Italy’s Renzi Easily Wins Democratic Party Primary

Former premier Matteo Renzi regained the Democratic Party leadership, handily winning a Sunday primary that he hopes will bolster the center-left’s ability to counter growing support for populist politicians in Italy ahead of national elections.

“Forward, together,” Renzi tweeted, invigorated by his comeback after a stinging defeat in a December reforms referendum aimed in part at streamlining the legislative process led him to resign as head of Italy’s government and as leader of his squabbling party.

 

“The alternative to populism isn’t the elite,” Renzi told supports late Sunday after unofficial results indicated he got more than 70 percent of votes cast nationwide. “It’s people who aren’t afraid of democracy.”

 

Some politicians predicted that the primary win would embolden Renzi to maneuver seeking to bring national elections ahead of their spring 2018 due date as part of his effort to rein in increasing popularity for the populist, anti-euro 5-Star Movement.

 

But a top Renzi ally sought to counter that idea.

 

“The government’s horizon is 2018. Starting tomorrow, we’ll work with Premier [Paolo] Gentiloni. Gentiloni’s government is our government,” said Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina.

 

Renzi’s party is still the main force in Italy’s center-left coalition government, but opinion polls indicate it is no longer the country’ most popular. Overtaking the Democrats in recent soundings was the 5-Star Movement, whose leader, comic Beppe Grillo, wants a crackdown on migrants, rails against European Union-mandated austerity and opposes Italy belonging to the euro single currency group.

 

Throughout the day, some 2 million voters lined up at makeshift gazebos in piazzas and street corners, at ice cream parlors, cafes or local party headquarters around the country to cast ballots for a new head of the splintering Democratic Party, whose rank-and-file range from former Communists to former Christian Democrats.

 

Primary voting was open to anyone 16 years of age of older – the oldest voter was reported to be 105. Holding Democratic Party membership wasn’t a requirement.

 

Trailing far behind in the votes were Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Puglia region Governor Michele Emiliano.

 

In addition to countering the challenge of 5-Star’s popularity, to regain Italy’s premiership, Renzi will have to contend with malcontents and defectors in his own party. A group of mostly former Communists split from the Democrats and formed a small, new party in resentment over both Renzi’s centrist leanings and his authoritarian style.

 

Renzi’s reputation in politics is one of ruthlessness. In early 2014, he promised then-premier and fellow Democrat Enrico Letta that he wouldn’t undermine the government, only to shortly afterward engineer Letta’s downfall. Renzi then became premier.

 

Italian President Sergio Mattarella recently insisted that electoral laws must be overhauled before new elections. Currently, there is one set of electoral rules for the lower Chamber of Deputies and a completely different one for the Senate, a consequence of the failed reform referendum.

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John Legend Named 1st Recipient of New Social Justice Award

John Legend is expected on a Massachusetts college campus this week to receive a social justice award.

 

The singer-songwriter becomes the first recipient of the Salem Advocate for Social Justice award when he accepts the honor Tuesday at Salem State University.

 

Legend is to perform and also discuss his work on criminal justice, education and other issues.

 

The Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice bestows the award to recognize those who champion social justice issues and advocate for people who are underrepresented.

 

This is the first year the award will be given.

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French Forces Kill 20 Militants in Mali

French forces said Sunday they killed more than 20 militants in Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.

French military officials and witnesses say the attack came from the air and on the ground in a forest in the Sahel region.

More than 3,500 French soldiers are spread out across Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger combating Islamist extremists.

Mali has extended a state of emergency for another six months as it tries to stave off an al-Qaida-linked insurgency in the north, and extremists launching attacks from Burkina Faso in the south.

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Beyond 100 Days, Trump Faces More Legislative Challenges

After more than three months in office without passing any major legislation, President Donald Trump faces a week that offers the possibility of averting a government shutdown and progress on health care.

Trump has spent his first 100 days coming to terms with the slow grind of government even in a Republican-dominated capital, and watching some of his promises – from repealing the nation’s health care law to temporarily banning people from some Muslim nations – fizzle.

 

Last week lawmakers sent the president a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through Friday. Aides say lawmakers closely involved in negotiating the $1 trillion package over the weekend have worked through many sticking points in hopes of making the measure public as early as Sunday night. The House and Senate have until Friday at midnight to pass the measure to avert a government shutdown. The aides required anonymity because the talks are not final and the measure has yet to be released.

 

The catchall spending bill would be the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to advance during Trump’s short tenure in the White House. It denies Trump a win on his oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but gives him a down payment on his request to strengthen the military.

 

Lawmakers will continue negotiating this week on a $1 trillion package financing the government through September 30, the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Mixed messages on health care

Despite a renewed White House effort push, the House did not vote last week on a revised bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act.

 

After the original effort failed to win enough support from conservatives and moderates, Republicans recast the bill. The latest version would let states escape a requirement under Obama’s 2010 law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. The overall legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies. Critics have said the approach could reduce protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

But during an interview with “Face the Nation” on CBS aired Sunday, Trump said the measure has a “clause that guarantees” that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered.

 

Trump said: “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, ‘Pre-existing is not covered.’ Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

 

Trump said during the interview that if he’s unable to renegotiate a long-standing free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, then he’ll terminate the pact.

 

North Korea looming large

Trump also spoke about tensions with North Korea. Asked about the failure of several North Korean missile tests recently, Trump said he’d “rather not discuss it. But perhaps they’re just not very good missiles. But eventually, he’ll have good missiles.”

 

Trump also said he is willing to use the trade issue as leverage to get China’s help with North Korea. “Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”

 

And he acknowledged the presidency is “a tough job. But I’ve had a lot of tough jobs. I’ve had things that were tougher, although I’ll let you know that better at the end of eight years. Perhaps eight years. Hopefully, eight years.”

 

Also this week, the president will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. And he’ll head to New York City on Thursday where he’ll visit the USS Intrepid to mark the 75th anniversary of a World War II naval battle.

 

On Sunday morning, Trump headed to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. The White House did not immediately clarify whether he was holding meetings or golfing.

 

Trump marked his 100th day in office Saturday with a rally in Harrisburg, where he continued to pledge to cut taxes and get tough on trade deals.

 

“We are not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore,” he said Saturday in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. “From now on it’s going to be America first.”

 

Trump’s rally Saturday night in Harrisburg offered a familiar recapitulation of what he and aides have argued for days are administration successes, including the successful confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, his Cabinet choices and the approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Poland Suspends Honorary Consul in US Over Photo

Poland’s Foreign Ministry has suspended an honorary consul in the United States who allegedly posted on Facebook an altered picture of European Council President Donald Tusk dressed as a Nazi.

Maria Szonert-Binienda headed Poland’s honorary consulate in Akron, Ohio. She denies the charges.

Szonert-Binienda told the Associated Press someone hacked her Facebook account.

“I did not make a photo of Donald Tusk as an SS man. I am against promoting SS symbols and ideologies. I am against using words like ‘fascism’ in the public political discourse today. I am against comparing our politicians to Hitler,” she said.

Tusk is a former Polish prime minister.

Szonert-Binienda’s husband is a member of the ruling conservative government commission that is re-investigating the 2010 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, is leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, and a fierce political rival of Tusk.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski had accused Tusk of leading an incomplete investigation into the crash.

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First Cuban-American in US Congress to Retire

U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in office.

The 64-year-old Republican was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of southeast Miami-Dade County that is heavily Democratic. Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points, and Ros-Lehtinen was able to win it by 10 percentage points.

 

Her unexpected retirement will give Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.

 

The Miami Herald first reported the retirement Sunday. The congresswoman’s spokesman Keith Fernandez confirmed the announcement with The Associated Press.

 

In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen staked her ground as a foreign-policy hawk, becoming the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She currently chairs the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee.

 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, Republican-California, called her a “trailblazer.”

 

“She’s been a relentless advocate for human rights, and a powerful voice on the need to address the dangerous Iranian regime, defend allies like Israel, and so much more,” he wrote. “Ileana’s retirement is well-deserved, but I’m glad we are not losing her yet. We’ve got important work to do for the American people over the next year and a half, and I know Ileana will continue to play a leading role.”

 

Born in Havana, she is well-known for being a fierce critic of Cuban politics. The late Fidel Castro nicknamed her “la loba feroz” or “the big bad she-wolf.”

 

LGBTQ advocate

For years, Ros-Lehtinen represented the Florida Keys, including gay-friendly Key West, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. Eventually, her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, made his way into the public spotlight. Last year, he and his parents recorded a bilingual public-service TV campaign to urge Hispanics to support transgender youth.

 

In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims.

“And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world,” she told The Miami Herald. “I take that as a badge of honor, when they blast me and don’t let me in their countries.”

 

News of her retirement swept through Florida political circles.

 

“Not only is @RosLehtinen a tireless advocate for freedom & human rights – she is my friend. Florida will miss her,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican-Florida, who worked as an intern in her office 26 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott wrote on Twitter: “Congresswoman @RosLehtinen has fought hard for [Florida] families throughout her service in D.C. Her strong leadership will be greatly missed!”

 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used her announcement to criticize her party. “It’s been clear for years that the Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement announcement is testament to the fact she recognized how wide that gap had grown.”

Ros-Lehtinen is scheduled to have a news conference Monday, her spokesman said.

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