White House aide Mira Ricardel removed after row with First Lady (and Slovenian immigrant) Melania Trump 

Composite image of Mira Ricardel and Melania TrumpMira Ricardel (left) and Melania Trump, [the “Wicked Witch of the West Wing!] (right)

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel has left her post, following a high-profile row with US First Lady Melania Trump.

A White House spokeswoman said Mrs Ricardel “departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration”. She did not elaborate.

Mrs Trump this week said that Mrs Ricardel “no longer deserves the honour of serving in this White House”.

The two reportedly feuded during a tour of Africa in October.

The removal of Mrs Ricardel comes amid reports in US media that President Donald Trump is considering a shake-up in the White House West Wing.

Mr Trump may be preparing to remove White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the reports say.

What about the row with Melania Trump?

The announcement of the transfer of Mrs Ricardel was made in a statement by White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Wednesday.

The spokeswoman added that Mrs Ricardel “will continue to support the president”.

According to US media reports earlier this week, Mrs Trump and Mrs Ricardel quarrelled over seating arrangements on her plane.

During her trip there, Mrs Trump told ABC in a rare interview that there were people in the White House who she does not trust.

She said she gave the president “my honest advice and honest opinions and then he does what he wants to do”.

The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported that Mrs Trump’s team believed Mrs Ricardel was behind some of the “negative stories” about Mrs Trump and her staff.

The newspaper also reported that she repeatedly clashed with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis over “staffing decisions and policy differences”.

Mrs Ricardel was hired away from the Department of Commerce by National Security Advisor John Bolton, and has decades of experience working in the US government.

She had earlier worked in the defence department under former President George W Bush as well as under Republican Senator Bob Dole when he served as the Senate Majority Leader.

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Native American Mashpee tribe turns to Congress in land dispute

Trump administration reversed Obama-era decision to recognise the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation in Massachusetts.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress 

Washington, DC – A Native American tribe is calling on members of Congress to help protect the status of its reservation after the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to hold its land in trust.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration took the land of the Mashpee into trust in 2015, giving the tribe jurisdiction over the reservation, which is located in Massachusetts.

Less than a year later, a judge ruled that the Obama administration had acted outside of its remit in entrusting the reservation to the federal government.

That ruling was based on a controversial reading of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which does not qualify the Mashpee as “Indian”.

In September, the US Department of Interior, under the Trump administration, decided not to challenge the ruling. The tribe then filed a lawsuit against the administration, saying its decision was “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law, and if left unaddressed, will have a devastating impact on the tribe”, according to local media.

On Wednesday, members of the tribe and supporters from across the US gathered at the Capitol to call on Congress to use its plenary powers to pass legislation that would override the Department of the Interior’s authority on the issue.

If Congress does not pass legislation protecting the tribe and the legal challenge fails, the Mashpee would be stripped of their right to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over their land.

Jessie Little Doe Baird, the tribe’s vice-chairwoman, told Al Jazeera that loss of jurisdiction would prevent the tribe from running indigenous language schools, tribal courts, and housing projects, as well as its own police.

“We have our own police force, which is important because they’re tribal citizens and since we’ve had our own police force, none of our men have been beaten or shot, which we’ve had before with non-tribal police,” she said.

Baird, an MIT-trained linguist who has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language, said she feared the government’s decision was the first step in a gradual encroachment on the sovereignty of Native American reservations.

Jessie Baird Mashpee has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Disheartening

The Mashpee have the support of Native American organisations from across the country and Wednesday’s action on the Capitol drew speakers from different tribes.

Members of the Mashpee’s wider Wampanoag tribe were the first to greet the pilgrims in the 17th century, and the American holiday of Thanksgiving has its roots in meals shared between the tribe and early English settlers.

Mashpee member Cameron Frye called the tribe’s recent experience “disheartening”.

“We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving,” he said, adding, “We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.”

We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving. We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.

CAMERON FRYE, MEMBER OF THE MASHPEE TRIBE

Frye feared that if left unchallenged, the decision would set a precedent for future government action against other Native American tribes.

“Under this administration, it’s very frightening for all tribes, not just our own … If they can do this to us then they can do this to other tribes.”

Congressional bill

Members of Congress in both the House of Representative and the Senate have introduced bills to reaffirm the decision to take the Mashpee’s land into federal trust.

If passed, the Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act would supersede the court ruling preventing the original Obama-era decision.

Massachusetts congressmen Bill Keating and Joe Kennedy were present at the Capitol on Wednesday to show their support for the tribe. The pair are Democrats but the Mashpee cause has drawn bipartisan support.

“We shouldn’t have to be doing this,” said Keating, who authored the House bill.

“The administration has taken a decision to make one decision and Congress is here to try to straighten that out.

“This is an existential issue, this is about the existence of this tribe, it’s that fundamental.”

Legislation has been introduced in Congress to reaffirm federal protections for the Mashpee reservation

 

The Thinning Blue Line: A police shortage in Maine could soon get a lot worse (or is that better?)

Many departments have multiple positions open, but supervisors are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill them. So what happens when a large number of veteran officers retire?

Maine is no exception.

Many police departments, statewide, have multiple positions open, but supervisors are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill them.

Even more troubling, what those numbers look like moving forward, when a large number of veteran officers can retire.

Helping people. As cliche as it might sound it’s the No. 1 reason many police officers put on the badge.

A former high school English teacher, Tyler Plourde is now a trooper with the Maine State Police. “I wanted to have an impact on my community being able to help people”.

Officer Colin Gordan is a Falmouth police officer. “People ultimately get into to police work to help people, preserve order. As corny and cheesy as that sounds it’s true.”

What’s also true is there are fewer and fewer people willing to do the job. Many departments in Maine are down two, five, even 13 police officers.

Lt. John Kilbride, a 20-year veteran of the Falmouth Police Department, says that’s an incredible strain for a department. He says, “it’s nerve-wracking, you can’t just pluck a police officer off a tree.”

There are a lot of reasons for the police shortage.

  • Low pay, when compared to the high risks of the job
  • The negative attitude some people have toward police
  • A difficult and lengthy hiring process
  • Young people entering the workforce who are making a balance between work and life a top priority (something that any cop will tell you is not easy)

Maine State Police Lt. David Tripp says while his agency has been successful shoring up their vacancy rate, he admits being down troopers can cause a strain. “We are pushing some would say beyond our capacity with the services we’re providing.”

It’s a problem that could get a lot worse.

The Maine State Police currently has 341 officers. In two years, 15 percent will be eligible to retire. That’s 51 state troopers.

There are 161 Portland police officers. Over the course of the next five years, more than 25 percent are or will be eligible for retirement. That’s more than 44 officers.

The Maine Warden Service is facing similar issues. There are 125 game wardens. Today, 23 percent can retire. That’s more than 40.

Even smaller agencies are not immune.

The South Portland Police Department has 55 officers. Right now, 26 percent can retire. That’s 14 police officers.

Lt. Tripp says, “so when we look at that number that could be fairly high, 51 potentially retiring, that does cause us some concern”.

Those numbers are forcing departments to be more flexible and take a closer look at how they’re recruiting. Some are using social media and incentives or signing bonuses to attract candidates.

But finding interested candidates isn’t the only challenge, so is finding qualified ones.

Lt. John Kilbride says, “I will go without before I put forth someone I’m not comfortable with.”

When a department is down officers, it’s forced to play defense—prioritizing calls as well as cases.

That can not only impact communities, it can place a bigger burden on the rank and file.

“You start putting stressors on really good people and they start evaluating whether they want to stick around, it’s a sinking ship. You’ve hit the iceberg,” says Lt. Kilbride.

NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with officers from agencies across the state, who did not want to go on camera. They told us “a lot of times it’s like swimming upstream” … “investigations don’t get the attention they deserve, because they’re not enough officers” … “everyone loves to take video of you hoping you screw up” and “a lot of people don’t understand our training or why we do the things we do.”

Joe Loughlin, former deputy chief of the Portland Police Department and a national law enforcement consultant, says the stress on law enforcement officers today is enormous.

Loughlin says, “for years we’ve been saying we can do less with more, well that doesn’t work anymore, you need people”.

“These are tough days for this profession and tough days for the citizens because in the end, it’s the good citizens who suffer,” says Loughlin.

Loughlin, as well as those still in law enforcement, says they’re confident that, while it won’t happen right away, this shortage will pass and ultimately enough people will answer the call to protect and serve.

Lt. Tripp says, “I’ve had citizens say to me why would you do this job? Why would you want to do a job with everything going on today? Police officers being shot at or shot. Why would you do it? For me personally, if it’s not us, then who is it?”

FBI: Spike in US hate crimes for third year in a row: Three Years of Hate in the land of the Free.

a memorial for the Jews killed in Pittsburgh 11 worshippers were killed in the deadliest attack against Jews in US history

Hate crimes in the US rose by 17% in 2017, the third straight year that incidents of bias-motivated attacks have grown, according to the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes last year compared with 6,121 in 2016.

The rise in hate crimes is attributed to an increase of about 1,000 police departments that are now choosing to report these incidents, the FBI says.

The report found the surge especially affected black and Jewish Americans.

Of the reported attacks in 2017, 2,013 were aimed at African Americans and 938 were against Jewish Americans.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker called the report a “call to action” and condemned the offences as “despicable violations of our core values as Americans”.

What did the report find?

According to the report, 59.6% of incidents were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry.

Crimes motivated by a victim’s religion constituted 20.6% of attacks, and crimes against a person’s sexual orientation made up 15.8%.

The FBI definition of a hate crime is a “criminal offence 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”.

The 2017 data notes that about 5,000 of the crimes were directed against people through intimidation or assault.

Around 3,000 were targeted at property, which includes vandalism or burglary.

Crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs were not counted prior to 2015.

BBC spoke to a Muslim-American couple targeted by an abusive caller

Crimes against Jewish Americans saw a notable increase of 37% over 2016.

Jews have long been the highest targeted religion, as the acting attorney general noted in his statement.

The new report comes a month after 11 Jews were killed by a gunman that burst into their synagogue in Pittsburgh as they prayed, marking the deadliest attack against Jews in US history. The suspect was charged with dozens of federal hate crimes.

Crimes against African Americans constituted 2,013 crimes, marking a 16% increase over the previous year.

Muslim individuals were the target of 18.7% of religiously motivated hate crimes, which was a drop of 6% from 2016.

What is the reaction?

Civil rights advocates say the numbers are vastly under-reported because of individual victims that choose not to come forward, and some police agencies that do not keep accurate statistics or do not contribute them to the study.

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, said the report “provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America.

Pittsburgh survivor Rabbi Doris Dyen: ‘I’m broken and I can’t pray’

“That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs.”

Civil rights organisation the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) said the findings were “shocking” and “requires Congress’s full attention”.

The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties organisation, expressed alarm at the “increase of bigotry and hate”.

“This is the third year where we witness an increase in reported incidents of hate targeted at our most vulnerable populations. Between 2016 and 2017, CAIR-Chicago has received a 50% increase in reported incidents of discrimination,” said Deputy Director Sufyan Sohel in a statement.

“We can do better. We must do better.”

In his statement, Mr Whitaker said: “The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes.”

He shot at a mosque – and his life changed

“The American people can be assured that this department has already taken significant and aggressive actions against these crimes and that we will vigorously and effectively defend their rights,” he continued.

Tobacco shares hit on US menthol ban fear

Shares in two tobacco giants have been hit by reports that US regulators are planning to ban menthol cigarettes.

Shares in British American Tobacco fell 9% to their lowest level for nearly five years, while Imperial Brands shares fell 4%.

A report in the Wall Street Journal claimed the US Food and Drugs Administration would impose the ban.

Analysts said menthol cigarettes sales account for a quarter of BAT’s earnings and a tenth of Imperial Brands’.

‘Next generation’

The newspaper report suggested the US authorities are planning a ban just days after cracking down on flavoured e-cigarettes.

BAT owns one of the most popular menthol brands, Newport, after it splashed out $49bn (£38bn) on rival RJ Reynolds last year.

Analysts at Barclays estimated US sales of menthol cigarettes account for around 25% of BAT’s annual underlying earnings and around 11% of Imperial Brands’s earnings.

But the menthol ban could take up to two years to come into force, with a year for the rules to be finalised and a further year for the ban to be enforced in the marketplace.

In 2013, the Food and Drugs Administration concluded that menthol cigarettes are harder to quit and pose a greater health risk than regular cigarettes.

“Along with cigarette volumes shrinking, regulation is the other inevitable fact of the tobacco industry,” said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“An ever more hostile regulatory environment might explain why BAT has decided to spend big on next generation products like e-vapour and heated tobacco.

“These products are believed to cause less harm to users, but even here the regulator is creating waves – potentially banning flavoured capsules popular with younger customers.”

‘Rule-making process’

BAT said it did not that believe that menthol encouraged people to smoke, made smoking harder to give up, or increased the risks to health compared to cigarettes without menthol.

“In the event that the FDA does make an announcement this week indicating that it wishes to regulate menthol cigarettes, any such proposal will have to go through the multi-year rule-making process, including public comment, a potential review by the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC), and will be subject to judicial review,” said Simon Cleverly, corporate affairs head at BAT.

“In any event, we look forward to continuing to participate in a thorough science-based review to address the use of flavours in tobacco products.”

Matthew Whitaker: Trump defends acting attorney general amid protest

Trump: ‘I didn’t speak to Whitaker’ about Russia probe

President Donald Trump has defended his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, as opponents call for his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Mr Whitaker was named to replace former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was fired by Mr Trump on Wednesday.

Controversy arose over Mr Whitaker’s previous comments about ending the probe into alleged Russian meddling in favour of Mr Trump’s election in 2016.

As the top law enforcement official, Mr Whitaker could take over the inquiry.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on behalf of the Department of Justice.

Currently, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is overseeing Mr Mueller’s investigation – a role he took on when Mr Sessions recused himself.

Critics have pointed to some of Mr Whitaker’s remarks on CNN last year on curtailing Mr Mueller’s investigation as reason to remove him from any oversight role.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Trump called Mr Whitaker a “very well respected man” whose selection “was greeted with raves”, though he made sure to distance himself from his new appointee.

“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Mr Trump said while fielding questions of how he might influence the Russia investigation.

But the president has probably interacted with Mr Whitaker numerous times, US media pointed out, as he was Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.

“Making comments on shows doesn’t mean you’re unqualified,” Mr Trump added. “You didn’t have any problems with him when he worked for Sessions.”

Earlier this week, before the dust had even begun to settle on the results of the November mid-term elections, long-embattled Mr Sessions released a letter confirming he was out of a job.

“At your request,” Mr Sessions wrote to President Trump, “I am submitting my resignation.”

Minutes later, the president announced his replacement via Twitter: “We are pleased to announce that Matthew G Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….”

The 48-year-old former American football star has long been seen as destined for a bigger role in the Trump administration, viewed favourably by the president as his “eyes and ears” in the department of justice.

Matthew WhitakerMatthew Whitaker is replacing his former boss, Jeff Sessions

Who is Matthew Whitaker?

Mr Whitaker is originally from Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines in central Iowa, the son of an elementary school teacher and a scoreboard salesman.

He became a football star in high school and was eventually inducted into the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame. He went on to play tight end in the Holiday Bowl and the Rose Bowl for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1990s.

Whitaker graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law, and then went into practice as a lawyer, for a time as corporate counsel for a chain of grocery stores.

President George W Bush appointed him US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, where he prosecuted white collar and drug trafficking crimes. He held that office from 2004 until 2009.

His wife Marci is a civil engineer, and the couple has three children.

Political life

Mr Whitaker first took a shot at public office in 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer of Iowa as a Republican. He ran for United States Senate in 2014, losing the party’s nomination to Republican Senator Joni Ernst.

In his campaigns, Mr Whitaker positioned himself as a fiscally conservative opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and said his political role models were Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. He courted the anti-abortion, evangelical Christian vote, saying at one candidate’s forum that he would scrutinise nominees for federal judge to ensure they had a “biblical view of justice”.

He further built up his conservative credentials when he served as campaign co-chair for Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2012 and became the executive director of the conservative watchdog group, Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust in Washington DC.

He was hired as Sessions chief of staff in October 2017.

Whitaker participates in a US Department of Justice roundtable discussionWhitaker participates in a US Department of Justice roundtable discussion

From commentator to acting attorney general

Prior to joining Mr Sessions’ staff, Mr Whitaker was a conservative legal commentator for CNN, and penned several opinion pieces that may shed light on how he might approach his new role in the Justice Department, in particular when it comes to his possible oversight of the Russian election-meddling investigation lead by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In July 2017, Mr Whitaker appeared on CNN and mused on possible ways that President Trump could crush the probe, which included the departure of Mr Sessions.

“I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt,” Mr Whitaker said.

In August 2017, Mr Whitaker wrote a piece called “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far”. In it, Mr Whitaker argued that Mr Mueller had overstepped the boundaries of his inquiry when he began looking into the Trump family’s finances. He called this a “red line” that Mr Mueller should not cross, warning that it would render the investigation a “witch hunt” – a term that the president himself has become quite fond of.

“The Trump Organization’s business dealings are plainly not within the scope of the investigation, nor should they be,” Mr Whitaker wrote.

Speculation that Mr Whitaker would one day take a more central role at the Justice Department has been bubbling for months. A report in the Washington Post said that he spoke directly to Donald Trump as early as October about replacing his own boss, as the president continued to publicly grouse about Jeff Sessions’ handling of the Russia probe.

After a New York Times article reported that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein had considered wearing a wire to monitor Trump in the early days of his presidency, Mr Whitaker was discussed as Mr Rosenstein’s possible replacement. Mr Rosenstein offered to resign but ultimately kept his job.

According to the Times, Mr Whitaker has used what could have been a tricky assignment as a bridge between his boss, the embattled Attorney General Sessions, and a hostile White House to ingratiate himself with the president.

“Love Prevails”: Floridians Celebrate Massive Restoration of Voting Rights to People with Felonies

At least 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote in Florida, following the passage of Amendment 4, a statewide initiative to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, excluding people convicted of murder or sex offenses. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, with 64.5 percent of the vote. It needed 60 percent to pass. The win will permanently alter politics in a state that elected Republican Ron DeSantis as Florida governor by just over 55,000 votes, according to the latest numbers. DeSantis defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who was vying to be the first African-American governor in Florida’s history. We speak with Desmond Meade, who spearheaded the fight for Amendment 4. Desmond Meade is the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. He’s also chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. He is one of some 1.4 million people who has just regained his right to vote.