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The China factor in Indian politics – Hindustan Times

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The brutal killing of 20 personnel of the Indian Army, including a colonel-level officer, by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Galwan Valley on the night of June 15 will reverberate across India for a long time to come. Indian security personnel — from the armed forces, paramilitary forces, and the police — have often given their lives in the quest to defend India’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and the Constitution. And as often, their contribution is forgotten.

But Colonel Santosh Babu and the 19 other men killed in the line of duty will stay on in public memory for three reasons. First, this was the first time since 1975 that Indian blood was shed defending the border against China. Two, the nature of the killing was brutal — PLA, in what India has called a “pre-meditated” attack, violated norms of war. And India and China are not even officially at war. And finally, their killing has highlighted the place of Ladakh in general, and Galwan Valley in particular, as essential to India’s territorial imagination.

This, then, can make June 15 — or Ladakh 2020 — the moment when, for two generations of Indians, the security threat from China has become tangible and real. It can make it the moment when discussions about the “competitive-cooperative” relationship with China and how to navigate great power politics will move beyond the rarefied seminar circuits of elite analysts and assume a strong place in public consciousness. And it can make it the moment when China becomes an issue in Indian domestic politics, strongly tied to public opinion, partisan positions, and the idea of nationalism.

The intersection of domestic politics and foreign policy is old. Indeed, a lot of scholarship suggests that foreign policy itself is the extension of domestic politics and is shaped substantially by it.

In India’s case too, this has been true. But barring the 1962 war, and the criticism that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru faced, the most critical foreign policy issue has been Pakistan. This is not surprising. The tragedy of Partition, Pakistan’s support for Khalistan, the Kashmir question, its sponsorship of terrorism in India which has cost thousands of lives, four wars (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999), and the manner in which the external enemy (Pakistan) is often used in political discourse to demonise an internal constituency (Indian Muslims) lends the India-Pakistan relationship particular political salience. Indeed, as the saying in South Block goes, the real joint secretary in charge of the Pakistan desk at the ministry of external affairs is the Prime Minister of India. And that is because each decision on Pakistan is a political, not a bureaucratic, one.

The Indian strategic community has long recognised China as a threat. The border dispute and Beijing’s efforts to change the facts on the ground by its consistent incursions; its claim over Arunachal Pradesh, particularly Tawang; the large trade deficit; China’s firm support to its “all-weather friend”, Pakistan, now buttressed by the China-Pakistan economic corridor; its efforts to box in India by encouraging regimes hostile to New Delhi in the neighbourhood; its moves to thwart India’s legitimate ambitions (such as permanent membership of the Security Council or entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group); and its ambitions to establish new style imperialism through the Belt and Road Initiative have all been closely noted and are a part of the institutional memory of the government of India.

But along with this, there is also a recognition of the power asymmetry between the two countries. India’s economy is much weaker; its military and technological capabilities don’t match up to China; its State capacity is more limited; and in the maze that is international politics, China is a more significant player and India cannot rely on partnerships and external bandwagoning. Along with it, India — at this stage of its economic development — needs foreign capital and investment, and deepening economic interdependence with China has been seen as a way to both neutralise the competitive elements and aid Indian development.

This measured policy approach worked because China was not an issue that animated public opinion. But it will now face a challenge. This is both because of China’s aggression (not unique to India — just ask Vietnam, Japan, Australia and others in its neighbourhood) and because in Indian democracy, policies cannot be completely out of sync with popular sentiment.

The killings of June 15 have suddenly woken a large number of citizens to the fact that Pakistan is an important, but perhaps not the most important, security challenge India confronts. The Chinese willingness to assert itself abroad under President Xi Jinping, and the power differential with India, makes it a more serious adversary. The calls for boycotting Chinese goods may be populist and rooted in ignorance of economic realities but they reflect the emerging mood about China, which is going beyond suspicion to a degree of loathing.

The evolution of public opinion is bound to have an impact on political discourse. And that is why even a prime minister such as Narendra Modi — who has proudly worn the badge of nationalism and presented himself as a security hawk — had to face tough questions, not just from critics but also more independent observers, about his claim on Friday night that there is no external presence in Indian territory. The Prime Minister’s Office, on Saturday, came up with a clarification. But the response to his initial statement is instructive. Indian public opinion is not in the mood to tolerate even the hint of a territorial concession to China anymore.

This, then, will have an impact on the politics of nationalism in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — by disengaging with Pakistan till it acts on terror and through the surgical and air strikes under its term in office — has projected itself as a staunchly nationalist force. But now, it will have to be accountable for its actions on China too. The well-meaning advice to the Opposition not to “politicise” the national security issue may go unheeded, for if the ruling dispensation has benefited from weaponising national security for electoral ends, the Opposition will seek to emulate the same. Expect the BJP to talk about Pakistan, and expect the Opposition to counter it with China from now on. Ladakh 2020 has introduced the China factor into Indian politics. Its consequences will be long-lasting.

letters@hindustantimes.com

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Trump chooses distraction politics over leadership – CNN

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By the time he returned to the White House that night, Trump had commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger Stone, who’d been pleading for relief, arguing the coronavirus would be a death sentence if he had to report to prison (as he was scheduled to next week).
In thumbing his nose at justice — intervening on behalf of a former political adviser who was convicted of crimes that included lying to Congress in part, prosecutors said, to protect the President — Trump continued turning a blind eye to the Americans for whom coronavirus has actually been a death sentence.
At a time when his poll numbers are sinking, the President has refused to take on a greater leadership role to beat back the virus. Instead, he seems caught in a cycle of anger and self-pity about ancillary issues that he believes are more important to his political fortunes.
The gulf between reality and the President’s delusion was in sharp relief during his visit to Florida, where cases are up 1,237% since the state’s reopening in early May. After touching down in a county where the rate of positive cases hit 28% on Friday, Trump focused on issues that are far from the pressing concerns of most Americans, underscoring once again that he has no strategy for confronting the virus that has infected more than 3 million Americans.
The President visited Southern Command to discuss drug trafficking prevention efforts and held a roundtable with dissidents who decried communist and socialist regimes in Latin America, which at times sounded like a campaign spectacle meant to praise the President and attack former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
The day’s political pettiness — which included more false tweets about mail-in ballots being tied to fraud — was capped off with Stone being spared from serving prison time.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Stone’s prosecution, arrest and trial as “unfair” in a statement Friday night and said Stone was “a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”
“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case,” McEnany said. “Roger Stone is now a free man!”
Jeffrey Toobin, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, called the President’s move “the most corrupt and cronyistic act in perhaps all of recent history.”
“Richard Nixon, at the height of Watergate, never pardoned or commuted the sentences of any of the people involved in Watergate. He thought he could never get away with it,” Toobin said Friday night on “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“But our standards have sunk so low that the President could reach out to someone who was convicted of a crime that — everyone who was convicted of that crime goes to prison,” Toobin said, adding that while Stone was sentenced to 40 months, “he will do no time for the only reason that he is the President’s friend.”
Biden cited the commutation of Stone’s sentence as evidence that the President has “abused his power,” alleging that Trump made the announcement on a Friday night “to avoid scrutiny as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world.”
“He will not be shamed,” Biden said in a statement Friday night. “He will only be stopped when Americans make their voice heard at the ballot box this fall.”

Trump’s distraction politics

But three years into a presidency where Trump has used many Friday nights to fire his perceived enemies or make moves that he believes will help him politically, the commutation of Stone’s sentence came as little surprise.
For months now as the pandemic has raged on in America, Trump has been consumed with grievance politics, using Twitter and his campaign events to lash out at his opponents, while complaining to allies and friends about how poorly he is being treated by the press.
Now in a critical danger zone four months before the election as he trails Biden in critical swing states, the President shows no signs of correcting course — instead blithely continuing to distract from the devastating effects of the virus, which has now killed more than 133,000 Americans, while distorting the facts about the grave situation that the country is facing as it confronts Covid-19.
On Friday, the number of new coronavirus cases in the US rose to 63,900, a new single-day record according to John Hopkins University data.
A new ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Friday showed that two-thirds of Americans (67%) now disapprove of Trump’s handling of the response to the coronavirus. That number had increased even among Republicans — 78% of GOP voters approve of his handling of coronavirus compared to 90% in June. And in the midst of a national reckoning on race following the death of George Floyd, 67% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of race relations, a finding that held across all racial groups.
While many Americans are scared of soaring coronavirus cases and worried about the risks of sending their children back to school, Trump threatened this week to withhold federal money from schools if officials do not reopen them in the fall and doubled down on his insistence that the states need to get their economies reopened as quickly as possible.
But a clear majority of Americans do not share that view. In the ABC/Ipsos poll, 59% of Americans said they believe the economy is reopening too quickly.
Trump doesn’t seem to be listening. Instead, while the red states that elected him are seeing staggering case numbers, he’s railing against his perceived political enemies.
The chief example of that this week was Trump’s angry reaction to the Supreme Court rulings on efforts to obtain his financial records — even though the immediate outcome was essentially a win for him politically.
The Supreme Court ruled that House Democrats could not access Trump’s financial records but ruled that the President is not immune from a subpoena for his financial documents from a New York prosecutor. The cases were sent back to lower courts for further review, giving him a reprieve by making it unlikely that he would have to hand over those records before the November election.
Still, Trump tweeted: “The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!” (His attorney, Jay Sekulow, by contrast, hailed the decisions as a win).
Trump won’t have the opportunity to channel those grievances in front of a friendly rally crowd this weekend. His campaign postponed a Saturday campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, citing weather.
Ahead of the campaign rally, which would have been his first since the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where crowds didn’t meet expectations, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared to downplay crowd expectations, suggesting that supporters might stay at home during the pandemic because they already support Trump — an implicit admission that even Trump supporters are concerned about their health.
Trump has repeatedly made light of the virus’ danger — perhaps no more glaringly than last week when he falsely said that 99% of case are harmless. But this weekend, in a surprising reversal, and after weeks of pressure, Trump may do something publicly that his own public health advisers say is essential to curtailing the spread: wear a mask.
Trump has said he’ll wear one when he visits wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Saturday. It’s a decision that came only after repeated pleading by aides who urged the President to set an example for his supporters, according to aides familiar with the deliberations.
“You’re in a hospital setting, I think it’s a very appropriate thing,” the President told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday. “I have no problem with a mask.”
“If I’m with soldiers, people that — you know, I don’t want to spread anything,” Trump said.
“Hopefully I’ll look good in a mask,” he told Telemundo on Friday.
If he follows through, it will be a rare example of the President putting the common good before his own needs and his vanity — a simple move that could help him change his current trajectory, which appears headed toward defeat in November.

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A Biden win could shake up Bay State politics – Boston Herald

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Look for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to join the Joe Biden administration should the former vice president beat President Trump in November.

That means that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would appoint someone — perhaps himself — to fill out the remainder of Democrat Warren’s Senate term, which runs to 2024.

While Warren may still be in the running as a potential vice-presidential running mate — since Biden has promised to select a woman — it appears that Biden is leaning more toward choosing a woman of color.

Also, Warren does not appear to do much for a Biden ticket. While she appeals to progressives and left-wing, capitalist-hating activists, she failed to win a single Democratic presidential primary, including her home state of Massachusetts.

While Warren may be out of the running for vice president, there is a strong possibility that she could be appointed to a Biden cabinet, possibly as secretary of the Treasury, should Biden be elected.

If Wall Street thinks that it caught a break when Warren folded as a presidential candidate, they had better think again.

But Biden will first have to meet Trump in debates and beat him, if he ever decides to come out of his basement and hit the campaign trail. But, at the rate the polls are trending in his favor, he may decide to stay down there and remain a stealth candidate.

As it is, the Biden-loving establishment media, giddy over the polling, hate Trump so much that they dream of carrying a stumbling, fumbling Biden into the White House on their shoulders should he — and they — defeat Trump.

But remember, these are the same polls and pollsters who had Hillary Clinton soundly beating Trump in 2016.

At any rate, news last week that Biden might consider appointing Warren to the Treasury had Wall Street abuzz. Warren, who not only took credit for starting the Occupy Wall Street movement several years ago, now wants to break up the big banks.

“We believe Warren would be an especially powerful Treasury secretary with Biden likely delegating to her primary responsibility for financial and economic policy,” said Jaret Seiber, policy analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, in a message to financial clients.

“If it is Elizabeth Warren at Treasury, the tone will be quite harsh for banks,” another top financial analyst said.

Warren is not only in favor breaking up the big banks, she would also restore a myriad of banking and business regulations that have been negated by the Trump administration.

She also would limit the compensation paid to Wall Street executives, stop banks from paying dividends, and halt debt-collecting entities from filing lawsuits and wage garnishment practices during the pandemic.

While it appears far-fetched that this could happen, it is no more far-fetched than Trump defeating Clinton in 2016.

If a Warren Senate vacancy occurs, Baker has the authority to appoint a successor until a special election is held within 145 to 160 days of the vacancy.

If he were interested in the job, Baker could step down as governor and have Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito become acting governor and appoint him as the interim senator. Being a homebody, that appears unlikely. However, if he wanted to name a fellow Republican, he could appoint Polito.

Baker would have to move fast. In the past the Democratic-controlled Legislature has blocked a Republican governor from making such an appointment by going straight to a special election.

The Legislature did this in 2004 when Republican Mitt Romney was governor and it appeared that Democrat Sen. John Kerry’s seat might become vacant should he be elected president. He wasn’t.

The Democrats later restored the appointing power to the governor when Democrat Deval Patrick was governor, paving the way for him to appoint Paul Kirk, a former Sen. Ted Kennedy aide, to complete Kennedy’s term following his death in 2009, and to name Mo Cowan, a former chief of staff, to complete John Kerry’s term when Kerry became secretary of state in 2013.

It all could happen again. But don’t hold your breath.

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Facebook Said to Consider Banning Political Ads – The New York Times

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SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is considering banning political advertising across its network before the November general election, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, after facing intense pressure for allowing hate speech and misinformation to flourish across its site.

The decision has not been finalized, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential, and the company could continue with its current political advertising policy. Discussions on potentially banning political ads have simmered since late last year, they said, as insiders weighed the idea while reaching out to political groups and candidates for feedback.

But the issue has come to the forefront in recent weeks, with the November election looming and as Facebook grapples with intensifying scrutiny over content posted to its platform. The core of the debate is whether banning political ads would help or harm “giving users a voice,” said the people with knowledge of the discussions. Stopping ads could stifle speech for some groups, they said, though allowing political ads to run could also allow more misinformation that could disenfranchise voters.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Bloomberg News earlier reported the potential change in policy.

If a ban on political ads were to happen, it would be a reversal for Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. The social network has long allowed politicians and political parties to run ads across its network virtually unchecked, even if those ads contained falsehoods or other misinformation.

Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he would not police politicians’ ads and stated that the company was not an arbiter of truth because he believes in free speech. He has also said that removing political ads from the network could harm smaller, down-ballot candidates who are less well-funded than nationally prominent politicians. Political advertising makes up a negligible amount of Facebook’s revenue, he has said, so any decision would not be based on financial considerations.

But that hands-off approach has led to an intense backlash against the social network. Lawmakers, civil rights groups and Facebook’s own employees have assailed it for letting hate speech and misinformation fester on its site. Last month, the Biden presidential campaign said it would begin urging its supporters to demand that Facebook strengthen its rules against misinformation. More recently, advertisers such as Unilever and Coca-Cola have paused their advertising on the platform in protest.

That was punctuated this week by the release of a two-year audit of Facebook’s policies. The audit, conducted by civil rights experts and lawyers who were handpicked by the company, concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people on the platform from discriminatory posts and ads. In particular, they said, Facebook had been too willing to let politicians run amok on the site.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” they wrote. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has stuck to his free speech position even as other social media companies have taken more action against hate speech and inaccurate posts by politicians and their supporters. Twitter recently started labeling some of President Trump’s tweets as untruthful or glorifying violence, while Snap has said it would stop promoting Mr. Trump’s account on Snapchat because his speech could lead to violence. Twitch, the video game streaming site, suspended Mr. Trump’s account entirely, and the internet forum Reddit banned a community of Mr. Trump’s supporters for harassment.

Last year, Twitter said it would ban all political ads because the viral spread of misinformation presented challenges to civic discourse.

Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said it was positive that Facebook was thinking through its options but that “what they need to have in place is a system that actually catches real-time voter misinformation.” She added, “Voter suppression is happening every day, and their inaction is going to have profound ramifications on the election.”

On Friday, some of the top Democratic outside groups that are major spenders on Facebook said they had not discussed with the company any potential banning of political ads closer to the election. A spokesman for the D.N.C. referred questions to a tweet from Nellwyn Thomas, the D.N.C.’s chief technology officer, who wrote on Friday: “We said it seven months ago to @Google and we will say it again to @Facebook: a blunt ads ban is not a real solution to disinformation on your platform.”

Democratic officials have argued that blanket bans or restrictions on political ads are not a sufficient way to root out disinformation, particularly as that kind of content can spread in closed Facebook groups. Banning ads also restricts important digital tools that campaigns have come to rely on for activities such as acquiring new donors and raising money to getting out the vote, they said.

Some Democrats added that the Trump campaign has a significant structural advantage on Facebook, having built up a community of more than 28.3 million followers. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has only around 2.1 million followers on the social network. Removing the ability to pay for ads would give Mr. Trump a far greater reach online than Mr. Biden, they said.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook is by far the preferred and most popular platform for campaigns. The Trump campaign has spent more than $55 million on Facebook since 2018, and the Biden campaign has spent more than $25 million.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Nick Corasaniti from New York.

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