Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

Clinton: I was on way to winning until Comey, Wikileaks

(CNN) Hillary Clinton’s ongoing struggle to deal with the revelation that she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state dominated the conversation about her presidential candidacy, and research suggests it might have doomed her campaign, according to a new study by a consortium of pollsters released over the weekend.
In the paper, presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference in New Orleans, pollsters and political scientists from Gallup, Georgetown University and the University of Michigan studied the daily Gallup tracking poll from July 10 to November 7, 2016. In particular, they zeroed in on one question: “Have you read, seen or heard anything about (Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump) in the last day or two?” They then zeroed in on the “yes” responses and categorized what, exactly, people said they had read, seen or heard.
Here’s what people had read, seen or heard about Clinton looks like in a word cloud (the bigger the word, the more often it was mentioned):

As you can see, “email” drowns out every other term mentioned about Clinton. It was, without question, the dominant narrative of the election for her — at least in the five months that this paper documents. And, according to the study, the mentions of email correlate directly to negative views of Clinton.
Now, check out Trump’s word cloud:

There’s nothing to match the Clinton “email” mentions. And although some of the most commonly mentioned words are negative storylines for Trump — “women,” most notably — there’s a lot of more neutral mentions: “debate,” “people” and “president.” This speaks to the theory that by throwing so many balls up in the air every day — via his stump speeches, Twitter, etc. — Trump made it impossible for anyone to follow all of them. Everything seemed like a molehill. Even the mountains.

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss
What’s more, the word “email” came up more and more in the final weeks of the election — particularly in the wake of then-FBI Director James Comey’s announcement in late October that he was re-starting an investigation into Clinton’s server.
Here’s the word clouds broken into a week-by-week timeline of the last month of the campaign. Again, the larger the word appears, the more it was mentioned as something people had seen, read or heard about Clinton or Trump.

Not only did “email” dominate the conversation around Clinton, it dominated the entire conversation in the race. From October 23 on, Trump is barely talked about — an amazing feat for someone so willing to make news.
This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election.
I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.
After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.
Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

Story highlights

  • House investigators are interest in diving into Russian meddling in the US election
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony isn’t the only high profile hearing Tuesday

Washington (CNN) Former CIA Director John Brennan told House Russia investigators Tuesday that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the US elections, including actively contacting members of President Donald Trump’s campaign — but he stopped shy of dubbing it “collusion.”

“I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion,” Brennan told Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying that he supported the FBI digging further. “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan was speaking to the House intelligence committee on the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign, where he was asked about how Moscow recruits sources “wittingly and unwittingly.”
“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.
Brennan said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling last summer and, in an August 4, 2016, phone call with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, warned him against further interference. Bortnikov, Brennan said, denied any active efforts in the election.
Brennan cautioned lawmakers that although he could not definitively say if those contacts amounted to “collusion,” he knew that Russians were actively cutivating US contacts and, very likely, did not present themselves as Russian spies.
Brennan also said Trump might have broken protocol if he revealed highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting earlier this month.
The panel will get two cracks at Brennan — the first in public at 10 a.m. ET and the second behind closed doors — almost two months after his first appearance was dramatically canceled amid the chaos sparked by House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ clandestine White House trip.
House investigators are particularly interested in finding out more about how Russia conducted its election attacks inside the US and who Russian spies attempted to recruit to their side, said a House intelligence committee source. Intelligence sources have previously told CNN that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivating as a source for a Russian spy — whether he knew it or not. Page has flatly and continually denied that charge.
But Brennan’s isn’t the only high-profile hearing Tuesday. The latest news most likely to hold the Capitol captive is word that Trump asked his own intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — to rebut Comey’s then-public statement that the FBI had opened a criminal probe into Russia’s meddling in July of last year.
Coats is testifying in the Senate and Rogers is expected to testify in the House on budget issues, but the blockbuster news of Trump’s attempt to curtail a federal probe, first reported by The Washington Post, has already come up.
Meanwhile, Brennan is also likely to face questions about a split among intelligence leaders last summer over the purpose of Russia’s meddling in the US election — whether it was designed to support Trump or merely spur chaos and confusion in the election. Brennan told senior lawmakers as early as last summer that the Russian operation was squarely designed to support Trump.
Brennan’s appearance comes as the Russia probes have escalated greatly since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and subsequently the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia.
On Monday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee left open the threat of holding former national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt if he continues to withhold documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

CHEERING AND DANCING

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.

BREAKING TABOOS

Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
He added, “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Trump’s dismissal of Comey was met with bipartisan derision. The move, which came after Trump asked Comey for his loyalty and, according to memos written by the former FBI director, requested he kill an investigation into Trump’s top national security adviser, was seen as a clear violation of protocol and had some Democrats calling for impeachment.
The President maintains he was surprised by the response to Comey’s firing.
“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said Thursday at a news conference. “When I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
The news broke shortly after Trump took off for his critically important five-country, eight-day foreign trip, the first of his presidency.
Even before Friday’s report, news about Comey and the newly named special counsel for the Russia investigation has threatened to overshadow Trump’s trip.
Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was controversial before news of talk about Comey ever came out. No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the gathering. The meeting was also personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

Former Obama White House staffer shoots a hole straight through Clinton’s election defeat excuses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THEBLAZE’)

Former Obama White House staffer shoots a hole straight through Clinton’s election defeat excuses

Former Obama White House staffer shoots a hole straight through Clinton’s election defeat excuses

Former Obama White House communications director Jen Psaki says “we don’t really know” if Hillary Clinton would have won the election if it were held on Oct. 27. (Image source: YouTube)

Hillary Clinton said last week that she would have been elected president if the election were held on Oct. 27, not Nov. 8. But one former Obama White House and Clinton State Department staffer disagrees with that assessment.

Clinton, in one of her first public appearances since losing the election, blamed her defeat on “intervening events” — from sexism, to FBI Director James Comey’s now-infamous letter to Congress about the effective re-opening of the Clinton email investigation, to Russian meddling and to WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

But the one event that Clinton seemed to believe turned the tide against her was Comey’s letter on Oct. 28, saying that if the election were held on Oct. 27, “I would be your president.”

Jen Psaki, former White House communications director under President Barack Obama and former State Department spokeswoman under secretary Clinton, said she disagrees with her former boss. Psaki, who is now a CNN political analyst, said Sunday on “State of the Union” that “we don’t really know” if Clinton would have won had the election been held just one week earlier.

“Was sexism a factor? Yes. Was Comey a factor? Was Russia a factor? Absolutely,” Psaki told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “But I’ve watched a lot of focus groups and looked at a lot of polling over the years and the perception of her [Clinton] was baked into the cake for about ten years.”

Psaki then cited data from the liberal activist group Priorities USA, which showed “something very alarming for Democrats.”

According to Psaki, voters in Wisconsin and Michigan who voted for both Obama and Donald Trump perceive Democrats as the party that’s “fighting for rich people…fighting for the [top] one percent.”

“If we don’t change what we’re doing, if we don’t listen more, we’re going to keep losing and I think that was also a factor in the race,” Psaki said.

Macron to become next French president after beating back Le Pen and her populist tide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Macron to become next French president after beating back Le Pen and her populist tide

What Emmanuel Macron’s victory means for France and the world
 
Centrist Emmanuel Macron is on track to win the French presidency defeating Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, a strongly anti-immigrant populist party. Macron, 39, will now become France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte.(Adam Taylor, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
May 7 at 2:30 PM
France on Sunday shrugged off the siren call of right-wing populism that enchanted voters in the United States and United Kingdom, rejecting anti-E.U. firebrand Marine Le Pen and choosing as its next president Emmanuel Macron, a centrist political neophyte who has pledged to revive both his struggling country and the flailing continent.The result brought to a close a tumultuous and polarized campaign that defied prediction at nearly every turn, though not at the end. Pre-election polls had forecast a sizable Macron victory, and he appeared to have delivered, with projections issued after polls closed showing him with around 65 percent of the vote.

In a statement to the AFP news service, Macron said the country had “turned a new page in our long history. I want it to be a page of hope and renewed trust.”

He was expected to deliver a victory speech later Sunday night in the grand courtyard of Paris’s Louvre Museum, where news of his win spawned raucous cheers among thousands of flag-waving Macron backers.

“I feel relieved,” said Valentin Coutouly, a 23-year-old student who described himself as “European to the core” and who was celebrating on a chilly May night. “I think we were all afraid that Le Pen could actually win. We realized in the end that it was possible.”

France’s Macron votes in crucial presidential poll

 

 
After a tumultuous presidential election campaign filled with scandal and surprises, favorite Emmanuel Macron cast his vote on Sunday, May 7. (Reuters)

At her own gathering at a Paris restaurant, a downcast Le Pen conceded defeat, telling her demoralized supporters that the country had “chosen continuity” and said the election had drawn clear lines between “the patriots and the globalists.”

The outcome will soothe Europe’s anxious political establishment, which had feared a Le Pen victory would throw in reverse decades of efforts to forge continental integration.

But it instantly puts pressure on Macron to deliver on promises made to an unhappy French electorate, including reform of two institutions notoriously resistant to change: the European Union and the French bureaucracy.

At 39, the trim, blue-eyed and square-jawed Macron will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon when he is inaugurated this weekend, and his election caps an astonishing  rise.

With a background in investment banking and a turn as economy minister under a historically unpopular president, he may have seemed an ill fit for the anti-establishment anger coursing through Western politics.

But by bucking France’s traditional parties and launching his own movement – En Marche, or Onward — Macron managed to cast himself as the outsider the country needs. And by unapologetically embracing the European Union, immigration and the multicultural tableau of modern France, he positioned himself as the optimistic and progressive antidote to the dark and reactionary vision of Le Pen’s National Front.

Le Pen, 48, has long sought to become the first far-right leader elected in Western Europe’s post-war history. Sunday’s vote frustrated those ambitions, but is unlikely to end them.

By winning around 35 percent of the vote, she nearly doubled the share won by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 election, the only other time the National Front’s candidate has made it to the second round. The result seemed to cement the party’s long march from the political fringe to the center of the nation’s unhappy political discourse, if not the pinnacle of its power.

Struggling with chronically high unemployment and recurrent terrorist attacks, France’s mood on the day of its presidential vote was reflected in the dark clouds and chilly spring rains that blanketed much of the country.

Nonetheless, the public voted at a rate that would be the envy of many Western democracies: From the chic neighborhoods of Paris to the struggling post-industrial towns of the French countryside, turnout nationwide was expected to reach 75 percent, down slightly from previous votes.

No matter whom French voters picked, the choice was bound to be historic.

The dominant two parties of France’s Fifth Republic were both eliminated in the first round. The center-left Socialists were decimated, brought low by the failure of current President Francois Hollandeto turn around the economy or to prevent a succession of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.

The center-right Republicans, meanwhile, missed what was once seen as a sure-fire bet at returning to power after their candidate, former prime minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by a series of corruption allegations.

The two candidates who remained, Le Pen and Macron, both traced an outsider’s path as they sought residence at the Élysée Palace.

Of the two, Macron had the more direct route. But his campaign still had to overcome all the usual challenges of a start-up, plus some extraordinary ones — including the publication online Friday night of thousands of hacked campaign documents in a cyber-attack that aroused suspicions of Russian meddling.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote will have profound implications not only for France’s 67 million citizens, but also for the future of Europe and for the political trajectory across the Western world.

After a pair of  dramatic triumphs for the populist right in 2016 – with Brexit in the U.K., and Donald Trump in the U.S. – France’s vote was viewed as a test of whether the political mainstream could beat back a rising tide.

Many of Europe’s mainstream leaders — both center-right and center-left – lined up to cheer Macron on after he punched his ticket to the second round in a vote last month. The endorsements were a break from protocol for presidents and prime ministers who normally stay out of each other’s domestic elections.

But they reflected the gravity of the choice that France faced. A victory by Le Pen was seen as a possible market-rattling death blow to decades of efforts to draw Europe more closely together, with the country’s new president expected to lead campaigns to take the country out of both the E.U. and the euro.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama had also endorsed Macron, and the young French politician often appeared to be trying to emulate the magic of Obama’s 2008 campaign with speeches that appealed to hope, change and unity — while eliding many of the details of his policies.

The current White House occupant, Trump, was  cagey about his choice, saying before the first round that Le Pen was “the strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” He predicted that she would do well, but stopped short of endorsing her.

On the campaign trail this spring, Le Pen’s rhetoric had often echoed Trump’s, with vows to put “France first” and to defend “the forgotten France.” She also condemned globalist cosmopolitans – Macron chief among them — who she said did not have the nation’s interests at heart.

But she had distanced herself from Trump since his inauguration, often declining to mention him by name, and analysts said her association with the unpopular American president may have hurt her among French voters.

Macron shares almost nothing with Trump except one key fact: Like the New York real estate tycoon, Macron became president of his country on his first run for elective office.

The son of doctors who was raised in the northern city of Amiens, Macron had to teach himself the basics of campaigning on the fly in the white-hot glare of a presidential race.

Vowing repeatedly during the campaign to borrow from both left and right, he will now have to learn how to govern a country without the backing of any of its traditional parties.

Instead, he has a movement that he built from scratch, and now faces the immediate challenge of getting En Marche allies elected to the National Assembly.

That vote, due next month, will determine whether Macron has the parliamentary support he needs to enact an agenda of sweeping economic reforms, many of which are likely to unsettle the country’s deeply entrenched labor unions.

Despite his victory, pre-election polls showed that most of Macron’s supporters saw themselves voting against Le Pen rather than for him.

That was reflected on the streets Sunday, with voters even in well-to-do and heavily pro-Macron neighborhoods of Paris saying they felt more resigned than excited.

“On the one hand you have a far-right party that will take us straight to disaster,” said Gilbert Cohen, a retired 82-year-old engineer who cast his ballot amid the vaulted ceilings of Paris’s 17th century Place des Vosges, a former royal residence that was also home to Victor Hugo. “On the other, you have the candidate who’s the only reasonable choice we have.”

Cohen described Macron as “brilliant.” But, he said, the new boy wonder of French politics “can’t govern by himself.”

Elsewhere in France, the mood was even more markedly downbeat. In Laon, a small and struggling city 90 miles north of Paris, many voters said they were so disillusioned by the choice that they would cast a blank ballot.

Others said their disenchantment had led them to Le Pen – and a hope that, despite the polls, she could still eke out a victory that would bring the radical break for France that they crave.

“We’ve had 50 years of rule from the left and the right,” said Francis Morel, a 54-year-old bread maker who cast his ballot for Le Pen. “Nothing has changed.”

The mood was considerably more upbeat Sunday night at the Louvre, where Macron supporters gathered in what was once the seat of French kings for their candidate’s victory celebration.

Stéphanie Ninel, 31, a technician, said she had been at the Louvre since just after lunchtime, braving the chilly weather to snag a prime position in the crowd.

“I’ve been old enough to vote in three elections now,” she said. “But this is the first time I feel I’ve been able to vote for someone with actual conviction. He’s a new person, and he demands a new politics.”

Stanley-Becker reported from Laon and McAuley from Paris. Benjamin Zagzag in Laon and Virgile Demoustier in Paris contributed to this report.

India’s Delhi Elections Shows The People Have Chosen The BJP: Pro PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S NDTV)

NEW DELHI: 

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. “BJP headed for a big victory”, predicted Yogendra Yadav
  2. Result reflects people’s anger with Delhi government: Yogendra Yadav
  3. His party Swaraj India also contested MCD polls

Delhi has made its preference for the BJP abundantly clear, Yogendra Yadav, the founder of Swaraj India, said today, predicting, before 9 am, “the BJP is headed for a big victory” in local elections. The result, said Mr Yadav, reflects the people’s anger with the government that is headed by Arvind Kejriwal – the men were part of the same Aam Aadmi Party till two years ago when Mr Yadav and another senior AAP leader Prashant Bhushan were evicted after taking on Mr Kejriwal.

The ballooning of the BJP in this election for three local corporations, Mr Yadav said, owes everything to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  “People have ended up rejecting the CM (Chief Minister) and electing the PM,” he commented on NDTV.

Mr Yadav said his own Swaraj India does not expect much today. “This is a starting point, this is not our election to gain big seats, it was a foundational election,” he claimed.

Even before the counting of results began, Mr Kejriwal repeated electronic voting machines or EVMs for being rigged, a claim he first made when his party failed to win Punjab in February’s election, defying a massive campaign fronted by him and the forecast of exit polls.

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Americas

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

An opposition activist clashes with riot police during a protest march in Caracas on April 26. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

By Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff April 26 at 7:57 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela — Faced with growing criticism from its neighbors over a slide toward authoritarian rule, Venezuela announced Wednesday it will quit the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s oldest regional alliance.

The move comes after OAS member states voted Wednesday to convene an emergency meeting of their top diplomats to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis and deadly political violence that has convulsed Venezuela all month. At least three people were killed in fresh protests Wednesday, including a 20-year-old student struck by a tear gas canister in Caracas.

Speaking on national television Wednesday evening, foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolás Maduro would give formal notice on Thursday of Venezuela’s plans to renounce its OAS membership. During the 24-month period it will take for the country to formally leave, Rodriguez said her government will no longer participate in OAS activities or meetings with other nations she said are trying to “undermine the stability and peace of our country” with the goal of promoting an “invasion.”

OAS general secretary Luis Almagro in recent months has become a fierce critic of Maduro’s, calling him a “dictator” guilty of widespread human rights violations. His concerns are backed by the Washington-based OAS’s largest member states: the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Colombia and several others.

If Venezuela quits OAS, which was founded in 1948, it would join its leftist ally Cuba, whose communist government was expelled in 1962, as the only non-OAS nation in the hemisphere. But Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature may attempt to block it, and if Maduro is unseated in elections due to take place late next year, his successor could halt the process.

Opposition supporters attend a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas as police respond with tear gas. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Chris Sabatini, a Latin America expert at Columbia University, said Venezuela’s withdrawal risks a major split in OAS if Nicaragua, Bolivia and other Maduro allies follow him in protest.

“At that point, the body that had once represented the hemisphere would be fractured,” Sabatini said, adding that none of the region’s other international organizations has the same institutional heft as the OAS, including the CELAC bloc of states that excludes the United States and Canada.

Venezuela has asked for an emergency CELAC meeting, that, if boycotted by many other Latin America nations, could leave that international body crippled as well, Sabatini noted, saying Venezuela’s decision is a “rejection of long-standing international rules and commitments” that leaves it increasingly isolated.

On Wednesday, thousands of anti-Maduro protesters again seized control of the main highway through Venezuela’s capital, but their march toward government buildings downtown was pushed back by police water cannons and stinging clouds of tear gas.

Although the standoff has played out the same way several times this month, opponents of Maduro insist they will continue to pressure his government through near-daily protests, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

One 20-year-old protester died after being struck with a gas canister in the city’s upscale Altamira district, authorities said.

As the government lashed out at foreign critics Wednesday, the blocked march underscored the degree to which the country’s political crisis has become a battle of attrition ­between Maduro and his ­re-energized opponents.

Venezuela’s opposition clashes with police

The country’s political crisis intensified after its supreme court curbed the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature, then reversed the rulings days later.

Caracas was crippled for another day as the government shut down subway and bus systems and choked off highway access to the capital in what appeared to be an attempt to limit the size of the protests.

Thousands marched against the government anyway, some ready with gas masks. By calling their supporters into the streets repeatedly, opposition leaders say they want to wear down security forces and push the government to meet their demands: new elections, the release of political prisoners, acceptance of international aid and a return to democratic rule.

Their ability to summon huge crowds also sends a message to Venezuela’s armed forces, said political analyst Margarita López Maya, because Maduro grows increasingly dependent on their loyalty as he weakens. Opposition leaders are appealing directly to Venezuelan soldiers, asking them to defy Maduro’s orders and force the government to give ground.

“By putting thousands and thousands of people in the streets almost every day, they’re trying to keep the cost of supporting Maduro very high for the armed forces,” said López Maya. “And the government is in a slide that looks irreversible.”

[Government opponents appeal to Venezuela’s military as chaos grows]

The unrest has left at least 29 dead this month, according to Venezuelan officials, including protesters, police, government supporters, alleged looters and several others who appeared to be bystanders.

The antigovernment surge was triggered by a perfunctory attempt by pro-Maduro judges last month to incapacitate Venezuela’s legislative branch, which the opposition has controlled since it won a landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

The court mostly reversed the decision, but anger swelled again a few days later when the government barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office.

Venezuela’s downward spiral has left food and medicine in short supply but anger at the government in abundance. Maduro charges that his enemies are trying to sabotage the oil-rich country’s economic recovery and are paving the way for a foreign invasion.

“They want to fill our country with hate, to push our country into violence,” Maduro said Wednesday. He said he plans to announce “a historic measure” in the coming days but did not elaborate.

Sierra Leone: VP Sam Sumana Has His Diplomatic Passport Withdrawn

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘GLOBAL TIMES’ FROM CHINA)

MANJOROKA

The Return Of VP Sam Sumana & The Withdrawal Of His Diplomatic Passport

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By Sorie Fofana………………………..

During his Presidential campaign in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma made series of overseas trips to Europe and the United States of America.

As Leader of the Opposition and APC Member of Parliament, he was entitled to a Service Passport.

During one of his foreign tours, he arrived in London on his way to Freetown. On the day he was due to fly out of London, Mr. Koroma realized that, he needed some consular assistance at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London.

V.P. Sam Sumana

V.P. Sam Sumana

The Consular Section at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London normally closes to the public between 1pm and 3pm. Unfortunately it was during that break period that, Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma and some of his supporters in the UK arrived at the Chancery Building at 41 Eagle Street, Holborn, London in 2006.

Normally, no one is allowed in the building (especially in the Consular Section) during that time (1pm and 3pm).

One of his supporters, Alim Bangura (he is now one of his body guards) had accompanied him to the Chancery Building on that day.

Alim was (is) a very good friend of mine. He telephoned me to complain that, they needed access to the Consular Section but they had been denied such access. I came down from my office to meet with them. It was quite a relief when Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma saw me. I never knew that, he was the one that needed consular assistance.

Alim told me that, Mr. Koroma wanted some consular assistance but they had not been allowed into the building because of the break period.

I allowed them in the building and took them to the Consular Section and explained to the Assistant Consular Officer that, Mr. Koroma needed urgent consular assistance as he was due to fly out of the United Kingdom that day. And I introduced him as a Member of Parliament and the Leader of the Opposition in Sierra Leone.

The Assistant Consular Officer said that, he needed to be instructed before he could offer any sort of assistance to Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

I told him that, as a diplomatic staff, I could guaranty that Mr. Koroma was what he said he was.

After I insisted that, he must obey my instruction, the Assistant Consular Officer agreed to render the much-needed assistance to Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

I accompanied them out of the building and advised them to use the tube instead of driving in the crawling London vehicular traffic to Gatwick International Airport.

One year later, Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma visited the High Commission in London as the elected President of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

The Assistant Consular Officer did not go to work on the day President Koroma officially visited the Chancery Building at 41 Eagle Street with a retinue of his newly appointed Cabinet Ministers including Alhaji Alpha Kanu (Presidential Affairs Minister), Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay (Minister of Transport and Aviation) and Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura (Minister of Foreign Affairs).

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sam Sumana’s Return

After almost one year in self-imposed exile in Ghana, the elected former Vice President of Sierra Leone, Alhaji Chief Samuel Sam Sumana returned home on Thursday April 13, 2017. He received a tumultuous welcome from his supporters, both at Lungi and in Freetown.

VP Sam Sumana was driven in a huge motorcade to his private residence at Hill Station.

Diplomatic Passport

As Vice President, Chief Sam Sumana was a diplomatic passport holder. His spouce is also entitled to a diplomatic passport.

It is understood that, on arrival at Lungi International Airport on Thursday 13th April, 2017 VP Sam Sumana’s diplomatic passport was withdrawn from him by a senior Immigration official apparently acting on orders from State House.

Is This The Way To Treat A Former Vice President?

Why did the government decide to withdraw VP Sam Sumana’s diplomatic passport at the Lungi International Airport? Why didn’t the government authorize the Immigration Department to write to VP Sam Sumana, officially withdrawing from him the privilege of carrying a diplomatic passport?

Why didn’t the government wait until the passport expires and decide not to renew it again? This is not the way to do politics. Absolutely not!

How would President Koroma feel if he leaves office and all his privileges and entitlements are withdrawn from him?

How many sacked Ministers and diplomats have retired their diplomatic passports to the Immigration Department after they left office?

Sam Sumana: The Presidential Candidate

A new political party or movement calling itself C4C (Coalition for Change) has chosen VP Sam Sumana as their Presidential candidate for the March 7, 2018 elections. No matter what anybody says, VP Sam Sumana has suddenly become a key stakeholder in the politics of Sierra Leone. Afterall, he is no longer an ordinary Sierra Leonean. He has served as Vice President of Sierra Leone for almost seven years. Such a man cannot be easily dismissed. He is a Politician with a strong political base.

Those people in the APC who are victimizing and even harassing their opponents in other political parties must not forget that, they will not be in power forever.

The outcome of the 2018 elections can go either way. So, people like Albert Logus Koroma and Karamoh Kabba must be very careful the way that they conduct themselves during this election campaign period.

Those victimizing and molesting Ambassador Alimamy Petito Koroma, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu and others in the APC should think twice and remember that, nothing last forever.

May common sense prevail!

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