U.S. Senate Adopts Budget, Giving Momentum to Trump’s Tax-Cut Plans

October 20, 2017


By Erik Wasson, Sahil Kapu, and Laura Litvan

  • Plan would allow quick passage in House after Senate approval
  • Pact includes compromises on defense spending, entitlements

The Senate adopted a fiscal 2018 budget resolution Thursday that House GOP leaders agreed to accept, a show of unity aimed at speeding consideration of President Donald Trump’s plan to enact tax cuts.

The budget cleared the Senate 51-49, with all Democrats and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky voting against it.

Final approval of the measure will unlock a special procedure allowing Republicans to pass a subsequent tax code rewrite without Democratic support. The House and Senate tax-writing committees plan to release draft legislation by early November, which will set off a furious lobbying battle as Republicans attempt to enact a bill by the end of the year.

“This resolution creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts, simplifying the overcomplicated tax code, providing financial relief for families across the country, and making American businesses globally competitive,” the White House said in a statement after the vote.

Rand Paul

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

House and Senate Republicans crafted an amendment to the Senate budget designed to remove the need to spend weeks working to reconcile it with the version already passed by the House. The House would simply vote on the budget that passed the Senate; plans call for holding that vote next week, a House aide said.

Senators acknowledged that producing the budget, which took months of work by Budget Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming and his staff, is the easiest part of enacting a tax overhaul.

“This is a necessary part that hasn’t been easy, but I think we’re going to get there,” GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said before the vote. “It’s an uphill task. We’re sort of at the bottom of the mountain and we have to keep climbing to the top.”

Graham-Paul Feud

Earlier in the week, Graham feuded with Kentucky’s Paul, who demanded a $43 billion cut to war spending levels allowed by the budget. “He’s always got a reason to vote no,” Graham said. Paul also opposed Graham’s partial Obamacare repeal bill that failed in the Senate last month.

To avoid a repeat of the embarrassing Obamacare setback, Republicans must find a way to mollify members eager to protect cherished tax breaks while also satisfying senators like Bob Corker of Tennessee who oppose increasing the deficit and won’t buy arguments that trillions of dollars in tax cuts will pay for themselves through economic growth alone.

Bob Corker

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“The only way for this to work — I met with Secretary Mnuchin last night on this very topic — they’ve got to close $4 trillion in loopholes, they’ve got to make the taxes permanent in nature, and that’s going to be the toughest part because for every high-paid lobbyist it’s going to be a knife fight,” Corker told reporters, referring to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The GOP budget compromise took shape Thursday evening. It allows for more defense spending in the first year, in line with the House budget, according to a Republican aide. It eliminates House language to expedite $203 billion in entitlement savings, while leaving in place Senate language that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Senate Democrats tried without success to strip out the drilling provision.

On taxes, the compromise would keep the Senate’s language allowing tax cuts that add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit, not including the effects of economic growth, according to the aide. The House plan had required tax changes not to lose revenue.

GOP leaders worked to ensure they had enough votes for final passage of the budget measure, H.Con.Res. 71. An ailing Senator Thad Cochran returned to Washington from Mississippi to cast his vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said in a statement the Senate budget vote “keeps us on track to enacting historic tax reform that will mean more jobs, fairer taxes, and bigger paychecks for American families.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it “the first step towards replacing our broken tax code.”

Democrats weren’t happy.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in a statement, “I’m embarrassed that this body voted to saddle our children with more debt.” He said the legislation will make it difficult to pass a bipartisan tax bill.

The final Senate action followed a series of votes on amendments known as a vote-a-rama that started Thursday at 3 p.m. Washington time.

Senate Democrats used this week’s budget process to force Republicans to take politically painful votes that highlight studies showing the tax framework unveiled so far would probably add trillions to the deficit while mostly benefiting the wealthy. Republicans say the studies are incorrect because final tax brackets and credits haven’t been announced.

In one vote, the Senate defeated 51-47 an amendment by Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota that would have barred tax increases for people earning less than $250,000 a year. Enzi called the proposal a poison pill because it would tie the Finance Committee’s hands.

The Senate voted on dueling amendments on the state and local tax deduction, which many Republicans want to eliminate. Senators signaled support for at least limiting the deduction by supporting an amendment by GOP Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on a 52-47 vote. Members defeated a Democratic amendment aimed at protecting the deduction.

Senate Republicans signaled their intentions on dealing with contentious issues in a tax plan by rejecting Democratic amendments that would bar raising the deficit, prevent any middle-class tax increases, and block tax breaks for the top 1 percent. The votes indicated that Republicans will try to rewrite the tax code with mostly — if not exclusively — GOP votes. It’s a gamble that they’ll succeed where they failed on replacing Obamacare.

“Not delivering on tax reform just isn’t an option,” said third-ranking GOP Senator John Thune of South Dakota. “If we don’t get that done, then we’re obviously going to be held accountable by the people of this country, and we should.”



Saudi Arabia supports any action against Iranian aggression

October 20, 2017

Khaled Manzlawiy
NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia announced its full support for any action or sanction that can limit Iranian aggression and intervention in the regions’ countries.

The Kingdom expressed regret that Iran has used the economic returns from the lifting of sanctions after compliance with the nuclear deal, to destabilize the region, develop its ballistic missiles and support terrorism in the region, including Hezbollah, Houthi militias in Yemen and armed militias in Syria.

This was announced by the deputy head of the Saudi permanent representative to the UN, Khaled Manzlawiy, as a reply to the report of the special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, at the UN session held on Wednesday.
Manzlawiy said: “I reaffirm the Kingdom’s concern to cooperate with the UN and offer all information that can be helpful to the rapporteurs. We have taken note of the report of the special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights and we would like to make some comments.”
Concerning Gaza Strip, Manzlawi stressed the Kingdom’s firm and unwavering position, condemning all forms of Israeli occupation of Palestine and Arab territories.
“Concerning the US sanctions against Iran, I confirm the Kingdom’s full support to any action or sanction that may help decrease Iranian aggression and intervention in the region, and reduce the spread of weapons of mass destruction in our region and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Iran has abused the economic returns after sanctions were lifted. Instead of using it to achieve development, Iran used it to continue destabilizing the region and support terrorist organizations. We stress the urgent need to find a solution to the international threat of Iranian policies.”
On the Qatari issue, Manzlawiy said: “We urge Qatar to cooperate in eradicating the scourge of extremism and terrorism instead of supporting and financing it, abide by the Riyadh agreement of 2013-2014 and stop destabilizing the security of the neighboring countries. Qatar’s attempt to internationalize the crisis will not help find a solution, but will complicate things more. Qatar should know that such policies are rejected. We hope that Qatar will do the right thing and listen to the international community.”
Manzlawiy said: “The Kingdom welcomes the US initiative to lift the economic sanctions that were imposed on Sudan, and we hope that this will boost the country’s development and prosperity.”
“Regarding the Yemeni crisis, the Kingdom grants its full support to the solution of the UN envoy to Yemen that requires the formation of two committees (administrative-financial and technical) to supervise Hodeidah Port, transfer the profits to the government, and ensure that Houthi militias do not use it to smuggle and transport weapons and arms,” said Manzlawiy.

After Raqqa, the U.S. sees Russia, Assad looming over remaining Syrian battlefield

October 20, 2017

Rapid gains by government forces may have cut off planned advances by U.S.-backed fighters.

By Karen DeYoungLiz Sly

     The Washington Post

Female fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces celebrate Oct. 19, 2017, in Raqqa, Syria, beneath a banner of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
Rapid advances by Russian- and Iranian-backed government forces in eastern Syria are thwarting the U.S. military’s hopes of pressing deeper into Islamic State territory after winning the battle for Raqqa.

An expansion of territory held by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is also likely to provide Assad with additional leverage in political negotiations over Syria’s future, talks the United Nations hopes to reconvene next month.

In a statement this week, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said the “latest developments” in Syria pointed “to the urgent need to reinvigorate the political process.”

The recent government gains have cut off the approach of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to remaining militant strongholds in the southeastern part of the country, including the crucial town of Bukamal near the Syria-Iraq border.

Image result for russian airstrikes, syria, photos
Russian airstrikes

Aided by Russian airstrikes, in apparent violation of a deconfliction line along the Euphrates River that U.S. officials said had been tentatively agreed on with Moscow, government forces have encircled and claimed control of another location that had been on the wish list of U.S. military planners — the town of Mayadeen, where many senior Islamic State leaders are thought to have been hiding. The militants put up little resistance, and most appear to have escaped.

The rise and fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria VIEW GRAPHIC
[Graphic: The rise and fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]


The unexpected militant withdrawal has “thrown for a loop” U.S. military assumptions that it could beat overstretched government forces in a race to the key river strongholds, said Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Because ISIS has decided not to put up a tough fight against Assad’s forces,” Heras said, “it has forced a change of assumptions about what the situation will look like on the ground.”

The advance has also taken government forces, and supporting Russian strikes, east of the river and into Syria’s main oil-producing region of Deir al-Zour province, once a key source of Islamic State revenue.

“I’m not going to address whether or not an agreement or deconfliction line has been broken,” Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, spokesman for counter-Islamic State military operations, said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. “That’s why we maintain an open dialogue” with Russia.

In addition to daily contact between the two militaries on a hotline, U.S. and Russian generals have held two face-to-face meetings in recent weeks, at least one of them in Jordan, to discuss the increasing proximity of their air operations in the Euphrates River valley, and that of the separate ground forces they back.

Progress against the Islamic State in Syria has been measured since 2016 by towns and cities seized from militant control along the Euphrates by the SDF, a combination of Arab and Syrian Kurdish fighters, aided by U.S. air power and advisers. Manbij, near the Turkish border in the north, was recaptured in 2016, followed by Tabqa and now Raqqa.

After Raqqa, the intention was to proceed downriver through Mayadeen to Bukamal, where SDF fighters would link up with Iraqi government forces trying to regain control over the Islamic State-controlled town of Qaim, just across the border inside Iraq. A major goal was to block Iran from securing a land corridor, through Iraq, between Tehran and Damascus.

Dillon declined to say whether the U.S. military’s plans had changed.

“There are always plans,” Dillon said. “You don’t fight the plan, you fight the enemy . . . where they are.” The military, he said, was not concerned with “greater policy decisions” over who fought the militants or who controlled Syria, as long as it was not the Islamic State.

“We’re not in a race, we’re not in the land-grab business. We’re here to defeat ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

Others were less sanguine about the effect of government gains, predicting that Assad’s ability to remain in power would leave open the door for Islamic State militants, gone to ground in the vast desert that spans the Syria-Iraq border, to regroup.

“That’s what you get when you make a deal with the Russians,” said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, which monitors the fighting in Syria. “What we see is a push by the regime and its backers to seize key infrastructure, such as oil and gas fields, and to position to disrupt U.S.-led anti-ISIS operations further down the Euphrates.”

With the remaining Islamic State strongholds in Syria increasingly likely to fall into ­Syrian government hands, the Trump administration will have to decide whether the U.S. military remains in Syria to protect areas that have been captured by the SDF — which is dominated by Syrian Kurds of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

On Thursday, female YPG fighters marked the victory in Raqqa by raising a giant banner of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan over the central square where the Islamic State carried out most of its grisly executions. Ocalan, who heads Turkey’s militant Kurdish movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is serving a prison sentence in Turkey for terrorism.

The public declaration of fealty to Ocalan by the Syrian Kurds who led the Raqqa offensive points to one of the many challenges confronting the Trump administration as it seeks to forge a coherent policy for the post-Islamic State era. Although the Syrian Kurds have admitted many Arabs into their ranks, they have retained overall control of the SDF coalition’s command and ideology.

Turkey, which shares a long border with the autonomous enclave the Kurds have established in northeastern Syria, is enraged at the U.S. military’s support for the SDF, which it considers an appendage of Ocalan’s terrorist movement. That leaves the SDF vulnerable to potential military action by Turkey to quell its aspirations for a ministate in Syria.

Many Syrian Arabs are also deeply uncomfortable about the prospect of being governed by Kurds. Raqqa is an almost wholly Arab city, and the photographs of the Ocalan banner that circulated on social media triggered widespread condemnation by Arabs on Thursday.

“For us Raqqans, we do not know whether the SDF taking over the city and expelling ISIS is a liberation or an occupation,” Tareq Sham, a former Raqqa resident living in Turkey, wrote on his Facebook page. “The vast majority of us consider what happened a switch between two occupiers.”

Remaining in Syria to protect its Kurdish allies risks embroiling the United States in possible future conflicts between Arabs and Kurds, and between Turkey and the Kurds.

The Kurds are also vulnerable to the Syrian government’s declared ambition to reclaim all of the territory it lost in the war that began as a political rebellion in 2011. Much of what happens in Raqqa will depend on the speed and success of reconstruction there. U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk is visiting the Raqqa area, accompanied by Saudi Arabian Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan, whose government the Trump administration hopes will put up funds for the effort.

Sly reported from Beirut.


Iran, Syria On “Collision Course With Israel” — “Iran has no intention of allowing anyone to harm their pet project in Syria”

October 20, 2017
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 05:06


Iran’s military chief, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, met in Damascus with his Syrian counterpart, Lt.-Gen. Ali Ayoub, and warned Israel against violating Syrian airspace.

Wednesday’s statement by the Iranian military’s chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, that it is “not acceptable for the Zionist regime to violate Syria any time it wants” indicates that Israel and Iran may be heading toward a collision over Tehran’s expanding influence in Syria.

The immediate background to the statement, made during a visit to Damascus to strengthen Iranian-Syrian military cooperation, was the Israeli air strike in Syria on Monday that destroyed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery in response to its firing of a missile at an Israeli plane on a reconnaissance mission in Lebanon.

Image result for Israeli F-16s, photos

However, according to a leading Iran scholar, Meir Litvak of Tel Aviv University, Bagheri actually is threatening that Iran will no longer tolerate the air strikes in Syria that Israel has mounted to destroy advanced weapons systems on their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“They want to build this land bridge to Lebanon so they can transfer accurate, long-range missiles to Hezbollah, which will be a game changer,” Litvak said. “Now, he’s threatening that they will no longer be silent about Israeli attempts to prevent this reinforcement of Hezbollah.”

Raz Zimmt, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said the statement itself may not be significant, but the very fact of Bagheri’s visit to Damascus is.

“I don’t think it means they will respond [to Israeli air strikes]. If you look at the wording, he didn’t say that Iran wouldn’t accept it, he just said it is inconceivable.

 Image result for syria air defense, SA-5, Photos
Syrian air defense facing Israel

It could just be voicing identification with Syria or, in a more extreme scenario, that he intends to discuss with the Syrians the transfer of air defenses to Syria.”

But Zimmt added: “The escalation could stem from the very fact of increasing the security cooperation that is the goal of the visit.”

Litvak said he does not know if the perceived threat will be translated into action, but that it is a real possibility and could take the form of Shi’ite militiamen firing rockets into the Israeli-held part of the Golan Heights.

The direction of Iranian policy in Syria might lead to an armed confrontation with Israel, he said.

“Iran recruited thousands of Shi’a fighters who fought for the Assad regime. Now that the war is won, there’s a danger they will turn them against Israel,” he said.

Image result for Shia fighters in syria, photos

Shia Fighters in Syria

“Iran is grooming its proxies to play a role in Syria and some say openly that they want to confront Israel,” Litvak added. “If this is their aim, then clearly there is a risk of confrontation. That Iran is trying to build a wider Hezbollah front against Israel from both Lebanon and Syria increases the risk of confrontation.”

Litvak noted that, after pouring out billions of dollars and incurring casualties to save the Assad regime, Tehran is now trying to consolidate economic control through concessions and contracts.

“For Iran, Syria is a special prize, a pet project. It is crucial and they have no intention of allowing anyone to harm their pet project and challenge their position in Syria,” he said.

According to Zimmt, the talks in Damascus, where Bagheri was also due to meet with President Bashar Assad, were intended to cover a variety of topics likely including continued Iranian supply of weaponry; what comes next after the defeat of Islamic State and how to safeguard Iran and Hezbollah’s interests in that context; and how to restore coordination between Iranian forces and pro-Iranian militias and the Syrian regime.

Bagheri said he had come to Damascus “to assert and coordinate, and to confront our common enemies the Zionists and the terrorists. We drew up the broad lines for this cooperation.”

The key question, Zimmt says, is to what extent Moscow will check the growing Iranian influence.

“Russia is the dominant actor in Syria and it can decide how much freedom of action it will allow the Iranians. But my estimation is that even if there will be limitations, they won’t be substantial and will relate only to the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in the area close to the border with Israel.”

Regarding reports in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the Russians had agreed to keep the Iranian militias 10 to 15 kilometers away from the border on the Golan, Zimmt said: “If this report is right, it means that they can act from 30 kilometers from the border and, of course, this is a very problematic scenario for Israel. I can’t say if this will force Israel to act in an offensive way, but it’s very clear that the Iranian and Hezbollah presence creates greater friction.”

Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus of Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University, said he is more worried about the Russians than the Iranians.

“They are the ones who control the airspace. Until now, there have been tactical understandings with them, but when Israel goes deeper I’m not sure what Russia will do. Putin prefers Iran to Israel. The question is, what are Russia’s redlines?”


CIA: Iran Nuclear Deal Failed To Permanently Block Iran’s Path To Nuclear Weapons

October 20, 2017
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 21:14
CIA Director: Iran deal 'failed' to permanently block Tehran's path to nukes

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit:REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

The Iran nuclear deal failed to permanently cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, as well as thwart its Middle East terror activities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a conference Thursday.

US President Donald Trump had concluded the deal had only delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and that “the notion that entry” into the deal “would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, proved to be fundamentally false.”

Pompeo was being interviewed on stage by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance chairman Juan Zarate, just days after Trump decertified Iran’s compliance with the deal in a major speech.

Though he evaded a question about whether Iran had violated the nuclear deal on a technical level, Pompeo focused on the Islamic Republic’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, prompting of Hezbollah to threaten Israel and being “at the center of so much turmoil in the Middle East.”

He admitted the deal’s inspection provisions had put things “in a marginally better place” in following Iran’s nuclear activities, but said he hoped Trump’s new pressure on Iran would lead to “more intrusive inspections.”

The CIA director expressed concern that the exchange of nuclear technology between Iran and North Korea was a major danger, and specifically mentioned them assisting each other in the area of nuclear weapons testing.

Zoning in on North Korea, he appeared to concede that Pyongyang can — or within months will have — the ability to fire a nuclear weapon against the US.

The American focus must now be on having an ability to stop or shoot down such a weapon, as well as preventing the North from developing a robust nuclear capability — meaning the ability to fire multiple nuclear missiles with accuracy.

“It is one thing to be able to deliver” one missile on “certain trajectories. It is another thing to deliver all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability.”

Strikingly, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea could blindside the US in terms of how quickly its capabilities were moving in the nuclear arena, even as he complimented the CIA’s current and past efforts on the issue.

Discussing Syria, he said Trump will push back against “both Iran…and the Syrian regime,” though he did not give details.

Top Israeli political and defense officials have expressed concern that Trump’s understandings with Russia regarding Syria did not address Israeli concerns about Iran and Hezbollah building a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Regarding ISIS, he said that, “the fall of the Caliphate is great news, a historic achievement to be sure, but a partial success at best.”

“The list is long about where they operate, what they can do. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world,” he said.

Pompeo said he does not like the term “lone wolf terrorist,” explaining he believed that it obscured the investment and influence of ISIS and others in inspiring individuals to commit terror even if their specific actions were not ordered by ISIS.

Speaking more broadly about his actions at the CIA, he said that it would “become a much more vicious agency” in fighting adversaries.

He said he had “asked officers to reengage out in the field” and told the agency that he was “ready to accept more risk” to obtain important intelligence through “traditional espionage” or human spying.

Pompeo said US allies “are thrilled at the CIA’s return to the traditional understanding that it is out on freedom’s frontier.”

Addressing his and the CIA’s relationship with Trump, Pompeo said sometimes “the president asks really very difficult questions. He challenges us where he thought we were in the wrong place. We went back to validate our work, or correct it if we had it wrong.”

Crucially, he said, “the president has promised he will have our backs” and beyond just the question “of funding.”


Theresa May at European Council admits for the first time that Brexit negotiations have been in ‘difficulty’ — Angela Merkel says the UK has not done enough

October 20, 2017

PM makes urgent plea to leaders over dinner

By Jon Stone Brussels
The Independent


Theresa May has admitted for the first time that Brexit negotiations have hit “difficulty” as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track.

She told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the “urgent” need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

Speaking on Thursday evening at a working dinner with other heads of government in Brussels, Ms May said that at the end of the summer she “recognised the difficulty the process was in”.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying, and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying, and I made a step forward,” she said.

 Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” she said, adding that when the 27 remaining member states convene tomorrow to discuss Brexit in private “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.

The PM and world leaders dined on gnocchi and pheasant supreme at the dinner, followed by fresh pineapple.

European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in negotiations, but the line from the UK government has always been significantly more optimistic, stressing “concrete progress”.

The PM’s intervention comes as the European Council appears set to refuse to allow the UK to move to trade and future relationship talks – which it has said can only start once “sufficient progress” has been made on settling the divorce bill, Northern Ireland border, and EU citizens’ rights.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit without Ms May, whose address to dinner was not followed by any discussion or debate.

Theresa May: No Brexit breakthrough on the cards

They are expected to tell Britain to come back in December once more progress has been made for another assessment of whether it is ready for trade talks.

Senior UK government officials also admitted that the prime minister was “working against a difficult political backdrop” at home – an apparent reference to Tory MPs who were pushing her for a no deal.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday Angela Merkel said she believed there were “encouraging” signs that sufficient progress could be made in December. Ms May said the summit was a time to take stock of the progress that had been made in talks so far.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte however told reporters in Brussels that Ms May had to “come up with more clarity on what she means by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech”.

“I phoned her last week, and tried to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn‘t,” he said.

Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Brussels: “The Florence speech intended to create momentum and we achieved that. In all our talks with EU leaders they have been responsive and we hope that will continue.”

Other issues such as forest fires and migration have dominated the first day of European Council discussions, with Britain’s departure not even getting a mention in the first press conference between Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after hours of talks.


See also:

Theresa May calls for new dynamic for Brexit deal – but Angela Merkel says it’s ‘still not enough’



The Prime Minister has played down hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations as she arrives at this week’s European Council summit.

On her way into the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels on Thursday the Prime Minister said the summit was an opportunity to “take stock” of progress in talks.

The Independent confirmed yesterday that the PM would have no opportunity for a direct dialogue with EU leaders about leaving the EU at the summit – sticking to the strict framework of negotiations.

The PM said she would be setting out “ambitious plans” for further negotiations in the weeks ahead, and said she wanted to inject a new “urgency” into discussions on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons on the continent.

It had previously been hoped that the UK would be judged to have made “sufficient progress” in Brexit talks at the summit, so that negotiations could move to trade and transition. The latest indications are that this next phase has been delayed until at least December, however.

The two-day European Council summit comes as Ms May spoke directly to the estimated three million European Union citizens living in Britain, to tell them that she wants them to be able to stay after Brexit and that a deal on their rights are “in touching distance”

Britain’s hopes of getting the green light for trade talks at the European Council meeting in Brussels were dash after a series of top EU figures came out against them. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament Brexit Chief Guy Verhofstadt, and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani also said talks had not reached a mature enough stage.

But Ms May is hoping to persuade the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to at least agree to begin discussions among themselves on the transition to Brexit and the future trade relationship. She will address them in an after-dinner speech on Thursday evening but there will be no discussion or reply from the leaders, a spokesperson for the European Council presidency confirmed.

The other 27 EU leaders will then discuss Brexit in full without Ms May on Friday – sticking to the strict protocol of only conducting negotiations within the framework agreed by the Council.

Arriving in Brussels, Ms May said: “This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.


Trump May Be Following Palin’s Trajectory

October 20, 2017

Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

Sarah Palin announcing her 2016 endorsement in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016.
Sarah Palin announcing her 2016 endorsement in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES

The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.

One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.

The first sign of political competence is knowing where you stand with the people. Gallup this week had him at 36% approval, 59% disapproval. Rasmussen has him at 41%, with 57% disapproving. There have been mild ups and downs, but the general picture has been more or less static. Stuart Rothenberg notes that at this point in his presidency Barack Obama had the approval of 48% of independents. Mr. Trump has 33%.

He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented.

The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings. They are in a hard position. He leaves them exposed by indulging whatever desire seizes him—to lash out, to insult, to say bizarre things. If he acted in a peaceful and constructive way, he would give his people cover.

He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.

Asked by reporters why he hadn’t issued a statement on the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, he either misunderstood or deflected the question by talking about how he writes to and calls the families of the fallen. Other presidents, he said, did not do as much—“some presidents didn’t do anything”—including Mr. Obama. When former Obama staffers pushed back he evoked the death of Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son Robert, a Marine first lieutenant, in Afghanistan: “You could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Mr. Kelly, a private and dignified man, was said to be surprised at the mention of his son.

Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,” and “But still it must hurt,” meant “I can’t imagine the grief you feel even with your knowledge that every day he put himself in harm’s way.”

And indeed Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

Mr. Kelly was moving, fully credible, and as he spoke you had the feeling you were listening to a great man. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.

This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” Fair enough—the famous internationalist opposes Trumpian foreign-policy notions. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.

Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

That, actually, is how presidents talk.

I must note I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.

Meanwhile Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, goes forward with at least partial support from the president and vows to bring down the Republican establishment. But Mr. Trump needs to build, not level. He needs a Republican House and Senate if for no other reason than one day Robert Mueller will file his report, and it will be leaked, and something will be in there because special counsels always get something. It is Republican majorities—the Republican establishment—that the president will need to help him. He will need the people he’d let Mr. Bannon purge.

Meanwhile polls say the Republican nominee for Republican Alabama’s open Senate seat is neck and neck with his Democratic opponent.

Meanwhile the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.

None of this speaks of competence. And again, in America there is no hard constituency for political incompetence. Mr. Trump should keep his eye on Sarah Palin’s social media profile. She has 1.4 million Twitter followers, and her Facebook page has a “Shop Now” button.

Barack Obama, George W. Bush denounce bigotry in Trump-era American politics

October 20, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Former President Barack Obama called on fellow Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear” while rallying on Thursday with party’s candidates for governors in Virginia and New Jersey.

“Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are,” Obama said at the Virginia rally in front of several thousand supporters.

Stepping back into the political spotlight for the first time since leaving the White House in January, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump in his speeches at Richmond’s convention center or at a Newark hotel. But he did tell crowds at both events that they could send a message to the rest of the country in the upcoming elections.

“Our democracy’s at stake and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” Obama said.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (R) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states electing new governors this year and those Nov. 7 races will be considered a bellwether of Democrats’ strength in the face of Trump’s victory last year.

New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy, Obama’s former ambassador to Germany, is facing Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie.

Former President Barack Obama on Thursday rallied at the side of his former ambassador to Germany, who is running for governor in New Jersey, and called on the crowd of Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear.” (October 19)

Obama’s remarks came on the same day Former President George W. Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era American politics, warning that the rise of “nativism,” isolationism and conspiracy theories have clouded the nation’s true identity.

George W. Bush

Obama bemoaned the rise of racial politics.

“Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed,” Obama said. “That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

The first black president offered himself as proof that the country could move forward, telling the crowd in Richmond, the former Capitol of the Confederacy, that he is a distant relative to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his mother’s side.

“Think about that,” Obama said. “I’ll bet he’s spinning in his grave.”

Obama praised Northam, a pediatric neurologist, as a candidate who would represent Virginia well and accused Gillespie of running a fear-based campaign.

Gillespie spokesman Dave Abrams said Obama’s comments were not a “surprise.”

Guadagno’s spokesman, Ricky Diaz, suggested it’s Murphy and not Republicans who are divisive.

“Phil Murphy is the one who will divide New Jersey by raising taxes so high that only the über rich like him will be able to afford to live here,” he said.

Obama’s popularity is still undeniable. In an August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of Americans said they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 35 percent had a negative opinion. In the same poll, 36 percent said they had a positive opinion of Trump and 52 percent had a negative opinion.

Obama never completely disappeared from public life, in part because of Trump’s constant criticism and efforts to undo much of Obama’s legacy after eight years in office. He has publicly defended his policies that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have set out to dismantle: the Affordable Care Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to be temporarily shielded from deportation.

Obama was forced to return “pretty quickly,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton University said.

“The current president has changed all the conventional assumptions about what to do,” Zelizer said. “There is a sense of urgency that makes this moment different than others and former President Obama has continued to be directly in Trump’s line of fire — both his policies and his legacy.”

Les Kenney, of Richmond, said Obama’s speech was inspiring.

“It was great to see him again, he’s an energizer,” he said.


Associated Press writers Jesse J. Holland and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

Includes videos:


See also: George W. Bush joins John McCain in dressing down Donald Trump



Obama back on campaign trail to rally for Ralph Northam in Richmond


See also:

Without Saying ‘Trump,’ Bush and Obama Deliver Implicit Rebukes


South Korea survey backs restarting construction of two nuclear reactors

October 20, 2017

SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean government-organized committee is recommending Seoul resume the stalled construction of two new nuclear reactors after an opinion survey it set up found nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were in favor of the move.

Image may contain: 1 person

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends the National Security Council (NSC) meeting in Seoul, South Korea on September 3, 2017. Blue House/Yonhap/via REUTERS

The two reactor projects were temporarily halted late in June after the government said it would let South Koreans decide and reflect their opinions in energy policy direction amid concerns over atomic safety. The suspension was one of the newly elected President Moon Jae-in’s key campaign pledges in efforts to allay public concerns over safety.

“Our final public opinion survey showed 59.5 percent of (responding) South Koreans chose to resume the construction,” Kim Ji-hyung, chairman of the committee, told a news conference on Friday. Stability of power supply was cited as a prime reason for the choice in survey responses, the committee said.

“Our recommendation to the government is restarting construction,” Kim said.

The committee conducted four rounds of surveys including phone interviews of 20,006 people, and public debates with some 470 citizens for the past three months. The results had a margin of error plus or minus of 3.6 percent.

The two 1,400-megawatt (MW) reactors – Shin Kori No.5 and Shin No.6 – were originally scheduled to be built by March 2021 and March 2022 respectively in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday it respected the results of a public opinion survey and would pursue future steps without delay.

Shares of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) 5.6 percent following the announcement, while KEPCO Engineering & Construction and KEPCO Plant Service & Engineering surged as much as 20 percent and 10 percent respectively.

Reporting by Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Dahee Kim; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

NZ Prime Minister-elect Ardern focuses on final touches in coalition deal, NZ dollar sinks

October 20, 2017


WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern said she would spend Friday ironing out issues and ministerial posts with coalition partner New Zealand First, a day after becoming the Pacific nation’s youngest leader in recent times.

 Image result for New Zealand Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern, photos

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the press after leader of New Zealand First party Winston Peters announced his support for her party in Wellington, New Zealand, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield

The previous night’s highly anticipated announcement by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters that he would support 37-year-old Ardern’s Labour Party had ended a decade of center-right National rule and spelt big changes for the country’s economy.

The New Zealand dollar – the world’s 11th-most traded currency – fell to five-month lows as investors grappled with heightened uncertainty and a more protectionist agenda.

“When you are a hands off government, when you simply allow markets to decide the fate of your people, then that does not serve a country or it’s people well,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington.

“You will see a proactive government by Labour.”

Labour has released the names of the people who would be in the cabinet, saying it would announce their portfolios next week.

The include Grant Robertson, Labour’s spokesman for finance, and David Parker, spokesman for trade.

Ardern said on Thursday she had offered the role of deputy prime minister to Peters, who on Thursday gave his backing to Labour after inconclusive Sept.23 elections, and he was considering it.

On Thursday evening, Labour said it would also stick to its promises to change the central bank’s mandate and seek to renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deals.


 Image result for New Zealand Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern, photos

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern smiles as she speaks to the press after leader of New Zealand First party Winston Peters announced his support for her party in Wellington, New Zealand, October 19, 2017. Screengrab from Sky News

Concerns about a more protectionist agenda weighed on the currency and stock markets on Friday.

The New Zealand dollar fell to five month-lows of $0.6971 against the U.S. dollar, after posting its biggest daily fall in more than a year on Thursday.

“The sentiment has now shifted toward more protectionist measures,” said Christina Leung, economist at New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

“Generally, financial markets don’t like change, there is uncertainty over what this all means … in the meantime that is reducing demand for New Zealand assets, and that’s why we are seeing the decline in the New Zealand dollar.”

The stock market was down 1.1 percent at the Friday open, but later recouped losses to stand in positive territory.

Ardern told radio earlier that most of the party’s flagship policies, including a ban on some foreign ownership of housing, had survived the negotiations with Peters in recent weeks.

“With New Zealand First we’ve got a few more details to iron out,” Ardern said. “Our plan remains, with a few minor changes … we’re finalizing in the next 24 hours the detail.”

The election thrust the country into political limbo for almost a month with neither major party winning enough seats to form a majority and giving New Zealand First the balance of power.

New Zealand First and Labour also needed support from the progressive Green Party, which said it would strike a “confidence and supply” agreement, meaning it was officially outside government but would hold ministerial posts and vote on key pieces of legislation like the budget.

Ardern said the parties would release their agreements early next week and an announcement on ministerial posts would come later in the week.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Michael Perry