Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 21 2017, 9:34 AM ET

Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

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Watch Live: Confirmation Hearing for SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch insisted that he would not shy from ruling against President Donald Trump and assured lawmakers during the second day of his confirmation hearings Tuesday that he made no commitments to the president when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.

“I have no problem ruling against a person or any party,” Gorsuch told Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, calling the question of his independence a “softball.”

  • Gorsuch said he would have “no problem” ruling against President Trump or anyone else.
  • The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge said he would have “walked out” if Trump asked him to vote against Roe v. Wade.
  • He called it “grossly improper” to speculate about how he would rule in case about travel ban.

“There is no such thing as a Republican judge, or Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country,” he added.

Gorsuch has used the start to his high-profile confirmation battle to present himself as a consensus building, independent jurist with views well within the mainstream. He repeatedly told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he made no promises to the Trump administration about future rulings, even saying he would have “walked out the door” if Trump asked him to commit to voting against Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

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Gorsuch Pressed About Legality of Trump’s Travel Ban 3:03

But Democrats prodding him about his opinions on both established Supreme Court precedent and the legality of Trump’s most controversial acts thus far as president, including Trump’s travel bans, received few clues.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge called it “irresponsible” to tip his hand on potential future rulings.

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“It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that and a violation of the separation of powers and judicial independence if someone sitting at this table, in order to get confirmed, had to make promises or commitments about how they’d rule in a case that’s currently pending and likely to make its way to the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., examined him about Trump’s controversial travel restrictions.

Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority nations, issued after his first travel order was described as a “Muslim ban” by critics and met with significant legal challenges, was blocked from going into effect by a federal judge last week.

Gorsuch called Roe v. Wade “precedent” that has been “reaffirmed many times” and declined to say whether he agreed with a host of other precedent-setting rulings on issues like gun rights and the power of the executive branch.

“If I indicate my agreement or disagreement with the past precedent of the United States Supreme Court, I’m doing two things that worry me sitting here: The first thing I’m doing is signaling to future litigants that I can’t be a fair judge in their case. Because those issues keep coming up,” Gorsuch told Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee.

Democrats and liberal groups have attacked Gorsuch for his ties to big business, centering on his skepticism of the so-called Chevron Doctrine that allows federal agencies to make rules to clarify areas where the law is ambiguous. His opposition to Chevron could curtail federal agencies ability to tackle issues like climate change and workers’ rights.

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Gorsuch: I Would Have ‘No Difficulty’ Ruling Against the President 2:26

Feinstein asked the nominee for assurances “that you will be for the little man” and stand up to corporate interests.

“If you want cases where I ruled for the little guy as well as the big guy, there are plenty of those, Senator,” he told Feinstein, who asked for examples to be sent to her office.

Democrats also used the hearing to voice their frustrations over Republican efforts to block Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to fill the court vacancy left after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.

“Do you think [Garland] was treated fairly by this committee, yes or no?” Leahy asked Gorsuch.

“I can’t get involved in politics, and there is judicial canons that prevent me from doing that,” Gorsuch said.

Scalia’s death — and Republicans’ subsequent refusal to allow President Barack Obama to fill the seat, made the Supreme Court one of the top issues in the 2016 race. Trump won 56 percent of voters who said the nominee was important, according to national exit polls.

Outside groups are pushing Democrats to unite in opposition to Trump’s pick, though most have said they will wait for the hearings to conclude before deciding how they’ll vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has painted Gorsuch as an ideological extremist and said he will make his views “very strongly known to them” once the public hearings conclude.

Outside groups have also been working to promote Gorsuch’s confirmation with millions of dollars in undisclosed donations. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked if it was “any cause of concern” for him that a reported $10 million ad campaign was launched to support his nomination.

“There is a lot about the confirmation process today that I regret,” Gorsuch said, including the strain it has put on his family.

“The fact of the matter is, that it is what it is, and it’s this body that makes the laws. And if you wish to have more disclosure, pass a law and a judge will enforce it,” he added.

Even a united front would unlikely be enough for Democrats to stop Gorsuch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not ruled out invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver that would eliminate the 60-vote threshold required to advance a nominee, and intends to approve the nominee before the Senate breaks for Easter recess.

China Will Be The Straw That Will Stir The World’s Economic Drink?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Forum hears pledge of more effort to revitalize China’s real economy

CHINA will remain committed to ensuring innovation drives development and will increase efforts to revitalize the real economy, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said yesterday.

“The real economy is the foundation of economic growth and we will optimize it,” Zhang said at the opening ceremony of the China Development Forum 2017 in Beijing.

China will improve its capabilities in scientific innovation and boost the development of strategic emerging sectors and modern manufacturing while transforming traditional industries with new technology and business models, he said.

The government will continue to promote entrepreneurship and the “Internet Plus” plan to meet the diverse needs of the market and Chinese companies will be encouraged to use craftsmanship to establish competitive brands that can stand the test of time.

China will further reduce costs for enterprises by streamlining administration and pushing forward tax reforms, and prevention and control of financial risks will be elevated to a higher position on the government’s agenda, Zhang said, adding that China will manage risks in bad loans, bond default, property bubbles and Internet finance to avoid systemic financial risks.

To stimulate growth and improve market vitality, China should increase supply-side structural reform, Zhang said.

Highlighting the basic tone of “seeking progress while maintaining stability,” he underscored the need for efforts to maintain growth, ensure employment and counteract risks from home and abroad.

China will forge ahead with its supply-side reform, cutting steel production capacity by around 50 million tons and coal capacity by over 150 million tons this year, he said.

The country will prioritize de-stocking unsold houses in third and fourth-tier cities as it fights speculation in the housing market, he added.

Zhang restated China’s commitment to better air, water and soil quality.

The government will speed up the reform of state-owned enterprises, make concrete mixed-ownership reforms in sectors such as power, petroleum, railways, civil aviation and telecommunications and open the market to more private investment, Zhang said.

On the close ties between China and the world economy, he stressed the need to advance globalization and fight protectionism.

“China is willing to join efforts with the international community to steer the world economy toward strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” he said.

The country will continue to implement its opening-up strategy and advance the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.

China will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May. Taking part in this “new chapter in win-win cooperation” will be more than 20 heads of state and government, more than 50 leaders of international organizations, more than 100 ministerial-level officials, and more than 1,200 delegates.

Beijing suspends last of its coal-fired power plants: China Goes To The Future: Trump, U.S. In Reverse

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Beijing suspends last of its coal-fired power plants

BEIJING’S last large coal-fired power plant has suspended operations, meaning the capital has become the first city in China to have all its power plants fueled by clean energy.

The Huangneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant came into operation in June 1999. It has five coal-fired units with a total installed capacity of 845,000 kilowatts and heating capacity of 26 million square meters.

Du Chengzhang, the plant’s general manager, said it is an efficient and environmental friendly plant with advanced emission treatment equipment. The plant has provided important support to the stable operation of Beijing’s electric power system and the heat-supply system, he said.

After the suspension of the plant on Saturday, about 1.76 million tons of coal, 91 tons of sulfur dioxide and 285 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions a year will be cut.

According to a clean air plan by Beijing from 2013 to 2017, the city was to build four gas thermal power centers and shut down the four large coal-fueled thermal power plants.

The other three plants which used to consume over 6.8 million tons of coal each year were closed in 2014 and 2015.

Du said Huangneng will prepare to serve as an emergency heat source for the capital’s heating system after operations cease.

Three of the four gas thermal power have already been built and are in use.

Beijing has 27 power plants, all fueled by clean energy with a total installed capacity of 11.3 million kilowatts.

Under the plan, Beijing will build no more large-scale power plants.

For China And The U.S. ‘Cooperation Is The Only Way Forward’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Cooperation the only way forward

COOPERATION is the only correct choice for China and the United States, President Xi Jinping told visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing yesterday.

There are important development opportunities resulting from China-US relations, said Xi during the meeting in the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

Xi said he had maintained sound communications with his US counterpart Donald Trump through phone calls and messages, and they had agreed that the two countries could be good cooperative partners.

Xi said that to advance China-US ties in a healthy and steady manner, both sides could enhance exchanges at various levels; expand cooperation in bilateral, regional and global fields; and properly address and manage sensitive issues.

Xi suggested the two countries increase strategic trust and mutual understanding, review bilateral ties from long-term and strategic perspectives and expand fields of cooperation for their mutual benefit.

The two countries should also enhance coordination on regional hotspot issues, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns and encourage friendly exchanges between their two Peoples.

Tillerson told Xi, who extended an invitation for President Trump to visit China, that the US president valued communications with his Chinese counterpart and looked forward to meeting Xi and visiting China.

The US side is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, said Tillerson.

China and the US are discussing arrangements for a meeting between the two presidents and exchanges at other levels, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his talks with Tillerson on Saturday.

“We attach great importance to your visit,” Wang told the US visitor at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

It was Tillerson’s first visit to China since he assumed office last month and he is also the first Cabinet-level official in the new US administration to visit.

China-US ties are developing steadily in a positive direction, Wang said.

He called for more cooperation in foreign affairs, the economy and trade, the military, law enforcement, people-to-people exchanges and local communication.

The essence of China-US trade relations is mutual benefit, said Wang, and he encouraged both countries to expand trade and investment cooperation.

Wang also restated China’s position on Taiwan and South China Sea issues, emphasizing that China and the US should respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, discreetly deal with sensitive issues to protect bilateral ties from unnecessary influences.

Tillerson said the US adheres to the “One China” policy and added that closer cooperation and coordination between the two countries was necessary in the face of a changing international situation. The US would like to have more high-level exchanges with China, and more dialogue in diplomatic security, macroeconomic policy coordination, law enforcement, cyberspace and people-to-people exchanges, he said.

Tillerson’s visit aims to make “political preparations” for the meeting between two presidents, and both sides would make the best use of this chance to seek common ground, said Jia Xiudong, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday from Seoul. His first official Asian tour began on Wednesday and also took him to Japan.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Mocks President Trump’s Approval Ratings

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

Arnold Schwarzenegger Mocks President Trump’s Approval Ratings and Challenges Him to a Middle-School Visit

8:42 AM ET

Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday mocked President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and challenged him to go to a Washington D.C. middle school to see after-school programs in action, after they were placed on the chopping block in the President’s proposed budget.

“Oh, Donald, the ratings are in, and you got swamped,” Schwarzenegger said in a video Tuesday. “Wow. Now you’re in the thirties?”

“But what do you expect?” he added. “I mean, when you take away after-school programs from children and Meals on Wheels from the poor people, that’s not what you call ‘making America great again.'”

Hey, @realDonaldTrump, I have some advice. See you at Hart Middle School? Here’s more info about : http://www.afterschoolallstars.org/programs/national-outcomes/ 

 The video is the latest addition to an ongoing feud between the two men. Trump regularly criticized the ratings of The New Celebrity Apprentice after Schwarzenegger took over as host earlier this year. The actor and former governor of California recently stepped down from the show after one season, prompting Trump to taunt him for “pathetic” ratings.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Trump Russia claims: FBI’s Comey confirms investigation of election ‘interference’
Media caption What FBI Director Comey said on Trump, Russia and wiretaps

FBI director James Comey has confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

However, Mr Comey said his agency had seen no evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that his phones had been tapped by the Obama administration.

He was giving evidence to the congressional intelligence committee.

The Trump administration said nothing had changed and there was “no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion”.

Russia has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election.

The FBI investigation would examine possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.

The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.

“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

putinImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Putin “hated Mrs Clinton so much” that he had a strong preference for her rival, Mr Comey said

National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.

‘No wiretap on Trump Tower’

Mr Comey said he had no information on unsubstantiated claims tweeted by Mr Trump earlier this month that former president Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.


Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

FBI Director James Comey (L) and National Security Agency Director Mike RogersImage copyrightAFP

What FBI Director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.

“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.

All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.

While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.

If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.


Meanwhile, Admiral Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.

The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.

GCHQ has described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump at a press conferenceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump raised eyebrows after he suggested both he and Mrs Merkel had been wiretapped by Mr Obama

Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Admiral Rogers added.

However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”

However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.

Media caption Trump’s wiretap saga explained in two minutes

Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.

Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.

Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.

Michael FlynnImage copyright AP
Image caption Michael Flynn encouraged a softer policy on Russia and a harder line on Iran

He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Mr Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January.

He said he had “no communications with the Russians”, but it later emerged that he had met Mr Kislyak during the campaign.

Mr Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed himself from an FBI inquiry into Russia’s alleged interference in the election.

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US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

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

World

US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

Korea

Beijing – The United States and China vowed to work together against threats of the North Korea’s nuclear program, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the situation has reached a “dangerous” level.

Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart’s language seemed more reconciliatory in light US President Donald Trump’s accusations that China was not exerting enough efforts to control its troublesome neighbor. Beijing had meanwhile accused the White House of causing tensions.

“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any kind of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson added during a press conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Tillerson’s visit to China is the last leg of his Asian trip, where he made stops in Japan and South Korea.

He avoided using strong language during the joint press conference with Wang, who seemed to have reproached his counterpart for statements he had made earlier this week.

Wang urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against the regime in North Korea.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” he added.

Neither parties announced any tangible future steps to solve the issue and Tillerson did not publically respond to Beijing’s calls for negotiations with North Korea.

Trump had increased the pressure on China, accusing it of not exploiting all means possible to control North Korea, whom he said considered Beijing to be its closest ally and economic benefactor.

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” he tweeted.

The developments come after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched missiles last month. The US considered the test-launch an attack on its bases in Japan.

The developments alarmed South Korea, spurring it to deploy the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). The Chinese leadership had accused the US of aggravating the situation through military trainings with its ally Seoul and the deployment of THAAD.

China is hesitant to increase its pressure on North Korea, whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Washington and Seoul insist that the THAAD system is for defense purposes only, but Beijing fears it could undermine its capabilities to denuclearize North Korea.

Beijing had always called for diplomatic talks to denuclearize North Korea, which is barred by the UN from proceeding with its program.

Wang also said that the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone, reiterating his country’s commitment to the goal of denuclearization

“We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region,” he added on Saturday.

Wang reiterated that China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a major power, has devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to the issue. The tremendous important efforts China has made are visible to all, he said.

Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil before being appointed secretary of state, said that a military option is possible if Pyongyang intensified its work.

“We do believe that if North Korea stands down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people,” the US officials said.

He added: “All options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future.”

Maybe one of the reasons for the calm American-Chinese rhetoric is the expected talks between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi during the latter’s upcoming visit to US next month, the first such summit between the two leaders.

Trump is expected to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for an informal “no necktie” encounter. Experts hope this meeting will reduce tensions between the two officials.

China shares US fears of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but it makes sure not to provoke its neighbor.

In February, Beijing issued a strong position when it announced it will stop coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year.

North Korea expert at Beijing University Wong Dong said: “It is a mistake to think that China can control Pyongyang and it is not reasonable for Washington to accuse Beijing of doing nothing. The situation is complicated and sensitive and there is no magical solution.”

The Obama administration ruled out any diplomatic involvement with Pyongyang until the latter shows commitment to denuclearization.

The communist state insists on owning nuclear weapons to defend itself and executed its first test in 2006 despite international objection. It had done four other tests, two last year.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

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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Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

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

World

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

Trump

Washington –President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, and that Berlin “should pay.”

Trump’s statements come following his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Trump took it to twitter where he said: “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including NATO and defense expenditures.

During a joint press conference with Merkel, Trump complained that other NATO members have not paid their dues for years. He insisted they pay for “their fair share of the defense they receive.”

NATO countries are asked to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance’s defense spending.

Merkel said that Germany agreed on the need for “increasing expenditure” to meet the 2 percent goal.

Trump then criticized the way the media had dealt with the meeting saying on Twitter also: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Expenditure was not the only point of disagreement between the two. A German journalist brought up the case of wiretapping and Trump’s accusations that British Intelligence was working with Obama to spy on him.

Despite constant negations and absence of evidence, the US President continued with his allegations and even joked that Merkel had also been a victim of wiretapping.

Since his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire had written several controversial tweets, none of which had damaged his credibility as much as the one he wrote on March 4.

He tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Media reports reveal each day new findings on Trump’s or his close personnel’s contacts with Russia.

Trump had repeatedly denied any affiliations to the Kremlin, but he could not control the flow of information and therefore decided to attack his predecessor.

Since then, Obama, former intelligence director James Clapper and many democratic and republican officials have denied those allegations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to apologize to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama. Spicer almost caused a diplomatic crisis by defending the president.

On Thursday, Spicer quoted a series of articles that discussed surveillance. He referenced comments made earlier this week on Fox News TV by Andrew Napolitano in relation to Trump’s controversial claim that wiretaps had been installed at his New York residence.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ,” Spicer said in the press conference.

British officials were quick to comment on Napolitano’s claims, saying they were “rubbish”.

A government source reportedly said the claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd”.

It told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” and noted that a US election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria”.

“As for as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said during his press conference with Chancellor Merkel, referring to reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010.

Such incidents do not reassure US Congressmen, including those in Trump’s camp. Trump promised to reveal next week new evidences that prove his allegations.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Devin Nunes confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the committee’s request.

He did not provide any further details.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

The public hearing is the first of several that the intelligence committees are expected to hold on alleged Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

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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31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

SANAA, Yemen — A boat packed with Somali migrants came under attack overnight off Yemen’s coast close to a strategic Red Sea strait, in an incident that killed 31 people, a U.N. agency and a Yemeni medical official said Friday.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the victims carried UNHCR papers. Laurent De Boeck, the IOM chief in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, said the agency believes all the people on board the stricken vessel were refugees but it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.

The SABA news agency in Yemen, run by the country’s Shiite rebels, said the attack was an airstrike that took place off the coast of Hodeida province, close to the Bab al-Mandab strait. It did not say who was behind the airstrike.

De Boeck added that 77 survivors who were pulled out of the water were taken to a detention center in Hodieda. He said the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and the detention center to provide the necessary medical care the victims.

In Geneva, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack. “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” he told The Associated Press.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has accused the Shiite Houthi rebels of using Hodeida as a smuggling route for weapons. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

The coastal province has been under heavy airstrikes over the past two years since the coalition joined the conflict in support of the government. African migrants continue to head to Yemen, a transit point to Saudi Arabia where they seek jobs and a better life.

A Yemeni medical official in Hodeida said bodies of the dead were being retrieved from the sea and taken to the morgue of a hospital in al-Thawra. Only 14 bodies had arrived at the morgue so far, the Yemeni official said, adding that women were among the dead.

There were also 25 wounded, including those who lost arms and legs, who were brought to the hospital, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

On its Twitter account, the UNHCR said it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen.”

Demonetisation Be Damned! The Indian Rupee Is On A Tear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF QUARTZ INDIA)

LOOK AT IT FLY

Demonetisation be damned! The Indian rupee is on a tear

March 17, 2017 Quartz India

It’s been a great week for the Indian rupee.

On March 16, at Rs65.41 per US dollar, the currency hit a one-year high against the greenback.

Much of the strengthening has to do with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recent electoral wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhandand solid performances in two other states. The strong showing reflects just how well the party is positioned to sweep the next general elections in 2019 and hand Narendra Modi a second term as prime minister. Some of that magic is rubbing off on the markets.

“Since the start of the week, equity markets and the Indian rupee have rallied sharply in response to the strong performance of the main ruling party in recent state elections,” DBS Bank said in a March 16 report.

So far, the Indian currency has been the third-best performing in Asia in 2017. The rupee has gained 3.4% this year against the US dollar, only trailing the South Korean won and the Taiwanese Dollar.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike on March 15—only the third since the economic crisis of 2008—hit the dollar. When the US dollar falls, capital outflows from emerging markets are restricted, thus strengthening local currencies like the Indian rupee.

The rupee’s strengthening comes after a free fall triggered by Modi’s move to demonetise 86% of the currency notes (by value) in November 2016. Initially it had been estimated that the currency ban would dent the GDP and take a toll on the economy.

In January, a Reuters poll of some 30 foreign exchange strategists had estimated that the Indian currency could see a record fall this year because of the currency ban. But India’s Central Statistical Office’s estimates show that the economy grew at 7% during the October-December 2016 quarter, and the rupee is holding strong.

One reason for the rupee’s surge is also that the macro-economic factors that influence a currency—inflation and current account deficit (CAD)—are looking good for India at the moment. While inflation is being restricted in its safe zone of sub 6%, India’s CAD (the excess of imports over exports) has also been falling.

What next

A strong rupee is good news for corporate India. Many firms hold debt in foreign currencies, so a fall in the exchange rate means their interest outgo will reduce. “Many Indian entities including short-term trade finance people remain unhedged for their offshore liability. They (companies) are likely to have gained from the rupee’s sharp rise in the last few days. At least, interest liability has reduced, adding to balance sheet gains,” Jayesh Mehta, country treasurer at Bank of America told the Economic Times.

However, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could soon step in to stabilise the rupee’s movement. Some reports suggest that the central bank already is buying dollars through public sector banks.

“The rupee appreciation, we feel is not sustainable and would revert to the range of Rs66-66.5 range, to begin with as the fundamentals do not warrant such unbridled enthusiasm,” a report by CARE Ratings said. “The outcome of the elections has been the main driving force. A strong rupee may not be good for our exports and the RBI is cognizant of the same.”

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