Saturday, October 29, 2016

Article: Trump or Hillary, India’s foreign policy set to get complicated (Sunday Guardian)

Clinton has trodden a rocky path with India over the past decades. 
Ottawa: With less than two weeks to go before the US election, many in Delhi, and beyond, are wondering which candidate would be better for India, and Indo-Americans. Indo-Americans are a coveted demographic in US politics. As a group, they are one of the most prosperous, and are increasingly influential in Washington. Traditionally, they vote mostly Democrat, however, there is a growing swing towards the Republicans making them, and their financial and political support, potentially “up for grabs”.
Republican candidate Donald J. Trump has realised this and is actively trying to engage with Indo-Americans, and India. On 15 October, he appeared at a Republican Hindu Coalition rally in New Jersey with the theme “Humanity United Against Terrorism” to raise funds for Kashmiri Pandits and Hindu terror victims in Bangladesh. With thousands of mostly Indo-Americans in attendance, Trump said: “India is a strategic ally for the US. I look forward to deepening the diplomatic and military cooperation that is shared between both countries… India has been a great friend to the US in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism… We’re going to have a phenomenal future together…I love India.” Trump also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s streamlining of the Indian bureaucracy, and said he was “a big fan of Hindus, and a big fan of India.” Trump then released a video called “Ab ki Baar Trump Sarkar”, featuring clips from the event. In it he said: “India and Hindus will have a true friend in the White House once I’m elected…Under a Trump administration, we will become better friends, best friends.”
The outreach has also included Trump’s extended family. Last week, daughter-in-law Lara Trump celebrated Diwali at the Rajdhani temple near Washington, DC.
In contrast, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has yet to personally address a primarily Indo-American event. Also, having had a much, much longer time in public service, she has more of a track record with engagement with India that doesn’t necessarily help her if she is trying to reach out to India itself. Myriad lists are circulating online with titles like “Bill & Hillary Clinton: 25 years of anti-India hostility!” Issues raised include: then President Bill Clinton’s sanctions against India after the nuclear tests in 1998; Bill Clinton administration’s seeming pro-Pakistan tilt on issues like Kashmir, as well as the favouring of China over India (for example by blocking the sale of Cray supercomputers to India, but approving them for China); Bill and Hillary’s hiring and support for Robin Raphel (a former State Department official who was considered pro-Pakistan by Delhi and who was subsequently investigated by the FBI for possible espionage); and extensive diplomatic problems between India and the US resulting from the time of Hillary Clinton’s post as Secretary of State, including the resignation of the US ambassador to India who was appointed while Clinton was in office.
Clinton’s choice for Vice President, Tim Kaine, also has a track record with India. As recently as June, in his capacity as Senator from Virginia, Kaine actively participated in hearings that criticised India in the lead up to Modi’s address to Congress. Not afraid to make comments about domestic Indian politics, Senator Kaine, a former missionary, said: “Some members of the Indian-American community in Virginia, many of whom are Sikh, have expressed concerns about issues of religious tolerance and liberty in India. I hope that Prime Minister Modi continues efforts to better protect the inalienable rights afforded to all people, just as we fight against expressions of religious intolerance in our own political climate.”
Given the rocky path Clinton and her extended team have trodden with India over the past decades, it would greatly help her case in Delhi as a “friend of India” if she were to make a more overt effort to break with the past and reach out to India as a true strategic partner.
The way it is now, many in Delhi agree with strategist, Prof M.D. Nalapat when he writes: “Clinton is cocooned within a foreign policy establishment that is nervous about the scale of its past errors being exposed, and is consequently doubling down on the very policies that are resulting in the slow collapse of US global primacy at hands of China and its partner, Russia.”
Clinton’s team might also want to rethink its strategy for reaching Indo-Americans, a growing number of whom are drifting towards the Republicans. Many find Trump’s messages of being “tough on terror”, lowering corporate taxes, and favouring legal immigration over illegal immigration to be quite attractive.
Trump has a marked advantage over Clinton as he has no track record as a public servant, so it is difficult to know what he would actually do, as opposed to what he says. But, right now, he is making a personal effort with both India and Indo-Americans. For whatever reason, India seems to be one country that Trump “loves”.
So which candidate would be better for India, and Indo-Americans? Indo-Americans are a very varied group, so it really depends on individual priorities. But the interesting thing is that we are even asking the question given that, as a group, they were for so long considered a “safe” Democratic bloc.
As for India, barring a major shift, with Clinton as President it is likely Delhi will see more of what it saw when she was Secretary of State. With Trump as President, India will have to wait until 9 November to find out if it really is true “love”, or if it’s a one (election) night stand.
Whichever way it goes, India’s foreign policy environment is like to get much more complicated very quickly.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Article: The big debate in US is about the media (Sunday Guardian)

Donald Trump, Breitbart election, CNN, media, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton
Supporters of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump scream and gesture at members of the media at a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday. Reuters 
Wanting to shut the questions down, some major pro-Clinton outlets said, overtly, that questioning Clinton’s health is as sexist as questioning Obama’s place of birth was racist.
MONTREAL: In the United States this past week, the big debate wasn’t Trump versus Clinton, it was Drudge versus Huffington. And Fox versus the New York Times. And Breitbart versus CNN. All over the media landscape, “right wing” and “left wing” outlets screamed at each other from their fortresses, each accusing the other of everything up to, and sometimes including, treason. 
At a Trump rally on Monday, thousands chanted “CNN Sucks”. On Friday, CNN ran a piece called “Donald Trump and the Breitbart election”. The CNN piece attempted to eviscerate, a pro-Trump news site run, until recently, by Trump’s current campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon. Why would massive CNN go after little Breitbart? While avowedly pro-Clinton news outlets like the New York Times and CNN still have a much wider reach than the “right sites”, including Fox News, the right sites are growing fast. Over the past election cycle, Breitbart has soared in popularity, reaching over 200 million unique views in September alone. One reason is that some of the many stories that were floating around the “fringe right” media, were first attacked as conspiracy theories by the “mainstream” media before being proven true. 
For example, for months, Breitbart and others were saying Clinton was ill. With flat denials but no “proof” from the Clinton camp, right site imaginations ran riot. Wanting to shut the questions down, some major pro-Clinton outlets said, overtly, that questioning Clinton’s health is as sexist as questioning Obama’s place of birth was racist. For example, on 24 August, CNN ran a story: “The new birthers: Debunking the Hillary Clinton health conspiracy”. Then, on 11 September, Clinton collapsed on camera. The campaign issued a diagnosis of “pneumonia” and friendly media said that should close the issue because, as Brian Stelter said on CNN: “If she had pneumonia and she went to the 9/11 ceremony this morning, that’s a very strong, bold thing to do…We should be honest about the double standards that women sometimes face with regards to their health.” So, again, question Clinton and you are misogynist.
Similarly, for months the right sites had expounded all sorts of stories about dubious, at best, foreign funding going into the Clinton Foundation. Then the AP ran the investigative piece: “Many donors to Clinton Foundation met with her at State”, and it could no longer be ignored. So it was derided. CNN political commentator and former Counsellor to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala, said on CNN: “This is politics at its worst. This is a completely new standard, this is what the press and the Republicans do every time the Clintons run. It’s a different standard for the Clintons.” The same mainstream media trust challenge is there for other groups as well, including Bernie Sanders supporters. During the Democratic Primaries, there were online rumours of collusion between the Democratic Party (DNC) and the Clinton campaign designed to knock Bernie out of the race. That was dismissed as “paranoia” by CNN and others. Then WikiLeaks dumped a bunch of DNC emails and, turns out, there had indeed been questionable activities. 
The result is that, while the vast majority of conspiracy stories floating around out there are completely bonkers, some, including those so loudly “debunked” by the mainstream, are turning out to have elements in them that are not only true, but potentially important. And still they are being largely ignored.
This is the old political lesson of Watergate writ large: the cover-ups are having greater repercussions than the actual events. One result of the overt bias is that, according to Gallup polls, only 14% of Republicans trust the media. Bernie supporters aren’t polling much higher.
Online stats also show people are searching for the truth. Literally. While CNN panels discuss the details of Trump’s sexual past, online searches for the Podesta emails on WikiLeaks far outstrip searches on Trump and women. The fringe is getting decided less fringy, and can no longer be derided into political oblivion. And so the discrediting war wages on. The influential right wing news aggregator rarely runs a positive piece on Clinton. The influential left wing site rarely runs a positive piece on Trump. Post-debate, The Daily Show did a segment about Trump lying during the debate, but didn’t question any of Clinton’s statements. And so it goes on. These “two solitudes” present completely different realities. This is far beyond partisan business as usual. Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute, described one of the camps this way: “This is the journalism of affirmation, not verification…It’s designed to reaffirm what you’re thinking.” 
I’m not going to say which camp Rosenstiel was referring to. At this point, I’m not sure it matters. Though which side you think he was talking about may tell you something about your own biases.
This last week, President Barack Obama addressed the crisis of trust in the media at a speech in Pittsburg. “We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to…There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world…The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
That place was supposed to be “mainstream” sources like CNN. If Obama thinks they are failing, we are in serious trouble. And as for finding “some sort of curating function that people agree to”, I’d be really interested to see how that works. Really. 
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Article: 2016 is year of the ‘Deplorables’ (Sunday Guardian)

The disconnect between some political parties/establishment media and large sections of the populace is becoming a decisive factor in modern democracies. 
WASHINGTON: This is the cycle: concern, discounting, hardening, attack. We’ve seen the cycle repeat all year, from Brexit in the UK, to the response to the EU migrant crisis, and especially during this US election campaign.
First, a concern, proven or not, is considered real and urgent by a large section of the population. It could be the perception that unplanned migration is disrupting social, school and health systems, or that trade liberalisation has led to the contraction of the middle class.
Dominant political and media voices discount that concern as unreal or unimportant, rarely bothering to examine facts on the ground. Those with concerns that aren’t being discussed by the mainstream media start to distrust those sources on other issues as well. They talk of CNN being the Clinton News Network. They point to the major media donors to the Clinton Foundation as a sign of bias. They wonder why they should trust coverage in newspapers like the New York Times that openly endorse Hillary Clinton. This isn’t a left/right issue. It can be as true for Trump supporters as it was for Bernie supporters. 
Locked out of mainstream public debate and feeling disenfranchised, those with concerns look for like-minded people primarily online, where the tone and solutions offered can be extreme, and their positions harden.
The most extreme voices rise from this “alternative” world (which can consist of over half the population). The mainstream media fixes on those extreme voices. They are better TV, but, more important, it seemingly makes it easier for the dominant political and media voices to attack vast tracks of the population on moral grounds, effectively saying: “You aren’t just wrong—and no I don’t want to discuss why you are wrong with you—you are also a bad person.” Needless to say, there is a counter attack from the insulted “alt media”. And everything is taken up a notch. Repeat.
A rational discussion of the original concerns is often lost in the noise. For example, the mainstream media seems to avoid debating core issues like the effect of trade with China on manufacturing jobs in the US. Much appealing, it seems, to discuss the latest tweets. And so those with less extreme views, but who still have concerns, go quiet, not wanting to be dragged into the mud. They lie to pollsters. They don’t talk about their views with anyone except trusted friends. But then they vote. 
This dynamic was on full show in response to Hillary Clinton’s now infamous “deplorables” speech in September. Clinton said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million... Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
That quote, part discounting, part attack, confirmed what many felt Clinton and “the elite” think about them. They see themselves as “patriotic”; Clinton sees them as “xenophobic”. They see themselves as fighting for their country; Clinton sees them as “thankfully not America”. They see themselves as people of faith; Clinton sees them as “deplorable”. And then, to add another loaded word, the former Secretary of State who thinks jihadists can be rehabilitated, calls them “irredeemable”. It also showed Clinton, at some level, understands the heavy-handed mismanagement of the mainstream media has driven the discussion online, by the million, and out of her reach.
In that speech, there were also echoes of the sort of dynamics that were at play in India in the lead-up to the 2014 election. Sections of the Indian media seemed “tamed” by the previous administration. Distrust of those dominant voices led to enormous mobilisation for change online. While some of the world’s biggest newspapers and magazines were calling Narendra Modi supporters derogatory names, a large percentage of Indian voters rallied behind him for completely different reasons than the ones bandied about by the mainstream press. It taught them to distrust those sources. Also, not wanting to be called names, they were often quiet about their position, until they arrived in the voting booth. Then they shouted with their ballot.
Clinton apologised soon after for her speech, but many “deplorables” felt that her mask had slipped and she had shown her true face. And now there is a boom in people proudly wearing “I (heart) Deplorables” T-shirts and baseball caps. It will not be forgotten.
This disconnect, and even mutual distrust, between some political parties/establishment media and large sections of the populace is becoming a complicating, and sometimes decisive, factor in modern democracies. It will have widespread implications far beyond the November elections. And far beyond politics. More and more people don’t trust the “old faithful” sources anymore. They are more willing to believe what their friend posts on Facebook than something in the Times of India. And they may be right. Or not. And that’s the problem. It’s getting harder to tell anymore. 
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.