House votes to end support for Yemen war

WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday voted to end American involvement in the Yemen war, rebuffing the Trump administration’s support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia.

The bill now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to veto it. The White House says the measure raises “serious constitutional concerns,” and Congress lacks the votes to override him.

By a 247-175 vote, Congress for the first time invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to try and stop a foreign conflict. The Senate vote was 54-46 on March 13.

“The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy,” said Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen triggered by the war “demands moral leadership.”

The war in Yemen is in its fifth year. Thousands of people have been killed and millions are on the brink of starvation. The United Nations has called the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, acknowledged the dire situation in Yemen for civilians, but spoke out in opposition to the bill, saying it was an abuse of the War Powers Resolution.

“This radical interpretation has implications far beyond Saudi Arabia,” McCaul said. He warned that the measure could “disrupt U.S. security cooperation agreements.”

Democrats overcame a Republican attempt to divide the majority party through a procedural motion involving Israel just minutes before the Yemen vote. Republicans wanted to amend the Yemen bill with language condemning the international boycott movement and efforts to de-legitimize Israel. Democrats argued the amendment would kill the Yemen resolution, and most of them voted against the Israel measure.

“This is about politics, this is about trying to drive a wedge into this caucus where it does not belong,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said to applause from Democrats. Deutch described the boycott movement as “economic warfare,” but called on lawmakers to vote against the amendment.

“The Jewish community also has a history of standing up against atrocities like the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. My colleagues are trying to block us from standing in support of human rights,” he said.

Opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen gathered support last year in the aftermath of the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post columnist was killed in October by agents of the kingdom, a close U.S. partner, while he was in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence agencies and lawmakers believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had written articles critical of the Islamic kingdom.

Lawmakers from both parties have scrutinized U.S.-Saudi ties and criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

PRC spy indicted in Taiwan

TAIPEI – A convicted Communist Chinese spy was indicted by Taipei prosecutors Wednesday on another charge of violating national security laws in collusion with members of the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROCOT)’s opposition New Party.

The indictment was handed down after the ROCOT’s Supreme Court upheld a high court ruling March 14 that sentenced Zhou Hongxu to 14 months in prison after he attempted to bribe an employee of the ROCOT’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs into spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Zhou, who graduated from Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in 2016, was indicted for trying to develop an espionage ring in the ROCOT through a news website and an association set up by New Party spokesman Wang Ping-chung and two other members of the party’s youth committee.

The three New Party members were indicted by Taipei prosecutors in June last year for spying for the Communist Chinese government, in violation of the National Security Act.

As for Zhou’s part in the case, the Taipei District Prosecutors Office decided to send his case to the Taiwan High Court to handle the two cases together.

However, the High Court returned the case to the prosecutors office on the grounds that the recruitment of the Taiwanese diplomat was unrelated to the case involving the three New Party members.

Dissatisfied with the High Court decision, the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The appeal was rejected Wednesday and the case was returned to the Taipei District Prosecutors Office, which decided that day to indict Zhou.

The indictment follows the People’s Republic of China’s recent violation of the Republic of China on Taiwan’s ambiguously sovereign territory, stressing Cross-Strait relations.

President Trump signs memorandum to stem counterfeit goods trafficking

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Wednesday to rein in what the administration calls the “Wild West” of online trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The memorandum is aimed at stopping the sale of counterfeit products on sites like Amazon, eBay and the People’s Republic of China’s e-commerce leader, Alibaba.

“This president has decided that it’s time to clean up this Wild West of counterfeiting and trafficking,” said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council.

“The central core of the problem is that right now, third-party online marketplaces … have zero liability when it comes to trafficking in these counterfeit goods. That simply has to stop. We are going to attack that on numerous fronts.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, Amazon said that it “strictly prohibits” the sale of counterfeit products and welcomes more coordinated support from law enforcement to stem the problem. Amazon said that last year it spent more than $400 million fighting counterfeits, fraud and other forms of abuse.

“We have built industry-leading tools like Brand Registry, Transparency and our newly launched Project Zero to protect our customers and help rights owners drive counterfeits to zero,” the company said. “With these and other tools, we ensure that over 99% of the products that customers view on Amazon never receive a complaint about counterfeits.”

Navarro said discussion of possible actions the administration will take to deter online trafficking in counterfeit merchandise is premature. He says the directive orders the Department of Homeland Security to work with other agencies on a report identifying the scope of the problem. The report also is to identify the origin of the fake goods and recommend administrative, regulatory, legislative or policy changes to stem the problem.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the value of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is about a half trillion dollars a year, with roughly 20% infringing on U.S. intellectual property, according to the directive.

The U.S. is engaged in a trade dispute with the People’s Republic of China after the Trump administration made several complaints, including that the PRC was stealing U.S. trade secrets and forcing companies to give them technology to access its market. Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Communist Chinese imports, about half what the United States buys from that country. China retaliated with tariffs on about $110 billion of U.S. items. Trade talks are ongoing.

Navarro told reporters in a conference call, however, that the new memorandum has nothing to do with the U.S.-PRC trade talks or Trump’s criticism of Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos. Trump has accused Amazon of not paying its fair share of taxes, harming the U.S. Postal Service and putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

A recent Government Accountability Office report examined four categories of frequently counterfeited goods, and, based on a small sample of these goods purchased through various online third-party marketplaces, investigators found that more than 40% were counterfeit, Navarro said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Newly elected Chicago mayor: Victory means ‘a city reborn’

CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s resounding victory was a clear call for change at City Hall and a historic repudiation of the old-style, insider politics that have long defined the nation’s third-largest city.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who’d never been elected to public office, defeated Cook County Board President and longtime City Council member Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday with backing from voters across the city. Late results showed Lightfoot, 56, winning every one of the city’s 50 wards.

Lightfoot also made history, becoming the first African American woman and the first openly lesbian person to be elected Chicago mayor. Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to have an African American woman serve as mayor when Lightfoot is sworn in May 20. She will join seven other African American women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans, and will be the second woman to lead Chicago.

“Out there tonight a lot of little girls and boys are watching. They’re watching us, and they’re seeing the beginning of something, well, a little bit different,” Lightfoot told a jubilant crowd at a downtown hotel. “They’re seeing a city reborn.”

She pledged to make Chicago “a place where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny,” to address the city’s violence and to “break this city’s endless cycle of corruption” that allows politicians to profit from their office.

Lightfoot emerged as the surprising leader in the first round of voting in February when 14 candidates were on the ballot to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided against running for a third term.

She seized on outrage over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald to launch her reformer campaign. She got in the race even before Emanuel announced he wouldn’t seek re-election amid criticism for initially resisting calls to release video of the shooting.

Joyce Ross, 64, a resident of the city’s predominantly black or African American West Side who is a certified nursing assistant, cast her ballot Tuesday for Lightfoot. Ross said she believes Lightfoot will be better able to clean up the police department and curb the city’s violence.

She was also bothered by Preckwinkle’s association with longtime Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted earlier this year on charges he tried to shake down a restaurant owner who wanted to build in his ward.

“My momma always said birds of a feather flock together,” Ross said.

Preckwinkle said she called Lightfoot Tuesday night to congratulate her on a “hard-fought campaign.”

“While I may be disappointed I’m not disheartened. For one thing, this is clearly a historic night,” she told a crowd gathered in her South Side neighborhood. “Not long ago two African American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable. And while it may be true that we took two very different paths to get here, tonight is about the path forward.”

That path will have major challenges. Chicago has been losing population, particularly in predominantly African American neighborhoods hit hardest by violence and a lack of jobs.

The new mayor will take over a city that faces massive financial problems. She will have just a few months to prepare a new budget, which in 2020 is expected to have a roughly $250 million deficit. Lightfoot also will take over the worst-funded public pensions of any major U.S. city. Chicago’s annual payments to the retirement systems are slated to grow by $1.2 billion by 2023.

She has expressed support for a casino in Chicago and changing the state’s income tax system to a graduated tax, in which higher earners are taxed at a higher rate—two measures lawmakers have tried for unsuccessfully for years to pass.

Violence and policing will also continue to be an issue, and one that has proven to be politically difficult.

The Chicago Police Department must implement a federally monitored consent decree approved in January. It followed the McDonald killing and a U.S. Justice Department review that found a long history of excessive use of force and racial bias by officers.

While voters also elected several newcomers over City Council veterans, Lightfoot will have to work with a council that has a sizable number of members who are the type of politicians she railed against during her campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.