Trump faces grave consequences of Alabama election upset

US President Donald Trump ignored the advice of party leaders to throw his weight behind 70-year-old Roy Moore, seeing the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice as something of a kindred political spirit. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Trump faces grave consequences of Alabama election upset

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is scrambling to come to grips with a more perilous political reality, after a stunning Democratic election victory in America’s deeply conservative south threw the depth and breadth of his support into serious doubt.
Doug Jones’ win in an Alabama Senate race Tuesday — the first such Democratic victory in a quarter-century — cut the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, squeezing Trump’s ability to get legislation through Congress.
The finger of blame turned squarely to Republican candidate Roy Moore, who ran on an openly bigoted message, was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls and ignored party calls to drop out.
Sensing the gathering storm, Trump tried to absolve himself of blame and urged Republicans to run “GREAT Republican candidates” in future.
“Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” Trump tweeted, reminding Americans that Moore was not his first choice in the race.
He had unsuccessfully endorsed another candidate in the party primary.
But as the broader political autopsy commenced, Trump’s role in the race and the implications for his presidency came under the microscope.
Trump ignored the advice of party leaders to throw his weight behind 70-year-old Moore, seeing the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice as something of a kindred political spirit.
Like Trump, Moore had sought to win through a coalition of evangelical and white voters, betting that bedrock of support would be enough — and would shield him from any political scandal.
Moore — aided by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon — also borrowed liberally from Trump’s playbook, reveling in racially charged statements such as casting doubt on the desirability of abolishing slavery, as well as constant attacks on the press and other “elites.”
In the run-up to the vote, Trump appealed to evangelicals by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and worked to pass tax reform, a central issue for Republicans.
But some in Trump’s inner circle now wonder whether Alabama shows the limits of his approach: If it does not work in deep red Alabama, where can it work?
The question is one that the White House will have to solve urgently. Next year sees mid-term legislative elections that offer Democrats a chance to regain control of both chambers of Congress.
For months, Republican donors have voiced concerns that the party may lose control of the House of Representatives.
After the upset in Alabama, even the Senate may be in play.
“It opens the door to an unlikely Democratic Senate takeover next year,” wrote Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s politics department.
Keeping control of both houses is key to Trump passing his agenda — and avoiding moves toward his own impeachment.
With an approval rating of 35 percent, Trump has faced one controversy after another during his 11 months in office.
Normally cautious paper USA Today all but called for Trump’s resignation after he suggested a female senator would do “anything” for campaign contributions.
“A president who’d all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes” the paper wrote in a searing editorial.
With 100 percent of Alabama precincts reporting, Jones won 49.9 percent of the vote compared to Moore’s 48.4 percent, a margin of nearly 21,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, according to figures posted by US media.
Jones, 63, is a former federal prosecutor who shot to local prominence when he convicted members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed a black church in the 1960s, killing four girls.
“We have shown the country the way that we can be unified,” Jones told ecstatic supporters at his election night party in Birmingham.
Alabama, which Trump won last year by 28 points, has been at a “crossroads” before, and sometimes did not take the correct path forward, Jones said.
“You took the right road,” he said.
Moore however refused to concede, declaring: “When the vote is this close, it is not over.”
He signaled he wanted a recount, but Alabama law only provides for an automatic recount if the margin is within half a percentage point. The current margin stands at 1.5 percent.
Alabama officials will certify the vote between December 26 and January 3. If no recount is ordered, Jones is expected to be seated in the US Senate in early January.
“In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race and we are awaiting certification by the Secretary of State,” Moore said late Wednesday.
“Abortion, sodomy, and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

Updated 21 min 2 sec ago
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India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

  • Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in India where 80% of women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
  • Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.

NEW DELHI: India scrapped a controversial tax on sanitary pads on Saturday, a move hailed by campaigners who say it will help more girls to go to school during their periods and boost their job prospects.
Activists say removing the tax on pads tackles one of the biggest barriers to education for girls, who are often forced to stay at home due to a lack of access to clean hygiene products, while also facing stigma and a lack of toilets in schools.
Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in a country where four out of five women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
“I am sure all mothers and sisters will be very happy to hear that sanitary pads are now 100 percent exempt from tax,” India’s interim finance minister, Piyush Goyal, told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi.
Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.
The decision triggered protests, petitions and court cases that questioned why the government taxed pads as a luxury rather than an essential item, such as condoms, which are tax-free.
Last year, lawmaker Sushmita Dev launched a petition to demand a reduction or total removal of taxes on pads, citing that about 70 percent of women in India could not afford them.
The online petition gained more than 400,000 signatures.
“This was a most-awaited and necessary step to help girls and women to stay in school, their jobs, to practice proper menstrual hygiene,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness on menstrual health.
“This will help them to grow, to show their true potential,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Indian girls and women face many challenges when they have their periods, especially in rural areas where a lack of awareness and the cost of pads mean many instead use unsanitary cloth or rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.
Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene “Padman,” starring Akshay Kumar — one of Hindi cinema’s most popular action heroes — triggered debate over the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene in India after its release earlier this year.
Kumar is at the forefront of a campaign by Niine Movement, an initiative promoting menstrual hygiene, to help increase the number of women using pads.
Amar Tulsiyan, founder of Niine Movement, called Saturday’s decision “a big win for everyone” in India, where, he said, 82 percent women and girls have no access to sanitary pads.
“The tax exemption is a massive boost,” he said.
More than a third of girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, as they lack access to toilets or pads, and many receive no education about menstruation before reaching puberty, according to a recent report by charity WaterAid and UNICEF.