CIA: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

“If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement. “I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections.”

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn’s lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

“I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had “unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding Russia’s attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych’s political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their years long fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.

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.

Venezuela Prosecutor Rejects Maduro’s Congress Plan as Protesters Set Man on Fire

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Venezuela Prosecutor Rejects Maduro’s Congress Plan as Protesters Set Man on Fire

Venezuela

The state prosecutor has rejected embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to establish a congress as the country spiraled further into chaos when a mob set a man on fire.

Chief State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega stunned the crisis-hit country in March when she lambasted the Supreme Court for annulling the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly.

Since then, she has been a wild card within the publicly homogenous Venezuelan government, whose foes accuse it of seeking to dodge elections by creating a parallel assembly with powers to rewrite the constitution.

Socialist Party official Elias Jaua, in charge of the “constituent assembly” project, confirmed on Monday that Ortega had written him to express her discontent in a letter that was previously leaked on social media.

“It is my imperative to explain the reasons for which I have decided not to participate in this activity,” Ortega’s two-page missive reads.

“Instead of bringing stability or generating a climate of peace, I think this will accelerate the crisis,” she said, mentioning it would heighten uncertainty and alter the “unbeatable” constitution launched under late leader Hugo Chavez.

Jaua acknowledged receipt of Ortega’s letter, but quickly said she was merely expressing a “political opinion,” without any power to change the situation.

“We consider that the only organ the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s constitution empowers to interpret the constitution is the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber,” he said at a news conference, in reference to the pro-government top court.

Venezuelans are scrutinizing Maduro’s government and the armed forces for any cracks as protesters take to the streets daily to demand early elections, humanitarian aid to alleviate food and medicine shortages, and freedom for jailed activists.

While anti-government protests have brought hundreds of thousands to the streets, Venezuelans are increasingly concerned about spates of nighttime looting and barricades popping up in many neighborhoods.

Masked youths man roadblocks, turning back traffic or asking motorists for a monetary “collaboration” to be allowed through.

The worst nighttime unrest has largely been concentrated outside the capital, however, with the jungle and savannah state of Bolivar hard-hit overnight.

Some 51 buses were burned after a group attacked a transport company in the city of Puerto Ordaz, the prosecutor’s office said on Monday. Barricades and clashes with the National Guard were also rippling through the city on Monday, according to a Reuters witness.

One of the most violent scenes was when a crowd set a man on fire.

“I spotted a man running in front of me as a group of protesters, most of them hooded and with makeshift shields, were chasing him,” said Reuters photographer Marco Bello in an area east of Caracas.

“I followed them, and some 100 meters down the street, the protesters caught the man and surrounded him. When I walked up and went through the circle of people to take pictures, someone had already poured gasoline over the man and set him on fire.”

Though Maduro accused the mob of attacking the man, whom he identified as 21-year old Orlando Figuera, because he was pro-government, Bello said they were calling him a thief.

“All I heard throughout was that he was being accused of trying to steal from a woman. I didn’t hear anyone accusing him of being a pro-government infiltrator,” Bello said.

During Venezuela’s economic and political crisis, lynchings have become common, killing about one person every three days according to monitoring group Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

With flames on his back, the man ran through the crowd, hit a motorbike on the ground, and tore off his shirt. Some people chased him and threw rocks, while others tried to calm the aggressors and formed a protective circle as the fire abated.

The man survived, though with severe burns.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in Times Of India online poll

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF INDIA)

Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in TOI online poll

TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Updated: May 23, 2017, 07.04 PM IST

HIGHLIGHTS

  • In timesofindia.com poll, almost 84% of those surveyed believed that if elections were held today, the government would equal or better its 2014 Lok Sabha performance
  • Demonetisation and the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill were seen as the two most important decisions of the Modi government

Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in TOI online poll

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government got a big thumbs-up for its overall performance in the first three years of its tenure, according to an online survey conducted by timesofindia.com and its sister sites.

Over a million readers participated in these polls.

In timesofindia.com’s poll, a total 77% of respondents said they rated the Modi government’s performance as being ‘very good’ and ‘good’. That is, in response to the poll question ‘How would you rate the performance of the Modi government?’, 48% respondents voted ‘very good’ and 28% voted ‘good’.

However, respondents on tamil.samayam.com weren’t as impressed with the BJP government’s performance, with a total of 53% choosing the options ‘Average’ or ‘Poor’.

In timesofindia.com poll, almost 84% of those surveyed believed that if elections were held today, the government would equal or better its 2014 Lok Sabha performance. That is, 61% of those voted believed that if the Lok Sabha elections were held today, the BJP would perform better than it did in 2014. Some 23% of respondents believed the BJP would fare the same as it did in 2014.

To this question too, tamil.samayam.com’s respondents voted differently. Close to 44% respondents here believed the Modi government would fare worse than it did in 2014, if Lok Sabha elections were to be held today.

By and large, except for tamil.samayam.com’s respondents, it appears the reason people feel the BJP would equal or better its performance if elections were held today is the ‘Modi factor’ – the same one considered responsible for the party’s wins in recent polls.

In timesofindia.com’s poll, 76% believed Modi’s popularity has increased in the last three years. However, respondents on tamil.samayam.com felt differently, with 41% of voters saying the PM’s popularity has decreased.

Demonetisation and the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill were seen as the two most important decisions of the Modi government, with the former squeaking by the latter to make it to the top spot in timesofindia.com’s poll.

The November 8 decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes was seen as the Modi government’s most crucial decision by 37% of those who were surveyed in timesofindia.com’s poll. GST was considered the most crucial by 28% of those who answered the question in the same poll.

Demonetisation, in fact, got a huge thumbs up among those surveyed bynavbharattimes.com , maharashtratimes.com, iamgujarat.com and vijaykarnataka.com. On these sites, more than 50% of respondents said the note ban was the most important move by the Modi government.

Interestingly, even though demonetisation – touted by PM Modi as a move to curb black money – was seen as the most important decision of the BJP government, timesofindia.com’s respondents were not as awed at overall efforts by the government to curb black money.

A majority of respondents were satisfied, yes, but not by as large a margin. Of those who answered the question ‘What do you think of the steps taken by the government to curb black money?’ 56% voted ‘Very Effective’ and ‘Effective’, while the rest believed the steps ‘Need Better Implementation’ or are ‘Ineffective’, on timesofindia.com’s poll.

Navbharattimes.com respondents though were underwhelmed by the Modi government’s efforts to curb black money. Close to a total 60% surveyed said these efforts ‘Need Better Implementation’ or are ‘Ineffective’.

By and large, respondents in most of the polls felt that in its three years in power, the Modi government had been least successful in ‘Employment Generation’ and ‘Tackling Cross-Border Terror.’

However, those surveyed on tamil.samayam.com and telegu.samayam.com believed the Modi government’s biggest failure has been ‘Improving Condition of Farmers’.

As for tangible improvements to their individual lives, more than half of those who voted in timesofindia.com’s and most other polls felt that in the last three years their lives had improved.

Top Comment

no need of such survey …. we all know it ..and it will remain even after 2019 ….. as this Govt. for all is credible …..B S Jha

Of those who answered the question ‘How has life changed for you under the Modi government?’, 58% clicked on ‘Significantly Improved’ and ‘Slightly Improved’. The answer ‘Same as Before’ got 29% of the votes, which the remaining believed their lives have ‘Deteriorated.’

On this issue too, respondents on tamil.samayam.com and telegu.samayam.com differed, with most respondents saying their lives are the ‘Same as Before’.

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi Arabia

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

The leaders and heads of delegations of Arab and Islamic countries began arriving in Riyadh on Saturday to attend the Arab-Islamic-US summit that will be held in the Saudi capital the next day during US President Donald Trump’s visit.

Trump and the Arab and Muslim leaders will meet on Sunday to address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships to counter and prevent the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism around the globe through promoting tolerance and moderation.

Among those who arrived were Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President Adama Barrow of Gambia, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso, the head of the Libyan National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, President Alpha Conde of Guinea, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Alassane Ouattara of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmud Al Said, President David Arthur Granger of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin, President Macky Sall of the Republic of Senegal, Suriname’s Foreign Minister Yildiz Pollack, and President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan.

Trump and First Lady Melania arrived in Riyadh earlier Saturday. The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques welcomed the US president at the King Khalid International Airport.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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U.S. Decries Violence During Turkish President’s Washington Visit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. decries violence during Turkish president’s Washington visit

 (My question is, why were these protesters so close to a visiting President in the first place?)
By Yeganeh Torbati | WASHINGTON

The United States on Wednesday said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over violence that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting that flared outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing protesters and punching and kicking them as baton-wielding police tried to intervene. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders tried to assist dazed protesters.

Erdogan was in the U.S. capital on Tuesday to meet with President Donald Trump.[nL2N1II15R] A spokesman for the Turkish embassy could not be reached for immediate comment.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Ian Simpson; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen May 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
By Lisa Lambert | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate could soon approve a major overhaul of the federal bureaucracy and make lasting changes to regulation of the environment, education, banks and other areas.

On Wednesday a Senate committee sent a bill on to the full chamber that, supporters say, will make regulators more accountable to lawmakers and provide greater understanding of how rules affect the economy.

The next step, debating the bill on the Senate floor, has not been scheduled. The House of Representatives approved companion legislation in January.

Critics say the bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, creates so many new requirements that it would paralyze regulators working to establish even the most basic rules and standards. They also say it makes cutting industry and banks’ costs a higher priority than protecting public health and safety.

For decades the political parties have been starkly divided over regulation and Republicans are currently winning their battle to lessen the red tape they say ties up business and hurts the economy. Republicans also say former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, pushed regulators to go beyond their duties of executing laws passed by Congress to create policy on their own.

Democrats say regulation, which touches nearly every part of American life, shields average people from health, financial and other threats and is needed to accomplish the goals set in laws.

The Senate bill would require more cost-benefit and other analyses, give courts and the White House greater checks on rulemaking, classify regulations by potential economic impact, and lengthen rulemaking processes.

One progressive group, Public Citizen, estimates it would add 53 steps to major rulemaking, possibly doubling the average amount of time it takes to finalize a regulation – currently four years.

The bill has pitted the powerful business group, the Chamber of Commerce, against progressive ones such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp broke ranks with her fellow Democrats to write the accountability act, indicating some members of the party may support the bill when the closely-divided Senate votes.

Also, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is working on alternative legislation that her party could find more palatable and could keep some of the bill’s measures.

Since Republicans swept Congress and the White House in November’s elections they have moved swiftly against regulation.

Using the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers killed 14 Obama-era regulations in the span of three months.

Trump’s efforts have yielded mixed results. His order to cut two existing regulations for every new one has stalled during a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency was jammed with thousands of pleas to maintain regulations when it asked for public comment on Trump’s order to look into repealing or rewriting current rules. The comment period closed Monday.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

China Vows to Continue Helping Myanmar Achieve Peace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

China Vows to Continue Helping Myanmar Achieve Peace

Xi

China’s President Xi Jinping voiced to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday his country’s commitment to help its neighbor achieve peace as fighting along their shared border forced thousands to seek refuge in China, state media said.

Fighting in March in Myanmar prompted Beijing to call for a ceasefire between ethnic militias and the security forces there and carry out military drills along the border.

Xi met Nobel laureate Suu Kyi – who serves as Myanmar’s foreign minister while also being de facto head of its civilian government – following China’s Belt and Road Forum on Sunday and Monday.

“China is willing to continue to provide necessary assistance for Myanmar’s internal peace process,” China’s official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying.

“The two sides must jointly work to safeguard China-Myanmar border security and stability,” Xi said.

The news agency did not elaborate on what assistance China would provide.

China has repeatedly expressed concern about fighting along the border that has occasionally spilled into its territory, for instance in 2015, when five people died in China.

Xi also said China would work to enhance cooperation with Myanmar on his Belt and Road development plan, which aims to bolster China’s global leadership by expanding infrastructure between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.

Suu Kyi told Xi that Myanmar was grateful for Chinese help and that it would work with China to safeguard stability in the border region, Xinhua said.

Beijing last month offered to mediate a diplomatic row over the flight of around 69,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh to escape violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, according to officials from Bangladesh.

Myanmar has been sharply criticized in the West over violence against the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency under Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution, but effectively leads the government through the specially created post of “state counsellor”.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that he and Xi resolved to strengthen their countries’ friendship during their meeting in Beijing, with China pledging to speed up infrastructure projects it is funding in the Philippines.

“We renewed our resolve to strengthen our friendship and mutually beneficial partnership on a broad range of areas,” Duterte said in southern Davao City on his return from Beijing. “We resolved to fully use the mechanisms we have established to dialogue openly, monitor progress and ensure implementation of projects.”

Duterte, who took office last June, has worked to repair relations with China that have been strained by territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and an international arbitration ruling on a case filed by his predecessor that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the disputed territory. Duterte met separately with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after attending last weekend’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative.

Duterte said both he and Xi were looking forward to officials from both countries meeting later this week for inaugural bilateral talks on the South China Sea. Philippine officials have said the meeting will be held Friday in southwestern China.

Four agreements were signed during the visit, including a Chinese grant of 500 million yuan ($72.5 million) for feasibility studies of infrastructure projects in the Philippines and construction of a drug rehabilitation center.

Also signed were memorandums of understanding on cooperation in human resources development and personnel exchanges, energy cooperation, and enhancing government capabilities in communication and publishing.

Duterte thanked China for its generosity, including providing grants and loans, promising to build two bridges for free in metropolitan Manila and increasing imports of Philippine agricultural products.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has in the past suggested that prosecuting drug crimes more vigorously will broadly reduce other crime. CreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors late Thursday to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations.

The drastic shift in criminal justice policy, foreshadowed during recent weeks, is Mr. Sessions’s first major stamp on the Justice Department, and it highlights several of his top targets: drug dealing, gun crime and gang violence. The Justice Department released the new directives on Friday.

In an eight-paragraph memo to the nation’s prosecutors, Mr. Sessions returned to the guidance of President George W. Bush’s administration by calling for more uniform punishments — including mandatory minimum sentences — and directing prosecutors to pursue the strictest possible charges. Mr. Sessions’s policy, however, is broader than that of the Bush administration, and will be more reliant on the judgments of United States attorneys and assistant attorneys general.

The policy signaled a return to “enforcing the laws that Congress has passed,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday at the Justice Department, characterizing his memo as unique for the leeway it afforded federal prosecutors around the country.

Continue reading the main story

“They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington,” he said. “It means we are going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It’s simply the right and moral thing to do.”

The guidance allowed for limited exceptions. “There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted,” Mr. Sessions wrote.

His memo replaced the orders of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2013 encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. Mr. Holder directed prosecutors — when considering nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to drug trafficking or other criminal organizations — to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to lead to automatically harsh penalties.

Document: Memo by Sessions to U.S. Attorneys on Charges and Sentencing

Mr. Holder called the new policy “unwise and ill-informed,” saying it ignored consensus between Democrats and Republicans, and data demonstrating that prosecutions of high-level drug defendants had risen under his guidance.

“This absurd reversal is driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate,” he said in a statement.

Supporters of Mr. Holder’s policy have argued that quantities of drugs are a weak indicator of how dangerous a person may be.

“Long sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation,” Mr. Holder wrote in his 2013 memo, noting that in fact they exacerbate an expensive, overburdened prison system. The Obama administration, which led a bipartisan push for more lenient and flexible sentencing laws, presided over the first decline in the federal prison population in a generation.

Mr. Sessions’s memo explicitly mentioned Mr. Holder’s 2013 directive in a footnote and rescinded it effective immediately.

Mr. Sessions’s policy was most similar to one issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003. Then, Mr. Ashcroft outlined six specific types of “limited exceptions” in his memo — which ran nearly four times the length of Mr. Sessions’s new guidance, and repeatedly referenced particular federal statutes. Mr. Sessions, by contrast, outlined no specific scenarios and provided little detail.

Instead, he simply directed prosecutors to “carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.” He said any exceptions to ease criminal penalties must be documented and approved by United States attorneys, assistant attorneys general or their designees.

“There’s a long history of these memos saying both that prosecutors should charge the most serious, readily provable offense, but also that prosecutors should exercise some discretion,” said David Alan Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in criminal justice. “There’s tension between those two things.”

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

May 10 at 6:30 PM

Roughly a third of white working-class Americans said that they have cut back on food or meals in the past year to save money. A similar share it would be difficult — if not impossible — for them to cover an emergency expense of $400. And among those who live in the same town where they grew up, only 17 percent say the quality of life there has improved.

Those are a few of the results of a detailed new survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic magazine. The report reveals the economic and material hardships afflicting the white working class, one of the report’s authors says, lending insight into why so many people in this group were willing to gamble on Donald Trump, a candidate with no governing experience.

As many of these voters felt they had little to lose, they were undeterred by the President’s failure to spell out — with any degree of detail — how he would deliver on promises that experts repeatedly cautioned were unrealistic, said PRRI’s Dan Cox, one of the authors of the report.

“Many folks — they can’t wait for a white paper, or a 12-point plan. They need help immediately,” Cox said. There was, he said, “a recognition that there was some danger with it too, but that it was, sort of, worth the risk.”

Indeed, when it comes to policy details, the white working class supports many economic proposals associated with Democrats, not Republicans. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.)

Global trade was one specific issue on which Trump may have appealed to many of his voters by deviating from GOP orthodoxy, and by distancing himself from Hillary Clinton, who during the campaign turned against a prominent free trade agreement that she had previously supported. Among the white working class, 60 percent said that free trade agreements were mostly harmful.

Following Trump’s surprise victory, many observers continue to debate whether economic distress or anxiety about race, immigration and cultural change motivated his supporters. The survey suggests that all of these were important to Trump’s success, but also that a sense of cultural displacement has been an especially powerful of the president’s appeal among the white working class, Cox said.

Those who agreed that they sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country, or that U.S. culture had to be protected from foreign influences, were much more likely to support Trump, the survey found. “The cultural touchstones were really salient in the election,” Cox said.

At the same time, he added, it is difficult to distinguish among the many motivations of Trump’s supporters, Cox said.

“You can’t completely divorce it from the economic experience of these folks — the fears of economic insecurity,” he said. “That’s certainly in the mix.”

On the whole, about as many white-working class people say they are worse off financially today than they were as children as say they are better off, according to the survey.

The analysis defines as those without a four-year college degree and who are paid by the hour or by the job, a definition that excludes many white-collar employees in salaried positions regardless of their education. Retirees were included based on the work they did before they retired, and students were excluded unless they explicitly described themselves as working or lower class in the survey.

The stress of making ends meet from day to day contributes to elevated rates of depression and addiction in white working-class families, Cox said: “It’s really tragic and heartbreaking that that kind of insecurity and stability causes all sorts of problems downstream.”

Among the white working class, 38 percent said that they or someone in their household had suffered from depression, compared to 26 percent of white college graduates. Eight percent of white working-class respondents said the same about drug addiction, while the figure for white college graduates was just 3 percent. Alcoholism also appears to be somewhat more prevalent in white working-class households than among white college graduates (12 percent vs. 9 percent).

The white working class seems to be giving up on the kinds of institutions that have traditionally provided a measure of stability and economic opportunity to American life, particularly colleges and universities. Among white Americans with college degrees, 63 percent said getting a degree was “a smart investment in the future,” but among the white working class, that figure was just 44 percent. In this group, a majority (54 percent) described it as a risky decision “that may not pay off in the end.”

This group’s skepticism about higher education parallels their detachment from other prominent institutions, including churches. Aside from weddings and funerals, just 58 percent of the white working class goes to church even once a year, the survey shows. Among white college graduates, that figure is 66 percent.

The white working class is less involved in their communities outside of religion as well. Thirty-six percent said they never participated in secular organizations such as book clubs, sports teams, neighborhood associations or parent-teacher associations. Just 16 percent of white college graduates said they never took part in these groups.

“It’s, sort of, been part of the American Dream, that you work hard, you get an education, you can get ahead,” Cox said. “The fact that white working-class Americans are less likely to believe that I think really shows the dire situation that they believe themselves to be in.”

Fewer than half of the white working class believes that people who work hard can still get ahead, the survey found, while 61 percent say America’s best days are in the past.

That pessimism contrasts with white college graduates — just 43 percent of whom say the country’s best days are behind it — and with people of color. Although black and Hispanic Americans are often worse off economically than those in the white working class, they have found reasons to be optimistic about the future, Cox explained. For instance, 56 percent of black respondents in the survey and 68 percent of Hispanic participants viewed a college degree as a way to get ahead.

If their bet on Trump doesn’t pay off, Cox warned, the president might find the white working class abandoning him. Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all.” Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.

“It’s unclear how loyal this group will be to him,” Cox said.

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truthtroubles.wordpress.com/ Just an average man who tries to do his best at being the kind of person the Bible tells us we are all suppose to be. Not perfect, never have been, don't expect anyone else to be perfect either. Always try to be very easy going type of a person if allowed to be.

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