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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 24, 2018 — “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

February 23, 2018

Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 229

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Moses And The Ten Commandments by Giora Eshkol

Reading 1  DT 26:16-19

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Today you are making this agreement with the LORD:
he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways
and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees,
and to hearken to his voice.
And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you;
and provided you keep all his commandments,
he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory
above all other nations he has made,
and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God,
as he promised.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8

R. (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
when I have learned your just ordinances.
I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Verse Before The Gospel  2 COR 6:2B

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

Gospel MT 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
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Reflection From Peace and Freedom
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Did you ever skip to the end of the book to see how the story comes out? Or fast forward to the end of the movie to see the conclusion without waiting?
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I admit: sometimes I do that even with a Gospel. The truth is, just about anyone can tell you the Gospel story after reading the FIRST few lines. It takes real work to identify the story from THE LAST LINE.
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But for today’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 43-48) the last line is, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
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That line reminds me of “The Imitation of Christ.”
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That little book by  Thomas à Kempis is a Christian devotional book —  first composed in Latin ca. 1418–1427, according to Wikipedia. The truth is, monks carried that little book for centuries in an effort to become people that lived like Christ! They hoped to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” To live in accord with the Will of God!
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Every Christian should have one. A priest told me, “You are a damned fool if you don’t have one!” I know some very salty priests!
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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24 FEBRUARY, 2018, Saturday, 1st Week, Lent
CONVERSION AS RESTORATION AND PERFECTION OF THE DIGNITY OF OUR SONSHIP IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [DT 26:16-19MT 5:43-48  ]

In the first reading we are reminded that we are chosen to be God’s people. Like the Israelites, we were nobody, but God called us.  “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pt 2:10)  But we are not only called to be God’s people and His subjects, but also His sons and daughters.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:16f)

To be called God’s people and His children is a great privilege.  But it entails obligations arising from our dignity as God’s people and His children as well.  Office always comes with responsibility.  So what are the implications of being the people of God?  As the people of Godwe must show ourselves as God’s people by our way of life.  How?

In the first place, we must remember that we are chosen and saved, not as individuals but as a people.  The covenant that God made with Moses was not with some individuals but with a community.  The plan of God is that we will be His people so that He will be our God. Necessarily, the first obligation as a member of the Chosen People of God is to strive to live a life of unity and charity among ourselves, which is reflective of the Trinitarian inner life of God.  We are called to be a covenanted people, living a covenanted life; a life based on justice, equality and above all, charity and compassion.  Only by subscribing to such fundamental values of the Covenant, can the community be preserved in love and unity.

Indeed the purpose of the commandments that God gave to the people through Moses is to help them to live in unity. They are guidelines to provide them direction in their relationship with God and with each other.  Commandments therefore are not the ends themselves, but they are at the service of love and unity, otherwise, the commandments become means to discriminate people and penalize those who fail.

Secondly, we must recognize His Lordship over us.  If we are God’s people, we must realize that God is our Lord and our king, we are His subjects.  Hence, we must surrender everything to His Lordship. We must obey Him in all things.  We cannot claim Jesus as our Lord so long as we continue to control our lives according to our whims and fancies.  ‘Jesus is Lord’ is more than just a verbal acclamation but it means subjecting ourselves to the kingdom values as enunciated in the Sermon of the Mount (cf Mt 5-7) on how, as Christians, we are expected to conduct ourselves.

Thirdly, we must be consecrated to Him. We must consecrate our whole life, soul and being, returning to Him what He has given to us.  To be consecrated to the Lord is to be called to holiness.   “Be holy because I am holy.” (Lev 11:45 cf 1 Pt 1:16)  Holiness is to be set apart.  This means that we must set ourselves apart for the service of our Lord and king.  All that we have, all that we are, our thoughts, our will and love must totally be given to the Lord for the service of His Kingdom and His people.  Whether we are working in the Church, at home or working in the world, what makes us holy is when we do everything for the glory of His name and for the love of Him and His people.  A person is holy when he recognizes that all he has comes from God and belongs to God alone.  Because everything comes from Him and we all belong to Him, it is only right that we give everything back to God.

But God is not contented to choose us as His people.  He wants us to be more than His subjects.  As Christians we are His sons and daughters because He is our Father and we share in His divine nature.  He wants each of us to reflect the perfection of God.  The implication is to reflect the face of God. “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”    We must reflect the glory of God in us.  Hence, we must go beyond just observance of the laws to the way God loves us.

Yesterday’s gospel says that our virtues must go deeper than the scribes and Pharisees, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  We must not conduct ourselves in a legalistic manner like the Jewish leaders and end up being self-righteous and judgmental of others.  We are to go beyond the mere observance of the laws to the spirit of the laws.  For all laws in the final analysis is for the service of love.  St Paul says, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.  If you love your fellowmen, you have fulfilled the laws.” (Rom 13:8)

This means that we must love like the Father.  He is the Father of all humanity.  As sons and daughters of the Father, we must consider others as our brothers and sisters.  It is not enough, as Jesus said, to love our loved ones or even our fellow Christians.  But our love must be given to all, regardless of language, race or religion.  Everyone is to be regarded as our brother and sister if we dare to claim that God is our Father.  As Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?” Unfortunately, most of us tend to restrict our love to those who are our friends, those who think like us, perhaps our fellow Christians, but we disregard others who do not share our faith or our interests.  Even within Church ministry, members tend to be cliquish and would only mix with their own members; or worse still, only with selected friends within the ministry.

However, even if we love our brothers and sisters, we are still not anywhere near the perfection of God.  We are called to forgive and love our enemies so that they do not come under the reign of Satan.  Jesus said, “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes the sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.”  This was the very life of the Father and the attitude of Jesus towards His enemies.  Even when we reject God again and again, He would forgive us and embrace us.  Jesus, in His passion and death, shows us what it takes to love our enemies.  On the cross, not only did Jesus forgive His enemies, but He prayed for them.  As if it was not sufficient proof of His love for us, He even made excuses for His enemies “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Lk 23:34)  The call to love our enemies, to forgive and do good to those who can’t repay us, is in order that we reflect the glory of God in us.

How can this be possible? Perfection is only possible by inserting ourselves into the paschal mystery of Christ, sharing in His death and resurrection at baptism. By baptism too, we share in Christ’s sonship and receive His Spirit to act like sons.  Through baptism, we belong to the new people of God.  The Church, which is the community of grace and the body of Christ, will assist us to live out our identity as God’s children.  Indeed, we need each other to live out this calling to be God’s people and His children.

We must now reclaim our gift of sonship through repentance, prayer and Christian living, and most of all, by reflecting on God’s perfect love for us during this season of Lent.   God’s love for us is everlasting.  To reflect the glory of God is to live a life that claims this love of the Father for our parents, friends and fellow human beings.  This love is especially seen in Christ who is the love of God in person.  Jesus is the compassion and forgiveness of God.

At the same time, we are aware that we are only living out our finite and conditional love in life which is founded in God’s love.  We cannot love perfectly as parents, children and friends.  We cannot love with unlimited and unconditional love.  Human love will always be inadequate and often disappointing.  But that should not throw us into despair because God’s unconditional love will heal us.  We also become more compassionate, but we should not expect that we can love exactly like God.  What is important is that we are trying to perfect our love after our heavenly Father.  That is why we should, and we can, forgive each other in our failures in love, since we too fail in our love for God and for our fellowmen occasionally.

Lent is a time to prepare us to renew our baptismal calling. The focus is not on fasting and prayer alone.  The spiritual exercises are means to help restore our dignity as baptized Christians, called to be the people of God and sons and daughters of God.  This necessitates a greater awareness of what our calling entails.  Let us therefore, whilst fasting, praying and doing works of charity, come from a consciousness of who we are before God, His chosen people and His children.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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UK ideas on post-Brexit ties are ‘pure illusion’, EU’s Tusk says

February 23, 2018

Reuters

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European Council President Donald Tusk

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday dismissed as “pure illusion” the ideas floated by Britain so far on what sort of relationship it would want with the European Union after it leaves the bloc.

Tusk said he hoped to get more clarity when he meets Theresa May next Thursday, a day before the British prime minister is due to deliver a speech to outline London’s vision of its future ties with the EU.

“I am glad that the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position,” Tusk told journalists after 27 EU leaders – all apart from May – met in Brussels on Friday.

“However … I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion. It seems like the ‘cake’ philosophy is still alive. From the very start it has been a key clear principle of the EU 27 that there can be no cherry-picking and no single market ‘a la carte’.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said he wants Britain to get the best of both worlds – to “have its cake and eat it”.

EU leaders have long been asking May for details of London’s vision for future relations, but she has been hampered by divisions within her ruling Conservative Party, with some backing close trading ties and others seeking a “clean break”.

Tusk said the remaining 27 EU states would adopt their joint stance on that in March, whether London provided input or not. Tusk said the bloc would be “extremely realistic in our assessment of possible new proposals”.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who saw May this week, echoed those comments in talking to reporters separately after the Brussels meeting.

“I made it clear to Theresa May that I believe it is crucial for the UK to set out its position on the transition, on issues like the Irish border, and particularly on the future relationship,” he said.

“We don’t like cherry-picking, so it will be difficult to come to a bespoke deal along the lines that some in the UK are suggesting.”

Additional reporting by Samantha Koester and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Related:

US Treasury chief says Russia sanctions to come within weeks

February 23, 2018

AFP

© AFP | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House that new sanctions against Russia could come within weeks

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday previewed a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia, which he said could come within weeks.”I don’t want to leave here without emphasizing — you haven’t asked me yet — we are working on Russia sanctions,” Mnuchin told reporters during a discussion about sanctions on North Korea.

“I can assure you that is in the process. I will be back here within the next several weeks to talk about that,” he said.

The White House this week stepped up efforts to counter allegations that it is a soft touch on Moscow.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials earlier this week said a “task force” has been set up to address potential meddling in the 2018 congressional elections and work is underway to introduce more sanctions in response to Moscow’s 2016 campaign.

Highlighting one potentially far-reaching step, a senior administration official said governments around the world have already been warned they could face sanctions for “significant transactions” with the Russian military.

Trump’s vocal praise of President Vladimir Putin and his criticism of a special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election has poured kerosene on allegations of foot-dragging.

Several members of Trump’s campaign have been charged or admitted to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Kremlin-related officials who are accused of trying to sway the 2016 vote in Trump’s favor.

On Thursday Trump’s former campaign boss Paul Manafort was charged with additional counts of laundering money and tax fraud stemming from his time working for a Kremlin-backed Ukrainian politician.

UN Security Council ‘almost there’ on agreeing Syria cease-fire

February 23, 2018

The UN Security Council. (Reuters)
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council is “almost there” on agreeing a Syria cease-fire, its president said Friday, the day of a crucial vote on the conflict.
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“We are still working on the language, on some of the paragraphs, but we are almost there,” said Kuwait’s Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi, who holds the presidency this month.
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The council is set to vote on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.
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The UN vote was scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. GMT but has now been delayed to 7:30 p.m., diplomats said.
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Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk urged Russia and Iran to stop the violence in Syria, whilst the EU called for an immediate ceasefire.
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French president Emmanuel Macron added that France will do all it can with Russia to achieve a truce in Syria. He continued by saying that if no truce is acheived in Syria, “we will continue our efforts”.
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Negotiations went into high gear at the UN to avoid a Russia veto of the text that would establish a truce to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
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Russia is ready to agree on a UN Security Council draft resolution in Syria but it needs guarantees on a cease-fire, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
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“There are no guarantees that (the rebels) will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Lavrov said in a briefing about discussions on a UN ceasefire resolution for Syria.
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“That’s why for the resolution to be efficient — and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so — we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.
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Negotiations on the draft have dragged on as hundreds of Syrians have died in a fierce government air campaign in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.
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Sweden and Kuwait presented the proposed measure on Feb. 9.
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The latest text softens language in a key provision to say that the council “demands” a cease-fire, instead of “decides.”
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It also specifies that the cease-fire will not apply to “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated” with Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group. A previous version simply mentioned the two terror groups.
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More than 400 people have been killed in the five-day assault by the government on Eastern Ghouta, where UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said 400,000 Syrians are living in “hell on earth.”

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France clamps down on radical Islam in prisons, schools — France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism — Worry about young people

February 23, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Clare BYRNE, Marc PRÉEL | “No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’ as if you might de-install dangerous software,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C) said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers

LILLE (FRANCE) (AFP) – The French government said Friday said it would seal off extremists within prisons and open new centres to reintegrate returning jihadists into society as part of a plan to halt the spread of radical Islam.France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism of young people growing up on the margins of society, in predominantly immigrant suburbs where organisations like the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda recruit.

The plan unveiled Friday is the third in four years and aims to draw lessons from past failures, after three years marked by a series of attacks that left over 240 people dead.

“No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’ as if you might de-install dangerous software,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers.

“But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement.”

France is particularly keen to stop extremism flourishing in its prisons, where some of the jihadists behind attacks in recent years first came under the spell of hardliners.

A total of 512 people are currently serving time for terrorism offences in France and a further 1,139 prisoners have been flagged up as being radicalised.

To prevent extremism spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings “especially for radicalised inmates”.

– Islamic schools under scrutiny –

He also announced plans for three new centres that will attempt to reintegrate radicals referred by French courts, including jihadists returning from fallen IS strongholds in the Middle East.

A first de-radicalisation trial ended in failure last July, with a centre in western France that operated on a voluntary basis shutting after less than a year with no improvements to show.

Other measures announced by Philippe include:

— Investments in psychological care for returning children of jihadists. So far 68 children have been repatriated, most of them under 13.

— Tighter controls on private Islamic schools which have grown rapidly in number in recent years.

— More training for teachers to help them detect early signs of radicalisation and to debunk conspiracy theories.

— More investment in teaching students to separate fact from rumour on the internet.

— Making it easier to reassign public servants that show signs of radicalisation to jobs that do not involve contact with the public.

by Clare BYRNE, Marc PRÉEL

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Related:

Trump Taking Republican Into European-Style Populism? — Critics say “Yes”

February 23, 2018

Bloomberg

By Sahil Kapur

 Updated on 
  • Stars of U.K., French nationalist movements address CPAC
  • Annual gathering of conservatives often signals GOP direction
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018
CREDIT Chip Somodevilla

Trump Says NRA and Republicans Want a Deal on Gun Control

President Donald Trump has pushed the Republican Party toward a European-style populism that is amply evident in the line-up at an annual conference in Washington that long has reflected the pulse of the American right.

The list of speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference that opened Thursday includes two European nativists, Marion Marechal-Le Pen and Nigel Farage, who are addressing the gathering between panels and events on the dangers of immigration, Sharia law and “lawless” government agencies.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen

Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The presence of Marechal-Le Pen and Farage is an indicator of how Trump’s “America First” agenda parallels traditional European nationalism, said Benjamin Haddad, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute who studies European populism and transatlantic affairs.

“You do see a convergence with the Trump movement — when it comes to closed borders, protectionism, the nativism and anti-immigration discourse, the focus on Islam,” Haddad said. “It’s what we’ve seen in European movements for years.”

Over the three-day run of the conference, which often reflects the direction of the GOP, audiences will hear from Trump, who’s promised to appear every year he is president; Vice President Mike Pence, the kick-off speaker on Thursday; and a cross-section of Trump administration officials popular with conservatives.

Marechal-Le Pen, the far-right French politician and niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, said nationalist movements are part of the broader fight for freedom and independence.

“I’m not offended when I hear President Donald Trump say America first,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “In fact, I want America first for the American people. I want Britain first for the British people. And I want France first for the French people.”

“All I want is the survival of my nation,” she said, prompting a shout of “Vive la France!” from an audience member.

Controversial Invitation

The decision by CPAC to invite Marechal-Le Pen to speak has generated blowback from some conservatives.

CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp addressed critics who said Marechal-Le Pen defies core precepts of American conservatism, writing on Twitter: “Part of @CPAC is hearing people out. Debate is good for democracy and we are honored to have her address our activists.”

Jamie Weinstein, a conservative commentator based in Washington, responded to Schlapp’s message with a tweet saying he’s all for a healthy debate, but “I’m afraid what @CPAC is doing w/ Le Pen is allowing her to steal mantle of conservatism for an ideology that is anything but, at least as defined in America.”

Political Dynasty

The 28-year-old Marechal-Le Pen is a scion of the nativist political dynasty that began with her grandfather Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front in 1972. She has championed a harder line on immigration and national identity than her aunt, who was defeated by Emmanuel Macron for the French presidency last year. Shortly after the election, Marechal-Le Pen said she was retiring from political life, though she didn’t close the door on a return.

“She’s young, she’s a firebrand speaker, she’s clearly a good spokesperson for this,” Haddad said, adding that her philosophy is closer to her grandfather’s than that of her aunt, who tried to steer the party away from some of its most racially charged elements and toward populist economic issues like trade protectionism and minimum wage increases.

Farage, the British politician who was a force behind the successful Brexit referendum, will take the stage on Friday.

Trump Ally

The former U.K. Independence Party leader has aligned himself with Trump, who has returned the embrace. Shortly after the American presidential election, Trump suggested Farage should be Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. That was rejected by Prime Minister Theresa May, who has had a sometimes frosty relationship with the president.

Thomas Wright, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, said Marechal-Le Pen and Farage are “birds of a feather” and “not friends of the U.S. and Europe.” He said the participation of Marechal-Le Pen in particular “raises questions” as to whether CPAC is “aware of the various anti-American things she’s said.”

“Everyone should be very clear-eyed about what it is they stand for, which is a very anti-American view and a pro-Russian view of politics, and of the United States role in Europe,” Wright said. “It’s a worrying gesture. It raises significant concerns.”

Trump on Tuesday praised Schlapp for organizing what he said would be an “exciting event.”

Converging

The presence of nativist sentiments isn’t new in American politics, but until recent years they’ve largely been relegated to the fringes. Previous Republican Party leaders have instead emphasized pluralism over identity, alongside free markets and limited government. The rise of Trump appears to be a reflection of the potency of populism in a country that has been dominated by European immigrants and now is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.

“It does send a message that the Republican Party seems to be converging more with Trump,” Wright said.

There are some gaps between Trump’s rhetoric and his policies so far, such as on trade, Haddad said. He added that the president’s agenda of lower taxes and deregulation runs contrary to the more left-wing economic agenda of some populist European parties such as the National Front.

Numerous panels and other events are focused on the nuts and bolts of political activism, including using data and social media in campaigns, as well as issues that long have animated conservatives, such as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and freeing markets from government interference.

But many sessions have a flavor of current debates about immigration, the inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether conservative opinions are suppressed on college campuses. Several are centered on Trump’s policies.

Trump had appeared numerous times at CPAC since 2011 as he considered running for office. In 2016, when Trump canceled his appearance, the group criticized him and said his move “sends a clear message to conservatives.”

A rival for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, was the winner of that year’s CPAC straw poll, which had been won by Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney before their successful runs for the Republican nomination.

Some traditional conservatives feared then that Trump would push the Republican Party in a nativist direction. It was “one of the top concerns #NeverTrump-ers had about Trump,” Weinstein said.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-22/trump-steers-right-wing-summit-on-populist-path-blazed-in-europe

“Increasingly Difficult To Work With Russia on Syria” — Senior U.S. diplomat says — Dialogue with Russia on those issues and areas where we can work cooperatively toward a common goal is less and less — Is Putin’s Ego the problem?

February 23, 2018

Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said in Brussels on Friday it has become harder for Washington to work with Moscow on Syria.

“We’ve worked hard to maintain relations and a dialogue with Russia on those issues and areas where we can work cooperatively toward a common goal, Syria is one,” Sullivan told journalists.

“As the campaign against ISIS (Islamic State) has proceeded, it has become more challenging for us to work with the Russians on this (Syria).”

Sullivan said he had not been directly engaged in negotiations of the U.N. Security Council vote on Syria on Friday.

French prime minister unveils new deradicalisation programme — change in strategy for the French government.

February 23, 2018

AFP

Image may contain: 11 people, people standing and suit

Philippe Huguen, AFP | French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and some members of his government pose afting announcing new de-radicalisation measures on February 23, 2018, in Lille.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-02-23

The French government unveiled new deradicalisation plans on Friday, including isolating extremists within prisons and opening centres dedicated to reintegrating former radicals into society.

France is experimenting with new ways of halting the drift towards extremism for young people growing up on the margins of society, predominantly in immigrant suburbs where organisations like the Islamic State group or al Qaeda focus their recruiting efforts.

The plan unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday is the third such proposal in four years. But this one aims to learn from past mistakes, after three years marked by a series of attacks that has left more than 240 people dead across France.

“No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’, like you might de-install dangerous software,” Philippe said in the northern city of Lille, where he presented his strategy flanked by a dozen ministers.  

“But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement.”

Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on radicalisation, said that Philippe’s speech represented a change in strategy for the French government. 

“The prime minister ended his speech by talking about understanding the causes of radicalisation, which is a total turnaround from what has been said before,” Nasr said. “Former prime minister [Manuel Valls] said that understanding was ‘justifying’. So it is a real U-turn for the French government.” 

>> Read more: France’s first and only deradicalisation centre shuts down

France is particularly keen to stop extremism from flourishing in its prisons, where some of the jihadists behind attacks in recent years first came under the spell of hardliners.

A total of 512 people are currently serving time for terrorism offences in France and another 1,139 prisoners have been flagged as having been radicalised.

To prevent extremism from spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings “especially for radicalised inmates”.

“This is the first plan that specifically addresses the prevention of radicalisation,” said Muriel Domenach, the secretary general of the CIPDR, a committee under the prime minister tasked with the prevention of deliquance and radicalisation.

“It compliments the anti-terrorist arsenal that the government reinforced this autumn. Sociologists and anti-terrorism specialists agree that a security response isn’t enough.”

Islamic schools under scrutiny

Philippe also announced plans for three new centres that will attempt to reintegrate radicals referred by French courts, including some of the jihadists returning from fallen IS group strongholds in the Middle East.

A first attempt at introducing a deradicalisation programme ended in failure last July, with a centre in western France that operated on a voluntary basis shutting down after less than a year.

Other measures announced by Philippe include:

  • Investments in psychological care for the children of returning jihadists. So far 68 children have been repatriated, most of them under 13.
  • Tighter regulation of private Islamic schools, which have grown rapidly in number in recent years.
  • More training for teachers to help them detect the early signs of radicalisation and debunk conspiracy theories.
  • More investment in teaching students to separate fact from fiction on the internet.
  • Making it easier to reassign public servants that show signs of radicalisation to jobs that do not involve contact with the public.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Freewheeling Trump at CPAC touts armed teacher proposal

February 23, 2018

Washington (CNN) — A freewheeling President Donald Trump offered a political greatest hits reel Friday to the highest-profile right-wing gathering of the year, basking in conservative plaudits for what he characterized as a triumphant first year in office.

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Quickly discarding prepared remarks he deemed “sort of boring,” Trump lit into Democrats and even some Republicans who he deemed insufficiently doctrinaire, and again called for teachers to be armed in schools as a response to the Florida shooting last week.
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He welcomed familiar chants like “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton, the opponent he defeated 15 months ago. And he pledged to protect gun ownership rights, even amid an emotional national debate over guns in which he’d pledged new restrictions.
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It was Trump’s second appearance as President at the Conservative Political Action Conference, held just outside Washington in Maryland. His speech at CPAC last year was a blistering and dark diatribe that cemented the notion that Trump would not adhere to presidential norms.
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This time around, Trump was more upbeat. He declared his administration “has had the most successful first year in the history of the presidency,” naming tax cuts and a regulatory overhaul as his chief accomplishments.
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He went on an extended riff about immigration, vowing to build his promised border wall, lamenting a system he claimed was woefully broken, and declaring Democrats were unwilling to accept an agreement that would reform the DACA program. He launched into the “snake” fable that formed a major portion of his campaign stump speech, glistening with sweat as he warned against accepting immigrants he characterized as violent criminals.
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And he was gleeful in his assaults on political rivals. He deemed Democrats “really crazed.” And though he didn’t name Sen. John McCain, the ailing Arizona Republican, he lashed out at his vote against a health care repeal that many Republicans backed.
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“It would be controversial so I won’t use his name,” Trump said. “What a mess.”
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The Republicans who organize CPAC and fill its speaking roster have sometimes cringed at Trump’s harsh rhetoric, but they tolerate it in the hopes he can help shepherd through a staunchly conservative agenda.
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They have largely been rewarded over the past year, as Trump has approved sweeping tax cuts that include slashing the corporate rate, a massive unraveling of regulations and the partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
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Their tolerance for Trump’s crude brashness may be tested in the gun debate. The President has vowed to take action to prevent school shootings like the one in Florida last week, and he has expressed openness to at least one measure opposed by the National Rifle Association: raising the minimum age to purchase firearms like the AR-15.
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On Friday, however, Trump declared himself firm in his support for gun ownership rights, despite his pledges this week to take some action on guns.
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“They will put judges in that you wouldn’t believe, they’ll take away your 2nd Amendment, which we will never allow to happen, they’ll take away your 2nd Amendment,” he said of Democrats to raucous cheers from the crowd, which skews younger.
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“Remember that,” Trump said, “they will take away those massive tax cuts, and they will take away your Second Amendment.”
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Opening his speech Friday, Trump touted accomplishments, despite what he said was skepticism about his conservative bona fides.
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“Remember when I first started running — I started running and people said are you sure he’s a conservative. I think now we can say I’m a conservative,” he said. “We have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.”
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In his speech, he addressed last week’s shooting in Florida and continued his call for some teachers to be armed.
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“When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones it just puts our students in far more danger,” he said.
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EU-South America trade deal ‘could kill 20,000 French farms’

February 23, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | The deal could see up to 99,000 tonnes of beef from South America’s Mercosur trading bloc exported to Europe every year

PARIS (AFP) – Over 20,000 French farms could go bankrupt if the European Union concludes a major trade deal with four South American countries, France’s biggest farm union warned Friday.Christiane Lambert, head of the National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions, said France risked losing “between 20,000 and 25,000 farms” if the EU signs a deal allowing tens of thousands of tonnes of tariff-free South American beef into the bloc.

On Wednesday, beef farmers across France demonstrated against the deal which could see up to 99,000 tonnes of beef from the Mercosur trading bloc (Brazil — the world’s top exporter of the meat — as well as Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) exported to Europe every year.

Some campaigners have raised concerns about the use of hormones in these countries which lead to artificially high growth rates in cattle — a practice that is widespread in the United States but banned in Europe.

Lambert told BFM television she was worried the EU would agree to waive food security norms in return for access to a market of 260 million South American consumers for EU cars and auto parts, dairy products and other goods and services.

She complained that the use by South American producers of hormones and of meat and bone meal — a type of feed banned in the EU since the BSE or “mad cow” crisis of the 1990s — would allow them to undercut their French counterparts by up to 30 percent.

At a meeting Thursday with farmers, President Emmanuel Macron promised France would not budge on meat safety.

“There will never be beef with hormones in it in France. We shouldn’t play with fear,” he said, adding: “There will be no reduction in our social, environmental or health standards.”

Negotiators from Mercosur and the EU resumed talks on Wednesday after edging closer to a deal during the last round in Brussels.

Paraguay’s Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Latin American bloc, said Monday that the two sides were in agreement on “90 percent” of the issues, including beef exports to Europe.

But EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said it was “very open as to whether there will be a successful conclusion at this stage”.

At the end of the previous round, the EU said it was willing to accept tariff-free imports of 99,000 tonnes of South American beef annually, compared to an initial offer of 70,000 tonnes.

That sparked outrage among European farmers who accused Brussels of a sellout.

Macron is expected to face questions on the issue when he visits the annual Paris farm show on Saturday.