Trump The Moron At It Again: Saying Obama Got The British Intelligence Agency To Spy On Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

White House Seeks to Allay British Concerns Over Unfounded Wiretapping Claim

11:43 AM ET
White House officials tried to calm the concerns of British allies after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated an unfounded claim that the British spy service spied on President Trump. But the White House is stopping short of saying it offered an apology to its closest foreign ally.

“[British Ambassador to the U.S.] Kim Darroch and [National Security Advisor] Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said Friday. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Several British outlets reported Friday that the White House apologized to the U.K. government, but the White House would not confirm those accounts.

The row began Thursday, as Spicer repeated the claim of Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano, who suggested that former President Obama had ordered GCHQ, the U.K.’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, to spy on his successor. For nearly two weeks the White House has been struggling to justify Trump’s assertion in a March 4 tweet that Obama had him “wire tapped.”

On Thursday, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee jointly stated they’ve seen no evidence of any surveillance of Trump Tower. Even Trump allies in Congress are staying away from the claim, though Trump maintained Wednesday in an interview with Fox News that he would be vindicated by new information “very soon.” The White House has argued that Trump’s use of quotation marks around the phrase wires tapped implied he meant all manners of surveillance against him, but hasn’t offered any official proof of the claim, beyond reports in the press.

Reading a long list of media reports that mentioned alleged signals intelligence about Trump and his ties to Russia, Spicer quoted comments.

“Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement,” Spicer said during the daily White House briefing. “‘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, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, “The President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,” he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.'”

Within hours GCHQ responded in a rare statement calling the claim “utterly ridiculous.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” a GCHQ spokesperson said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Asked by a reporter whether the subject of GCHQ’s alleged involvement had raised between the two governments and whether it would affect the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K., Spicer backtracked.

“No, no, it has not been raised,” Spicer said. “But I do think that, again, we’re not — all we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported, and I think that casts into concern some of the activities that may have occurred during the ’16 election. We’re not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into.”

The claim is all the more incendiary given the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the two countries. The U.S. and the U.K., along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, form the Five Eyes — a decades-old intelligence cooperative in which the countries share much of their signals intelligence and pledge not to spy on each another.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May told The Independent that the White House would not float the claims again. “We’ve made clear to the Administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we’ve received assurances they won’t be repeated.”

Significant Breakthroughs For Riyadh Diplomacy In China And In The U.S.

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

Opinion

Significant Breakthroughs for Riyadh

This has been a significant week for Saudi diplomacy: reinforcing relations with China, the biggest oil importer in the world and opening a new page with US President Donald Trump to mend what has been ruined by former President Barack Obama who strengthened ties with Iran against Gulf and Saudi interests.

Saudi Arabia that has found itself cornered due to wars, oil and geopolitical changes is carrying out a defense campaign in return — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is convening with China leadership that asked to mediate with Iran that is now seeking reconciliation. Meanwhile, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met with the US president.

A Saudi spokesperson described to Bloomberg the meeting in the White House as “a turning point”, saying: “Today’s meeting has put things on the right track and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields.” There is a clear hinting on fixing what has been ruined by Obama and restoring special relations between the two countries – these relations were established based on the outcome of the meeting held between King Abdulaziz and US President Theodore Roosevelt on board of the Navy cruiser Quincy after the end of World War II.

Officially, little has been said on the meeting of Deputy Crown Prince and Trump, who has become a president two months ago, but the White House showed huge interest. Trump held the meeting two days ahead and included the vice-president in it.

What has been stated by unofficial sources reveals that Washington has changed its policy towards Iran and that it would not sit idle when it comes to Iran’s terrorist activities. Weeks ago, the US administration announced a different stance in which it permitted loading ammunition and providing intelligence information to support Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Saudi-US relations were tense during the presidency of Obama. In fact, the whole region underwent an unprecedented turmoil because Obama’s openness towards Iran urged its military expansion in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Chaos is one of his tenure consequences, also.

Among the topics raised by Prince Mohammed during his visit was to persuade Trump with a new relation that seeks mending the situation, confronting Iran’s manipulation and fighting terrorism – the common enemy of everyone – via fighting it socially and economically. A spokesperson in the delegation pointed out that the US party is interested in reinforcing participation in the economic vision projects.

In China, Iran was not the only topic on the table especially that relations are good in: oil, economy, military cooperation and critical files, basically the military cooperation. There is also the promising project of China, the Silk Road – a giant economic project of complex political problematic issues because it passes in conflict regions. This road might benefit from Saudi Arabia as a passage or a parallel route.

Information released by Beijing reveals that it will quietly continue to consolidate its presence in west Asia and east Africa. China is the second strongest economic power after the US and, as major countries, needs raw materials, energy sources, trade passages and a protection for its investments and interests.

Unlike other major countries, China does not rely on military presence to impose its influence but rather uses its economic presence to impose its stances and secure its interests.

There are two models in the Middle East: one that seeks reinforcing relations via economic and development cooperation and another that uses wars and terrorism as a method to impose its relations.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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If You’re A Poor Person In America, Trump’s Budget Is Not For You

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

If you’re a poor person in America, Trump’s budget is not for you

March 16 at 11:40 AM

If you’re a poor person in America, President Trump’s budget proposal is not for you.

Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed that the solution to poverty was giving poor people incentives to work. But most of the proposed cuts in his budget target programs designed to help the working poor, as well as those who are jobless, cope.

And many of them carry out their missions by disbursing money to the states, which establish their own criteria.

“This is a budget that pulled the rug out from working families and hurts the very people who President Trump promised to stand up for in rural America and in small towns,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.

The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck — a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the center.

The budget proposes housing “reforms” that add up to more than $6 billion in cuts while promising to continue assisting the nation’s 4.5 million low-income households. If enacted, the proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development since the early 1980s, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Trump’s budget plan, by the numbers

President Trump just released his budget plan for the next fiscal year, which proposes some big changes in government spending. Here’s a look at what agencies are helped and hurt by the proposal. (Video: Jenny Starrs/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It would also eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 federal agencies.

The administration’s reforms include eliminating funding for a $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, one of the longest continuously run HUD programs that’s been in existence since 1974.

The program provides cities with money to address a range of community development needs such as affordable housing, rehabilitating homes in neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures, and preventing or eliminating slums and community blight. It also provides funding for Meals on Wheels, a national nonprofit that delivers food to homebound seniors.

Robert Rector, a senior fellow who focuses on welfare at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, calls the community block grants a “slush fund for urban government.”

The White House touts its cuts to what the administration characterizes as “a number of lower priority programs” as a way to “promote fiscal responsibility.” In actuality, it guts federal funding for affordable housing and kicks the financial responsibility of those programs to states and local governments.

Gone would be $35 million in funding for well-known programs such as Habitat for Humanity and Youth Build USA, fair housing planning, and homeless assistance, among other housing help for needy Americans.

Other targets include funding for neighborhood development and a home-buying program through which low-income individuals help build their own homes. Trump also plans to cut the Home Investment Partnership Program, the largest federal grant to state and local governments that is designed to create affordable housing.

“There is no coordinated plan for how to fulfill the same mission. Saying states, local governments and philanthropy are going to help is just passing the buck,” said a HUD official who is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said workers at the agency Thursday morning were feeling “demoralized” and “worried.”

“This is just a tough, tough time,” the official said. “HUD is no different from any other domestic agency in just feeling as though these cuts are all very arbitrary and unnecessary.”

Poor people need not lean on community banks for financial help, either, because Trump plans to eliminate the $210 million now dedicated toward Community Development Financial Institutions. The program, administered through the Treasury Department, invests in community banks that provide loans and financial services to people living in some of the most distressed communities of the country.

“Cutting that program would be nothing short of a disaster, and the ripple effect would be felt in urban areas and some rural areas all over America,” said Michael A. Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, a lobbying group for black-owned banks.

The administration would also eliminate the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program, which dates back to 1976 when Gerald Ford was president. Since then, it has provided states with grants that have helped insulate the homes of about 7 million families, using low-cost techniques that have large payoffs, saving money for those families and curtailing U.S. energy consumption. It has also helped establish weatherization job training centers in states such as Utah and New York.

Also on the chopping block: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known widely by its acronym LIHEAP. This program, part of the Health and Human Services budget, helps homeowners cover monthly energy costs, or repair broken or inefficient furnaces and air conditioners. The program is usually underfunded; LIHEAP says that on average, only about 20 percent of the households that qualify for assistance receive benefits before the money runs out. Congress sometimes adds funding during emergencies or energy shortages when costs spike.

Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, a $715 million program within HHS that funds more than 1,000 local anti-poverty organizations around the country. The organizations provide services ranging from job training to food assistance to more than 16 million people in 3,000 counties. The grants also help communities respond quickly to natural disasters, plant closures and other economic shifts.

Without the grants, there would be little coordination between faith groups, local governments, private companies and nonprofits in addressing the needs of the poor — “just a few unconnected programs that don’t have nearly the impact they have now,” said David Bradley, who founded the National Community Action Foundation and wrote the legislation behind the grants in the early ’80s.

Bradley, though, is “absolutely confident” that Congress will reject the proposal.

“This is the work of a radical right that goes hard after anti-poverty programs,” he said.

The Trump budget would also target the Legal Services Corp., an independent agency that provided $343 million to 134 legal aid organizations for the poor who are tangled up in cases of wrongful eviction, custody disputes, child support or domestic violence.

Legal Services was launched as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty with the support of the American Bar Association led by Lewis F. Powell Jr., who later served on the Supreme Court. President Richard Nixon later created a free-standing corporation to administer legal aid funds.

“Here each day the old, the unemployed, the underprivileged, and the largely forgotten people of our Nation may seek help,” Nixon wrote in a 1971 message to Congress. “Perhaps it is an eviction, a marital conflict, repossession of a car, or misunderstanding over a welfare check — each problem may have a legal solution. These are small claims in the Nation’s eye, but they loom large in the hearts and lives of poor Americans.”

In 2015, Legal Services offices closed 755,774 cases — more than 100 for every lawyer and paralegal employed. About 70 percent of its clients are women, and the majority of its clients are white and between the ages of 36 and 59. The program provides lawyers only to people earning no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is currently $15,075 for an individual and $30,750 for a family of four.

“We have a legal system that was created by lawyers for lawyers and assumes you have a lawyer,” said James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corp. “If you’re a tenant facing eviction and you’re up against a landlord who has a lawyer, if you’re the victim of domestic violence from someone who has a lawyer, you are not playing on a level field. Legal aid is about fairness in the justice system.”

Alaska’s rural poor get hit by the budget proposal, too, despite having two Republican senators. The Agriculture budget would eliminate the Denali Commission, designed to deliver services to remote, rural communities in Alaska, including Native Americans. The commission, established in 1998, contributes to the construction of health-care facilities, water and sewer systems, power generation and communication systems.

The budget would also zero out funds to help native Alaskan villages obtain access to clean drinking water and modern sewage systems.

Cuts to the Agriculture budget also eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority that encourage economic growth in distressed rural communities. And while the budget allocates $6.2 billion to “serve all projected participants” in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, that is $150 million less than USDA had budgeted.

The White House proposed shrinking Job Corps, a program administered by the Labor Department that provides education and job training to more than 60,000 young people and disadvantaged youth. The proposal called for closing centers that do a “poor job” of preparing students for the workforce, but did not elaborate on how many of the 125 centers nationwide would be targeted.

Job Corps, which was created in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s anti-poverty agenda, helps young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 earn high school diplomas and receive vocational training.

The program faced scrutiny several years ago for going over budget and has been forced to freeze enrollment multiple times since 2011 because of the monetary shortfalls. In 2013, a report from the Office of Inspector General found that the budgetary missteps were caused by inaccurate cost estimates and inconsistent monitoring of actual costs. But since then, the program has taken several steps to keep better track of costs and payments.

The Trump administration would also ax the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which aims to help low-income job seekers age 55 and up find work by pairing them with nonprofit organizations and public agencies. The loss of the program could serve as another setback for older Americans who are still struggling to find steady work after the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate for workers 55-plus was 3.4 percent in February, according to the most recent jobs report. But the rate rises to 7.1 percent if workers with part-time jobs who want to be working full-time, and those who have given up on the job search within the past year, are included, according the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School.

The goal of the senior employment program is to help participants find permanent work by providing them with training and job experience. Workers are assigned part-time jobs and paid the minimum wage, with the hope that the experience can help them find jobs that are not subsidized by the government. In its budget proposal, the Trump administration called the approach “ineffective” because up to one-third of participants do not complete the program. Of those who do finish, about half succeed in finding more permanent jobs.

Not everyone, though, believes the cuts will be a disaster for the poor.

Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, said the cuts cannot be evaluated in isolation when they represent less than 1 percent of the $1.1 trillion the government spent on more than 80 poverty programs last year.

“The basic line from the left is ‘this program alone is standing between the poor and destitution,’” Rector said. “We have a very large welfare state, and there is waste in that welfare state. It’s important to prune the waste and make these programs much more effective.”

Jonnelle Marte and Caitlin Dewey contributed to this article.

Read more on the budget: 

Trump Promises 1 Trillion Boost In Infrastructure Spending Then Cuts 13% From Transportation Dept

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWS IN D.C.)

Trump budget proposes 13 percent cut to Transportation Dept

The department’s funding would be cut by 13 percent, to $16.2 billion, according to the proposal released early Thursday.

“The Budget request reflects a streamlined DOT that is focused on performing vital Federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects,” the budget document says.

“The Budget reduces or eliminates programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other Federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by States, localities, or the private sector.”
The budget limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment program, eliminates funding for the Essential Air Service program and ends federal support for long-distance Amtrak trains.

The blueprint also eliminates funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which was set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects.

The grants are appropriated by Congress every year but were never authorized. The proposal estimates that scrapping the program would save $499 million annually.

TIGER grants are a popular funding tool among cities and states. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressed support for TIGER grants and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program during her confirmation hearing.

But the program has drawn the ire of Republicans, who have sought to eliminate or reduce the grants in previous spending bills.
“If [TIGER grants] were to be cut, then it’s big time trouble,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told The Hill last week.

“Department of Transportation TIGER grants are something that are considered essential to rehabbing our infrastructure.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, has promised to protect the grants in any spending bill.

Trump vowed as a candidate and after winning the White House to improve the nation’s infrastructure, calling for repairing U.S. roads, bridges and airports.

“Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land,” Trump said during a joint address to Congress last month.

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.”
This report was updated at 10:16 a.m.

Geert Wilders Falls Short In Election, As Wary Dutch Scatter Their Votes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Geert Wilders, a Rising Anti-Muslim Voice

This is Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician with aspirations to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands. He has compared the Quran to “Mein Kampf” and has called Moroccans “scum.”

By AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER on Publish Date March 13, 2017.  

THE HAGUE — The far-right politician Geert Wilders fell short of expectations in Dutch elections on Wednesday, gaining seats but failing to persuade a decisive portion of voters to back his extreme positions on barring Muslim immigrants and jettisoning the European Union, according to early results and exit polls.

The results were immediately cheered by pro-European politicians who hoped that they could help stall some of the momentum of the populist, anti-European Union and anti-Muslim forces Mr. Wilders has come to symbolize, and which have threatened to fracture the bloc.

Voters, who turned out in record numbers, nonetheless rewarded right and center-right parties that had co-opted parts of his hard-line message, including that of the incumbent prime minister, Mark Rutte. Some parties that challenged the establishment from the left made significant gains.

The Dutch vote was closely watched as a harbinger of potential trends in a year of important European elections, including in France in just weeks, and later in Germany and possibly Italy. Many of the Dutch parties that prevailed favor the European Union — a rare glimmer of hope at a time when populist forces have created an existential crisis for the bloc and Britain prepares for its withdrawal, or “Brexit.”

Continue reading the main story

“Today was a celebration of democracy, we saw rows of people queuing to cast their vote, all over the Netherlands — how long has it been since we’ve seen that?” Mr. Rutte said.

Alexander Pechtold, the leader of Democrats 66, which appeared to have won the most votes of any left-leaning party, struck a similar note underscoring the vote as a victory against a populist extremist.

“During this election campaign, the whole world was watching us,” Mr. Pechtold said. “They were looking at Europe to see if this continent would follow the call of the populists, but it has now become clear that call stopped here in the Netherlands.”

GRAPHIC

How Far Is Europe Swinging to the Right?

Right-wing parties have been achieving electoral success in a growing number of nations.

OPEN GRAPHIC

According to an unofficial tally compiled by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation, the country’s public broadcaster, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy was likely to capture 33 of the 150 seats in Parliament — a loss of seven seats, but still far more than any other party.

Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom was expected to finish second, with 20 seats (an increase of eight); and the right-leaning Christian Democratic Appeal and the left-leaning Democrats 66 were tied for third, with 19 each, the broadcaster reported.

In the Netherlands, the results betrayed a lingering distrust of turning over the reins of power to the far right, even as its message dominated the campaign and was likely to influence policies in the new government.

Yet there are limits to how much the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, will be a reliable predictor for Europe’s other important elections this year, including next month’s presidential elections in France.

Mark Bovens, a political scientist at Utrecht University, noted that Mr. Wilders and other right-wing parties, despite their gains, did not drastically cross traditional thresholds.

“The nationalist parties have won seats, compared to 2012 — Wilders’s party has gained seats, as has a new party, the Forum for Democracy — but their electorate is stable, it has not grown,” Mr. Bovens said.

Mr. Bovens pointed out that an earlier populist movement led by the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn had won 26 seats in 2002, and that Mr. Wilders’s won 24 seats in 2010. If Mr. Wilders’s party rises to 20 seats, as the early returns seemed to indicate, it will still be lower than the previous high-water marks.

“And some of the traditional parties have moved in a more nationalistic direction, taking a bit of wind out of his sails,” he said. “You see the same strategy in Germany.”

The German governing coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is facing a stiff election challenge of its own this year, was clearly buoyed by the Dutch result, its foreign ministry sending a warmly enthusiastic message via Twitter.

Photo

“The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said ‘Whoa’ to the wrong kind of populism,” said Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd. CreditCarl Court/Getty Images

“Large majority of Dutch voters have rejected anti-European populists. That’s good news. We need you for a strong #Europe!” it read.

In the Netherlands’s extremely fractured system of proportional representation — 28 parties ran and 13 are likely to have positions in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament — the results were, not atypically, something of a dog’s breakfast.

Mr. Rutte’s party lost seats, even as it came out on top, and will need to join forces with several others in order to wield power. Virtually all parties said they would not work with Mr. Wilders in a coalition — so toxic he remains — though his positions are likely to infuse parliamentary debate.

“Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!” Mr. Wilders wrote on Twitter, and indeed his anti-immigrant message, which dominated much of the campaign, was not likely to go away.

It came into particularly sharp relief on the eve of the election, when Turkey’s foreign minister sought to enter the Netherlands to rally support among Turks in Rotterdam for a referendum to increase the power of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Dutch officials refused him landing rights.

Mr. Wilders, who has seemed to relish being called the “Dutch Donald Trump,” has been so extreme that some appear to have thought twice about supporting him.

He has called for banning the Quran because he compares it to Hitler’s work “Mein Kampf,” which the Netherlands banned, and for closing mosques and Islamic cultural centers and schools.

Election turnout was high, with polling places seeing a steady stream of voters from early morning until the polls closed at 9 p.m. Of the 12.9 million Dutch citizens eligible to cast ballots, more than 80 percent voted.

Some polling places ran out of ballots and called for additional ones to be delivered. There were so many candidates listed that the ballots were as voluminous as bath towels and had to be folded many times over to fit into the ballot box.

Photo

Supporters of the Green Party reacted in The Hague on Wednesday.CreditRobin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The percentage of the vote that a party receives translates into the number of seats it will get in Parliament. If a party gets 10 percent of the total votes, it gets 10 percent of seats in the 150-seat Parliament, given to its first 15 candidates listed on the ballot.

The election was a success for the left-leaning Green Party, led by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, a relative political newcomer, whose leadership at least tripled the party’s seats, making it the fifth-place finisher and potentially a part of the government.

Mr. Klaver ran specifically on an anti-populist platform and worked hard to turn out first-time voters.

“In these elections there was an overwhelming attention from the foreign press, which is understandable because Brexit happened and Trump was elected, and because France, Germany and maybe Italy will be holding elections,” Mr. Klaver said. “They asked us: Will populism break through in the Netherlands?”

The crowd shouted: “No.”

“That is the answer that we have for the whole of Europe: Populism did not break through,” Mr. Klaver said.

Another striking development was the first-time election of former Labor Party members, all three of Turkish background, who formed a new party, Denk (which means “think”). It will be the only ethnic party in the Dutch Parliament and is a reminder that Turks are the largest immigrant community in the Netherlands. There are roughly 400,000 first, second, or third-generation Turkish immigrants in the nation.

The big loser was the center-left Labor Party, which was expected to drop from being the second largest party in Parliament, with 38 seats and a position as Mr. Rutte’s coalition partner. The party was expected to win only nine seats.

In past elections the impact of extremist right-leaning parties has been largely blunted by a political system that for more than a century has resulted in governance by coalition.

This year’s election may give the Netherlands its most fragmented government in history. Some political analysts believe it could take weeks or months to form a government and that the governing coalition will be fragile.

In Belgium, which has a similar political system as the Netherlands, it famously took nearly a year and a half after inconclusive elections in June 2010 to form a government.

Federal Judge In Hawaii Rules That President Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Illegal, Freezing Implementation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump’s new travel ban on Wednesday afternoon, hours before the ban was set to go into effect.

In a 43-page ruling, US District Court Judge Derrick Watson concluded in no uncertain terms that the new executive order failed to pass legal muster at this stage and the state had established “a strong likelihood of success” on their claims of religious discrimination.
Trump decried the ruling during a rally Wednesday night in Nashville, introducing his statement as “the bad, the sad news.”
“The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first one,” Trump said, as the crowd booed the news.
“This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” he added, before pledging to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The practical effect of the ruling — which applies nationwide — is that travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees will be able to travel to the US.
Unlike the previous executive order, the new one removed Iraq from the list of banned countries, exempted those with green cards and visas and removed a provision that arguably prioritizes certain religious minorities.
The new ban was announced earlier this month and was set to take effect Thursday. It would have banned people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” Watson wrote.
“Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries,” Watson added. “It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.”
“It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam,” Watson added. “Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.”
“When considered alongside the constitutional injuries and harms … and the questionable evidence supporting the Government’s national security motivations, the balance of equities and public interests justify granting the Plaintiffs’ (request to block the new order),” Watson wrote.
The Justice Department said it will defend the new travel ban.
“The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” DOJ said in a statement Wednesday night.

Judge points to cable news comments

After Trump initially blasted a federal judge in Seattle on Twitter for blocking the original travel ban, and several other federal courts halted its implementation last month, the White House went back to the drawing board for over a month and rewrote the ban — hoping this one would survive legal scrutiny.
Yet certain statements made by Trump’s senior advisers have come back to bite the administration in court.
In the ruling, Watson brought up specific statements made by the President and Stephen Miller, one of his top policy advisers and a reported architect of the original order, in cable news interviews.
Trump made plain his opposition to Islam in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year, asserting: “I think Islam hates us.”
Cooper asked then-candidate Trump in the interview to clarify if he meant Islam as a whole or just “radical Islam,” to which Trump replied, “It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
The judge cited this interview as an example of the “religious animus” behind the executive order and quoted Trump telling Cooper: “We can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.”
Likewise, the decision cited an interview Miller had on Fox News following the legal struggles of the first executive order last month, which the legal opponents of the ban have emphasized repeatedly.
In a February interview, Miller downplayed any major differences the new executive order would have from the first and said it would be “responsive to the judicial ruling” holding it up and have “mostly minor technical differences.”
“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller added.
“These plainly worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson wrote.
“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” he added.

Changes not enough, judge says

While Watson signaled that this temporary freeze of the travel ban may not last forever, he nevertheless concluded that the changes made between the first and second versions of the travel ban weren’t enough.
“Here, it is not the case that the Administration’s past conduct must forever taint any effort by it to address the security concerns of the nation,” he wrote. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions.'”
Immigration advocates applauded the ruling immediately.
“The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban. We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect,” said ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued for the case for the challengers in Maryland federal court earlier on Wednesday.
The Justice Department has yet to indicate its next legal steps, but Trump administration has argued the ban is necessary to protect the nation’s security.
“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said March 6.
Federal judges in several states, including Maryland and Washington state, are also in the process of evaluating challenges to the new travel ban, but may defer ruling in light of the nationwide ruling in Hawaii.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Wire Tapping Your Phone Lines, No Proof: The Biggest Habitual Liar: Hillary Or Donald The Quack?


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said today that there is no evidence that any wiretap took place at President Donald Trump’s building in Manhattan during the presidential campaign or transition.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that there is “no basis” for President Trump‘s accusations that President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower “whatsoever.”

Schiff said it “deeply concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

Trump had alleged in a series of Tweets that former President Barack Obama had his phones tapped.

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

 “The challenge here is that the President Obama wouldn’t physically go over and wiretap and then you have to decide if you’re going to take the tweets literally, and if you are, then clearly the president was wrong.” Nunes said referring to the multiple tweets that President Trump sent on the morning of March 4 making accusations.

“But if you’re not going to take the tweets literally and if there’s a concern that the president has about other people, other surveillance activities looking at him or his associates, either appropriately or inappropriately, We want to find that out. It’s all in the interpretation of what you believe,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer maintained that the president will be “vindicated” by evidence. On March 13, Spicer said that Trump was not talking literally or specifically when he accused President Obama of “wiretapping” his campaign.

“If you look at the president’s tweet, he said wiretapping in quotes. There’s been substantial discussion in several reports,” Spicer said.

“The president was very clear in his tweet, it was wiretapping. That spans a host of surveillance options,” he said. “The House and the Senate Intelligence Committees will now look into that and provide a report back. I think there’s been numerous reports from a variety of outlets over the last couple months that seem to indicate that there has been different types of surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election.”

Nunes said that there will be a public hearing about the issue in the coming weeks.

“Certainly at the open hearing that we have… we’ll be asking the director if he has seen any evidence that substantiates the president’s claim,” Schiff said.

Syria’s President Assad Calls American Troops In His Country ‘Invaders’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad scoffed and questioned US actions in Syria, calling American troops deploying to the country “invaders” because he hadn’t given permission for them to enter the country and saying there’s been no “concrete action” from the Trump administration toward ISIS.

“Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation or consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other one,” Assad said.
“And we don’t think this is going to help. What are they going to do? To fight ISIS? The Americans lost nearly every war. They lost in Iraq, they had to withdraw at the end. Even in Somalia, let alone Vietnam in the past and Afghanistan, your neighboring country. They didn’t succeed anywhere they sent troops, they only create a mess; they are very good in creating problems and destroying, but they are very bad in finding solutions.”
The Syrian leader made the comments in an interview with Chinese media outlet Phoenix TV. It was published on Syria’s state-news agency SANA on Saturday.
US Marines have arrived in northern Syria with artillery to support US-backed local forces fighting there, US officials said. The US-backed fighters are preparing to move in the coming weeks to assault the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital, according to the officials.
The Pentagon and the Marine Corps have declined to confirm the deployment because of security concerns in the region. They have also declined to specify the exact location of the forces or how many are there.
The US has also deployed approximately 100 Army Rangers in and around Manbij, Syria.
US officials have taken the unusual step of publicly talking about the Ranger deployment and where they are located to protect against them inadvertently coming under fire from forces fighting in the region or Turkish, Russian or Syrian forces.
The US troops in Manbij are trying to deter hostilities due to their visible presence, rather than the typical mission of training, advising and assisting local forces.

Room for cooperation?

In the interview, Assad was asked whether there can be room for cooperation between the United States and Syria.
In theory, Assad said, there could be cooperation between Syria and a Trump-led United States, but that there was no formal ties or outreach so far.
He said the Trump administration’s rhetoric during and after the presidential campaign focused on defeating ISIS and he called that “a promising approach to what’s happening in Syria and in Iraq, because we live in the same area and we face the same enemy.”
But he also said, “we haven’t seen anything concrete yet regarding this rhetoric, because we’ve been seeing now certain is a local kind of raids.”
Assad said the approach toward terrorism needs to be “comprehensive” and not “local.”
“It cannot be from the air, it should be in cooperation with the troops on the ground, that’s why the Russians succeeded, since they supported the Syrian Army in pushing ISIS to shrink, not to expand as it used to be before that. So, we have hopes that this taking into consideration that talking about ISIS doesn’t mean talking about the whole terrorism; ISIS is one of the products, al-Nusra is another product, you have so many groups in Syria, they are not ISIS, but they are al Qaeda, they have the same background of the Wahabi extremist ideology,” he said.
Regarding advances made by Assad’s regime forces, he says they are closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
“We are very close to Raqqa now. Yesterday, our troops reached the Euphrates River, which is very close to Raqqa city, and Raqqa is the stronghold of ISIS today, so it’s going to be a priority for us,” said Assad said.
He also said his military’s recent recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra blocked ISIS’s supply route between Iraq and Syria, and touted that whether he attacked Raqqa or just blocked the supply routes, “it has the same result”.

Damascus bombings

Twin blasts in Damascus on Saturday killed at least 40 Iraqi pilgrims and wounding 120 more, according to Iraq’s Foreign Ministry.
The twin blasts were caused by IEDs that targeted buses carrying Iraqi pilgrims visiting the Bab al-Saghir Cemetery in Damascus, according to Iraq’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Jamal in a statement.

Republican Health-Care Plan Eliminates Mental Health And Drug Addiction Provisions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

By Katie Zezima and Chris Ingraham

The Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act would strip away what advocates say is essential coverage for drug addiction treatment as the number of people dying from opiate overdoses is skyrocketing nationwide.

Beginning in 2020, the plan would eliminate an Affordable Care Act requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans.

The proposal would also roll back the Medicaid expansion under the act — commonly known as Obamacare — which would affect many states bearing the brunt of the opiate crisis, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

“Taken as a whole, it is a major retreat from the effort to save lives in the opiate epidemic,” said Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
Advocates and others stress that mental-health disorders sometimes fuel drug addiction, making both benefits essential to combating the opioid crisis.

Nearly 1.3 million people receive treatment for mental-health and substance abuse disorders under the Medicaid expansion, according to an estimate by health care economists Richard G. Frank of the Harvard Medical School and Sherry Glied of New York University.

House Republicans confirmed the benefit cuts during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Republicans on the committee argue that the change would give states additional flexibility in coverage decisions, and believe they would continue to provide addiction and mental-health coverage to Medicaid recipients if needed.

During the committee meeting, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked a GOP staffer whether those benefits are “no longer essentially covered, or required to be covered, by this version of this text. Is that not correct?”

“The text before us does remove the application of the essential health benefits for the alternative benefit plans in Medicaid,” a lawyer for Republicans on the committee responded.

“Including mental health?”

“Yes.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced an amendment during the committee meeting to include mandates for substance abuse and mental-health coverage, but it was voted down along party lines.

Several Republican senators expressed concern about removing the benefits. Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating that the plan does not “provide stability and certainty” for individuals and families enrolled in Medicaid expansion programs, or flexibility for states.

President Trump has made combating the nation’s drug-overdose problem a focal point of his campaign and his presidency.
“We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” he said in a speech before Congress last week, “and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.”

Trump has endorsed the Republican plan to replace the ACA.

“States have already been strong leaders on the opioid crisis and know the crisis within their states better than the federal government,” said a White House spokesman who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We expect them to prioritize the needs in their states better than the federal government ever could.”

A record number of people — 33,000 — died of opiate overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids now kill more people than car accidents, and in 2015 the number of heroin deaths nationwide surpassed the number of deaths from gun-related homicides. Authorities are also grappling with an influx of powerful synthetic narcotics responsible for a sharp increase in overdoses and deaths over the past year.

The 15 counties with the highest death rates from opiate overdoses were in Kentucky and West Virginia, according to a group of public health researchers, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine. Both of those states expanded Medicaid. Taking away those benefits, they wrote, would affect tens of thousands of rural Americans “in the midst of an escalating epidemic.”

Medicaid pays for 49.5 percent of medication-assisted treatment in Ohio, 44.7 percent in West Virginia and 44 percent in Kentucky when the drug Buprenorphine, which is used to manage chronic opiate use disorder, is administered, according to Rebecca Farley, vice president of policy at the National Center on Behavioral Health.

Public health officials and advocates say there is a nationwide shortage of treatment programs to serve the growing problem of addiction and its effects, including diseases associated with long-term IV drug use such as hepatitis C and HIV.

Shawn Ryan, a doctor with Brightview Health in Cincinnati, which provides addiction treatment mainly to patients on Medicaid, said states are starting to increase drug addiction services to respond to rising needs, but the process could take years.

“The outpatient addiction treatment services that are starting to ramp up . . . they could be crushed by this if not done in a way that specifically protects the most vulnerable populations,” he said.

Stripping away addiction treatment services from low-income people is especially harmful, Frank, of Harvard, said in an interview, because the prevalence of drug abuse is much higher for people living well below the poverty line. He said Medicaid recipients who are covered for addiction treatment and maintain their coverage through 2020 would not lose the benefit under the GOP proposal. But, he added, because addiction is a chronic-relapse disease, people may get clean, relapse, stop working and need to go back on Medicaid.

“It’s a disease that hits suddenly at various points in the life cycle,” Frank said.

Some GOP lawmakers advocate a full repeal of the ACA, a move that would result in loss of coverage for 2.8 million people, 222,000 of whom have an opioid disorder, Frank and Glied, of NYU, estimate.

Gary Mendell, founder of the anti-addiction organization Shatterproof, said the group plans to run campaigns against the rollback in eight states were Medicaid was expanded, urging people to contact their elected officials. Mendell, whose son battled addiction and died in 2011, said the drug-abuse battle has transcended party lines. Last year, Congress passed a landmark bill to fight opiate addiction.

“It’s been a bipartisan effort to attack the opiate epidemic,” he said, “and now Republicans are putting fighting the opiate epidemic in the back seat to politics.”

Who Is Jon Huntsman President Trump’s Pick To Be The U.S. Ambassador To Russia?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) Former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has accepted President Donald Trump’s offer to serve as the next ambassador to Russia, several senior administration officials told CNN.

If confirmed, Huntsman would become one of the highest-profile US ambassadors, helming the diplomatic mission to a country that has seen its relationship with the US become increasingly strained in recent years. Huntsman would also take on the post amid ongoing questions about connections between Russians known to US intelligence and Trump campaign advisers — and just months after Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The post would be the third ambassadorship for Huntsman, who previously served as US ambassador to Singapore and China. Huntsman was the ambassador to China during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Huntsman’s selection comes two weeks after the Utah Republican was first floated as a contender for a top diplomatic post.
One senior administration official said Huntsman was tapped because he is a “brilliant guy,” “tough” and understands what Trump wants.

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