2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

January 29, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

This Super Bowl, watch for the Jedi mind tricks

Today’s stories explore a deeper ethical question in the impeachment trial, details of President Trump’s Mideast peace plan, Brexit’s challenge in cutting global ties, the perils of a communication blackout in Kashmir, and unexpected outbursts of friendship in Iowa.

But first, let’s look forward to this weekend.

Ahead of the Super Bowl, consider this. The real game will be the mind game. Just watch the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s a symphony of misdirection, intended to befuddle and bewitch more than bludgeon.

The game is more mental than it’s ever been. This week, the Cleveland Browns hired a 32-year-old Harvard grad to run their football operations. His boss? A Harvard grad known as an analytics guru. Forget three yards and a cloud of dust, think three Ivy League grads and a cloud of spreadsheets.

Baseball started the trend, first with “Moneyball” and more recently with infield shifts, WAR, and the death of the starting pitcher. Basketball followed with its analytics-based three-point revolution, and hockey has added Corsi and zone starts to prove, once and for all, that fighting really is stupid.

If you don’t understand any of that, just know this. Last Super Bowl, Patriots coach Bill Belichick essentially beat the Los Angeles Rams by out-thinking them. His superpower has always been in unorthodox schemes and strategies. And in a league where so much is equal, teams are learning that innovative thinking is the ultimate unequalizer.

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Impeachment stokes questions about Biden and Trump family finances

The Trump impeachment trial brings high drama to an issue that has long simmered among Democrats and Republicans. Conflicts of interest are too common and need to be addressed.

Mark
Ng Han Guan/AP/File
Vice President Joe Biden waves as he walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden and son Hunter Biden at the airport in Beijing Dec. 4, 2013.

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A key part of President Donald Trump’s defense strategy in the Democrat-led impeachment effort has been to insinuate financial wrongdoing on the part of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Senate Republicans have been weighing whether the trial should include witnesses, and if so, whether to call Hunter Biden to testify about his paid position at a Ukrainian gas company during his father’s tenure as U.S. vice president.

Yet as Republicans cast stones at the Bidens, they also live in a glass house. Political attacks about alleged financial self-dealing are likely to persist for both the Trump and Biden campaigns in 2020, whatever happens with impeachment. And on the substance of the issue, President Trump appears far more vulnerable.

“What Hunter [Biden] was doing was not atypical for Washington – and also not good,” says Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen in Washington. “That said, it is orders of magnitude less problematic and less corrupting than the everyday business of the Trump administration, including what the Trump family is doing to profit off of his presidency.”

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Impeachment stokes questions about Biden and Trump family finances

In 2005, then-Sen. Joe Biden voted for a bankruptcy law overhaul that benefited a major banking firm that was paying his son Hunter as a consultant.

More recently, President Donald Trump has seen everyone from foreign dignitaries to U.S. military personnel stay at his name-branded hotels – bolstering his family business income in what some see as a not-so-veiled attempt to curry favor with the president.

Two political families. Two situations that have drawn criticism or at least questions.

They’re part of a larger pattern, according to experts on government ethics. Real or potential conflicts of interest arise in Washington far too often, they say. Now, thanks to the impeachment trial and the 2020 election campaign, the issue is receiving new scrutiny.

Although Mr. Trump is the focal point of Democrat-led impeachment efforts, his insinuation of financial wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens persists as a thread in the drama – and indeed is key to the president’s defense strategy. Senate Republicans have been weighing whether the trial should include witnesses, and if so, whether to call Hunter Biden to testify about his position at a Ukrainian gas company during his father’s tenure as U.S. vice president.

Yet as Republicans cast stones at the Bidens, they also live in a glass house. Political attacks about alleged financial self-dealing are likely to persist for both the Trump and Biden campaigns in 2020, whatever happens with impeachment. And on the substance of the issue, Mr. Trump appears far more vulnerable.

“What Hunter [Biden] was doing was not atypical for Washington – and also not good,” says Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen in Washington. “That said, it is orders of magnitude less problematic and less corrupting than the everyday business of the Trump administration, including what the Trump family is doing to profit off of his presidency.”

Hunter Biden’s role on the board of gas company Burisma may have been inappropriate, Mr. Weissman adds. But that doesn’t justify President Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Democrats are arguing that seeking foreign help in an election is illegal, and the Government Accountability Office said the Trump administration violated the law by putting a hold on Congress-approved aid to Ukraine. The Trump defense team is arguing that there was no quid pro quo, and that even if there was it would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

While Senate Democrats are eager to call witnesses, they are wary of any deal with Republicans that would allow Hunter Biden to be among them.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File
President-elect Donald Trump (center) is applauded by his son Eric Trump (left) daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr. (right) ahead of a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, Jan. 11, 2017. After President Trump was sworn in, he has retained his ownership stake in family businesses, while ceding managerial control to his sons.

“The whole impeachment trial for Trump is just a political hit job to try to smear me,” former Vice President Biden said at a Tuesday event in Iowa.

Still, it’s not just Republicans who have raised questions about possible conflicts within the Biden family. Press reports, including one headlined “Biden Inc.” by Politico, have cited cases over the years of Mr. Biden’s brother James or son Hunter getting jobs or opportunities that appear to tap into their perceived clout as relatives of a powerful politician. The Wall Street Journal has drawn attention to Hunter Biden’s business involvement in China, as well as Ukraine.

Largely missing so far is any evidence that Joe Biden acted to provide favors to his family, including when he took the 2005 vote on the bankruptcy law while Hunter was earning fees from MBNA, a credit card firm in the family’s home state of Delaware.

Also of note: In a chamber of many millionaires, Mr. Biden for decades ranked as one of the least wealthy senators (although speaking fees have pushed up his income in the past few years).

By contrast, the Trump family’s combination of massive and ever-evolving real estate interests with the political power of the presidency has no precedent in modern U.S. history. And a number of lawsuits and subpoenas suggest that some of those entanglements may be crossing lines of legality.

President Trump has officially removed himself from personal involvement in his businesses while in office, has been passing profits to the U.S. Treasury when representatives of foreign governments stay at his company’s hotels, and is moving to sell that hotel. Still, many ethicists say such steps fall short of truly avoiding conflicts of interest, since Mr. Trump can’t “unknow” the properties he owns and upon which his future wealth depends.

Yet, even as Democrats decry Trump family behavior and Republicans call out the Bidens’ “corrupt family business practices,” it’s not clear how much questions of financial impropriety will weigh on voters.

“The vulnerabilities are actually less than people are thinking” for both political families, says Gregory Weiner, a political scientist at Assumption College in Massachusetts, and a scholar affiliated with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“I don’t think what’s going on in the Trump family surprises anyone, and I think his outlandishness in everything he does provides him a form of protection,” he says. “I’m not saying it should, but I think it does.”

If Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, Dr. Weiner adds, Republicans are “probably doing him a favor by getting this [issue] out of the way early.”  

Still, he says politicians ultimately risk ballot-box accountability if their actions become overly troublesome to voters.

And experts say public officials’ financial ethics are deeply important to the health of a democratic republic like the U.S.

It’s probably not realistic to expect politicians to police all the professional activities of adult family members – other than to make plain that no political favors will be granted, says Richard Painter, a former ethics official in the White House of George W. Bush.

But he sees the Trump family entanglements as a different animal.

“This is a very serious danger, if the president himself has a lot of [business] exposure all over the world,” says Mr. Painter, now vice chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“What if Franklin Roosevelt during the World War II period had had all sort of real estate, the Roosevelt Tower in Berlin and in Rome?” he asks. America is “doggone lucky” that was not the case, given that many rich Americans at the time had money in Germany and were isolationists, Mr. Painter says.

From Saudi Arabia to Southeast Asia, Trump business interests overseas are considerable.

“Trump continued to hold more than $130 million in foreign assets in a revocable trust at the end of 2018,” and has reported “more than $100 million in income during his first two years in office generated by these foreign assets,” writes Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, in an email.

Both Mr. Painter and Dr. Weiner, among others, argue that President Trump should have put his assets into a blind trust, under which he would have exited from the business of name-branded hotels and resorts. It’s a step that has been taken by past presidents, but none who had business enterprises on the scale of the Trump Organization (now led by the president’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric).

Where some legal experts say it’s unrealistic to expect an entrepreneur-turned-president to take such a drastic step, the rejoinder from others is that someone unwilling to do that doesn’t need to run for president.

As it stands, while President Trump may have pledged to avoid conflicts of interest, he has left little scope for Congress, the press, or the public to assess his compliance:

  • In pending litigation, he hasn’t complied with what many say is an ironclad obligation to provide his tax returns when asked by Congress.
  • He has said he isn’t benefiting personally from signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 into law. Many experts say the opposite is likely true, due to business- and investment-related provisions in the law.
  • He faces lawsuits over whether activities such as Trump hotel visits by officials from other nations amount to “foreign emoluments,” banned under the Constitution to prevent bribery or improper influence.
  • In another lawsuit, the attorney general for the District of Columbia alleges the Trump inaugural committee “coordinated with the Trump family to grossly overpay for event space in the Trump International Hotel.”
  • Frequent presidential visits amount to free publicity and stepped-up revenue for Trump properties. The Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland has seen an estimated $184,000 in business from U.S. military personnel using it as a stopover on international flights. 
  • While pledging that his companies will avoid striking new deals abroad during his presidency, residential developments in India are among a list of blurry-line activities under the Trump presidency, Ms. Massoglia writes.

Whether for the Trump family’s situation or for other presidents, solutions aren’t easy. Corruption can be tricky to define, for one thing.

Mr. Biden has called for, among other things, a new federal commission on ethics, with a bipartisan structure and subpoena power. And many experts call for greater financial transparency in politics.

“Sunlight can’t work when there’s nothing for it to shine on,” says Dr. Weiner of the American Enterprise Institute.

The Explainer

Trump’s Mideast ‘Deal’: Four questions on who gets what

The details of President Trump’s Middle East peace plan are now emerging. Here, we help you understand the basics and what’s at stake.

Mark

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not. As President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited “Deal of the Century” Middle East peace plan, hailing it as a “win-win opportunity,” the optics alone were a problem.

President Trump’s vision for peace tips heavily to the side of Israel’s historic negotiating positions regarding borders, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees, and limits on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu declared the plan a “historic recognition” of Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank “vital” to its security and central to Jewish heritage.

Saying he has “done a lot” for Israel, Mr. Trump said he is obliged to do the same for the Palestinians or “it just wouldn’t be fair.” Yet his plan makes Palestinian statehood contingent on a list of prerequisites, including the disarming of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and changes in Palestinian textbooks. Mr. Abbas responded to President Trump by saying “your conspiracy plan won’t pass.”

The plan has triggered momentum in Mr. Netanyahu’s government to immediately annex portions of the West Bank. For specific provisions of the plan, which faces legal and political hurdles, please read the full version of this story.

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Trump’s Mideast ‘Deal’: Four questions on who gets what

Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump looks over to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event at the White House, Jan. 28, 2020, to announce his much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When President Donald Trump unveiled his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan Tuesday, a two-state initiative that was three years in the making, he hailed it as a “win-win opportunity” that will ensure prosperity and a brighter future for the region.

But the optics of the event – with Israel’s leader present and his Palestinian counterpart absent – and the plan’s provisions suggest it faces significant political and legal hurdles.

Mr. Trump’s vision for peace tips heavily to the side of Israel’s historic negotiating positions regarding borders, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees, and limits on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state.

Saying he has “done a lot” for Israel, Mr. Trump said he is obliged to do the same for the Palestinians or “it just wouldn’t be fair.” Yet his plan makes Palestinian statehood contingent on a substantial list of prerequisites, including the disarming of Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the plan a “historic recognition” of Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank “vital” to its security and central to Jewish heritage.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to President Trump by saying “your conspiracy plan won’t pass.”

The peace initiative stretches over 53 pages with 22 sections and two annexes. It includes a map showing a jigsaw puzzle Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza linked by hair-thin corridors.

A companion 128-page economic plan details a 10-year development plan for the Palestinians, promising tens of billions of dollars in investment and a boom in prosperity.

Here are four questions about the plan:

What does it offer Israel?

The Trump administration vision incorporates territory in the Jordan Valley as well as settlements in the West Bank where 97% of Jewish settlers reside. The remainder would live in Israeli-controlled enclaves within the Palestinian state. The Israeli military would retain control throughout the West Bank even after a Palestinian state is established.

In Jerusalem, Israel would retain control over the Old City and the city’s holy sites, as well as the core Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The White House

Palestinian refugees would not have a right to return to areas inside Israel, eliminating a historic demand for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel and the U.S. would have sole authority to judge whether the Palestinians meet the preconditions for statehood, including eliminating inciteful content in Palestinian textbooks.

The Trump plan also encourages Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel.

What does it offer the Palestinians?

The Trump plan’s vision for Palestinian statehood reroutes the 1967 border in some places to incorporate Arab towns inside Israel and enclaves in the Negev desert along the border with Egypt.

It calls for the establishment of a land link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as a network of highways joining pieces of the Palestinian state and linking it to the border with Jordan, via Israeli land in the Jordan Valley.

The initiative envisions a Palestinian capital – and a U.S. embassy – in the outlying neighborhoods of East Jerusalem beyond Israel’s security barrier.

A “refugee trust” fund would be set up to compensate Palestinian refugees.

The plan calls for a moratorium on Israeli settlement expansion in areas envisioned as part of a future Palestinian state; it calls for a halt in home demolitions.

Economically, the Trump initiative envisions $50 billion in investment and the creation of a million jobs over a decade, a tripling of GDP, and a 50% decline in the poverty rate. It gives Palestinians a designated area at two Israeli seaports and a tourism zone at the shore of the Dead Sea.

How does it differ from previous plans?

Though it calls for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Trump plan provides a path for Israel to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank. The Palestinians were estranged from the process that led up to the plan, owing to previous unilateral moves by the Trump administration.

It also all but ignores United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been the basis of peacemaking, saying they “have not and will not resolve the conflict.”

It rejects the principle that the Palestinians are owed territory equal to 100% of the areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip before 1967. That means it dispenses with the “Green Line” dividing Israel from the West Bank – the line doesn’t even appear in the plan’s maps as a basis for comparison between current and proposed partition of the territory between Israel and Palestine.

Raneen Sawafta/Reuters
A demonstrator with a Palestinian flag rides on a tractor during a protest against President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jan. 29, 2020.

The Palestinians are given no standing in East Jerusalem or the Old City.

The plan endorses a provocative change in access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the Old City plaza holy to Jews and Muslims – despite saying that the “status quo” there should continue, an internal contradiction. 

Under the status quo, the area has been reserved exclusively for Muslim prayer, but the Trump vision says “people of every faith” should be allowed to worship there. In the past, efforts by Israeli politicians and activists to permit Jewish prayer at the holy site have fueled violence on the mount and throughout the region.

The Trump vision marks the first time an international plan suggests that Israeli Arab towns and cities be transferred to a Palestinian state.

What is the impact of the plan?

The plan has triggered political momentum in Mr. Netanyahu’s government to immediately annex portions of the West Bank. Such a move is nonetheless legally questionable and politically precarious because of the government’s “transitional” lame duck status and because Mr. Netanyahu himself has been indicted for corruption. 

Around the region, reaction is still building. The few voices of support see the plan as a starting point for negotiations, not a final deal. It has sparked calls for protest around the Palestinian territories and a security alert from the U.S. Embassy in Israel warning Americans against visiting Jerusalem’s Old City and Temple Mount.

Even Jewish settlers, political allies of Mr. Netanyahu, have rejected the plan because it envisions a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

The plan will figure prominently in Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign ahead of a March 2 vote, and perhaps shift the debate away from his legal troubles. Even though Mr. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, has endorsed the plan, critics have called it a political gift by President Trump to the prime minister.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

As Britain steps out of EU, it trips on new entanglement

Brexit speaks to a new desire to dissolve the bonds of global cooperation. But that’s not so easy.

Mark

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As Britain steps onto the world stage alone this week for the first time in 50 years – London leaves the European Union on Friday – the government finds itself suddenly entangled in a triangle of tension that will take some deft diplomacy to manage.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that Brexit would pave the way for expanded trade with China and the United States, its two biggest partners after the European Union. But already that is proving tricky.

The British government has proposed a 2% tax on the U.K. sales of high-tech giants like Facebook and Apple. At Davos last week, U.S.Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin threatened to retaliate with a tax on British automobiles.

Washington, meanwhile, has been putting heavy pressure on London, and other allies, not to allow Chinese communications company Huawei to play any part in its 5G networks, warning of espionage dangers.

Mr. Johnson opted yesterday to allow Huawei a limited 5G role; that won’t completely satisfy Mr. Trump, but it won’t sabotage Britain’s prospects for more trade with Beijing, either.

It’s looking a lot harder than fans of the new nationalist politics may have suspected to disassemble our intricately interconnected 21st -century world.

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As Britain steps out of EU, it trips on new entanglement

Alberto Pezzali/AP
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives at Chatham House in London, Jan. 25, 2020, for high-level discussions on trade.

It’s looking a lot harder than fans of the new nationalist politics may have suspected to disassemble our intricately interconnected 21st -century world.

That’s the message emerging in recent days from what might be called a triangle of tension. Caught up in the tussle for global supremacy between superpowers China and the United States, Britain is already finding it a strain to navigate its own path outside the European Union.

The main issues of contention concern trade and technology. But they have arisen against the background of another powerful reminder of global connections: mounting concern in the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere over a virus that has spread from the city of Wuhan, in eastern China, thousands of miles away.

The timing of the three-way economic tension is dramatic. Britain, on the heels of last month’s commanding election victory for Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is about to formalize what he has portrayed as an historic act of national self-assertion. On Friday, after nearly half a century, Britain will end its membership in the European Union.

The promise that Mr. Johnson has held out is that the economic price paid for leaving the world’s largest trading bloc – and Britain’s largest trading partner – will be only temporary. Freed from EU constraints, the argument goes, Britain will be able to seal expanded new relationships with its two other main trade partners, the United States and China.

New tensions

But there have already been early signs of how delicate and difficult such a transition may prove, despite Mr. Johnson’s warm personal relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Indeed, new tensions are tainting the historically close transatlantic alliance as Britain and the United States each adapts to the growing economic clout of China, with which both countries have important trade and commercial ties.

Last week, the annual World Economic Forum of business leaders, politicians, and opinion-formers in the Swiss resort town of Davos witnessed uncommonly frank sparring between Washington and London.

One issue was Britain’s plan for a 2% tax on the U.K. sales of American tech firms such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, a move that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called “arbitrary”; he warned such a tax might trigger a similar move against British auto exports.

But the main disagreement involved China, and Britain’s readiness to allow the Chinese company Huawei to play a part in rolling out its 5G telecommunications networks, despite concerted pressure from the U.S. to bar the firm on the grounds that it poses a security risk.

On the technology tax, Britain may yet beat a retreat. France, which the U.S. also threatened with retaliatory moves, has delayed a similar tax until at least the end of the year.

But the Huawei issue could prove tougher to finesse. And it is at the heart of the main geopolitical contest of the new century: the battle between the U.S. and China for political, economic, and, perhaps most of all, technological supremacy.

The two superpowers recently managed to seal a “phase one” de-escalation of their trade war, reducing some tit-for-tat tariffs and holding off from imposing new ones. But Washington’s principal concerns regarding China’s economic and trade practices, such as state subsidies for major Chinese companies, remain unresolved. And on the tech front, no issue is of more immediate importance than Huawei.

Espionage or protectionism?

From China’s perspective, the call to exclude Huawei is simply protectionism – a bid to help U.S. and other Western companies challenge Huawei’s world-leading position as a firm that can build 5G infrastructure more quickly and cheaply than its competitors, such as Finland’s Nokia and the U.S. firm Cisco.

Washington says the fundamental issue is security. Huawei is a private company. But in a centrally controlled country like Communist Party-ruled China, the fear is that a Huawei role in 5G would offer a ready-made back door for the Chinese state to infiltrate and manipulate critical information and technology systems in Western countries.

This week, Mr. Johnson chose to defy intense U.S. pressure to exclude Huawei completely from 5G in Britain, though he attempted to steer a middle road. Huawei’s share in the new network will be capped at 35%. It will be excluded from the core infrastructure and limited to “peripheral” aspects such as base stations and antennae.

That did not satisfy Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas. “This decision is deeply disappointing for American supporters of the Special Relationship” between the U.K. and the U.S., he tweeted. “I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing.”

Stuck in the middle

That jibe points to the tricky path Mr. Johnson will have to tread between Washington and Beijing. He does not want to anger President Trump, on whom he is counting for support in achieving a U.K.-U.S. free trade deal. Yet he cannot risk damaging Britain’s increasingly important trade relationship with China; that would have been a real danger if he had sided with the U.S.

And Mr. Johnson still has to find a way to manage a complex web of international connections closer to home: those with the European Union.

Britain will formally withdraw from the EU this week, but the two sides have until the end of the year to agree on new terms of trade unless London asks for an extension. And negotiations on the nuts and bolts of what Brexit will mean in practice may provide an even weightier reminder of how interconnected the world has become.

The political imperatives of Brexit – to unshackle Britain from the constraints of the EU – would suggest a break from existing trade arrangements and from regulatory frameworks shared with the other member states.

But greater freedom from EU regulation will come at the price of less access to EU markets, Brussels has warned. That has alarmed many British businesses that rely on tariff-free trade with Europe or on European supply chains.

Mr. Johnson has a lot of balls to keep in the air.

Kashmir’s five-month blackout: Life in a swirl of rumors

Amid an internet shutdown, many Kashmiris have felt cut off from not just the outside world, but a sense of trust and truth. As the blackout starts to lift, one writer looks back at months in the dark.

Mark
Danish Ismail/Reuters/File
A Kashmiri girl rides her bicycle past Indian security force personnel standing guard in front of closed shops in a street in Srinagar, Oct. 30, 2019.

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One day in early August, Kashmiri teenager Adil Ahanger walked anxiously toward his father in their kitchen.

Were India and Pakistan at war, he asked?

The answer was no. But it’s the kind of alarming rumor that has swirled around Kashmir since summer, when New Delhi instituted the most sweeping changes to the contested region in decades – and promptly instituted a communications blackout, too, the longest ever imposed in a democracy.

Without steady phone or internet service, Kashmiris have navigated the crisis largely by rumor. For months, “news” has been a matter of hearsay: dapaan this; no, dapaan that. It’s a word that loosely translates as “they say,” or “it is said”; a word without a face, attached to any tidbit of information without a sure source. Misinformation spread like wildfire, along with fear, as people munched through rumors, with little way of confirming or disproving them.

This month, India’s Supreme Court ordered a review of the blackout, and internet access started to crawl back – 301 government-approved sites, that is. That leaves Kashmir residents once again saying, dapaan, they say the internet will be restored.

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Kashmir’s five-month blackout: Life in a swirl of rumors

For Indian-controlled Kashmir, the past five months have been a roller coaster, the rockiest, most consequential in decades: an influx of troops; its autonomy stripped; a security clampdown; thousands of arrests; a near-brush with war, between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan; and a communications blackout, the longest ever in a democracy.

But as confusion and chaos grew, the rumors had one thing in common: dapaan.

Loosely translated as “they say,” or “it is said,” dapaan is a word without a face, attached to any tidbit of information without a sure source. It’s a catchall for anything from fact to fiction, news to rumors. And this fall, as Kashmiris lived under an unprecedented blockade, it’s the rumors that tended to multiply.

Sometimes, they proved true.

On July 25, about 10,000 troops were suddenly deployed to Jammu and Kashmir, already the largest militarized zone in the world: a semi-autonomous, Muslim-majority state, in a region India and Pakistan has fought over several times. The Hindu nationalist party in New Delhi had already made clear its intention of taking major steps in Kashmir, after a resounding electoral victory. Then, in early August, pilgrims and tourists were told to leave the state, as the military was put on high alert.

The developments proved to be a perfect recipe for something the residents of the Himalayan region, no stranger to conflict, had never witnessed at quite this scale: panic.

Residents stocked up on essentials, petrol pumps were overcrowded, and roads witnessed massive traffic jams. Some assumed the government was simply creating space for fear to breed. “People bought whatever they could. All of them seemed to be in a hurry,” says department store owner Mohammed Zubair, who worried he did not have enough staff for the “incessant gush” of customers.

Dapaan India will strike Pakistan.

Dapaan curfew passes have been distributed.

Dapaan Ganesh picket has been captured by Pakistan.

Meanwhile, speculations grew around Articles 370 and 35A in the Indian Constitution, which granted the state special status.

In early August, teenager Adil Ahanger walked anxiously toward his father, sitting in their kitchen in Srinagar, the region’s largest city. Moments before, he had overheard someone saying that India and Pakistan were getting ready for another full-scale war.

“Abu, dapaan Jung wathi,” he said. (Father, they say it’s wartime.)

No, his dad replied; India and Pakistan could hardly afford it. But “we have been at war since 1990, people die here every day,” added the car mechanic, whose business has been hit hard by the clampdown. “It would be better if they end the suffering once and for all.”

Adil’s mother, Haleema, turned from the gas stove to break the latest “news” she’d heard at the bakery: “Dapaan Yasin Malik has been killed in jail.” (The separatist leader had not.)

That was the general state of mind when, on Aug. 5, the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s autonomy granted under Article 370, and then split the state into two territories directly controlled by New Delhi – the most significant shift in years. Within days, internet and phone service had been switched off. 

Misinformation spread like wildfire, along with fear. People munched through information, significant or insignificant, and soon Kashmir was flooded with rumors of little credibility – and little way of confirming or disproving them.

Dapaan lots of people were killed in South Kashmir.

Dapaan they spotted men in Afghan attire.

Dapaan Anantnag will no longer be a district.

Mukhtar Khan/AP
A Kashmiri journalist checks his cellphone at a media facilitation center in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Dec. 31, 2019. Authorities are beginning to restore web services in the disputed region, about five months after India’s government downgraded its semi-autonomy and imposed a strict security and communications lockdown.

“Kashmir and its relationship with rumor are not something new,” says Amir Amin, a political scientist at Kashmir University. “We point almost everything to dapaan, and it became more potent before and after the abrogation of Article 370. From war with Pakistan to huge numbers of freedom fighters from Afghanistan crossing the Line of Control, I heard everything.” 

The monthslong shutdown “left a trail of rumors each passing day,” says Ashraf Peer, a retired government employee. “I heard so many things, and surprisingly every sentence started with the word dapaan.”

The Indian government sought to quell rumors. Yet one local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes some of the information has been “leaked deliberately,” in phrases, to avoid a sudden surge of emotions getting “out of hand” for the administration.

News and rumors “were so intertwined,” he remembers. “Reports, information, and pictures of government orders and advisories reached my desk from our sources and minutes later were refuted by the administration.” Even rumors of the communications blackout were refuted, he says – until “the bubble broke” at midnight, and “services were snapped.”

“Kashmir is a place where if someone sneezes in Lak Chowk, the same incident is projected as a bomb by the time it reaches Raj Bhavan,” the then-governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik, told reporters in July, dismissing rumors that the state’s status would change. Within a week, it had.

Now, six months later, news is slowly seeping back. Phone service was gradually restored last year. This week, after the Supreme Court ordered a review of the internet cutoff, 2G mobile web was made available – though only 301 government-approved websites have been made accessible, and no social media.

Yet dapaan still pervades.

Dapaan internet traawan yalle.” They say fast internet will be restored.

A letter from

Austin, Texas

Pass the casserole – Iowans and activists bond over politics

For many Iowans, hospitality extends beyond ideology. So when presidential campaigns come calling every four years, many politicos get something they never bargained on: friendship.

Mark
Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Alex Neumann (right), a recent college graduate from California, refers to Art Tellin, an octogenarian from North Liberty, Iowa, as one of his best friends. "I hope Iowa has been good to Alex," says Mr. Tellin. "You can't help but like the kid."

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If it weren’t for Dana Van Abbema, says Alex Neumann, a young activist with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, he’d never eat dinner. She and other Iowans text him almost daily asking what he would like, and then drop the meal off at the local field office.

“I always used to joke that I don’t know what it’s like to live with a mom because I have gay dads,” says Mr. Neumann, who is from San Francisco, laughing. “But now I know.”

Every four years, young activists descend upon Iowa to help their candidate win the country’s first nominating contest. For scores of young people, this means moving to a place where they have likely never been – a state that has more pigs than people. 

The nature of their jobs requires them to integrate themselves into their new communities. This results in some surprising, yet endearing, friendships between people who find themselves working together for the same cause.

Ms. Van Abbema says she feels “mom-like” toward Mr. Neumann, and talks about how much he has grown over the past few months.

“Me becoming close with Dana brings the country together in its own small way,” says Mr. Neumann.

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Pass the casserole – Iowans and activists bond over politics

Alex Neumann runs up and down the snaking line of Iowans, doling out high-fives and hugs. Greg, Daphne, Becky, and dozens more: He greets them all by name. A little girl gasps and points, saying “Mommy look! It’s Alex!”

A few months ago, Mr. Neumann was a stranger to all of these people. In fact, he was a stranger to the state of Iowa. Now he finds himself working the hallways of Liberty High School in North Liberty cheerfully directing volunteers and greeting friends.

Every four years, young activists and field organizers descend upon the state to help their candidate win the country’s first nominating contest. For scores of young people, many of them from the coasts, this means moving to a place where they have likely never been – to a state that has more pigs than people. 

The nature of their jobs – organizing local support for their candidate – requires them to integrate themselves into their new communities. This results in some surprising, yet endearing, friendships between people who are otherwise very different from one another but find themselves working together for the same cause.

“We have nothing in common. I’m a middle-aged woman in HR,” says Dana Van Abbema, a local volunteer with the Pete Buttigieg campaign and friend of Alex. Then she motions around the room. “But we have this one thing.”

Ms. Van Abbema follows Mr. Neumann’s orders, greeting arrivals and directing them to the back of the line. She says she feels “mom-like” toward Mr. Neumann, and talks about how much he has grown over the past few months. At first he was shy and hesitant about approaching strangers, says Ms. Van Abbema, proudly watching him work the line.

“Me becoming close with Dana brings the country together in its own small way,” says Mr. Neumann.

“You’ve made a girl from New York feel at home”

At rallies across Iowa, many candidates are introduced by the local field organizer. At Mr. Buttigieg’s North Liberty event, a young woman named Ruby takes the stage.

“You’ve made a girl from New York feel at home in a place that once felt very far away,” says Ruby, to cheers from the crowd.

For many Iowans, their hospitality extends beyond ideology. Although they plan to caucus for a particular candidate, they befriend local organizers across campaigns. Not only do they welcome the chance to have new voices in their communities, but they also see it as their duty.

At a house party for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Newton, Iowa, on Friday, three women trade stories about the young staffers they have hosted and befriended over the years. Although local Newtonians Fran Henderson, Jenni Patty, and Joan Tyler are planning to caucus for Senator Klobuchar, they’ve formed relationships with young staffers across several campaigns.

Ms. Henderson, a retired pharmacy owner, hosted “a group of kids” from Chicago with the Buttigieg campaign. Ms. Patty, an instructor at the community college, hosted a staffer with Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign this summer.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
At a house party for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Newton, Iowa, Joan Tyler (far left), Jenni Patty (center), and Fran Henderson share stories about the young field organizers they have befriended. “They’re all just such good kids," says Ms. Tyler, a retired teacher, "so polite and ambitious.”

Even Jim Pryke, the host of the house party, is currently hosting an organizer for the Tom Steyer campaign.

“I was like, ‘There’s got to be a way to make this a good thing,’” says Mr. Pryke, referring to the big field of candidates. “To have so many candidates saying similar things, and to have so many people listening – I just went into this knowing there was a larger Democratic message to spread.”

Mr. Pryke invited all of the local staffers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren over for a cookout after the Fourth of July parade. Some of the Warren staffers asked if their friends and roommates could come. Soon enough the party ballooned to almost two dozen people, with organizers for Ms. Warren, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Booker, Mr. Buttigieg, and Sen. Kamala Harris all at his house eating hamburgers. Since then, he has invited all of the local organizers over every couple of weeks for a big country breakfast. The final one is planned for Wednesday, he says, to get together one last time before the caucus.

Bev Clark yells into the living room, telling a volunteer named Chris to come get himself some of Senator Klobuchar’s famous meat-and-Tater Tots hotdish before it’s gone.

“Bev, I’ve told you this,” says Chris Kingsby, who moved to Newton from Arkansas to work for Senator Klobuchar’s campaign. “I’m a pescatarian.”

Mr. Kingsby laughs as he explains to Ms. Clark, again, what that means. He tells me later that Ms. Clark is his best friend in Newton, and sometimes calls him at 10 p.m. to give him advice on how to reach more Iowans.

Ms. Clark, proudly watching Mr. Kingsby work the crowd, says she knew as soon as he arrived that he didn’t bring warm enough clothes for an Iowa winter. She gave him an old coat of her husband’s and directions to the farm store – where, she told him, you buy everything in Iowa, from clothes to food to car scrapers.

“Our communities around here are so old; we need young people,” says Ms. Clark. “Aging Iowa is a big problem.”

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Chris Kingsby (right), who moved from Arkansas to Newton, Iowa, to work for Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign, says his best friend in town is Bev Clark. “We’re like parents to these kids,” says Ms. Clark. “They’re always hungry.”

According to the Iowa Department on Aging, Iowa ranks 18th for its share of elderly population: Almost 17% are over age 65. Almost 45% of those Iowans live alone – making these newfound relationships even more valuable. 

“As an older person, you get used to being disregarded by younger people,” says Ms. Tyler, a retired teacher. “But these kids really care about intergenerational relationships. Now we get to have conversations, and they talk to us like we’re people.”

“I want to tell you about your son”

Mr. Neumann, who grew up outside San Francisco with two gay dads, never thought he’d be doing something like this.

But in 2008, California’s Proposition 8 (an amendment banning same-sex marriage that was eventually overturned), “tore his family apart.” So as soon as an openly gay candidate, a small-town Indiana mayor, announced his exploratory committee, Mr. Neumann says he had to get involved.

He graduated a year early from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to work for Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign in Iowa in October. But it wasn’t until his fathers were driving him from California, and he watched the miles of Nebraska cornfields speed past on Interstate 80, that it hit him.

“I was like, ‘Uh-oh. What am I doing?’” he says, laughing.

But the hesitation faded as soon as he arrived at the home of his host family. It’s just supposed to be a bed to sleep in at night, but he says the couple always offers to feed him, and makes sure he has a car scraper for snow.

He says he’s hardly home, often working until 11 p.m. If it weren’t for Ms. Van Abbema and other local women, says Mr. Neumann, he’d never eat dinner. They text him almost daily asking what he would like, and then drop the meal off at the local field office. For Christmas, Ms. Van Abbema gave Mr. Neumann a bobblehead replica of himself, complete with the two Buttigieg campaign bracelets he wears every day.

“I always used to joke that I don’t know what it’s like to live with a mom because I have gay dads,” says Mr. Neumann, laughing. “But now I know.”

Mr. Neumann’s fathers – Dan Neumann and David Richardson – are visiting from California. One wears a yellow Buttigieg T-shirt; the other is decorated with Pete stickers. Locals come up and hug them, saying they must be Alex’s fathers. One woman tears up meeting Mr. Richardson, saying she first bonded with Alex about how much he loves his parents. 

Alex excitedly drags Mr. Richardson over to meet his best friend, octogenarian Art Tellin.

“I want to tell you about your son,” says Mr. Tellin, pulling Mr. Richardson close to his walker. “He is an extraordinary man.”

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The Airbus-Boeing rivalry – in post-scandal reform

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In future textbooks about corporate ethics, one chapter should certainly be dedicated to how two great rivals in aviation – Boeing and Airbus – were also rivals in how they fixed their company culture after each suffered a major scandal.

For Airbus, the climax of its recovery may have come this week. It announced Tuesday that it expects to pay nearly $4 billion in penalties to settle corruption. Four years ago – and much to its credit – Airbus self-reported to authorities that its reliance on third-party sales agents to sell jets had resulted in cases of bribery. Outside experts were brought in to clean up the company and create more transparency.

In Boeing’s case, the scandal revolves around two fatal crashes of its 737 Max aircraft. Boeing has apologized to families of the crash victims and set up a fund for them. It has also set up a better way for employees to funnel complaints. Its new chief, David Calhoun, promises to restore Boeing’s reputation for engineering integrity.

Both companies have a financial interest to reform. But at a time of any self-made crisis, executives also have an interest in conducting a deep moral audit of their companies.

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The Airbus-Boeing rivalry – in post-scandal reform

Reuters
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, July 1.

In future textbooks about corporate ethics, one chapter should certainly be dedicated to how two great rivals in aviation – Boeing and Airbus – were also rivals in how they fixed their company culture after each suffered a major scandal.

So far, their stories of reform are a good read.

For Airbus, the climax of its recovery may have come this week. It announced Tuesday that it expects to pay nearly $4 billion in penalties to settle corruption cases with France, Britain, and the United States. That would be one of the largest fines for corporate corruption in recent years. The hefty penalties, if approved by the courts, as well as a possible legal admission of guilt, are just part of a long process of reform for the European plane-maker.

Four years ago – and much to its credit – Airbus self-reported to authorities that its reliance on third-party sales agents to sell jets had resulted in cases of bribery. Outside experts were brought in to clean up the company and create more transparency. The use of middlemen ended. More than 100 Airbus employees were let go. And a new chief executive, Guillaume Faury, said ethical compliance was priority No. 1. 

“To embed irreproachable behaviors in all our business undertakings sustainably, we must take a hard look at both our systems and our culture,” he said soon after taking the helm.

In Boeing’s case, the scandal revolves around two fatal crashes of its 737 Max aircraft over the past two years, one in Ethiopia and the other in Indonesia. The aircraft was grounded last March by the U.S.

Internal memos revealed that a few employees knew of flaws in the aircraft that some pilots might be able to deal with. In the rush to compete with a new Airbus jet, Boeing was lax in its design and in its communication with regulators and airlines.

The technical fix to get the 737 Max back in the air is underway. But in the meantime, Boeing has apologized to families of the crash victims and set up a fund for them. It has also set up a better way for employees to funnel complaints. In December, its chief executive was fired and a new chief, David Calhoun, now promises to restore Boeing’s reputation for engineering integrity.

“We’re just going to get back down to restoring trust with one another, trust with our customers, and trust with our regulator,” he said in mid-January.

Both companies have a strong financial interest to make rapid reforms and comply with authorities. But at a time of any self-made crisis, executives also have an interest in conducting a deep moral audit of their companies. Airbus and Boeing have long had ethical codes. What’s key to avoiding mistakes, according to Gale Andrews, Boeing’s former chief ethics officer, “is the underlying moral intent.”

On that score the companies must outdo themselves even as they try to outdo each other in building better airplanes.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Finding confidence in our abilities

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Sometimes it may seem we don’t have the capability or energy to do what needs to get done. But God has given all of us the strength, ability, and joy to accomplish good things each and every day.

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Finding confidence in our abilities

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

One time a friend told me that she was losing her confidence in being able to care for herself. Not so much because of things that had happened, but because several people had told her that because she was getting on in years, she couldn’t expect to do things she used to. These comments, while well intentioned, were on her mind, making her uncertain about doing a number of things.

In comforting my friend, I assured her that she was, and always would be, God’s capable, active daughter. This was based on what I’d learned in Christian Science about God as our creator. God made each of us in His spiritual image, reflecting God-given capabilities that can never diminish. This spiritual reality is a powerful basis for confidence in our ability to do what we need to do each day. My friend felt encouraged and strengthened by these ideas, which are relevant to all of us, at every stage of life.

Not every course of action is appropriate for every person or situation. But everyone does have a right to be confident that because God, Spirit, is our creator, we are imbued with the strength and buoyancy of divine Spirit – which don’t diminish or deteriorate. As we understand this, it’s possible to reject negative notions about our abilities, remain quietly confident, and experience freedom and joy at any age. We can refuse to entertain thoughts of uncertainty or be fearful that we won’t be able to do what’s needed.

Christ Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). God’s goodness is expressed in His entire creation, including you and me. This means that qualities such as harmony, poise, mental strength, and the ability to do something successfully or efficiently are constantly present, part of us, giving us unlimited potential.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes, “We are all capable of more than we do” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 89). These stirring words encourage me to accept that it is perfectly normal and natural for each of us to be active and confident. We have the ability to not only do what we need to do each day, but actually look forward to more inspired, meaningful activity!

This has helped me many times to change my attitude, stay strong, and carry on living a happy, active life. When doubt has knocked at the door of my thinking, I’ve thought of this Bible passage: “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). This reminds me that when there’s an important activity to be undertaken, I can go about doing it with a humble desire to rely on the sustaining assistance of divine Love. This brings self-assurance, vitality, and joy to each task.

Yes, this confidence may be challenged from time to time. But we all have what it takes to do what we rightfully need to do each day. The Bible urges, “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:35, New International Version). Confidence that springs from the spiritual reality of our strength and wholeness as God’s spiritual offspring is empowering. No matter where we are in life, we can achieve good things each and every day.

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“Should old acquaintance be forgot”

Yves Herman/Reuters
Members of the European Parliament marked the U.K.'s exit by singing “Auld Lang Syne” after voting in favor of the withdrawal agreement at the European Parliament in Brussels on Jan. 29, 2020. Britain is scheduled to leave the EU Friday.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when our Stephen Humphries looks into the earnest and passionate debate over the novel “American Dirt” and the questions of cultural appropriation. Who gets to tell someone’s story?

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