Morning Read 5/2: Its leader is worth $250 million, but Hezbollah is broke

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Hassan Hasrallah is said to be worth $250 million, but the terror organization he leads has resorted to blackmail in order to make ends meet [Wikimedia]

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INTERNATIONAL


North Korea says U.S. bomber flights push peninsula to brink of nuclear war

North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic U.S. bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength.

The two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers were deployed amid rising tensions over North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. sanctions and pressure from the United States.

The flight of the two bombers on Monday came as U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the right circumstances, and as his CIA director landed in South Korea for talks.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing in Seoul that Monday’s joint drill was conducted to deter provocations by the North.

North Korea said the bombers conducted “a nuclear bomb dropping drill against major objects” in its territory at a time when Trump and “other U.S. warmongers are crying out for making a preemptive nuclear strike” on the North.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday. [REUTERS]

Trump mum on North Korea red line, says: ‘I act if I have to act’

President Trump, in an interview Monday on the premiere of “The Fox News Specialists,” named North Korea as his biggest foreign policy concern but stopped short of declaring what his ‘red line’ might be with Kim Jong Un.

“I don’t like drawing red lines but I act if I have to act,” Trump told host Eric Bolling.

The president said Monday that “nobody’s safe” in the face of Kim Jong Un’s repeated tests of a nuclear weapon and missiles that might someday be able to carry a warhead beyond its borders with South Korea, where U.S. troops are stationed.

“We have 28,000 troops on the line and they’re right there,” the president said. “If he gets the long-range missiles, we’re not safe either.”

Still, Trump continued to stay mum about what he might do to stop Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapon or what action on North Korea’s part might trigger a military response.

“I’m not like President Obama where you draw a red line as you said a red line in the sand and then lots of bad things happen and he never goes over the red line,” Trump said.

He called Kim’s recent statements “very inflammatory” and “horrible,” but suggested he did not want to telegraph possible military action. [FOXNEWS]

Trump: I’d be ‘honored’ to meet Kim Jong Un under ‘right circumstances’

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump said Monday he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances” to defuse tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News in an interview Monday. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”

No sitting US president has ever met with the leader of North Korea while in power, and the idea is extremely controversial.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, however, said later on Monday that the US would first need to see changes in North Korean behavior before a potential sit-down.

“We’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately,” Spicer said. “Clearly, the conditions are not there right now.”

Spicer also offered an explanation for Trump’s view, expressed to CBS, that Kim is a “smart cookie.”

“He assumed power at a young age when his father passed,” Spicer said. “There was a lot of potential threats that could have come his way. He’s managed to lead a country forward, despite the concerns that we and so many people have. He is a young person to be leading a country with nuclear weapons.”

Speaking Tuesday, a Chinese official said “the only feasible way to a denuclearized Korean peninsula as well as peace and stability there is through dialogue and construction.”

“This is also the only correct choice,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, calling on all sides to “find a breakthrough in the resumption of peace talks as soon as possible.” [CNN]

Hezbollah nearly bankrupt, but Nasrallah awash in cash — report

The Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah is reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of its large outlays on fighting in Syria and from the increasing squeeze of US sanctions on its revenue streams, though top members continue to pad their own wallets.

According to a report Friday in the German daily Die Welt, Hezbollah’s increasing financial difficulties have led the group to increasingly rely on a number illicit schemes to earn money, including money laundering, drug trafficking and counterfeiting, as well as through its substantial property holdings.

Despite $1 billion in aid that Israeli security officials estimate Hezbollah receives each year from its patron Iran, which is said to cover some 70 percent of the group’s annual finances, the increasing financial toll from its military involvement in Syria and lack of additional assistance from Tehran has forced the group to resort to extorting not only its “donors” in the country, but also Lebanese expatriates in Africa, South America, Europe and the United States, according to the report.

The blackmail has reportedly led to discontent within the Shiite group’s ranks and among its supporters, as Lebanese Shiites in the country have been forced into selling their assets and property in order to prop up Hezbollah and fund its operations.

In areas in southern and eastern Lebanon under its control, Hezbollah has also begun collecting tariffs on goods at border crossings with Syria in place of the Lebanese government, according to Die Welt.

Despite its monetary troubles, Hezbollah has not cut funding for the extensive social programs it provides to large segments of Lebanon’s Shiite community or the payments it provides to the families of dead and injured fighters so as not to risk alienating the group’s support base.

Die Welt also reported that members of the terror group’s leadership have used Hezbollah funds for their own enrichment despite its dire fiscal situation, including the son of the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is said to have taken money to fund a chain of coffee houses in Beirut.

In addition, Nasrallah himself is said to be worth some $250 million, according to Die Welt. [ToI]

Hamas softens stance on Israel, drops Muslim Brotherhood link

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on Monday dropped its longstanding call for Israel’s destruction, but said it still rejected the country’s right to exist and backs “armed struggle” against it.

In a policy document presented in Doha by its leader Khaled Meshaal, Hamas also said it would end its association with the Muslim Brotherhood, a move apparently aimed at improving ties with Gulf Arab states and Egypt, which view the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Israel responded to the announcement by accusing Hamas of trying to “fool the world”, while the group’s main Palestinian political rival, the Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas, also reacted coolly to the policy shift.

The publication of the policy document comes two days before Abbas is due to visit Washington, and days after President Donald Trump told Reuters he may travel to Israel this month and sees no reason why there should not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We don’t want to dilute our principles but we want to be open. We hope this (document) will mark a change in the stance of European states towards us,” Meshaal told reporters.

Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, said in the document it agreed to a transitional Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, when Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a war with Arab states. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

“Hamas advocates the liberation of all of Palestine but is ready to support the state on 1967 borders without recognizing Israel or ceding any rights,” said Meshaal, in a shift that brings Hamas more into line with the position of Fatah. [REUTERS]

Kremlin says Putin, Trump to speak by phone on Tuesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump will speak by phone on Tuesday, RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Trump will speak with Putin on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the White House said on Monday night.

A senior Trump administration official said the two leaders would likely discuss the civil war in Syria, where Moscow backs the government of Bashar al-Assad and the United States supports rebels trying to overthrow him. [REUTERS]


NATIONAL


Former Trump adviser says he’s cooperating with Senate Russian probe

Former Trump adviser Carter Page told Fox News Monday that he is cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into the Trump campaign and contacts with Russia.

The unverified dossier from former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, identified Page as the campaign’s point of contact with Russia. Page denied these allegations in an interview with Fox News last month, and said he was eager to cooperate with congress.

Since July, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible coordination with Trump associates. House and Senate intelligence committees, led by Republican lawmakers, are also investigating. Some Democratic leaders have called for an independent investigation, saying the congressional probes, particularly the House investigation, has been tainted by political interference from the White House.

Several Trump associates have been caught up in the controversy. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after he misled the vice president about conversations with a Russian ambassador. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Justice Department investigation after he did not disclose a meeting with the same ambassador. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has volunteered to be questioned by congressional investigators. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s connections to Russia are part of the congressional probes.

The president has steadfastly denied any inappropriate links to Russia. [FOXNEWS]

U.S. issues travel alert for Europe, citing threat of terrorist attacks

The State Department issued a travel alert for Europe on Monday, saying U.S. citizens should be aware of a continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout the continent.

In the alert, the State Department cited recent incidents in France, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom and said Islamic State and al Qaeda “have the ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks in Europe.”

The State Department’s previous travel alert for Europe, issued ahead of the winter holiday season, expired in February. A State Department official said Monday’s alert was not prompted by a specific threat, but rather recognition of the continuing risk of attacks especially ahead of the summer holidays. The alert expires on Sept. 1.

Malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, airports and other locations are all possible targets for attacks, the State Department’s alert said. [REUTERS]

Judge to Look at Giuliani’s Defense of Turkish Businessman

The involvement of Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey in defending a Turkish-Iranian businessman jailed in the U.S. has raised red flags with federal prosecutors who say there are potential conflicts of interest in the case.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan will hold a special hearing to discuss the roles of Mr. Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, and Mr. Mukasey, a former federal judge who served in the George W. Bush administration.

The two men aren’t representing the businessman, Reza Zarrab, in court, but rather have been meeting with senior U.S. and Turkish officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss “the possibility of an agreement that could promote the security of the United States and resolve the issues in this case,” according to court filings from both sides.

Mr. Zarrab has been in a U.S. jail for more than a year, after he was arrested in Florida. Mr. Zarrab had been a gold trader in Turkey before he was charged, along with four co-conspirators, with helping Iranian banks and companies process millions of dollars in violation of U.S. sanctions.

He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

In recent affidavits filed with the court, Messrs. Giuliani and Mukasey said they have met with at least one State Department official and that senior U.S. officials are receptive to reaching an agreement because the allegations against Mr. Zarrab involve “consumer goods,” not weapons or nuclear technology.

Federal prosecutors called this characterization of the case inaccurate, alleging Mr. Zarrab worked with high-level officials in Iran and Turkey to commit a serious offense that endangered U.S. national security. Prosecutors said they will show at trial that Mr. Zarrab offered his services in a letter personally addressed to then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. [WSJ]


LOCAL


NYC to Recover Security Costs for Trump Tower

New York City will be reimbursed for most or all of the cost of protecting Trump Tower under a federal budget agreement reached by lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The budget deal includes $61 million for localities that have incurred significant costs because of visits by President Donald Trump. New York City, which has spent tens of millions securing the president’s tourist-friendly Midtown residence, is expecting to receive much of those funds.

“We are getting what we are owed,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Monday. He thanked members of Congress from New York City for helping secure the funds.

Some of the money also could go to Palm Beach County in Florida, where Mr. Trump spends time at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, and other places such as Bedminster, N.J., home to Trump National Golf Club.

Officials estimate New York City is spending between $127,000 and $146,000 daily to protect Trump Tower. Most of the costs are related to the New York Police Department. The daily cost rises to about $308,000 when Mr. Trump is in the city, they said. [WSJ]

FBI agent loses loaded gun in taxi

An FBI agent told cops he lost his loaded gun in the back of a livery cab in Brooklyn over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

The G-man, 43, said he had his .380 semiautomatic weapon inside his pants holster on his right side when he got into the taxi outside 7509 Third Ave. in Bay Ridge around 2 a.m. Saturday. The address comes back to The Salty Dog sports bar.

The FBI agent said he then took the cab home and went to bed, according to cops. When he woke up in the morning, he realized the pistol was gone, he said.

The firearm was loaded with seven rounds. [NYP]

State sets aside $3M for air conditioners for ailing people

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state has set aside $3 million in federal funds to help provide air conditioners to lower-income people with serious health issues.

The money comes through the Home Energy Assistance Program and is earmarked for people with health issues that may be aggravated by extreme heat. Applications from income-eligible households are being accepted starting this month.

Local social services departments will accept applications through the end of August or until funding runs out.

Assistance is being provided on a first-come, first-served basis. [DN]

John Catsimatidis rules out mayoral bid

Saying it will be difficult to unseat incumbent Bill de Blasio, billionaire business mogul John Catsimatidis announced Monday he won’t run for mayor.

Catsmimatidis ran in the Republican primary four years ago.

“I have often said I have one more race for office in me. But, after careful consideration and consultation with my family, friends and advisers, I have decided the 2017 race for Mayor of New York will not be it,” Catsimatidis said in a statement.

“It was a tough decision to make because I truly love this city and its people. My decision was based in part on the fact that the power of an incumbency is extremely hard to defeat.” [NYP]


POLITICS


Winners and losers of the government shutdown fight

Congress is poised to approve the first major bipartisan legislation of Donald Trump’s presidency this week after lengthy negotiations.

Here’s a look at the winners and losers of the battle to pass an omnibus spending deal that will keep the government funded through September.

Winners

Congressional Democrats

They may not control the White House or either chamber of Congress, but Democrats emerged from the negotiations with plenty to crow about. They not only forced GOP leaders to abandon drastic spending cuts favored by the White House, but also stripped out scores of conservative policy amendments the Republicans had hoped to enact under a unified government.

The Democrats’ list of victories is long: no funding for Trump’s promised southern border wall; no penalty for “sanctuary cities” that resist federal immigration laws; no rollback of environmental programs; no gutting of consumer financial protections.

The negotiations also sent a resounding message to Washington ahead of future spending fights: Democrats may not control the levers of power, but they have plenty of sway over must-pass legislation — and they intend to use it.

Republican leaders

Republicans in Congress were desperate for a win after the struggle over ObamaCare repeal, even if the bar was as low as keeping the government’s lights on.

GOP lawmakers recognized they’d likely be blamed for a shutdown while holding unified control of Congress and the White House. The bipartisan deal ensures they avoid that while also securing additional defense spending and freezing the IRS’s budget, both top GOP priorities.

But to get there, Republicans had to turn to Democrats to help shepherd a spending deal through both chambers for two reasons: Senate Democrats’ ability to filibuster and expected conservative defectors.

House GOP leaders have repeatedly needed Democrats to help pass spending bills since taking control in 2011. That dynamic hasn’t changed despite the presence of a Republican in the White House.

Coal miners

Coal miners are cheering this week’s spending package, which secured healthcare benefits for retirees from the industry who’d been threatened for years with losing coverage.

The provision is a victory for coal-country lawmakers of both parties, as well, with no minor assist from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.), whose full-throated endorsement last week all but ensured the provision’s inclusion.

Defense hawks

The spending deal provides $15 billion in supplemental defense funding requested by the Trump administration, though it is short of the original $30 billion request.

About $2.5 billion of the supplemental funding for the fight against ISIS is contingent upon the Trump administration outlining a strategy for defeating the terrorist group. Lawmakers have been urging Trump to provide Congress with his plan for defeating ISIS and resolving the civil war in Syria since he launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield last month.

Planned Parenthood

The country’s most prominent reproductive healthcare provider has long been the target of Republicans infuriated that taxpayer dollars subsidize the group. And while Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) indicated early on that Republicans would fight the Planned Parenthood battle outside the current spending debate, there was plenty of pressure from conservatives on and off of Capitol Hill to deny the group funding in the omnibus.

It didn’t happen.

National Institutes of Health

The Trump administration had proposed cutting the National Institutes of Health budget by $1.2 billion for the rest of the current fiscal year. Instead, both parties effectively ignored the White House and gave the NIH a $2 billion increase. That’s in addition to a similar budget hike the NIH secured last year, which was the largest funding boost it had received in more than a decade. The extra funding will go toward research for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.

Mixed

President Trump

Despite his party’s control of Congress, Trump had to make significant concessions to Democrats to ensure the government wouldn’t shut down a few months into his term. He backed off demands that the spending package include a down payment on his promised border wall, as well as his threat to stop reimbursing health insurers who cover low-income ObamaCare enrollees.

Trump and his team had agreed with GOP leaders late last year to punt a long-term spending package until the end of April instead of finalizing the fiscal year’s spending under then-President Barack Obama. GOP appropriators were dismayed by the decision, insisting that Trump didn’t need a messy spending fight three months into his presidency. But conservatives argued that delaying the negotiations would give the party more leverage.

In the end, Trump will have to sign a compromise bill that largely ignores his budget proposal to vastly cut domestic spending. But it’s a recognition of the realities of governing: Accepting a deal with concessions to Democrats is better for Trump than facing a potentially disastrous shutdown 100 days into his presidency.

Losers

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney

Trump’s budget director, a former House lawmaker from South Carolina, had pressed GOP leaders throughout the omnibus debate on two fronts: He wanted to slash domestic spending, and he wanted to deny certain funds to sanctuary cities.

He got neither.

The deal unveiled Sunday provides a $15 billion boost to domestic spending — equal to the defense hike and a far cry from the $18 billion cut Trump and Mulvaney had pushed — and it excludes fiscal penalties for cities that refuse to share immigration information with federal authorities.

Amid the ObamaCare subsidy debate, Mulvaney allegedly told House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that, absent congressional action, the administration would stop the payments as soon as May. The White House denied the claim, but the episode put Mulvaney in an unflattering light after Trump promised Democrats the very next day that he’d continue the payments.

House Freedom Caucus

The House Freedom Caucus is flexing its muscles this year, already upending the GOP’s effort to repeal ObamaCare. But in the current spending debate, Republican leaders largely left the far-right group in the cold.

The omnibus package busts through spending caps established in a previous budget law; it includes few of the hard-line immigration enforcement provisions favored by the group; and it is accompanied by Trump’s promise to continue paying ObamaCare subsidies even as Freedom Caucus members are urging full repeal of the law.

It’s not all bad news for the Freedom Caucus. By voting against the measure without fear of causing a shutdown, members can both avoid blowback from GOP leaders and claim a personal victory to carry back to their conservative districts.

Health insurers

Democrats had originally insisted that the spending deal specifically appropriate the funds for ObamaCare’s payments that help health insurers offset costs for low-income customers.

The Trump administration told lawmakers it would continue the payments despite the president’s threat to halt them, which was enough of a compromise for Democrats. But it’s hardly the certainty that health insurers were asking for.

It’s unclear how long the Trump administration will keep issuing the critical payments amid the House GOP’s struggle to advance a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare. For now, insurers will have to settle for hoping Trump keeps his word. [THEHILL]

Trump: ‘Why was there the Civil War?’

President Trump during an interview that airs Monday questioned why the country had a Civil War and suggested former President Andrew Jackson could have prevented it had he served later.

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart,” Trump said during an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito.

“He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, died in 1845. The Civil War began in 1861.

The president further questioned why the country could not have solved the Civil War.

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” Trump said during the edition of “Main Street Meets the Beltway” scheduled to air on SiriusXM.

“People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

During the interview, the president also compared his win to that of Jackson.

“My campaign and win was most like Andrew Jackson, with his campaign. And I said, when was Andrew Jackson? It was 1828. That’s a long time ago,” Trump said.

“That’s Andrew Jackson. And he had a very, very mean and nasty campaign. Because they said this was the meanest and the nastiest. And unfortunately, it continues.”

Trump has in the past drawn comparisons between his campaign and that of Jackson. [THEHILL]

Trump won’t trade U.S. jobs for China’s help on North Korea

President Donald Trump does not intend to trade away U.S. jobs for China’s help on North Korea, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday, adding that there were “constructive” talks with Beijing underway on trade issues.

In an interview with CNBC, Ross rowed back from Trump’s comments in a CBS interview on Saturday that China’s help on North Korea “trumps trade.”

Asked if the need for China’s help to contain threats from North Korea had made it more difficult to be tough with Beijing on trade issues, Ross said he did not think so.

“We’ve been having some very constructive discussions on trade with the Chinese in parallel” to discussions on North Korea, Ross told CNBC.

“I think what the president was trying to say is that we’re trying to have an overall constructive relationship with China on a variety of topics, the most pressing of which, because it directly involves human lives, is the North Korea situation. I don’t think he meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away American jobs just for help on North Korea,” Ross said.

Ross also reaffirmed that the administration intended to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, not withdraw from it.

He called NAFTA “an ancient treaty” that does nothing to address the digital economy, very little to address services, and has many “obsolete” provisions, such as those on rules of origin, allowing in too many components and products from outside the United States, Canada and Mexico.

He said, however, Mexico’s July 2018 national elections could become an obstacle if negotiations were not completed well before then. [REUTERS]

GOP struggles to find ObamaCare repeal votes

The Republican bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare appears to lack sufficient votes to pass the House, despite hopes from GOP leaders and the White House that it might be approved by the lower chamber this week.

According to The Hill’s whip list, 21 Republicans oppose the bill — the maximum number of GOP defections that can be afforded — assuming every Democrat also votes against it.

The latest Republican to announce his opposition is Rep. Billy Long (Mo.), a staunch conservative who often says he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

He told The Hill he wouldn’t support the bill because of the impact it could have on people with preexisting conditions.

“I have always stated that one of the few good things about ObamaCare is that people with pre-existing conditions would be covered,” Long said in a statement to The Hill.

“The MacArthur amendment strips away any guarantee that pre-existing conditions would be covered and affordable.”

An amendment authored by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) would allow states to apply for waivers to two ObamaCare provisions: essential health benefits, which mandates what services insurers must cover, and “community rating,” which essentially bans insurers from charging people with preexisting conditions more for coverage.

While the AHCA keeps an ObamaCare provision banning insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, allowing states to waiver out of community rating means insurers could charge sick people more.

States that get that waiver would have to have a high-risk pool as a backstop for people priced out of coverage. But those pools, in the past, have seen waiting lists, high premiums and other issues. [THEHILL]

New Jersey’s Christie vetoes bill seeking Trump’s tax returns

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a bill that would have required President Donald Trump to release his tax returns in order to run for re-election in the state, calling it “politics at its worst.”

The Democrat-controlled state legislature had passed the bill in March in response to Trump’s refusal to make public his tax returns when he ran for president as a Republican last year. Under the law, any candidate for president or vice president could not appear on the ballot without releasing at least five years of returns.

Before Trump, every major presidential candidate had done so voluntarily since the 1970s.

Christie, who became one of Trump’s earliest high-profile backers after his own White House run fizzled and served on Trump’s transition team, said the legislation was an unconstitutional “form of therapy” for Democrats unwilling to accept Trump’s win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“The hypocrisy and false outrage underlying this bill is stunning – even by Trenton standards,” he said in a statement accompanying the veto.

New Jersey was the first of at least 20 states considering similar legislation to send a bill to its governor’s desk for consideration.

The chairman of the state assembly’s judiciary committee, Democrat John McKeon, called Christie’s comments “grandstanding and childish rhetoric.”

“This much is clear – Governor Christie is obsessed with protecting and showing allegiance to President Trump,” McKeon added in a statement. “Sad!” [REUTERS]


CULTURE


Citing ‘Protocols,’ Jordanian TV tells viewers Jews are an ‘abhorred’ people

A program broadcast on Jordan’s Prime TV channel in April examined “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” treating the notorious anti-Semitic document as an authentic Jewish text proving Judaism’s efforts to secretly control and manipulate the rest of the world.

The “Protocols,” a forged text produced in Russia at the turn of the last century, purports to outline Jewish plans to take over the world. It has been used by anti-Semites throughout the 20th and 21st centuries as justification for their views.

Host Ayed Alqam opens the three-part series by calling Jews “an ostracized and abhorred people” known “for their lying, fraud, and deception, and their sowing of strife.”

He goes on to introduce the “Protocols” and to cite them as proof of Judaism’s culpability for any and all hardship experienced by Arab countries.

Alqam claims that Jews have fought the “Protocols” in order to maintain control, and “Whenever a copy was published, they burnt it, so that the world would not find out about their infernal criminal conspiracies.”

Alqam quotes extensively from the document, citing passages on Jews asserting their mastery over the world and their plans to foment conflict in order to keep the masses under their power.

“‘Freedom is not a fact. It is an idea that we use as a bait to lure the masses,’” Alqam reads, then explains: “This is part of the first protocol. Indeed, this is what happened in the [Arab] revolutions — freedom, freedom, freedom.”

He later cites the high cost of living in Arab countries as proof of the so-called fourth protocol, in which the Jews plan to destroy religion and hoard global resources.

“The cost of living in all the Arab countries is high. Everybody is complaining about the high cost of living, all over the Middle East, as well as about the greed of the traders and their monopoly on food supplies. The [fourth] protocol is being implemented. People have forgotten religion for the sake of money,” he says.

Alqam later reads about Jewish threats to ignite world wars should the Arabs unite against them, noting wryly: “Let me reassure the Arabs that there will not be a World War III, because the protocol clearly states: ‘In the event that the Arab countries join forces…’ Naturally, it is impossible for the Arab countries to join forces, and therefore there will never be a world war.”

The Arab world has often blamed Zionism and Judaism for various woes — from the Islamic State and financial crises to pornography, AIDS and even Sesame Street. [ToI]

The translated video was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.


FINANCE


Trump says he’s actively considering breaking up big banks

President Donald Trump is considering breaking up the nation’s biggest banks, a vow he had made during the presidential campaign then seemed to put on the back burner.

In an interview Monday with Bloomberg News, Trump said he is “looking at that right now.”

Trump’s sentiments came the same day he met with leaders of the Independent Community Bankers of America, an advocacy group for small- and mid-market institutions.

Industry analyst Dick Bove believes that may not be a coincidence.

“He probably made a statement to them that they wanted to hear,” Bove said. “In the last few weeks he has been heavily campaigning again, and I think this is just part of his campaign.”
Whether anything will come of it legislatively is unclear.

“I just think he had a need to communicate, to connect again with community banks and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re on your side. We believe in you and maybe we should break up the big Wall Street banks,'” Bove added. “But I don’t expect anything to come of it.”

Bank stocks had been one of the biggest winners of the Trump trade, rallying strongly after his victory in the November presidential election. The sector rallied more than 25 percent in the immediate aftermath, but the bank ETF is down about 1.3 percent in 2017.

The Glass-Steagall repeal is sometimes blamed for the financial crisis that peaked in 2008. However, many of the big institutions at the center of the crisis were not banking behemoths but rather investment banks or, in the case of American International Group, an insurer.

Still, the Republican platform last year carried language calling for a reinstatement of the law.

“There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that,” Trump said in the interview. [CNBC]

Fed set to leave interest rates unchanged, may hint at June hike

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to hold interest rates steady at its meeting this week as it pauses to parse more economic data but may hint it is on track for an increase in June.

The central bank is scheduled to release its policy decision at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Wednesday at the conclusion of its two-day meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is not due to hold a press conference.

The Fed is in its first tightening cycle in more than a decade. A quarter percentage point increase last December was followed two meetings later by another hike in March.

Economists polled by Reuters see little chance of a move at this week’s meeting. Investors next see an interest rate rise in June, according to Fed futures data compiled by the CME Group.

Since the last meeting economic data has been mixed. The economy grew at a sluggish 0.7 percent annual pace in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled.

However, a surge in business investment and the fastest wage growth in a decade suggest activity will regain momentum as the year progresses.

Jobs growth also slowed sharply in March but the unemployment rate dropped to a near 10-year low of 4.5 percent. [REUTERS]

Infosys plans to hire 10,000 U.S. workers after Trump targets outsourcing firms

India-based IT services firm Infosys Ltd (INFY.NS) said it plans to hire 10,000 U.S. workers in the next two years and open four technology centers in the United States, starting with a center this August in Indiana, the home state of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

The move comes at a time when Infosys and some of its Indian peers such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS.NS) and Wipro Ltd (WIPR.NS) have become political targets in the United States for allegedly displacing U.S. workers’ jobs by flying in foreigners on temporary visas to service their clients in the country.

The IT service firms rely heavily on the H1-B visa program, which U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered federal agencies to review.

In a telephone interview with Reuters from Indiana, Infosys Chief Executive Vishal Sikka said his company plans to hire U.S. workers in fields such as artificial intelligence.

“When you think about it from a U.S. point of view, obviously creating more American jobs and opportunities is a good thing,” Sikka said.

While Indian outsourcing firms have recruited in the United States, Infosys is the first to come out with concrete hiring numbers and provide a timeline in the wake of Trump’s visa review.

Last month, two industry sources told Reuters that Infosys was applying for just under 1,000 H-1B visas this year. One of the sources said that was down from about 6,500 applications in 2016 and some 9,000 in 2015. [REUTERS]

05/02/2017 10:33 AM by David Kinzer

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