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As U.S. Tightens Iran Sanctions, Militant Groups and Political Allies Feel the Pain

Iran’s financial crisis, exacerbated by American sanctions, appears to be undermining its support for militant groups and political allies who bolster Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. But Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, acknowledged the difficulties created by the American sanctions, criticizing them this month as “a form of war” and calling on the movement’s fund-raising arm “to provide the opportunity for jihad with money and also to help with this ongoing battle.” The Trump administration says the strains show that the sanctions are effective. Last year, President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, hoping to undermine Iran’s ability to fund its network of alliances. In an interview in Beirut, a Hezbollah official denied that the group had not paid salaries and that the American sanctions had undermined its core mission. But he acknowledged that the group was reorganizing its finances to cut costs. During Mr. Pompeo’s visit to Beirut, his anti-Hezbollah stance faced staunch pushback from top Lebanese officials, including the president, the speaker of Parliament and the foreign minister. The United States is not, nor are its local partners. Iran’s deepest involvement is in Iraq, where financial pressures at home have pushed it to pursue stronger economic ties. Iran also maintains allies across Iraq’s political spectrum who promote Iranian interests, recently by challenging the United States’ military presence in the country. “When you try to push Iran out of the region by sanctioning it,” said Mr. Shabani of Al Monitor, “you are forcing it to get involved in the region even more.”

European press gets popcorn out for another chaotic day of Brexit

European press and commentators switched on the TV, pulled out the popcorn and sat back to watch the latest preposterous episode in Britain’s Brexit psychodrama with a mixture of disbelief and resignation. So, cue uproar in the house, and the credits start running. ‘Order,’ roars John Bercow. Please do not adjust your set: we’ll be back right after the break.” After a day in which Theresa May offered to step down as prime minister if MPs backed her twice-rejected Brexit deal, and parliament failed dismally to agree on any one of eight possible ways forward, the paper’s incredulous front page headline was: “All against all, and all against everything.” Anyone blaming Britain’s present impasse on May had been proved wrong, the paper said: “Parliament is no smarter than the prime minister: lesson one. It has engulfed the political institutions and shaken the whole conventional order.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wondered despairingly whether “this moment of madness” might soon be behind us, “so that for all those involved, on both sides of the Channel, we can get back to talking about other important things”. Following “yet another chaotic day in parliament”, it did at least look like “the last chance for May’s Brexit deal” was approaching, the paper said. And business is growing seriously alarmed.” Thus, Britain’s Brexit impasse “has never looked more insurmountable than after this crazy day of 27 March – the day that was supposed to unblock the situation”, said France’s Le Monde. But nothing now appears less certain.” It was “another day rich in plot twists, but without a proper ending”, the paper said. On the other hand, it knows what it doesn’t want: neither the exit deal agreed with the EU, nor eight other possible ways out of this mess.” In the Netherlands, de Volkskrant also reckoned the prime minister had “sacrificed herself for ‘her’ Brexit, but is far from sure to get parliament to vote for it”. May “has now tried everything to sell her deal”, the paper said, “from handing out knighthoods to opponents to promising money to MPs from leave-voting constituencies”.

Boeing 737 Max: Don’t rush into criminal case and don’t make safety a political...

Nobody wants an airplane to crash. Importantly, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the commercial aviation industry have worked diligently to prevent this from happening. We commend the leadership of the FAA, supported by the secretary of Transportation, for making the difficult decision to ground the 737 Max based on the initial data from the second crash, as well as data from the October crash. The FAA has grounded airliners only three times in 40 years. Automation will never be perfect Automation done right has a long history of improving safety, efficiency and reliability in aviation. When the automation is not perfect, what is the trigger for grounding? Should the grounding occur after only one event? Would a triggering event have to be a crash, or would a near-catastrophe suffice? Depending on whether signs of possible criminal misconduct are identified, the NTSB will turn the investigation over the FBI, as has been the practice for years. If evidence of possible criminal misconduct is discovered, then law enforcement can be called in.

Securing a Brexit deal will not end the UK’s political crisis

As was clear from proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday night, lawmakers cannot decide on a Plan B for Brexit. And yet it's highly likely that Plan A -- the Prime Minister's deal already defeated twice in the Commons -- may be completely dead after the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on whose votes May depends, said they could never back it. The new Prime Minister's number one task will be to open the second phase of Brexit negotiations with the European Union, on a future trading relationship between the two entities. But exactly how those negotiations go will depend on the person who wins the leadership contest. Many Conservative lawmakers are insisting that the next Prime Minister must be someone who enthusiastically believes in Brexit -- such as the ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson or the one-time Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. While there will be several candidates from all wings of the party and Brexit debate, the leadership contest will be dominated by the issue of Brexit and how close a trade deal the UK should have with the EU. In theory, a staunch Brexiteer leader will likely come up with a whole new set of tough red lines for the next round of negotiations. But the most popular option, involving a softer Brexit customs union, could find its way into the post-May round of trade negotiations with the EU. What could change the metrics is, of course, a general election. Just like the Tory leadership contest, Brexit will dominate the campaign.

Raw Politics: controversial copyright reform ignites debate on internet freedom

Aa Aa In a highly contentious vote on Tuesday, MEPs narrowly voted to push forward with copyright reforms that will require big tech companies to implement “upload filters” to detect copyright-protected content. Critics are calling it a “dark day for internet freedom”, arguing that the legislation is too broad and puts legitimate content at high risk of being blocked. Dominic Kis, a campaigner for the “Save the Internet” movement, opposes the reform. On Tuesday night’s episode of Raw Politics, he said it doesn’t actually protect content creators. "We do not want any upload filters on the internet because that would definitely endanger the internet,” he said. John Phelan, director general of The International Confederation of Music Publishers, had a different take, saying: “It doesn’t change what copyright is, it changes who must obey existing copyright laws and that is fundamentally important." Phelan went on to say that the divisive filter technology is already in place and the directive would only ensure it is “used more fairly”. Kis disagreed, saying that these filter technologies — which Google has already heavily invested in — "are not foolproof and will never be”. The directive was passed in the European Parliament with 348 MEPs in favour and 274 against. It now awaits approval from EU member states.

Should Democrats Worry About Political Experience in 2020?

It’s often been said that Donald Trump destroyed all precedents in his astonishing rise to the presidency in 2016. And one of the unusual things about him was his complete lack of prior experience in public office or running for public office. A few major-party nominees were closer to Trump in the empty resume department (notably 1904 Democratic nominee Alton Parker, a state judge, and 1940 Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, a utility executive), but for the most part, especially in more recent times, the major parties have nominated former or current senators and governors. That could help explain why two candidates (one potential and one actual) who together have 81 years of experience in elected office, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, top every poll. But as Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight observes, voters tend to adapt their view of desirable candidate qualities to how they see their preferred candidates, more than the other way around. Thus Republicans told Pew pollsters early in the 2016 cycle that they valued experience over “new ideas” until Trump emerged as a favorite and flipped that particular script. The near–draft-level interest in former Georgia state legislator Stacey Abrams is unusual, too. It’s possible that while Trump hasn’t totally dispelled an interest in experience among voters in either party, Democrats are less worried than they might normally be about sending up a relative novice to oppose him; it’s not like Trump is going to depict himself as the wise, credentialed, steady hand on the tiller. It’s notable that candidates at both ends of the experience spectrum — Biden and Sanders, and O’Rourke and Buttigieg — are thought to be potentially strong among the white working-class voters so important to Trump’s 2016 election and 2020 reelection prospects. Perhaps all that’s going on is that against the terrifying Trump Democrats are valuing perceived electability above all.

Liberals’ Reaction to Mueller Report Shows They Prioritize Politics Over Truth

Of course, the American people—and, of course, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. At the age of 79, with 32 years in the House of Representatives, Pelosi has a well-honed nose for sniffing out which political road to take. And he’s just not worth it.” Either the speaker’s time-tested political sniffer is so fine-tuned that she smelled the fake news driving the Russia conspiracy investigation or she knew that driving the whole thing were dirty tricks that originated in her own party and that Mueller would not and could not cover this up. Or maybe, even more troubling, they weren’t deceived, and were party to the scam. So despite the conclusions of the Mueller report, there will be document requests and subpoenas pouring forth from Nadler’s committee under the claim of suspected obstruction of justice from the White House. There are many things Democrats do not do well. Stacey Abrams still refuses to concede that she was defeated in the gubernatorial race in Georgia, persisting that voter suppression engineered by Republicans caused her loss. This was reminiscent of the “hanging chad’ recount in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore refused to concede. The American system works, and we have a president who is fixing this country. These are the truths that Democrats find most difficult to swallow.

Mueller could never have saved us from Trump. That’s what politics is for

It painstakingly documented Russia’s criminal meddling in our election and led to the conviction of several of the president’s closest advisers and enablers. And it hardly provided the “complete and total EXONERATION” that the president claimed in a characteristically inaccurate tweet, as the report left open whether Trump obstructed justice. Still, for those who saw Mueller moving up the chain, closing in on the president and his family, the report – or at least what we know about it – must disappoint. It's too soon for that | Andrew Gawthrope Read more How are we to make sense of the disappointment? And while congressional Republicans might be too craven to place restraints on the president, not so federal prosecutors and judges. The Mueller investigation lulled us, then, into hoping that Trump’s essential unfitness for office would find objective confirmation by our system of criminal justice. The mistake, of course, was to seize on evidence of criminality as the standard by which to measure unfitness for office. For while proof of serious criminal actions may suffice to demonstrate a president’s unfitness, the opposite hardly is true: absence of clear criminality hardly resolves the question of fitness. But neither is American democracy. Alas being unfit for office is not a crime.

Alternative Brexit options: what will John Bercow select for indicative votes?

MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of “indicative votes”. The plan includes a comprehensive customs union with a UK say on future trade deals; close alignment with the single market; matching new EU rights and protections; participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and agreement on future security arrangements, including access to the European arrest warrant. The motion proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) and European Economic Area (EEA). Customs union This plan requires a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal. Malthouse compromise plan A A cross-party proposal calls for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to be implemented with the controversial “backstop” for the Irish border replaced by alternative arrangements. It has been signed by 28 MPs, including the SNP’s Angus Brendan MacNeil and the Tory MP Ken Clarke. The motion was also signed by Conservative MPs including former minister Nicky Morgan and head of the Brexit Delivery Group, Simon Hart. Consent of devolved institutions Backed by SNP MPs including Ian Blackford, Kirsty Blackman and Stephen Gethins, this motion requires an agreement that the UK will not leave without a deal, and that no action for leaving the EU will be taken without a consent motion passed in both the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly. How did your MP vote on the indicative votes amendment? Contingent reciprocal arrangements A similar group of Tory MPs have backed a proposal calling for the government to “at least reciprocate the arrangements put in place by the EU and or its member states to manage the period following the UK’s departure from the EU”, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement.

Brexit extension could be until 31 March 2020, EU documents reveal

The EU has pencilled in April Fools’ Day 2020 as a leading option for Britain’s first day outside the bloc, should the UK government ask Brussels for a lengthy extension of article 50 in three weeks’ time, it can be revealed. The date was to be offered at the leaders’ summit last week if Theresa May had followed through on her promise to request a short extension in the event of passing her Brexit deal, and a longer one should it be rejected again by the House of Commons. A one-year extension, ending on 31 March 2020, was, however, written into internal EU papers before the summit as an offer that could be made to May should she formally seek a longer extension, sources said. “That would safeguard our work during this year and basically allow us to turn to it again early next year,” the official said. So such a time limit is not a bad idea.” Play Video 6:17 Sources emphasised that no decision had been made and it would be the subject of intense debate among the leaders at a summit, likely to be held on 10 April in Brussels, should May come back again for extra time. We want to do other things and not have this dominate.” The source added: “It may be up to two years, but that is the span of the imagination of those who are talking about a long extension. It is not up to this October because we can’t do this all the time. The European parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator said he was very pleased MPs had voted to take control of Brexit from the government. This is the first time that there is a vote for something – cross-party cooperation. We have long called for that.