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Trump cancels Putin meeting at upcoming G20 summit in Argentina over Ukraine crisis

WASHINGTON, Nov 29: US president Donald Trump on Thursday announced he had cancelled his scheduled meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit in Argentina, adding to the more to the drama already surrounding the annual gathering of leaders from developed and developing nations.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding, “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

The president, who has left for Buenos Aires, had just an hour before the tweet it was a “good time” to meet with Putin.

Trump, who has been accused of being soft on Russian and President Putin, has been under pressure to punish Russia for attacking Ukrainian ships and capturing their sailors.

Donald Trump says US with India in its ‘quest for justice’

WASHINGTON, Nov 27: President Donald Trump added his voice to the outpouring of support for India and the condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai 10 years ago saying the US “stands with the people of India in their quest for justice”, which has meant prosecuting and punishing those who planned and executed it from Pakistan.

The president did not name Pakistan in the tweet he posted late Monday afternoon, but the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has in his statement earlier and Nathan Sales, the counterterrorism czar at the state department had, stressing the need for Pakistan to punish the guilty.

President Trump, who has been tough on Pakistan, pointed in that direction. “On the ten-year anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack, the US stands with the people of India in their quest for justice,” he wrote on Twitter. “We will never let terrorists win, or even come close to winning!”

The president has suspended $1.66 billion in security aid to Pakistan in 2018 after accusing the one-time close ally of giving only “lies and deceit” in return for American assistance and steered it on watch-list of a world watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, that combats money laundering and terrorist financing.

Just the previous week Trump fulminated in an interview to the news TV channel that Pakistan has “not done a damn thing” for the United State despite all the aid it has received.

On Monday, two Trump White House officials and Ambassador Sales attended an event hosted by Indian ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna at the Indian Embassy to observe the 10th anniversary of the attack. Sarna said, “bilateral cooperation between India and the US in the field of counter-terrorism has perhaps never been more intense and at a higher level that it is.”

Michael Ronen, director, South & South East Asia Division at the ministry of foreign affairs of Israel said it was important for the international community, especially Pakistan, to ensure that the perpetrators of the attacks do not go scott free. “It is important to provide justice...,” he said, urging “all governments, including the Pakistan, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

US suspends $1.66 billion aid to Pakistan till date

WASHINGTON, Nov 21: The department of defense put a dollar figure on the administration’s growing dissatisfaction with Pakistan Tuesday with Pentagon informing reporters that “$1.66 billion of security assistance to Pakistan is suspended.” No details were offered, triggering speculation in some quarters that this was an add-on suspension, of new funds, in view of recent criticism of Pakistan by the US president over Osama bin Laden.

“This is not a new decision or a new announcement on the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) security assistance freeze,” said Lt Colonel Kone Faulkner, Pentagon spokesperson.

He referred to the programme under which Pakistan has received the bulk of US security assistance, as reimbursement for operations undertaken to assist US-led international coalition force in Afghanistan.

“The suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018. CSF is included in the suspension, which remains in place. The $1.66 billion figure provided yesterday is a total of security assistance dollars to Pakistan that has been suspended to date.”

The Trump administration had announced in January it was suspending nearly $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan for its failure to take decisive action against terrorists operating from its soil. A remaining portion of that suspended money — $300 million — was repurposed some months ago at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

That was also seen erroneously as new suspension, a US official said on background. “It was repurposed to be spent under under a different budgetary head to prevent it from lapsing.” That money was from the defense department’s 2018 budget — the National Defense Appropriation Act, 2018 — and it would have lapsed as unspent allocation.

An amount of approximately the same amount, $300 million, is “sitting there, standing by for Pakistan for this year (from the 2019 budget) should the suspension be lifted”, the official said, adding, on background once again, that determination will be made at the presidential level,. The secretary of state has to make the determination technically, and certify it, based on Pakistani counter-terrorism actions, for the money to be released.

The Trump administration has continued to press Pakistan to do more in bilateral settings and meetings and through public remarks and comments, making counter-terrorism the headline topic in engagements with the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan as well.

Those exchanges have not always been pleasant. President Trump denounced Pakistan in a recent interview to Fox New for “not doing a damn thing” for the United States despite the billions it has received in assistance. He cited as evidence fact that Osama bin Laden was living in a “beautiful” mansion in Abbottabad in Pakistan, before a US navy SEALs team killed him in 2011.

Prime Minister Khan hit back in a series of tweets. “No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but Pak decided to participate in US War on Terror. Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war & over $123 bn was lost to economy. US ‘aid’ was a minuscule $20 bn.”

But there is approximately $300 million on the table for Pakistan if it able to provide sufficient proof it’s taking decisive counter-terrorism measures indeed, provided it can.

”It will take more than cosmetic steps by Pakistan to get the Trump administration to unfreeze security assistance,” said Joshua White, a former Pentagon official. “Washington is looking for serious and sustained efforts against the Haqqanis [Haqqani Network], and active measures to incentivize the Taliban to engage in peace talks.”

He added: “I also suspect that any resumption of security assistance would be phased, focusing first on restoring military exchanges and narrowly-targeted counterterrorism assistance programs.”

US flies B-52 bombers near contested islands in the South China Sea

WASHINGTON, Nov 20: Two US B-52 bombers flew near contested islands in the South China Sea Monday, according to US Pacific Air Forces.

"Two US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers departed Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in a routine training mission" in "the vicinity of the South China Sea," US Pacific Air Forces said in a statement.

"This recent mission is consistent with international law and United States' long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the statement added.

While the US routinely flies bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea as part of its long standing "Continuous Bomber Presence" missions, Beijing is particularly sensitive about the presence of US military forces near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.

In September, a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of the destroyer USS Decatur, forcing the US vessel to maneuver to avoid a collision, and the US Navy labeled China's actions "unsafe and unprofessional."

That incident took place while the Decatur was conducting a "Freedom of Navigation Operation," which involved sailing within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The US has accused China of deploying anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers, and surface-to-air missiles to contested islands in the South China Sea.

China's emplacement of those missiles gives Beijing "the potential to exert national control over international waters and airspace through which over three trillion dollars in goods travel every year," US Navy Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, said Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.

"The (People's Republic of China) says they're militarizing these features in order to defend Chinese sovereignty, but in doing so they're now violating the sovereignty of every other nation's ability to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law -- the right of all nations to trade, to communicate, to send their financial information, to send their communications through cables under the sea," Davidson added.

But despite tensions between Beijing and Washington, Chinese authorities have recently granted a US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, permission to make a port call in Hong Kong, two US defense officials told CNN.

China had cancelled a Hong Kong port visit by the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in September.

California Camp Fire Death Toll Reaches 81

Nov 20: The death toll as a result of the Camp Fire in northern California now stands at 81, after state fire authorities said that two more sets of human remains were found Tuesday.

There was no mention of the number of people still listed as unaccounted for. On Monday, the number was 699.

The Camp Fire has burned more than 152,000 acres and is 75 percent contained, according the latest Cal Fire incident update. The blaze, California's deadliest and most destructive, has destroyed 12,637 residences, as well as 483 commercial structures and 3,718 other buildings. Nearly 4,000 firefighters are fighting the blaze.

Number of dead in Northern California wildfire grows to 76

Nov 17: The number of people killed in California’s deadliest wildfire rose Saturday to 76 as search and rescue continued the grim task of looking for the dead amid the ashes in Butte County, the sheriff said.

The remains of five more people were found in Paradise and the community of Concow, Butte County Sheriff-Coroner Kory L. Honea said. Four of the remains were discovered in homes in Paradise, and one was found outside of a structure in Concow.

In Southern California, three people have been killed in another wildfire, bringing the deaths from the two fires statewide to at least 79.

The number of names on a list of people unaccounted for in the wake of the Camp Fire grew to 1,276, up from 1,011 on Friday, but Honea said some of those reports may be duplicates or people who survived but who have not looked at the list or notified authorities. More than 700 people previously listed as unaccounted for have been found, he said. Of the 76 dead, officials have tentatively identified 63.

Earlier Saturday, President Donald Trump visited the fire zone in Butte County and met with first responders and those impacted by the fire.

"To see what’s happened here — nobody would have ever thought this could have happened,” Trump said in the town of Paradise, which has 26,000 residents who have been devastated by the Camp Fire.

Trump pledged that the federal government is with California in its recovery efforts. “We’re all going to work together, and we’ll do a real job,” Trump said. “But this is very sad to see.”

The president also traveled to Southern California where another fire, the so-called Woolsey Fire which also broke out Nov. 8, has burned more than 98,300 acres and destroyed more than 800 homes and other structures.

The Camp Fire that broke out early morning on Nov. 8 was whipped by high winds and moved so fast that at one point it was estimated to have been burning the equivalent of 80 football fields a minute, said Sacramento Fire Capt. Chris Vestal.

"It burned about 6,000 acres from the initial reports within the first couple of hours," Vestal said. Sacramento is around 80 miles south of Paradise.

When Vestal reached Paradise, he said the destruction was hard to put into words.

"It's a mess," Vestal said. “There’s really no way to describe just the pure devastation — there’s very few homes left, the damage to retail and commercial buildings is significant,” he said.

"We want to make sure that we do what we can right now to control the fire, but also help that community return, and help them be vibrant again," Vestal said. "It's going to be a long road, however."

The Camp Fire has destroyed at least 9,891 residences and 367 commercial buildings, along with other structures, making it the most destructive wildfire in California's history; the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties destroyed 5,636 structures.

Also the deadliest wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire has eclipsed the somber milestone of the 29 killed in the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles. More than 3,700 workers were maintaining trails and building roads in the park when that fire broke out on Oct. 3, 1933, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Around 149,000 acres have burned in Butte County as of Saturday evening and the fire was 55 percent contained, a Cal Fire official said.

Searchers are going door-to-door and car-to-car to look for victims who may be in the burn zone. An official involved in the search said Friday that the area to be searched, with more than 10,000 destroyed structures, is “huge.”

In addition to the destruction in Northern California, the Woolsey Fire, which also broke out on Nov. 8, has wreaked havoc in Southern California.

The blaze, which burned an area nearly the size of Denver, in Los Angeles and Ventura counties was 82 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.

The causes of the both fires are still under investigation.

Another fire in southern California, the Hill Fire, has been deemed 100 percent contained, but not before it charred more than 4,500 acres in Ventura County and destroyed four structures. Fire officials determined it was started by some sort of human activity. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information as to anyone who may have been responsible.

Trump celebrates Diwali at White House

WASHINGTON, Nov 14: US president Donald Trump on Tuesday called ties with India a “bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace”, spoke of his friendship with prime minister Narendra Modi and, trying to lighten up the trade negotiations between the two countries, he said Indians are “very good negotiators”.

The president also announced the nomination of an Indian American lawyer, Neomi Rao, already serving in his to the vacancy left on the DC circuit court of appeal by Brett Kavanaugh who was recently confirmed as the ninth justice of the Supreme Court. She is currently serving as will have to be confirmed by the US senate. She is currently serving in the White House as administrator in the office of information and regulatory affairs. If confirmed by the US senate, she will be the second Indian American on the DC circuit bench joining Sri Srinivasan, an Obama appointee.

“We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders.,” president Trump said at a Diwali function at the White House, flanked by Indian Americans from his administration, and Indian ambassador Navtej Sarna, turning to whom, he added, “They’re very good negotiators, you would say, right? The best. So we’re working, and it’s moving along.”

India and the United States are negotiating a range of trade issues including retaliatory tariffs imposed by both, market access and some intellectual property rights. Trump has called India “Tariff King” and raised a rather low-volume American export item — Harley-Davidson motorbikes — to call attention to India’s import duties.

Officials of the two countries have held several rounds of talks and as President Trump indicated, those negotiations have been tough.

Speaking generally of ties with India, Trump said, “The United States has deep ties to the nation of India and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi.

“India is the world’s largest democracy and the relationship between our two countries connect as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace.”

Later he added that the two countries were “very close. I think closer maybe than ever before”. He was building on Ambassador Sarna’s remarks that “we are looking at one of the best times we’ve ever had for the India-US relationship”.

President Trump also said to Ambassador Sarna, “And we love your country. I have great, great respect for, as you know, Prime Minister Modi -- tremendous respect. So just please give my warmest regards, okay?”

And, “we’ll be talking to him soon.”.To which Sarna said the prime minister looks forward to seeing him. They will be together for the G-20 summit in Argentina later in the month.

Standing with the president for the remarks followed by the ceremonial lighting of Diyas were Indian American officials appointed by him — acting undersecretary of state Manisha Singh, Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai, Medicare and Medicaid Services head Seema Verma, acting administration of the drug enforcement administration Uttam Dhillon, and deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah.

Among the others present were Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, and deputy national security advisor Mira Ricardel, the official currently in the eye of a storm with the first lady, Melania Trump calling for her ouster in a statement from her office.

Deadliest Northern California wildfire toll 42

PARADISE, Nov 13: Search teams have recovered the remains of at least 42 people killed by a devastating wildfire that largely incinerated the town of Paradise in northern California, making it the deadliest single wildland blaze in state history, authorities said on Monday.

The latest death toll, up from 29 tallied over the weekend, was announced by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea at an evening news conference in the nearby city of Chico after authorities located the remains of 13 additional victims from a blaze dubbed the Camp Fire.

That fire already ranked as the most destructive on record in California, having leveled more than 7,100 homes and other buildings since it erupted on Thursday in the Sierra foothills of Butte County, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

Honea said the number of people listed as missing in the disaster remained officially at 228, but added that his office had received more than 1,500 requests for “welfare checks” from people concerned about the fate of their loved ones. He said his office had managed to confirm the safety of the individuals in question in 231 of those cases so far.

More than 15,000 more structures remained listed as threatened on Monday in an area so thick with smoke that visibility was reduced in some places to less than half a mile.

The bulk of the destruction and loss of life occurred in and around the town of Paradise, where flames reduced most of the buildings to ash and charred rubble on Thursday night, just hours after the blaze erupted.

The 42 confirmed fatalities marks the largest loss of life ever from a single wildland fire in California, Honea said. It also far surpasses the all-time record number of deaths from a California wildfire - 29 in 1933 from the Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles.

Authorities reported two more people perished over the weekend in a separate blaze, dubbed the Woolsey Fire, that has destroyed 370 structures and displaced some 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near Southern California’s Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.

President Donald Trump on Monday approved a major disaster declaration for California at the request of Governor Jerry Brown, hastening the availability of federal emergency assistance to fire-stricken regions of the state.

The fires have spread with an erratic intensity that has strained resources and kept firefighters struggling to keep up with the flames while catching many residents by surprise.

The remains of some of the Camp Fire victims were found in burned-out vehicles that were overrun by walls of fire as evacuees tried to flee by car in panic, only to be trapped in deadly knots of traffic gridlock on Thursday night.

“It was very scary,” Mayor Jody Jones recounted of her family’s own harrowing escape from their home as fire raged all around them.

“It took a long time to get out. There was fire on both sides of the car. You could feel the heat coming in through the car,” she said. Jones said her family is now living in their mobile home parked in a vacant lot.

Honea said authorities have brought in 13 special search-and-recovery teams to seek out any further victims from the Camp Fire, and have requested additional cadaver-dog crews to assist in the search for human remains.

At least 29 confirmed dead in Northern California wildfire: Sheriff

PARADISE, Nov 11: The death toll in the northern blaze -- known as the Camp Fire -- rose to 29 as a result of the discoveries, which included five bodies located at homes and one that was found in a vehicle, Butte County Sheriff Cory Honea said. An additional 228 people were unaccounted for, he added.

The wildfire is now the deadliest blaze on record in state history.

The Camp Fire, which tore through the town of Paradise, had burned 109,000 acres since it first began on Thursday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 6,400 residences were destroyed in the fire that stands at 25 percent containment, the agency said.

At least 31 people have died statewide in wildfires that have burned nearly 400 square miles in Northern and Southern California.

Devastating images of Paradise, a town of roughly 27,000 residents, depicted destroyed homes and roads dotted with charred vehicles. Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims. Honea said the county consulted anthropologists from California State University at Chico because, in some cases, investigators have been able to recover only bones and bone fragments.

Most of the dead are from the town of Paradise which has been burned to ashes by the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

The devastation was so complete in some neighborhoods that "it's very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there," Honea said.

By early Sunday afternoon, one of the two black hearses stationed in Paradise had picked up another set of remains.

People looking for friends or relatives called evacuation centers, hospitals, police and the coroner's office.

US Adminstration to take public opinion on move to revoke work permit for H-4 spouse visa

WASHINGTON, Nov 9: The Trump administration has assured lawmakers and the American corporate sector that the public would get an opportunity to respond to its proposal of revoking work authorisation to H-4 spouse visas after they raised their concerns over the move, which will impact thousands of Indians.

H-4 visas are issued to the spouses of H-1B foreign workers. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa through which many Indians workers are employed in US companies. It allows the US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. It is the most sought-after visa among Indian IT professionals.

H-4 visas are issued only to very close or immediate family members of the H-1B visa holders. It includes the employee’s spouse and children less than 21 years of age.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had said that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will come out with a new proposal by January 2019 under which it is mulling to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation.

The new rules could impact up to 70,000 H-4 Visa holders who have work permits.

The USCIS has recently written a near identical letters to top US lawmakers and leaders of the corporate sector who had raised concern over the Trump administration’s proposal to revoke the H-4 visas.

“The public will be given an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period on any proposed revisions to regulations providing employment authorisation to certain H-4 non-immigrants,” L Francis Cissna, USCIS director, wrote to senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand in a letter dated October 16, which was posted on the organisation’s website this month.

The two lawmakers had urged not to revoke work authorisation to H-4 visas.

However, the letter makes no commitment on the fate of the decision to revoke the work authorisation to H-4 visas, except for saying that the DHS is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the immigration system and protecting the wages and job opportunities for US workers.

In a letter dated September 26 and addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, Harris and Gillibrand had said the administration’s proposal to revoke the employment authorisation of certain H-4 dependent spouses of non-immigrant H-1B workers would permanently force approximately 1,00,000 predominantly high-skilled women to abandon their professional careers.

“This will harm the wellbeing of these women and their families and have negative consequences for American communities where they live and work,” they had said.

In another letter dated July 23 and addressed to the DHS, as many as 34 US legislators had expressed concern that revoking work authorisation to H-4 visas would “create significant uncertainty and financial hardship for many highly skilled professionals who are vital to US economy”.

A group of top corporate leaders had expressed similar concerns to the DHS in a letter dated August 22. The H-4 spouses are “often highly skilled” and have built careers and lives around their ability to “contribute to companies here”, they said.

“Other countries allow these valuable professionals to work, so revoking their US work authorisation will likely cause high-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the US,” stated the letter, which among others was signed by Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco Systems; Roger K Newport from AK Steel Corporation; Doug Parker of American Airlines and Stephen Squeri of American Express.

The USCIS director also sent them similar responses as given to the lawmakers.

 

Gunman who killed 12 people in California bar was 28-year-old former marine

THOUSAND OAKS, Nov 8: A 28-year-old former Marine opened fire in a California country music bar packed with college students, killing 12 people including a police officer as dozens of terrified youngsters stampeded towards the door, authorities said Thursday.

The gunman -- who apparently killed himself -- stepped into the Borderline Bar and Grill around 11:20 pm Wednesday and coolly began shooting, witnesses said, unleashing pandemonium as terrified patrons scrambled to escape.

“He had perfect form,” bar patron Teylor Whittler told Fox News. “He looked like he knew what he was doing, he had practiced.”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told a news conference the suspect had been identified as Ian David Long, a veteran of the US Marine Corps.

He was found dead at the bar in Thousand Oaks, California, an upscale city northwest of Los Angeles.

Dean said authorities so far had no indication of a motive, or of any connection to terrorism. He said the victims were apparently targeted at random.

“We believe he shot himself,” said Dean, who earlier described it as a “horrific scene.”

Dean said his department had “several contacts” with Long over the years, for minor incidents including a traffic collision, and in 2015 when he was beaten up at a local bar.

In April this year, deputies were called to his house for a disturbance and found him “acting a little irrationally.”

“They felt he might be suffering from PTSD, the fact he was a veteran and had been in the corps,” Dean said.

“They called out our crisis intervention team, our mental health specialists who met with him, talked to him, and cleared him.”

Dean said Long was believed to have been armed with a single handgun when he launched Wednesday’s attack.

“It appears he walked up to the scene. He shot the security guard that was standing outside. He stepped inside,” Dean said.

“It appears that he turned to the right and shot several of the other security and employees there, and then began opening fire inside the nightclub.”

Among those killed in the assault was a three-decade veteran of the sheriff’s department, 54-year-old Ron Helus, who was married and had a grown son.

“He went in there to save people and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Dean said.

The other 11 victims have yet to be identified by the authorities. Besides the dead, around a dozen other people were injured.

Matt Wennerstron, a 20-year-old college student who regularly attended events at the bar, said the shooter fired a short-barreled pistol that apparently had a 10-15 round magazine.

“Then, when (he) started to reload, that’s when we got people out of there and I didn’t look back,” Wennerstron said.

He said he and others smashed their way out of the bar onto a balcony and then jumped down to safety. “One bar stool went straight through a window,” he told reporters.

Jasmin Alexander, who was part of a group of around 15 friends at the bar, said there was chaos and confusion inside when shots first rang out.

“It was a normal Wednesday. We were just at the bar, having fun, dancing,” she told reporters after escaping.

“All of a sudden we heard the ‘bang, bang’ of the gunshots and it just started going crazy and people were pushing.

“We thought it was a joke, we didn’t take it seriously at first... because it sounded like firecrackers and everyone just dropped down to the floor.”

TV footage showed SWAT teams surrounding the bar, with distraught revelers milling around and using their cell phones as lights from police cars flashed.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he had “been fully briefed on the terrible shooting,” the latest chapter in America’s epidemic of gun violence that came just 10 days after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Last year, a country music festival in Las Vegas was the scene of the worst mass shooting in modern US history. A gunman shooting from the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino with high power weapons killed 58 people.

US midterm elections 2018: Democrats seize control of House, Republicans retain Senate

WASHINGTON, Nov 7: Democrats rode a wave of dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, giving them the opportunity to block Trump’s agenda and open his administration to intense scrutiny.

In midterm elections two years after he won the White House, Trump and his fellow Republicans expanded their majority in the U.S. Senate following a divisive campaign marked by fierce clashes over race, immigration and other cultural issues.

But with his party losing its majority in the House, the results represented a bitter setback for Trump after a campaign that became a referendum on his leadership. With some races still undecided, Democrats appeared headed to a gain of more than 30 seats, well beyond the 23 they needed to claim their first majority in the 435-member House in eight years.

The newly empowered House Democrats will have the ability to investigate Trump’s tax returns, possible business conflicts of interest and allegations involving his 2016 campaign’s links to Russia.

They also could force Trump to scale back his legislative ambitions, possibly dooming his promises to fund a border wall with Mexico, pass a second major tax-cut package or carry out his hardline policies on trade.

A simple House majority would be enough to impeach Trump if evidence surfaces that he obstructed justice or that his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia. But Congress could not remove him from office without a conviction by a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate.

House Democrats could be banking on launching an investigation using the results of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s already 18-month-old probe of allegations of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election. Moscow denies meddling and Trump denies any collusion.

“Thanks to you, tomorrow will be a new day in America,” Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi told cheering Democrats at a Washington victory party, saying House Democrats would be a check on Trump.

“We will have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t,” Pelosi said.

Despite his party losing the House, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Tremendous success tonight.”

Trump called Pelosi, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and several of the Republican winners.

Trump - a 72-year-old former reality TV star and businessman-turned-politician - had hardened his rhetoric down the stretch on issues that appealed to his conservative core supporters, issuing warnings about a caravan of Latin American migrants headed to the border with Mexico and condemnations of liberal American “mobs”.

Most Democratic candidates in tight races stayed away from harsh criticism of Trump during the campaign’s final stretch, focusing instead on bread-and-butter issues like maintaining insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions and safeguarding the Social Security retirement and Medicare healthcare programs for senior citizens.

In the last two decades there have only three election cycles where one party picked up 24 or more seats. Tuesday’s gains were the biggest since 2010, when a wave of conservative anger against Democratic President Barack Obama gave Republicans a massive 64-seat pickup.

Every seat in the House, 35 seats in the 100-member Senate and 36 of the 50 state governorships were up for grabs.

In the House, Democrats picked up seats across the map, ousting incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock in suburban Virginia and sending Donna Shalala, a former Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, to the House in south Florida.

In the Senate, where Democrats were defending seats in 10 states that Trump won, Republicans ousted four Democratic incumbents.

Republican Rick Scott edged incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in Florida, Republican Mike Braun captured incumbent Joe Donnelly’s seat in Indiana, Republican Kevin Cramer beat incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Republican Josh Hawley defeated Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Some of the biggest Democratic stars of the campaign lost. Liberal House member Beto O’Rourke became a national sensation with his underdog U.S. Senate campaign but fell short in conservative Texas to Senator Ted Cruz. Andrew Gillum lost to Republican Ron DeSantis in his quest to become the first African-American governor of the key swing state of Florida.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin won a hotly contested race in conservative West Virginia, and conservative Marsha Blackburn held a Senate seat for Republicans.

Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2016 Democratic presidential contender, and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee in 2016, easily won re-election. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown held his seat in Ohio.

Democrats also captured governorships in Michigan, Illinois and Kansas. In Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach, a Trump ally who was a leader of the president’s disbanded voter fraud commission, fell to Democratic state senator Laura Kelly.

The Democratic gains were fueled by women, young and Hispanic voters, a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll found. Fifty-five percent of women said they backed a Democrat for the House this year, compared to 49 percent in the 2014 midterm congressional election.

Voters between the ages of 18 and 34 backed Democrats by 62 percent to 34 percent, up from 2014 when 54 percent backed Democrats and 36 percent supported Republicans. Hispanic voters favored Democratic House candidates by 33 percentage points - higher than the 18-percentage point gap that Democrats enjoyed in 2014, the poll found.

Democrats turned out to register disapproval of Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies on such issues as immigration and his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.

A record number of women ran for office this election, many of them Democrats turned off by Trump’s policy agenda.

The election results mean Democrats will resume House control in January for the first time since the 2010 election, beginning a split-power arrangement with the Republican-led Senate that may force Trump to scale back his legislative ambitions and focus on issues with bipartisan support, such as an infrastructure improvement package or protections against prescription drug price increases.

It also will test Trump’s ability to compromise, something he has shown little interest in over the last two years with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress.

The loss of power will test Trump’s political hold on House Republicans, most of whom had pledged their support for him lest they face the wrath of the party’s core supporters, who remain in his corner.

With divided leadership in Congress and a president who has taken an expansive view of executive power, Washington could be in store for even deeper political polarization and legislative gridlock.

The Republican caucuses in both chambers have become even more conservative with the loss of moderates within Trump’s party, even as Democrats appear to be spoiling for a fight with Trump.

Investors often favor Washington gridlock because it preserves the status quo and reduces uncertainty, even though many investors this time around had been hoping for a continuation of the Republican agenda.

A Reuters analysis of the past half century showed stocks fared better in the two calendar years after congressional elections when Republicans control Congress and the presidency than when Democrats controlled the two branches, and at least as well as during times of gridlock.

“I think everyone was bracing for any possible, crazy scenario to show itself tonight but it basically looks like the baseline consensus forecast was correct,” said Michael Purves, head of equity derivatives strategy at Weeden & Co, New York.

Upset over Russia probe, Trump fires attorney general Jeff Sessions

WASHINGTON, Nov 7: President Donald Trump fired attorney general Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, a day after he was handed a mixed mid-term verdict, which he sought to spin as a victory, despite Republicans losing the House of Representatives, one of the two chambers of US Congress, and several governorships.

The president also warned Democrats, who won the House handily, against launching investigations against him and his presidency, as some of them have indicated they will, saying at a White House news conference he will retaliate with his own probes, which, he added, could lead to a “warlike” situation.

Sessions’s firing, which was long in the making and was expected after the mid-terms, may have set up the president’s first confrontation with the new House that he was referring. Many Democrats explicitly warned after the announcement that the dismissal should not become the first step towards shutting down special counsel Robert Muller’s Russia meddling probe that the president has called a “witch-hunt”.

A key reason for their alarm was the man the president picked to succeed Sessions in an interim capacity, Mathew Whitaker, the former attorney general’s chief of staff, and not the official number two, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who instituted the special counsel probe. Whitaker, on the other hand, is a known sceptic and critic of the investigation and has suggested choking it out of business by squeezing its budget.

“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States,” Trump said in a mid-afternoon tweet. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date,” he added.

Sessions had been on the US president’s exit list for most of his term, ever since he recused himself from overseeing the Russia probe on account of his own interactions with Russian officials that he failed to acknowledge at his confirmation. A livid Trump had publicly belittled him at every opportunity he could.

Trump announced Sessions exit on Twitter and also the interim arrangement. But had his chief of staff John Kelly call up the former attorney general to deliver the decision and ask for his resignation. Sessions sent in his resignation shortly, making it clear he was quitting because he had been asked to.

The pushback from Democrats buoyed by their victory overnight was swift and sharp.

“It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” tweeted Nancy Pelosi, the senior-most Democrat in the outgoing House who expects to head the new House as Speaker, a position that is second in line to the presidency (the first is the vice-president).

Other Democrats called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the probe given his public opposition to it, which will be a hard ask for him to deliver given that his criticism of the probe may have been the reason who he got the job.

A confrontation appears likely, with Democrats determined to pursue the House’s oversight mandate aggressively.

Democrats took the House winning 222 seats, four more than they needed; and picked up seven new governorships. Republicans retained the Senate with an expanded lead but lost seven gubernatorial races. The congressional verdicts were along expected lines, as forecast by multiple agencies.

“It was a big day yesterday, incredible day,” Trump said to reporters at the news conference. “And last night the Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

He added: “I thought it was very close to a complete victory.”

Trump seemed unconvinced by his own bluster and sunny spin. Clearly unhappy about the loss of the House, which could hurt his legislative agenda at the least and threaten his presidency with the possibility of impeachment, he proceeded to name and shame Republicans who lost.

They lost, he complained, because they distanced themselves from him, his presidency and, most significantly, the sharp rhetoric he had deployed to rally his base.

“I saw Mia Love,” Trump said, referring to Ludmya “Mia” Love, a Republican who lost her re-election bid from Utah. “She’d call me all the time to help her with a hostage situation. Being held hostage in Venezuela. But Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Four Indian-Americans re-elected, over dozen others taste victory in US midterm polls

NEW YORK, Nov 7: Four Indian-American Congressmen from the Democratic party were re-elected to the US House of Representatives and more than a dozen others won various other races across the country in the highly polarised midterm elections held on Tuesday.

In the eighth Congressional District of Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi was re-elected for the second term by a comfortable margin of more than 30 percentage points. He defeated his Indian American Republican opponent J D Diganvker.

Three-term lawmaker Dr Ami Bera was re-elected for a record fourth consecutive time from the seventh Congressional District of California. Unlike the previous three elections, Bera did not had to wait for weeks for recounting of votes. He defeated Andrew Grant of the Republican party by a small five percentage margin.

In the Silicon Valley, Indian-American Ro Khanna defeated Ron Cohen of the Republican party with a massive 44 percentage point in the 17th Congressional District of California. “Tonight was a great night for our campaign and for Democrats across the country. I’m grateful to the voters of #CA17 for giving me the opportunity to continue to represent you in Congress. This has been the honour of my life,” Khanna said.

“With Democrats in control of the House, we will push for economic and foreign policy populism,” he said.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the only Indian-American woman lawmaker in the House of Representatives, defeated her GOP rival Craig Keller by a massive 66 percentage points.

“The American people voted to put the Democrats back in control of the US House of Representatives. Now, we are primed to restore the balance of power between the branches of government and push back even more strongly against the Trump administration’s deeply destructive policies. Our communities are sick and tired of the corruption and injustice,” Jayapal said in her victory speech in Seattle.

“With new and diverse voices joining our ranks, we are building a movement that truly represents the people of this country,” she said.

None of the more than half a dozen new Indian Americans candidates, many of whom caught national attention by giving tough fight to their opponents and outraising them in the fund raisers, could make it to the House of Representatives, which is equivalent to Lok Sabha in the Indian parliament.

However, Indian-Americans picked up more seats in the State assemblies.

In Wisconsin State, Democratic Josh Kaul created history by becoming the first Indian-American to win the race for Attorney General by defeating incumbent Brad Schimel of the Republican Party.

Democratic Nima Kulkarni defeated Joshua Neubert from the GOP to make her maiden entry into the Kentucky Assembly from State District 40. A practicing and recognised lawyer, she owns Indus Law Firm specialising in immigration, employment and business law.

Amish Shah made his maiden entry into the Arizona Assembly from State Legislature District 24. So did, Kevin Thomas from the New York Senate District 6 for the New York State Assembly.

Mujtaba Mohammed entered the North Carolina State Senate from the Senate District 38. A former staff attorney at the Council for Children’s Rights and assistant public defender, Mohammed defeated Richard Rivette.

Incumbent Jay Chaudhuri, an accomplished entrepreneur, was re-elected to North Carolina Senate from the State Senate District 15.

Republican Niraj Atani, 27, registered his third consecutive electoral victory from Ohio House 42nd District. He is the youngest Indian-American elected official in the US. He also is the second Indian-American state elected official in Ohio history, and the first Indian-American Republican.

In Washington State, Manka Dhingra and Vandana Slatter were re-elected for the State Senate. Among others re-elected at the State level are Sabi Kumar in Tennessee and Ash Kalra (California) and Kumar Bharve from Maryland.

Juli Mathew won the Fort Bend City Court at Law No 3 in Texas, K P George won the race for Fort Bend County Judge in Texas and Shalini Bahl-Milne for the Amherst Town Council District 4 in Massachusetts.

The emergence of a large number of young Indian-Americans candidates reflects the growing desire of this small ethnic community comprising just one per cent of the US population of 32.57 crores.

“It was a good night for Indian American candidates. We re-elected every incumbent, including all four members of the US House of Representatives, and also elected at least six new state legislators, four of whom will be the very first ever elected to that office in Kentucky, New York, Illinois, and Arizona,” Gautam Raghavan from the “Impact” organisation said after the election results were declared.

“Perhaps our biggest win of the evening was Josh Kaul winning his campaign for attorney general of Wisconsin, which makes him the only Indian American to serve in statewide office today,” he said. However, none of the dozen other Indian Americans running for the Congress could be win their races.

“I know some may be disappointed that we weren’t able to elect any new Members of Congress, but each of them outperformed prior challengers in their districts,” he said.

“It’s also worth remembering that most Members of Congress — including Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, and Raja Krishnamoorthi - lost their first campaigns, so we hope to see them on the ballot again in future years,” Raghavan, a former Obama Administration official, said in response to a question.

‘Samosa Caucus’ fails to increase its strength in US midterm elections

Nov 7: The so-called ‘Samosa Caucus’ - an informal group of the Indian-Americans in the US Congress - failed to increase its strength, even as its all four incumbent members were re-elected to the House of Representatives in the highly polarised midterm elections held Tuesday.

None of the more than half a dozen new Indian Americans candidates, many of whom caught national attention by giving tough fight to their opponents and outraising them in the fund raisers, could make it to the House of Representatives, which is equivalent to Lok Sabha in the Indian parliament.

However, Indian-Americans picked up more seats in the State assemblies. The community sent its member Ram Villivalam for the first time to the Illinois Senate and also elected a Muslim Indian-American Mujtaba Mohammed to the North Carolina State Senate.

Chicago-born Villivalam, elected unopposed, became the first Asian-American State Senator and the first South Asian-American member of Illinois General Assembly ever.

For the first time, more than 100 Indian-Americans had entered the race in this mid-term elections, of which over 50 were on the ballot on Tuesday.

Among them 12, including four incumbents, were running for the House and one for the Senate - a record in itself.

In the eighth Congressional District of Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi defeated his Republican Indian-American rival Jitender Diganvker. Krishnamoorthi would serve second term in the House of Representatives.

Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian American to be elected to the House of Representatives in 2016, registered her second consecutive win from the seventh Congressional District of Washington State. In little less than two years, she has emerged nationally as the champion of immigrants, workers and human rights.

Ro Khanna easily sailed through the race for the House from the 17th Congressional District of California by defeating his GOP rival Ron Cohen. He was elected for the first time in 2016.

Three-term Congressman Ami Bera, the senior-most among lawmakers in the Samosa Caucus, defeated his Republican rival Andrew Grant in the seventh Congressional District of California.

Notably, his previous three electoral victories came only after recounting of votes which took several weeks before the results were finally declared.

Indian-American of Tibetan descent Aftab Pureval, 35, lost to GOP incumbent Steve Chabot. He was the first Democrat to get elected as the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in more than 100 years.

Indian-American woman Anita Malik lost to her Republican incumbent in the sixth District of Arizona, while Hiral Tipirneni was trailing behind GOP rival Debbie Lesko in the early tabulations.

Former state department diplomat Sri Preston Kulkarni lost to his GOP incumbent Pete Olson from the 22nd Congressional District of Texas.

A five-time incumbent, Rep Olson defeated his Indian-American Democratic challenger in the most heated 22nd Congressional District that the opposition had hoped to flip due to a large Asian-American population.

The 40-year-old relied heavily on his ability to connect with the district’s diverse population to give Democrats hope that he could pull off an upset in the district. About 20 per cent of the population in the district is of Asian heritage - more than any other district in Texas.

Sanjay Patel, who runs a successful consulting business, lost to Republican Congressman Bill Posey, who has been winning the eighth Congressional District of Florida continuously since 2009.

In the first Congressional District of Arkansas, Democratic Chintan Desai lost to Republican incumbent Rick Crawford, while Republican Harry Arora lost to incumbent Jim Himes in the fourth Congressional District of Connecticut.

Successful entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai, who fought the Massachusetts Senate race as an independent, came a distant third. Democratic leader Elizabeth Warren registered a comprehensive win over her Republican rival Geoff Diehl to re-enter the US Senate.

Democratic Nima Kulkarni defeated Joshua Neubert from the GOP to make her maiden entry into the Kentucky Assembly from State District 40. A practicing and recognised lawyer, she owns Indus Law Firm specialising in immigration, employment and business law.

Mujtaba Mohammed entered the North Carolina State Senate from the Senate District 38. A former staff attorney at the Council for Children’s Rights and assistant public defender, Mohammed defeated Richard Rivette.

Incumbent Jay Chaudhuri, an accomplished entrepreneur, was re-elected to North Carolina Senate from the State Senate District 15.

Republican Niraj Atani, 27, registered his third consecutive electoral victory from Ohio House 42nd District. He is the youngest Indian-American elected official in the US. He is also the second Indian-American state elected official in Ohio history, and the first Indian-American Republican.

“Representing the community in which I was born and raised is an incredible honour. I work hard every day to make it achievable for all Ohioans to have the opportunity to make their American Dream a reality,” Atani said in a statement.

In Washington State, Manka Dhingra and Vandana Slatter were re-elected for the State Senate. Among others re-elected at the State level are Sabi Kumar in Tennessee and Ash Kalra (California). The emergence of a large number of young Indian-Americans candidates reflects the growing desire of this small ethnic community comprising just one per cent of the US population of 32.57 crores.

India, 7 countries get waivers as US sanctions against Iran take effect

WASHINGTON, Nov 5: The US has announced that India is among eight countries granted “temporary allotments” from sanctions targeting Iran’s crude oil exports that went into effect on Monday.

Iran’s Chabahar port, which India has helped develop and operates as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, was also apparently exempted as it didn’t figure in a comprehensive list of sanctioned individuals and entities released by the US treasury department.

People involved in negotiations said a waiver for Chabahar was part of the “arrangement”. A response to a request for clarity was awaited from the administration.

Announcing the sanctions, secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned: “I promise you that doing business with Iran in defiance of our sanctions will ultimately be a much more painful business decision than pulling out of Iran and…being connected to Iran entirely.”

He added, “It should be noted that if a company evades our sanctions regime and secretly continues sanctionable commerce in the Islamic Republic, the US will levy severe, swift penalties on it, including potential sanctions.”

US officials indicated on Friday that India would be among the eight countries that were granted the “Significant Reduction Exemptions (SREs)” under the second and final round of sanctions that target Iran’s shipping and financial sectors. The others exempted from sanctions are China, Italy, Greece, South Korea, Japan, Turkey and Taiwan.

Pompeo said each of the eight countries has demonstrated significant reductions in crude imports from Iran and the “temporary allotments” were granted in view of “specific circumstances” and to “ensure a well-supplied oil market”.

“We continue negotiations to get all nations to zero,” he said. In an interview on Sunday, Pompeo hadn’t answered a question on whether the US had a firm commitment from India and China that they would stop all Iranian crude purchases in six months. “Watch what we do,” he had said.

The US announced sanctions against more than 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels. “Over 300 of those sanctions are new targets,” said treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who accompanied Pompeo at the announcement. He said hundreds of previously sanctioned individuals and entities that were granted relief under the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 were being re-listed.

The US has previously said these temporary exemptions are being granted only against evidence that countries have already significantly cut Iranian crude imports and to help them go to zero for as long as US sanctions are in force.

Pompeo said 20 countries had completely stopped buying Iranian crude and two eight given waivers on Monday had ended imports as well.

China and India are the two top buyers of Iranian crude. New Delhi sought an exemption in view of the large volumes it imports, saying it needs time to switch to alternate sources, a process with which Washington has said it helped India and others to keep oil prices under control.

India also sought an exemption for Chabahar port, arguing it is being used to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a key element of President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy. Since the port’s inauguration in 2017, India has shipped roughly 110,000 tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of pulses to Afghanistan.

Monday marked the full snap-back of sanctions lifted after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Trump had opposed and called the worst deal in history. He pulled the US out of it in May, disregarding personal appeals from allies such as France and the UK.

The US has announced 12 demands for lifting the sanctions, including an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes and an end of “malign” activities in West Asia, which the Trump administration has described as support for terror.

The first round of sanctions went into effect in August, targeting Iran’s exports of gold, precious metals, steel, aluminum, pistachios and caviar and the automotive sector. The second round targets Iran’s key foreign exchange earners — crude, shipping and the financial system.

There's Only One Way to Solve American Immigration Crisis

By Daniel Twining

WASHINGTON, Nov 1: The massive human caravan currently making its way from Honduras to the U.S. border and President Trump’s announcement that he intends to end birthright citizenship have once again exposed the fault lines in America’s handling of uncontrolled migration emanating from the Western Hemisphere. Yet for all the intensity conjured by our domestic debate over illegal immigration, there is surprisingly little discussion of what is driving so many people to attempt to enter our country at any cost—and what could be done to prevent this crisis from continuing.

Migration is not an inevitability. Millions of people from all over the world seek to make their homes in the United States because we remain a beacon of prosperity and opportunity. Yet many more would prefer to make a good life for themselves and their families in their country of origin. It is not a natural human instinct to abandon hearth and home to flee to an alien land.

Throughout Central America, poor economic conditions, rampant corruption and hair-raising levels of crime are driving people to risk illegal immigration rather than staying put. These problems are the poisoned fruit of the same tree: weak or absent democratic governance.

According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Central and South America accounts for 9 percent of the global population yet is home to nearly one-third of the world’s homicide victims. More than 90 percent of all murders that take place in this region go unresolved.

The perception that insecurity will worsen is one of the top reasons people choose to emigrate, both legally and illegally. As is the related problem of corruption. The absence of robust governing institutions capable of enforcing the rule of law nurtures violent and often transnational criminality—including drug cartels and human traffickers. Endemic corruption leaves citizens disaffected at best and utterly hopeless at worst.

Poor governance also undercuts economic opportunity. The failure to deliver basic security and accountability makes doing business a riskier proposition—presenting yet another incentive to emigrate at any cost. Who can invest in job-creating industries in societies overrun by gang violence and plagued by rampant government corruption? Crime and violence in Latin America cost the region an estimated 3.55 percent of GDP, with an inordinate effect being felt by the poorest population.

All of which means that any long-term solution to America’s migration challenge should be centered on prevention. Vice President Mike Pence recognized this when he promised our Latin American partners that “the United States is renewing our commitment to address the root causes behind the crisis that we face,” and called out “weak economies, corruption, drugs and violence” as key drivers of uncontrolled migration.

America needs a strategy aimed at preventing the causes of mass migration by helping willing neighbors strengthen their democratic institutions and become more stable, prosperous and responsive to their citizens.

Bridging gaps between politicians and citizens represents a crucial step toward giving citizens a stake in their societies and setting these countries on the path to self-reliance. Often this is most effective at the local level, where responsibility for day-to-day functions such as policing resides. Likewise, training citizens to advocate for themselves in a peaceful, effective manner and use all available levers of influence is an important way of creating pressure from below in countries suffering from weakened democratic institutions.

The benefits of this approach to the United States should be obvious. Numerous government-funded NGOs are already on the ground implementing programs with local partners who are eager to learn about best practices in governance. In so many of these countries, the will is there, but help is required to empower citizen advocates of reform and politicians who genuinely want to craft a better future for their people.

Modest investments in governance can have outsized effects in the region’s most dangerous countries. Simple measures such as creating an online portal for citizens to report crimes and local concerns, logistical and training support for government transparency initiatives, and harnessing the power of social networking to enhance citizen security are just a few ways of addressing the core quality-of-life concerns that drive desperate citizens from their homes.

Anti-corruption assistance is another important way of countering uncontrolled migration. Training for local and national anti-corruption bodies such as Guatemala’s Access to Public Information Unit is helping to foster a culture of accountability. Development assistance can also have a significant impact in stimulating economies on the local level not just through direct aid, but also through initiatives that provide skills-based training and drive job creation.

Finding the right balance between protecting American sovereignty and interests and remaining a beacon for hardworking immigrants who wish to make their lives in America will always be a challenge. Coping with a high volume of migrants seeking to enter the country illegally has proven to be an even more vexing problem.

The source of our attraction to immigrants—the democratic, free-market system that has made America a land of opportunity—is not the exclusive possession of the United States. By assisting our neighbors in building up democratic governance, we can help stem the tide of uncontrolled migration, strengthen regional stability, and help people to build better lives for themselves and brighter futures for their countries.

@ Daniel Twining is President of the International Republican Institute.

 

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