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In freezing US, Biden seeks to cool down politics – BBC News

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President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Reuters

Travelling with Donald Trump versus ridin’ with Joe Biden. Compare and contrast.

Look, Air Force One hasn’t changed with the presidency. It is still that elegant timepiece that came out of the 1970s. Elegant and all that, but dated as anything.

There is one priceless bit of swag that you get on Air Force One – the little box of M&Ms with the presidential seal on one side, and the signature of the president on the other.

Now, I know you’re already feeling sorry for me, but, the Biden ones aren’t ready yet. That means I have (as we say here) deplaned swagless (as no one says anywhere else).

So everything is exactly the same as the Trump era – except in one important respect. The TVs in the press cabin are now on CNN, not on Fox News.

One of the understated aspects of the peaceful transfer of power is the ability to change the channel on Air Force One.

After all, we were on our way to a CNN Town Hall, the president’s first official outing since his inauguration a month ago.

The town hall shows the extent to which Covid-19 is dominating everything. The big announcement from President Biden is that the US would have 600 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by July, meaning that jabs would be available to every American.

Biden also corrected something stated by his Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, on getting kids back to school.

“There was a mistake in the communication,” he told the CNN Town Hall audience. He wouldn’t box himself in absolutely, but said he hoped to have kindergarten to 8th grade pupils back in the classroom within the first 100 days of his presidency.

I’m guessing that must have been an uncomfortable moment for Psaki. But Biden has made that part of his shtick: if we make a mistake, we’ll own up to it.

There is an easy charm to Biden. He asked one questioner to come and see him after the town hall to talk to him. When a mother and her young daughter asked a question, he was engaging and empathetic.

President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Reuters

Less convincing was his response to a small business owner who was worried about the impact of a $15 per hour minimum wage. He waffled about it generating growth, echoing what many economists say. But I’m guessing the man – who owned a woodworking business – would not have been overly impressed. It was a blah, blah, blah politician’s answer, that was painfully short of detail.

But there was one subject he didn’t want to talk about: Donald Trump.

“For four years, all that’s been in the news has been ‘Trump’. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people,” Biden said.

It was a neat soundbite.

He told another questioner that he was bored of being asked about Trump. In freezing cold Milwaukee, where the snow was thick on the ground, Biden was on a mission to lower the political temperature, especially after the storming of the Capitol on 6 January.

President Joe Biden arrives at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Reuters

When the host, Anderson Cooper, invited the president to agree with the verdict of House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, that Republican senators who voted to acquit were cowards he demurred. He didn’t want to get into name-calling.

And there was a big difference in the language deployed. Trump loved a wedge issue. He would always aim to appeal to his base; often alienating people on the other side. Biden is trying to unite.

Take this response: “Every cop when they get up in the morning and put on that shield has a right to expect to go home to their family that night. Conversely, every kid walking across the street wearing a hoodie is not a member of a gang.”

The Biden presidency is setting out very different policy priorities – on Covid, on immigration reform, on re-opening America to refugees.

But it is also deploying a different more soothing language than that of its predecessor.

In the UK, former Conservative Home Secretary, William Whitelaw famously accused Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson of going around the country “stirring up apathy”.

That would be slightly unfair to Biden. But he wouldn’t object to being seen as the president of balm.

“I literally pray that I have the capacity to do for the country what you all deserve,” Biden said.

Somehow, I can’t imagine Trump saying that.

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China's electoral reform 'earthquake' set to upend Hong Kong politics – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By James Pomfret and Clare Jim

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s plan to dramatically reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, expected to be unveiled in a parliamentary session in Beijing starting this week, will upend the territory’s political scene, according to more than a dozen politicians from across the spectrum.

The proposed reform will put further pressure on pro-democracy activists, who are already the subject of a crackdown on dissent, and has ruffled the feathers of some pro-Beijing loyalists, some of whom may find themselves swept aside by a new and ambitious crop of loyalists, the people said.

“It will be an earthquake shaking up local political interests,” said one person briefed on the impending changes.

The measures will be introduced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which starts on Friday, according to media reports.

The plan was signalled last week by senior Chinese official Xia Baolong, who said Beijing would introduce systemic changes to only allow what he called “patriots” to hold public office in Hong Kong.

In a full transcript of his remarks published this week by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia Magazine, Xia said Hong Kong’s electoral system had to be “designed” to fit with the city’s situation and shut out what he called non-patriots, some of whom he described as “anti-China agitators” that would bring destruction and terror to the city – a reference to pro-democracy campaigners who took to the streets in sometimes violent demonstrations in 2019.

Xia did not announce any specifics, but the plan will likely include changes to how the 70-seat Hong Kong legislature is elected, and the composition of a committee that will select Hong Kong’s next leader, according to the person briefed on the plan and local media reports.

Veteran democrats have been quick to condemn the plan.

“It totally destroys any hope for democracy in the future,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy former member of Hong Kong’s legislature. “The whole concept of Xia Baolong is that the Communist Party rules Hong Kong and only those that support the party can have any role.”

Lee learned of the impending reform last week, in the middle of his trial, along with a group of eight other pro-democracy activists, for unlawful assembly charges related to a protest in August 2019.

“It’s no longer for people to decide,” Lee told Reuters on a lunch break from the trial last week. “It’s one party rule, completely.”

The prospect of further bending the electoral process to China’s liking has also worried some pro-Beijing figures, who think it may be going too far and ultimately hurt Hong Kong.

“Don’t go too far and kill the patient,” Shiu Sin-por, a pro-Beijing politician and former head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit, told reporters after a briefing session with Xia on the matter. The opposition camp has already been neutralised by last year’s national security law, Shiu said, allowing the government to “push forward policies smoothly.”

China’s main liaison office in Hong Kong, and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it was prioritising the implementation of the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” and improving the electoral system, and that it will continue to listen to views on the matter.

POLITICAL MATHEMATICS

Electoral reform is the latest political tremor to hit Hong Kong, a former colony that Britain handed back to China in 1997, which retains some autonomy from Beijing and whose status as a global financial hub was built on the rule of law and civil liberties not allowed in mainland China.

The city’s atmosphere has changed radically in the past 18 months. Mass street protests in 2019 against China’s intensifying control prompted Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law last June, which authorities have used to jail activists and stifle dissent.

On Sunday, Hong Kong police charged 47 pro-democracy campaigners and activists with conspiracy to commit subversion for their roles in organising and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, the biggest single crackdown under the new law.

Even though such arrests have already marginalised the pro-democracy camp, China wants to exert greater control over a voting process largely unchanged since 1997, and is still afraid of democrats winning a majority in the legislature at the next election, said the person briefed on the electoral reform plan.

“They did the mathematics and it was seen as too risky to do nothing,” said the person.

Two senior pro-Beijing politicians told Reuters the electoral reform plan, coming on top of the broader crackdown that has already provoked international criticism, would ultimately damage Hong Kong, potentially destroying its unique character, pluralism and attractiveness for investors.

“It’s really sad that Hong Kong has degenerated to this stage,” said one of the politicians, on the electoral reform. “We’re handing Hong Kong over to the next generation in a worse state than we inherited it.”

The two pro-Beijing politicians spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the matter. It is rare for pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong to voice any doubt about China’s moves, even anonymously.   

“Nothing is normal anymore,” said the second pro-Beijing politician. “It’s a new abnormal.”

One faction that appears ready to benefit from electoral reform is the new Bauhinia Party, formed in May by Charles Wong and two other mainland-born, pro-Beijing businessmen, pushing policies that Wong says will help revive Hong Kong and its leadership.

“They (Beijing) never really have any opposition to what we do,” Wong told Reuters in his 12th-floor seafront office last week.

Wong, 56, was born in mainland China but came to Hong Kong as a youth and speaks fluent Cantonese, the local dialect. Describing himself as a “patriot,” Wong embodies China’s declared wish to have Hong Kong run at all levels by people with closer ties and sympathy with the mainland.

“We are Hong Kong people,” he told Reuters. “We love Hong Kong.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Clare Jim in Hong Kong: Additional reporting by Sharon Tam in Hong Kong: Editing by Bill Rigby and Neil Fullick)

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China's electoral reform 'earthquake' set to upend Hong Kong politics – Reuters

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HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s plan to dramatically reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, expected to be unveiled in a parliamentary session in Beijing starting this week, will upend the territory’s political scene, according to more than a dozen politicians from across the spectrum.

Pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping overlook a street ahead of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Shanghai, China March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

The proposed reform will put further pressure on pro-democracy activists, who are already the subject of a crackdown on dissent, and has ruffled the feathers of some pro-Beijing loyalists, some of whom may find themselves swept aside by a new and ambitious crop of loyalists, the people said.

“It will be an earthquake shaking up local political interests,” said one person briefed on the impending changes.

The measures will be introduced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which starts on Friday, according to media reports.

The plan was signalled last week by senior Chinese official Xia Baolong, who said Beijing would introduce systemic changes to only allow what he called “patriots” to hold public office in Hong Kong.

In a full transcript of his remarks published this week by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia Magazine, Xia said Hong Kong’s electoral system had to be “designed” to fit with the city’s situation and shut out what he called non-patriots, some of whom he described as “anti-China agitators” that would bring destruction and terror to the city – a reference to pro-democracy campaigners who took to the streets in sometimes violent demonstrations in 2019.

Xia did not announce any specifics, but the plan will likely include changes to how the 70-seat Hong Kong legislature is elected, and the composition of a committee that will select Hong Kong’s next leader, according to the person briefed on the plan and local media reports.

Veteran democrats have been quick to condemn the plan.

“It totally destroys any hope for democracy in the future,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy former member of Hong Kong’s legislature. “The whole concept of Xia Baolong is that the Communist Party rules Hong Kong and only those that support the party can have any role.”

Lee learned of the impending reform last week, in the middle of his trial, along with a group of eight other pro-democracy activists, for unlawful assembly charges related to a protest in August 2019.

“It’s no longer for people to decide,” Lee told Reuters on a lunch break from the trial last week. “It’s one party rule, completely.”

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The prospect of further bending the electoral process to China’s liking has also worried some pro-Beijing figures, who think it may be going too far and ultimately hurt Hong Kong.

“Don’t go too far and kill the patient,” Shiu Sin-por, a pro-Beijing politician and former head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit, told reporters after a briefing session with Xia on the matter. The opposition camp has already been neutralised by last year’s national security law, Shiu said, allowing the government to “push forward policies smoothly.”

China’s main liaison office in Hong Kong, and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it was prioritising the implementation of the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” and improving the electoral system, and that it will continue to listen to views on the matter.

POLITICAL MATHEMATICS

Electoral reform is the latest political tremor to hit Hong Kong, a former colony that Britain handed back to China in 1997, which retains some autonomy from Beijing and whose status as a global financial hub was built on the rule of law and civil liberties not allowed in mainland China.

The city’s atmosphere has changed radically in the past 18 months. Mass street protests in 2019 against China’s intensifying control prompted Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law last June, which authorities have used to jail activists and stifle dissent.

On Sunday, Hong Kong police charged 47 pro-democracy campaigners and activists with conspiracy to commit subversion for their roles in organising and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, the biggest single crackdown under the new law.

Even though such arrests have already marginalised the pro-democracy camp, China wants to exert greater control over a voting process largely unchanged since 1997, and is still afraid of democrats winning a majority in the legislature at the next election, said the person briefed on the electoral reform plan.

“They did the mathematics and it was seen as too risky to do nothing,” said the person.

Two senior pro-Beijing politicians told Reuters the electoral reform plan, coming on top of the broader crackdown that has already provoked international criticism, would ultimately damage Hong Kong, potentially destroying its unique character, pluralism and attractiveness for investors.

“It’s really sad that Hong Kong has degenerated to this stage,” said one of the politicians, on the electoral reform. “We’re handing Hong Kong over to the next generation in a worse state than we inherited it.”

The two pro-Beijing politicians spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the matter. It is rare for pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong to voice any doubt about China’s moves, even anonymously.

“Nothing is normal anymore,” said the second pro-Beijing politician. “It’s a new abnormal.”

One faction that appears ready to benefit from electoral reform is the new Bauhinia Party, formed in May by Charles Wong and two other mainland-born, pro-Beijing businessmen, pushing policies that Wong says will help revive Hong Kong and its leadership.

“They (Beijing) never really have any opposition to what we do,” Wong told Reuters in his 12th-floor seafront office last week.

Wong, 56, was born in mainland China but came to Hong Kong as a youth and speaks fluent Cantonese, the local dialect. Describing himself as a “patriot,” Wong embodies China’s declared wish to have Hong Kong run at all levels by people with closer ties and sympathy with the mainland.

“We are Hong Kong people,” he told Reuters. “We love Hong Kong.”

Reporting by James Pomfret and Clare Jim in Hong Kong: Additional reporting by Sharon Tam in Hong Kong: Editing by Bill Rigby and Neil Fullick

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How rape allegations have rocked Australian politics – BBC News

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BRITTANY HIGGINS

Just a fortnight ago, Australia was shocked by a former political adviser’s allegations that she had been raped in the nation’s Parliament House.

Brittany Higgins said she’d been attacked by a male colleague – also an adviser for the ruling Liberal Party – in a government minister’s office in 2019.

Her story has triggered a flood of other women to come forward with their own experiences of alleged sexual assault and harassment in Australian politics.

The most explosive of these – a 1988 rape allegation – now hangs over an unidentified cabinet minister. The minister denies rape, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

A rape accusation against an opposition MP has also been referred to police.

As the allegations pile up, Mr Morrison’s government in particular is facing a public clamour for answers. Here’s how events have unfolded so far.

Brittany Higgins speaks out

Ms Higgins said she was 24 and weeks into a new “dream job” when she was taken to parliament by a senior colleague after a night out in March 2019.

Heavily drunk, she had fallen asleep in the minister’s office before waking, she said, to find the man sexually assaulting her.

The man was sacked in the days following, not for the alleged assault but for breaching office security with the late-night visit.

Meanwhile Ms Higgins told her boss – then Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds – that she had been sexually assaulted. The meeting occurred in the same room where Ms Higgins alleged the attack took place.

Ms Reynolds has said she offered support to her aide to go to the police. Ms Higgins said she felt pressure that doing so would lead to her losing her job.

Brittany Higgins

NETWORK TEN

Ms Higgins said she had since felt “silenced” by the Liberal Party, but decided to speak out after seeing a photo of Mr Morrison in January which showed him celebrating the activism of a sexual assault survivor.

“He’s standing next to a woman who has campaigned [for survivors’ rights]… and yet in my mind his government was complicit in silencing me. It was a betrayal. It was a lie,” she told news.com.au.

PM criticised for response

A day after Ms Higgins came forward, Mr Morrison apologised for the way her complaint had been treated by the government two years ago. He also promised inquiries into parliament’s work culture and support for political staff.

However, he sparked a public backlash when he appeared to suggest that he’d understood Ms Higgins’ experience better after his wife urged him to think of his two daughters.

“She said to me: ‘You have to think about this as a father. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?'” he told reporters.

Women in particular condemned Mr Morrison’s framing of the issue. Did he need to think of Ms Higgins as someone’s daughter, they asked, before he could empathise or take her account seriously?

Critics also used the comment to argue that Mr Morrison wasn’t tackling the issue seriously enough.

Ms Higgins, pictured here with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a party fundraiser

ABC

Mr Morrison and his ministers were also accused of skirting questions about who within the government knew what and when, and why they didn’t do more.

It has since emerged that several people in Parliament House – including at least three cabinet ministers – knew about the alleged crime.

Mr Morrison maintains he found out about the allegation at the same time as the rest of the nation.

But when he disputed a suggestion by Ms Higgins that one of his advisers had been “checking up” on her – doubting her recollection in that instance – she said: “The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the prime minister is very distressing to me and countless other survivors.”

Other women come forward

Since Ms Higgins’ spoke out, four other women have come forward to local media to accuse the same man of sexual assault or harassment.

One woman said she’d been raped by the man in 2020 after drinks and dinner with him. “If this had been properly dealt with by the government in 2019 this would not have happened to me,” she told The Australian.

Another woman, an election volunteer, said she was also raped by the man after a night out in 2017.

A third woman said the man had stroked her thigh during a group dinner with colleagues in 2017. She made a report to police after seeing Ms Higgins speak out, the ABC reported.

Last Wednesday, a fourth woman told news.com.au she had felt pressured by the man to have sex in 2014.

Then late last week, amid suggestions that some lawmakers had been reticent to report Ms Higgins’ allegations earlier, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) issued a statement to lawmakers. It reminded them to report any criminal allegations they had come across.

Cabinet minister accused of rape

On Friday, two opposition lawmakers – Labor Senator Penny Wong and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young – referred a letter they had received to the AFP.

It alleged that a man who was now a cabinet minister had raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988.

The identity of the minister and the alleged victim have not been reported by Australian media. The woman took her own life last June, aged 49.

Earlier last year, the woman reported the allegation to New South Wales Police, but an investigation was suspended after she died.

Last week, friends of the woman wrote a letter to Mr Morrison and other lawmakers, urging him to establish an independent investigation.

Mr Morrison has declined to do so, insisting that the matter is one for police.

“The individual involved here has vigorously rejected these allegations,” he told reporters on Monday.

“And so, it’s a matter for the police,” he said, adding that “there was nothing immediate considered that was necessary for me to take any action on”.

Scott Morrison in parliament

Getty Images

But the letter argues that because the alleged victim is dead, police are unlikely to pursue their own investigation because such cases typically require testimony from a complainant.

“Failure to take parliamentary action because the New South Wales Police cannot take criminal action would feel like a wilful blindness,” the letter said.

On Sunday, a government lawmaker referred a rape allegation against a Labor MP to police. No further information about that allegation is yet known.

Public pressure

The allegations of the past fortnight have reignited wider questions about Australian political culture, including long-held debates about sexism and misogyny.

One of the women who alleges she was raped by the political adviser said she had come forward, in part, to “help shine a light on this awful culture”.

Last week, Mr Morrison said: “I think we’ve got a problem in the parliament and the workplace culture that we have to work on.”

But calls for more action from the government continue to grow.

Critics argue, for instance, that a cabinet minister accused of a serious crime should be stood aside pending an investigation – a suggestion the government has rejected.

Meanwhile, Ms Higgins says she has now filed a police complaint and is “determined to drive significant reform” in how parliament handles cases such as hers.

“I believe that getting to the bottom of what happened to me and how the system failed me is critical to creating a new framework,” she said.

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