France Throws the Bums Out and Votes for a New Political Reality

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

France Throws the Bums Out and Votes for a New Political Reality

Apr 23, 2017
No matter whether centrist economist Emmanuel Macron or far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen wins France’s presidency in two weeks’ time, Sunday’s first-round election made history in France — ripping up the political system that has governed for generations over the world’s sixth biggest economy and a powerhouse of the European Union.

Both the ruling Socialists and the conservative Republicans suffered crushing defeats, as millions of French voters expressed years of exasperation, fear and disillusion by voting for insurgent or extremist candidates. The runoff round between Macron and Le Pen — Sunday’s two top vote getters — is on May 7.

As the polls closed at 8 p.m., the results appeared to be a collective cri de coeur against the establishment. “This is huge,” says Pierre Haski, political columnist for the news magazine L’Obs, speaking to TIME after the vote. “The two parties that have dominated the political landscape for three or four decades have collapsed.”

The next President of France now seems highly likely to be Macron, who captured the most votes among 11 candidates on Sunday. That itself is a stunning new reality. Macron, just 39, would be France’s youngest-ever president by far if he is inaugurated in the ornate Élysée Palace on May 15.

What is more, he has never held elective office and has no traditional political party to call his own; he quit President François Hollande’s government as Economy Minister last September to create his own political movement, called En Marche! (On the Go!), and drafted thousands of young French to knock on doors across the country, polling 100,000 people about how they wanted their country to change.

It was a gamble that seems to have paid off — and now, it could catapult this newcomer into power. It is hard to overstate the extraordinary and surprising nature of that accomplishment.

Emmanuel Macron speaks after winning the lead percentage of votes in the first round of the French presidential elections in Paris on April 23, 2017. He faces off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7. Emmanuel Macron speaks after winning the lead percentage of votes in the first round of the French presidential elections in Paris on April 23, 2017. He faces off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7 Mustafa Yalcin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“In one year we have changed the face of French politics,” Macron told his ecstatic supporters at his victory party in Paris late Sunday night, saying that his win brought “new hope for our country, and for Europe.” Amid the crowd of giddy supporters were many young French voting for the first time, who said in interviews they had been drawn to a candidate that appeared young and modern — a striking change from the fairly small group of grandees who have run the country for many years.

The preliminary results Sunday night put Macron at 23.9%, Le Pen at 21.7% and the Republicans’ candidate François Fillon around 19%. The Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon polled a disastrous 6% — a potential death knell for the party that has ruled France for five years. Fillon and Hamon, in somber concession speeches, admitted they were facing an entirely new political situation as outsiders. Both called on supporters to back Macron in the second round vote on May 7.

Standing in a hall in southern Paris, hundreds of Macron’s young campaign volunteers broke into wild applause and cheers of “Macron Président!” as Fillon, projected on a large-screen monitor on stage, said, “I will be voting for Emmanuel Macron.”

Indeed, Macron’s lead over Le Pen on Sunday could potentially increase once all the votes are counted. That is because the early estimates do not include big cities like Paris, which are bastions of support for the former Rothschild investment banker, who is intent on modernizing the country and unraveling generations of state-heavy intervention.

When TIME profiled Macron last July, while he was still serving in Hollande’s Cabinet, he said he believed the current system was “sclerotic” and could not survive. “I am a newcomer,” he told us then. “I want to remain a newcomer. It is in my DNA.”

Read more: Emmanuel Macron Has Big Plans for France. Is It Ready for Them?

Now, however, he will need to become the ultimate insider: Piecing together a coalition to smash Le Pen’s National Front in the runoff round, and then to force through an agenda that could well spark violent protests. That includes loosening the way companies hire and fire employees, cutting back on steep wealth taxes for the richest French and luring hundreds of thousands of French expats back home; those include countless high-skilled professionals in Silicon Valley and London’s financial hub, who left France in recent years, frustrated by the lack of growth.

Macron’s ability to push through his programs will depend heavily on the parliamentary elections in June. His political movement, which currently has no representation, has scrambled in recent weeks to find candidates for the June vote. “En Marche! has received 15,000 people who want to be deputies,” Macron campaign spokeswoman Laurence Haim told TIME earlier this week. “We have commissions that are looking at each candidate, and we want parity and diversity, to completely transform the face of political life in France.”

That is just one challenge, however: Le Pen.

The 48-year-old won the biggest-ever support for the National Front in Sunday’s election. She has spent six years remaking the party from her father’s far more rabidly racist and anti-Semitic movement into an electable force. In some ways, she succeeded in that on Sunday.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, exits a polling booth after marking her ballot during the first round of the French presidential election in Henin Beaumont on April 23, 2017.Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, exits a polling booth after marking her ballot during the first round of the French presidential election in Hénin-Beaumont, France, on April 23, 2017 Marlene Awaad—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tapping into deep unease over the migrant crisis and the terrorist threat, Le Pen stormed through the country arguing that France needed to close its borders and virtually halt all immigration, promising to hold a referendum to pull France out of the E.U. and drop the use of the Euro. Speaking to her supporters on Sunday night after the vote, Le Pen vowed she would take her support all the way to the Élysée.”Globalization puts our country in danger,” she thundered, to a packed hall in the northern France town of Hénin-Beaumont.

That message clearly hit home with millions of voters on Sunday. When TIME traveled the hard-hit Rust Belt of Northern France in February, many Le Pen supporters said they believed global free trade, which Macron supports, had failed French workers. “We don’t think that finding workers that are cheaper and cheaper, with worse working conditions, is a good thing for the people of the world,” National Front activist Éric Richermoz, 24, told TIME then. “The National Front is the only party that gives people hope in these elections,” he said in the northern town of Amiens.

Now, Macron will need to reckon with that fury—even if he succeeds in winning the presidency. And there is fury too on the other side of the political spectrum: 19.2% voted for the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fought to nationalize major industries and to reconsider France’s E.U. membership.

“He has to take into account the anger of people who voted for Le Pen and Mélenchon,” Haski says. In addition, he says, Le Pen has attempted to cast herself as France’s Trump — the candidate of change — vs. a Hillary Clinton–type opponent — the embodiment of an old establishment. She has said frequently, including to TIME in recent months, that she regarded Trump’s victory as a sign that she too could prevail against all odds.

“She portrays this election as a replay of the U.S. election, Trump vs. Clinton,” Haski says. “That is a trap that Macron does not want to fall into.”

NORTH KOREA IS ANGRY AT CHINA FOR INCREASING SANCTIONS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NORTH KOREAN OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY ‘YONHAP’)

NORTH  KOREA IS ANGRY AT CHINA FOR INCREASING SANCTIONS

2017/04/22

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) — North Korea has apparently asked China not to step up anti-North sanctions, warning of “catastrophic consequences” in their bilateral relations.

Pyongyang issued the warning through commentary written by a person named Jong Phil on its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which was released Saturday.

It’s rare for Pyongyang’s media to level criticism at Beijing, though the KCNA didn’t directly mention China in the commentary titled “Are you good at dancing to the tune of others” and dated Friday.

The commentary instead called the nation at issue “a country around the DPRK,” using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Not a single word about the U.S. act of pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a war after introducing hugest-ever strategic assets into the waters off the Korean peninsula is made but such rhetoric as ‘necessary step’ and ‘reaction at decisive level’ is openly heard from a country around the DPRK to intimidate it over its measures for self-defense,” the commentary’s introduction in English read.

“Particularly, the country is talking rubbish that the DPRK has to reconsider the importance of relations with it and that it can help preserve security of the DPRK and offer necessary support and aid for its economic prosperity, claiming the latter will not be able to survive the strict ‘economic sanctions’ by someone.”

Then, the KCNA commentary warned that the neighbor country will certainly face a catastrophe in their bilateral relationship, as long as it continues to apply economic sanctions together with the United States.

“If the country keeps applying economic sanctions on the DPRK while dancing to the tune of someone after misjudging the will of the DPRK, it may be applauded by the enemies of the DPRK, but it should get itself ready to face the catastrophic consequences in the relations with the DPRK,” it said.

North Korea watchers here say the commentary appears to be Pyongyang’s response after Chinese experts and media have recently called for escalating sanctions against the North, including the suspension of oil exports, in case of its sixth nuclear test.

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N. Korea To Strike US Bases In Asian Pacific; S. Korean Presidential Palace If US Attacks – KCNA

(THIS ARTICLE IS FROM THE OFFICIAL NORTH KOREAN NEWS AGENCY ‘KCNA’)

North Korea will strike US military bases in Japan and South Korea, as well as the South Korean president’s residence in Seoul, if America engages in aggression against Pyongyang, North Korea’s General Staff warned, according to state news agency KCNA.

Source: N. Korea to strike US bases in Asian Pacific & S. Korean presidential palace if US attacks – KCNA

Trump’s 100 Days: Can’t Quit Talking About Himself: Has No Clue About What Truth Is

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Trump crams agenda as 100-day mark nears

Washington (CNN) In advance of his approaching 100th day as president, Donald Trump sat down with the Associated Press for an interview about what he’s done and what he’s failed to do in office so far. But Trump just couldn’t stop talking about the 2016 election.

Trump was asked by the AP’s Julie Pace whether or not he would veto a spending bill that kept the government open but didn’t include the $1.4 billion he has requested as a sort of down payment on his much-promised border wall. Here’s how Trump answered:
“I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college — but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it.”
Here’s a quick diagram of Trump’s line of thinking in that answer:
Border wall —→ base likes —-→ base is big —-→ Democrats have an edge in electoral college —→ it’s a big edge —-→ I thought I would win the popular vote —-→ I won the electoral college —-→ My base wants to see the wall.
So, well, um ok.
Later in the interview, Pace asks whether Trump thinks he has the right team in place for his next 100 days in office. Trump praises his military team. Pace follows up about his White House staff. Here’s how Trump responds:
“Yeah, my White House team. I think Reince (Priebus) has been doing an excellent job. I think that, you know, this is a very tough environment not caused necessarily by me. Although the election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the electoral college, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is. If, if Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California. It’s just the registration, there’s nothing you can do. So you’re losing the two biggest states, that’s where you start. OK. The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard…..so she had this massive advantage, she spent hundreds of millions of dollars more money than I spent. Hundreds of millions … Yeah. Or more, actually because we were $375 she was at $2.2 billion. But whatever. She spent massive amounts of money more and she lost. Solidly lost, because you know it wasn’t 270, it was 306.”
And here’s how Trump’s mind worked on that answer:
Reince Priebus is doing a good job —→ the political environment is difficult but it’s not my fault —→ Democrats should have won —-→ New York and California are very Democratic states —-→ Abe Lincoln —→ Electoral college favors Democrats —→ Clinton should have won –→ I got outspent —→ I won —-→ I won by more than people thought.
Neither of Pace’s questions come anywhere close to mentioning the election. In fact, both are forward looking; one touches on the expectation of a bill to fund the government emerging before the deadline Friday night while the other is about Trump’s second 100 days.
And yet, Trump found a way to bring both answers back to his victory in 2016 through a series of seeming non sequiturs. (I say “seeming” because clearly the logic hops made sense to Trump if not to me.)
At one level, Trump’s desire to keep returning to the election makes sense. It was his greatest glory, his definitive proof point that all the people who mocked or laughed at him over the years were wrong and that he was right. No one thought he could win. And he won. We all like to revel in our past successes to some degree.
At issue for Trump is that he continues to seem more interested in how he won the office than what he will do with the office. An occasional reminder of a time when you won is great. But Trump is bordering on Uncle Rico (of “Napoleon Dynamite”) territory here. If you don’t know what I am talking about, watch this:
“Back in ’82 I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter mile,” Uncle Rico recalls. “If coach would have put me in fourth quarter we would have been state champions….no doubt in my mind.”
The point is: Dwelling too much in the past makes you a prisoner of the past. Trump won a historic upset. No question. But, now he’s president. So, how he got elected — and how no one called it — is now less relevant than what he plans to do in the office.
Congressional Republicans are desperate for something more than just rhetoric and 50,000 foot policy statements. They want real guidance about specific policy proposals Trump favors and a a blueprint for how to get them passed.
Instead, Trump just keeps reliving past glories.

President Trump Needs To Stop Treating The ‘Purple Heart’ Like A Game Show Prize

Trump Needs To Stop Treating The Purple Heart Like A Game Show Prize

on April 23, 2017

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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘TASK @ PURPOSE’ WEBSITE)

On Saturday afternoon, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to let the country know how excited he was to be heading to Walter Reed Medical Center to meet with wounded warriors.

Getting ready to visit Walter Reed Medical Center with Melania. Looking forward to seeing our bravest and greatest Americans!

When he arrived, Trump held a brief ceremony to award a Purple Heart medal to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, who was wounded in Afghanistan on March 17.

“When I heard about this … I wanted to do it myself,” Trump said during the ceremony. “Congratulations on behalf of Melania and myself and the entire nation. Tremendous.”

😑 😑 😑

Shakin’ my damn head.

There’s nothing congratulatory about receiving a Purple Heart. No service member signs up for the military hoping to get a leg blown off, or a bullet lodged inside them. No service member is banking on ending up paralyzed for the rest of their life, or left with chronic pain that they have to cope with on a daily basis.

Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos doesn’t think he’s won something. But, when he signed up for the Army, he knew it was a possibility that he could be injured, or even killed, and he did it anyway. Every service member knows the risk and they choose to put themselves in harm’s way regardless.

Trump still doesn’t seem to get that.

This isn’t the first time he has treated the Purple Heart like some kind of prize you get at the bottom of a cereal box. In August 2016, after retired Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman handed him his own Purple Heart, Trump said, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that no one wants a Purple Heart, because you don’t earn it without giving something up in return. As Elana Duffy wrote last year, “I didn’t want the award because I knew it meant at least a piece of me would be left behind. We didn’t get the award; we each traded something for it. We traded our brains, our limbs, and many times our lives for that piece of metal.”

Until Trump acquires some awareness of what military service actually entails, he should just smile and nod and stick to these five words, “Thank you for your service.” Once he masters those, then he can move onto more complex phrases like, “You have inspired the future generation with your courage and sacrifice.”

But, for now, he needs to keep it simple before he ends up chest-bumping a combat veteran for “winning” the Medal of Honor.

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Lauren Katzenberg is the cofounder and managing editor of Task & Purpose. Follow Lauren Katzenberg on Twitter @Lkatzenberg
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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!

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

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

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.

Coexistence In The Middle-East (And Every Where else On Earth): Or Self Inflected Armageddon?

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

Opinion

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Sessions: We’ll fund the wall ‘one way or the other’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Sessions: We’ll fund the wall ‘one way or the other’

Story highlights

  • Sessions said they can get the money for the wall
  • Trump promised Mexico would pay for it

Washington (CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Sunday he does not expect the Mexican government to outright pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall, but there are a number of ways to extract the billions of dollars needed to build it.

Sessions made his comments in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” where he was attempting to square Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall with Mexico’s firm position to the contrary.
“We’re going to get it paid for one way or the other,” Sessions said.
Trump took to Twitter on Sunday morning to say the wall would stop drugs and the gang MS-13. He also said that Mexico would pay for the wall “in some form.”
Trump promised during the campaign that within his first 100 days as president he would get Congress to pass legislation fully funding the wall and establishing mandatory minimum prison sentences for people illegally entering the US after already being deported. That promise, one of many in his “Contract with the American Voter,” said Mexico would reimburse the US for the cost of the wall.
Trump has also threatened to target remittances, or cash transfers from people within the US to people in Mexico.
Sessions referenced a Treasury Department watchdog report during the Obama administration that said excess payments of about $4 billion a year were going to people that shouldn’t get them, and he said reining in the problem could lead to savings over time that could pay for the wall.
“These are mostly Mexicans,” Sessions said. “And those kind of things add up. Four billion a year for 10 years is 40 billion.”
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report in 2011 saying people who were not authorized to work in the US were paid $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits in one year.
The Justice Department did not respond Sunday to a question asking if the report is the one Sessions referenced. The Treasury inspector general also did not return a request for information on whether any actions were taken following the release of the report and if more up-to-date figures exist.
An internal estimate from Customs and Border Protection put the cost of the wall at $21.6 billion, while an estimate from Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the wall could cost as much as $66.9 billion.
Sessions implied other actions at the border and in trade could pay for the wall, although he said he did not expect the Mexican government itself to foot the bill.
“I don’t expect the Mexican government to appropriate money for it,” Sessions said. “But there are ways that we can deal with our trade situation to create the revenue to pay for it. No doubt about it.”
The Trump administration has requested a $1 billion “down payment” from Congress to begin construction of the wall. Administration officials in televised interviews on Sunday said funding for the wall is a priority in budget negotiations ahead of a potential government shutdown Friday, but stopped short of saying Trump would not accept a bill that didn’t include the funding

Russia hacked Danish defense for two years, minister tells newspaper

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Russia hacked Danish defense for two years, minister tells newspaper

Russia has hacked the Danish defense and gained access to employees’ emails in 2015 and 2016, NATO member Denmark’s defense minister told newspaper Berlingske on Sunday.

The report comes at a time when several Western governments, including the United States, France and Britain, have accused Russia of resorting to hacking to influence elections — allegations Moscow has repeatedly dismissed as baseless.

A report from the Danish Defense Intelligence Service’s unit for cyber security said “a foreign player” had spied against Danish authorities and gained access to non-classified documents.

It did not name the country behind the espionage, but Foreign Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen told Berlingske it was Russia.

“It is linked to the intelligence services or central elements in the Russian government, and it is a constant battle to keep them away,” Frederiksen told the newspaper.

A spokeswoman from the Danish Defense Ministry confirmed that the minister had been quoted correctly but said he would give no further comments for the time being.

Spokespeople at the Kremlin were not available to comment on Sunday.

Frederiksen told Berlingske the hacking had been possible due to insufficient security around emails with non-classified material, something that has since been improved.

The group behind the attack went under the name APT28 or Fancy Bear and was one of two groups which allegedly gained illegal access to U.S. democrats’ emails last year, according to Berlingske.

Frederiksen said in January that Denmark plans to increase military spending in response to Russian missile deployments in the Baltic region that it perceives as a threat.

(Reporting by Teis Jensen, additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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