Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in Times Of India online poll

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF INDIA)

Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in TOI online poll

TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Updated: May 23, 2017, 07.04 PM IST

HIGHLIGHTS

  • In timesofindia.com poll, almost 84% of those surveyed believed that if elections were held today, the government would equal or better its 2014 Lok Sabha performance
  • Demonetisation and the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill were seen as the two most important decisions of the Modi government

Modi govt gets high approval rating at three-year mark in TOI online poll

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government got a big thumbs-up for its overall performance in the first three years of its tenure, according to an online survey conducted by timesofindia.com and its sister sites.

Over a million readers participated in these polls.

In timesofindia.com’s poll, a total 77% of respondents said they rated the Modi government’s performance as being ‘very good’ and ‘good’. That is, in response to the poll question ‘How would you rate the performance of the Modi government?’, 48% respondents voted ‘very good’ and 28% voted ‘good’.

However, respondents on tamil.samayam.com weren’t as impressed with the BJP government’s performance, with a total of 53% choosing the options ‘Average’ or ‘Poor’.

In timesofindia.com poll, almost 84% of those surveyed believed that if elections were held today, the government would equal or better its 2014 Lok Sabha performance. That is, 61% of those voted believed that if the Lok Sabha elections were held today, the BJP would perform better than it did in 2014. Some 23% of respondents believed the BJP would fare the same as it did in 2014.

To this question too, tamil.samayam.com’s respondents voted differently. Close to 44% respondents here believed the Modi government would fare worse than it did in 2014, if Lok Sabha elections were to be held today.

By and large, except for tamil.samayam.com’s respondents, it appears the reason people feel the BJP would equal or better its performance if elections were held today is the ‘Modi factor’ – the same one considered responsible for the party’s wins in recent polls.

In timesofindia.com’s poll, 76% believed Modi’s popularity has increased in the last three years. However, respondents on tamil.samayam.com felt differently, with 41% of voters saying the PM’s popularity has decreased.

Demonetisation and the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill were seen as the two most important decisions of the Modi government, with the former squeaking by the latter to make it to the top spot in timesofindia.com’s poll.

The November 8 decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes was seen as the Modi government’s most crucial decision by 37% of those who were surveyed in timesofindia.com’s poll. GST was considered the most crucial by 28% of those who answered the question in the same poll.

Demonetisation, in fact, got a huge thumbs up among those surveyed bynavbharattimes.com , maharashtratimes.com, iamgujarat.com and vijaykarnataka.com. On these sites, more than 50% of respondents said the note ban was the most important move by the Modi government.

Interestingly, even though demonetisation – touted by PM Modi as a move to curb black money – was seen as the most important decision of the BJP government, timesofindia.com’s respondents were not as awed at overall efforts by the government to curb black money.

A majority of respondents were satisfied, yes, but not by as large a margin. Of those who answered the question ‘What do you think of the steps taken by the government to curb black money?’ 56% voted ‘Very Effective’ and ‘Effective’, while the rest believed the steps ‘Need Better Implementation’ or are ‘Ineffective’, on timesofindia.com’s poll.

Navbharattimes.com respondents though were underwhelmed by the Modi government’s efforts to curb black money. Close to a total 60% surveyed said these efforts ‘Need Better Implementation’ or are ‘Ineffective’.

By and large, respondents in most of the polls felt that in its three years in power, the Modi government had been least successful in ‘Employment Generation’ and ‘Tackling Cross-Border Terror.’

However, those surveyed on tamil.samayam.com and telegu.samayam.com believed the Modi government’s biggest failure has been ‘Improving Condition of Farmers’.

As for tangible improvements to their individual lives, more than half of those who voted in timesofindia.com’s and most other polls felt that in the last three years their lives had improved.

Top Comment

no need of such survey …. we all know it ..and it will remain even after 2019 ….. as this Govt. for all is credible …..B S Jha

Of those who answered the question ‘How has life changed for you under the Modi government?’, 58% clicked on ‘Significantly Improved’ and ‘Slightly Improved’. The answer ‘Same as Before’ got 29% of the votes, which the remaining believed their lives have ‘Deteriorated.’

On this issue too, respondents on tamil.samayam.com and telegu.samayam.com differed, with most respondents saying their lives are the ‘Same as Before’.

Trump to propose big cuts to safety-net in new budget, slashing Medicaid and opening door to other limits

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Trump to propose big cuts to safety-net in new budget, slashing Medicaid and opening door to other limits

May 21 at 6:54 PM

President Trump’s first major budget proposal on Tuesday will include massive cuts to Medicaid and call for changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits, people familiar with the planning said, despite growing unease in Congress about cutting the safety net.

For Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care to low-income Americans, Trump’s budget plan would follow through on a bill passed by House Republicans to cut more than $800 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this could cut off Medicaid benefits for about 10 million people over the next decade.

The White House also will call for giving states more flexibility to impose work requirements for people in different kinds of anti-poverty programs, people familiar with the budget plan said, potentially leading to a flood of changes in states led by conservative governors. Many anti-poverty programs have elements that are run by both the states and federal government, and a federal order allowing states to stiffen work requirements “for able-bodied Americans” could have a broad impact in terms of limiting who can access anti-poverty payments — and for how long.

Numerous social-welfare programs grew after the financial crisis, leading to complaints from many Republicans that more should be done to shift people out of these programs and back into the workforce. Shortly after he was sworn in, Trump said, “We want to get our people off welfare and back to work. . . . It’s out of control.”

Trump’s decision to include the Medicaid cuts is significant because it shows he is rejecting calls from a number of Senate Republicans not to reverse the expansion of Medicaid that President Barack Obama achieved as part of the Affordable Care Act. The House has voted to cut the Medicaid funding, but Senate Republicans have signaled they are likely to start from scratch.

Play Video 2:42
Trump promised over and over to ‘save’ Medicare and Social Security. Will he?
President Trump promised over and over to ‘save’ Medicare and Social Security. Will he?(Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

The proposed changes will be a central feature of Trump’s first comprehensive budget plan, which will be the most detailed look at how he aims to change government spending and taxes over his presidency. Although Trump and his aides have discussed their vision in broad brushes, this will be the first time they attempt to put specific numbers on many aspects of those plans, shedding light on which proposals they see making the biggest difference in reshaping government. Congress must approve of most changes in the plan before it is enacted into law.

Trump offered a streamlined version of the budget plan in March, but it dealt only with the 30 percent of government spending that is appropriated each year. In that budget, he sought a big increase in military and border spending combined with major cuts to housing, environmental protection, foreign aid, research and development.

But Tuesday’s budget will be more significant, because it will seek changes to entitlements — programs that are essentially on auto­pilot and don’t need annual authorization from Congress. The people describing the proposals spoke on the condition of anonymity because the budget had not been released publicly and the White House is closely guarding details.

The proposed changes include the big cuts to Medicaid. The White House also is expected to propose changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, though precise details couldn’t be learned. SNAP is the modern version of food stamps, and it swelled following the financial crisis as the Obama administration eased policies to make it easier for people to qualify for benefits. As the economy has improved, enrollment in the program hasn’t changed as much as many had forecast.

An average of 44 million people received SNAP benefits in 2016, down from a peak of 47 million in 2013. Just 28 million people received the benefits in 2008.

SNAP could be one of numerous programs impacted by changes in work requirements.

Josh Archambault, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank, said that giving states the flexibility to impose work requirements could lead to a raft of changes to programs ranging from Medicaid to public housing assistance.

“One of the encouraging things about putting this in the budget is that states will see if it works,” he said. “States will try it.”

SNAP already has a work requirement, which typically cuts benefits for most able-bodied adults who don’t have children. But states were given more flexibility during the recent economic downturn to extend the benefits for a longer period, something that split conservatives at the time.

Michael Tanner, a welfare expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the U.S. government spends between $680 billion and $800 billion a year on anti-poverty programs, and considering wholesale changes to many of these initiatives is worthwhile, given questions about the effectiveness of how the money is spent.

‘We’re not seeing the type of gains we should be seeing for all that spending, and that would suggest its time to reform the system,” he said.

Many critics have said work requirements can include blanket ultimatums that don’t take into account someone’s age, physical or cognitive ability, or limitations put in place by the local economy. Benefits from these programs are often low, and hardly replace the income someone would earn from a job. And critics of stricter work requirements also believe it could pave the way for states to pursue even stricter restrictions, such as drug tests, that courts have often rejected.

After The Washington Post reported some of the cuts Sunday evening, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump was pulling “the rug out from so many who need help.”

“This budget continues to reveal President Trump’s true colors: His populist campaign rhetoric was just a Trojan horse to execute long-held, hard-right policies that benefit the ultra wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” he said.

The proposed changes to Medicaid and SNAP will be just some of several anti-poverty programs that the White House will look to change. In March, the White House signaled that it wanted to eliminate money for a range of other programs that are funded each year by Congress. This included federal funding for Habitat for Humanity, subsidized school lunches and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 federal agencies.

Leaked budget documents, obtained by the think tank Third Way, suggested other ways the White House plans to change anti-poverty funding. These documents show a change in the funding for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provide cash benefits for the poor and disabled. It’s unclear, though, what those changes might look like. A White House official said the Third Way document was out-of-date and would not comment on specifics in their files.

Medicaid, SNAP and the SSI program are now classified as “mandatory” spending because they are funded each year without congressional approval.

Trump has instructed his budget director, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, that he does not want cuts to Medicare and Social Security’s retirement program in this budget, Mulvaney recently said, but the plan may call for changes to Social Security Disability Insurance, seeking ideas for ways to move people who are able out of this program and back into the workforce.

A key element of the budget plan will be the assumption that huge tax cuts will result in an unprecedented level of economic growth. Trump recently unveiled the broad principles of what he has said will be the biggest in U.S. history, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a Senate panel last week that these tax cuts would end up creating trillions of dollars in new revenue, something budget experts from both parties have disputed.

The tax cuts would particularly benefit the wealthiest Americans, as Trump has proposing cutting the estate tax, capital gains and business tax rates.

“The indications are strong this budget will feature Robin-Hood-in-reverse policies in an unprecedented scale,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

The White House will use its presumed new revenue from the tax cuts combined with broad spending cuts to claim that its changes would eliminate the budget deficit over 10 years. The budget deficit is the gap between government spending and tax revenue, and there has been a deficit in the United States every year since the end of the Clinton administration.

But the Trump administration on Tuesday will say its plan to cut spending, roll back regulations and cut taxes will bring the United States back to economic growth levels that represent about 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Mulvaney told the Federalist Society last week that the economic growth is needed to balance the budget, because spending cuts alone would be seen as too draconian.

“I think we’ve trained people to be immune to the true costs of government,” Mulvaney said. “People think government is cheaper than it is because we’ve allowed ourselves to borrow money for a long period of time and not worry about paying it back.”

Combined, the tax cuts and spending cuts on anti-poverty programs would signal a sharp reversal of Obama’s legacy by pursuing big tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, a large increase in military spending and major changes to anti-poverty programs.

Its premise is that the creation of more wealth will help all Americans succeed, and the Trump administration believes that some anti-poverty programs have created a culture of dependency that prevents people from re-entering the workforce.

White House budget proposals are a way for an administration to spell out its priorities and goals, setting benchmarks for Congress to work with as they decide how much spending to authorize. Trump has an advantage working with two chambers of Congress controlled by his own party, but even many Republicans have said they won’t back the severity of some of the cuts he has proposed, particularly in the areas of foreign aid.

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who played a lead role in drafting the 1997 welfare changes in Congress, said Trump will need to find new support from Republicans in Congress if he is going to achieve the welfare-related overhauls he’s seeking.

“I don’t think the Republicans on the Hill are going to feel a strong compulsion to follow the president,” Haskins said. “They are not afraid of him.”

In addition to the myriad cuts, the budget will include some new spending.

Beyond an increase in the military budget and new money for border security, the White House is expected to call for $200 billion for infrastructure projects and an additional $25 billion over 10 years for a new program designed by Ivanka Trump that would create six weeks of parental leave benefits.

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen May 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
By Lisa Lambert | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate could soon approve a major overhaul of the federal bureaucracy and make lasting changes to regulation of the environment, education, banks and other areas.

On Wednesday a Senate committee sent a bill on to the full chamber that, supporters say, will make regulators more accountable to lawmakers and provide greater understanding of how rules affect the economy.

The next step, debating the bill on the Senate floor, has not been scheduled. The House of Representatives approved companion legislation in January.

Critics say the bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, creates so many new requirements that it would paralyze regulators working to establish even the most basic rules and standards. They also say it makes cutting industry and banks’ costs a higher priority than protecting public health and safety.

For decades the political parties have been starkly divided over regulation and Republicans are currently winning their battle to lessen the red tape they say ties up business and hurts the economy. Republicans also say former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, pushed regulators to go beyond their duties of executing laws passed by Congress to create policy on their own.

Democrats say regulation, which touches nearly every part of American life, shields average people from health, financial and other threats and is needed to accomplish the goals set in laws.

The Senate bill would require more cost-benefit and other analyses, give courts and the White House greater checks on rulemaking, classify regulations by potential economic impact, and lengthen rulemaking processes.

One progressive group, Public Citizen, estimates it would add 53 steps to major rulemaking, possibly doubling the average amount of time it takes to finalize a regulation – currently four years.

The bill has pitted the powerful business group, the Chamber of Commerce, against progressive ones such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp broke ranks with her fellow Democrats to write the accountability act, indicating some members of the party may support the bill when the closely-divided Senate votes.

Also, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is working on alternative legislation that her party could find more palatable and could keep some of the bill’s measures.

Since Republicans swept Congress and the White House in November’s elections they have moved swiftly against regulation.

Using the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers killed 14 Obama-era regulations in the span of three months.

Trump’s efforts have yielded mixed results. His order to cut two existing regulations for every new one has stalled during a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency was jammed with thousands of pleas to maintain regulations when it asked for public comment on Trump’s order to look into repealing or rewriting current rules. The comment period closed Monday.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

China Vows to Continue Helping Myanmar Achieve Peace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

China Vows to Continue Helping Myanmar Achieve Peace

Xi

China’s President Xi Jinping voiced to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday his country’s commitment to help its neighbor achieve peace as fighting along their shared border forced thousands to seek refuge in China, state media said.

Fighting in March in Myanmar prompted Beijing to call for a ceasefire between ethnic militias and the security forces there and carry out military drills along the border.

Xi met Nobel laureate Suu Kyi – who serves as Myanmar’s foreign minister while also being de facto head of its civilian government – following China’s Belt and Road Forum on Sunday and Monday.

“China is willing to continue to provide necessary assistance for Myanmar’s internal peace process,” China’s official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying.

“The two sides must jointly work to safeguard China-Myanmar border security and stability,” Xi said.

The news agency did not elaborate on what assistance China would provide.

China has repeatedly expressed concern about fighting along the border that has occasionally spilled into its territory, for instance in 2015, when five people died in China.

Xi also said China would work to enhance cooperation with Myanmar on his Belt and Road development plan, which aims to bolster China’s global leadership by expanding infrastructure between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.

Suu Kyi told Xi that Myanmar was grateful for Chinese help and that it would work with China to safeguard stability in the border region, Xinhua said.

Beijing last month offered to mediate a diplomatic row over the flight of around 69,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh to escape violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, according to officials from Bangladesh.

Myanmar has been sharply criticized in the West over violence against the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency under Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution, but effectively leads the government through the specially created post of “state counsellor”.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that he and Xi resolved to strengthen their countries’ friendship during their meeting in Beijing, with China pledging to speed up infrastructure projects it is funding in the Philippines.

“We renewed our resolve to strengthen our friendship and mutually beneficial partnership on a broad range of areas,” Duterte said in southern Davao City on his return from Beijing. “We resolved to fully use the mechanisms we have established to dialogue openly, monitor progress and ensure implementation of projects.”

Duterte, who took office last June, has worked to repair relations with China that have been strained by territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and an international arbitration ruling on a case filed by his predecessor that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the disputed territory. Duterte met separately with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after attending last weekend’s “Belt and Road” trade initiative.

Duterte said both he and Xi were looking forward to officials from both countries meeting later this week for inaugural bilateral talks on the South China Sea. Philippine officials have said the meeting will be held Friday in southwestern China.

Four agreements were signed during the visit, including a Chinese grant of 500 million yuan ($72.5 million) for feasibility studies of infrastructure projects in the Philippines and construction of a drug rehabilitation center.

Also signed were memorandums of understanding on cooperation in human resources development and personnel exchanges, energy cooperation, and enhancing government capabilities in communication and publishing.

Duterte thanked China for its generosity, including providing grants and loans, promising to build two bridges for free in metropolitan Manila and increasing imports of Philippine agricultural products.

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Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

May 10 at 6:30 PM

Roughly a third of white working-class Americans said that they have cut back on food or meals in the past year to save money. A similar share it would be difficult — if not impossible — for them to cover an emergency expense of $400. And among those who live in the same town where they grew up, only 17 percent say the quality of life there has improved.

Those are a few of the results of a detailed new survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic magazine. The report reveals the economic and material hardships afflicting the white working class, one of the report’s authors says, lending insight into why so many people in this group were willing to gamble on Donald Trump, a candidate with no governing experience.

As many of these voters felt they had little to lose, they were undeterred by the President’s failure to spell out — with any degree of detail — how he would deliver on promises that experts repeatedly cautioned were unrealistic, said PRRI’s Dan Cox, one of the authors of the report.

“Many folks — they can’t wait for a white paper, or a 12-point plan. They need help immediately,” Cox said. There was, he said, “a recognition that there was some danger with it too, but that it was, sort of, worth the risk.”

Indeed, when it comes to policy details, the white working class supports many economic proposals associated with Democrats, not Republicans. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.)

Global trade was one specific issue on which Trump may have appealed to many of his voters by deviating from GOP orthodoxy, and by distancing himself from Hillary Clinton, who during the campaign turned against a prominent free trade agreement that she had previously supported. Among the white working class, 60 percent said that free trade agreements were mostly harmful.

Following Trump’s surprise victory, many observers continue to debate whether economic distress or anxiety about race, immigration and cultural change motivated his supporters. The survey suggests that all of these were important to Trump’s success, but also that a sense of cultural displacement has been an especially powerful of the president’s appeal among the white working class, Cox said.

Those who agreed that they sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country, or that U.S. culture had to be protected from foreign influences, were much more likely to support Trump, the survey found. “The cultural touchstones were really salient in the election,” Cox said.

At the same time, he added, it is difficult to distinguish among the many motivations of Trump’s supporters, Cox said.

“You can’t completely divorce it from the economic experience of these folks — the fears of economic insecurity,” he said. “That’s certainly in the mix.”

On the whole, about as many white-working class people say they are worse off financially today than they were as children as say they are better off, according to the survey.

The analysis defines as those without a four-year college degree and who are paid by the hour or by the job, a definition that excludes many white-collar employees in salaried positions regardless of their education. Retirees were included based on the work they did before they retired, and students were excluded unless they explicitly described themselves as working or lower class in the survey.

The stress of making ends meet from day to day contributes to elevated rates of depression and addiction in white working-class families, Cox said: “It’s really tragic and heartbreaking that that kind of insecurity and stability causes all sorts of problems downstream.”

Among the white working class, 38 percent said that they or someone in their household had suffered from depression, compared to 26 percent of white college graduates. Eight percent of white working-class respondents said the same about drug addiction, while the figure for white college graduates was just 3 percent. Alcoholism also appears to be somewhat more prevalent in white working-class households than among white college graduates (12 percent vs. 9 percent).

The white working class seems to be giving up on the kinds of institutions that have traditionally provided a measure of stability and economic opportunity to American life, particularly colleges and universities. Among white Americans with college degrees, 63 percent said getting a degree was “a smart investment in the future,” but among the white working class, that figure was just 44 percent. In this group, a majority (54 percent) described it as a risky decision “that may not pay off in the end.”

This group’s skepticism about higher education parallels their detachment from other prominent institutions, including churches. Aside from weddings and funerals, just 58 percent of the white working class goes to church even once a year, the survey shows. Among white college graduates, that figure is 66 percent.

The white working class is less involved in their communities outside of religion as well. Thirty-six percent said they never participated in secular organizations such as book clubs, sports teams, neighborhood associations or parent-teacher associations. Just 16 percent of white college graduates said they never took part in these groups.

“It’s, sort of, been part of the American Dream, that you work hard, you get an education, you can get ahead,” Cox said. “The fact that white working-class Americans are less likely to believe that I think really shows the dire situation that they believe themselves to be in.”

Fewer than half of the white working class believes that people who work hard can still get ahead, the survey found, while 61 percent say America’s best days are in the past.

That pessimism contrasts with white college graduates — just 43 percent of whom say the country’s best days are behind it — and with people of color. Although black and Hispanic Americans are often worse off economically than those in the white working class, they have found reasons to be optimistic about the future, Cox explained. For instance, 56 percent of black respondents in the survey and 68 percent of Hispanic participants viewed a college degree as a way to get ahead.

If their bet on Trump doesn’t pay off, Cox warned, the president might find the white working class abandoning him. Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all.” Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.

“It’s unclear how loyal this group will be to him,” Cox said.

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

Why Should The Employee (Congress/Senate/President) Get Better Insurance Policies Than Their Bosses, The People?

shared Teanderthal Party‘s photo.

16 hrs ·

 (I copy pasted this from a forward a friend posted on FB, I agree
 with this statement, do you?)

Taiwan moved up six spots on this year’s World Press Freedom Index. Here’s why that’s troubling.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

WorldViews

Taiwan moved up six spots on this year’s World Press Freedom Index. Here’s why that’s troubling.

May 3 at 12:18 PM

Taiwan appeared to make a sudden leap forward in press freedom this year, moving up six places to secure the 45th spot in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

However, its climb should concern people about the state of media freedom — especially in Asia, according to Reporters Without Borders, the media watchdog nonprofit that releases the annual ranking.

That’s because Taiwan’s jump “does not reflect real improvements, but rather a global worsening of the situation in the rest of the world,” the group said in a statement. In particular, it masks the decline of media freedoms in other Asian countries, as well as the growing threat of “press freedom predators” in the region, such as China and North Korea.

“In this area, the situation reflects the global situation that prevails in the 2017 RSF World Press Freedom Index: a world in which strongmen are on the rise and attacks on the media have become commonplace, even in democracies,” the group said.

The Paris-based organization (also known internationally by its French name, Reporters sans Frontières, or RSF) pointed to China exerting economic and political pressure to influence Taiwanese media. Taiwan is a self-governing democratic island that China considers part of its territory, and Beijing is extremely sensitive to questions about Taiwan’s status.

It is not unusual for some Taiwanese media outlets to take stances that echo Chinese Communist Party propaganda, Taipei RSF bureau director Cédric Alviani told The Washington Post by phone Wednesday, which the United Nations has declared World Press Freedom Day.

“In Taiwan, the Taiwanese tycoons also have their own businesses in China,” Alviani said. “It’s easy for China to put pressure on the business executives and say, ‘Okay, you have to be nice with the media you own. We want you to cover the story this way or we don’t want you to mention that.’ ”

Alviani also pointed to Apple TV recently allegedly blocking a satirical comedy show that is critical of the Chinese government — ironically titled “China Uncensored” — not only in mainland China but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which are not subject to Chinese law. Reporters Without Borders last month condemned the tech company’s move as setting a dangerous precedent for “international corporate submission to the demands of Chinese censorship.”

“This kind of self-censorship is much more serious than the one a single reporter would apply to himself,” Alviani said.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told The Post “there was a couple day period” when the show was not available in Taiwan and Hong Kong but that it has since been made accessible there.

Despite the obstacles, Taiwan continues to hold the highest rank for press freedom among Asian countries, followed by South Korea (at 63rd place) and Mongolia (69th), according to this year’s index. Coverage of political scandals in South Korea — which led to the impeachment and ouster of Park Geun-hye this year — proved that the media there maintained its independence, the group said.

“However, the public debate about relations with North Korea, one of the main national issues, is hampered by a national security law under which any article or broadcast ‘favourable’ to North Korea is punishable by imprisonment,” the group pointed out.

It was Taiwan’s relative freedom that led Reporters Without Borders to decide this year to open its first Asia bureau in Taipei, rather than in Hong Kong or elsewhere in Asia.

Hong Kong dropped four places on the World Press Freedom Index from 2016, coming in at 73rd this year. Media there continue to face challenges when covering stories that are critical of mainland China, and reporters have faced physical intimidation and oppression.

“This is the kind of thing that made us think twice, because if we open an office in Hong Kong, our communications and safety might not be ensured,” Alviani said. “To open an original bureau, you need to find a place that is stable, a place where you could foresee what is happening in coming years.”

Alviani said that RSF journalists have been reporting from Taipei since last month, in a sort of “soft opening” for the new bureau, and that it will be fully operational in the coming months.

Part of the bureau’s focus will be on the countries that hold “many of the worst kinds of records” for media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region, including:

  • The world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers: China (176th) and Vietnam (175th).
  • Most dangerous countries for journalists: Pakistan (139th), the Philippines (127th) and Bangladesh (146th).
  • Second-biggest number of “press freedom predators” at the head of the world’s worst dictatorships: Laos (170th), China (176th) and North Korea (180th).

The group called out Chinese President Xi Jinping as “the planet’s leading censor and press freedom predator” and one of the biggest reasons China ranks 176th among 180 countries on this year’s index. Only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea are ranked lower.

On Wednesday, World Press Freedom Day, China further clamped down on the media, issuing regulations that go into effect June 1, according to Reuters.

The rules “apply to all political, economic, military, or diplomatic reports or opinion articles on blogs, websites, forums, search engines, instant messaging apps and all other platforms that select or edit news and information,” Reuters reported. “All such platforms must have editorial staff who are approved by the national or local government Internet and information offices, while their workers must get training and reporting credentials from the central government.”

The Chinese government’s censorship and restrictions on media and the Internet, combined with its growing economic and political power, have the potential to affect other countries and private companies, Alviani said.

“China’s philosophy is more like everyone is free to do whatever they want to report — but within a certain limit, and this limit is never very clear,” he said. “In philosophical terms, freedom has to be unconditional. If you’re free within certain limits, you are not free.”

The Washington Post Hosts Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index

 

Play Video67:57
The Washington Post and Reporters Without Borders held a conversation on freedom of press around the world. The program featured a presentation of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index followed by a conversation with Tom Malinowski, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and journalists from Syria, Turkey and Canada, moderated by The Post’s Dana Priest. (Washington Post Live)

Read more:

China gets rare rebuke from North Korea for ‘betrayal’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NORTH KOREAN NEWS AGENCY ‘KCNA’ AND ‘CNBC’)

China gets rare rebuke from North Korea for ‘betrayal’

  • Pyongyang charged China has regularly “infringed upon the strategic interests” of North Korea
  • North Korea reiterated Wednesday it has no plans to end its nuclear program

39 Mins Ago 

Statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Gavin Hellier | Getty Images
Statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

North Korea’s official news agency leapt into overdrive Wednesday, accusing Chinese politicians and journalists of fomenting trouble and outright “betrayal.”

“China should no longer recklessly try to test the limitations of our patience,” said the commentary released by the rogue state’s Korean Central News Agency.

The KCNA agency added, “We have so devotedly helped the Chinese revolution and suffered enormous damage.” It said China has regularly “infringed upon the strategic interests” in becoming closer to the U.S. and thus committed a “betrayal” in the process.

The rare rebuke from Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece follows President Donald Trump’s warming ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Trump administration is hoping the Chinese can convince the North Koreans to abandon a nuclear weapons program and end development of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching North America.

Still, the North’s official news agency reiterated Wednesday it has no plans to end its nuclear program.

“For us, nuclear is an absolute symbol of dignity and power, and it is the highest interest,” said KCNA. “If we give up nuclear weapons, we will not only intensify economic sanctions, but also military intervention.”

Beijing indicated Wednesday that Pyongyang was taking a dangerous course and should reconsider.

“It is reasonable for the DPRK to pursue its own security, but its nuclear and missile ambitions have put itself and the whole region into dire peril,” People’s Daily, China’s communist party’s official newspaper said in a commentary. “The DPRK must not be obsessed in a wrong path of repeated nuclear tests and missile launches that resulted in rounds of sanctions.”

DPRK is a reference to North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Repubic of Korea.

Meantime, the U.S. early Wednesday announced it launched an unarmed ICBM missile from Vandenberg AFB in California. It was the second such test in a week and comes as the Air Force works to improve the Minuteman III missile’s reliability and demonstrate to North Korea the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability.

At the same time, the U.S. is beefing up its military resources in the Asian region as a show of force with tensions still remaining high over the North Korean threat.

The U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday it sent the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Cheyenne to the U.S. Navy base at Sasebo, Japan. The U.S. also activated its THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea this week at a former golf course.

Last week, a carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson held drills off the Korean Peninsula and there’s also been recent training in the Asia-Pacific region involving F-35 stealth fighters and bomber aircraft. The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday two B-1B bombers left Guam’s Andersen AFB on May 1 to hold training missions with forces from Japan and South Korea.

Pakistan to work with Kabul, Delhi on water management

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTAN NEWS PAPER ‘DAWN’)

Pakistan to work with Kabul, Delhi on water management

UPDATED ABOUT 15 HOURS AGO

ISLAMABAD: The government is seeking a joint mechanism with India and Afghanistan for joint watershed management and trans-boundary aquifer sharing to minimize the negative impact of development projects of neighbors.

Watershed management relates to the land and water management practices that can help protect and imp­rove the water quality, while aquifer refers to the underground layer of rock or minerals that holds water.

This is part of the National Water Policy, which also seeks to ensure 100pc metering of urban water uses, including drinking and sanitation. The policy finalised by the Centre and the provinces was on the agenda of the Council of Common Interests on Tuesday, but could not be taken up due to the prime minister’s political engagements.

A copy of the policy, seen by Dawn, concedes that the Indus Waters Treaty provided a mechanism for water-sharing with India, but its provisions on hydropower development across the line of control had the potential of threatening Pakistan’s water availability during low-flow periods.

The treaty also does not provide for minimum environmental flows downstream of the international boundary for the Eastern Rivers — whose waters lie with India — exposing the population living downstream to serious hazards.

It said that regional mechanisms involving more than two neighbours shall be explored for a viable solution to Pakistan’s growing vulnerability to hydro-meteorological disasters, owing to trans-border winter releases and stoppages at critical times of monsoon and during rabi and kharif planting seasons.

A mechanism shall also be worked out for sharing of trans-boundary aquifers and joint watershed management, including sharing of real-time water flow information.

A study would also be conducted to analyse the impact of challenges arising out of developments on the western rivers and examine measures to minimise the impact within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty and international water laws.

The new policy acknowledged that water was a ‘highly under-priced commodity’ and its prevailing cost recovery through cess (known as ‘abiana’) was hardly able to meet a fraction of the operating and maintenance cost of the irrigation infrastructure.

The policy said that full financial sustainability shall be ensured to provide progressively safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. “This shall be facilitated by effective reduction in wastage, theft and reduction of non-revenue water and 100pc metering” while providing safety nets for impoverished communities.

A mechanism would be put in place by all the federal and provincial governments to charge all types of water use in order to ensure the recovery of the cost of repair and maintenance of water infrastructure.

For the first time, policy-makers seem to have recognised that freshwater is a finite resource, which cannot meet the unlimited demand of numerous users and that increasing population is a key factor for the increase in water demand.

The concept of “More Crop Per Drop” will be pursued to ensure food security through a national plan to improve irrigation methods and practices and introduce new varieties of crops of high yields and lower water consumption, resistant to heat stress, drought tolerant, and less prone to insects and pests.

Ground water tables will be managed to ensure that crop growth is not impeded and prevent land salinity or underground saltwater intrusion. It has been feared that continuous ground water extraction through tubewells could soon lead to the extraction of saltwater.

Rural water supply and sanitation services will be charged at affordable rates and it will be mandatory for the relevant agencies to keep the quality of drinking water, urban or rural, above specified standards.

A plan for flood zoning will be implemented to prevent losses to people living along river banks. For this, respective governments to restrict or prohibit permanent settlements in high and medium flood risk areas on the basis of zoning and mapping of the River Indus and its tributaries — Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Kabul and Swat.

The sources of surface and underground water will be diligently protected from contamination and maintained in a healthy state. Development of hydroelectric power will also be treated as a high priority objective.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2017

 

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