5 former presidents appear together for hurricane relief

Five former U.S. presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton speak during a concert at Texas A&M University benefiting hurricane relief efforts in College Station, Texas, U.S., on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 October 2017
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5 former presidents appear together for hurricane relief

AUSTIN, Texas: The five living former presidents appeared together for the first time since 2013 on Saturday at a concert to raise money for victims of devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George H.W. and George W. Bush gathered on stage in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, putting aside politics to try to unite the country after the storms.
Texas A&M is home to the presidential library of the elder Bush. At 93, he has a form of Parkinson’s disease and appeared in a wheelchair at the event. His wife Barbara and George W. Bush’s wife Laura Bush were in the audience.
The concert features the country music band Alabama, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer ‘Soul Man’ Sam Moore, gospel legend Yolanda Adams and Texas musicians Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.
The appeal backed by the ex-presidents has raised $31 million since it began on Sept. 7, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for George H.W. Bush.
Earlier on Saturday, President Donald Trump recorded a video greeting that avoids his past criticism of the former presidents and called them “some of America’s finest public servants.”
“This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another,” Trump said in the message.
The last time the five were together was in 2013, when Obama was still in office, at the dedication of George W. Bush’s presidential library in Dallas.
There is precedent for former presidents joining forces for post-disaster fundraising. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised money together after the 2004 South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina the next year. Clinton and George W. Bush combined to seek donations after Haiti’s 2011 earthquake.
“It’s certainly a triple, if not a home run, every time,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Presidents have the most powerful and prolific fundraising base of any politician in the world. When they send out a call for help, especially on something that’s not political, they can rake in big money.”
Amid criticism that his administration was initially slow to aid storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, Trump accused island leaders of “poor leadership,” and later tweeted that, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” while saying that Federal Emergency Management Agency, first-responders and military personnel wouldn’t be able to stay there forever.
But Rottinghaus said those attending Saturday’s concert were always going to be viewed more favorably since polling consistently shows that “any ex-president is seen as less polarizing than the current president.”
“They can’t get away from the politics of the moment,” he said of current White House occupants. “Ex-presidents are able to step back and be seen as the nation’s grandfather.”
Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas’ Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, eventually unleashing historic flooding in Houston and killing more than 80 people. Shortly thereafter, all five ex-presidents appeared in a commercial for a fundraising effort known as “One America Appeal.” In it, George W. Bush says, “People are hurting down here.” His father, George H.W. Bush, then replies, “We love you, Texas.”
A website accepting donations, OneAmericaAppeal.org, was created with 100 percent of proceeds pledged to hurricane relief.
Hurricane Irma subsequently hit Florida and Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, while both affected the US Virgin Islands.


India’s Modi set to return to power with a bigger majority, exit polls show

An Indian election officer (R) marks the finger of a voter at a polling centre on the outskirts of Amritsar on May 19, 2019, during the 7th and final phase of India's general election. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2019
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India’s Modi set to return to power with a bigger majority, exit polls show

  • Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there
  • Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to return to power with an even bigger majority in parliament after a mammoth general election that ended on Sunday, exit polls showed, a far better showing than expected in recent weeks.
Modi faced criticism early on in the campaign for failing to create jobs and for weak farm prices, and analysts as well as politicians said the election race was tightening with the main opposition Congress party gaining ground.
But he rallied his Hindu nationalist base and turned the campaign into a fight for national security after tensions rose with Pakistan and attacked his main rival for being soft on the country’s arch foe.
Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament with the Congress party-led opposition alliance at a distant 77 to 108, India Today Axis exit poll showed.
To rule, a party needs to win 272 seats. Modi’s alliance won 336 seats in the 2014 election. The exit polls showed that he not only held to this base in the northern Hindi belt but also breached the east where regional groups traditionally held sway.
Only the south largely resisted the Hindu nationalist surge, except for Karnataka, home to software capital Bengaluru.
Counting of votes recorded in hundreds of thousands of computerised machines will begin early on Thursday and results are expected by noon.
According to another poll released by Todays Chanakya, Modi’s alliance is likely to get around 350 seats. One poll by Neta Newsx, though, forecast Modi’s group falling 30 seats short.
Exit polls, though, have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 million people — around two-thirds of whom voted in the seven-phase election. They have often gotten the number of seats wrong, but the broad direction has generally been correct, analysts say.
With three out of four of the polls indicating a clear majority for Modi’s alliance, Indian equity markets are expected to rally sharply on Monday, while the Indian rupee is also likely to strengthen versus the US dollar, according to market participants.
A clear win would mean Modi can carry out reforms investors expect to make India an easier place for doing business, they said.
“I expect a positive reaction from markets on both the rupee and equities,” said Sajal Gupta, head of forex and rates at Indian brokerage firm Edelweiss Securities.
“Equity indices should have a rally of maybe 250-300 points,” said Gupta, adding the Indian rupee may test the 69 level against the US dollar before retreating.

HINDU HARDLINE FEARS
But a big win for Modi would fan fears that Hindu hard-liner groups would be further emboldened to pursue partisan programs such as punishing Muslims for the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, rewriting school textbooks to reduce India’s Muslim history and attack liberals.
Critics say Modi sought to win votes by stoking fear among the Hindu majority of the potential dangers posed by the country’s Muslims and Pakistan, and promoted a Hindu-first India.
But his supporters say Modi and his allies are simply restoring Hinduism to its rightful place at the core of Indian society. Muslims make up about 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population.
“The massive crowds and response at every rally of Prime Minister Modi were a clear indicator of their approval for his leadership, the performance of the past five years and the vision for the future,” Nalin Kohli, a spokesman of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said.
Dilip Agrawal, 46, who runs a mill in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said he had voted for Modi, despite the difficulties faced by farmers.
“He is doing so much for our country, our national security. Of course farmers want better rates than they are getting, that’s only natural. Only a strong leader can meet our aspirations, and Modi is that leader.”

GANDHI LOSS
The Congress pary led by Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for decades following independence, focused on Modi’s failure to deliver on the promises he made to transform the economy and turn India into a manufacturing hub.
Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha dismissed the poll projections, saying that an alliance led by his party would defeat the BJP when votes are counted on May 23.
“Many of the pollsters, if not all of the pollsters, have got it wrong,” he said, adding that a polarized atmosphere and fear had kept voters from telling pollsters about their actual allegiance.
Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state and a bitter opponent of Modi, said the fight was not over.
“I don’t trust exit poll gossip,” she said on Twitter. “I appeal to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together.”
Voting began on April 11 and ended on Sunday in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
Although Modi’s party is poised to lose seats in northern Uttar Pradesh, which elects the most lawmakers out of all Indian states, the party’s return to power will be on the back of a strong showing in other northern heartland regions and two eastern provinces, CVoter’s polling showed.