Flynn seeks immunity for testimony

(CNN)Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is willing to testify before federal and congressional investigators in their ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the US elections, but only if he is granted immunity, his lawyer said Thursday.

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March 31, 2017

Hoyer: Nunes should resign from intelligence committee

Washington (CNN)The second-ranking House Democrat said that embattled Rep. Devin Nunes should not just recuse himself from the intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia, but resign from the committee altogether.

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March 30, 2017

Morocco guide: 10 things to know before you go

(CNN)Rainbows of color, spice-market smells, an urban orchestra of sounds: Morocco can be overwhelming at first.

Lying 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from the coast of Spain, the North African country mixes Middle Eastern magic, Berber tradition and European flair.
Tourism has more than doubled since 2002, to nearly 10 million visitors in 2011. King Mohammed VI wants to increase the annual visitor numbers to 18 million by 2020.
    The royal ruler’s strategy is underpinned by infrastructure development, making traveling around the country even easier.
    Add to this a program of ongoing social, political and economic reforms, and Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region.
    Here are 10 things you’ll want to know before you arrive:
    1. Cafes dominate life in Tangier.
    Cafes are the key place to socialize, for Moroccan men at least. They gather to drink sweet mint tea and watch people as they go about their affairs.
    The northern port city of Tangier has a history of literary bohemianism and illicit goings-on, thanks to its status as an International Zone from 1923 to 1956.
    The Interzone years, and the heady decades that followed, saw writers, rock stars and eccentrics flock to the city’s 800-plus cafs.
    Two must-visit spots: Cafe Hafa (Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi), overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, writer and composer Paul Bowles.
    Smoky and slightly edgy, Cafe Baba (1 rue Sidi-Hosni) is the coolest spot in the Kasbah. A photo of Keith Richards, kif-pipe in hand, still adorns the grimy walls.
    2. Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims.
    Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.
    While very few Moroccan mosques are open to non-Muslims, one exception is the towering Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah; +212 522 22 25 63).
    Located on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque was completed in 1993 and can hold 105,000 worshipers inside and out.
    Tradition and technology sit side by side, with colorful zellij (mosaic tiles), intricate stucco and carved cedar complementing the retractable roof and heated flooring.
    If you can’t make it to Casa, Marrakech’s 16th-century Ali ben Youssef madrassa-turned-museum (Pl Ben Youssef; +212 524 44 18 93) is open to all and also features impressive Islamic design.
    3. Multilingual Moroccans will put you to shame.
    Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence, reflecting the cultures — Berber, Arab, French and Spanish — that have crisscrossed the country.
    Arabic is the official language, and you’ll hear the Moroccan dialect, Darija, spoken on the street.
    French continues to be widely spoken in cities; foreigners are often addressed in this first. Spanish is still spoken in Tangier.
    There are also three main dialects spoken by the country’s Berber majority: Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit.
    You’ll be able to get by with English in the main tourist hubs, although “La, shukran” (“No, thank you” in Arabic) is one phrase to master.
    4. Don’t get stuck in Marrakesh.
    Marrakesh is justifiably popular, but there’s so much more.
    Fez tops the list for its maze-like medina, fabulous foodie scene and annual Festival of World Sacred Music.
    For a slice of the Sahara, there’s the desert town of Merzouga, near the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes, accessible via camel treks.
    Active types can hike between Berber villages in the High Atlas or head to the blue-hued Andalusian town of Chefchaouen to explore the Rif Mountains.
    Beach bums will love laid-back Essaouira and Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, while surfers often head south to Taghazout.
    For quiet contemplation, Morocco’s holiest town, Moulay Idriss, is hard to beat. Plus, you’ll have the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis pretty much to yourself.
    5. If you don’t like cumin, you may starve.
    Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. This pungent powder is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slow-roasted lamb).
    Cumin is used as a condiment on most Moroccan tables, along with salt and chili. It’s also a popular natural remedy for diarrhea.
    “Cumin has anti-parasitical properties, so if you’ve got an upset tummy, a spoonful of cumin knocked back with water will help,” said food guide Gail Leonard with Plan-It Fez.
    6. Trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable.
    Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa, making it the easiest way to travel between cities.
    It’s worth paying extra for first class, which comes with a reserved seat and A/C.
    First class carriages have six-seat compartments or open-plan seating. Stock up on snacks, or buy them onboard, as it’s customary to share food.
    When it comes to traveling to smaller towns and villages, buses and grand taxis, usually old Mercedes sedans that can seat six (at a squash), are best.
    7. Couscous is served on Fridays.
    You’ll see it on every restaurant menu, but traditionally, couscous is served on Fridays, when families gather after prayers.
    This is because the proper (not packet) stuff takes a long time to prepare.
    Coarse semolina is hand-rolled into small granules to be steamed and fluffed three times. It’s pale in color, deliciously creamy and served with vegetables and/or meat or fish.
    Bread is the staple carb and is served with every meal, except couscous.
    It’s baked in communal wood-fired ovens, one of five amenities found in every neighborhood (the others being a hammam, or bathhouse; a drinking fountain; a mosque and a preschool).
    8. Riad rooftops rock.
    The traditional Moroccan house (riad) is built around a central courtyard with windows facing inwards for privacy.
    They’re decked out with elaborate zellij, stucco and painted cedar and are easily the most atmospheric places to stay.
    While Moroccans tend to use their rooftops as clotheslines, a riad roof terrace is the place to be come sunset.
    In Marrakech, Italian-designed Riad Joya (Derb El Hammam, Mouassine Quarter; +212 524 391 624; has prime views of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret, while five-star La Sultana (403 rue de la Kasbah; +212 524 388 008; overlooks the Atlas Mountains.
    Top picks in Fez are the bohemian Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissi, Sieje, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, +212 649 191 410; and its suntrap terrace, while Dar Roumana (30 Derb el Amer, Zkak Roumane; +212 535 741 637; has sweeping views of the world’s largest living medieval Islamic city.
    9. When you hear ‘balak!’ watch out.
    Morocco’s souks are not for the faint-hearted. The narrow streets teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.
    Rule No. 1 is to step aside when you hear “Balak!” It means there’s a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you.
    You’ll inevitably get lost, as maps don’t usually include the warren of small alleys that make up the medina.
    A guide can help you get your bearings and fend off touts, but be aware that anything you buy will have his commission built in to the price.
    Alternatively, taking snaps of landmarks with your smartphone can help you find your way back to your accommodation.
    10. It’s not weird to be bathed by a stranger.
    There are plenty of posh hotel hammams, but nothing beats a visit to a no-frills public bathhouse.
    Spotting the entrance can be tricky, as most signs are written in Arabic. Look for a shop selling toiletries or a mosque, as these are usually nearby.
    It’s advisable to stock up on black olive oil soap, ghassoul (clay used as hair conditioner), a kiis (exfoliating glove) and a mat to sit on. Visitors need to take their own towels, comb and flip-flops.
    Women strip to their knickers (no bra), and men wear underpants. Then you’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummeled until you’re squeaky clean.

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    March 29, 2017

    Where does the House Freedom Caucus go from from here?

    Washington (CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan had just told his conference Friday that the Republican Party had failed to get enough votes for a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a seven-year campaign promise that had united Republicans and catapulted their Party into control of the House, the Senate and the presidency.

    The implicit message from leadership was it was time to move on to a different subject — and that the Republican House conference had some growing up to do.
    The room was somber, according to members.
      But not everyone was unhappy with the outcome.
      Racing out of the conference meeting to catch his plane, Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the defiant House Freedom Caucus — the group that had argued at every turn that the House bill didn’t go far enough — was pleased with the power his caucus had exhibited. If people had doubted the Freedom Caucus would remain an influential force under President Donald Trump, there was no questioning now their ability to exercise immense influence over not only their leadership’s agenda but their new president’s as well.
      “I would hope that the Freedom Caucus would get credit,” Brooks said. “What happened today was a very good thing for our country.”
      Now,the question is, after their major show of strength, what will become of the House’s most conservative and now despised contingent?
      Before the bill was pulled, one GOP leadership aide warned: “I’ve never seen it as bad as this is now. People are very angry and now you have a White House and president who are also very angry.”
      “If they actually took this down, they might feel like they flexed their muscles, but I feel like they’ve ostracized themselves like they haven’t ever done before,” the aide said. “I think this could be a breaking point for the membership of the Freedom Caucus.”
      The group’s a familiar foe for leadership — a cast of characters that has been front and center in showdowns over government spending bills and the ousting of House Speaker John Boehner. If the House Freedom Caucus had been a thorn in the side of leaders under President Barack Obama, they proved Friday that they wouldn’t yield just because they finally have a Republican president.
      From the beginning, members of the House Freedom Caucus had been among the most outspoken voices against House leadership’s bill. The group met repeatedly throughout the process, emerging from countless late-night meetings in the Rayburn office building to declare they had the votes to kill House leaders’ bill. Three members of their group — Reps. Dave Brat, Mark Sanford and Gary Palmer — had tried to stop it from advancing out of the House Budget Committee, where it narrowly passed 19 to 17.
      On Friday, Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, argued the House Freedom Caucus had done nothing more than exercise its authority to improve the legislation — despite dire warnings from the White House and leaders that voting against the bill could hurt the President’s agenda and threaten the party’s political future.
      “It’s in dictatorships where someone just comes up with a product and that’s it. That’s the final product. In our system, our constitutional republic, we tried something. It might fail then we try again,” he said.
      The chairman of the group, Rep. Mark Meadows, issued a statement declaring he still wanted to work with Trump on health care.
      “I promised the people of North Carolina’s 11th District that I would fight for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement with a market-driven approach that brings down costs and provides more choices for the American people,” Meadows said in the statement. “I remain wholeheartedly committed to following through on this promise. I know President Trump is committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that works for American families, and I look forward to working with him do just that.”
      In the end, Republican leaders didn’t have the votes they needed to repeal and replace Obamacare — a position that members of both their conservative and moderate flanks had put them in. But the Freedom Caucus will no doubt take a large share of the blame in future retellings of the saga for having negotiated a side deal with the White House in the eleventh hour and then failing to get enough of their members to “yes.”
      House leadership had tried to declare early on that the House’s American Health Care Act wasn’t open for major, sweeping changes, a position that was later undermined by Trump’s signal to the caucus that he was open to large fixes.
      In the end, however, despite the White House trying to give members what they thought they wanted — a repeal of 10 Essential Health Benefits insurers are required to cover under the Affordable Care Act — the House Freedom Caucus still wanted more regulations repealed, which they argued would drive down costs. Members advocated to repeal Article 1, rules that dictated insurers had to allow adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and cover people with pre-existing conditions.
      “It’s fairly amazing that even after meeting with President Trump, they are holding out for removing health care from people with pre-existing conditions, something they know could never pass and goes against everything president Trump promised during the campaign,” one GOP aide familiar with the whip operation told CNN Thursday as it was growing increasingly clear that the Freedom Caucus wasn’t budging enough to make up the difference.
      There was some movement toward passage: Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, had given his blessing to get behind the bill Thursday, but it still wasn’t enough.
      Throughout the process, Meadows declared that progress was being made and he “desperately” wanted to get to “yes.” In the end, however, there weren’t enough Freedom Caucus members on board.
      When asked how the White House viewed the Freedom Caucus after the group had seemed to be move the goalpost, a member familiar with the whip operation, said: “As I told a freshman member when he complained to me that Meadows stabbed him in the back last year, ‘I’m sorry you had to experience what has already happened to the rest of us.'”

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      March 29, 2017

      Source: ICE is targeting ‘sanctuary cities’ with raids

      (CNN)Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been targeting so-called “sanctuary cities” with increased enforcement operations in an effort to pressure those jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agents, a senior US immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions told CNN.

      A sanctuary city is a broad term applied to states, cities and/or counties that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation or involvement in the enforcement of federal immigration operations. More than 100 US jurisdictions — among them New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — identify as such.
      High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations, said the source.
        This week, a federal judge in Texas seems to have confirmed that tactic. US Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin revealed during an immigration hearing Monday that a mid-February raid in the Austin metro area was done in retaliation for a local sheriff’s recent decision to limit her department’s cooperation with ICE.
        “There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted. We had a briefing…. that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town. There was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin says in audio of the proceedings provided by the court.
        The judge’s comments came as he questioned an ICE agent about a recent unrelated arrest.
        Austin said that in a late January meeting, local ICE officials told him and another federal judge that an upcoming enforcement operation was being done in direct response to Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s adoption of a sanctuary policy in Travis County.
        Earlier this year, Hernandez announced that beginning in February, her department would no longer honor ICE detainers unless the individual was arrested for murder, sexual assault or human trafficking, or a warrant had been issued. A detainer is a 48-hour hold request placed on suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails until federal agents can come in and take over the case.

        A showdown in Travis County, Texas

        It is a significant shift in the county’s immigration enforcement policy that has put the newly elected Democratic sheriff at odds with pro-enforcement local and state officials, including the Texas Senate, which recently passed a bill that withholds state dollars from sanctuary cities and Gov. Greg Abbott, who cut $1.5 million in funding to the county.
        Days after Hernandez enacted the new measure, a series of immigration raids in Austin netted 51 arrests, fueling speculation that the city was being intentionally targeted. The judge’s comments in open court have further fanned those flames.
        “My understanding, what was told to us, is that one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that had occurred between the (ICE) field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well,” said Judge Austin during the hearing. CNN reached out to the judge, but he declined to comment further.
        Hernandez refused to comment because she was not present at the meeting between the judges and immigration agents.
        ICE categorically denied any suggestion that planned operations were specifically aimed at the sheriff’s county.
        “Rumors and reports that recent ICE operations are specifically targeting Travis County, Texas, apart from normal operations, are inaccurate,” read a statement from ICE, although it did go on to say that “more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers.”
        This increase in “operational activity” in sanctuary cities is one of the ways ICE is turning up on the heat on local authorities and part of a broader strategy to coerce cooperation, according to the senior immigration official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
        Officials in several sanctuary cities began complaining that they may be getting intentionally targeted after a series of raids around the country in February resulted in almost 700 arrests, but ICE described these operations as routine and said they were planned during the previous administration.
        The senior immigration official pointed out that the raids overwhelmingly took place in sanctuary jurisdictions.
        According to a representative from a pro-immigrant organization, during a recent meeting between ICE and some non-governmental organizations shortly after this operation took place, concerned pro-immigrant advocates were told by a high-ranking ICE official that if their agents were not going to be granted access to local jails, they had no choice but to carry out large-scale apprehensions in other public places or homes.
        She said the message was clear: cooperate or expect more raids. She was shocked to discover that for the first time, anti-illegal immigration, pro-enforcement groups, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also had been invited to participate.
        Regular meetings between ICE and solely pro-immigrant groups were established in 2003 by the Bush administration in order to get the community’s input on enforcement actions and other concerns.
        ICE would not comment about those invited to the meeting.

        Enforcement actions are not random, ICE says

        ICE has denied that any enforcement operations are meant as retribution against sanctuary jurisdictions, and reiterates that the raids are a continuation of the agency’s normal actions aimed at keeping the public safe.
        “ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations across the country to enhance public safety and national security, and to ensure the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” the agency said in response to these allegations. “Our enforcement actions are not random and target specific violators based on prior intelligence.”
        What appears to be happening, however, is that the Trump administration has begun ratcheting up pressure on sanctuary cities.

        List of counties that declined detainers

        On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security published its first weekly report naming jurisdictions that refuse to hold and release immigrants who could be subject to deportation. Along with the nationwide list of places that have regularly failed to honor hold requests for individuals charged or convicted of a crime between January 28 and February 3, DHS also highlights the 10 counties that had the most declined detainers.
        Sheriff Hernandez’s Travis County in Texas is listed near the top. Based on the report, her jurisdiction had declined 128 ICE detainers and released dozens of inmates in that time period, a statistic that has intensified condemnations from her critics for her change in policy.
        The sheriff countered the report by saying that it covers the period just before her policy went into effect on Feb. 1, and that since then the number of declined detainer requests has gone down.
        President Donald Trump has argued that sanctuary cities endanger public safety and national security by harboring criminals and failing to turn over suspected and convicted criminals to federal authorities, thus the need for coordination with local authorities and enhanced enforcement operations.
        Throughout the campaign and since taking office, he has made cracking down on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities a top priority.
        Officials in most of these sanctuary cities have responded, however, by remaining steadfast in their commitment to sanctuary policies. But while some cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have recently adopted additional measures to protect their undocumented immigrant population, every indication is that they should brace themselves for more raids.

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        March 24, 2017

        Officer killed in London attack was father, 15-year veteran

        (CNN)Keith Palmer left for work on Wednesday expecting to return home.

        The assailant was shot dead near London’s Houses of Parliament after the chaotic rampage. The man drove a car through crowds of people, injuring dozens before crashing into a fence outside the Parliament building.
        Witnesses said he got out of his car brandishing a knife that he used to fatally stab Palmer.
          A member of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, Palmer was not carrying a gun, Metropolitan Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Rowley said in an evening news conference.
          “He was someone who left for work today expecting to return home at the end of his shift and he had every right to expect that to happen,” Rowley said.
          Bystanders rushed to Palmer’s aid as he lay bleeding on the cobblestone street, including Conservative Member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood. But there was nothing they could do.
          “Keith Palmer was killed while bravely doing his duty, protecting our city and the heart of our democracy from those who want to destroy our way of life,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
          “He personifies the brave men and women of our police and emergency services who work around the clock to keep us safe – tonight all Londoners are grateful to them.”
          Palmer was a 48-year-old married father with 15 years of service, Rowley said.
          At Scotland Yard, headquarters of London’s police service, flags were flying at half-staff on Wednesday evening, in honor of Palmer and the other victims.
          His death drew tributes from MPs including Conservative James Cleverly, who said he served with Palmer in the Royal Artillery before he became a “copper.”
          “A lovely man, a friend. I’m heartbroken,” Cleverly said on Twitter.
          The remaining victims have not been identified, other than that they were “members of the public” according to Rowley.

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          March 23, 2017

          Trump warns GOP: Don’t break your health care promises

          Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, in an attempt to sell the GOP Republican health care plan, warned Republicans about breaking all those promises to repeal Obamacare they’ve made over the years.

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          March 22, 2017

          Anthony Bourdain wakes up to a London in shock after Brexit vote

          (CNN)The London (and England) show is another example of my crew and I heading out to do one thing and, due to a sudden change in circumstances, finding ourselves doing something else entirely.

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          March 21, 2017

          Anita Cobby murder: ‘Everyone in the car that dreadful night had a passport to doom’

          Thirty years after the trial of five men for the shocking attack on a Sydney nurse, then public defender Bill Hosking reflects on his part in it

          The tragedy that would shock the whole of Australia began just before 10pm on 2 February 1986. A registered nurse, 26-year-old Anita Cobby, had been having dinner with friends after finishing her shift at Sydney hospital on Macquarie Street, next to state Parliament House in the city.

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          March 20, 2017

          Chuck Berry didn’t just cross barriers — he obliterated them

          (CNN)Whatever else that can be said about Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” when it shot out of America’s radios like a Redstone rocket in the bright late summer of 1955, one hard, true thing remains clear after those 62 years: Nothing like it ever existed before.

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          March 19, 2017