India

Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy?” was written by John Harris, for The Guardian on Monday 13th May 2019 10.30 Asia/Kolkata

In 10 days’ time, two political dramas will reach their denouement, thanks to the votes of a combined total of about 1.3 billion people. At the heart of both will be a mess of questions about democracy in the online age, and how – or even if – we can act to preserve it.

Elections to the European parliament will begin on 23 May, and offer an illuminating test of the rightwing populism that has swept across the continent. In the UK, they will mark the decisive arrival of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, whose packed rallies are serving notice of a politics brimming with bile and rage, masterminded by people with plenty of campaigning nous. The same day will see the result of the Indian election, a watershed moment for the ruling Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. Whatever the outcomes, both contests will highlight something inescapable: that the politics of polarisation, anger and what political cliche calls “fake news” is going to be around for a long time to come.

In Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin, journalists have been shown the alleged wonders of the “war room” where staff are charged with monitoring European campaigning – in 24 languages – and somehow minimising hate speech and misinformation put around by “bad actors”. But this is as nothing compared with what is afoot in the world’s largest democracy, and a story centred on WhatsApp, the platform Mark Zuckerberg’s company acquired in 2014 for $22bn, whose messages are end-to-end encrypted and thus beyond the reach of would-be moderators. WhatsApp is thought to have more than 300 million Indian users, and though it is central to political campaigning on all sides, it is Modi and his supporters who have made the most of it. The political aspects of this blur into incidents of murder and violence traced to rumours spread via WhatsApp groups – last week, the Financial Times quoted one Indian political source claiming that WhatsApp was “the echo chamber of all unmitigated lies, fakes and crap in India”.

When I spoke to the UK-based Indian academic Indrajit Roy last week he acknowledged India’s “dangerous discourse” but emphasised how the online world had given a voice to people who were once outsiders. He talked about small, regional parties live-streaming rallies in “remote parts of north India”; memes that satirised “how idiotic and self-obsessed [Modi] is”; and people using the internet to loudly ask why India’s caste hierarchies held them back so much. But then came the flipside. In that context, he said, it was perhaps not surprising that Modi was now leading “an elite revolt against the kind of advances that have happened in the past five or six decades, whether it’s the rights of minorities, so-called lower castes, or women”. The fact that he and the BJP are using the most modern means of communication to do so is an irony evident in the rise of conservatives and nationalists just about everywhere.

This, then, is an Indian story, but it chimes with what is happening all over the planet. With the help of as many as 900,000 WhatsApp activists, the BJP has reportedly collected reams of detailed data about individual voters and used it to precisely target messages through innumerable WhatsApp groups. A huge and belligerent online community known as the Internet Hindus maintains a shrill conversation about the things that its members think are standing in the way of their utopia: Muslims, “libtards”, secularists. There are highly charged online arguments about Indian history, often led by the kind of propagandists who never stand for office and thus put themselves beyond any accountability. Thanks to the Indian equivalent of birtherism, there are also claims that the Nehru-Gandhi family, who still dominate the opposition Congress party, have been secret followers of Islam, a claim made with the aid of fake family trees and doctored photographs.

Indians wait to cast their votes in New Delhi on 12 May.
Indians wait to cast their votes in New Delhi on 12 May. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Partly because forwarded messages contain no information about their original source, it is by no means clear where the division between formal party messaging and unauthorised material lies, so Modi and his people have complete deniability. They benefit, moreover, from the way that the online world seems to ensure that everything is ramped up and divided. To quote Subir Sinha, an Indian analyst of society and politics based at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies: ”You can’t just be a nationalist; you’ve got to be an ultra-nationalist. You can’t just be upset by Pakistan’s actions; you’ve got to be outraged.” He calls this “hyper-politics”, and says that its international lines of communication have led some to some remarkable things. “Tommy Robinson is extremely popular among Modi supporters,” he told me. “You will find mega-influencers of the Indian right who will approvingly post Tommy Robinson material in WhatsApp groups, or on Twitter.”

Yes, the internet is still replete with possibilities of emancipation and pluralism, but herein lie the basic features of the global 21st century: disagreements that have always been there in politics, both democratic and otherwise, now seem to have been rendered unstoppable by technology. Significant parts of society are kept in a constant state of tension and polarisation, a state exacerbated by the algorithms that privilege outrage over nuance, and platforms that threaten to be ungovernable. Though the old-fashioned media maintains the pretence that electioneering is the preserve of parties, campaigns around elections (and referendums) are actually loose and open-ended – often mired in hate and division and full of allegations of corruption and betrayal. We are seeing the constant hardening-up of political tribes – religious communities, liberals, conservatives, nationalists, socialists, cults built around supposedly charismatic leaders – with victory going to the forces that can most successfully manipulate the online ferment.

Modi is a dab hand at this. So are the forces behind the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Important Brexiteers are expert in the same techniques; as evidenced by his Twitter presidency, the same is true of Donald Trump. On the left, too, there are clear manifestations of a politics transformed by the way we now communicate – not least in and around Corbynism, which represents both sides of the new reality: simultaneously the most serious threat to established thinking for decades and a long-overdue push against inequality and the lunacies of the free market, and also the focus of a shrill, all-or-nothing, sometimes truth-bending online discourse.

Whether the platforms at the heart of this new world might eventually start to get to grips with the downsides of what they have created is a question obscured at present by unconvincing half-measures, and the kind of flimsy PR embodied by a recent WhatsApp advertising campaign that encouraged its users in India to “Share joy, not rumours”.

The reality of where we are headed was perhaps highlighted only a few months ago, when Zuckerberg announced a new vision for Facebook, built around the mantra “The future is private”, and a proposal to make his most successful invention much more like WhatsApp – an attempt, as some people saw it, to start a journey towards Facebook having no responsibility for the content of its networks because encryption would render everything conveniently impenetrable. In that sense, the Indian experience may not be any kind of outlier but a pointer to all our futures. If that turns out to be true, what are we going to do about it?

• John Harris is a Guardian columnist

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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US NEWS

Trump proposes new US immigration plan favoring ‘merit’ over family ties – as it happened

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump proposes new US immigration plan favoring ‘merit’ over family ties – as it happened” was written by Vivian Ho (now) and Jamiles Lartey (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 17th May 2019 05.47 Asia/Kolkata

Evening summary

A counteroffer arises from the Justice Department, regarding the blown subpoena deadline on the Mueller materials: 22 May.

It appears the Justice Department has missed a subpoena deadline for some Mueller materials, and House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff is now looking into “enforcement action.”

Updated

President Trump “wishes” New York mayor Bill de Blasio “good luck” in his 2020 bid.

Michael Flynn told Mueller team of efforts to interfere with investigation

The Mueller team unsealed evidence today that document Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn informing the team of “multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communication from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected his willingness to cooperate” with the investigation.

Trump administration kills $929m deal for California high-speed rail

The US Department of Transportation has followed through on its plans to cancel $929m in federal grant funds for California’s ambitious $77bn high-speed rail project.

“After careful consideration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has terminated Cooperative Agreement No. FR-HSR-0118-12-01-01 (the FY10 Agreement) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and will deobligate the $928,620,000 in funding under that agreement,” the FRA said in a statement on its website. “The decision follows FRA’s Notice of Intent to Terminate and consideration of the information provided by CHSRA on March 4, 2019.”

The high-speed rail project represents a multi-decade effort to connect eight of California’s largest cities by what was conceived as America’s first bullet train. In 2008, voters approved almost $10bn in funding for a plan to to lay down hundreds of miles of new track, but years of protest and lawsuits have forced the authority to rework its plans.

The decision comes after some Twitter tussling between California governor Gavin Newsom and President Trump.

Newsom made some comments during his State of the State address that some interpreted as the end of the high-speed rail project, to which Trump tweeted asking for the return of “three and a half billion dollars”. Newsom responded by tweeting that the money was “allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back.”

“The Trump administration’s action is illegal and a direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project,” Newsom said Thursday in a statement. “Just as we have seen from the Trump administration’s attacks on our clean air standards, our immigrant communities and in countless other areas, the Trump administration is trying to exact political retribution on our state.

“This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”

Updated

Chelsea Manning jailed on contempt again

The Washington Post is reporting that Chelsea Manning, who had just served two months in jail for refusing to testify to a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was jailed again Thursday for up to 18 months for once again refusing to testify, this time in a renewed investigation against Assange.

“The government cannot build a prison bad enough, cannot create a system worse than the idea that I would ever change my principles,” Manning told the judge today. “I would rather starve to death than to change my opinions in this regard. I mean that quite literally.”

Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, was only released from jail earlier this year when the grand jury investigating Assange expired. Another grand jury was empaneled Thursday.

Assange is accused of conspiring to access secret Defense Department computers. He was arrested in London in April following seven years in asylum at Ecuador’s British embassy.

Updated

Hey all, Vivian Ho taking over for Jamiles Lartey. Let’s see where the day takes us.

Summary

Jamiles Lartey here, thanks for following the day’s political news with me. I’ll now be handing over to my distinguished colleague Vivian Ho on the west coast. In case you’re just checking in, here are the three key stories you may have missed:

    • Despite the objections of pretty much everyone, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio became the 23rd Democrat to join the 2020 race for the White House.
    • House Judiciary Chairman Jarrold Nadler and Speaker Nancy Pelosi both used the “I” word today- impeachment- in reference to the administration’s intransigence over responding to subpoenas in an ongoing obstruction of justice probe. Nothing is imminent but the prospect remains very much on the table.
    • Trump unveiled a new immigration plan in the Rose Garden today that would require new “universal criteria” for people hoping to be US citizens. These include speaking English, passing a civics test and being financially self-sufficient.” Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer blasted the proposal as counter to American values and a legislative non-starter.

Keep it here for the rest of the day’s political developments.

Pelosi: ‘Every day [Trump] gives grounds for impeachment’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Donald Trump “every day gives grounds for impeachment in terms of his obstruction of justice. You never say, blanketly, I’m not answering any subpoenas,” at an event hosted by the Georgetown University Law Center Thursday.

Earlier in the day she also called the White House counsel’s letter to the Judiciary Committee resisting all requests for information “a joke” and “beneath the dignity of the president of the United States.”

The White House has generally argued that it is not required to comply with the torrent of subpoenas coming from House Democrats, because the congressional inquiries have no “legislative” purpose.

Pelosi strongly disagreed countering that one of the constitutional purposes of congressional investigations is impeachment. “It doesn’t mean you’re going on an impeachment path,” Pelosi said. “It means if you had the information you might.”

Pelosi also said “nothing is off the table” in pushing the White House to comply with subpoenas for information, including fining administration officials through what’s called inherent contempt of Congress.

It’s a little-known power, last used nearly 85 years ago.

Pelosi said Thursday she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Updated

Beggard Botus ‘Bundo’ contributing little to US second family, Pence’s disclosure reveals.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence let children pet their family rabbit “Marlon Bundo” during and event with, 9 May 2017.
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence let children pet their family rabbit “Marlon Bundo” during and event with, 9 May 2017.
Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Marlon Bundo, the beloved pet bunny of Vice President Mike Pence’s family, has his own Instagram account, his own acronym (Botus) and three children’s books documenting his time in Washington. But financially, he’s not contributing much to the second family, according to Politico.

The trio of books about the well-traveled rabbit, written and illustrated by Karen Pence and her daughter Charlotte, generated between $2,501 and $5,000 in income for the Pence family last year, according to new financial disclosures released Thursday.

Columbia University Libraries in New York will produce the official oral history of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Obama Foundation officials announced Thursday that the project at The Columbia Center for Oral History Research will provide a record of the decisions, actions and effects of Obama’s presidency. The former president is a graduate of Columbia University, which also is home to the oral history of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. The Obama project also will include former first lady Michelle Obama’s legacy.

Former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle a at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, 31 October, 2017.
Former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle a at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, 31 October, 2017.
Photograph: Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images

The University of Hawaii and the University of Chicago will partner on the effort, focusing respectively on Obama’s early years in Hawaii and the Obamas’ lives in Chicago.

Columbia University officials say the Obamas’ histories are expected to be publicly available online no later than 2026.

CNN is reporting that A bipartisan group of US lawmakers sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking their respective agencies to investigate allegations of war crimes against Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, who is also an American citizen.

“A United States citizen is directly undermining United States policy in Libya, including US support for a United Nations-led mediation process and the internationally recognized government of Libya. At the same time, Mr. Haftar’s forces are alleged to have committed war crimes and inflicted unnecessary suffering and cruelty during the course of military operations,” the letter reads.

Donald Trump has previously praised Haftar.

The request sent to the Justice Department was signed by five House Democrats – Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, David Trone of Maryland, Ted Lieu of California and Colin Allred of Texas – as well as two Republicans, Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Ann Wagner of Missouri.

The top House Republican said Thursday that Alabama’s new state law banning almost all abortions goes too far.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, told reporters that the law, which doesn’t allow exceptions for abortions in cases of rape and incest, “goes further than I believe.”

McCarthy said he believes in “exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

McCarthy wouldn’t take a stand on whether the Supreme Court should strike down the measure, the strictest abortion law in the nation, if a challenge were to reach the court.

Opinion polls show widespread opposition to overturning the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which could return the issue back to the states.

Republicans struggled to win over suburban women in last year’s midterm elections and the controversy over abortion restrictions could prove politically troublesome.

Republicans have been on the offensive this year trying to link congressional Democrats to late-term abortion measures pushed by some of the party’s most liberal forces in state legislatures such as New York’s.

Another fairly unlikely dissenter to the spate of new laws? Stauch anti-abortion Christian televangelist Pat Robertson who called the bill “extreme” and said the state had “gone too far”, though its possible Roberston meant strictly in the legal sense, rather than the moral one. He went on to share his opinion that if these laws are used to challenge the landmark Roe v Wade ruling in the Supreme Court as many expect, that it won’t be successful.

Meanwhile from the same faith, but the opposite side of the aisle, Democratic senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand said Thursday that laws banning or restricting abortion are “against Christian faith.”

Gillibrand continued:

If you are a person of the Christian faith, one of the tenants of our faith is free will. One of the tenants of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people. And I think this is an example of that effort.

On the morning that Donald Trump met Swiss president, whose embassy in Tehran represents US interests, reporters shouted a question to him at the White House, asking if the US was going to war with Iran.

“Hope not,” was his reply.

The White House said that one of the topics Trump discussed with Ueli Maurer, was “matters such as Switzerland’s role in facilitating diplomatic relations and other international issues”, which is of particular note because Trump has openly called for the Iranian leadership to call him, and is reported to be unhappy about the pace of escalation in the Gulf.

CNN reported that the Maurer meeting was set up with the intention of establishing a channel of communication with Tehran.

Yesterdau, secretary of state, Michael Pompeo spoke with the Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id, whose has also provided a conduit in recent years between the US and Iran.

All this suggests, that having cut off all contacts with Iran as part of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, the president is now looking for an off-ramp from the road to war, and that means scrambling to reestablish those contacts.

So far, the Iranians have declared themselves not interested. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has said that such talks would be “poison”.

Meanwhile, the battle over the intelligence that was supposed to justify the US build-up in the Gulf, the withdrawal of non-essential diplomatic staff from Iraq, and the heightened alert of US troops in Iraq, went to Congress.

Senate and House leaders from parties, known as the Gang of Eight, were due to be briefed on Thursday morning and the White House has agreed to brief the full Senate in the coming days.

The New York Times and other agencies have cited officials as saying that part of the evidence for a raised Iranian threat was pictures of Iranian missiles being placed on small sailboats known as dhows in the Persian Gulf. CNN reported earlier that the weapons were short-range ballistic missiles. It is unclear however, how such missiles could be fired from a small boat.

Fabian Hinz, an expert on missile proliferation, writing for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, argued that launching ballistic missiles is possible but extremely difficult.

“So far, no ship-launches of Iranian ballistic missiles have been observed, and Iran sneakily developing this capability while avoiding the watchful eyes of Western intelligence services seems highly unlikely,” Hinz said.

“With ship-launched ballistic missiles seeming like a highly impractical and unlikely way to target U.S. forces in the region, this leaves the possibility of Iran merely transporting the missiles.”

Hinz says the most likely destination is the Houthi movement in Yemen, pointing out that small inconspicuous ships have been used in the past to ferry arms to the Houthis.

Trump: ‘Future immigrants will be required to learn English’

Announcing his administration’s immigration reform plan Donald Trump said that “to promote integration, assimilation and national unity, future immigrants will be required to learn English and pass a civics exam prior to admission.”

Trump adds that if the legislation can’t be passed for “political reasons”, it will wait until Republicans take back the House, and retain control of the White House and Senate in 2020.

Updated

LIVE: Trump unveils administration’s immigration overhaul

“No matter where in the world you’re born, no matter who your relatives are, if you want to become an American citizen, it will be clear exactly what standard we ask you to achieve,” Trump says of “merit-based” immigration guidelines. The plan is intended to suppress immigration from low-wage and “unskilled” workers, who Trump says are taking jobs from low-income Americans.

Trump continued from the Rose Garden: “Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages, and frankly lawless chaos. We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first.”

“Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker,” Trump said.

From the White House: “President Trump Delivers Remarks on Modernizing Our Immigration System for a Stronger America”

Democratic congressional leaders have called the plan a non-starter. Nancy Peolsi responded today: “I want to just say something about the word that they use, ‘merit’. It is really a condescending word. Are they saying family is without ‘merit’? … We’ve only heard titles like ‘merit’ … it means merit in the eyes of Donald Trump.”

Updated

‘It’s infuriating’: Kamala Harris’ team on VP talk

Recently asked about the possibility of becoming frontrunner Joe Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris used humor to swat the question away: Maybe it should be the other way around, she said Wednesday, given Biden’s eight years of experience in the VP spot under Barack Obama.

But from Politico there’s word that “inside her campaign and among allies, such talk is not a laughing matter.”

They’re rankled by the suggestion, privately venting that it’s demeaning to a woman of color and perpetuates an unfair critique that she’s somehow not prepared for the job she’s actually seeking.

‘It’s infuriating,’ a Harris confidant fumed several days before the idea began taking hold in the media.

There are some places even vermin won’t go – the swamp where Donald Trump has just carried out a little pardoning ritual for his bromance buddy Conrad Black. But you can smell it all the way from New York. It takes one right back to the stench of complacency and entitlement that wafted from Black every time he went in and out of the courthouse for months in Chicago during his long criminal trial in 2007 (right up until the humiliating moment he was convicted, on a scorching Friday 13th in July). For months he’d had to run the gauntlet of reporters and photographers out on the street and in the foyer of the courthouse.

Left: Donald Trump, Right: Conrad Black.
Left: Donald Trump, Right: Conrad Black.
Photograph: Guardian

He and his wife, Barbara Amiel, were sorely aggrieved that this significant news event was being closely – very closely, to be sure – covered by the media and that journalists were doing exactly the job he had long paid thousands of our ilk to do when he owned the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and hundreds of other publications.

The grand couple seemed to find it baffling and infuriating – to the point where Amiel entirely dominated the news on one quiet court day by calling a TV producer a slut and, upon entering an elevator in the courthouse and finding it contained two journalists, of which I was one, saying to us: “You’re all vermin…I’m sick of it.”

Another day soon after, when leaving court, Black was asked by reporters if he was done for the day. “Done with you lot,” he said, again somehow dissociating himself from the thousands of “you lots” that had spent years running around for him getting scoops and helping make him very rich. It’s closely akin to Donald Trump thinking the only good journalism is that which says nice things about him, while everything else is fake news. And in the world of soul-eating sessions in a swamp, with pardons as party favors, that’s okay. Paul Manafort can’t wait for his invite.

Updating a previous item, Donald Trump’s latest financial disclosures reveal a substantial drop in income at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort, sometimes referred to as the “winter White House” last year.

According to the report, Trump had $22.69 million in income from Mar-a-Lago in 2018, a $3 million decrease from 2017.

But at his Doral golf resort, also in Florida, Trump had $75.96 million in income, up about $1.4 million from 2017.

Income from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, was up only slightly, to $15.73 million, an increase of more than $500,000 from the prior year.

Overall the president’s businesses took in a handsome sum of at least $479m.

The report is required to be filed annually with the Government Ethics Office.

Updated

The Environmental Protection Agency should consider recovering nearly $124,000 in improper travel expenses by former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the agency’s inspector general recommended Thursday.

The inspector’s letter can be found here.

More from the Washington Post:

The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled during a 10-month period, between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, cost taxpayers $985,037.

Schumer: New Trump immigration package ‘an insult’

Senate minority leader Chuch Schumer has offered a scathing response to the immigration reform package that the Trump administration is unveiling today calling it “an insult to our grand tradition of welcoming immigrants from all walks of life.”

From Schumer’s remarks on the Senate floor:

Yesterday, the Trump administration released the outlines of its plan for immigration reform. Truth be told, the reported White House plan isn’t a serious attempt at immigration reform; if anything, it’s a political document that is anti-immigration reform.

It repackages the same partisan, radical anti-immigrant policies that the administration has pushed for the two years – all of which have struggled to earn even a simple majority in the Senate let alone 60 votes.

He continued:

We need immigrants in America. Our labor force is declining. You go to businesses at the high end, the middle end, and the low end they say their greatest problem is a lack of workers. And we come up with a policy like this? Make no mistake about it, it’s cruel and inhumane but it also hurts our economy significantly. And if you don’t believe me talk to business leaders, any business leader you know.

Shockingly, the White House’s immigration proposal fails to deal with Dreamers or the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States. The White House Press Secretary said Dreamers were quote “left out on purpose.” What does that say about the administration? That goes to the root of what is wrong with this administration’s approach to immigration. And if they think they can repeat what they failed to do in the past—if they try to repeat it saying ‘okay we’ll let Dreamers, in but you accept a whole lot of bad things,’ which is why immigration failed last time, last year—it ain’t happening. It ain’t happening.

In Washington DC celebrity news:

“Kiss” rocker Gene Simmons made a surprise visit to the White House and the Pentagon. According to reports, Simmons thanked American troops for their service “choked back tears” as he talked about how his mother survived a Nazi concentration camp.

Meanwhile, Say Anything actor John Cusack was on Capitol Hill Thursday, apparently talking impeachment with top Democrats including Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler.

Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Thursday that her campaign raised more than $160,000 for abortion rights groups in the aftermath of legislation passing in Alabama that represents a de facto ban on the procedure.

I’ve just been to the White House where the sun is shining and expectation growing ahead of Donald Trump’s rose garden announcement of another immigration plan, though there is plenty of scepticism across Washington.

The latest effort is led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and focuses on strengthening border security and prioritising green cards for high-skilled workers rather than relatives of people already in the country. It would kill the diversity visa lottery.

Currently, officials say, around two in three green cards are issued to people with family ties, while only 12% are merit based.

Jared Kushner in August of 2018.
Jared Kushner in August of 2018.
Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

One safe bet this afternoon is that Trump will talk about his signature border wall. The Kushner plan also calls for new infrastructure at ports of entry to accelerate commerce while reducing drug and human smuggling, as well as an overhaul of the asylum system to process fewer applications and remove people faster.

Immigration reform has been a Gordian Knot of American politics for three decades and there are doubts on both sides of the aisle whether Kushner is the man to untie it. The imminence of another presidential election does not help.

Conservative Republicans are likely to be dismayed that the proposal does not curb overall rates of immigration. It also fails to address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for hundreds of thousands of undocumented “Dreamers”. Why?

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters today that “every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan that has included DACA, it’s failed.”

Sanders speaking to reporters about Trump’s plan to overhaul immigration on Thursday.
Sanders speaking to reporters about Trump’s plan to overhaul immigration on Thursday.
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

But this has already prompted criticism. Republicans Senator Susan Collins told the Washington Post: “I am concerned about the fate of the DACA young people, and they cannot be excluded from any immigration package.”

While Kushner is the face of the plan, Democrats detect the hand of hardliner senior adviser Stephen Miller. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said: “Don’t come up with a plan that Stephen Miller rubber stamps and say, ‘Now, pass it.’ It’s not going to happen.”

Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for immigrants’ rights, warned: “This is not designed to be a serious policy proposal – it’s a message document that is a misguided attempt at political posturing. To say it’s dead on arrival would be generous.”

President Donald Trump’s latest financial disclosure report is expected to provide a rare glimpse into whether his presidency has helped or hurt his hotels, golf resorts and other parts of his business empire.

The report, which is filed with the Office of Government Ethics and set for release Thursday, will be closely studied for changes in revenue at key properties in 2018, including his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, his Washington, D.C., hotel and his Doral golf resort in Miami.

Experts say the Trump business has taken a hit from the president’s divisive policies and rhetoric, though the Trump Organization says much of the business is fine.

All declared candidates for president are required to file these disclosures, but few are likely to be as juicy as Trump’s. Here’s Cory Booker’s as an example:

Four demonstrators who have been staging a protest inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington for more than a month were arrested Thursday morning, according to a prominent activist leader.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, told The Associated Press that police entered the embassy early Thursday morning to arrest the remaining activists.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer for the activists, said she believed they had been removed from the building, but she was still trying to determine their location and what criminal charges they may be facing.

The protesters consider Nicolás Maduro to be the legitimate Venezuelan president. But the US and more than 50 other countries say Maduro’s recent reelection was fraudulent and are backing congressional leader Juan Guaidó’s claim to the presidency.

House judiciary chairman: ‘impossible to rule out impeachment’

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler indicated that impeachment is on the table after the White House rejected his request for documents related to an investigation of possible obstruction of justice by the president.

“The president’s posture now is making it impossible to rule out impeachment or anything else. The letter we got from the White House is beyond outrageous… flies in the face of 200 years of history.”

In the letter, the White House accused Nadler of a “legally indefensible” conduct, and said it will “continue to work in good faith” to accommodate “Congress’s legitimate requests for information.”

Updated

Democrat Stacey Abrams penned an op-ed in the New York Times Thursday appealing for an end to voter suppression, which has been a pet issue of hers since narrowly losing the race for Georgia’s governorship in November.

Abrams wrote:

Local and state officials across the country, emboldened by the Supreme Court effectively neutering the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, are shamelessly weakening voter registration, ballot access and ballot-counting procedures.

These officials slyly mask their assaults through criteria that appear neutral on the surface but nevertheless target race, gender, language and economic status. The “exact match” policy in Georgia, which a federal court deemed unlawful in November because it requires perfect data entry to secure a timely registration, serves as one example of such a policy.

Abrams race against governor Brian Kemp was fraught with allegations of voter suppression. As secretary of state at the time of. the election, Kemp had direct oversight over the purging of voters from rolls, which many saw as a conflict of interest. Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris has gone as far as to say: “Let’s say this loud and clear: Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia.”

Donald Trump continued his pattern of issuing shamelessly self-serving presidential pardons late Wednesday, pardoning two prominent conservatives who had already completed their sentences.

From the Washington Post:

Trump pardoned billionaire Conrad Black, who a year ago published a book called “Donald J. Trump: A president like no other.” The book is more hagiography than biography. It defends Trump against charges that he is a racist, stating flatly that he is not. It hails his “very successful” foreign policy ventures. It credits his “unquenchable energy,” “sheer entertainment talent” and “raw toughness.” It misleadingly hails his 2016 election win by saying he won “more votes than any previous Republican candidate for president,” without noting that this was mostly a function of population growth and that Trump lost the popular vote. He called Trump’s win a “stunning rebuff” of the media.

Trump also pardoned Patrick Nolan, the former Republican leader of the California state assembly. Nolan is a friend of the Trump family who has been publically critical of the Mueller investigation that Trump routinely labeled a witch hunt.

Trump has previously pardoned other political allies and boosters like conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, and Arizona sheriff and immigration hard-liner Joe Arpio.

“Scranton Joe” is staying close to home. Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden has decided to locate his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“We’re proud to anchor our campaign in the birthplace of American democracy,” Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, said in a statement. The city is a two hour drive from Biden’s hometown of Scranton.

The state is a key part of any Democratic path to the White House. Donald Trump was the first Republican to win it since 1988.

Former president Jimmy Carter is out of hospital this morning. He had gone in earlier this week after breaking his hip in a fall at his home.

In the suddenly turbocharged national assault on womens’ healthcare and reproductive rights, another salvo has been fired, this time in Missouri.

Early Thursday the Missouri Senate passed a bill to ban abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy.

The law still needs to be approved in the state’s house of representatives before it can head to Republican Governor Mike Parson’s desk for signing.

The bill includes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks face five to 15 years in prison.

Just a few weeks ago it likely would have been considered the harshest anti-abortion legislation in the US, but Georgia and Alabama both passed even stricter laws in the past two weeks. The Georgia bill bans abortions at six weeks, and the Alabama bill functionally bans it entirely.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives will read the entire redacted Mueller Report today, starting a noon.

Lawmakers, led by Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, a top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, plan to livestream the reading from a Capitol hearing room.

Earlier in the week Scanlon told the Washington Post that she came up with the idea in response to persistent claims from President Trump’s supporters, that the report’s release exonerated him of collusion or obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s concluded, of course, that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction.

“We have a Constitutional duty to share that truth with the American people,” Scanlon said in a release, adding the report’s conclusions could not be adequately “summarized in a tweet.”

Of course the redacted Mueller report has been available in text for weeks- so it’s unclear why reading it aloud is likely to convince anyone of anything. Not to mention that few Trump supporters are likely to tune into a livestream of congressional Democrats reading for hours on end.

Scanlon acknowledged to the Post that it’s a move intended to keep media attention on the report as Democrats pursue ongoing investigation and oversight of the administration.

“We’ve been saying for weeks that if you think there was no obstruction and no collusion, you haven’t read the Mueller report,” Scanlon said.

“So the ongoing quest has been, ‘How do we get that story out there while we are waiting for the witnesses to come in?’”

De Blasio announces bid for president

Good morning and welcome to the politics blog for Thursday.

The Democratic race has a new contender: New York mayor Bill de Blasio.

The progressive two-term mayor announced his run with a video released by his campaign. It was widely expected after de Blasio made visits to early primary states including Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

“There’s plenty of money in this world. There’s plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands,” de Blasio says at the beginning of the video. He concludes: “I’m running for president because it’s time we put working people first.”

De Blasio is fighting an uphill battle, not only against the momentum of better-known candidates who have been in the race for months now, but also his own profound unpopularity.

Polls have shown a vast majority of New Yorkers – 76% – don’t think he should run for president, and his aspirations have been widely mocked in his hometown and discouraged by his own allies.

“I’m glad I’ve unified the people of New York City,” he quipped when asked about the lack of enthusiasm in the polls.

De Blasio is the third New York mayor in as many mayors to mull or attempt a White House run now, following Rudi Giuliani – now serving as Donald Trump’s lawyer – and Michael Bloomberg, the anti-Trump billionaire who is said to still be contemplating a run after announcing in March that he would not jump in.

Trump naturally greeted de Blasio’s entrance with derision on Twitter, calling de Blasio “the worst mayor in the US” and “a joke” before really twisting the knife. “NYC HATES HIM!”

De Blasio hit back on Good Morning America: “I call him Con Don. Every New Yorker knows he’s a con artist. We know his tricks. We know his playbook.”

His first campaign event is scheduled for Friday in Iowa.

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India, Women

India’s #MeToo backlash: accusers battle intimidation, threats and lawsuits

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “India’s #MeToo backlash: accusers battle intimidation, threats and lawsuits” was written by Michael Safi in Delhi, for The Guardian on Tuesday 14th May 2019 07.02 Asia/Kolkata

Onlookers crowded against the walls of the Delhi courtroom for the testimony of Mobashar Jawed Akbar, India’s former junior foreign minister, and the highest-profile man to quit his job after Indian women started sharing their #MeToo stories last year.

Akbar, 68, has denied accusations by more than 10 women of sexual misconduct. Over two hours in court, an antagonistic audience hissed and tittered as he answered questions on the stand.

But Akbar was not the one on trial. Instead, it was was one of his accusers: journalist Priya Ramani, who has been charged with criminal defamation, an offence carrying a maximum two-year jail sentence. Akbar quit his job last year to pursue the defamation charges.

The case, which has its next hearing on 20 May, is emblematic of the challenges facing India’s #MeToo movement, just over six months since a trickle of stories on social media became a wave of accusations against some of the country’s most powerful men.

‘They are coming back and hitting hard’

Many of the women who raised complaints are now facing a backlash that is playing out in courtrooms, on the streets and privately, in workplaces and homes across the country.

“[After last October] all the men were on the back foot and squirming and really uneasy,” says Rituparna Chatterjee, a journalist and activist who is writing a book on #MeToo in India. “And then they laid low. And now they’re coming back, and hitting really hard.

“Priya’s is one in a sea of cases, most of which are under the radar, and the women, you can sense their frustration and anger and hopelessness,” she says. “Some are thinking of taking their cases back, some are getting legal notices, some are having their parents pressure them.”

In recent days, dozens of Indian women have been detained for protesting outside police stations and the country’s supreme court after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against India’s chief justice, Ranjan Gogoi. A female staff member, who has asked not to be named, accused him of making unwanted advances, and then seeking retribution against her when he was spurned. Gogoi denies the allegations and says the woman was dismissed following proper procedures for “inappropriate behaviour”.

A panel including three of Gogoi’s colleagues determined there was “no substance” to the woman’s allegations last week after an internal inquiry. The woman says the process was unfair, including because she was denied a lawyer. She has not been allowed to read the report clearing Gogoi of assaulting her. “Supreme court: have some shame,” women chanted the morning after the verdict, as police officers dragged them onto buses.

Indian social activists hold placards as they take part in a protest rally against Supreme Court chief justice Ranjan Gogoi
Indian social activists hold placards as they take part in a protest rally against Supreme Court chief justice Ranjan Gogoi Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

It is this very disillusionment with institutions of government and the law that led some women to air allegations of sexual misconduct on social media in the first place, says Karuna Nundy, a supreme court lawyer.

“Women said, ‘there are structures, and we’re not going to them, because we don’t expect to get a fair hearing’,” she says. “Therefore, we’re going to come out and accuse you in public.”

But using the internet to call out sexual harassment and assault has been a mixed blessing for some Indian women. It has enabled and encouraged them to finally speak up; but in an arena that has not always provided the legal and moral support they need.

“People were just waiting to see who’s next, with no stake, with a salacious sort of interest in this. Voyeuristic,” Chatterjee says. “Meanwhile there were hundreds of women getting in touch saying, ‘My husband threw acid on my face’, but those cases never moved forward.”

She and other prominent organisers in the movement have tried to connect people to networks of lawyers and mental health professionals. They also established an official Twitter account, @IndiaMeToo, to amplify stories and serve as a clearing house for information. But scrambling to fill the gaps where institutions have failed is exhausting. “It has engulfed my life for six months,” Chatterjee says.

She also feels the burden of counselling women who are trying to report sexual crimes in what is still a conservative country. “A woman will say, ‘I want justice but my parents can’t know’,” she says, recounting a typical conversation.

‘A tax we pay for being women’

Alongside Ramani, less high-profile women who were swept up in the #MeToo wave and named their alleged abusers have also found themselves facing legal threats.

“It was a feeling of comfort in numbers,” says one womanwho called out a well-known executive last year for lewdly propositioning her. “Everyone was coming out and you felt almost like it was a wave of people.

“I thought, yeah, we are going to get justice, things are going to get different. You almost think there is more structure to it than there actually is. But the morning after, you wake up, and you’re hit by the reality of this whole thing: you are one-on-one with the person you’ve called out.”

A month after she made her allegations on Twitter, she received a legal notice threatening to press charges for criminal defamation. A lawyer has been representing her pro bono, and no further threats have been issued, but the episode has had a chilling effect. She asked for her name not to be used in this article.

“I don’t regret coming out,” she says. “The solidarity hasn’t gone away. It’s just that everybody is fighting their battles. There are defamation suits, gag notices, all the women are subject to fear and inhibition. Some women are losing their jobs, some women are getting threats, and there is nothing in place to protect them.”

Many of those who have raised their voices since October say they are aware they are among the country’s most privileged. For poor women on urban fringes or in the countryside, the fear of speaking out is much greater, says Rakhi Sehgal, a labour researcher and activist.

A 2016 survey of garment workers in South India found one in seven reported being raped or having to commit a sexual act by an employer or superior at work.

“For a lot of women in the unorganised sector, violence and harassment in normalised,” Sehgal said. “In one of my interviews, a garment worker told me, ‘It’s the tax we pay for being women on this earth’. They’ve come to terms with it because it’s the only way they can deal with it.”

If the progress of #MeToo in India is rocky, it is following in the footsteps of earlier Indian women’s movements, says Rebecca John, a supreme court lawyer who is representing Ramani in her case.

In 1979, two policemen were acquitted of raping a girl from a tribal community, with judges citing the fact the child was “used to sex” to argue she might have incited the officers. Outrage at the verdict sparked the formation of several major women’s organisations and, eventually, the reform of India’s rape laws.

When Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped for trying to stop a child marriage in 1992, the five men she accused were acquitted. But the decision galvanised a national protest movement and a legal campaign that resulted, years later, in the country’s first guidelines for handling sexual harassment at work.

The precedents are cause for hope, says John. “Even through defeat, women have pushed forward,” she says. “From every dark moment you do get some light at the end of the tunnel, and many women have had to lose before there is public outcry and change in the law and in the way systems operate.”

Chatterjee says she is often asked if the movement has been a success. She says it’s too early to tell. “Suddenly, in the middle of a deeply patriarchal setup, if you throw the #MeToo bomb, it will rattle a lot of people,” she says. “But 50 years from now, who knows?”

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India, Society

‘Like any other job’: Indian sex workers lobby for pensions and healthcare

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘Like any other job’: Indian sex workers lobby for pensions and healthcare” was written by Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th May 2019 09.30 Asia/Kolkata

Sex workers across India are lobbying candidates in the country’s general election to support their demands for better health and welfare services in return for votes.

“We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community,” said Kusum (who goes by only one name), president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which is coordinating efforts. “Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”

The network has 5 million members, who between them have 20 million dependents – yet sex workers have little influence. Indian society and politics are too conservative to discuss sex work openly, much less debate or acknowledge their rights as citizens, said Kusum.

“That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.

In Kolkata, sex workers are taking their demands directly to candidates for the first time. Sex workers have lobbied two-thirds of the 150-plus candidates standing in West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, to sign declarations of support for their demands. Election results are expected on 23 May.

“About 50 candidates [have] signed a pledge to fulfil our demands. The day the results are out, we are going to be at their door, demanding they act,” said Dr Smarajit Jana, chief adviser for Durbar, a sex workers’ collective in Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in south Asia, and part of AINSW.

In the Indian capital, the New Delhi branch of AINSW released a charter of demands last month, calling for access to basic services, education, a pension for sex workers once they reach 45, and participation in policy-making.

The branch also demanded the official listing of sex work as a recognised occupation by the labour ministry, which would allow sex workers access to government benefits unavailable to them at present. These include a “ration card”that gives poor people subsidised foods, government health insurance, widowers’ and old-age pensions, and compensation in case of injury.

Although sex work is not illegal in India, certain laws make it difficult for sex workers to get the documentation required to access services.

“Sex work is a valid profession and must be recognised as such. This is their right, and giving it to them will make it more difficult for them to be exploited or discriminated against,” said Ashok Alexander, author of A Stranger Truth: Lessons in Love, Leadership and Courage from India’s Sex Workers.

With most sex work performed on streets or in rented rooms, the only concentrated areas for workers are the red light areas in Mumbai, Sonagachi in the north of Kolkata, and along the GB Road in Delhi.

Above the bustling electronic and hardware shops that line GB Road there is a large complex of brothels. Fanning out from squalid staircases are rows of tiny cubicles.

Outside, the May sun is scorching. At the top of the stairs of one brothel, the temperature dips as a cooler pumps cold air. In the entrance room, with its cheap marble flooring and mirror-lined walls, about 20 women sit around, some doing their makeup and others watching soaps or videos on their mobiles. It’s mid-afternoon and quiet.

Most of the women here, including the brothel’s “madam”, come from southern India. Many are Muslims. The “manager”, known as Dadu or grandad, is a corpulent, mild-mannered man who sits in a corner.

Dadu recently made a special visit to his village in Uttar Pradesh to cast his vote. Few of the women in the brothel voted because they are registered in their home villages. But many of the women in the adjoining brothels went out last Sunday, which was polling day in New Delhi, to cast their vote.

In Kolkata, voter turnout from Sonagachi during the last election was high. “Once we make a collective decision on which party to support, we urge them to vote. In the last general election, for example, 90% of Sonagachi sex workers voted,” said Jana.

At the GB Road brothel in New Delhi, the disenchantment with politicians was unanimous. “No party has ever done anything for us. No politician visits us, only the police,” said Preeti, who has worked here for eight years.

She supports the idea of a pension. “When we get old, many of us don’t have a husband or children to help us. A pension would help,” she said.

Several are opposed to prime minister Narendra Modi, calling him “anti-Muslim”. “Under Modi, Muslims feel persecuted and frightened, and we resent this. We don’t like this divisiveness,” said Neelam.

Modi’s demonetisation of high value banknotes in 2016, when more than 80% of the country’s currency was declared worthless, was a disaster.

“We are paid in cash. When our customers had no cash, they didn’t come,” said Preeti. “Our incomes slumped so badly it was difficult to feed ourselves. And it took a long time for things to recover. Some of us had to go back to our villages until things picked up.”

Jana, though not very optimistic that India will recognise sex work as a legitimate profession, takes some heart from the signed pledges of the candidates. He calls it a small step forward. “Sex work is like any other job. Until it is recognised by the labour ministry, sex workers have no legal status, and that leaves them without rights enshrined in the constitution. Yet they are citizens of this country.”

(Some names have been changed to protect identities).

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SELF IMPROVEMENT, Spirituality

An Introduction to Thamba

By Joy Lahiri

What is Thamba?– Thamba was downloaded by a sound channel from India named Joy Lahiri. He discovered that certain normal sounds are very powerful and can be used for a big cause. Thamba is the king of all.

What does Thamba mean? As per Joy Lahiri, mantras have sound power and not meaning. Thamba has different meanings in different languages and none of it applies to the practice here.

How to chant Thamba? Just chant without any focus. No one ever could explain what intent was . Intent is considered very old technology.How to chant for others? Again , same way. Just chant. We all are connected. Our higher selves will guide the energy to the right person.

How much to chant? Chant as much as possible. Start with 2 minutes. Just flow with the chant.

What are daily chants? Daily Chants are beautiful chants which help remove suffering. Chanting on a daily basis on a long term helps many many issues. It is very powerful and effective.

How can we make these Thamba chants? The Thamba healing modality or chanting cannot be taught.The chants are only downloaded to Joy Lahiri. If you do not know what to chant or cannot reach Joy Lahiri, chant the daily chant of the day or simply chant Thamba. In an emergency chant deep divine mercy thamba.

Where can I find a list of Thamba chants? Joy Lahiri downloads these chants, and each month he derives better and more powerful chants and hence he does not use the older ones.Therefore a list cannot be made. However, you are free to use the old chants if you so wish.

Where can I read about Thamba? Joy Lahiri is the only source of the Thamba chants and he has put all the information here for your use.

Why haven’t I heard about Thamba before? Because of the strong connection with the power of sound, Joy Lahiri was chosen as the sound channel of Thamba. He downloaded it around November 2017 and the first class of it was held on 14th May in Mumbai in 2018 in Andheri, Mumbai. Since then it has to spread to many countries of the world.

What is a Thamba class? A Thamba class is a class where Joy Lahiri tells you how to effectively use Thamba in your life. Most people come to the class to pay their gratitude and feel a stronger connection to Thamba.

What is a Thamba initiation? Does one need to be initiated to Thamba before using it? Joy Lahiri does live classes and has audio which can initiate you to Thamba. Although people can get benefit from the first second of their chanting, an initiation helps the connection even more.

Which deity is Thamba referring to? Thamba is pure universal energy and you will be able to connect to all positive energies of the universe.

Is Joy Lahiri a guru, should we consider him to be divine? Joy Lahiri is a human being like all of us and does not consider himself to be a guru. The guru refers to a great soul and should be sparingly used. Unfortunately, this word has got a very bad name these days and therefore, Mr. Joy Lahiri as per the divine will has chosen not to use this word for himself ever..

How do we know Thamba is positive energy as this mantra was never there anywhere? The growth of Thamba has been phenomenal and the purest of the pure are connecting to it. Many healers or spiritual practitioners from all walks of life have chanted it and experienced the divinity of it.

When we have so many mantras , why do we need another mantra which does not even have a known source or a master? Those who have chanted Thamba can feel the connection and the divinity of it. Thamba is the supreme mantra and cannot even begin to compare with anything. The future will prove that.

I have been chanting Thamba for 10 days and if you say Thamba is powerful why haven’t I seen a benefit yet? Your karma may be from many lifetimes, and mantras may take time to work.

When can I experience the benefits of Thamba? How long does it take? Nobody can tell how fast their healing modality can work. Some chant Thamba chants only thrice and they get the benefit and for some, it takes more time.

What direction should I face while chanting Thamba? Any direction will do, there is no such direction.

What clothes do I have to wear while chanting Thamba? There is no such restriction.

What kind of food should I take to get the maximum benefit from Thamba? There are no food restrictions in Thamba. Eat what suits you.

Can a woman chant Thamba during her periods? There are no restrictions to that.

How many days should I chant Thamba ? Chant Thamba for as long as your problem persists. There are no 40 days chant or anything like that.

Why should I believe something which has no scientific validity? When We try to evaluate something with man-made machines and man-made calculations, we will miss the whole point. However, there is absolutely no need to have blind faith. Chant with an open mind and see. Thamba has permanent solutions to many ailments .and as such scientific experiments can be done in the future provided the scientific community is open to such an idea.

If I leave chanting Thamba will I have any negative effect? None, whatsoever. Practise and see if you can relate to it, or you are free to leave. No negative effects can be seen

I am much more noble and spiritual than Joy Lahiri, why can’t I be chosen as a Thamba channel? Joy Lahiri does not talk about himself as to why he was chosen. It is for his students to talk if at all they want to talk about him. His students have done his Akashic reading and have got the answers. For the spread of Thamba, who Joy Lahiri is, or was is irrelevant. The Thamba yuga is greater than any individual.

Why are different Thamba chants given to different people for the same problem? Different people have different karma so hence different chants are given. Even husband and wife are given different chants for the same problem.

Can we chant the chant given to another person if we feel it applies to our situation? You can freely chant any chant if you would like to. There are no side effects of this. The chants which are not be used by everyone are not shared publicly.

How many chants can we chant in a day? If you chant too many chants in a day, you may over energise your chakras may get over energised and it may defeat the purpose. However, if you feel light chanting many chants and enjoy it, there are no restrictions. For others chanting 4 to 7 chants a day is enough. https://m.facebook.com/groups/370551263436429?view=permalink&id=580752812416272

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US NEWS

Why did Trump threaten to raise China tariffs – and what now?


This article titled “Why did Trump threaten to raise China tariffs – and what now?” was written by Richard Partington, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th May 2019 22.46 Asia/Kolkata

Stock markets around the world have sold off sharply after Donald Trump threatened to raise the stakes in the simmering US-China trade war. Here are the answers to key questions about the rumbling dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

What is Trump threatening to do?

In two tweets posted on Sunday afternoon the president accused China of trying to renegotiate the trade deal being hammered out between Washington and Beijing after months of talks.

Trump threatened to ratchet up existing import tariffs of 10% on $200bn (£153bn) of Chinese goods sold in the US to 25% on Friday. He also warned that 25% tariffs could be slapped on a further $325bn of goods in future – which would mean all Chinese imports being covered by tariffs.

What tariffs are in place already?

Tariffs have been imposed by Washington on some Chinese goods sold in the US for about a year, as part of the ongoing dispute over trade. They come on top of broader tariffs used by Trump that have hit China and other trading partners such as the EU, Canada and Mexico, on goods including steel and aluminium.

The Trump administration imposed 25% tariffs on $50bn of Chinese technology goods in June 2018, covering aerospace goods, automobiles, communications tech and robotics, in a bid to hinder Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” initiative to boost its manufacturing and technology base.

The White House then imposed tariffs of 10% on $200bn of goods in September, on a wider range of products including food ingredients, construction materials, bike parts and burglar alarms. These are the tariffs that could be increased to 25%.

China has retaliated with $110bn-worth of tariffs on US goods, including agricultural produce such as soya beans, as well as cars, luggage, electronics, housewares and food.

Trump has threatened to raise the tariffs before, but agreed a truce late last year with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to allow officials more time to negotiate a solution to the trade dispute.

Why have markets reacted badly?

Stock markets had been lulled into a false sense of security. Hopes for a trade deal and the US Federal Reserve backing away from raising interest rate have powered financial markets to the highest levels for six months – making them more vulnerable to bad news.

Although there was always a risk the trade talks would break down in acrimony, the rapid shift from the White House comes after several weeks of both sides suggesting that the talks had been going well.

Renewed tariffs and retaliatory measures would likely serve as a drag on global trade, damage corporate earnings and hinder economic growth – with potential for a further decline in US equities by 10%-15% as a consequence, according to the Swiss bank UBS.

What does Trump hope to achieve?

The roots of the dispute extend to Trump’s “America first” project to protect the US’ position as the world’s leading economy, while encouraging businesses to hire more workers in America and to manufacture their products there.

Trump complains of a large trade deficit with China, which he views as a symbol of America’s decline as a manufacturing powerhouse. According to US Census Bureau data, Chinese imports to the US totalled $539.5bn last year, while $120.3bn was sold the other way – leaving a trade deficit of $419.2bn.

The president has accused Beijing of “unfair” trade policies, including allowing the theft of US companies’ intellectual property. The threat of import tariffs on Chinese goods is being used as leverage in talks where Trump is seeking changes to Beijing’s trade policy.

Is a peace deal still possible?

While Trump’s tweets could suggest trade talks have hit a brick wall, analysts said the threat likely represents a shift in negotiating strategy.

The president is well-known for ramping up the rhetoric in trade negotiations, and has previously said he can only secure new trade deals by threatening or imposing tariffs on trading partners. Analysts expect that the tensions could linger as the US gears up for elections next year.

The threat could extract additional concessions, although that is highly risky. Contrary to Trump’s claims that tariffs have boosted the US economy, analysts said they had hit growth over recent months and that an escalation could inflict greater damage.

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US NEWS

Democrats move to hold Barr in contempt over failure to release full Mueller report – live

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Democrats move to hold Barr in contempt over failure to release full Mueller report – live” was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th May 2019 20.50 Asia/Kolkata

The top Republican on the House Judiciary committee, representative Doug Collins, of Georgia, was critical of Wednesday’s planned vote on contempt for Attorney General William Barr.

“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction,” Collins said.

Collins said the upcoming vote is “illogical and disingenuous” as negotiations are underway with the Justice Department for access, according to the AP.

Donald Trump is complaining about disaster funding to Puerto Rico, again.

On Twitter, Trump said Puerto Rico has already received more money from Congress than any state in the history of the US and complained Democrats won’t back a bill that gives disaster relief money to states including Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama.

“Puerto Rico should be very happy and the Dems should stop blocking much needed Disaster Relief!” Trump tweeted.

The president is in a standoff with Democrats, who want a disaster aid funding bill to include money for Puerto Rico, as well as the others states.

In the tweets, Trump said Puerto Rico had received $91bn in disaster relief funding – which is not true. There has been $41bn in announced funding. The additional $50bn is money that one internal estimate said could need to be committed in the long-term.

This weekend, Boston Red Sox manager, Alex Cora, said he wouldn’t visit the White House to celebrate the team’s 2018 World Series win because of the Trump administration’s response to the hurricane. Cora is Puerto Rican. Several other Red Sox players have also said they would be skipping the ceremony.

Since Hurricane Maria devastated the entire island of Puerto Rico in September 2017, Trump has routinely minimized, dismissed or ignored the scale of destruction– including denying the official death toll.

The US House judiciary committee took its first step to hold the attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress this morning, after Barr failed to provide a copy of the unredacted Mueller report before the committee’s deadline.

On Wednesday, the committee will debate a resolution and a 27-page report on Barr being held in contempt, then hold a vote on the resolution. If the vote goes through, it will move to a full vote in the House to authorize legal proceedings.

House Judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, said in a statement:

Even in redacted form, the Special Counsel’s report offers disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels. Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation, and other constitutional responsibilities.

Updated

Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, just navigated through a swarm of photographers and television cameras outside his apartment in New York City, before hopping into a black SUV to take him to prison, about 70 miles north of the city.

Cohen made a brief statement to reporters:

I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country. There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day the day I can tell the truth.

Cohen was sentenced last December to three years in prison for tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. He is the third former Trump aide to go to prison in the past 12 months.

2020: Booker unveils gun violence prevention plan

2020 update: New Jersey senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, this morning unveiled his plan to tackle gun violence – which in 2017 saw gun deaths in the US rise to its highest rate in more than 20 years.

Booker’s campaign outlined the ambitious plan on Medium. It included several measures which Booker said would be a focus on day one of his presidency:

Donald Trump shocked global financial markets this morning with an unexpected threat to further raise tariffs on Chinese-made goods.

In September, Trump imposed a 10% tariff on $200bn in goods from China, including food, chemicals and electronics. On Twitter last night, Trump said he planned to hike that tariff to 25%. He also said another $325bn in goods would be subject to the 25% tariff.

This has upended global stock markets after months of seemingly positive negotiations between the US and China. Trump himself has declared that the discussions were moving in a positive direction, helping to boost global markets anticipating a positive outcome from the talks.

China’s market closed down 5.8% on Monday, its worst day since Feb 2016. Europe and US markets also fell, with oil prices – a benchmark for global trade – falling sharply.

Liu He, Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, was due in Washington this week for trade talks that experts predicted would be the last round of discussions before reaching a deal. China has not announced how Trump’s announcement will impact Liu’s travel plans.

And if you’re wondering, who pays for these tariffs? A long explanation is here. The quick version: Companies pay these tariffs when they import goods from China, despite Trump’s claims they are paid by China. US importers then decide to either pass the increased costs on to consumers by raising prices, absorb the cost and take a hit to their profits, try to negotiate costs down or find outside suppliers.

Nick Twidale, Sydney-based analyst at Rakuten Securities Australia, told the Guardian:

There is still a question of whether this is one of the famous Trump negotiation tactic, or are we really going to see some drastic increase in tariffs. If it’s the latter we’ll see massive downside pressure across all markets.

Trump reverses position on Mueller testimony

Happy Monday and welcome to today’s politics live blog. The Mueller report saga is far from over.

Donald Trump has reversed his earlier position on whether special counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to testify before a Congressional committee about his 448-page report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Last night, Trump tweeted “Bob Mueller should not testify,” backing away from an earlier claim that he would support William Barr’s decision on whether Mueller should testify. The attorney general has said it would be fine if he did.

Barr is also due to respond to Representative Jerry Nadler, the House judiciary committee chairman, who gave the attorney general a Monday deadline to provide an unredacted version of the Mueller report.

Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized the report’s findings. Mueller did not assess collusion because it is not a legal term and instead focused on potential criminal conspiracy between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia. Mueller said there was not sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges for obstruction, but wrote the president couldn’t be exonerated from such allegations, either.

Elsewhere:

We’ll have more on all this throughout the morning, as well as rolling updates through the day.

Updated

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CRIME, CRIME, World

US citizen arrested on suspicion of murdering Italian shop owner

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US citizen arrested on suspicion of murdering Italian shop owner” was written by Angela Giuffrida in Rome, for theguardian.com on Sunday 5th May 2019 17.53 Asia/Kolkata

A US citizen has been arrested in Italy on suspicion of murdering a shop owner in a town near Rome.

The body of Norveo Fedeli, 74, was found in his clothes shop in Viterbo on Friday. Italian media reported he had been struck repeatedly over the head with a stool.

Police had released video surveillance of a young man wearing sunglasses and a back-to-front cap who was carrying a shopping bag close to the scene. On Saturday they arrested Michael Aaron Pang, 22, at a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Capodimonte. He allegedly had small cuts on his hands and face and traces of blood on his shoe.

Investigators said they had “strong evidence” to charge Pang, born in South Korea, with murder and robbery. “The investigations developed very quickly,” said the Viterbo prosecutor, Paolo Auriemma. “A detention order has been issued. A result achieved thanks to the coordination of several police units.”

Pang is reported to have been living in Capodimonte, a town by Lake Bolsena, since arriving in Italy two and a half months ago on a tourist visa. It is alleged he killed Fedeli because he was unable to pay for purchases from his shop, Fedeli Vogue, which had been open since the 1970s and was well-known for its vintage and designer jeans, according to Italian media reports on Sunday.

The Il Messaggero newspaper reported that Pang had visited the shop previously and on the last occasion had returned to collect designer clothes worth €600 (£510). Pang reportedly told residents in Capodimonte he was a graphic designer.

Giovanni Arena, the mayor of Viterbo, has declared Monday a day of mourning for Fedeli, who has been described as “a good and kind man”. “The murder of our citizen, Norveo Fedeli, has shattered us all,” said Arena.

The death came a few days after two members of the neo-fascist group CasaPound were arrested for allegedly raping a 36-year-old woman in a private club in Viterbo.

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North India, Punjab

PUNJAB CM CONDOLES DEATH OF FOUR TIME MLA FROM BALACHAUR NAND LAL

NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE BUREAU

CHANDIGARH:

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Sunday expressed profound grief over the demise of four-time SAD MLA and former Chief Parliamentary Secretary from Balachaur Chaudhary Nand Lal (73), who breathed his last in a private hospital at Mohali this morning after a protracted illness. He is survived by two sons.

In a condolence message, the Chief Minister described Chaudhary Nand Lal as a gentleman politician and leader of masses with the qualities of head and heart, who worked tirelessly for the welfare of downtrodden and overall development of Kandi region.

Captain Amarinder Singh further said that Chaudhary Nand Lal would be ever remembered by one and all, especially in the Balachaur area for his strong connection with the local residents at the grassroots level. In his death a void has been created in the political circles, which is difficult to be filled, he added.

Sharing his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved family, relatives and friends, the Chief Minister prayed to the Almighty to give courage to them to bear this irreparable loss and peace to the departed soul.

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CRIME, CRIME, North India, Punjab

PUNJAB POLICE RECOVERS ANOTHER RS 2.13 CRORE IN PRIEST’S MISSING MONEY CASE

North India Kaleidoscope Bureau

CHANDIGARH, MAY 4:

Further investigations into the Jalandhar priest’s missing money case has led the Punjab Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) to recover another Rs. 2,13,50,000, taking the total seizure so far to Rs. 4,51,50,000.

Disclosing this here, a spokesperson of the Punjab Police said the money was recovered from the accused on the basis of revelations made by the two arrested ASIs during their questioning by SIT.

SIT had successfully trailed both the absconding ASIs – Joginder Singh and Rajpreet Singh – to Kochi where they were apprehended by Kerala Police on Thursday. SIT had then secured their transit remand for further interrogation to get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

Of the seizures made by Patiala Police today, Rs. 1.10 Crore was recovered from Patiala, based on information by ASI Joginder Singh, while Rs 1 crore was seized on the disclosures made by arrested ASI Rajpreet Singh.

Another Rs. 1.5 lakh was recovered from Gurpreet Singh s/o Hardev Singh of Sitarganj in District Rudrapur, Uttarakhand on Friday.

Divulging further, the spokesperson said that in another related development one Gurjant Singh @ Janti, s/o Sukhpal Singh, of village Shadipur in Patiala today appeared before the SIT at Police Lines, Patiala.

Gurjant Singh who runs an immigration firm informed the SIT that accused ASI Rajpreet Singh had come to him on 3 April 2019 at his office and gave him Rs. 2.00 lakhs for immigration and ILETS of his wife. He feared that the money given to him by ASI Rajpreet maybe part of the embezzled amount.

Though he had used part of the amount and deposited the remaining in his bank account, he handed over the said amount to the SIT. He also intimated SIT that the he had CCTV recordings of the visit of ASI Rajpreet to his office which he would handover as evidence.

Gurjant had learnt from newspapers about arrest of ASI Rajpreet Singh, and that’s why he approached Patiala Police, who had presented him before the SIT which recorded his statement  and took over custody of the money after completing procedural formalities.

The DGP Punjab Dinkar Gupta who tweeted about the seizures appealed to people to come forward with any such information about the case which can further assist police in cracking the case. Investigations were ongoing and full amount alleged to have been embezzled would be recovered, he said, adding the complete conspiracy would soon be unravelled.

It may be recalled that immediately after taking over custody of two absconding ASIs, SIT had recovered Rs. 2.38 Crores on Thursday.

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India

In India’s election race Narendra Modi isn’t the strongman the world assumes

This article is being reposted because of its relevance–Rajesh Ahuja


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “In India’s election race Narendra Modi isn’t the strongman the world assumes” was written by Ruchir Sharma, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10th April 2019 10.30 Asia/Kolkata

The conventional wisdom in Delhi is that recent border clashes with Pakistan over Kashmir will help Narendra Modi win the landmark election that starts 11 April. If patriotic fervour benefits incumbent leaders, the prime minister is certainly well placed. A staunch Hindu nationalist, he has turned increasingly hawkish on Pakistan, and projected himself as a tough leader while centralising power in Delhi, managing the economy with a heavy personal touch and cowing much of the national press. But Indian elections are never about one dominant figure, and even if Modi is re-elected when the results emerge next month, his party is unlikely to win more than a third of the national vote, much of it in the northern states.

Less a country than a continent, India is more like the European Union than any one European nation. Its 29 states are divided by a multitude of communities, cultures and languages so diverse that its national elections are best understood as a series of state contests, and the regional leaders are always among the most important players.

This endless diversity limits the extent of any nationalist movement. Anti-Pakistan feeling currently runs much stronger in northern states close to the border than in the rest of India.This in turn restricts the ability of one leader, even one as charismatic as Modi, to dominate the country. To form a governing majority for a second term, he will need to recruit more allies among the regional parties.

In states as different as Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the south,I have seen Modi struggle to connect with audiences because his Hindi oratory was lost in translation. He is a master of rhetorical tricks such as the call and response, but at a recent election rally that I attended in Karnataka his calls got a muted response, since many in the crowd didn’t seem to understand. Though Hindi passes for the national tongue, only around 40% of Indians speak it.

Composite image of Narenda Modi in various headwear
‘Modi is having to play the game.’ Photograph: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

These barriers are poorly understood by outsiders, even those in the UK, who for historical reasons tend to know India and its diversity better than most. It is a mistake to think of Indian prime ministers as rough equivalents of British prime ministers, when in fact their power is more limited. India’s political system magnifies its diversity, making it harder to rule from Delhi. The written constitution delegates explicit and wide powers to the state assemblies, including significant authority over finances, law and order, transport, healthcare and other critical government functions. So Modi has to deal with 29 state chief ministers, including seven who run states of more than 68 million people.

Voters in India often see themselves as Tamils, Marathis or Bengalis first, Indians second; and these sub-national identities make it hard for any nationalist to dominate all of India. Regional loyalties run deep in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, where Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are marginal players. As recently as 2016, when the popular cult that swirls around Modi in parts of northern India was reaching its peak, I asked voters in Tamil Nadu what they thought of him, and one shot back: “Modi who?”

In developed democracies incumbency is a big advantage. Ruling parties have more access to money, patronage, and media time in India too, but more often than not, they lose. India became a democracy when it was still very poor, with institutions too weak to meet the needs of a booming population. For decades, voters have been taking out their frustration with the dysfunctional state on sitting leaders. The incumbent has lost two out of every three state and national elections in India since the 1970s.

In many key states, the contest will involve three or four major parties and dozens of smaller ones, which means the winner can often take a majority of seats with only a small plurality of the vote. This is what happened in the 2014 elections, when Modi took a “landslide” in parliament with only 31% of the vote, because the rest was scattered between more than 100 other parties.

Though Modi is often cast as a popular strongman, no Indian leader has ever won more seats with a smaller share of the vote. Most seats won by the BJP in 2014 came in northern “cow belt” states, where Modi’s brand of Hinducentric nationalism plays well. Even in the north, his victory had less to do with overwhelming popularity than with the opposition, which was mobilising not against him but against the other major national party, the Indian National Congress, which then held power.

This time is different. Led by Rahul Gandhi, a scion of its founding family, Congress is trying to form alliances with regional parties to stop Modi. A more decisive force in this contest is the regional party leaders, who include chief ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Nara Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa. Unlike Modi, they are not well known outside India but they are at least as powerful, or more so, in their home states, and some see themselves as future premiers.

Even bitter rivals are uniting against Modi. In Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, with 200 million people, and thus the most important political battleground, the former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has forged an alliance with another former chief minister, Mayawati, a popular leader of the Dalits – once referred to as “untouchables”. Mayawati for decades blasted Yadav’s party as a “criminal enterprise” run by “goons” who oppressed the Dalits. But all that is forgotten now, as Yadav and Mayawati work together to stop Modi in a classically Indian alliance of former enemies.

Ever since Indira Gandhi imposed emergency rule in the 1970s, and fell in the backlash, no prime minister has been able to gain political momentum without inspiring the fragmented opposition to unite. Indira, her son Rajiv and the first BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were all undone by alliances of previously squabbling opponents.

When Indian politicians are on a roll, they often lead their parties into election battles without allies, but the brash prime minister has no grounds for overconfidence today. Modi can’t count just on patriotic fervour over Kashmir to win him a second term; he is having to play the game and agree to electoral deals with regional allies. For all his international reputation as India’s strongman, Modi knows it takes more than one dominant figure to rule India.

• Ruchir Sharma is the author of Democracy on the Road: A 25-Year Journey Through India

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Films, India

‘A narrative is being built’: Bollywood’s battle for Indian hearts and minds

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘A narrative is being built’: Bollywood’s battle for Indian hearts and minds” was written by Amrit Dhillon in Delhi, for The Guardian on Monday 29th April 2019 10.30 Asia/Kolkata

Few politicians – let alone prominent world leaders – tend to run the gauntlet of quoting cheesy phrases from films when making a major speech, fearing derision and ridicule. But when Narendra Modi began an address with a line from a Bollywood blockbuster, he struck gold.

“How’s the josh?” the Indian prime minister asked in his speech at the National Museum of Indian Cinema in Mumbai in January. The audience clapped in delight, recognising the line (josh means passion or zeal) from last year’s hit film, Uri: The Surgical Strike. The film is a dramatised account of India’s 2016 military action in Pakistan-administered Kashmir following a militant attack on an army base. The film has been called patriotic by some and propaganda by others.

As Indians go to the polls, the past few weeks has seen a debate on whether Bollywood has become a partisan supporter of Modi and the government. It wasn’t just Uri, whose director, Aditya Dhar, said he was honouring the army rather than Modi. There’s also the group of Bollywood stars who flew on a private jet in January for a meeting with Modi, later posting selfies that attracted many followers and comments.

Narendra Modi meets a delegation from the Indian film industry in Delhi.
Narendra Modi meets a delegation from the Indian film industry in Delhi. Photograph: Twitter

Another story that fed into the debate concerned a Modi biopic, PM Narendra Modi. The trailer provoked criticism that the film was hagiography. It had been due for release on 5 April at the height of the campaign, but the Election Commission of India stalled its release after objections from the opposition Congress party.

These events led to a flurry of comments from critics, with some alleging that Bollywood is playing a leading role in helping Modi get a second term. Influential film critic Rajeev Masand told Reuters: “You can clearly say some of these films are propaganda films. There is no confusion on the agenda there.” Another critic Shubhra Gupta told Time: “It is all about working the optics and colonising the minds of the audience. A narrative is being built clearly, smartly and very insidiously.”

Writing in the Hindustan Times, columnist Smruti Koppikar said: “Bollywood’s participation in BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata party, which is led by Modi] propaganda has been extensive with actors, filmmakers and writers openly backing Modi, running down his political rivals, especially Congress president, Rahul Gandhi … and aligning their creative work with Modi’s agenda.”

In the past, Bollywood has largely stayed away from explicitly political films. The occasional star might appear at an election rally but more as a prop than any real endorsement. If any message was conveyed at all, it tended to be vaguely pro-establishment, not openly partisan. Some critics believe a distinct shift has taken place in the past few months to a more overt political stance.

Others disagree, saying it’s not so much a question of Bollywood supporting Modi but more that the industry has always wanted to be on the right side of the government, whichever party is in power.

“If someone suggested meeting Modi, which film star is going to say no? The BJP has always tried to co-opt the industry because it knows how to influence people through the media but a couple of patriotic films and a few stars meeting Modi, that isn’t the whole industry. It is huge. It is more than just 25 people. It is diverse,” said director Vinta Nanda.

Supporting the contention that Bollywood is not one-sided is the release this month of a film on Rahul Gandhi called My Name is RaGa. Earlier this month, more than 800 theatre and film personalities joined forces to sign online petitions urging voters to oppose Modi.

Uri poster
The poster for Uri: The Surgical Strike. Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo

The fundamental point, numerous directors told the Guardian, is that only money talks in Bollywood. No one is going to spend billions of rupees making a pro-Modi or pro-government film unless they believe it will generate profits.

“The be all and end all of the industry is making money. Uri was a fantastic human drama waiting to be told. That doesn’t mean the director is cosying up to Modi. And if someone makes a film about Modi’s life, it is because he is the prime minister and it is seen as a business opportunity, not because the director loves Modi,” said director and trade analyst Komal Nahta.

The author Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr draws a parallel with Hollywood matching the public mood in America, by making films with anti-communist themes during the cold war or anti-German second world war movies, to illustrate his belief that a convergence often occurs.

“No one called Hollywood’s anti-communist films propaganda. You have to distinguish between films that portray the public mood and films that are outright propaganda,” he said.

In the 50s and 60s, Bollywood films were left-leaning and their themes matched the vision of the government to fight poverty and illiteracy. Likewise, Rao Jr argues, a similar convergence exists now with Bollywood pursuing nationalist themes to echo a somewhat nationalistic public mood.

“Bollywood wouldn’t make films like Uri if they weren’t successful and they are successful right now because the mood is pro-government. It’s not that Bollywood is being partisan but just that it is reflecting this mood,” he said.

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Uncategorized

Indian army’s claim to have found footprints of yeti prompts ridicule

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Indian army’s claim to have found footprints of yeti prompts ridicule” was written by Amy Walker, for The Guardian on Tuesday 30th April 2019 18.11 Asia/Kolkata

The Indian army has claimed to have found the footprints of a yeti, prompting ridicule on social media.

On Monday, the army tweeted to nearly 6 million followers that it had found “mysterious footprints of [the] mythical beast”. The post added that the prints, measuring 81 x 38 cm (32 x 15 inches), were discovered close to Makalu base camp in the Himalayas.

In Nepalese folklore, the yeti or abominable snowman is a tall ape-like creature said to live in the Himalayas, Siberia, central and eastern Asia. Given the lack of evidence for existence, scientists have regarded it as legend.

The army claimed “this elusive snowman” had “only been sighted at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past”, and posted pictures of the footprints on its Twitter account.

Though the supposed discovery was made on 9 April, according to the Times of India, the army said it held on to the “photographic evidence” about the yeti before they decided it matched earlier theories. They added that the “evidence” had been “photographed and handed over to subject matter experts” for scientific evaluation.

Pictures of a ‘yeti footprints'
Pictures claiming to show yeti footprints have triggered a barrage of mockery online. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Among the Twitter users who reacted with jokes and bewilderment at the army’s announcement was author Siddharth Singh. He posted pictures of people walking, alongside the caption: “Can there possibly be a simpler explanation?”

Another questioned whether the markings were left by one of the giants featured on Game of Thrones. Other users were less amused by the post, including one who deemed it “ridiculous”.

Previous scientific studies have concluded the origins of yeti stories, which have been told for centuries, are based on real animals.

The results of a DNA analysis of supposed yeti samples – including hair, fur and faeces – published in 2017, showed the samples were from Himalayan and Tibetan subspecies of brown bear and an Asian black bear.

In 2011, a “yeti finger” found in Nepal in the 1950s was revealed by a genetic expert to have been human bone.

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India, ODISHA, States

Cyclone Fani: at least eight dead in India’s biggest storm in decades

This article titled “Cyclone Fani: at least eight dead in India’s biggest storm in decades” was written by Michael Safi in Delhi and Bibhuti Pati in Puri with agencies, for The Guardian on Friday 3rd May 2019 19.41 Asia/Kolkata

Cyclone Fari barrelled into Bangladesh on Saturday after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in India, passing through hundreds of densely populated, low-lying communities along the Bay of Bengal, one of the most vulnerable regions to flooding in the world.

Major roads in the capital of eastern India’s Odisha state were scattered with trees and power lines, and the roof was torn off the city’s main railway station, after on Friday it was hit by the most severe storm on the Indian subcontinent in two decades.

Almost all thatched-roof and mud houses across four districts in the state were destroyed by the cyclone, which made landfall at about 8am on Friday morning and began migrating north-west towards the city of Kolkata.

More than 1 million people, including at least 1,000 pregnant women, were moved from their homes into shelters.

Eight people reportedly died in India and Bangladeshi police said nine perished even before the eye of the storm rumbled over the border.

Rescue officials told the Guardian the dead included a teenager in Puri who was hit by a falling tree and a woman in an adjoining district who was struck by a collapsing wall.

“We have taken full precautions and my government is fully prepared to deal with the situation,” Odisha’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, told the Guardian. “I have learned of the casualties and am instructing officers to find out the reasons behind them.”

A powerful storm in Odisha, one of India’s poorest states, flooded hundreds of villages and killed more than 10,000 people in 1999, but more recent tolls have been greatly reduced by greater preparation, including better weather forecasting and early warning systems that can reach people in isolated villages.

Indian meteorological officials had categorised Friday’s storm as “extremely severe” when it reached Odisha, with maximum wind speeds of 175km/h, but said it was slowing as it travelled and had been downgraded to “very severe”.

Footage from Puri, a temple city of about 200,000 people that was the first to be hit by the storm, showed saturated palm trees flailing in deafening winds. Parts of the city were flooded, including the Puri-Konark Marine Drive, a major road that was submerged by about 1.5 metres of seawater.

Fani map

“People have suffered a lot because the roofs of many houses are not concrete,” said Sanjukta Pannda from Kakatpur, a village in the Puri district, as the storm eased on Friday afternoon. “Those roofs have been wiped out and because of the rain there [are] lots of problems. The wind is slow right now but the rain is continuing.”

In Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar, a city of more than 900,000 people, fallen trees and electricity poles blocked almost every major road after winds reaching almost 170km/h battered the city for at least four hours. Images from its main hospital, the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, showed broken water tanks, damaged roofs and overturned trucks at its perimeter.

“All main roads are closed and 60% – or maybe more – trees and electric poles in the city have fallen,” said Bimal Pandia, a disaster mitigation officer with the charity Oxfam, which has a state office in Bhubaneswar. “Rescue workers are clearing the roads on a war footing.”

He said concerns were now turning to the possibility of unreported deaths in the state’s remote hinterlands and the possibility of flooding in coastal areas in the next few days.

“The devastation is quite serious in the interior areas,” Pandia said. “In the last major cyclone there were massive floods that happened for two days, so that apprehension is always there.”

The storm has interrupted India’s feverish campaign season with major figures from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) including its president, Amit Shah, announcing they were suspending campaign rallies in adjoining states. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal and a fierce rival of the BJP, also suspended campaigning for 48 hours.

All flights out of Bhubaneswar were cancelled on Friday and Kolkata airport was closed from 9.30pm on Friday evening until 6pm on Saturday. Tourists were evacuated on three special trains on Thursday but nearly 150 other railway services have been suspended.

Hundreds of disaster management personnel have been deployed across the state, which has closed its schools and colleges and suspended leave for doctors and health officials for the next fortnight. The Indian army, navy and air force were on alert to assist with rescues.

Nearly 5,000 shelters were set up in Odisha for the evacuees. Police in the state posted pictures on social media showing officers folding their hands in a mark of respect to persuade reluctant people to cooperate and move to safer ground.

Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled ahead of Cyclone Fani.
Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled due to Cyclone Fani.
Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

Pandia said Oxfam was among the civil society groups working with the government and had prepared enough material to quickly reconstruct 5,000 houses.

The cyclone’s name, Fani, is Bengali for the hood of a snake. The word cyclone itself is said to be derived from the Greek word meaning “coiling of a snake”, and was coined by the British administrator Henry Piddington while he was stationed in Kolkata, then Calcutta, during colonial rule.

Fifteen of the 20 deadliest-ever storms have formed in the Bay of Bengal, where the combination of poor quality housing, dense populations and flash flooding frequently lead to high casualties. The Bhola cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 killed more than half a million people.

But Indian governments had vastly improved their responses to such disasters, said Mihir Bhatt, the founder and director of All India disaster mitigation institute.

He said early warning systems were now geared to reach “the last mile and the last place”, people were promptly moved to shelters or safer ground within their villages, and state governments – which had previous prepared for disasters in isolation – were now sharing information and coordinating tactics. “This is new and has played an active role in reducing the death toll,” Bhatt said.

More than a million people were evacuated from Odisha during a 2013 storm in a move that is thought to have saved thousands of lives. Around 50 people were killed by that cyclone.

Bhatt said India’s recent election may have also contributed to increased preparedness among the central and state governments. “There is an environment of showing you are performing and doing it,” he said.

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ENVIRONMENT, Lifestyle

More light, more sun, May brings gardeners the promise of an endless summer

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “More light, more sun, May brings gardeners the promise of an endless summer” was written by Allan Jenkins, for The Observer on Sunday 5th May 2019 10.30 Asia/Kolkata

It’s finally May, the gardener’s month of active sun. Two hours more light a day by Friday 31st. It is the start of my favourite time, since I was a child, with the promise of endless summer. Like the start of the long school holidays.

It is also my duty to warn you, though, that there may still be a (slight) possibility of frost. Be mindful with tender seedlings and harden them off before planting outside. Take care not to overcrowd them (truthfully, this is my greatest garden weakness – just ask Howard, who will be shaking his head).

It’s time soon to replant pumpkins and to sow courgettes and other summer squash outside. Remember to give them plenty of water: mornings and evenings are best. I start by using a can with a rose and later switch to a hose with a fine spray.

You can still sow sweet peas for sheer beauty and fragrance, and calendula for companion planting. This is also the month I will sow tagetes.

Continue planting out peas – early varieties may be ready to eat. Some salads, too, as you thin them through. Sweetcorn and beans can likely be sown outside later this month, if you live in the south. Further north it might be more prudent to wait. Watch the weather forecast. Remember to continue with earthing potatoes to protect them from going green.

You can start sowing amaranth as the soil temperature rises – it needs to be 10C. If you have sown them before, crimson seedlings popping up is a good way to tell. It is your last chance to sow spinach until summer. It is likely to bolt in high heat and light.

Mainly, though, May is the month the browner ground is taking colour (perhaps sow a red salad row among the green). As well as the growing and weeding, enjoy. It’s a special time.

Order Morning: How to Make Time by Allan Jenkins, for £7.91, from guardianbookshop.com

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