Home » Page 491
Categorieslatest

The pioneer of America’s embattled global HIV program recalls the hope after years of despair

Before PEPFAR, in most cases, Nkengasong’s infectious disease clinic in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, could offer the families no care. In their loved ones’ last hours, the families who came there often were left to crouch outside, in the parking lot. They would surround “a skeleton of a human being, with a tinge of flesh over their bodies,” Nkengasong recalled. “They held their loved ones, giving them the best comfort they could.” Soon enough, the sound of wailing would rise through his windows. The cries signaled another death to HIV/AIDS, one of millions in Africa by the mid-2000s. The scene would be repeated “nearly hour by hour,” Nkengasong said. Sometimes he would get up and close the curtains, blocking out the misery of an epidemic he could not then stem. Two decades later, Nkengasong says, his trips to the region from his offices in Washington bring joyous meetings with men, women and children whose lives were saved through PEPFAR, credited as the biggest government effort ever against a single disease. In all, the U.S. program has spent more than $110 billion on HIV care and treatment, local medical systems and social programs aimed at stemming infection. The U.S. says it has saved 25 million lives in sub-Saharan Africa and other vulnerable regions, including those of 5.5 million children.

Categorieslatest

Alex Murdaugh faces a South Carolina judge for punishment a final time

For maybe the last time, Alex Murdaugh, in a prison jumpsuit and shackles instead of the suit the lawyer used to wear, will shuffle into a courtroom in South Carolina and wait for a judge to punish him. Murdaugh is scheduled to be sentenced Monday morning in federal court for stealing from clients and his law firm. The 55-year-old disbarred attorney is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son. A report by federal agents recommends a prison sentence between 17 and 22 years for Murdaugh. It’s insurance on top of insurance. Along with the life sentence, Murdaugh pleaded guilty and was ordered to spend 27 years in prison in state court on financial crime charges — time he will have to serve if both his murder convictions are overturned on appeal. The 22 federal counts contained in a plea deal are the final charges outstanding for Murdaugh, who three years ago was an established lawyer negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements in tiny Hampton County, where members of his family served as elected prosecutors and ran the area’s premier law firm for nearly a century. But now his life is summed up by prosecutors in a court filing asking a judge to revoke their plea deal with Murdaugh and give him a harsher sentence because FBI agents think he is not telling the whole truth about what happened to $6 million he stole and whether a so-far unnamed attorney helped his criminal schemes. Murdaugh “spent most of his career deceiving everyone in his personal and professional circles — unburdened by his own conscience. The scope and pervasiveness of Murdaugh’s deceit is staggering. He ranks as one of the most prolific fraudsters this state has ever seen. When the house of cards began to fall, Murdaugh murdered his wife and son,” prosecutors wrote. Murdaugh stole from clients, including the sons of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died in a fall at the family home. Murdaugh promised to take care of Satterfield’s family, then worked with a lawyer friend who pleaded guilty on a scheme to steal $4 million in a wrongful death settlement with the family’s insurer. Murdaugh also took money meant to care for a client who became a quadriplegic after a crash and a state trooper injured on the job. In all, Murdaugh took settlement money from or inflated fees or expenses for nearly two dozen clients. Prosecutors said the FBI found 11 more victims than the state investigation found and that Murdaugh stole nearly $1.3 million from them. Murdaugh was convicted a year ago of killing his younger son Paul with a shotgun and his wife, Maggie, with a rifle. While he has pleaded guilty to dozens of financial crimes, he adamantly denies he killed them and testified in his own defense. There will be years of appeals in the murder cases. The case has captivated true crime fans, spawning dozens of podcast episodes and thousands of social media posts. It continued its odd twists in the days before Monday’s sentencing hearing. Lawyers for Murdaugh said an FBI agent who conducted a polygraph test asked Murdaugh if he could keep a secret, then confided he had just examined notorious Dutch killer Joran van der Sloot. Murdaugh flunked that polygraph test, according to prosecutors who want to revoke the plea agreement, paving the way for a harsher sentence. Each of the 22 counts Murdaugh pleaded guilty to in federal court carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Some carry a 30-year maximum. The defense said the alleged odd behavior and unusual questions from a FBI agent caused Murdaugh to fail the test. They asked the court to release all his statements to the FBI. A judge will take up that issue during Monday’s sentencing hearing. Prosecutors want to keep many of the FBI statements secret, saying they are still investigating the missing money and who might have helped Murdaugh steal. They say making the information public would jeopardize an ongoing grand jury investigation.

Categorieslatest

Japan’s historic economic comeback shows just how screwed China is right now

Japan’s long-comatose economy is finally showing proof of life. After a catastrophic real-estate implosion in the early 1990s, the country’s economy spent the next three decades shrinking. Households and businesses had to spend their money paying off debt, which prevented them from investing or starting new ventures. Wages were stagnant. And the economy slid from the world’s second largest to its fourth. Animal spirits were neutered. Eight years ago, policymakers tried to bring them back by taking interest rates into negative territory. For a while, it was slow going. But Japan’s economy — the long-unconscious patient — recently started to wiggle its toe. Japan’s labor unions in March scored the biggest wage increase for workers in decades. The country’s stock market is ripping; the Nikkei recently exceeded the all-time highs it set 34 years ago. Analysts at Goldman Sachs are telling clients there’s still more upside to be had as corporate-governance reforms and a new era of sustainable inflation take hold. The Bank of Japan this month hiked interest rates above zero for the first time since 2007, a sign of confidence in the country’s recovery. This bounce back has led to some mild cheering in the US, mostly confined to Wall Street backslaps and calls of “great quarter, guys” as East Asia portfolios grow. But in China, the reemergence of Japan from this extended malaise is being watched with close concern. Like Japan in the 1990s, China is now staring down a property-market collapse. Real estate once accounted for 20% to 30% of the country’s GDP, and all aspects of China’s economy — local governments, households, the banking system — depend on money from the property market to survive. After decades of overbuilding and speculation, this massive debt pile is coming due. This is what we now recognize as a “balance-sheet recession,” a term the Nomura economist Richard Koo coined in 1997 to describe Japan’s economic sluggishness as society paid down debt from its property-market collapse. Now, Koo says, Chinese academics and policymakers are flocking to Japan to glean some kind of wisdom from the country’s experience. “I tell them there’s a big difference between Japan 30 years ago and China now. When we got into this balance-sheet recession, no one knew what kind of disease we contracted,” Koo told me. “We were all lost for a long time.” At a glance, the encouraging news from Tokyo should give Beijing hope. It shows that where there is a will, in even the direst economic circumstances, there is a way. But a closer look at the road Japan took to revive its economy darkens the picture. Japan’s recent success stems from a decadeslong effort from policymakers, careful negotiations with its trading partners, and the strange conditions Japan’s economy found itself in along the way. All of this will be nearly impossible for Beijing to re-create — at least, not without pissing off policymakers from Brussels to Brasília. What happened in Japan The difficulty of digging out of a crisis like Japan’s is that the factors that contributed to the downturn are self-reinforcing. When real-estate values collapsed, Japanese households saw their wealth take a nosedive, which pushed them to save more and focus on paying down debt. With fewer consumers going out and spending, companies slashed prices to woo what few yen were going around, which led to economywide deflation. This has the perverse incentive of making saving seem more attractive: Why invest in something or buy something now when it may be cheaper in a year or two? Corporations had to stay innovative, pay down debt, and fight for consumer dollars all at once, but those tight margins meant there was little room for worker raises — further constraining what households had to spend. The whole economy seemed stuck in a trap. Eventually, the Japanese government and the Bank of Japan ramped up their efforts to kick-start the economy. The bank cut interest rates into negative territory, effectively forcing people to pay money to keep cash in their savings. And Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister, launched a campaign of “Abenomics” that included massive stimulus packages designed to inspire business and household spending. After all this hard work, Japan is starting to show signs that better days are ahead. Koo says executive culture is shifting toward more of an appetite for debt — more risk — and that means more investment in new projects. He compared the C-suite’s caution to the skepticism Americans who lived through the Great Depression in the 1930s felt toward debt — a form of PTSD. But, slowly, things are changing. “I think it’s a good sign,” Koo told me, “but Japanese are very cautious people, especially compared to the US.” One reason animal spirits are stirring in Japan is that the yen has been getting crushed against other major currencies since 2022. As a country’s currency becomes cheaper, its exports become more attractive to the rest of the world — which helps explain why Japan’s exports hit a record in 2023 — and makes corporations that depend on exports look as if they have healthier balance sheets. “This has made Japan attractive for foreign investors, and the stock market has done well,” Koo said. But a weaker yen reduces the purchasing power of those using it domestically. “For average Japanese people living in Japan, this has not been great news at all,” he told me. “What’s being said outside Japan and how it feels inside are very different.” Tokyo knows it’s not out of the woods yet, but economists largely agree that early this year was the time for Japan to strike — to pull itself out of negative interest rates, even if the economy is still finding its footing. “Initially driven by cost-push factors, inflation is becoming demand-driven with the output gap closed and labor shortages intensifying,” researchers at the International Monetary Fund wrote in a recent report. The biggest danger, they said, is that inflation has eaten up what little growth the country has. Luckily, though, the rest of the global economy seems like it’s in shape to support the country by buying Japanese goods and mobbing the country with a record number of tourists. That all must hold if we’re to see Japan close the chapter on its economic fall from grace. And so, toward the end of Japan’s most arduous phase of debt repayment, as companies looked healthier and the stock market much cheaper thanks to the currency, the world stepped in with more cash. None of it was a pretty process, but restructuring never is. If China tried to replicate the procedure, though, it would look even uglier. How Beijing will handle it I don’t need to tell you that China and Japan have very different social and political systems. But it’s important to recognize that China is entering its real-estate crisis under very different economic circumstances: GDP per capita is about $12,800, compared with $41,266 in Japan when its property bubble burst. There are some useful comparisons, however. When Japan entered its downturn, its relative economic size compared with the US was similar to China’s now. Both are confronting what it means to manage a debt-laden economy losing its dynamism while demographic changes result in a shrinking workforce. These are long-term, structural problems with solutions we’re just now coming to understand. But now — just as some hard-line Japanese believed back in the 1990s — Chinese policymakers think they’ll weather this because their economy has room to grow, can mobilize its domestic market, and will find plenty of trading partners even if its relationship with the US has soured. When the Japanese economy crashed in 1990, it took the government years to come to the conclusion to enact the fiscal stimulus that economists now consider the first line of defense against a deflationary shock. Early efforts to stimulate were wishy-washy. For example, a generous fiscal package in 1995 was countered with austerity in 1996 and 1997, according to analysts from the Peterson Institute. It took years for policymakers to get their mix right. “The Chinese are talking about it every day, they understand what kind of disease they contracted,” Koo said. “Whether that translates into a speedy, sufficient, and sustained stimulus, we haven’t got there yet.” While it took Japan years to come around to the idea of stimulus, China may never get there. Xi Jinping has shown few signs he’s willing to rain money down on the country’s starved local governments or even on households to spur consumption. He doesn’t really believe in handing money to consumers to let them do whatever they want with it. Instead, Xi’s solution is to get China’s monumental manufacturing machine to make higher-value goods. This continues the state’s control over the economy since the state directs banks where to lend and, in Xi’s opinion, sets China up to have the kind of economy that would rival other world powers. So Beijing is going all in on building the hard goods of the future: electric vehicles, semiconductors, cellphones, computer screens. He wants Chinese companies to buy all those things from Chinese manufacturers as well, creating an ecosystem of technology that would dominate markets. And Xi wants the rest of the world to buy these goods from that ecosystem. This is where trade conflict comes in. The first time China became a manufacturing juggernaut, in the early 2000s, the world embraced it. Policymakers thought that integrating China into the global economy would make it a more open society and that the wins for some US companies would outweigh the downsides for others. But we’ve found that wasn’t the case. Instead, the world was hit by what economists now call the “China shock,” which stripped the US of its manufacturing base and left whole communities without good jobs. Given this experience, any whiff of a new China shock will almost certainly result in the world pushing back. Policymakers are unwilling to allow even more crucial productions and jobs to be shipped off and out, leaving angry voters and instability behind. Japan’s leaders mostly ignored nationalist hard-liners who were angry at the US in the 1990s and focused on having a good relationship with the US, as it needed the richest country in the world to buy its goods. China is taking a different tack: Even as Xi invites US leaders to China to talk about how open the country is, American brands are getting walloped, US offices have been raided by Chinese officials, and financial firms and consultancies are moving out of China. Not even the Chinese stock market’s veritable collapse over the past few months interests investors, with Goldman Sachs warning clients to stay away. There’s cheap, and then there’s dangerous. Because of these adversarial circumstances, it’s unclear how much the world will be able to buy what China is selling at any price. This is one of Beijing’s biggest stumbling blocks. Tokyo was able to pull itself off the mat in part because when the yen fell, the world was OK with that. Japan, after shutting down nuclear plants, started importing energy, and there was less of a trade imbalance between it and the rest of the world. China’s balance of trade is still skewed toward exports, which means if the yuan falls, its goods get cheaper and can flood markets. So I don’t want to imagine the screeching from Washington if there’s even a hint that Beijing is allowing the yuan to depreciate in order to sell us more stuff. Even without a currency war with Beijing, the world is building defenses against another wave of Chinese goods. Brasília just launched an antidumping investigation into whether China is flooding Brazil with cheap goods. Turkey recently tightened regulations on EVs shipped from China. And China’s EV exports to the European Union started the year down almost 20% after regulators announced an investigation into Beijing’s financial support of the industry. The most crucial difference between China’s balance-sheet recession and Japan’s may be emotional. Throughout Japan’s recovery, markets worked from a cooperative ideological mindset, believing free trade was good. As China begins its recovery, that cooperation has turned adversarial. Ultimately, that may mean the difference between China continuing its rise or staying stuck in a debt trap. In the end, technology may not save China if it doesn’t have the right friends to buy it all. Linette Lopez is a senior correspondent at Business Insider. Read the original article on Business Insider

Categorieslatest

Trump’s immigration rhetoric makes inroads with some Democrats. That could be a concern for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — The video shared by former President Donald Trump features horror movie music and footage of migrants purportedly entering the U.S. from countries including Cameroon, Afghanistan and China. Shots of men with tattoos and videos of violent crime are set against close-ups of people waving and wrapping themselves in American flags. “They’re coming by the thousands,” Trump says in the video, posted on his social media site. “We will secure our borders. And we will restore sovereignty.” In his speeches and online posts, Trump has ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric as he seeks the White House a third time, casting migrants as dangerous criminals “poisoning the blood” of America. Hitting the nation’s deepest fault lines of race and national identity, his messaging often relies on falsehoods about migration. But it resonates with many of his core supporters going back a decade, to when “build the wall” chants began to ring out at his rallies. President Joe Biden and his allies discuss the border very differently. The Democrat portrays the situation as a policy dispute that Congress can fix and hits Republicans in Washington for backing away from a border security deal after facing criticism from Trump. But in a potentially worrying sign for Biden, Trump’s message appears to be resonating with key elements of the Democratic coalition that Biden will need to win over this November. Roughly two-thirds of Americans now disapprove of how Biden is handling border security, including about 4 in 10 Democrats, 55% of Black adults and 73% of Hispanic adults, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in March. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 45% of Americans described the situation as a crisis, while another 32% said it was a major problem. Vetress Boyce, a Chicago-based racial justice activist, was among those who expressed frustration with Biden’s immigration policies and the city’s approach as it tries to shelter newly arriving migrants. She argued Democrats should be focusing on economic investment in Black communities, not newcomers. “They’re sending us people who are starving, the same way Blacks are starving in this country. They’re sending us people who want to escape the conditions and come here for a better lifestyle when the ones here are suffering and have been suffering for over 100 years,” Boyce said. “That recipe is a mixture for disaster. It’s a disaster just waiting to happen.” Gracie Martinez is a 52-year-old Hispanic small business owner from Eagle Pass, Texas, the border town that Trump visited in February when he and Biden made same-day trips to the state. Martinez said she once voted for former President Barack Obama and is still a Democrat, but now backs Trump — mainly because of the border. “It’s horrible,” she said. “It’s tons and tons of people and they’re giving them medical and money, phones,” she said, complaining those who went through the legal immigration system are treated worse. Priscilla Hesles, 55, a teacher who lives in Eagle Pass, Texas, described the current situation as “almost an overtaking” that had changed the town. “We don’t know where they’re hiding. We don’t know where they’ve infiltrated into and where are they going to come out of,” said Hesles, who said she used to take an evening walk to a local church, but stopped after she was shaken by an encounter with a group of men she alleged were migrants. Immigration will almost certainly be one of the central issues in November’s election, with both sides spending the next six months trying to paint the other as wrong on border security. The president’s reelection campaign recently launched a $30 million ad campaign targeting Latino audiences in key swing states that includes a digital ad in English and Spanish highlighting Trump’s past description of Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.” The White House has also mulled a series of executive actions that could drastically tighten immigration restrictions, effectively going around Congress after it failed to pass the bipartisan deal Biden endorsed. “Trump is a fraud who is only out for himself,” said Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz. “We will make sure voters know that this November.” Trump will campaign Tuesday in Wisconsin and Michigan this week, where he is expected to again tear into Biden on immigration. His campaign said his event in the western Michigan city of Grand Rapids will focus on what it alleged was “Biden’s Border Bloodbath.” The former president calls recent record-high arrests for southwest border crossings an “invasion” orchestrated by Democrats to transform America’s very makeup. Trump accuses Biden of purposely allowing criminals and potential terrorists to enter the country unchecked, going so far as to claim the president is engaged in a “conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.” He also casts migrants — many of them women and children escaping poverty and violence — as “ poisoning the blood ” of America with drugs and disease and claimed some are “not people.” Experts who study extremism warn against using dehumanizing language in describing migrants. There is no evidence that foreign governments are emptying their jails or mental asylums as Trump says. And while conservative news coverage has been dominated by several high-profile and heinous crimes allegedly committed by people in the country illegally, the latest FBI statistics show overall violent crime in the U.S. dropped again last year, continuing a downward trend after a pandemic-era spike. Studies have also found that people living in the country illegally are far less likely than native-born Americans to have been arrested for violent, drug and property crimes. “Certainly the last several months have demonstrated a clear shift in political support,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of the immigrant resettlement group Global Refuge and a former Obama administration and State Department official. “I think that relates to the rhetoric of the past several years,” she said, “and just this dynamic of being outmatched by a loud, extreme of xenophobic rhetoric that hasn’t been countered with reality and the facts on the ground.” Part of what has made the border such a salient issue is that its impact is being felt far from the border. Trump allies, most notably Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have used state-funded buses to send more than 100,000 migrants to Democratic-led cities like New York, Denver and Chicago, where Democrats will hold this summer’s convention. While the program was initially dismissed as a publicity stunt, the influx has strained city budgets and left local leaders scrambling to provide emergency housing and medical care for new groups of migrants. Local news coverage, meanwhile, has often been negative. Viewers have seen migrants blamed for everything from a string of gang-related New Jersey robberies to burglary rings targeting retail stores in suburban Philadelphia to measles cases in parts of Arizona and Illinois. Abbott has deployed the Texas National Guard to the border, placed concertina wire along parts of the Rio Grande in defiance of U.S. Supreme Court orders, and has argued his state should be able to enforce its own immigration laws. Some far-right internet sites have begun pointing to Abbott’s actions as the first salvo in a coming civil war. And Russia has also helped spread and amplify misleading and incendiary content about U.S. immigration and border security as part of its broader efforts to polarize Americans. A recent analysis by the firm Logically, which tracks Russian disinformation, found online influencers and social media accounts linked to the Kremlin have seized on the idea of a new civil war and efforts by states like Texas to secede from the union. Amy Cooter, who directs research at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, worries the current wave of civil war talk will only increase as the election nears. So far, it has generally been limited to far-right message boards. But immigration is enough of a concern generally that its political potency is intensified, Cooter said. “Non-extremist Americans are worried about this, too,” she said. “It’s about culture and perceptions about who is an American.” In the meantime, there are people like Rudy Menchaca, an Eagle Pass bar owner who also works for a company that imports Corona beer from Mexico and blamed the problems at the border for hurting business. Menchaca is the kind of Hispanic voter Biden is counting on to back his reelection bid. The 27-year-old said he was never a fan of Trump’s rhetoric and how he portrayed Hispanics and Mexicans. “We’re not all like that,” he said. But he also said he was warming to the idea of backing the former president because of the reality on the ground. “I need those soldiers to be around if I have my business,” Menchaca said of Texas forces dispatched to the border. “The bad ones that come in could break in.” ___ Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers David Klepper in Washington and Matt Brown in Chicago contributed to this report.

Categorieslatest

‘Failing to deliver the goods in Jalandhar’ a reality check for AAP, its bypoll face Rinku

Both the Aam Aadmi Party and Sushil Kumar Rinku, who won by a landslide last year in the bypoll to Jalandhar parliamentary constituency on an AAP ticket, may have a tough time to retain the seat this time as, according to the voters, “they haven’t fulfilled the promises made in the run-up to the byelection last year”. Rinku had vowed to transform Jalandhar into a beacon of progress. The AAP had promised to turn Jalandhar into a model constituency, but “things on the ground leave a lot to be desired”, according to residents The Indian Express spoke to. Rinku, meanwhile, joined the BJP recently and was fielded by the saffron party on Saturday to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the same seat. Voters that The Indian Express spoke to appeared to be disillusioned after finding no signs of a turnaround in Jalandhar as “promised by the AAP during the bypoll last year”, and this “failure to turn Jalandhar parliamentary seat into a model constituency” could be a reality check for the AAP. “Bringing a huge change and development in Jalandhar was their (AAP) main poll plank in 2023 byelection, but there is hardly any change on the ground in the constituency after Sushil Kumar Rinku became AAP MP. As he was aware that he would be questioned by people during this election on the promises made by him at that time, and he hasn’t delivered the goods, so he decided to switch to the BJP. Rinku had said then that his priority would be to complete the pending projects of Smart City (Jalandhar is in the Smart City list), the Adampur flyover and others, but nothing has been done. He thinks changing the party would help him,” said a resident of Bhargo camp area here. In the run-up to the bypoll, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had then passionately called on the voters to rally behind the party candidate (Rinku), urging them (electorate) to grant them (AAP) “11 months” to showcase their capabilities promising that they won’t come to seek votes again if they fail to deliver the goods. “Give us 11 months and if you don’t like our work then don’t vote for us in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. You can then forfeit our security deposits,” was the common appeal both Mann and Kejriwal made to the voters then. The voters trusted the AAP and made its candidate (Rinku) the MP who won the bypoll with a huge margin of 58,691 votes. After the victory, Kejriwal had said people of Jalandhar “have put a stamp on their development work ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha elections”, while Mann had said, “We will do tremendous work in Jalandhar in the next 11 months.and we will win all 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.” Jalandhar was the lone Lok Sabha seat held by the AAP in Punjab in 2023. Rinku had joined the AAP after quitting the Congress last year, and now he is with the BJP. The AAP’s ambitious plans for massive development in the constituency have faltered, casting doubt on its ability to deliver on its electoral promises. Though practically there wasn’t much time to usher in the development the AAP leaders promised, still they said, “Jalandhar nu Chamka devange, je tusi Jharoo da battan dabbya (Vote for AAP and we will make Jalandhar shine bright)”. They both said that pressing the “broom (AAP symbol) button in the EVM” – means “pressing the button of tremendous development, progress and prosperity of the constituency”. The road to fulfilling their promises in such a short time of 11 months was always a tall order, with monumental tasks such as building a hospital akin to PGIMER, Chandigarh, repairing dilapidated roads, and addressing the pervasive issue of garbage heaps. Despite announcing ample funds (around Rs 100 crore) for development just after the bypoll last year, “the AAP’s efforts to bring the promised change in Jalandhar haven’t been up to the mark”, according to Jalandhar residents. The residents’ initial excitement dwindled over time which is now replaced by a growing sense of disillusionment among them, who were eagerly waiting to see the “promised turnaround” in Jalandhar. “Jalandhar is still having those bad roads, the Adampur flyover project is still pending, while the heaps of garbage are growing with each passing day. There is hardly any change in the life of common man,” Jarnail Singh, a resident of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Avenue, which is one of the posh localities (under-development) of Jalandhar, said, adding that in their localities dirty ponds and damaged roads are a reality, it’s there for everyone to see. As the Opposition parties have also been cornering the AAP on its ‘unfulfilled poll promises’ and lingering issues like potholed roads and garbage-laden streets, it appears to be a daunting challenge for the AAP to hold its own. Boasting (after Rinku’s victory) that there are total four AAP MPs from Jalandhar including three Rajya Sabha members (Balbir Singh Seechewal, Ashok Mittal, and former cricketer Harbhajan Singh), Kejriwal and Mann used to say that the collective grant of MPLAD funds for one year is Rs 20 crore which will be spent on the development of Jalandhar district. But voters in general that The Indian Express spoke to in Jalandhar feel that the AAP could not live up to the expectations in this constituency, and “now they (AAP) have to showcase Jalandhar’s development work in the other 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab” which is likely to give them a tough time with the electorate as people do not believe in rhetoric, they want tangible results. Punjab had four AAP MPs in 2014. In 2019, AAP fielded candidates on all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab but only Bhagwant Mann could retain his seat in Sangrur. He remained the lone AAP MP from Punjab before vacating his seat for taking charge as the chief minister in 2022. However, the AAP could not retain Sangrur in the byelection held a few months after the assembly elections in which the party had come to power winning 92 of the 117 seats. AAP working president in Punjab and MLA for Budhlada, Budh Ram, when contacted, acknowledged that the AAP had made significant promises during the 2023 Jalandhar byelection. AAP’s senior leaders had pledged to transform Jalandhar into a model constituency within 11 months, aiming to showcase it as an exemplary developed region for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. However, despite the assurances, Jalandhar continues to grapple with issues such as poor roads, garbage accumulation, and an inadequate sanitation system. The AAP working president pointed out that the local municipal corporation is not under the control of the AAP which had limited their ability to undertake substantial development initiatives in the area. (The local body is governed by the Congress). Nevertheless, he highlighted several successful programmes initiated by the AAP in entire Punjab including the provision of free power to 90% of the population, the establishment of mohalla clinics, the creation of thousands of government jobs, and efforts to improve government-run schools. These programmes have been well-received by the public despite the challenges faced in Jalandhar, he said.

Categorieslatest

How to Rejuvenate the Indian National Congress

The 2024 election bugle sounded in India with the announcement of dates for polls in the country’s 28 states and eight federal territories. The announcement, alongside the completion of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharatiya Jodo Nyay Yatra (BJNY) — “Unite India Justice March” — has once again brought to the fore discussion of the electoral prospects of India’s “grand old party.” One of the dominant developments in India’s political arena in the last decade has been the precipitous decline of the Indian National Congress (INC, or Congress). A lot has been written about the reasons behind the party’s sharp political decline and there has been significant discussion over the years of how Congress could improve its lackluster electoral performance especially in 2014 and 2019. The principal accusation against the Congress and its leadership had been that they are reluctant and unwilling to make major structural changes — a major facet being an apparent reluctance to invest in leadership beyond the Gandhi family. Second, Rahul Gandhi’s role in politics had been analyzed with visible dismay over his inconsistent presence within the political fray and ostensibly inadequate efforts to turn the tide in his party’s favor. Third, many have noted that the Congress has presided over a gradually declining organizational machinery with no energetic and systematic efforts to rejuvenate it. Furthermore, the party leadership has made no attempts to stem incessant factional fights in many of its state units. Are the Attempts at Course Corrections Enough? In the last two years, however, Congress has taken some visible steps to address these concerns. For the first time in over two decades, in 2022 the Gandhi family relinquished the position of party president, and veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit, was elected as the party chief. Even though it is widely believed that his loyalty toward the Gandhi family won him the position, his anointment to the post and ability to lead the party, is not to be dismissed. The Gandhis have continued to support Kharge in running the party and under his leadership, the party won state polls in Karnataka and Telangana in 2023. Second, Rahul Gandhi undertook the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY —  ”Unite India March”) from September 2022 to January 2023. It was the party’s biggest mass mobilizational and outreach exercise in recent years and helped to salvage Gandhi’s popularity to some extent. Gandhi has also been, in recent months, more engaged in party activities from attending the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) meetings, leading the BJY, and campaigning for the party in all major elections. Third, while Gandhi’s BJY was largely perceived as a major boost to the party’s organizational architecture, Kharge, with support from the Gandhis, was able to stem factional fights in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh before the state assembly elections held in December. However, despite some of these initiatives, the Congress’ prospects dimmed in the last round of assembly elections in the three heartland states, with Telangana being the party’s only bright spot. And the popularity of Narendra Modi is largely untarnished, despite 10 years of incumbency. Besides, the INDIA coalition has shown limited promise. Meanwhile, Gandhi’s second edition of the BJY, the BJNY, was not able to galvanize as much public attention as was hoped. The Congress’ electoral prospects for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections don’t quite inspire unbridled optimism. Why Congress Matters Presently, the Congress is in power in only three states on its own. But despite the Congress’ gloomy prospects, its rejuvenation remains crucial for India’s political opposition at the national level. Although a number of strong regional parties have posited formidable challenges to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a slew of state elections since 2014, no opposition party other than the Congress has the national support base and organizational prowess to seriously challenge the BJP at the national level. Regional players like the Trinamool Congress ( TMC) have tried to expand their footprint beyond West Bengal, but with little success. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has only been able to stretch its political dominance beyond New Delhi to Punjab, which was previously a Congress-ruled state. Realistically, any pan-India challenge to the BJP’s political hegemony in national elections cannot be envisioned without the Congress, despite its precipitous decline in recent years. Thus, a discussion on its political revival is befitting as India’s democracy gears up for a massive electoral contest in the coming weeks. Although the Congress’s political erosion became unavoidably obvious after 2014, the party’s support base has been on a gradual decline since the late 1980s and its organizational structures witnessed clear strain following the acute centralization of party functions since the Indira Gandhi era, after the party split of 1969. As the party’s decay has been long ongoing, any attempt to chart a course for rejuvenation and recovery cannot be orchestrated or implemented overnight. It will take concerted and consistent multi-pronged strategies for the grand old party to script its revival. To start, the Congress needs to take a two-pronged approach by distinguishing between short-term and long-term measures. Immediate Messaging versus Grand Vision As a national party, over the years Congress has failed to iterate a grand vision or compelling political narrative to galvanize the imagination of the voters. Congress’s pitch for serving the lower sections (i.e. the common man) through a wide array of social security architecture manifested in the slogan “Congress ka Haath, Aam Admi ke Saath” (“Congress stands with the common man”) during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) era from 2004 to 2014. That was arguably its last national narrative that got electoral traction. Over the last decade, slogans like “suit-boot ki sarkar” or “chowkidar chor hai” that tried to paint the Modi-led BJP as working in cahoots with crony capitalism, didn’t cut it with most voters. The Congress appears to be bereft of a concrete electoral strategy as the central plank for this election campaign as well. BJY helped to enthuse party cadres but its message to voters appeared ambivalent. The message of spreading love and societal harmony, manifested in the slogan, “Mohabbat ki dukan” (literally, shop of love) though well-meaning, lacked the substance, political clarity and sharpness that a coherent political message should have. Rahul Gandhi’s constant harping on a caste census to further empower the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) also seems to have not reached enough people as the most recent state election results indicated. The Congress needs to either devise a cohesive and attractive narrative offering an assuring alternative model of politics to what is being practiced by the BJP. Further, the Congress has to craft a more appealing governance model that can resonate with traditional support bases. In the longer term, Congress needs to come out with an overarching political narrative to which modern aspirational India can easily relate. For instance, the Modi-led BJP has over the years broadly crafted a political narrative featuring three major planks: Hindutva and a wider pitch for cultural revivalism; nationalistic pride and development, which includes technology-driven innovation; and significant infrastructure and social welfare through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). Congress will have to burn the midnight oil to find a compelling counter to such a set of broad-based catch-all political narratives. Looking Beyond the Dynasty? On the issue of party leadership, the Congress seems to have faltered the most — both at the national and the state level. Although the electoral achievements of the party under the Gandhis in the last decade have been visibly disappointing, Rahul Gandhi remains the most acceptable face within the party. This is largely because of the Congress’ long legacy of drawing its leaders from the Gandhi family, but also partly because of the absence of any other leader, who has widespread support among the party rank and file that would project them into national leadership. Therefore, strengthening the leadership’s image along with its messaging and marshaling its organizational strength to buttress its electoral prospects under Rahul Gandhi remains the only possibility for the Congress in the upcoming election to put up a more promising fight. Gandhi’s Nyay Yatra, while it helped to enthuse cadres, should have been reconsidered as it took up crucial time, with the leadership traveling states where its allies are already in power, whereas Congress’s main challenge is to perform against the BJP in the heartland states. It is in Congress’s interest to acknowledge the need to look for fresh and young leadership beyond the Gandhi family over the long-run to ensure that the party is able to reimagine itself in this new and different era of politics. Also, at the state level, old-timers are waning and many young leaders have deserted the party. A robust new second-rung of mass-based leadership is imperative for the Congress’s long-term vision, and the party must start searching for these future leaders. After all, strong control over state politics is the key to regaining national dominance. Organization Building or Alliance Building? A fundamental dilemma for the Congress remains whether it should give space to strong regional parties in states where they are dominant. The problem is that giving way to sub-regional parties further shrinks Congress’s own organizational apparatus and demotivates its cadres in those states. The situation becomes more vexing when the party is pitched against its own potential allies in states like Bengal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. However, as the party has been relegated to a marginal force in these states, tactical alliances to prevent a splitting of votes that benefits the BJP should be the primary focus for this election. While the larger idea of the INDIA coalition is on highly slippery ground, in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where the Congress has shown the acumen to give headway to strong regional parties, the potential for a successful alliance remains a possibility. But, in the long run, Congress should start building focused and dedicated efforts to revamp its own organizational strength, especially in the heartland states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Moreover, contrary to the expectations under the Kharge presidency, Congress is yet to undertake a bold organizational revamp as long-standing Gandhi family loyalists hold firm despite their poor track record. There are no permanent winners or losers in democratic electoral politics. History has been witness to innumerable instances of political stalwarts and forces that ostensibly looked invincible facing humbling defeats; political novices have swept elections, too. So, despite the immediate gloom, the Congress, as a viable national political alternative, has a responsibility to resurrect itself. That said, cutting through its lackadaisical approach to challenge the status quo, fighting delusional hubris, and acknowledging the need for real change would go a long way toward fomenting that revival. It remains critical that India’s national political space has a functioning and impactful opposition force.

Categorieslatest

Israelis rally in their largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstration since the country went to war in October. They urged the government to reach a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and to hold early elections. Nearly six months of war have renewed divisions in Israeli society. The Hamas militant group killed some 1,200 people during its cross-border attack on October 7, and took 250 others hostage. Roughly half the hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, but repeated attempts by international mediators to broker another cease-fire deal have failed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home. But those goals have been elusive. While Hamas has suffered heavy losses, it remains intact, and hostages’ families believe time is running out. “After six months, it seems like the government understands that Bibi Netanyahu is an obstacle,” said demonstrator Einav Moses, whose father-in-law, Gadi Moses, is held hostage. “Like he doesn’t really want to bring them back, that they have failed in this mission.” The crowd stretched for blocks around the Knesset, or parliament building, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to cancel an upcoming parliamentary recess and to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule. Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery later Sunday, said he understood the pain of the hostages’ families. “I will do everything to bring the hostages home,” he said. He also said calling new elections — in what he described as a moment before victory — would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and would paralyze the hostage talks. Netanyahu also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere. “There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said. The military has said Hamas battalions remain there. Allies and humanitarian groups have warned of catastrophe with a Rafah ground offensive. Also Sunday, an Israeli airstrike hit a tent camp in the courtyard of a crowded hospital in central Gaza, killing two Palestinians and wounding another 15, including journalists working nearby. An Associated Press reporter filmed the strike and aftermath at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where thousands of people have sheltered. The Israeli military said it struck a command center of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in Gaza’s hospitals, viewing them as relatively safe from airstrikes. Israel accuses Hamas and other militants of operating in and around medical facilities, which Gaza’s health officials deny. Israeli troops have been raiding Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, for nearly two weeks and says it has killed scores of fighters, including senior Hamas operatives. Only a third of Gaza’s hospitals are even partially functioning, while Israeli strikes kill and wound scores of people every day. Doctors say they are often forced to operate without anesthetic and other crucial supplies. Those wounded in Sunday’s strike lay on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital floor and gasped while being treated, one clutching at the underside of a stretcher that held someone else. Not far from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, dozens of Palestinian Christians gathered at the Holy Family Church to celebrate Easter, with incense wafting through the rare building that appeared untouched by war. “We are here with sadness,” attendee Winnie Tarazi said. About 600 people shelter in the compound. Israel is carrying out one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. The United Nations and partners warn that famine could occur in devastated, largely isolated northern Gaza. Humanitarian officials say deliveries by sea and air are not enough and that Israel must allow far more aid by road. Egypt has said thousands of trucks are waiting. The top UN court has ordered Israel to open more land crossings and take other measures to address the crisis. The head of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, told CBS it was able to get just nine trucks into Gaza on Thursday. “That’s nothing. We just cannot continue this way,” she said, calling for unrestricted access. “People are going to die otherwise, and they already are dying.” Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday that at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, including 77 whose bodies were brought to hospitals over the last 24 hours. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilians and fighters, but it has said that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed. Israel says over one-third of the dead are militants, though it has not provided evidence, and it blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the group operates in residential areas. The United States, Qatar and Egypt have been trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release. Talks resumed in Cairo on Sunday with little expectation of any breakthrough. Hamas wants any such agreement to lead to an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Netanyahu has rejected those demands and says Israel will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas’ military and governing capabilities. Amid concerns about a wider conflict in the region, Lebanese state media reported that an Israeli drone struck a car in the southern Lebanese town of Konin. A Lebanese security official told The Associated Press that Hezbollah militant Ismail al-Zain was killed, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Israel’s military called al-Zain a “significant commander” in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Forces’ anti-tank unit, which has conducted strikes into northern Israel. Hezbollah confirmed the death.

Categorieslatest

Researchers find long lost slave traffickers ship thanks to local fisherman

Researchers believe they have discovered an American slave trafficking vessel that’s been underwater for nearly 200 years. In waters between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the Carmango was reportedly found after a breakthrough thanks to a local fisherman. It was one of many American ships involved in illegal trafficking, taking enslaved Africans to Brazil in the 1850s. Between 1831 and 1850, American-made ships brought approximately 430,000 enslaved Africans to Brazil — nearly as many as were shipped to the United States during its entire history of slavery. Half of all enslaved Africans brought to Brazil, estimated U.S. diplomat David Tod in January 1850, were” introduced through the facilities directly and indirectly afforded by the American flag.” Read more: The Guardian apologises for role in slave trade and launches restorative programme What ultimately ended the involvement of U.S. nationals in the trade was Brazil’s passage in 1850 of a new anti-trafficking law. The legislation was the same as an 1831 prohibition, save one crucial difference. This time, Brazil vowed to enforce it. After most of the world had banned the transatlantic slave trade, but before the end of slavery, a highly lucrative contraband trade continued to supply the country of Brazil with enslaved Africans. Some of its most important players, according to historians were American merchants and sailors. However, in 1852, the captain of the famous vessel dropped anchor at the mouth of the Bracuí River and sent around 500 enslaved people ashore, after officials were on his case. Then, he burned and sank his ship before fleeing capture dressed as a woman. It scandalized Brazil’s government and led to its first crackdown on the country’s illegal slave trade. The Camargo sank to the depths of the bay, where researchers believed it had sat, undisturbed, ever since. Years later, search teams scanned the depths of the ship but sadly returned empty handed. They tried to to match historical documents to local myths to determine its whereabouts. The breakthrough came from a local fisherman whose family lived in the region for generations. For all the latest on news, politics, sports, and showbiz from the USA, go to The Mirror US The fisherman, ,Luiz Henrique de Freitas, went to the researchers, and brought them directly to an area. They boated to the northeast lip of Little Cunhanbebe — just 500 meters from where they’d looked the day before — and dropped anchor. On their first diving attempt with the fisherman, the search team found something buried in the sea – copper and wood debris from the ocean floor that matched records of the lost ship’s material. The wood was blackened and charred. The sunken ship they’d discovered had been burned. Finally, they had struck gold after so much searching for the missing vessel. Researcher Luís Felipe Santos said: “This is an answer for the communities here, that the stories they’ve always told were true. They weren’t just stories.”

Categorieslatest

Congress, DMK approached Katchatheevu issue as though they bear no responsibility: Jaishankar

Weighing in on the Katchatheevu issue, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday said that the decades-old territorial and fishing rights dispute around Katchatheevu Island did not surface suddenly and that it has often been debated in the Parliament. His statement came a day after saying the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of raking up the issue now with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Reacting to a Times of India report on the issue, based on a reply to an RTI reportedly filed by Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai, Modi said in a social media post: “Eye opening and startling! New facts reveal how Congress callously gave away Katchatheevu. This has angered every Indian and reaffirmed in people’s minds – we can’t ever trust Congress!” Jaishankar, too, hit out at the Congress, saying. “Two parties, the Congress and the DMK, have approached this matter as though they have no responsibility for it. As though the situation is for today’s central government to resolve, there is no history to this, this has just happened.” “Katchatheevu issue didn’t surface suddenly. It is a live issue and has been often debated in Parliament,” he said. The foreign minister said that it had been matter of frequent correspondence between the Centre and Tamil Nadu and that he had replied to TN chief minister 21 times. #WATCH | EAM Dr S Jaishankar addresses a press conference explaining the relevance of the Katchatheevu issue today “in 1974, India & Sri Lanka concluded an agreement where they drew a maritime boundary, and in drawing the maritime boundary Katchatheevu was put on the Srilankan… pic.twitter.com/MHpzQWsMAZ — ANI (@ANI) April 1, 2024 “In 1974, India and Sri Lanka concluded an agreement where they drew a maritime boundary, and in drawing the maritime boundary Katchatheevu was put on the Srilankan side of the boundary.” Katchatheevu Island is a 285-acre territory within Sri Lanka’s maritime boundary, located 33 km off the coast of Tamil Nadu. As The Indian Express reported earlier, PM Modi had claimed that the documents Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai received through his RTI application revealed India’s fluctuating stance on the island’s sovereignty, ultimately leading to it being ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974, when Indira Gandhi was PM.

Categorieslatest

Arvind Kejriwal Arrest Live Updates: As ED custody ends, Delhi CM likely to be in court today

Arvind Kejriwal Arrest Live Updates: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the alleged liquor policy scam, will be presented in a court here on Monday as his custody is set to end. Kejriwal has been governing Delhi from jail with his wife Sunita Kejriwal passing his orders to his Cabinet colleagues. On Sunday, Sunita participated in the Opposition INDIA bloc rally where she referred to him as a “freedom fighter” and “sher (lion)” working for the people of Delhi even from jail. She also read out six guarantees that Arvind Kejriwal wanted to make to the people of India if the Opposition alliance won the upcoming Lok Sabha elections: from electricity and schools to statehood for Delhi. What’s next for AAP? If Kejriwal does not get relief from the courts soon enough, the AAP is likely to face an existential crisis as it will in the short term lose the services of a leader who has no peer in the party in terms of mass appeal. This is likely to pose a serious challenge to the party and in a state like Punjab, it may even make voters sway more towards the Congress.

Verified by MonsterInsights