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Analysis

Trump avoids rout in ‘referendum’, deadlock looms in split Congress

Facing the challenge, Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning “Two can play the game” and threatened counter investigations of Democrats.

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New York, Nov 7 : Political deadlock and a series of hobbling investigations loomed over the US with the Republican Party losing control of the House of Representatives even as President Donald Trump avoided a rout in the midterm elections billed as a referendum by retaining control of the Senate.

“In a certain way, I am on the ballot,” Trump declared ahead of Tuesday’s elections taking up the challenge of a referendum the Democrats had thrown at his polarising leadership.

A big Blue Wavea of Democratic support that could totally destabilise Trump did not quite materialise as he appeared to have held onto his base, even though his suburban support bled.

But the split control of the Congress will put a brake on Trump’s conservative agenda and increase pressure on him and those close to him through a newly empowered Democratic Party’s promised wave of investigations starting with the revival of the Congressional probe into the alleged Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.

Facing the challenge, Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning “Two can play the game” and threatened counter investigations of Democrats.

This was probably the most hotly fought midterm in modern history framed by burning hot rhetoric, a campaign spending of $5.2 billion – the highest in midterms – and one of the biggest voter turnouts.

While the nation-wide results were incomplete on Wednesday morning, the Democrats had sealed their control of the House – the lower chamber of the Congress – winning 219 seats of the 535 – and projected to gain at least 29 seats — while Republicans retained the Senate with at least 51 seats of the 100 with a gain of at least two.

The scale of the losses of House seats by the Republicans this time were nowhere near the 63 seats lost by the Democrats in former President Barack Obama’s first midterm in 2010.

Legislators in the House of Representatives have only a two-year term which sets up a midterm challenge for the presidents who have a four-year term. (Senators have a six-year term.)

Trump went into the midterms with a strong economy – a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in about 50 years, and a booming stock market – and foreign policy gains in forcing new trade deals with Canada and Mexico and a nuclear retreat by North Korea.

That muted some of the opposition to him and the Democratic Party’s ambivalence towards illegal immigration as a caravan of several thousands of Central Americans marching under the flags Guatemala and Honduras marched towards the US roused Trump’s base.

But his personal style of bombast and intimidation and deeply divisive rhetoric turned off many voters and brought on a big, angry turnout of voters in support of the Democratic Party.

The division was amplified by the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who faced decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct as a teenager and a student. It became the rallying cry for women and liberals who saw it as further endorsement of misogyny and sexual misconduct that Trump had been accused of and as endangering legal abortion and other women’s rights.

“When Democrats win, and we will win tonight, we will have a Congress that is open, transparent and accountable to the American people,” Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to the reclaim the speakership, said on Tuesday night.

While she had earlier ruled out impeaching Trump as many in her party want to, her declaration about transparency and accountability were a warning about the expected investigations.

Trump countered with a challenge of his own in a tweet on Wednesday morning, “If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else.”

Any changes to immigration law, matters relating to minorities and gays, and the budget and economic reforms requiring Congressional approval would be at stake.

But Trump’s solid control of the Senate would give him free rein in appointing federal judges all the way to the Supreme Court as well as officials requiring Senate approval.

In some key races the Republicans leads over their Democratic Party rivals had been whittled down.

Among them were Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Georgia governorn candidate Brian Kemp who had barely a 2 percent lead over Stacy Abrams, an African American woman.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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