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U.S. judge grants Amazon’s request, halts Pentagon cloud computing deal with Microsoft

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A U.S. judge on Thursday granted Amazon.com Inc’s request to temporarily halt the U.S. Department of Defense and Microsoft Corp from moving forward on an up-to-US$10 billion cloud computing deal that Amazon says reflected undue influence by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Amazon, which had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, filed a lawsuit in November just weeks after the contract was awarded to Microsoft. Trump has publicly derided Amazon head Jeff Bezos and repeatedly criticized the company.

READ MORE: Trump’s ‘improper pressure’ prevented Pentagon contract, Amazon lawsuit says

Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith issued a preliminary injunction but did not release her written opinion. She also ordered Amazon to post US$42 million in the event the injunction was issued wrongfully.

The Amazon lawsuit said the Defense Department’s decision was full of “egregious errors,” which were a result of “improper pressure from President Donald Trump, who launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks” to steer the contract away from Amazon “to harm his perceived political enemy” Bezos.

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Bezos also owns the Washington Post, whose coverage has been critical of Trump and which has frequently been a target of barbs by Trump about the news media.

Saudia Arabia denies hacking phone of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos
Saudia Arabia denies hacking phone of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

The Pentagon, which had planned to start work on the contract on Friday, said it was disappointed in the ruling.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver, a Defense Department spokesman, said the Pentagon believed “the actions taken in this litigation have unnecessarily delayed implementing DoD’s modernization strategy and deprived our warfighters of a set of capabilities they urgently need.”

It added it remained “confident in our award of the JEDI Cloud contract to Microsoft.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously denied there was bias and said the Pentagon made its choice fairly and freely without external influence.

READ MORE: ‘Unmistakable bias’: Amazon protests $10B Pentagon contract won by Microsoft

Alexander Major, a partner at McCarter & English, said: “The court has confirmed through the injunction that Amazon’s challenges with respect to this procurement are not trivial. It’s not guaranteed that they will prevail but the fact that they got it at all is a big deal.”

Amazon shares closed down 0.4%, while Microsoft was down 0.5%.

TESTIMONY SOUGHT FROM TRUMP

As part of the lawsuit, Amazon asked the court in January to pause the execution of the contract, popularly known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. The contract is intended to give the military better access to data and technology from remote locations.

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Microsoft said in a statement: “We have confidence in the Department of Defense, and we believe the facts will show they ran a detailed, thorough and fair process.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The White House declined comment.

Amazon Alexa, Google Home and more: What to know about smart speakers
Amazon Alexa, Google Home and more: What to know about smart speakers

Earlier this week, Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, said it was seeking to depose Trump and Esper in its lawsuit over whether the president was trying “to screw Amazon” over the contract.

Amazon also seeks to question other officials involved in the decision and alleged that Trump had a history of inappropriately intervening in governmental decisions. Amazon called the process “fatally flawed and highly unusual.”

READ MORE: Microsoft beats Amazon for $10B cloud contract with Pentagon

The procurement process has been delayed by legal complaints and conflict-of-interest allegations.

The judge told Amazon and the Pentagon to confer by Feb. 27 on what portions of the opinion can be released publicly.

© 2020 Reuters

Source: Global News

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AFL youth leader helps score centre grant

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Two-time AFL premiership player Bachar Houli’s goal to encourage Islamic youth leaders has earned an $850,000 federal grant for a new home.

The devout Muslim and Richmond defender will lead youth programs at the Australian Islamic Centre’s new interfaith centre.

It will have eight classrooms, education programs, a library and gym.

“We are very, very passionate about making a difference in society,” he said while accepting the federal money for the centre on Friday.

“(It is) being that role model for all kids, not just Muslim kids, growing up in Australia.”

The cash adds to the $1 million already raised by the Muslim community for the centre.

On Friday the federal government also announced $3 million for the Anti-Defamation Commission to roll out the “Click Against Hate” education program to 500 schools nationally.

This social media program, already in 150 schools, teaches primary and secondary students how to tackle racism, hatred and defamation.

“We know that the incidence of Islamophobia and anti-semitism have risen dramatically across the community,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

“That is why these programs are so important.”

Labor MPs Tim Watts and Ed Husic attended to show intolerance has no place in Australia, regardless of politics.

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Former Trump aide Hope Hicks to return to White House

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Hope Hicks, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s most trusted and longest-serving aides, is returning to the White House as the president works to surround himself with loyalists as his reelection campaign moves into high gear.

Hicks, a former White House communications director who was one of Trump’s original 2016 campaign staffers, is expected to serve as counsellor to the president, working with presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement had been made public.

She left the White House in 2018 and moved to California to work as a top executive at the Fox Corporation, though she and Trump remained in touch.

READ MORE: Ex-Trump aide Hope Hicks frustrates Democrats in tight-lipped private testimony

Hicks’s move comes just one week after Trump was acquitted by the Senate on impeachment charges. Since then, he’s been on a tear to clear his administration of those he sees as insufficiently loyal, including ousting staffers at the national security council and state department and pulling the nomination of a top treasury department pick who had overseen cases involving Trump’s former aides as U.S. Attorney. More departures are expected in the coming days, including at the shrinking foreign policy arm of the White House, where Trump’s national security adviser has been pushing for months to cull staff.

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At the same time, Trump has been working to surround himself with longtime aides he believes he can trust as he heads into what is expected to be a bruising general election campaign to remain in the White House.

Former Trump aide Hope Hicks to return to White House
Former Trump aide Hope Hicks to return to White House

In addition to Hicks, Trump recently brought back John McEntee, another longtime staffer who began on the 2016 campaign as an intern and rose to become one of Trump’s closest staffers, with an office adjacent to the Oval Office. McEntee had served as Trump’s personal aide until he was forced out of the White House in 2018 on the orders of former chief of staff John Kelly over issues with his security clearance.

McEntee has now been tapped to lead the White House Presidential Personnel Office, an influential posting that coordinates the screening and hiring of thousands of federal government workers . As part of that mission, he is expected to work to ensure that only those who believe in Trump’s mission are offered jobs.

READ MORE: Democrats breach Trump’s inner circle with closed-door interview with Hope Hicks

“This is bringing back Ringo and John and Paul and George,” said Jason Miller, senior communications adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, referring to the members of the super group “The Beatles.”

“This is putting the band back together for what is probably going to be the most consequential and important concert of their lives,” he said, noting that the people being brought back into the fold “are people that understand Trump as a person, who understand President Trump’s priorities, who he likes personally” and who “re going to spend every waking moment of their lives trying to help him.”

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In her new role, Hicks will not be part of the White House communications department, but will work closely with Kushner and White House political director Brian Jack “in a number of strategic areas,” according to a White House official. She is expected to start early next month, though details were still being worked out Thursday.

Court papers point to Trump’s role in hush-money scheme
Court papers point to Trump’s role in hush-money scheme

Known for her loyalty and low public profile, Hicks was part of the small inner circle that traveled the country with Trump aboard his private jet as he waged his unlikely campaign for the Republican nomination and then the presidency in 2015 and 2016. She was often described as someone who was especially deft at reading the president’s moods and helping others navigate his instincts.

Trump never wanted Hicks to leave the White House, which she chose to do as she was called to testify before lawmakers and the special counsel’s office during the Russia investigation. And she and the president remained in regular touch while she was at Fox, with the president trying to convince her to return to the White House since nearly the day she left, according to one of the people. The president’s sales pitch, the person said, intensified in recent months amid impeachment.

READ MORE: Ex-Trump aide Hope Hicks agrees to closed-door interview with House committee

The news of her decision was praised publicly by top administration officials, including Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary who also serves as the current White House communications director.

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“I have worked with Hope for almost six years and can say without hesitation she is one of the most talented and savvy individuals I have come across,” Grisham said in a statement. “She has always impressed me with her quiet confidence, loyalty and expertise, and I am beyond thrilled to welcome Hope back to the White House.”

“There is no one more devoted to implementing President Trump’s agenda than Hope Hicks,” Kushner added. “We are excited to have her back on the team.”

Former Trump aide Hope Hicks deflects questions on Capitol Hill
Former Trump aide Hope Hicks deflects questions on Capitol Hill

Even before Trump’s acquittal, his national security adviser Robert O’Brien had been working to shrink the ranks at the National Security Council, where Alexander Vindman, the director for European Affairs, had worked before he was escorted out of the White House last week.

O’Brien said the streamlining will be completed by the of the week, with about 70 fewer staffers than the 115 to 120 staffers when he started the job in September.

Meanwhile, the conservative Newsmax TV announced Thursday that Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, will be hosting a political talk show that will air weeknights at 6 p.m. from Washington. “Spicer & Co.” will debut on March 3.

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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© 2020 The Canadian Press

Source: Global News

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Christian preacher Phillip Blair of Torch of Christ confronted by marchers at Auckland Pride rally

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An evangelical Christian preacher has been heckled by marchers after interrupting a gay pride parade. 

Torch of Christ Ministries leader Phillip Blair turned up with a megaphone at the Auckland Pride rally on February 8, and accused attendees of ‘celebrating sin’. 

Days later he filmed himself trying to discuss sex and drunkenness with a 16-year-old girl before her mother intervened and told him to mind his own business.

'You are celebrating sin - you are celebrating debauchery, you must repent,' Mr Blair (right) told rallygoers

'You are celebrating sin - you are celebrating debauchery, you must repent,' Mr Blair (right) told rallygoers

‘You are celebrating sin – you are celebrating debauchery, you must repent,’ Mr Blair (right) told rallygoers

Phillip Blair (Pictured) of Torch of Christ Ministries began preaching through a microphone at Auckland Pride rally on February 8

Phillip Blair (Pictured) of Torch of Christ Ministries began preaching through a microphone at Auckland Pride rally on February 8

Phillip Blair (Pictured) of Torch of Christ Ministries began preaching through a microphone at Auckland Pride rally on February 8

Mr Blair first filmed himself preaching at pride marchers at Auckland Pride Festival’s OurMarch, which celebrates New Zealand’s Gay Liberation Front.

The disgruntled crowd then surrounded Mr Blair, chanting ‘get out’ and ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’.

‘You are celebrating sin – you are celebrating debauchery, you must repent,’ Mr Blair told rallygoers.

‘Repent Auckland, repent for your sin – you are living in a celebration of your sin.’

‘My friends, I bless you in the name of Jesus but I also have to say the truth.’

After almost 20 minutes Mr Blair continued preaching nearby after and his followers started praying after police told them to move on. 

‘That is not appropriate – we are here to feel free and safe,’ someone in a pink shirt said early on.  

An OurPride attendee used their megaphone to chant 'we're here, we're queer, get used to it' in the face of the evangelical US preacher

An OurPride attendee used their megaphone to chant 'we're here, we're queer, get used to it' in the face of the evangelical US preacher

An OurPride attendee used their megaphone to chant ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’ in the face of the evangelical US preacher

Torch of Christ Ministry’s second video shows Mr Blair ask a 16-year-old girl for an ‘intelligent discussion’ about drinking and sex.

‘What happens if you practice a lifestyle of drunkenness, what happens long-term?’ Blair asked the youngster, before her mother stepped in to her defense.

‘Mate she’s sixteen, so she doesn’t go out drinking and she doesn’t need these conversations,’ her mother replies.

Mr Blair then went on to say the 16-year-old watches worse things than their conversation on TikTok and says his public harassment was ‘an intelligent conversation’ before he called the mum a ‘hypocrite’ and walks away. 

‘This goes against my faith, you are imposing on my faith and this goes against me, you are taking away my rights,’ Blair replied, speaking over the woman.

‘You are using your body in a way that’s unnatural,’ he said.   

‘Jesus is not a hippy, Jesus would not be happy here.’

Infamous Christian evangelical Phillip Blair (pictured: head facing away) is told to leave the area by police after disrupting a Pride March in Auckland on February 8

Infamous Christian evangelical Phillip Blair (pictured: head facing away) is told to leave the area by police after disrupting a Pride March in Auckland on February 8

Infamous Christian evangelical Phillip Blair (pictured: head facing away) is told to leave the area by police after disrupting a Pride March in Auckland on February 8

Mr Blair’s Torch of Christ Ministries website claims that he and his church have ‘committed’ to ‘taking the light of Christ into all dark places.’ 

He has appeared at LGBTQI+ marches and rallies in New Zealand, Australia, and the US.

The group also claims to be ‘changing the world one soul at a time by bringing the light of Jesus Christ into all dark places’. 

In 2019 Mr Blair was told to ‘shut up’ by commuters on a Sydney train to a chorus of cheers from the carriage. 

Mr Blair has been contacted by Daily Mail Australia for comment. 

Blair has also been preaching on packed Sydney trains, to the frustration of commuters

Blair has also been preaching on packed Sydney trains, to the frustration of commuters

Blair has also been preaching on packed Sydney trains, to the frustration of commuters 

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