listen to the intelligence agencies. The vice president said it would be legitimate to question intelligence and ask for more detail or disagree. But he said that’s different than Trump claiming he knows more than the intelligence agencies.
Biden said that’s like saying, “I know more about physics than my professor.” He says that’s worrisome, but he assumes Trump’s behavior will change. He said that Trump is surrounding himself with “very smart people” like retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the billionaire businessman’s pick for defense secretary.

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More than 800 girls circumcised in Tanzania despite police crackdown

Kizito Makoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Fri, 2017-01-06

DAR ES SALAAM, More than 800 girls were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in northern Tanzania last month, a local government official said, despite a police crackdown to stop the practice that affects millions of girls in the east African country.
Twelve women suspected to have carried out the ritual, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, have been arrested as the police investigate the case, Tarime District Commissioner Glorious Luoga said.
“The police operation is still going on. We will not relent until all the perpetrators have been arrested and charged,” Luoga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls and women across a swathe of Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, and is seen as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving purity.
Up to 7.9 million girls and women in Tanzania are thought to have undergone FGM, with the illegal procedure often carried out in secret initiation, or rite of passage, ceremonies.
The ancient ritual causes numerous health problems that can be fatal.
In Tarime, girls are usually cut between the ages of 12 and 17 in initiation ceremonies performed by circumcisers known as ngariba, often in unhygienic conditions.
On Tuesday a senior official in the Ministry of Health warned communities to stop embracing the harmful tradition.
“FGM should be made history in Tanzania,” the ministry’s permanent secretary Sihaba Nkinga told girls who had completed an alternative rite of passage in Tarime involving reproductive health education.
“As a government, we can’t afford to see such acts continuing to happen. It is not something to be proud of,” she said.

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US slaps terror-related curbs on Osama Bin Laden’s son

Thu, 2017-01-05

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration imposed sanctions Thursday on a son of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, saying the younger Bin Laden poses a risk to US national security.
The State Department said Hamza Bin Laden has been added to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list after he was “determined to have committed, or pose a serious risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security.”
Hamza Bin Laden was officially named an Al-Qaeda member in 2014 by his father’s successor, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
The State Department says the younger Laden — in a 2015 audio message — called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals. In an audio message last year, he threatened revenge against the US and warned Americans they would be targeted at home and abroad.
Hamza Bin Laden also has called for lone wolf, or solo-operative, attacks against US, French, and Israeli interests in Washington, Paris and Tel Aviv.
“Hamza Bin Laden is actively engaged in terrorism,” the State Department said, adding that terrorism designations deny individuals access to the US financial system and “can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other US agencies and other governments.”
Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.
The State Department also announced penalties against Ibrahim Al-Banna, a senior member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He served as that group’s security chief and provided military and security guidance to its leadership.
Al-Banna wrote a 2010 article in AQAP’s English-language magazine, Inspire, hailing the Sept. 11 attacks as virtuous, according to the State Department, and threatened to target Americans both domestically and abroad.
Al-Zawahiri, an eye surgeon who helped found the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group, took over leadership of Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden’s death.
In August, Professor Fawaz Gerges, an expert on Middle East politics, told BBC Radio 4 that Hamza was “the new face of Al-Qaeda — he is charismatic, he is very popular with the rank and file.”
“He was his father’s favorite son — everyone, even for the last 10 years, has been talking about Hamza succeeding his father.”
In 2015, Hamza called on followers in Kabul, Baghdad and Gaza to wage or holy war on Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv.
He now joins his half-brother Saad on the US sanctions list as a “specially designated global terrorist” — someone who threatens national security or the safety of US citizens, according to BBC.
The US State Department said the sanction was a “powerful tool.”

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Obama defends legacy in letter to American people

Thu, 2017-01-05

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama acclaimed his outgoing administration’s accomplishments on Thursday in a letter to the American people defending a legacy on health care and other issues that his successor Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle.

The White House released the president’s letter along with reports from each of his cabinet secretaries describing the progress made since Obama took office eight years ago with the world’s largest economy spiralling toward depression.
“As I prepare to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen, I’m proud to say that we have laid a new foundation for America,” he said.
He cited the turn-around in the US economy, the scaled back military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, a sharply reduced dependence on foreign oil, and the Paris climate agreement as among his administration’s important accomplishments.
But near the top of his list was the Affordable Care Act, the signature health care reform that Democrat Obama prizes and Republican Trump has vowed to ditch.
Obama has launched a parting offensive to try to save it, making a rare visit to Congress on Wednesday to rally Democrats for what is shaping up as the first major fight of the next administration.
In his letter, Obama argued that the US has “begun the long task of reversing inequality.”
“What won’t help is taking health care away from 30 million Americans, most of them white and working class; denying overtime pay to workers, most of whom have more than earned it; or privatizing Medicare and Social Security and letting Wall Street regulate itself again — none of which middle-class Americans voted for.”
Obama’s reforms came under fire during the US presidential campaign as insurance premiums rose and some major insurers backed out of the state markets created under the law.
But elements of Obamacare remain popular, notably the provisions barring companies from refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions and allowing children to retain coverage on family plans through to 26 years of age.

Seeking Obama’s compassion
Under mounting pressure to free convicts as a last act, Obama is planning at least one more batch of pardons and commutations before leaving office in two weeks, but do not expect many famous offenders to make the list.
The list of bold names appealing to Obama for compassion in his final weeks includes accused leaker Chelsea Manning, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and supporters of Edward Snowden, to name a few. Yet White House officials say Obama’s final grants are expected to remain focused on the nonviolent drug offenders he has sought to help during his second term.
That is a contrast with former presidents like Bill Clinton, who ignited a major controversy with a last-minute pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich, the ex-husband of a major Democratic fundraiser. But Obama has viewed clemency as a tool to promote policy goals, not to “clean out the barn” on his way out, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
“The process that I put in place is not going to vary” at the end, Obama said in August. He said he would make the calls “based on the merits, as opposed to political considerations.”
Presidents have two clemency options: Commutations, which reduce sentences being served but don not erase convictions, and pardons, which generally restore civil rights — like voting — often after a sentence has been served.

Earlier in his presidency, Obama was unsatisfied with the cases he was receiving, officials said, and so in a 2014 initiative the Justice Department created specific criteria focusing on nonviolent individuals like drug offenders who have served 10 years and, if convicted under today’s more lenient sentencing guidelines, would have received shorter sentences.
All told, Obama has granted 1,176 commutations and 148 pardons — fewer pardons than some presidents, but more commutations than any other, the White House said.
Obama’s goal in taking on the commutations project was to spur action in Congress on a criminal justice overhaul. That seemed initially promising, but the momentum petered out.
“It’s politically risky. You commute somebody and they commit a crime, and the politics of it are tough,” Obama has said.
Some commutation recipients have had firearms violations related to their drug crimes. A handful were unrelated to Obama’s criminal justice push but received clemency as part of diplomatic deals with Iran and Cuba. The more recent batches have included some that met the spirit — but not the letter — of Obama’s guidelines, such as people who have served eight or nine years, but not 10.
Mary Price of the advocacy group Families against Mandatory Minimums said Obama’s commutations had increased awareness about decades-long sentences for drug crimes.
“I think that that’s very positive,” Price said, though she added she would have liked even more.
But Obama has also been criticized for being too lenient — including by President-elect Donald Trump, who has accused the president of putting “bad dudes” on the street and warned Americans, “Sleep tight, folks.”
Steve Cook, the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys president, faulted Obama for feeding the perception that federal prisons are “full of low-level, nonviolent offenders.” He said Obama was eroding prison’s deterrent effect by granting clemency to people with multiple felony convictions and firearms charges.
“When you grant somebody like that clemency, you’re sending a message to the entire drug trafficking world,” Cook said.
There will be a backlog of applicants when Obama leaves office, officials said, just as a backlog awaited Obama. But most whose cases won’t be resolved are people convicted of serious crimes like murder. Rather than expend limited resources issuing formal denials, the administration focused on approving those eligible under Obama’s guidelines.
A look at the higher-profile cases vying for last-minute clemency:

Edward Snowden: The former National Security Agency contractor took secret documents and leaked them, revealing massive post-9/11 domestic surveillance programs in the US government. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, to avoid prosecution, and a recent congressional report said Snowden remains in contact with Russian intelligence services. Snowden hasn’t formally petitioned for a pardon, the Justice Department said, but his supporters and the American Civil Liberties Union have been calling for one. Yet Obama takes a dim view on Snowden. He told the German newspaper Der Spiegel last month he was disinclined to consider a pardon request until Snowden returns to the US to face charges.

Rod Blagojevich: The former governor of Illinois has petitioned Obama for a commutation of his 14-year sentence, being served at a minimum-security federal prison in Colorado. But it’s unlikely that Obama would grant it, given Blagojevich’s involvement in an effort to trade an appointment to Obama’s former Senate seat for campaign cash.

Chelsea Manning: The soldier leaked classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks, and has since tried to commit suicide at least twice. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence, at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Bowe Bergdahl: The US Army sergeant could garner some sympathy from Obama, given that an Army Sanity Board Evaluation concluded that Bergdahl suffered from schizotypal personality disorder when he left his post in Afghanistan in 2009. Obama hasn’t commented in detail on Bergdahl, who has said he left his post to alert higher-ups to problems with his unit and faces desertion and misbehavior charges.
Bergdahl was captured and held by the Taliban and its allies for five years. Two soldiers who went searching were seriously wounded. Obama exchanged Bergdahl in 2014 for five Taliban prisoners. Because of his military involvement, both the Justice Department and Defense Department must evaluate Bergdahl’s pardon request.

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Trump calls top Democrat leader a ‘clown’

Thu, 2017-01-05

WASHINGTON: President-elect Donald Trump described America’s leading Democrat as a “clown” who behaves like a typical politician on Thursday, but urged him to work with Republicans.
In his latest early morning Twitter screed, the incoming president attacked Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer — whom he has previously praised — amid a mounting row over health care reform.
Republicans have vowed to press ahead with the potentially unpopular campaign promise of gutting President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, which allowed millions more poorer Americans to get treatment, but has been criticized for raising insurance premiums.
But Republicans — who control both houses of Congress and will take over the White House from Jan. 20 — appear uncertain about what, if anything, should replace Obamacare. With the party taking a political hit for appearing adrift in the opening days of the new Congress, Trump pinned responsibility back on Democrats.
“The Democrats, lead by head clown Chuck Schumer, know how bad ObamaCare is and what a mess they are in,” Trump said in a string of tweets that were at once strident and conciliatory.
“Instead of working to fix it, they do the typical political thing and BLAME. The fact is ObamaCare was a lie from the beginning. ‘Keep you doctor, keep your plan!’ It is time for Republicans & Democrats to get together and come up with a health care plan that really works — much less expensive & FAR BETTER!“

Republicans in Congress made their first moves to repeal the health care law on Wednesday, agreeing to begin the process of starving the system of funding.
Obama has launched a parting offensive to try to save his reform, making a rare visit to Congress on Wednesday to rally Democrats for what is shaping up as the first major fight of the next administration.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who ran for vice president on Hillary Clinton’s losing ticket last year, said the president had advised Democrats not to work with Republicans unless they provide a plan to replace Obamacare.
“They will have shown us by the repeal that they are uninterested in our input and they will have also shown a heartlessness about 30 million people are going to lose insurance,” he told CNN on Thursday.
However, he held the door open for cooperation, saying: “We will look at any suggestion that doesn’t reduce coverage or increase cost or diminish the quality of care.”

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UN retreat would be harmful, warns envoy

Thu, 2017-01-05

UNITED NATIONS: US interests, including national security, would be harmed if the country retreats from a leading role at the UN, US Ambassador Samantha Power warned on Thursday amid a backlash among Washington lawmakers against the world body.
President-elect Donald Trump also disparaged the UN after the Security Council adopted a Dec. 23 resolution demanding an end to settlement building by US ally Israel. Trump questioned the value of the organization, while some Republican lawmakers threatened to cut crucial US funding.
In an exit memo on Thursday, Power — a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet — wrote: “Other nations will follow us if we continue to lead; without our leadership the vacuum on the global stage will prove very harmful to US interests.”
Among the reasons for continued strong US engagement at the 193-member UN, Power listed North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, conflicts in Syria, Libya and South Sudan, climate change, the global refugee crisis and Russia.
“As Russia continues to menace our allies and attempt to interfere in political systems in Europe and beyond, we will need to show broad condemnation of these actions in UN fora,” Power wrote in the 13-page memo.
US intelligence agencies say Russia was behind cybertattacks before the US election in November that aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Moscow denies this.
Power also promoted the importance of the UN in ensuring the success of the a deal between Iran and key world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Trump has vowed to scrap the deal.
“We must continue to fulfill our own commitments and use UN Security Council Resolution 2231 … to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will remain exclusively peaceful,” Power said.
Trump plans to replace Power with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley once she is confirmed by the US Senate.
“Working with the UN to address these challenges will not be a litmus test of whether one is committed to international norms and institutions or not — it will simply be a strategic necessity,” said Power, who has been ambassador since 2013.
Trump last week described the world body as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with Trump on Wednesday and the two had “a very positive discussion on US/UN relations,” a UN spokesman said.

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US president urges more progress on criminal justice reform

Thu, 2017-01-05

WASHINGTON: The US has “much work to be done” to reform the criminal justice system and humanize the prison system, President Barack Obama said on Thursday in a journal.
Returning to his roots at the Harvard Law Review, his article addresses how presidents can exert influence over the criminal justice system, and how those who serve the president have a responsibility to translate that vision into practical results.
The outgoing president cautions that challenges toward true reform remain, including the passage of bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, preventing guns from falling into the hands of those who pose a threat, and addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic.
He also calls for the use of technology to enhance trust in and effectiveness of law enforcement.
In 1990, Obama was named the Harvard Law Review’s first black president. The review was founded in 1887.
In the 56-page article, the president defends his government’s actions during his eight-year term on a subject that was crucial for him before his arrival at the White House.
And he also a calls on President-elect Donald Trump, who is not mentioned in the article, to urgently pursue further reforms.
“We simply cannot afford to spend $80 billion annually on incarceration, to write off the seventy million Americans… with some form of criminal record, to release 600,000 inmates each year without a better program to reintegrate them into society, or to ignore the humanity of 2.2 million men and women currently in US jails and prisons,” Obama wrote.
The article, titled “The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform,” comes less than three weeks before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Obama, a former constitutional law professor, earned his law degree from Harvard University. He was the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a student-run law journal that publishes eight regular annual issues.
In the article, Obama talks about the reforms he would have liked to have been able to make more progress on, such as tightening gun control laws on individuals.
“There should be no mistake that gun violence is an epidemic playing out across the country every day,” he wrote.
“Over the past decade alone, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence — and millions more have been victims of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun.”
Over the same period, he said, “nearly 200,000 of our neighbors, friends, and family have committed suicide with a gun.”
The president also emphasized the problem of overpopulated prisons, estimated at 2.2 million people currently compared with less than half a million inmates in 1980.
Obama said he favored alternative punishments for small crimes. In recent months he commuted the sentences of hundreds of prisoners, most of them in jail for drug-related offenses.

Obama also called for the right to vote to be restored to criminals “who have paid their debt to society.”
“More than six million American — disproportionately people of color — cannot vote because of a felony conviction that disenfranchises them,” he wrote.

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