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Putin’s strangle – crumbling Russia’s independent press | ticker VIEWS

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As a first generation Australian with two Russian parents, I have always found myself trapped between two ideologies – the east and the west

My mother and father spent a large chunk of their lives in Soviet Russia, living through its collapse and the turbulent transition to capitalism led by Boris Yeltsin.

When Vladimir Putin came into office, it was seen as a turning point for the country. A potential for stability brought by the hope that Russia could convert to resembling a Western nation.

While watching state television news, I was entranced by Putin. I was mesmerised by the propaganda that was fed through censored journalism and faked approval ratings. 

More than 20 years later and Putin is still in power as the democracy that was once promised, continues to creep further out of reach.

What was once a presidency full of possibility, it now has mutated into what some call – a dictatorship

This has bled into various sections of life from business to education, where corruption is rife.

Journalism has been one crucial industry impacted by the changing landscape of Russia, with press freedom gradually deteriorating through the silencing of journalists.

For independent journalists this has meant being labelled as “foreign agents” for any funding received from international organisations including small donations.

Putin insists that the Foreign Agents law works in favour of preserving the transparency of companies.

“I’m sure our people, who are taking the money, are honest and kind but those paying them, as a rule, are guided by an agenda of trying to restrain Russia – that’s the problem,”

Putin says

The president compares his country’s laws to the U.S, who has imposed similar legislations since 1938. He says Russia’s are more lenient as they do not ban companies from operating.

“These organisations do keep working and functioning, however they are required to report if they are engaged in internal political activity and receive funding from abroad, nobody’s rights are being infringed here whatsoever.”

Independent news channel, Rain TV labelled a ‘Foreign Agent’ as The Kremlin presses down on vocal journalists

Dozhd (TV Rain) is an independent news channel that has gained over 2 million followers since it launched in 2010 and one of the first Russian news organisations to report on the protests against the alleged rigging of the country’s parliamentary elections, but in August it was labelled a foreign agent.

Dozhd Editor-in-Chief Tikhon Dzyadko says the event was “very humiliating” for him as he views himself as a “patriot”.

He says “this legislation is to punish opponents” and to make “people afraid of speaking up”.

“We are completely sure that everything we have been doing for and with Rain TV, we have been doing for the good of Russia and Russians,” says Mr Dzyadko.

“Because a lot of young people, they do not watch the TV, they don’t watch the propaganda. They use YouTube, Telegram, TikTok, Instagram, other major platforms, and the problem is that there are two different realities.”

He says the gap between the government and independent media continues to widen with the foreign agent label highlighting “that our enemies are the state”

This comes amid the increasing silencing of journalists, with Novaya Gazeta newspaper fined on Wednesday for failing to properly label “foreign agents” in their news coverage.

The safety of media personnel is constantly threatened with Russia being the most dangerous European country for journalists.

Between 1992 and 2021, 58 journalists died in Russia, with 38 of them murdered, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

When asked why he chooses to stay within the country, Mr Dzyadko says he spent two years in the U.S. but is too deeply rooted within Russia to migrate.

“Everything I have, everything I know, is here and I want my kids to live in this country, and my goal is to make the life here better,”

“Of course it’s not very comfortable now, of course it is very unstable, but at the same time, I see that we have millions of our viewers here in Russia for whom it is very important that we’re reporting from Moscow because these people want this country to be better as well.”

Natasha is an Associate Producer at ticker NEWS with a Bachelor of arts from Monash University. She has previously worked at Sky News Australia and Monash University as an Online Content Producer.

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TikTok and the lollipop Washington wants to take away

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What to do with Tik Tok hit home even with the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as he stood next to the American president, Joe Biden, last Friday afternoon for their joint media conference in Ottawa Biden’s visit, including an address to the Canadian parliament

Question to the PM: “Knowing what you know, are you comfortable with the idea of your children or family members using TikTok?”

“I am obviously concerned with their privacy and their security, which is why I’m glad that on their phones — that happen to be issued by the government — they no longer access TikTok.  (Laughter.)  That was a big frustration for them.  “Really?  This applies to us too, Dad?”  “Yes, I just did that.”  (Laughter.)

Trudeau says
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Joe Biden, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 24, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

It’s no laughing matter in Washington. 

Tik Tok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew was monstered by the House of Representative Energy and Commerce  Committee last week.  He was bludgeoned for five hours, solo at the witness table while a bipartisan howl raged against Tik Tok, its ownership, its practices, its ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and its vast influence in the United States.

“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values,” said committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican of Washington .

“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned.”

“I still believe that the Beijing Communist government will still control and influence what you do,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat.

Politico’s reporter was asked if there was any support for Chew or Tik Tok. “No. There was no real support. That’s why they brought him in, to yell at him and show they’re strong on China.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, cosponsor of legislation with the best chance of being enacted by Congress this year, said this about the hearing, and the core issue posed by the Tik Tok: “I kind of feel for the guy. Because [Chew] can’t rebut the fact that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, ByteDance is a Chinese company, Chinese law as of 2017 says the first obligation of any Chinese company is not shareholders or customers, it’s the Communist Party… At any point in time, that data can be asked for. And there are plenty of examples where it appears that it may have been already vulnerable. On top of that, you’ve got the ability for this incredibly powerful tool to have content manipulation.”

This was exact issue presented by Huawei, owned by the Chinese government, that under China’s national security law that government has the right to full access to all the data held by the company. 

This is why Huawei was banned from being as telecoms supplier in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan and the US, and with 5G restrictions in the UK.

In recent weeks, the Biden Administration has been moving to a position of requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok to another US company, or face a ban.

In response, TikTok has developed “Project Texas”, where all the data generated in the US would be secured on US company Oracle servers in Texas. “The bottom line is this: American data is stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel,” Chew said. But that would leave TikTok under Chinese government control over the data it obtains.  And China is not budging.  A Chinese Commerce Ministry spokeswoman said last week that China would “firmly oppose” the forced sale TikTok, and that this would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States.”

Many members of the House and Senate want to ban TikTok – now.  But previous efforts to limit TikTok initiated under President Trump to ban Tik Tok if it was not sold were never concluded.  

A US government ban or forced divestiture of  Tik Tok  poses both First Amendment – free speech –  and due process of law issues.  There has not yet been an official finding of sufficient authority and weight to support such a radical action by the government.

What has been put in place are bans on Tik Tok on government-issued phones.

This is why Senator Warner’s legislation could prove crucial. 

In Washington, if you can’t solve a problem – get a process to work the problem.  The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act would give the Department of Commerce  the authority to evaluate and block technology deals involving companies from six “foreign adversary” countries, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea.  

By expanding the scope of technologies examined through a thorough process that can document and describe the urgency of addressing the threats the Tik Tok app poses, the key to locking in a ban or sale of Tik Tok can be found and used.

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew looks on as he testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing entitled “TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms,” as lawmakers scrutinize the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Last week’s Tik Tok hearing showed the Cold War with China is deepening.  The bipartisan roar of anger is growing.

But there is a real political disconnect between the rage building in Washington and the unhappiness of Trudeau’s children at losing Tik Tok . 

There are 150 million Americans – half the population – that use Tik Tok.  It is enormously influential.  Do lawmakers really think they can take Tik Tok away – without any political repercussions?  

You know what happens when you take a lollipop away from a child?  He or she starts screaming.  Take Tik Tok away and America’s Tik Tok users may start screaming – with their votes in 2024.

This is why the most likely outcome, aside from nothing being done, is passage of the Warner legislation and a forced sale of Tik Tok to a US company.

Stay tuned.

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Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and the war of the Republicans

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A fortnight ago, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Donald Trump, was the first to jump into Trump’s pool for the presidency

This week, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is making waves in the pool.  Several others, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, and another South Carolinian of color, Sen. Tim Scott, are dipping their toes in the water.

Someone had to go first, and Haley is it.

Haley

The others know that Trump wants to tear them to pieces — he has already given DeSantis an ugly nickname, “Ron DeSanctimonius” — and they did not want to be first in the firing line.

Haley may be crazy brave. She is already taking incoming from the Make America Great Again (MAGA) crowd for shying away from highlighting her courageous stand as governor on taking the Confederate flag down from the state capitol.   

But Haley has done something very important as the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination gets underway: She has opened the door to take Trump down.

Haley’s announcements — first on Twitter with her launch video, and then at the rally itself — were loaded with unmistakable criticisms of Trump and his viability to lead the Republican Party back into the White House.

https://twitter.com/TeamHaley/status/1626970421277982721

There was this:

“We’re ready, ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past. And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future.”

“We won’t win the fight for the 21st century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th century.”

And this:

“Mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”

And then the Trump-killing argument that Trump is a loser:

“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change.”

“I have a particular message for my fellow Republicans … Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today … If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win — not just as a party, but as a country — stand with me.”

Yes, Haley is also targeting Joe Biden on the age issue and the baggage of politicians from the 20th century.

But these are direct hits on Trump.

Trump

DeSantis is staking out his vision – of himself as the true grandmaster of culture war politics.  What he has done in Florida he wants to nationalize in the 2024 presidential campaign:  DeSantis pushes the anti-woke buttons on immigration, on abortion, on gay and transgender people, on parental control of schools, of radical left racial books that are in libraries. He punishes bureaucrats who stand in the way of his agenda, and uses state power to wreak economic harm on  companies, like Disney, who speak out against the DeSantis program.

DeSantis

DeSantis has shown moxie and cunning in these first steps of his long march to the White House.  First, to gather 100 heavy Republican players and funders in a strategy meeting just 5 miles from Trump’s lair at Mar-a-Lago.  Then, to launch his new book on the DeSantis story and vison – an instant best-seller. Then to be featured at a gathering of the Club for Growth, conservative corporates and investors who believe in limited government and economic opportunity – and they  have refused to support Trump.  Haley, Scott and Sununu will also address the Club.

While they meet, Trump will be just outside Washington, addressing CPAC, the largest group of conservative activists in the country.  For the past seven years, Trump has been their king and has given the clarion call to his movement.  

As of today, in the latest Fox News poll, Trump leads DeSantis 43%-27%.

What will be closely watched is how much DeSantis and the others attack Trump, and how much Trump directly attacks those who are circling.

What must be understood is this:

Those seeking the  Republican presidential nomination have to take it from Trump.

He is not going to cede it or walk away from it. The only way to beat Trump is for another Republican to take him down — to defeat him in the upcoming Republican primaries next year. And the Republican who does take him down will be using Nikki Haley’s arguments that Trump should not, must not, be the Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

There is no way around it.  Nikki Haley has opened the door for the war of the Republicans. 

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Trump’s campaign debut was panned – but don’t underestimate his chances

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Last weekend, Donald Trump held two events in New Hampshire and South Carolina, his first official forays onto the 2024 presidential battlefield. 

The experts panned it.  

“Former President Trump’s first campaign swing of the 2024 campaign generated little of the excitement that has long defined his glitzy political rallies…The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he’s unelectable in 2024.”  

Axios, the super-sophisticated DC political newsletter

“As he hit the trail for the first time since launching a third bid for the White House in November, signs of Trump’s newfound vulnerabilities came into focus. The trip effectively ushered in the start of the 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign season, with Trump fighting to keep his place at the top of a potentially crowded field.” 

The Washington Post

“He remains the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, yet the solidity of his support seems increasingly in doubt.  Longtime donors have been reluctant to recommit. Leaders in the Republican National Committee are openly encouraging other candidates to run. Voters rejected the handpicked candidates he vowed would win Republicans control of the Senate, but whose losses instead left the chamber in Democratic hands.”

The New York Times

A lot of the political class is talking about Trump in the past tense, and not the future, briefing out to the media that his rambling, Fidel Castro-like  monologues bore his audiences silly, that his obsessions and battles with his political enemies do not have the reach they did in 2016 and during  his term in office, that he is immersing himself more deeply in extremist QAnon cult waters, that he faces indictments and trials that will derail his campaign and might even put him in jail.

Trump 2020

And more: that Trump wallows in the “stolen” 2020 election, knowing that there was no way he could have lost since he got 12 million more votes than in 2016.  Trump never concedes.  Six years later, he does not acknowledge that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 – and that he won only because she lost in the Electoral College.

The telling critique – the one driving Republicans in private to say that Trump is done (or should be done, or will be done) is that Trump is a loser. 

That Trump lost Republican control of the House of Representatives in 2018, bringing back Nancy Pelosi who secured not one, but two impeachments of the president; that he lost the White House in 2020; that he lost control of the Senate in January 2021 when Democrats swept both Georgia Senate seats, giving them control of that chamber; and that Trump-backed candidates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Arizona again cost Republicans control of the Senate in the 2022 midterms.   As Vince Lombardi, legendary gridiron coach of Green Bay and Washington, said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Lombardi would say Trump was a loser.

Trump is having none of it, and his iron resolve was on full display for those listening more closely when he gave his orations last weekend.

“Maybe he’s lost his step,” Trump said in evoking the musings of some Republicans. But, “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed than I ever was.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump points as he announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The anger is palpable.  The Trump 2023 brand joins his anger with the hottest culture war buttons he can press. Immigration, the open wound that is the southern border, the wall he will finish, the rapists and criminals who are flooding in and that he will keep out tomorrow.  Immigration is his lead-off weapon.

Then promises of energy independence and oil forever.  Utter hostility to electric vehicles and wind energy – especially if the windmills are offshore.  No transgender women in sports.  No way they are tolerated.  A purge of woke content from school curricula, schoolbooks, school libraries, and school boards.  Parents empowered to fire the principal of the schools their children attend; Trump says the parents can vote them out of their jobs.

Trump never goes far into the culture wars without conjuring up Hunter Biden, the president’s son. 

Hunter Biden with Joe Biden

Trump cannot get enough of Hunter’s laptop and the criminality of the Bidens, their business dealings and their money.  We can barely follow all the Trump twists and turns in this tale, but there is no mistake that Trump wants Hunter nailed and his father to bear the consequences.

Reprising his role as Commander-in-Chief, Trump said, in case we have not been paying attention, that we are on the brink on World War III. That Ukraine would not have happened if he had been president. That we could have a peace deal “in 24 hours.” Trump wants to call Putin and knows Putin will be waiting for that call.

Trump’s great loyalist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, was on the podium with Trump and put it this way after the event. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new? There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

That’s the message Trump delivered to his base last weekend.  And that’s how Trump intends to win.

Buried in Trump’s massive monologue was the core of what could be a winning message.   “My mission is to secure a middle-class lifestyle for everyone.  I did it before and I will do it again.  And we will be respected in the world once again.”

Three powerful sentences which, coupled with the red meat of his anger and rage, mean that Trump is very much alive and kicking.

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