Appeals Court Rejects Bid To Reinstate Trump's Travel Ban

A sign at Washington Dulles International Airport welcomes travelers. A three-judge panel decided not to reinstate President Trump’s travel ban barring travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A federal appeals court has unanimously rejected a Trump administration request to allow its travel ban to take effect.

The three-judge appeals panel declined to overturn a lower court’s order suspending the president’s ban against entry into the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations.

The travel ban was put on hold by federal district Judge James L. Robart of Seattle, who issued a nationwide restraining order on Feb. 3. Robart said that the two states challenging the ban, Washington and Minnesota, had shown that their residents and universities were harmed by Trump’s action. The administration then asked the appeals court for an emergency stay of Robart’s restraining order.

The result is a rebuke to the White House. In oral arguments heard on Tuesday, the panel vigorously quizzed attorneys both for the administration and for the state of Washington, the lead plaintiff, which originally filed the suit challenging the travel ban.

The solicitor general for the state of Washington, Noah Purcell, argued that the travel ban is discriminatory and violates both federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution. He told the court that the judiciary’s role is to step in and check the abuses of the executive branch.

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But August Flentje, special counsel to the assistant attorney general, argued that the president has the ultimate authority to protect the national security and that his action in that regard — namely, the travel ban — was unreviewable by the courts.

However, at least two of the panelists, Judge Michelle Friedland and Judge William Canby, appeared skeptical of the administration’s position and whether Trump’s travel ban amounts to a ban on Muslims.

As we reported earlier in the Two-Way, Judge Richard Clifton suggested that perhaps there was no such ban since the president’s executive order affected only a small percentage (12 percent, according to an NPR analysis) of the world’s Muslim population.

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Government Ethics Office Website Crashes Under Too Much Traffic — Again

The Office of Government Ethics is back in the news as its website crashed, for the second time in less than a month, again under a flood of inquiries.

The Office of Government Ethics website was down on Thursday, after White House counselor Kellyanne Conway urged people to buy Ivanka Trump’s products, potentially violating federal ethics rules. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR

The advisory agency typically works to vet people who run the country and detangle them from financial ties that may influence their work in public office. And typically, this work happens quietly in the background when administrations transition from one president to another.

But the OGE has received an extraordinary amount of spotlight as Donald Trump has become president. OGE chief has been one of the loudest critics of Trump’s decision to remain the owner of his worldwide business empire, with its vast web of financial interests.

On Thursday, the OGE’s website was overwhelmed by a surge of clicks.

“OGE’s website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events,” the agency said on Twitter.

OGE spokesman Vincent Salamone did not comment on the specific reasons behind the jump in inquiries. But the U.S. political news cycle on Thursday was dominated by a potential federal ethics violation by a top White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway.

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“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Conway said in an interview on Fox & Friends, later adding: “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.” This came after several retail companies said they were dropping Ivanka Trump’s fashion line because of poor sales.

As NPR’s Jim Zarrolli explains, federal ethics rules bar executive branch employees from profiting through their positions, although the statute exempts the president. Conway is a White House employee, so the rules do apply to her. The OGE website does have information about the rules.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that Conway had been “counseled” over her remarks.

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings, wrote a letter to the OGE on Thursday, asking for an investigation and report on Conway’s comments.

As a preventative and advisory agency, the OGE does not have the power to investigate or prosecute, which the agency reiterated in a tweetstorm on Thursday. It said that the authority to conduct investigations belongs to the Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the FBI, Inspectors General and the Office of Special Counsel.

“When OGE learns of possible ethics violations, OGE contacts the agency, provides guidance & asks them to notify OGE of any action taken,” the agency said in a tweet. In this case of a potential administrative violation, the responsible overseers would be the White House ethics officials.

OGE’s Salamone told NPR that the ethics office’s website is, in fact, operational, it’s just buckling under heavy traffic. He declined to comment further.

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Former Detainee Describes Atrocities Inside Syrian Prison

Omar al-Shogre says he spent 10 months in Sednaya prison. He says he was arrested at age 17 and was in various Syrian prisons for more than two years before he was sent to Sednaya. Courtesy of Omar al-Shogre hide caption

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Courtesy of Omar al-Shogre

A report released Feb. 6 by Amnesty International says the Syrian government committed mass murder in a prison outside Damascus.

In the report, Amnesty International claims as many as 13,000 people were killed at the Saydnaya military prison — typically in mass hangings — from March 2011 until December 2015. The Syrian government has called Amnesty International’s report “completely untrue” and “baseless.”

Omar al-Shogre says he spent 10 months in the Saydnaya prison. He says he was arrested at age 17 and was held in various Syrian prisons for more than two years before he was sent to Saydnaya.

NPR cannot independently verify his story, but he is featured in the Amnesty International report.

Shogre tells NPR’s Robert Siegel that he was arrested and then released for taking part in anti-government demonstrations in 2011. After that, he says he was arrested seven more times.

“I only participated in peaceful demonstrations that included carrying roses and chanting,” Shogre says. “But I have never participated in any violent resistance.”

Shogre says the conditions in Saydnaya were much worse compared to other prisons where he was previously held.

“In Saydnaya, we were faced with the reality of either dying or killing one other prisoner,” he says. “And sometimes these prisoners are your family; they are your cousins, your parents. You get to a point where you know that you will either have to kill someone else or you have to die yourself.”


Interview Highlights

On how Saydnaya compared to an earlier prison where he was held

That prison, called [Branch] 215, was a nightmare beyond anyone’s imagination. There were worms eating human flesh. There were people eating each other in the prison. Diseases were unbelievable. People were thirsty and hungry at all times. But now, in retrospect, 215 was heaven compared to Saydnaya.

In the first prison, 215, at least we knew what was going on. We could hear things, we could see things and we could know what our fate would be.

In Saydnaya, we didn’t know anything. We’re just sitting there waiting for punishment, always living as if this is the last five seconds of your life. You don’t do anything because you’re kept in a room, and you don’t know when you’re going to be killed because the prison wardens were telling us that we would be hung anytime soon.

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On the deadly choice prison wardens imposed on some inmates

We were requested by jailers to kill each other. Sometimes the wardens came with a knife or a rope, and they asked prisoners whether they had relatives or friends in prison.

And once they identified their friends and relatives, they gave them one of two options: either killing their relatives or being killed themselves. And in many cases, being killed themselves included also being tortured before being killed.

On the use of torture

The goal was not to gather information. I was in prison for two years before I was sent to Saydnaya, and I would say the first month was for real interrogation. I was tortured [in] the first month, and I was asked questions.

And like everyone else, I lied just to make torture stop because everyone lies under torture, just to let them stop. I told them that I was a terrorist. I told them that I had tanks and RPGs and weapons. I said anything that would let the torture stop.

When I was in 215, that was a place where they asked us for questions, and that is the place where interrogations happened. But when you’re moved to Saydnaya, that’s the place where you moved in to die.

On his outlook now

I’ll tell you why I am a positive person. That prison had amazing scholars and scientists in it. We had people who invented medicines for us when we were in prison. We had people who taught me everything about life.

In my one foot of space in that prison, I had an attorney in front of me, a doctor next to me, and an engineer next to me, and a teacher behind me. And these people and others taught me a lot about life.

And I came from hell and now I live in Sweden, in a very easy place to live in. Of course I would be positive.

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Other Countries Aim To Fill Aid Shortfall Caused By U.S. Abortion Rule

President Trump signs an executive order alongside Vice President Pence administration officials. One of the documents Trump signed that day was a memorandum reinstating the “Mexico City policy.” Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

After President Trump blocked U.S. aid money from supporting any group that provides or “promotes” abortion in other countries, The Netherlands announced it would launch a fundraising initiative to support any affected organizations.

Now, several other countries — including Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Canada — have signaled their participation.

The “She Decides” fundraiser is the latest development in an international aid dispute that — as NPR’s Nurith Aizenman explained — has been playing out for decades. It centers on the “Mexico City policy,” which blocks U.S. aid from being sent to any international group that provides or “promotes” abortion. That can include providing information about abortion.

Since 1973, the U.S. hasn’t allowed international aid money to directly fund abortions. The only question has been if groups can receive funds for other initiatives. And that has depended on who is in office — Republican presidents enforced the Mexico City policy, while Democratic presidents didn’t.

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When Trump entered office one of his first actions was to bring back the policy. As Nurith wrote last month, he also appeared to expand it: Previous versions of the policy only stopped family planning aid from being distributed to affected charities, while Trump’s memorandum seems to apply to all global health funding.

Nurith wrote that it’s far from clear exactly how much money is potentially affected. The U.S. spends more than $600 million specifically on reproductive health, but spends much more — billions of dollars — on global health overall.

“It remains to be seen how much of that goes to groups that currently provide or promote abortion as defined by the policy — and that would opt to give up U.S. aid dollars rather than falling in line,” Nurith wrote.

Shortly after Trump reimposed the policy, The Netherlands launched the “She Decides Global Fundraising Initiative,” soliciting donations for reproductive health care in developing countries.

This group just made it more difficult for women to get access to health care worldwide. You tell me what’s wrong with this picture. pic.twitter.com/8UQFWg8qO3

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 23, 2017

It was explicitly designed to counterbalance the effect of the U.S. policy change. Funds raised by the initiative “will be made available to organizations affected by the Mexico City Policy,” according to a website for the effort.

In addition to inviting private donations, the Netherlands also pledged more than $10 million and said it would be working with other governments to boost the available funds.

Since then, Denmark and Belgium have also pledged aid, bringing the total to more than $30 million, Deutsche Welle reports.

And on Thursday, Sweden joined those three countries to announce an international conference related to the initiative, scheduled for March 2.

Just signed referral of Swedish #climate law, binding all future governments to net zero emissions by 2045. For a safer and better future. pic.twitter.com/OqOO2y8BU6

— Isabella Lövin (@IsabellaLovin) February 3, 2017

“We will mobilize political and financial support and show that there is a counterweight to the worrying developments we are seeing in the U.S. and in other parts of the world,” Swedish deputy prime minister Isabella Lövin said in a statement. (You may remember Lövin from a tweet showing her signing legislation while surrounded by women, apparently as a rebuke to the image of Trump signing the Mexico City policy memorandum while surrounded by men.)

Canada is also participating in the launch, officials confirm to NPR. Reuters reports that Finland, Luxembourg and Cape Verde have also signed on to the initiative.

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, tells NPR that other countries working to counteract the impact of the policy doesn’t change the key fact, for anti-abortion groups, of American funds being withdrawn.

“Other countries are free to do what they want,” she says. “The principle of the matter is that the United States is not endorsing abortion.”

The ability of international aid groups to raise funds from other sources, in general, has been mentioned by anti-abortion groups as a point in favor of the Mexico City policy, as Nurith reported last year. Nonprofit groups, meanwhile, say it’s “enormously disruptive” to have a funding source cut off suddenly, even if other funds are later available.

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In Austin, A Boom In Short-Term Rentals Brings A Backlash

Austin is phasing out and banning short-term rentals, causing some owners to fight back. Other homeowners will be glad to see them go. In East Austin, this type of rental property is mixed in with regular homeowners Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News hide caption

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Kristen Hotopp stands in the front yard of her well-worn East Austin home where she has lived for the past 17 years. She points across the street at an attractive, nearly new, two-story home — by far the nicest on the block.

“There are two units on this lot,” Hotopp says. “There’s a house in the back that’s smaller and a house upfront. We’re getting investors descending upon the area and buying up a lot of these properties.”

Like many fast-growing regions, the state of Texas is grappling with the growing market for short-term home and condo rentals like those listed on Airbnb and HomeAway. That’s especially been true in Austin.

Even though Hotopp’s working-class neighborhood is close to Sixth Street and other Austin music districts, she has lived quietly with her husband and young son. But that changed two years ago when the new house across the street turned out to be a short-term rental property. Suddenly, the good times on Sixth Street were rolling back to her block at 2 a.m.

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“You have large groups of people there screaming in the middle of the night,” Hotopp says. “They’re here to party. They bring people back with them to the property when the bars close downtown and it just becomes kind of an all-night thing.”

The parade of loud, inebriated, door-slamming renters got old quick. Hotopp complained to city officials more than 30 times.

Over the last five years, experiences like Hotopp’s have become a rallying cry for Austin’s well-organized and politically powerful neighborhood associations.

“We believe they’re essentially commercial hotels embedded in our neighborhoods,” says David King, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, which represents nearly 100 neighborhood associations.

Fifty years ago Austin was a sleepy college town flowing to the seasonal rhythm of its state university. Now, it’s an economic and cultural powerhouse and burgeoning tourist destination. Austin’s property values and taxes are through the roof. The city’s musicians and working class are being priced out.

In 2012, the city council moved to regulate — requiring short-term rental owners to get a permit, pay hotel taxes and limited density to no more than 3 percent of any given neighborhood. But Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo says these regulations didn’t go far enough.

“You know we have a housing shortage here in Austin,” Tovo says. “We are working on issues related to affordability and then to have a policy on the books that takes available housing stock and makes it unavailable for renters, for property owners is not in the best interest of Austin residents.”

So last year Austin’s city council voted to ban these so-called Type 2 rentals. Current licensed operators will be phased out. And that has triggered lawsuits and legislative action in response.

“We sued because the city ordinance goes too far and tramples on the constitutional rights of our clients who both own and operate short-term rentals and also serve as guests of short-term rental properties,” says Rob Henneke, director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential conservative think tank in Austin.

Their lawsuit against the city of Austin and the state of Texas has gotten involved. Henneke says that as suburbia exploded across the nation’s landscape in the 1950s, it became an American folkway for single-family homeowners to disdain renters with a mindset of “If they can’t afford to buy, they’re not our type of people.”

Henneke argues now that the attempt to discriminate involves not the renter’s color or class, but the duration of the rental.

“Occupying a house as a short-term renter is completely consistent as a residential activity and fits within the purpose of single-family residential zoning,” he says.

Joel Rasmussen, 46, and his wife bought their duplex in the Travis Heights neighborhood after they fell in love with the mid-century modern style. They also bought the ones next to it.

The hills of South Austin are full of these modest charming homes. On the outside, there’s nothing to distinguish Rasmussen’s units from the neighbors’, but inside it’s an upscale boutique.

“Vaulted ceilings, lots of natural light coming in from the outside — people really love this textured wall,” Rasmussen says. “It has a very kind of Jetsons or 1960s feel. It’s actually recycled bamboo panels.”

The two-bedroom, one bath goes for $195 a night and guests park under the carport, not on the street. Rasmussen says he’s never had a complaint and that even the neighbors sometimes put their visitors in his rentals because the homes in the area run small.

“In fact, the neighbors that live just on the other side of that property have two children,” Rasmussen says. “When baby No. 1 was born, mom and dad came and stayed for three weeks, and when baby No. 2 was born the grandparents came again and stayed for three weeks to welcome the grandbabies.”

In Rasmussen’s unit next door, Kathy Arena sits outside reading a book on the wrap-around deck in Austin’s warm winter sun. She’s from Cedarburg, Wis., and, along with her husband, has escaped the frozen tundra to bask for a winter’s month in Austin’s glow for the past three years.

“It’s just been so smooth and we’ve stayed in the same place each time,” Arena says. “So, another thing I like about Austin is all ages co-mingle. Everyone is so nice to everybody. We’ve made all sorts of new friends here.”

The battle over whether these types of short-term rental properties should be allowed is being fought in court and the Texas Legislature. A bill has been filed by Republican State Sen. Kelly Hancock which would prohibit Texas cities from banning them outright. And as the rulings in state courts have been contradictory, it’s likely the Texas Supreme Court will have to have the final word.

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It's Official: Prince Is Coming To Streaming This Sunday

Prince performs on stage on June 15, 1987 in Paris. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

After months of well-sourced rumors, a press release today from the streaming service Napster (formerly known as Rhapsody) confirmed that Prince’s records under Warner Bros. — which include the epochal classics 1999, Purple Rain, Dirty Mind, and Sign o’ the Times — will be available to stream this Sunday, the day of the 59th Grammy Awards.

As the company writes: “The rumors are true … music fans rejoice!”

That Napster broke the news is a very strong indication that other streaming services, like Apple Music and Spotify, will also have the catalog. (Spotify declined to comment, while Apple did not immediately respond to a request.)

Many have noted Prince’s aversion to streaming (apart from signing a strict deal with Tidal, he removed his music from most other streaming services) without considering his forward-thinking approach to both business and technology. For that, you could do much worse than the comprehensive accounting of the Purple One’s technological and business history that Billboard‘s Jem Aswad laid out last year or Hasit Shah’s essay on this site about the ways in which his attitude toward technology was misunderstood.

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Even without his most famous recordings held off Apple Music and Spotify, Price was the ninth-most successful recording artist of 2016 — so now we wait and see what, if any, digital records he’ll break. Again.

Update, 5:25 p.m. ET, Feb. 9, 2017: Spotify declined to comment. This article has been updated to reflect this.

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Kellyanne Conway Tells Americans To Buy Ivanka Trump's Products

A worker cleaned the windows of the Ivanka Trump Collection in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York last month. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

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Andrew Harnik/AP

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, may have violated federal ethics rules Thursday when she urged shoppers to buy Ivanka Trump’s retail brand, in the wake of the decision by several retail companies to drop the line because of poor sales.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I was [saying] — I hate shopping and I’m going to go get some myself today,” Conway said in an interview on Fox & Friends.

“This is just [a] wonderful line,” she added. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that Conway had been “counseled” over her remarks.

Federal ethics rules bar executive branch employees from profiting off their positions, but the statute exempts the president.

Conway, however, is a White House employee, and her comments urging people to buy the products appear to violate the rules, says Kathleen Clark, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The ethics regulation says government employees must not endorse any product, service or enterprise,” Clark told NPR in an interview. She added:

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“The broader rule is that government employees shouldn’t use public office for private gain. They shouldn’t use it for their own personal private gain or for somebody else’s private gain. Public office should be used for the good of the public, for the good of the country, for the good of the government, rather than singling out her boss’ daughter’s enterprise and encouraging people to shop Ivanka.”

Clark also noted that Trump’s tweet Wednesday about his daughter was retweeted by someone from the official White House account @POTUS.

“That was a violation of the ethics regulation if it was done by anybody other than the president or the vice president. But even if the president himself did that, it was improper, because there he is using a government resource for his own personal vendetta,” she said.

Meanwhile, the progressive group Public Citizen urged the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether Conway’s comments violated the rules.

“Anyone harboring illusions that there was some separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses has had their fantasy shattered,” said Robert Weissman, the organization’s president.

“Kellyanne Conway’s self-proclaimed advertisement for the Ivanka Trump fashion line demonstrates again what anyone with common sense already knew: President Trump and the Trump administration will use the government apparatus to advance the interests of the family businesses.”

In the Fox interview, Conway suggested retailers are dropping the line because of politics.

“They’re using her, who’s been a champion for women in power and women in the workplace, to get to him. I think people can see through that,” she said.

T.J. Maxx and Marshalls told employees last week to stop using signs promoting Ivanka Trump’s brand and mix in her products with others the store sells in order to make them less prominent.

Nordstrom has also said that it would no longer sell Ivanka Trump jewelry and clothing because sales have been disappointing. Neither the company nor Ivanka Trump’s brand released any sales figures.

The line is still carried by other retailers.

After Nordstrom’s decision, President Trump himself tweeted that his daughter “has been treated so unfairly” by the chain, and his son Donald retweeted an article today about angry store customers cutting up their credit cards.

It’s not clear how shoppers will react to the clothing controversy.

Outside a Marshalls store in Washington, D.C., a housewife from Argentina wasn’t impressed by all the controversy.

“If I like it, I buy it. If I don’t, I don’t,” said Andrea Ponzio, 47. “It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy it because of any politics.”

NPR intern Lucia Maffei contributed to this report.

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You Like Code Switch. Now Tell Us What You Think.

Don’t we look woke? Hugo Rojo hide caption

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Hugo Rojo

This April, Code Switch will celebrate its fourth birthday! For the past four years, we’ve brought you radio stories and blog posts. We’ve connected with you on social media. We’ve read your sometimes adoring, sometimes enraged emails. And last May, we (finally) launched the Code Switch podcast, where Shereen and Gene explore the fascinating ways that race, culture and identity intersect with the news.

So now, it’s your turn to tell us: How are we doing? What do you love about Code Switch? What makes you want to scream at us? What would you like to see more of? What color should Kat dye her hair next? This is your chance to let it be known.

Here’s our 2017 audience survey.

Don’t hold back. We promise we can take it.

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