Biden Nominates Indian American Richard Verma To Top Diplomatic Position | Lokmarg

Biden Nominates Indian American Richard Verma To Top Diplomatic Position

US President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Indian American Richard R Verma to a top diplomatic position in the US Department of State.

According to a White House release, Biden announced his intent to nominate Verma as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.
Verma is the Chief Legal Officer and Head of Global Public Policy at Mastercard. He was the United States Ambassador to India and Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs during the Obama administration.

Earlier in his career, he was National Security Advisor to the United States Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). At the same time, he was Democratic Whip, Minority Leader and then-Majority Leader of the United States Senate added the release.

He has served as Vice Chairman of The Asia Group, Partner and Senior Counselor at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and Senior Counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force where he served on active duty as a Judge Advocate.

He received numerous awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Meritorious Service Medal from the United States Air Force, added the release.

He was appointed to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and is a former member of the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Commission.

He serves as a trustee of The Ford Foundation, and is on numerous other boards, including the National Endowment for Democracy and Lehigh University. (ANI)

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China-US Relations

Looking Forward To Improving China-US Relations: Xi To Biden

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday said that he is looking forward to bringing China-US relations back on track with healthy and stable growth.

“In our meeting today, I am ready to have a candid and in-depth exchange of views on issues of strategic importance in the China-US relationship. I look forward to working with you to bring China-US relations back on track with healthy and stable growth,” Xi Jinping told his US counterpart, Joe Biden.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have begun bilateral talks on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia Monday evening local time.

Both leaders gave brief opening remarks and exchanged pleasantries in front of the media before the press were swiftly ushered from the room for the start of the high-stakes talks.

“Today, we finally have this face-to-face meeting. Currently, the China-US relationship is in such a situation that we all care a lot about it. We need to find the right direction for the bilateral relationship going forward and elevate the relationship,” added Xi.

On the US side, Biden was accompanied by a team including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, and Ambassador of the United States to the People’s Republic of China Nicholas Burns.

Xi was flanked by officials including Director of the Chinese Communist Party General Office Ding Xuexiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Biden and Xi sat down at their tables, flanked by officials on each side. Both did not wear masks, while the other room officials all wore masks.

“I am committed to keeping lines of communication open between you and me personally, but our governments across the board, because our two countries have so much that we have the opportunity to deal with,” said Biden in opening remarks.

“As the leaders of our two nations were to share responsibility in my view to show that China and the US can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything even near conflict and find ways to work together on urgent, global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” added Biden.

Xi further stated that the world is paying attention to the high-stakes meeting between him and Biden.

“Currently the China-US relationship is in such a situation that we all care a lot about it because this is not the fundamental interest of our two countries and peoples, and it is not what the international community expects (from) us,” Xi said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

“As leaders of the two major countries, we need to chart the right course for the US-China relationship. We need to find the right direction for the bilateral relationship going forward and elevate the relationship,” he added, speaking through a translator.

“The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship. Our meeting has attracted the world’s attention, so we need to work with all countries to bring more hope to world peace, greater confidence to global stability, and strong impetus to common development,” the Chinese leader said.

Xi and Biden have known each for more than a decade, but Monday saw them meet face-to-face for the first time in their current roles.

There have been five phone and video exchanges with Xi since Biden took office at the start of 2021, but Monday’s talks are their first in-person since 2017 when Biden was vice president to Barack Obama. The last time Xi met a US leader was Donald Trump in 2019.

The relationship between the world’s biggest economies has deteriorated since Biden took office over the economic competition, human rights issues, and rising tensions between China and Taiwan.

Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads over issues ranging from trade to human rights in China’s Xinjiang region and the status of the self-ruled island of Taiwan. (ANI)

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US Midterm Polls

US Midterm Polls: Democrats To Retain Senate

Democrats will keep their narrow Senate majority for the next two years, CNN projects, after victories in close contests in Nevada and Arizona. Democrats now have 50 Senate seats to Republicans’ 49 seats.

The Democrats need to win just one more seat to retain majority control – with Nevada and Georgia the two states outstanding paving the way for Joe Biden to spend two more years filling the federal courts with his nominees and staffing his administration largely the way he sees fit.
Retaining Senate control is a huge boost to President Biden over the remaining two years of his first term in the White House.

It means Democrats will have the ability to confirm Biden’s judicial nominees — avoiding scenarios such as the one former President Barack Obama faced in 2016 when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a vote on his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It also means that Senate Democrats can reject bills passed by the House and can set their own agenda, reported CNN.

Meanwhile, Republicans appear to be inching closer to a majority in the House of Representatives – with big implications for the next two years of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Republicans appear to be slowly inching closer to the 218 seats that would deliver them a House majority, but several congressional races — including in California and Colorado — remain uncalled.

Georgia will hold a run-off election on December 6, after neither Senate candidate won an outright majority.

Georgia’s race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker is headed to a December runoff after neither candidate cleared the 50 percent threshold on Tuesday.

Even if Republicans win the Georgia runoff, though, Vice President Kamala Harris would continue to cast the tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided Senate to guarantee the Democratic majority.

Only one Senate seat has changed hands so far in the 2022 midterm elections: Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt Gov John Fetterman, who campaigned as he recovered from a May stroke, defeated Republican Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Republicans successfully defended seats in hard-fought races in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, while Democrats retained their seats in competitive contests in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

In Nevada, CNN projects that Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a former prosecutor, and state attorney general, will defeat Republican Adam Laxalt, her successor in the attorney general’s office and the son and grandson of former senators.

In Arizona, CNN projects that Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will defeat Republican Blake Masters, a venture capitalist who was endorsed by Trump and supported by tech mogul and emerging GOP megadonor Peter Thiel. (ANI)

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US Diwali celebration

Diwali Celebrations Joyous Part Of US Culture: Biden

Wishing a happy Diwali to more than one billion Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists celebrating this Festival of Lights in the United States, India, and around the world, Biden thanked the Asian American community in the US for making the Diwali celebration a joyous part of American culture.

“We are honored to host you. This is the first Diwali reception of this scale in the White House ever to be held. We have more Asian Americans than ever before in history and we want to thank you for making the Diwali celebration a joyous part of American culture,” US President Joe Biden said during a reception to celebrate Diwali at the White House.
“As we host the official White House Diwali reception, we are honored to light the Diya surrounded by members of the most diverse Administration in American history–led by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black American and South Asian American to become Vice President.”

Biden thanked for the optimism, courage, and empathy demonstrated by the incredible South Asian community all across America.

Several Indian Americans from the Biden administration were present at the event.

“Together, South Asian Americans reflect the soul of who we are as a nation, whether helping us emerge stronger from this pandemic, building an economy that works for everyone, or serving and protecting our communities and our country.”

As the world celebrates this gathering of light, he said, “as this community has experienced too often–that there is always darkness lurking. American history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that we have never fully lived up to it. By marking the victory of light over darkness, Diwali is a reminder that each of us has the power to bring light to the world, whether here in America or around the world.”

“With prayers, dances, fireworks, and sweets, Biden said may all who observe Diwali enjoy the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of the community, and to remember the power in the gathering of light.”

Moreover, US vice-president Kamala Harris also delivered remarks from the White House on the occasion of Diwali celebrations. She said, “White House is the people’s house and together our president and first lady have made this place where every American can celebrate their honor and tradition.”

Tonight, Vice President Harris said, the Biden administration joins over 1 billion people around the world to light the ‘Diya’ and celebrate the fight for good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness.

Moreover, First Lady Jill Biden praised the Asian American community in the US for “helping us light our way forward.”

“With persistence, with faith, with love, I am grateful that today these diyas have guided you to this home. A home that belongs to all of you,” the first lady said.

Diwali is an auspicious festival that symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Spectacular lights, firecrackers, irresistible traditional sweets, and exchanging gifts mark the festival.

While, the Hindus celebrate this festival to commemorate the homecoming of Lord Rama after 14 year-long years in exile and his victory over Ravana, for the people of Jain faith, this festival carries the essence of spiritual upliftment because it marks the achievement of Nirvana or Moksha by Mahavira, the last Tirthankara.

Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights” and is observed incessantly for five days that kicks off in late Ashwin and concludes in the early Kartika month according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar.

Each day of the festival is associated with six different principal stories. In North India, worshipping Lord Ganesha and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is an important part of Diwali that signifies the welcoming of prosperity and wealth. (ANI)

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North Korea's Ballistic Missile Test

India Condemns North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Test

India has strongly condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launch over Japan and said that these moves affect the peace and security of the region and beyond.

While addressing the United Nations Security Council, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj called for the full implementation of the relevant UNSC resolutions relating to DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
The 15-member council met on Wednesday after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Tuesday that soared over Japan for the first time in five years and prompted a warning for residents there to take cover.

North Korea on Tuesday conducted its longest-ever weapons test, a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that flew over Japan, after which Tokyo urged residents to evacuate to shelters.

“India would also like to reiterate the importance of addressing the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies related to DPRK in our region. These linkages have an adverse impact on peace and security in the region including India. We hence, reiterate our continued support for denuclearisation towards peace and security in the Korean peninsula,” Kamboj said.

She also reminded the council about the problems that the “global south” has to go through.

“It is, therefore, important to continue to make all efforts to maintain peace and security.

Ensuring peace and security in the Korean Peninsula is in our collective interest going forward we will continue to support dialogues and diplomacy as a means to resolve the issue in the Korean Peninsula,” India’s envoy added.

Earlier, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield also condemned North Korea’s action and said “The DPRK (North Korea) has enjoyed blanket protection from two members of this council.”

According to Kyodo News, early Tuesday, the government issued an alert urging residents in Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido and the country’s northeastern prefecture of Aomori to stay inside buildings.

The White House said that both US President Joe Biden and Japanese Premier Fumio Kishida confirmed that they would continue to closely coordinate their immediate and longer-term response bilaterally, trilaterally with the Republic of Korea, and with the international community.

“They confirmed they would continue to closely coordinate their immediate and longer-term response bilaterally, trilaterally with the Republic of Korea, and with the international community. The leaders discussed the importance of immediate return and resolution of the cases of Japanese citizens abducted by the DPRK and resolved to continue every effort to limit the DPRK’s ability to support its unlawful ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs,” the statement added.

Tuesday’s missile launch was the first such missile launch in years, prompting a warning for residents to take cover in northern Japan.

Last week, North Korea fired missiles in an apparent protest against joint naval drills involving the United States and South Korea. Under the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea this year has tested a record number of missiles as it expands its weapons arsenal. (ANI)

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Counter China's Growing Influence

The American Heist In Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order, splitting $7 billion Afghan funds deposited with the Federal Reserve. Afghanistan will now only get $3.5 billion as part of the humanitarian aid while the remaining $3.5 billion will be given to 9/11 victim families in the US.

Afghanistan has about $9 billion in assets overseas, including the $7 billion in the United States. The rest is mostly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland banks. International funding was stopped and Afghan money was frozen after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August. The Taliban expectedly have expressed anger over United States’ move and have sought to unfreeze all funds.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter that the theft and seizure of money held or frozen by the United States of the Afghan people represents the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation.

On Saturday last, the Afghan central bank — known as Da Afghanistan Bank — demanded in a statement that the Biden administration reverse its decision.

The move has also elicited angry responses from the Afghan public; there have been a series of angry demonstrations in Kabul, with common Afghani seething in anger over the US move.

Expert’s criticism

The decision has also drawn criticism from human rights groups, lawyers and financial experts who have warned that the move could gut the country’s central bank for years to come, crippling its ability to establish monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payments.

Experts also said that the $3.5 billion set aside for humanitarian assistance would do little good unless the United States lifted restrictions on the Afghan banking system that have obstructed the flow of aid into the country.

John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the decision would create a problematic precedent for commandeering sovereign wealth and do little to address underlying factors driving Afghanistan’s massive humanitarian crisis.

Torek Farhadi, a financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, questioned the UN managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. He said those funds are not meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment.” He also questioned the legality of Biden’s order and said that these reserves belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban … Biden’s decision is one-sided and does not match with international law, no other country on Earth makes such confiscation decisions about another country’s reserves.

ALSO READ: China Looks For A Toehold In Afghanistan

Some analysts also took to Twitter to question Biden’s order. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the US-based Wilson Centre, criticised the scheme to divert funds from Afghanistan in a tweet.

Pakistan has also condemned the decision. Pak Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar has called for the complete unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets.

As reported by GeoTV, he said it is imperative for the international community to quickly act to address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and to help revive the Afghan economy, as the two are inextricably linked. And the utilisation of Afghan funds should be the sovereign decision of Afghanistan.

The Debt

The Taliban, after taking control of Afghanistan had immediately claimed a right to the money. But what complicates the matter further is that a group of relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks, one of several groups who had demanded compensation for those killed in 9/11, have sought to seize this money to pay off their debt.

This debt is based on a default judgement titled ‘Havish vs Laden’ of 2011, awarding $6bn to a group of 9/11 victim families, as per a federal judge in New York. The parties named in the case —the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Iran — never showed up (hence a default judgement). In its defence the Biden administration claims that this will open doors for expediting humanitarian aid to Afghan people, who are facing a lot of hardships.

The American media has lauded the decision, with Washington Post commenting in an article that though the issues, moral and legal, are extremely complex, with the ultimate disposition of the money up to a federal court in New York, the administration is surely right about one thing: Despite the desperate needs of the Afghan people, many of whom are at risk of starvation, it would be a mistake to put the money back at the disposal of Afghanistan’s central bank, with no strings attached — as the Taliban demands.

Pakistan’s Dawn in its editorial has commented that President Biden’s decision is simply appalling and lacks moral ground. It says further that for one, these assets belong to Afghanistan and not to the Taliban rulers. How can Washington justify inflicting collective punishment on the Afghans to penalise the Taliban? It raises a legal question as well. The money belongs to the Afghan central bank and therefore, should not be commandeered to pay the Taliban’s judgement debt. None of the 19 hijackers involved in the horrific terrorist attacks on that tragic day were Afghans. True, the plotters used Afghan soil and were under the Taliban’s protection, but to penalise the entire population implies that the attack had the sanction of the entire nation.

The decision compels one to compare this action to the colonial mind-set or colonial thievery of the past. The absurdity is that the richest country in human history is maltreating one of the poorest, for compensating the victims of and redressing a crime committed 20 years, in which the Afghan people had no role.

Further the Biden decision also gives birth to another quagmire, if it’s ready to transfer money to the Taliban administration, than doesn’t it means that it is tacitly recognising the Taliban government, leading other countries to engage with Taliban without its formal recognition?

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

The Great American Obsession

America is great. America is the greatest nation on earth. Make America great again.

Is it an obsessive spiral of self-delusion, an illusory immaculate conception, or, nothing but repetitive, compulsive jingoism?

The Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016 chose Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee, with Barack Obama backing her against ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders, who, was immensely popular, especially among the young and educated. She won 56 per cent votes of the delegates – he got 47 per cent, with the big money lobbies pitched against him.

Wrote Ron Fournier (The Atlantic, June, 2016): “Obama hopes to reframe the election for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Voters are demanding radical change, but the former secretary of state is the emblem of status quo and Trump is living disruption. She represents a political system that most Americans don’t trust; that failed to protect their livelihoods in the shift from industrialism to globalism; that made promises it didn’t keep; that puts more value in the results of the next election than the needs of the next generation. She could lose that fight…”

Michelle Obama had earlier, as a rejoinder to Trump, asserted that she wakes up in a home built by slaves and yet her daughters—“two beautiful, intelligent, black young women”—take for granted that a woman can be president. “(D)on’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again,” she said.“Because, this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”

Obama repeated: “America is already great,” he said at the convention. “America is already strong. And, I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump…What could be more American than what happened in this place?…  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people—the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?”

This convention was touted as a radical rupture in the history of the Democratic Party because of the progressive influence of Sanders. In a country where the Left is either absent or derided, Sanders and his supporters created a parallel discourse. The convention thereby reflected a different mood: Wall Street reforms (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement), curbs on obscenely rich capitalists, stringent financial regulations, $15 an hour minimum wage, social sector reforms, waiver of students’ loans, abolition of death penalty, criminal justice reforms, including the closure of the notorious private prisons, among other reforms.

ALSO READ: Can America Be United Again?

Crucially, despite Obama’s poetics and rhetoric, it was a pointer that he did little – including for the Black community, the unsung, the downtrodden, low station dreamers, among others. That, despite his noble intentions, the sublime discourse – he turned out to be a brilliant failure.

Joe Biden has seen it all from close to the ring. So, at 78, will he still hold on to the same silly old strings?

His popularity ratings dipped by around 53 per cent after the big botch-up in Afghanistan, which, of course, was begun by George W Bush. Hence, how is this botch-up pronounced in the self-righteous, self-proclamation of ‘greatness’?

Is it all always eyes-wide-open-wide-shut? So, what happened in Afghanistan and Vietnam? Or, what is happening right now in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, among the Kurds? Or, whatever happened in Latin America for decades – and this was no magic realism!

Yet, are things changing on the ground?

In India, the prime minister has not faced a single press conference till date since the summer of 2014 when he took over. However, the White House does regular media briefings. Nothing is ever stage-managed. The president answer questions in a free and frank atmosphere. Difficult questions can be parried, but not blocked. Indeed, even Donald Trump faced a hostile media routinely – and he never crushed a query!

The White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, answers questions without any censorship. On September 20, she answered several uncomfortable questions on the drone strike in Kabul and the deportation of immigrants to Haiti. Since The New York Times and others exposed the killing of a family in the drone strike, this was perhaps the first time that she was talking on behalf of the American president. “This was done in error… Every loss is a tragedy,” she said, stating that investigations are on to make this mistake accountable. The journalists persisted.

Apart from this, her presentation marked what is perceived to be a paradigm shift in terms of the ‘progressive reforms’ being pushed by Biden. For those who have seen the homeless on the streets in New York, in freezing cold, this would be a pointer. The Press Secretary disclosed about a new initiative, ‘House America’:  “Homelessness was on the rise before the pandemic, and the last couple of years have just exacerbated the problem. On any given night, more than half-a-million Americans were enduring the pandemic without the safety and protection of a home. Thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan — and Congress’s — everybody’s American Rescue Plan — communities now have historic housing resources to help more Americans obtain the safety of a stable home, including 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in HOME grants, and significant investments to preserve and protect housing on Tribal lands. In addition, communities have $350 billion in state and local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the Department of Treasury to support many needs, including homelessness and housing instability…The initiative will promote the use of ‘housing first’ — the proven theory that the best way to stabilize the life of someone experiencing homelessness is to ensure that they have a home first without preconditions — and so we are moving forward with that…”

ALSO READ: The Hill Biden Has To Climb

Biden’s ‘build back better’ model has four anchors: racism, economy, climate change and Covid. His latest is compulsory vaccination of 100 million private sector workers, federal contractors and health care workers. In a country where almost 60 per cent people have got free double vaccination since he became president, this follows the ambitious 100 million vaccination target in the first 100 days since he took over. In any given circumstances, these are important achievements.

The Pew Research Centre has documented in June 2020 that unemployed Americans have increased by more than 14 million — from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. The numbers must have grown substantially by September 2021. This is also many times worse than the Great Recession.

Biden appointed Bernie Sanders as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, knowing what to expect in the face of Right-wing opposition from within the Democrats and Republicans. And Sanders has been demanding a $6 trillion package. Biden has committed a $3.5 trillion package, targeting the economic recovery of the marginalized communities. Said Sanders, “The bottom line here is this country faces crises… working families are struggling and it’s about time we paid attention to their needs.”

Now House progressives are pushing to stop a $24 billion boost to defense spending in 2021. The Pentagon is reportedly spending $740 billion per year. It seems there are no lessons learnt from the Afghanistan and Middle-east fiasco, even while the arms lobby remains entrenched. 

“Despite trillions of dollars poured into our endless military spending, this budget has failed to meet the greatest threats that our nation and our world faces today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the needs of 140 million people living in poverty,” Representative Barbara Lee of California said in a letter to Representative Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs.” (The Nation, September 21, 2021).

These are all signs of shifting social currents. An entire new generation is against war, inequality, racism, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, mindless consumerism. They refuse to proclaim that ‘America is the greatest nation on earth’. And they don’t really like the rich – including the ones who are indulging in space tourism these days with millions jobless, hungry and homeless.

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a gown with the slogan ‘tax the rich’ at the Met Gala in New York recently. Her argument — push the debate on wealth redistribution in America!

“I thought about the criticism I’d get, but, honestly, I and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically since the moment I won my election that it’s kind of become expected and normalised to me,” she wrote on an Instagram story. “…Ultimately, the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful…But, we all had a conversation about taxing the rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.”