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Trump Lauds NFL Policy Banning Kneeling for National Anthem

President Donald Trump praised an NFL policy banning kneeling during the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” saying that “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country” if you don’t stand for the anthem.

Trump spoke to “Fox & Friends”‘ in an interview that aired Thursday. The policy forbids players from sitting or taking a knee on the field during the anthem but allows them to stay in the locker room. Any violations of the new rules would result in fines against teams.

 

“I think that’s good,” Trump said in the interview that taped Wednesday. “I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

 

Trump last fall called on team owners to fire players who followed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead by kneeling during the national anthem. During a rally, he referred to an NFL player making a gesture during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.

 

The president’s comments spurred a national conversation about patriotism and the nation’s symbols and the use of peaceful protest. Trump said in the interview that he thought “the people” pushed for the new policy.

 

“I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward,” Trump said. He added: “you know, that’s something ideally could have been taken care of when it first started, it would have been a lot easier, but if they did that, they did the right thing.”

 

 

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Buffalo: City With a Magnificent Past Fallen on Hard Times

Even though the United States is one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world, about 45 million Americans live below the poverty line. In Buffalo, New York, a once-prosperous city that has fallen on hard-times, one-third of its residents live in poverty. As Olga Loginova reports, the city offers an example of what happens when a once-powerful industrial sector declines and well-paying jobs become scarce.

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Federal Prosecutors Deal a Blow to Mexican Mafia

The Los Angeles County jails are run by the sheriff, but the Mexican Mafia wields the power in the underworld behind bars.

The organization made up of leaders from various Latino gangs operated like an illegal government, collecting “taxes” on smuggled drugs, ordering hits on people who didn’t follow their rules and even calling the shots on street crimes, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Their clout was diminished as 83 members and associates were charged in a pair of sweeping federal racketeering conspiracies that alleged drug dealing, extortion, violent assaults and murders.

“We just delivered a blow to a cold-blooded prison gang and their associates,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said during a news conference.

New leaders inevitable​

In an effort to disrupt the gang’s stronghold, the suspects will be held in federal facilities, and those in custody in state prisons will be moved, authorities said.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell acknowledged that others will follow in their wake, as leadership in the gang that operates in most prisons and jails in the state is always changing.

“There will be new leaders, that’s kinda how the whole system works. It’s hierarchical,” McDonnell said. “When one goes to jail or passes away then someone else backfills their spot just like any multilevel organization.”

Started in 1950s in juvenile jail

The so-called “gang of gangs” — an organization of imprisoned Latino street gang leaders who control operations inside and outside California prisons and jails — started in the 1950s at a juvenile jail and grew to an international criminal organization that has controlled smuggling, drug sales and extortion inside the nation’s largest jail system.

“These Mexican Mafia members and associates, working together to control criminal activity within (LA County jails), have become their own entity or enterprise and effectively function as an illegal government,” an indictment said.

The gang was also able to control street crime by using wives, girlfriends and lawyers to help relay orders to be carried out by members who were not incarcerated, an indictment said.

In some instances, gang members would deliberately get arrested on low-level charges so they could smuggle drugs into the jail and be released days later.

‘Operation Dirty Thirds’

Because the Mexican Mafia controlled drug trafficking in the jails, they got the first shot to sell their supply of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or marijuana, prosecutors said. Other groups had to wait and give a third of their contraband to the Mexican Mafia leadership.

The fee, known as a “thirds” tax, gave the name “Operation Dirty Thirds” to the investigation that led to the indictments and arrest of 32 people Wednesday. Another 35 defendants were in custody and 16 were fugitives.

The gang enriched itself through drug sales, taxes on drugs and even collected a share of purchases on candy bars, deodorant and other items at the jail commissary, the indictment said, adding that the gang was able to exert control by threatening and carrying out violence if people didn’t pay up or follow the rules.

The gang members were accused of committing vicious beatings, stabbings, kidnappings and murders in retaliation, Hanna said.

The indictment alleges crimes between 2012 and 2016, when a grand jury was convened and before President Donald Trump took office.

Trump has focused on gang violence but has singled out MS-13, pointing to the gang’s gruesome crimes in a push for stronger immigration policies.

While MS-13 is associated with the Mexican Mafia, the majority of the crimes listed in the indictments Wednesday are alleged to have been committed by members affiliated with other street gangs.

​Mostly US citizens

The jail indictment said Jose Landa-Rodriguez and two now-deceased members of the Mexican Mafia controlled operations in the jail between 2012 and 2016.

Landa-Rodriquez, 55, is accused of sanctioning murders, assaults and the kidnapping and planned murder of a relative of a gang member who defied him, prosecutors said.

Landa-Rodriguez is not a U.S. citizen, though nearly all of the other defendants charged in the indictment are citizens, Hanna said.

A second higher-up, Luis Vega, 33, ordered a murder and directed assaults against those who showed disrespect or didn’t obey rules, the indictment said.

One of the group’s facilitators was attorney Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez, who was able to carry messages to the gang members while operating under the shield of attorney-client privilege, the indictment said. He is also accused of enabling a plot to extort $100,000 from the Mongols outlaw motorcycle gang.

Zendejas-Chavez was arrested Wednesday. A woman who answered the phone at his office was unaware of the arrest and didn’t comment.

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NFL Owners Adopt Anthem Policy; Players Plan to Fight

NFL owners opted on Wednesday to approve a policy for player conduct during the national anthem. Players, coaches and personnel on the field must stand when the anthem is played, or will be fined and disciplined.

The decision could tee up players and owners for litigation.

Players claim they were not consulted and immediately threatened to challenge the policy. In a terse statement from the NFLPA, players claimed the NFL and its owners went rogue in establishing anthem guidelines after an effort to work together with players.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.’ NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about,” the NFLPA statement read, underlining that players kneeling was not a protest of the national anthem.

“The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.

“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

Goodell said owners unanimously approved the anthem policy, but at least one owner, Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers, abstained. York said he felt the need to seek additional player input.

New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson said he supported the measure out of obligation to the membership, but said players can take a knee or perform another type of protest without fear of repercussion from the team. He will pay their fines.

“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said.

“If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” he said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

On the final day of league meetings in Atlanta, owners prioritized establishing team and league protocol for the national anthem, which became a polarizing issue over the past two seasons due to peaceful protests started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now out of the league.

“We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society. The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed. The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case. This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.”

The policy, released in full by the NFL on Wednesday, reads: … All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

  • The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

  • Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been

performed.

  • A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do

not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

  • Each club may develop its own rules, consistent with the above principles,

regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

  • The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

A player choosing to kneel for the anthem would be fined. It was unclear  Wednesday whether players holding a fist above their head while standing during the anthem would be a fineable offense.

Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said there is no fine schedule established from the league level on anthem issues. Asked to define disrespect, he said owners would know it when they see it.

“Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a ‘compromise’ between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership; we weren’t there or part of the discussions,” wrote George Atallah, NFLPA executive director of external affairs via Twitter.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Michael Bennett, last year with the Seahawks, and Rams cornerback Marcus Peters (with the Chiefs in  2017) all protested by standing with their right fist raised.

Steelers owner Art Rooney said Wednesday that raising a fist or players linking arms would be viewed by his franchise as disrespect.

“I think any form of protest is a form of protest. We didn’t define exactly what you have to be doing to be out there, but I think everybody understands what it means to be respectful during the anthem,” Rooney told the Detroit Free Press.

President Donald Trump caused an uproar from players in 2017 with inflammatory comments objecting to player protests during the anthem.

This week, he praised NASCAR for its universal policy in which drivers and crew stand during the pre-race playing of the national anthem. “And I will tell you — one thing I know about NASCAR, they do indeed, stand for the playing of the national anthem,” Trump said.

ESPN reported Wednesday that owners view the policy change as compromise, while not allowing player protests during the anthem.

In 2017, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said in a private meeting of owners that the league does not want “inmates running the prison,” a reference to players protesting. McNair apologized and in April said he regretted the apology. McNair, in an attempt to clarify, claimed he was referring to team executives overstepping their bounds in dealing with owners last year, rather than kneeling players, when he said the word “inmates.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last year his players “will always stand” for the national anthem.

Jerry Jones pointed to concern about sponsors being turned off by anthem protests.

York said Wednesday his team will consider closing concessions during the anthem.

“I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag,” he said.

Kaepernick has not played since 2016 and filed a collusion case against NFL owners alleging a concerted effort was made to keep him out of football.

Former teammate Eric Reid, a safety with the 49ers and unrestricted free agent, is following suit.

Reid, who joined Kaepernick in kneeling to bring attention to social injustice, visited only one team — the Cincinnati Bengals — and was asked if he would continue to kneel during the anthem by team ownership.

Kaepernick had a visit scheduled with the Seattle Seahawks — the only team to

host Kaepernick in 2017 — but it was postponed because management wanted greater clarity on Kaepernick’s intentions during pregame.

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Officials: New Top US Commander for Afghanistan Being Considered

Lieutenant General Scott Miller is the expected nominee to command U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, a U.S. official with knowledge of the process told VOA.

U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan are currently being commanded by U.S. General John Nicholson. He has served as commander since March 2016.

Miller’s consideration must be finalized by a White House nomination, followed by confirmation by the Senate.

The general currently leads the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command.

If nominated and confirmed, Miller will be the ninth American general in 17 years to oversee the Afghanistan war. The Pentagon declined to confirm Miller’s selection.

“We have nothing to announce at this time,” Pentagon spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway told VOA.

Miller, a decorated special operations soldier, earned a Bronze Star for his service in Somalia and has also served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Miller’s selection as the expected nominee.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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Trump: We’ll Know Fate of N. Korea Summit by Next Week

President Donald Trump says the U.S. will know by next week whether his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be held on June 12 in Singapore as scheduled.

“It could very well be June 12th,” Trump said Wednesday. “If we go, it’ll be a great thing for North Korea.”

North Korea has indicated it might call off the meeting due to disagreements on conditions by the United States for unilateral denuclearization.

Trump on Tuesday, during a meeting with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the summit might not be held next month.

“If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later,” Trump said.

The president said, “There are certain conditions that we want. I think we will get those conditions.”

Asked about the conditions, Trump replied, “I’d rather not say.” But he stated that the denuclearization of North Korea “must take place.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has twice met with Kim in Pyongyang in preparation for the Singapore summit, said Wednesday, “Our posture will not change until we see credible steps taken toward the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

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Body of Pakistani Girl Killed at Texas School Arrives in Karachi

The body of a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Texas has arrived in the port city of Karachi, where her family lives.

Sabika Sheikh was among 10 students and staff slain Friday at Santa Fe High School. The alleged shooter is 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who is being held on capital murder charges.

Sabika had planned to return home in a few weeks for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Her body reached her hometown before dawn Wednesday and she was to be buried later in the day.

Sabika was her family’s oldest child and began classes at Santa Fe High School last August.  

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Pompeo: US Working to Bring Home US Hostages from Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed Tuesday to bring home American hostages in Iran, saying “the entire United States government” is working “diligently” and is utilizing “every avenue” and “mechanism.” 

“I mentioned a handful of names yesterday. There are more around the world I didn’t identify in yesterday’s remarks,” said the chief American diplomat during his first appearance at the State Department briefing.  

In his first major foreign policy address on Monday, Pompeo said Iran had failed to free American detainees, including Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang and Bob Levinson, even during a time when Washington gave Tehran sanctions relief under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Pompeo drew a comparison with the U.S.’ “frosty relations” with North Korea a few months ago, where three American detainees were later released.

“We are working diligently along every avenue that we can develop to get these folks to return back home, back to their families,” he said, responding to a question posed by VOA.

Trump’s decision worries families

Families of several American hostages are worried that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal will make it harder to get their loved ones home safely.

On May 8, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Under terms of the 2015 accord, Iran agreed to take a number of steps to limit its nuclear program, in exchange for sanctions relief. 

The Untied States has been calling for an immediate and unconditional release of Americans detained or missing in Iran.

One of them is Namazi, who is 81 and said to be in poor health. 

“We have been alarmed for some time at his declining health. We know that he’s in urgent need of sustained medical care,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in February. She added that Washington had also renewed its call that Tehran release Baquer Namazi’s son, Siamak Namazi, who is also being held.

Change in approach needed?

In August 2016, Wang, a naturalized American citizen from China, was arrested in Iran while researching Persian history for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University. He was sentenced to 10 years on an espionage charge.

Levinson is a former FBI agent who has been missing in Iran for more than a decade.  

Iranian officials said they could be open to discussing the prisoner release if the U.S. changed its hostile approach and engaged with Iran in a respectful way. 

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