2 weeks left, final US debate is on foreign policy

Updated 23 October 2012

2 weeks left, final US debate is on foreign policy

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney tangle over foreign policy Monday night in their final presidential debate, with both candidates still looking for a breakout moment in a deadlocked White House campaign two weeks before Election Day.
Polls show Obama with a small advantage in voter perceptions about which candidate is best prepared to handle US foreign policy in chaotic world. Romney will do his best in the 90-minute debate in Florida to minimize the president’s accomplishments and win the support of the small slice of undecided voters among the millions of Americans who will be watching.
The former Massachusetts governor has been hitting Obama hard on the administration’s changing explanations of what happened in last month’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed four Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The Syria violence, Iran-Israel tensions, China, terrorism and the war winding down in Afghanistan were also expected to come up in Monday’s debate. Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News has picked five topics, devoting the most time to the Middle East and terrorism. Other subjects are America’s role in the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, and the rise of China.
As the Nov. 6 vote approaches, 41 of the 50 US states are essentially decided, and the candidates are fighting over the remaining nine battleground states, including the critical Ohio and Florida.
The battleground states assume outsized importance because the presidency is decided in state-by-state contests, not by a national popular vote. The system can lead to a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the presidency, as former Vice President Al Gore did in 2000.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday showed Obama and Romney tied, with both candidates backed by 47 percent of likely voters nationwide.
The poll was conducted after the second presidential debate last Tuesday that Obama was seen as winning after a poor performance in the first debate on Oct. 3. In the last such poll before the presidential debates began, the president held a three-point lead over Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent.
Among the wider pool of all registered voters in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama leads Romney by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent. Romney is ahead among men (53 percent to 43 percent), and Obama leads among women (51 percent to 43 percent).
With early and absentee voting already under way in many battleground states, including Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa, the tight poll results indicate that the race could be decided by which campaign is best at getting supporters to the voting booth.
In addition to the political fight over the Obama administration’s handling of the Libya attack, reports flashed around Washington over the weekend about developments in the administration’s efforts to end Iran’s suspected drive to build a nuclear weapon. The White House denied a New York Times report that there was an agreement in principle for bilateral talks with Tehran after the election. White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, however, said the administration had repeatedly expressed its willingness for such talks.
Iran’s economy is suffering under international sanctions aimed at convincing the Islamic Republic to stop uranium enrichment, a precursor to creating a nuclear weapon. Obama has said if diplomacy and sanctions fail, he was ready to use military action. So has Romney, although he has said US threats should be more robust.
Romney on Sunday refused to say if he would be open to one-on-one talks with Iran if elected. He was asked about Iran while officiating a coin toss at a football game on a Florida beach between reporters and his senior campaign aides. Romney, who was taking a break from debate preparations, also declined to say how he was feeling about Monday’s debate or the latest polling.
Obama has ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially after the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. But the administration’s response to the Libya attack and questions over security at the Benghazi consulate have given Romney an issue to question Obama’s foreign policy leadership.
The economy and other domestic issues remain the main focus of most voters and both campaigns.
Romney claims Obama has failed to tell Americans what he would do with a second four-year term. Obama insists that Romney is hiding details of his much-promoted plan to cut federal income tax rates. Obama says Romney can’t make all the tax cuts he has proposed without adding to the deficit or shifting more of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class.
Romney also has vowed to repeal the president’s health care reforms, but Obama says Romney has failed to say what he would do to replace the law which would provide health insurance to 30 million Americans who now have no coverage.
The Obama campaign has also stressed that it’s hard to predict what Romney might do as president, since he has changed his positions on many issues.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 23 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

 Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

 Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

 The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

 Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

 Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

 The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

 “Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

 “So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

 Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

 The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

 Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

 Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

 She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

 One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

 There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

 The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”