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Aug. 21 2016 11:43 AM

Is Trump Getting Ready to Abandon Plans for Deportation Force?

Donald Trump’s plans for a “deportation force” to round up the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country always seemed far-fetched. Now it looks like the candidate may be starting to walk away from it, while also hinting he could be open to legalizing at least some of those who are in the country without the proper papers. Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, refused to say during a CNN interview whether the presidential candidate was still planning to set up a deportation force. “To be determined,” Conway said.

In an effort to clarify Trump’s immigration stance, Conway avoided getting into too many specifics about what the candidate’s plans could be if he reaches the White House. “What he supports is to make sure we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for jobs, and that we are fair and humane to those who live among us,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Conway was repeatedly asked about immigration after both Univision and BuzzFeed reported that Trump sounded like someone who could be open to legalize some of the undocumented immigrants who are already in the country at a meeting with Hispanic leaders on Saturday. “He said people who are here is the toughest part of the immigration debate, that it must be something that respects border security but deals with this in a humane and efficient manner,” said an immigration lawyer who took part in the meeting with Trump’s Hispanic advisory council.

Univision says Trump will be presenting an immigration plan on Thursday “that will include finding a way to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.” Even though Trump never actually uttered the word “legalization” during the Saturday meeting, BuzzFeed claims “sources in the room said they feel it is the direction the campaign is going.”

The Trump campaign immediately disputed that characterizations of the talk, adding that the candidate didn’t say anything at the meeting “that he hasn’t said many times before.” A senior RNC official also disputed the reports, telling Breitbart that Trump “gave zero indication” that he was open to legalization of undocumented immigrants. Conway continued with that line on CNN, emphasizing that what Trump said at the meeting “varied little from what he has said publicly.”

Although he has repeatedly called for deporting the country’s undocumented immigrants, Trump also told Bloomberg in June that he would not say “mass deportations” are part of his immigration plan. “We are going to get rid of a lot of bad dudes who are here,” he said.

This talk of a possible shift in Trump’s immigration plans comes mere days after the candidate released his first national election television ad that focused on the importance of border security. “Terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out, the border secure, our families safe,” the narrator of the ad says.

Aug. 21 2016 10:11 AM

Child Suicide Bomber “Aged 12 to 14” Kills More Than 50 at Turkish Wedding

A blast tore through a wedding celebration late on Saturday in southeastern Turkey, killing at least 51 people and wounding 69 others, 17 of whom are in critical condition. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately blamed ISIS for what was the country’s deadliest bombing this year, saying the suicide attacker was a child aged between 12 and 14. The bombing took place in a narrow street in the city of Gaziantep, located around 25 miles from the Syrian border, where people had gathered to take part in a Kurdish street wedding.

Witnesses spoke of the horrific scene of devastation where just moments earlier there had been jubilation and dancing. “When we went back to see what had happened, everyone was on the floor, and there were body parts scattered everywhere and blood splattered on the walls,” a local man tells the New York Times. Local journalist Naziım Daştan tells the Guardian: “There were so many dead people. There were body parts.” The bride and groom are in the hospital but their condition is not life-threatening.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said the wedding had been for one of its members and “many citizens, including women and children, lost their lives.” By all accounts the death toll could have been significantly higher considering the attack took place after some families had already left.

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Ambulances arrive at the site of an explosion on Aug. 20, 2016 in Gaziantep following a late-night militant attack on a wedding party in southeastern Turkey.

Ahmed Deep/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey has been hit by numerous deadly attacks over the past year, several of which have been blamed on ISIS. In June, a suspected ISIS attack at Istanbul’s main airport killed 44 people while in October, 103 people were killed by dual suicide bombers at a peace rally in Ankara, the country’s capital. In addition to the bombings, Turkey is still reeling from an alleged failed coup last month that left at least 240 people dead, which the government has blamed on U.S.–based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen. He denies the accusation. Erdogan said there is no difference between ISIS, Kurdish separatist rebels, and Gulen’s supporters, characterizing them all as “bloodthirsty organizations.”

If this indeed was the work of ISIS, it comes at a time when the extremist group has lost a lot of ground in northern Syria, and “there will be speculation it was a revenge attack, intended as a show of strength by a group on the defensive,” notes the BBC’s Mark Lowen.

Aug. 20 2016 8:50 PM

Brother of Boy Who Became Face of Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis Dies

The photograph of a bloodied and dazed 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was the latest haunting reminder this past week of the suffering caused by the five-year civil war in Syria. The image of the confused Omran trying to wipe the blood off his head while caked in dust and seemingly unaware of his injuries after he was rescued from the rubble of a building in Aleppo gained worldwide attention. But on Saturday the story took an even more tragic turn when Omran's older brother, 10-year-old Ali Daqneesh, died from the injuries he sustained in the blast that destroyed their family’s home on Wednesday.

"He was martyred while in hospital as a result of the same bombardment that their house was subjected to," said the spokesman for the local council of Aleppo.

"Omran became the 'global symbol of Aleppo's suffering' but to most people he is just that—a symbol," Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian activist, wrote on Facebook. "Ali is the reality: that no story in Syria has a happy ending."

Ali’s death came a day after UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake, called on the international community to “extend the same empathy to the more than 100,000 children also trapped in the horror that is Aleppo.” Yet “empathy is not enough,” Lake wrote. “Empathy and outrage must be matched by action.”

Aug. 20 2016 7:42 PM

NYT: Trump Companies Are “at Least $650 Million in Debt”

Donald Trump’s companies have taken on much more debt than the candidate has admitted in public records, and some of that money is owed to institutions he has harshly criticized on the campaign trail, according to the New York Times. The paper carried out a detailed analysis of Trump’s real estate holdings in the country and found a network of complex financial arrangements that means his companies have at least $650 million in debt. That is more than double the $315 million in debt that Trump has publicly disclosed. And that debt isn’t just with anybody. According to the paper’s analysis, Trump’s firms have debts with several financial institutions, including ones he has criticized on the campaign trail such as Bank of China and Goldman Sachs.

Even though Trump’s debt is much larger than what he disclosed, that’s not entirely his fault, explains the Times, noting it is “a function of what the form asks candidates to list and how.” His campaign says Trump “overdisclosed” because the law requires candidates to disclose personal, not corporate, debt.

Besides the numbers themselves though, the one thing that the Times analysis makes clear is just how much Trump’s business “remains shrouded in mystery,” a mystery that is unlikely to end soon considering he has refused to publicly release his tax returns. Due to the complex nature of real estate deals, it is often impossible to know just who Trump’s business partners are, “raising the prospect of a president with unknown business ties.” This is more than a bit worrisome considering how, if elected, “Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire.”

In a recent interview, Trump referred to himself as “the king of debt,” words that have been used against him in the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly attacked Trump’s business practices, characterizing them as dangerous for the country. “Just like he shouldn’t have the finger on the button, he shouldn’t have his hands on our economy,” Clinton said in June.

Aug. 20 2016 10:34 AM

“America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio Could Find Himself Behind Bars

All the tough talk in the world may not end up helping Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio get out of his latest legal mess. A federal judge on Friday referred Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio to the U.S. Attorney’s Office requesting that he be prosecuted for criminal contempt of court. Three of his aides are also included in the referral. Arpaio has made a national name for himself by harassing anyone who appears to be Latino and abusing prisoners by forcing them to sleep in tents outside despite intense heat and feeding them bread and water for a week after they allegedly desecrated American flags.

The move came after a judge said Arpaio and his deputies failed to heed court orders from a years-old racial-profiling case and, among other things, continued his immigration patrols months after they were ordered to be stopped. Arpaio and one of his deputies have already been held in civil contempt for essentially lying under oath but criminal contempt could actually lead to incarceration. Of course, there is no guarantee that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will decide to prosecute the two men, but the judge could still order a special prosecutor to pursue the charges.

Arpaio, who has long raised questions about President Obama’s birth certificate, is an avowed supporter of Donald Trump and spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention. He is now running for his seventh term, but the recommendation for his prosecution may very well mark the end of his political career. “Generally speaking, it’s difficult to make the case for why you should continue as the county’s top law enforcement official when you soon may be known as Inmate No. 2944814,” notes the Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts.

Aug. 19 2016 7:58 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Averting Fury Road

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

Donald Trump’s quiet week ended with a bang, as his campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort resigned on Friday. The departure of Trump’s top campaign functionary—the second time this has happened this campaign season—probably does not augur bad things for Trump, as Manafort’s pro-Russia ties—including serious allegations of wrongdoing—had become a major distraction.

That said, how good can things be going if you have to dump your campaign chairman? The answer is: “Not great, Bob.”

Trump has polled dismally in swing-state surveys released this week, though, a trio of national surveys released on Thursday showed Trump down just 2 points, 4 points, and 4 points respectively in a four-way race, which would be an improvement on other recent numbers.

Trump’s campaign also began to do actual campaign things on Friday, another positive sign for his chances of becoming president and negative sign for those who consider the likelihood of America becoming a post-apocalyptic Mad Max–style wasteland under a Trump regime to be “high to very high.” Specifically, Trump cut his first national general election TV ad and started airing it with a $5 million, 10-day run in a number of key battleground states. His previous general election TV ad spending had been zero dollars and zero cents, so this was an improvement. It still doesn’t come close to matching the $61 million Hillary Clinton has spent so far in national TV ads, though, so it’s not that great a sign for Trump.

On the plus side for anyone for whom the prospect of a Trump presidency doesn’t make them say “oh, what a day, what a lovely day,” the candidate ended his week by ad-libbing some racially insensitive statements.

After a single day at a full horseman, we’re taking the Watch back down to half of a horseman.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 19 2016 7:35 PM

Texas Man Who Didn’t Kill Anyone Receives Stay of Execution

Jeff Wood, a Texas man who was set to be put to death on Wednesday despite never actually having killed anyone, was granted a stay of execution on Friday.

In a per curium decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a portion of Wood’s habeas appeal pertaining to “his sentence [being] obtained in violation of due process because it was based on false testimony and false scientific evidence” satisfied the requirements to be reconsidered by a lower court. “Accordingly, we remand those two claims to the trial court for resolution,” the court wrote. “Applicant's motion to stay his execution is granted pending resolution of this application.”

The portion of the appeal that swayed the court related to the testimony of a controversial forensic psychiatrist named James Grigson and known as “Dr. Death.” Grigson testified that Wood would “most certainly” commit a violent crime again, but he never actually examined Wood.

“Three former jurors have said they feel the government’s presentation to them of a discredited psychiatrist who predicted with certainty, and without evaluating Mr. Wood, that Mr. Wood would be criminally violent in the future was unfair,” wrote Wood’s attorney Jared Tyler. “The psychiatrist had been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for the same unethical conduct as he engaged in Mr. Wood’s case.”

The other issue with Wood’s case, that the court of appeals did not ask that the trial court address, is the constitutionality of executing a man who had such minor involvement in a murder. Wood was essentially the getaway driver in an armed robbery gone wrong. He has claimed he didn’t know his accomplice was going to be armed and the Washington Post described him as “borderline mentally disabled with an IQ of 80.”

Cases where a person has been executed without having actually killed anyone themselves are incredibly rare: Only 10 executions out of more than 1,400 since the Supreme Court brought back the death penalty in 1976 involved people who did not directly kill anyone or hire someone to kill anyone.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, in a concurring opinion, argued that the lower court should reconsider the constitutionality of Texas’ death penalty in light of the fact that Wood had not actually carried out the killing and was set to be executed for it anyways.

Alcala, a Republican and an appointee of former Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, argued that Wood did not meet the requirements for execution based on the landmark 1982 Supreme Court case Enmund v. Florida, nor the 1987 ruling Tison v. Arizona.

I write separately because I would also remand claims five, six, and seven, in which applicant alleges that his participation in the offense and his moral culpability are too minimal to warrant the death penalty, that evolving standards of decency now prohibit the execution of a person who was convicted as a party to a capital offense, and, more generally, that Texas's death-penalty scheme should be declared unconstitutional because it is arbitrary and fails to target the worst of the worst offenders, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“Under its then-existing examination of jury decisions, the Supreme Court held that Enmund's death sentence ‘was impermissible under the Eighth Amendment,’ ” Alcala wrote, “because he ‘did not kill or intend to kill and thus his culpability is plainly different from that of the robbers who killed.’ "

Alcala acknowledged that in the later Tison ruling, the court gave states the right to execute individuals “who did not actually kill and lacked any specific intent to kill,” but argued that even under this standard Wood should not be executed.

“[Applicant] further alleges that, even under the standard set forth by Tison in 1987, his execution is impermissible in light of his minimal participation in the offense and his minimal moral culpability,” Alcala wrote. “Because the guilt-phase instructions permitted him to be found guilty of capital murder for a death that he may not have actually anticipated, applicant is correct that these instructions would have failed to comply with the requirement of Tison that the defendant exhibit at least reckless indifference to human life, coupled with major participation in a felony offense.”

Despite the court declining to rule that Wood’s involvement was minor enough to make his execution unconstitutional, his lawyer Tyler argued that this was in fact the case.

“The man who committed murder was executed in 2002,” Tyler said in a statement. “Justice is not served by executing Mr. Wood, who was outside the building when it happened and who had no criminal history.”

Correction, August 22: This post originally referred to James Grigson as a psychologist.

Aug. 19 2016 6:44 PM

The State Department Says It Used Iran Payment as “Leverage.” No, That’s Not the Same Thing as Ransom.

The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that it had delayed making a pre-arranged $400 million cash payment to Iran back in January in order “to retain maximum leverage” and ensure the release of several American prisoners. For Republicans who have long been critical of President Obama’s posture toward Iran, the admission was all the proof they needed: The president had paid a ransom.

“We now know from the State Department announcement that President Obama lied about the $400 million dollars in cash that was flown to Iran—he denied it was for the hostages, but it was,” Donald Trump declared at a campaign rally. “He said we don’t pay ransom, but he did.” On Friday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus took that conclusion as a given while demanding that Hillary Clinton “immediately disavow” the president. “Clinton’s support for Obama’s Iran ransom reflects the same bad judgment that characterized her foreign policy decision-making as secretary of state,” he said.

The truth, however, is far more complicated than Republicans are making it out be—and also slightly more so than what the Obama administration originally claimed. But describing what happened as “ransom” is an intentionally misleading simplification of what was a long and complicated process.

For starters, it’s important to remember why the United States was sending $400 million to Iran in the first place. The cash was part of a settlement to a long-running financial dispute between Washington and Tehran that dated back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Shortly before the overthrow of the U.S.-backed government that year, Iran had paid the United States $400 million as part of an arms deal—but Washington never delivered the military equipment it promised. Before it could hold up its end of the deal, the Carter administration severed diplomatic relations with Tehran—and froze Iranian assets in the United States—as result of the Iranian hostage crisis. In short: The $400 million in question wasn’t really the United States’ to begin with. This $400 million from the Obama administration wasn’t a payment; it was a repayment.

The reason the United States had yet to return the cash until this year is because diplomacy is a slow process that can be slowed even further by international bureaucracy. Under the Algiers Accords of 1981—which ended the Iranian hostage crisis—Washington and Iran agreed to the creation of an international court that would deal with any outstanding issues, which included what to do about that $400 million. The tribunal still had not yet made a final ruling as of early 2016, but nonetheless it was only a matter of when, not if, a decision would come down. Fearing it might lose the case, and seeing an opportunity to remove a point of contention with Iran during the ongoing nuclear talks, the State Department agreed to a settlement whereby it repaid the $400 million in full, plus an additional $1.3 billion for inflation and interest.

While it’s impossible to know what the international court would have decided if given the chance, it’s unlikely it would have ruled that the United States owed Iran less than $400 million, the very amount it paid before 30-plus years ago of inflation took effect. Still, Republicans could argue that Obama should have struck a better deal, simply taken his chance in court, or even refused to ever turn over any money to Iran—but doing any or all of those would involve complicating their chosen narrative. And so instead they’re conflating complaints about the timing of the payment with the payment itself, and by doing so are suggesting that Obama has now given Iran and others incentive to kidnap Americans. Note, for example, that they are furious over the first $400 million installment but rarely mention the additional $1.3 billion.

The problem, as far as Republicans are concerned, is that the settlement was announced back in January on the very same day that the high-profile Iran nuclear deal was completed, which itself occurred only a few hours before Iran released the detained Americans as part of a prisoner swap between the two nations. That complaint isn’t completely without merit—at least if you are willing to ignore the nonsensical GOP claim that a settlement that was announced publicly back in January was somehow “secret.”

The Obama administration maintains that the three moving parts—the nuclear deal, the arms settlement, and the prisoner swap—were negotiated by three separate teams, which by all accounts they were. But it’s also obvious that all three didn’t happen in a vacuum. The return of the American prisoners was a top priority for Washington, and the return of the arms money was a top priority for Tehran. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that progress on one front made it easier to make progress on the other, or that progress on both created a less-contentious diplomatic climate in which the larger nuclear deal could get done. That’s how diplomacy often works. The fact that the State Department has finally admitted it waited to deliver the first $400 million to ensure the detained Americans were indeed on the way home doesn’t change that. Instead, it simply suggests the United States and Iran still have some trust issues, which shouldn’t shock anyone, least of all Republicans who maintain Iran can’t be trusted.

Still, the Obama administration would have been better off if it wouldn’t have tried to obscure that fact originally in hopes of avoiding this discussion altogether. If the White House would have simply admitted this whole thing was more complicated from the get-go, Americans would have had a better understanding of what their government was doing and why. Some might not have agreed with the administration’s actions, but such disagreements would have been substantive instead of speculative. And if that weren’t a good enough reason for the administration, there’s this: Being more forthcoming in January would have made it far more difficult for Trump and his fellow Republicans to misconstrue the situation between now and November.

Aug. 19 2016 6:43 PM

Trump to Black Voters: You’re Poor, So Why the Hell Don’t You Vote for Me

In a speech in Dimondale, Michigan, on Friday directed at winning over black voters, Donald Trump detoured from his prepared remarks in order to tell black voters that their lives are terrible and can only be improved by voting for Donald Trump.

"What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?" he said. "What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty; your schools are no good; you have no jobs; 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"

Never mind that Trump—who recently polled at 1 percent among black voters in a nationwide survey—was treating black people as a monolithic group of poor, unemployed people. His ad-libbed “what the hell do you have to lose” line sounded very much like Trump thinks he knows what’s better for black voters than they know for themselves.

Compare Trump’s actual statements with his prepared remarks and you can see how badly he went off the rails:

Look at how much African-American communities have suffered under Democratic Control. To those hurting, I say: what do you have to lose by trying something new?

There were other moments where Trump veered wildly off-script in a way that seemed absurd. Specifically, Trump said that he would not just win this election, but win re-election in 2020 with 95 percent of black voters supporting him—again, earlier this month Trump's polling among black voters was somewhere between 1 and 4 percent.

"At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get 95 percent of the African-American vote,” he said. “I promise you, because I will produce for the inner cities and I will produce for the African-Americans.”

Aug. 19 2016 5:24 PM

CDC Expands Unprecedented Zika Travel Advisory After New Cases Confirmed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded an unprecedented warning for pregnant women and their sexual partners to avoid travel in parts of Florida to all of Miami-Dade County after five cases of Zika in Miami Beach were confirmed.

As the Washington Post reported, federal officials had already issued a travel warning urging pregnant women to avoid the Wynwood area of Miami where previous cases of Zika had been discovered, “the first time [federal health authorities] ever had warned against travel to a part of the continental United States because of the outbreak of an infectious disease.”

“[P]regnant women and their sexual partners who are concerned about potential Zika virus exposure may also consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County,” the CDC announced on Friday.

This came as Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced the confirmation of five cases of Zika transmitted by mosquitoes in Miami Beach. The New York Times reported that the cases involved three men and two women including two Florida residents and visitors from New York, Texas, and Taiwan.

“[I]t is possible that other neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County have active Zika transmission that is not yet apparent,” the CDC said.

The Post reported that fighting the disease in South Beach was particularly challenging because of its destination as a tourist hub and the type of tourist hub that it is:

In a call with reporters Friday, CDC director Tom Frieden said the Miami Beach area presents a difficult situation for health officials trying to halt the Zika outbreak. It has a constant stream of visitors, many of them international, who could carry the virus elsewhere should they get infected. The low-flying planes that have been spraying specialized insecticide over Wynwood cannot do so over Miami Beach, due to the presence of high rise buildings and the often windy conditions. And South Beach is a beach, after all, notorious for skimpy bikinis and a general lack of clothing.
"The amount of exposed skin also makes it harder to prevent infections there," Frieden said. "We think this will be a challenging area."

Zika is now in 70 countries and has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly, which can cause babies to have small heads and underdeveloped brains. As Marc Siegel noted in Slate on Thursday, “studies show that microcephaly occurs in the fetus in up to 13 percent of cases.” That story also noted that outbreaks like the one in Florida are not unexpected and combating them is something health officials are actually quite good at doing. “Zika is expected to follow the same course of isolated sporadic outbreaks as Dengue [fever] because it is transmitted by the same mosquito,” Siegel wrote.

“The future of mankind against mosquito-borne disease is bright. We need only to look to history to see this,” he added.

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