Saturday, July 31, 2010

UN says floods affect 1 million Pakistanis

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The United Nations says devastating floods have affected 1 million people in Pakistan. Officials say floods have killed 430 people in the deadliest such disaster to hit the region since 1929. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the cost of damage from floods was not clear. Rescuers were using army helicopters, heavy trucks and boats to reach flood-hit areas. Government official Lutfur Rehman said Saturday floodwaters were receding in the northwest, but rescuers were facing problems reaching affected people because of damage caused to roads and bridges. The flooding capped an already deadly week in Pakistan. A passenger jet slammed into hills overlooking Islamabad killing all 152 people on board Wednesday.

Wedding bells for Chelsea Clinton

Floods kill more than 400 in Pakistan's northwest

Heavy monsoon rains have triggered the worst floods in decades in Pakistan's northwest, killing more than 400 people and forcing thousands from their homes as authorities struggle to reach stranded villagers. Three days of torrential rains caused rivers to burst their banks in several places and unleashed widespread destruction in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, destroying houses, bridges, schools, roads and railway tracks. "According to initial reports received from all districts, 408 people have so far been killed" since Wednesday, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters in the provincial capital of Peshawar. "We fear the death toll will rise once the water recedes. We are facing the worst disaster in the history of our province." The towns of Nowshera and Charsadda and the northwestern valley of Swat were the worst hit where gushing flood waters washed away houses and hotels around the banks of swollen rivers. "Half of Nowshera is already under water," said Imran Khan, whose ancestral home is beside the river in the garrison town, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad. "The military hospital, and many other buildings in the cantonment area, are also half under water. ... Some trucks of military rescue convoys are stuck on the road," he said. The Pakistan army, which is leading the rescue and relief activity, said it had evacuated about 14,250 people from the flooded regions so far. About 50 tons of rations had been airlifted into affected areas, the army said in a statement. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has seen some of the fiercest fighting in Pakistan's war against Taliban insurgents, with Swat and regions nearby especially hard hit. Militants came within 60 miles of the capital last year, prompting a major military offensive. The province has received more than 312 mm rains in the past three days -- the highest figure recorded in the last 35 years -- chief meteorologist Ghulam Rasul said. The monsoon season in Pakistan lasts until the first week of September. Weather officials are forecasting continued heavy rains for the next 10 days. About 70 people were killed in flash floods in the southwestern Baluchistan province last week, which also uprooted nearly 100,000 people. Minister Hussain appealed for help from the international community and said the assistance must reach the province now, or the provincial government would be forced to cut employees' wages and development work to meet losses. "If they want to help, help now."

Pakistan's intelligence agency cancels UK visit

Pakistan's intelligence agency cancelled planned talks with security experts in the UK in protest at David Cameron's claim that elements within the country were promoting the export of terror. The cancelled trip is the most concrete indication so far of damage done to Anglo-Pakistani relations by Mr Cameron's comments, which sparked outrage in Islamabad when he made them during this week's trip to India. Answering questions following a speech, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see "a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan", adding: "But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world." The Times reported that senior officers from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been due to come to London for talks on counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services. But an ISI spokesman told the paper: "The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British Prime Minister against Pakistan." The spokesperson added: "Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain." It comes days ahead of a three-day visit to the UK by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, during which he is expected to stay with Mr Cameron at his country retreat Chequers.

Chelsea Clinton's 'wedding of the year'

Chelsea Clinton took great pains to keep the details of her wedding extravaganza a secret even as the media pointed cameras at the posh estate in Rhinebeck, New York, where the ceremony will be held.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Floods in the Pakistan's Peshawar area

The death toll in three days of flooding in Pakistan reached at least 313 on Friday, rescue and government officials said, as rains bloated rivers, submerged villages, and triggered landslides. The rising toll from the monsoon rains underscore the poor infrastructure in impoverished Pakistan, where under-equipped rescue workers were struggling to reach people stranded in far-flung villages. The weather forecast was mixed, with some areas expected to see reduced rainfall and others likely to see an intensification. Pakistani TV showed striking images of people clinging to fences and other stationary items as water at times gushed over their heads. The northwest appeared to be the hardest hit, and Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the province, said it was the worst flooding in the region since 1929. The highway connecting Peshawar to the federal capital, Islamabad, was shut down after the water washed away bridges and other links. At least 291 people died in various parts of that province over the last three days, said Mujahid Khan of the Edhi Foundation, a privately run rescue service that operates morgues and ambulances across the South Asian country. In Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, at least 22 people had been confirmed dead as of Thursday evening, the area's prime minister, Sardar Attique Khan, told reporters. The tolls from the deluge were expected to rise because many people were still missing. Poor weather this week also may have been a factor in Wednesday's Airblue plane crash that killed 152 people in Islamabad. In the Swat Valley, residents were forced to trudge through knee-deep water in some streets. A newly constructed part of a dam in the Charsadda district collapsed, while the U.N. said it had reports that 5,000 homes were underwater in that area. Hussain estimated 400,000 people were stranded in various northwest villages. "A rescue operation using helicopters cannot be conducted due to the bad weather, while there are only 48 rescue boats available for rescue," he said on Thursday. Pakistan's poorest residents are often the ones living in flood-prone areas because they can't afford safer land. Southwest Baluchistan province has also been hit hard by the recent rains. Last week, flash floods in that region killed at least 41 people and swept away thousands of homes. The U.N. statement Thursday said 150,000 people were affected there. The U.N. said Punjab province in Pakistan's east was also hit by some flooding. Crops were soaked in farmlands throughout the country. The U.N. said the humanitarian community was trying to put together a proper response, but the rains were making many roads impassable, complicating efforts to assess needs.

Obama appears on 'The View': A bit of TV history

'We're making American history!" cried the announcer on ABC's The View. And they were. Special guest Thursday on the late-morning talk show: President Obama, the first sitting president to make a personal appearance on a daytime TV talker. The audience was pumped, the political tension was palpable, and behind it all boiled the vitriolic political year of 2010. Lead host Barbara Walters showed up, still convalescing from recent heart surgery. She opened with: "[Y]ou've gone through a little bit of a beating the last month. Do you really think that being on a show with a bunch of women, five women who never shut up, is going to be calming?" From his first answer ("Look, I was trying to find a show that Michelle actually watched . . . "), Obama sought to project openness, cool, and faith in the cohering power of a shared Americanness. But thanks to the world we live in, with new media and new messages instant by instant, the political landscape is changing fast - for politicians and voters alike, and all are scrambling to keep up. That's why Obama went on the show that now dubs itself "Red, White, and View." What viewers saw was the TV president, the Internet and YouTube president, moving fast not to be left behind. Obama said it himself: "These things change very quickly." G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, lays out in an e-mail how quickly: "His job performance [rating] dropped 20 points from Jan. '09-Jan. '10, and nothing he has done . . . ha[s] moved the performance meter one way or the other very much. He remains about 47-48 percent positive, with virtually no change this year at all." Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says there's no question: Instant, all-pervasive media have contributed to the volatility of the electorate. "Because technology changes so fast," he says, "politicians have to change fast to keep up, and it means the audience changes rapidly, too." But news events great and small - oil slick, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Shirley Sherrod, Afghanistan, WikiLeaks, jobs, orders for durable goods, polls and more polls - tear at that shared image. And the electorate shifts shape: Many of those who voted for Obama now, as Thompson puts it, "don't seem to be particularly fond of the message." Tradition old and new. A presidential-level pol on pop TV is not new. Obama's View visit Thursday was just the latest in a tradition at least 42 years old. Richard M. Nixon appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in September 1968, to say, famously, "Sock it to me?" Tenor-sax man Bill Clinton played "Heartbreak Hotel" on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. Candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore hit all the talks in 2000, as did candidates Obama and John McCain in 2008. All these were but candidates looking to get elected. The telling difference yesterday was that Obama, a sitting president, was campaigning to keep Congress for his party, and thus protect his agenda. He's the first president to resort to pop TV in a bid to retain power at midterm. And so, there he was, fielding questions from hosts Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the economy, Afghanistan, the Shirley Sherrod affair, race, and - the playlist on the presidential iPod. (He listed Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra, and Maria Callas, but confessed he had no Justin Bieber.) No bombshells. OK, he did admit he didn't know who Snooki is. He projected such calm that Behar blurted, "Are you on Zoloft?" Taking in "The View." The View was a fascinating choice, especially now, as the nation careers toward the November elections, with control of the Congress at stake. The Nielsen people say 70 percent of The View's 3.8 million daily viewers are women, with a median age of 59. That's a heavy-voting bunch, rich in those much-polled, much-dissected swing voters. On the air since 1997, The View takes women, and their interest in current events, seriously. It has long featured its "Hot Topics" segment, in which hosts debate issues of the day. During the testy 2008 election year, when hosts started to shout at one another, audience numbers spiked to near four million. And they've stayed there, steadily around 3.8 million, beating Meet the Press (3.7 million) and The O'Reilly Factor (2.7 million). The View actually draws a million more viewers than it did in 2000. Viewers apparently like to watch celebrity women fight about issues. Who knew? The View knew. The media president. Obama broke ground in 2009, the first sitting president to go on a late-night show, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, one-liners at the ready ("I do think in Washington it's a little bit like American Idol, except everybody is Simon Cowell"). He also has been on Late Show With David Letterman, and repeatedly on 60 Minutes. Madonna writes, "Obama has had more public events - speeches, pressers, town halls, etc. - than any president in the first 19 months of a term in American history. He may have had more than any president during their full term." Baltimore Sun writer David Zurawik quips on his website that "when the going gets tough, President Obama gets air time." Unity and division. The subtext to many of the questions Thursday was, as Walters put it, the "beating" the White House has taken, and the fragmenting forces of media and politics. As Hasselbeck told Obama, "We are a very divided States of America." Obama acknowledged the fragmentation. He glanced at the 24/7 news cycle, which, in the case of Sherrod, he said, had "generated a phony controversy." He acknowledged that racial tensions persisted but insisted that, generation by generation, they were moderating, and that "we're making great progress." And he repeatedly declared his faith that "We share the same hopes, we share the same dreams, we share the same aspiration. . . . Everybody here is connected in some way. . . . I think most Americans feel that way." In the face of the splintering power of politics-stoked media and media-driven politics, Obama had come to assert the image of a unified government and people. Will it work? Madonna writes that stints on shows such as The View "are not likely to change the fundamentals of his situation. . . . I think the public just does not pay attention anymore - a classic case of overexposure going on here." Thompson worries that, as voters and politicians learn the skills of skepticism necessary in the information world vintage 2010, "skepticism grows so great that we cease to have common ground." Common ground, the sense of anything shared, was really what was at stake yesterday on The View. The next three months will test which country emerges: Obama's United States or Hasselbeck's "divided states."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Passenger plane crashes in Islamabad, All 152 on board dead

ISLAMABAD: The passenger plane of a private airliner carrying 152 people crashed in a ball of flames Wednesday into densely wooded hills outside Islamabad amid heavy rain and poor visibility, killing everyone on board. Rescue officials said pieces of charred flesh and body parts were littered around the smouldering wreckage, partially buried on a remote hillside, in the deadliest crash involving a Pakistani passenger jet in 18 years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Clinton: US, world stand with Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday vowed the United States and its allies will stand by Afghanistan even as fears are growing about the course of the nearly 9-year-old war and the Obama administration plans to begin withdrawing American troops from the country next year. Clinton acknowledged deepening opposition to international involvement in the conflict amid the rising death toll of foreign troops in the country. But she told an international conference on Afghanistan's future that the "world is with Afghanistan" and that the planned drawdown of U.S. forces was not a sign of flagging commitment. "The July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve," she said of U.S. plans to accelerate the process of turning over security to Afghanistan's police and military. "The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely." "But this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement," Clinton told the conference, which is being attended by senior officials from about 70 countries. "We have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving a stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan." Mounting concerns about the war and rampant corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government have prompted many in the U.S. and allied countries to raise serious questions about the wisdom of carrying on the fight. Clinton allowed that "the road ahead will not be easy," particularly given those concerns, which could threaten funding for military operations. "Citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible — and if so, whether we all have the commitment to achieve it. We will answer these questions with our actions," she said, pledging to step up U.S. civilian assistance to help rehabilitate and reconstruct the war-shattered nation.

Pakistan: Muslim marauders target Christians

“Policemen patrol every street in Waris pura. After last night's attacks, the situation is tense and some panic stricken Christian families are barricaded in their homes. I and other Catholic priests spent the night on the streets trying to reassure people, calling on Christians not to react toviolence with violence”: said Dominican Fr. Pascal Paulus, parish priest at Holy Rosary Church, in Waris pura, suburb of Faisalabad, after a sleepless night of emergency, fear of massacre, and the determination “to do everything possible to prevent bloodshed”. As the sun set – the priest told Fides– “a mob of about 2,000 armed Islamic militants launched an attack on the Christian district of Waris pura. The mob was out of control, shops and streets were devastated, there was shooting, looting and torching. Some Christian were hurt, but the outcome could have been much worse ”. Yesterday was a tragic day for Christians in Faisalabad: two brothers Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel, born to Catholic parents, charged with blasphemy, arrested, tried and then finally acquitted, were barbarously murdered as they left Faisalabad law courts escorted by police officers as free innocent men. Armed men attacked the group killing the two brothers and also wounded one of the accompanying police officers. Bewildered Christians poured into the streets voicing grief and anger: “Emotional tension was high, there was some shouting, stone throwing against Muslim shops ”, said Fr. Khalid Rashid Asi, vicar general of the diocese of Faisalabad. Reaction from Muslim extremists was swift: a few local mosque preachers urged the Muslim mob to “fight the infidels”: some 2,000 militants raged through Waris pura all night long. Fr. Khalid continues: “We, four priests, went from door to door, begging Christians not to react, to stay calm, to avoid provoking a dangerous spiral of violence and revenge. We reminded them: we belong to Christ, we love peace, we forgive our enemies ”. The police intervened to restore order and this morning Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabd, presided the funeral of the two murdered brothers. Among those present, besides about 500 local Catholics, Fr. Emmanuel Mani, head of the Pakistani Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission. “Many of the faithful were still to frightened to leave their homes. Some leading Muslim citizens expressed solidarity with the Christians and condemned the violence ”, Fr Khalid told Fides. The brother's parents were Catholics and both had been baptised at the local Catholic church. Rashid recently had taken course with a Protestant denomination to prepare for preaching the Bible. “They were two innocent men. They are our martyrs. We ask only for respect, peace, equality and rights. As long as Pakistan has this blasphemy law, tragic episodes such as this will continue to happen ”, concludes Fr. Khalid.

Pakistan army chief to remain in post

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who is popular at home and has won praise from U.S. officials for his leadership in the fight against Taliban militants, will serve three more years as army chief of staff.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Alcohol And Benefits

Over the last five years, the health benefits of moderate drinking have been widely celebrated in the headlines. To those who think everything enjoyable must be bad for you, this news might seem like a dream come true. Of course, there are many caveats - and these studies don't indicate that teetotalers should take up drinking or that infrequent drinkers should start drinking more. The operative word here is drinking in moderation. Studies show, for example, that health benefits only come with moderate drinking and are greatest for older men. And even moderate drinking is not recommended for women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, or for people who are under 21. The strongest medical evidence exists for the link between moderate drinking and a reduced risk of heart disease. Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, was the lead author of a New England Journal of Medicine study examining the roles of drinking patterns and heart disease that found, after 12 year of follow-up, that men who consumed alcohol between three and seven days a week had fewer heart attacks than men who drank once a week. Below, Mukamal discusses the risk and benefits of moderate drinking. Do we know why moderate drinking lowers heart disease risk? We think that a lot of the benefits of alcohol are on the blood vessels and on blockages in the arteries to the heart and to the brain. This might be related to alcohol's effect on the good cholesterol, the HDL cholesterol. In fact, alcohol affects HDL levels just about as strongly as any other lifestyle factor. People also think that alcohol may lower heart attack risk by acting as a blood thinner. What are some of the other health benefits associated with moderate drinking? A wide variety of health effects have been attributed to moderate drinking. A lower risk of diabetes has been seen in women and men. There actually have been experiments done in which alcohol was administered over a couple of months to people without diabetes. In those studies, most of which have been conducted in women interestingly, it looks like moderate drinking improves the body's sensitivity to insulin. It may actually lower insulin levels altogether and may prevent diabetes through that mechanism. More recently we've done some work on moderate drinking and dementia. We looked at a group of older adults in the United States - average age was in the mid-70s - and found a reduced risk. There has been some more work in slightly younger populations from Europe, and those studies have fairly consistently suggested that older adults who were drinking moderately may have a lower risk of dementia. We're not exactly sure what the mechanisms may be behind that. Some of it may very well be because drinking tends to occur in social settings and just the process of getting out and socializing may be an important way to prevent dementia. There is also evidence that moderate drinking may prevent silent strokes or other subtle types of brain injury that we know over time can predispose to dementia. I think it's still an area where we need some more investigation. Is the pattern of alcohol consumption important? In most of the studies that look at this issue, people have been asked 'How much alcohol do you usually drink?' When that question is asked, people take an average. For example, I drink 10 drinks a month. But 10 drinks a month is very different for someone who has them all on one night vs. someone who has them on 10 different nights of the month. That kind of detail surprisingly hasn't been available in most of the studies that have been devoted to this topic. In our study we tried to figure out the drinking pattern that's most closely tied to lower heart attack risk. What we found in a study of about 38,000 men was that the key factor wasn't what men were drinking, or frankly even so much how much they were drinking at a time, but how frequently they were drinking alcohol. We found that men who were drinking at least three to four days a week or more had lower heart attack risks than people who had one drink a week. We also have some very strong studies showing that heart disease risk, while lower amongst moderate drinkers, can be substantially higher among people who drink to excess even occasionally. They don't have to be drinking excessively every single night to potentially have a greater heart attack risk. Many of the effects of moderate drinking, such as acting as a blood thinner, are only true at moderate levels of drinking. Those effects actually go away and reverse if people drink too much. What constitutes one drink? What doctors usually consider a drink is basically a medium glass of wine, a 1.5 oz shot of spirits, or a can or bottle of beer. All of those have roughly similar amounts of pure alcohol in them. We usually define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for adult women who aren't pregnant and up to two drinks per day for adult men. Some guidelines recommend that moderate drinking among adults over 65 be limited to one drink per day. Are the heart benefits of alcohol consumption the same for men and women? In general, when we're thinking about the putative health benefits of moderate drinking, they mostly apply to older people and to men. Issues for women and for younger individuals are much more difficult to sort out. The role of alcohol consumption in heart disease varies strongly by gender. The reason for that is twofold. On the one hand, women at any given age tend to have lower risks of heart disease than men do. As a result, the benefits of moderate drinking accrue disproportionately to men. At the same time, there are some particular risks of drinking for women that don't exist for men. There is some evidence that women may be particularly prone, for example, to liver disease related to drinking. Even moderate drinking may increase breast cancer risk. And, while the effects on heart attack risk are roughly similar in men and women, I think it's even more difficult to determine what the ideal level of drinking ought to be for women than it is for men. I think it is fair to say that if young women in general are drinking with the expectation that there is some health benefit to it for them, they're probably mistaken. Young women are a group of people for which, as of now, we basically have no clear proof that the overall balance of alcohol's risks and benefits is going to work in their favor. What are some of the risks of moderate drinking? There is fairly consistent evidence that breast cancer rates are higher among women who drink moderately. I think that's important because obviously breast cancer is very common disease. I certainly think women at high risk for breast cancer should talk with their doctors about whether they should be drinking any alcohol. Another important risk, which is unrecognized for many people in this country, is that even moderate drinking among people with hepatitis C may increase their risk of permanent liver damage. Anybody who is known to have hepatitis C shouldn't be drinking any alcohol at all. People who have risk factors for hepatitis C ought to be tested because it will very substantially impact what the potential risks are related to moderate drinking. In addition, although we don't think moderate drinking necessarily clouds our judgment, it turns out that it probably does. In simulated driving tests that were done as far back as the 1950s, people have realized that at very low blood alcohol levels, simulated driving performance is impaired. When I say low blood alcohol, what I'm talking about is as low as .02 percent. Some studies, for example, the analysis of the National Alcohol Survey, showed something similar. You begin to see higher risks of injury even when people are reporting one drink a day. That's why we still recommend that even moderate drinking occur in the home, preferably tied to meals. That is not so much because we find that that drinking with a meal is more likely to lower heart disease risk, for example, but because it's the safest way to prevent high blood alcohol levels that can get people into accidents. What about people with a history of alcohol abuse? Although it has been bantered back and forth, most people think that people who have a personal history of alcoholism very rarely can return to social drinking. People who, for personal or family reasons have never had alcohol before, at least as of now, probably shouldn't start drinking for any health reason. What is your advice for an individual who is weighing the risks or benefits of moderate drinking? It's hard to give any single piece of advice because of all the things we've learned about moderate drinking. The potential risks and benefits are going to vary by a person's health history, their age, sex and family history. The number of factors that would have to go into the decision is really very substantial. As a primary care doctor myself, these are long discussions that people should have with their doctor. I would not recommend that anybody go out tomorrow and start drinking alcohol simply on the basis of results that we and others have presented. I would say that for people who are drinking moderately and are able to control it and don't have any of the absolute reasons why they shouldn't be drinking alcohol, that there is no evidence now that that's a bad thing to do. Beyond that, I don't think right now we have enough evidence to say that anybody should take up drinking just for any particular benefit unless their doctors recommend that they do so.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Obama announces $2 billion for solar power

President Barack Obama announced Saturday the awarding of nearly $2 billion for new solar plants that he said will create thousands of jobs and increase the country's use of renewable energy sources. Obama disclosed the funding in his weekly radio and online address, saying it is part of his plan to bring new industries to the U.S. "We're going to keep competing aggressively to make sure the jobs and industries of the future are taking root right here in America," Obama said. The two companies that will receive the funds from the president's $862 billion economic stimulus are Abengoa Solar, which will build one of the world's largest solar plants in Arizona, creating 1,600 construction jobs; and Abound Solar Manufacturing, which is building plants in Colorado and Indiana. The Obama administration says those projects will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. Obama's announcement came a day after the Labor Department reported that employers slashed payrolls last month for the first time in six months, driven by the expected end of 225,000 temporary census jobs. Meanwhile, private-sector hiring rose by 83,000 workers. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.5 percent. Obama said that while it may take years to bring back all the jobs lost during the recession, the economy is moving in a positive direction. He placed some of the blame for the slow pace of recovery on Republicans, saying GOP lawmakers, "are playing the same old Washington games and using their power to hold this relief hostage." Obama has said that to bring the nation's economy back from the brink of a depression, it was necessary to add to the country's debt in the short term. Republicans have tried to capitalize on that growing sum. Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss said in the Republican's weekly address that the country's $13 trillion debt is a national security issue that will leave the U.S. vulnerable and force future generations to "pay higher taxes to foot the bill for Democrats' out-of-control spending."

Clinton Calls for Reflection on US Ideals During July 4 Independence Day Holiday

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging people to reflect on the ideals of the founding fathers of the United States this Independence Day as nearly 4,000 people prepare to become U.S. citizens. Americans are readying for the traditional Independence Day festivities of picnicking, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, and watching fireworks and parades this July 4. Clinton, who will be overseas this Independence Day, issued a pre-taped message to celebrate what she called America's Birthday Party. "Every year, Americans gather with friends and family on the Fourth of July to celebrate the values that inspired the founders of our nation more than two centuries ago, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," she said. She urged people to reflect on these ideals, saying they are enshrined in the constitutions of many nations and underscore our common humanity. "We're very proud of our founders. Those brave patriots championed those rights 234 years ago, and they've been inspiring people not only in my country but around the world ever since. I know they inspire me," Clinotn added.On the subject of founding fathers, naturalization ceremonies will be held this July 4th at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, and George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon, both in Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says more than 3,800 people will become U.S. citizens in 55 special ceremonies in the U.S. and abroad this first week of July. Special naturalization ceremonies also include one at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, where more than 12 million immigrants entered the United States between 1892 and 1954. And 110 people took the Oath of Allegiance outdoors before a bevy of rockets when Kennedy Space Center hosted its first naturalization ceremony on July . Plus, the U.S. says more than 500 military service members will become citizens at all-military ceremonies in Seoul, Frankfurt, Baghdad and elsewhere.

Obama: Economy Headed in Right Direction

President Barack Obama says the latest employment figures show the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction, but more needs to be done to put Americans without jobs back to work. The U.S. economy lost 125,000 non-farm sector jobs during the month of June. That figure reflects the end of some 225,000 temporary U.S. census worker jobs. The Labor Department reported a decline in the overall unemployment rate which dropped to 9.5 percent from 9.7 percent, the lowest level since 2009. While the private sector gained 83,000 jobs, the figure was below levels from the previous two months. President Obama recognized the mixed nature of the latest figures. He said they show the economy is headed in the right direction, with the sixth consecutive month of private sector job growth. But he also recognized that for millions of Americans, the economy is not being fixed fast enough. "We're not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans," he said. "We're not headed three fast enough for me either. The recession dug us a hole of about eight-million jobs deep, and we continue to fight headwinds from volatile global markets," said the president. Saying a lot of work remains to repair the economy and get people back to work, the president announced a new initiative to expand broadband Internet service to U.S. communities with no access. The government estimates that 66 projects involved in this would create about 5,000 short-term construction and installation jobs, with additional longer term economic gains. The head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, said the latest figures demonstrate the magnitude of the damage from the recession. Addressing Americans still looking for work, President Obama pledged that he and his administration will do everything possible to create jobs and opportunity. President Obama spoke at the beginning of the U.S. July 4th holiday weekend, a time he said should remind Americans that they have never backed down from a challenge and will make it through tough economic times. The president will spend part of the July 4th weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland, but is expected to return to the White House on Sunday.

Obama vows action on immigration

General Petraeus in Afghanistan warns of tough mission

The United States' top field commander, General David Petraeus, warned on Saturday of a tough mission ahead a day after arriving to take command of the 150,000-strong NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan. Petraeus told hundreds of guests at a U.S. embassy party held to mark U.S. independence day that it was essential to show unity of purpose to solve Afghanistan's problems. "This is a tough mission, there is nothing easy about it," he said at the sprawling and heavily fortified U.S. embassy complex in Kabul, Washington's biggest foreign mission anywhere in the world and boasting 5 ambassadors. Petraeus is charged with not only winning the war against a growing Taliban insurgency, but also with starting a withdrawal of U.S. forces from July next year. Wearing casual camouflage under a scorching Kabul sun, Petraeus and a besuited U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on Saturday welcomed scores of guests to an embassy compound liberally decorated with Stars and Stripes flags. A brass band played as guests munched on burgers, corn-on-the-cob, popcorn and ice-cream cones. Petraeus's appointment could be a last throw of the dice for Washington to end an increasingly costly conflict that is draining Western budgets as they emerge from one of the worst global recessions in history. APPOINTMENT CONFIRMED He landed in Kabul on Friday after his appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives approved $33 billion in funding for a troop surge he hopes will turn the tide of the war. The surge will bring to 150,000 the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan just as a new strategy takes root. It entails tackling the Taliban in their strongholds while relying on the government to simultaneously improve local governance and development. Petraeus, who is due to formally take command at a ceremony at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters on Sunday, is credited with turning the tide of the war in Iraq using similar tactics. ISAF said on Saturday that a service member had died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in the south. Nearly 1,900 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 -- including more than 100 last month, the bloodiest since the war began. The last two weeks have thrown an especially harsh light on the war effort, with new reports of corruption in President Hamid Karzai's government and the change in command of foreign forces. Doubts have also been raised over the commitment of the government to push governance and development alongside the military drive, and also the ability of Afghan forces to take over responsibility for security. At the same time, Karzai has been wooing the Taliban with a series of modest peace overtures, all have which have been rejected by the hardline Islamist movement, which insists all foreign forces must leave before they will end the insurgency.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fighting terrorism

The Frontier Post If the deadly suicide strike on Data Darbar shows vexatiously how vulnerably is caught Lahore in the vortex of a prowling terrorism, it also exposes worryingly how terribly wanting is the state apparatus in fighting this monstrosity. Now for pretty long, the provincial metropolis is being soaked with innocent blood by this stalking terrorism. Not just vulnerable civilian targets has it struck lethally. It has murderously attacked seemingly impenetrable security establishments and defence facilities in the city, too. Yet appallingly no methodical or systematic strategy or effort is in evidence to curb this monstrosity. After every strike, the city administrators and law-enforcers promptly come out to tell cheekily that the head or the legs of the thuggish striker have been found as if they have done a marvellous job of their responsibility to protect the citizens’ lives and safeguard their properties and the state establishments. Little do they realise that their prank to cover up their inexcusable failure grates sourly on a harried citizenry yearning to hear of no heads or legs found but of having busted the lairs of these thugs of death and destruction, of having hobbled them on their legs, and of having defanged them and decapitated them from perpetrating their vile acts. Indeed, there is perturbing hiatus to the act of the state in fighting this vicious monstrosity. Presently, Lahore may be in its bloody grip. But no other part of the province as also of the country is immune from its wickedness. Terrorists strike wherever they want and whenever they will. And if in the past they had Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in their evil sights with its metropolis of Peshawar bearing the brunt of their evilness quite too often, it appears now they have shifted their thuggery to Punjab to drown its capital city in particular in bloodbath. That smacks of a systematic coordinated scheming. But the state deplorably shows no such methodical endeavour to smash their conspiracy and finish off their cruel bloodletting business. Months ago, the prime minister had convened a top-level inter-provincial security conference to formulate a counter-terrorism strategy. And it did hammer out quite an impressive comprehensive plan involving a coordinated effort at the federal, provincial and local levels to take on this monstrosity with full state might. But either that plan has fallen a prey to the crusher of the official rut or is being pursued at best half-heartedly. Its envisaged coordination at various official tiers, so essential in fighting a war against an invisible monstrosity like terrorism, is nowhere perceivable. In fact, a tiff over the putative wellsprings of terrorism in Punjab keeps the provincial top political and administrative hierarchies at loggerheads with the federal interior ministry, with the latter insisting that the province’s southern parts have become a lair of fanatical extremists and terrorists and the former stubbornly in denial of this and seeing only politics in this federal assertion. It really is so shocking and exasperating that something so grave as a matter of life and death should become political football so churlishly and insanely between the state’s two centres of power. Curiously, as the monster of terrorism is perceptibly baring still lethal fangs to kill and maim our people to wipe out all their sense of safety and security and so destabilise our polity, there is no evident effort on the official corridors even to understand this monstrosity which is increasing becoming intricately complex to tackle. Believably, it is no more a one-dimensional phenomenon. It is an evil complex of motivated terrorists, plain mercenary murderers, criminal gangs, mafia syndicates, sectarian fanatics, and proxies and agent provocateurs of inimical foreign powers and agencies. And if not tackled now, this evil complex will surely become all the more intricate and hence intractable and very hard to overcome, even by the army which already is too overstretched with fighting militancy in tribal and settled areas. The prime minister must therefore reconvene the top-level inter-provincial security conference to review the working of the counter-terrorism strategy and rectify its shortcomings to make it effective and result-oriented. The participants, too, must come to the conference with open minds all shorn of political inhibitions and reservations. A secure and safe Pakistan free from all terrorism, militancy, criminality and rabid religiosity is in the interest of all, the political strands included. Saved from:

Little Obama' Movie Opens in Indonesia

A new movie titled Little Obama (Obama Anak Mentang), chronicling the time President Barack Obama lived in Indonesia as a boy, has opened in Jakarta. The director says the film shows a young Barack Obama becoming the leader he is today. At the premier of the movie Little Obama in Jakarta, children from the school President Obama attended when he lived in Indonesia as a child, sang and danced. Invited guests also had their pictures taken with a look-alike of the adult president. But the main event was the screening of the film about the lessons a young Barry Obama, as he was then known, learned while living in Jakarta in the early 1970s. From his Indonesian stepfather young Barry learned to fight when he must. From his mother he learned to forgive. In the movie there is action and a touch of romance.The film's director, Damien Dematra, says Little Obama is based on actual events but it is also a movie with a message. "The importance of differences, of pluralism. That it is okay to be different, you know. When we are different it does not mean we have to fight and number two do not use violence, that violence will not only solve the problem," he said. The part of young Barry Obama was played by 12-year-old American Hasan Faruq Ali, who had never acted in a movie before. Like President Obama, he is the son of a mixed-race couple and moved from the United States to Indonesia as a toddler. "I feel really lucky because the first movie I play at, I get to play someone I am really a fan of and the number one person in the world right now, the most powerful man in the world right now," Ali said. The guest list for the premier included many supporters of President Obama, including political analyst Wimar Witoelar. He hopes the film will strengthen the cultural connection between the United States and Indonesia. "Say it was shown in America that Obama was in Indonesia, that Indonesia is an acceptable country to live in," Witoelar says, "for Indonesians it shows that this American president is one of us, so it is a very useful movie." The movie, however, did present a few concerns. Before its release, a scene showing the young Barry Obama, who is a Christian, praying like a Muslim was dropped because producers deemed it too political.

Chelsea Clinton wedding speculation.

The former first daughter is engaged and preparing for a summer wedding to fellow political spawn Marc Mezvinsky. But following the current privacy protocols for celebrity nuptials, the family has not publicly announced where and when the happy event will occur. Even invited guests won't likely get the word on the locale until the last possible minute -- all in an effort to stem any leaks that would draw gawkers and paparazzi. But speculation is running rampant, and late Thursday, the Hudson Valley News and the Associated Press cited sources saying the wedding will happen in scenic Rhinebeck, N.Y. The AP story, citing a single anonymous source ("a local resident... [who] isn't authorized to divulge the information") simply says the wedding will happen at a "private mansion just outside the town." This may or may not dovetail with the Hudson Valley paper's claim that the ceremony is set for an estate built by turn-of-the-century titan John Jacob Astor IV. True? The stories sound credible; but they also sound like a lot of credible-sounding media reports from last summer, based on knowledgeable sources, that Chelsea was going to wed on Martha's Vineyard in August 2009. A rep for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment about the new stories. (Last year, Clinton reps strongly denied the rampant reports of a 2009 wedding; this year they have been open in acknowledging a wedding is soon to occur, but stingy with the details.) Experts agree: Astor Courts, also known as Ferncliff Casino, would be a great place for a couple of VIPs to get hitched. "It's a wonderful place for something like that," said Village Mayor James Reardon, who like other local officials said he has no knowledge of the Clintons planning an event there. The 1902 Beaux-Arts mansion, designed by Stanford White, sits on a secluded 50 acres, on top of a bluff with river views -- the kind of place where you could easily, say, land a helicopter but also keep the media at a distance. Six years ago, it was purchased and meticulously renovated by Kathleen Hammer, a retired executive with Oxygen Media, and developer husband Arthur Seelbinder. She's a plugged-in contributor to Democratic causes, who has hosted a number of fundraising events there. Hammer has told friends that she's hosting a big event there in July, cloaked in some secrecy. We asked her directly if she's hosting a Clinton wedding. "Like the family, we really have no comment," she said. Some local officials expressed chagrin that they hadn't been looped in on an event that -- assuming it's actually happening there -- could put heavy demands on the region. But a law enforcement official said that if the wedding is on the date we've been hearing -- July 31, still four weeks away -- it's not unreasonable that they wouldn't have been briefed on it yet. Meanwhile, it's not impossible that all this Rhinebeck talk is just a dodge to distract us from the real wedding location -- or that it's all just some big misunderstanding. The big Martha's Vineyard event preparations that had everyone in a tizzy of speculation? Turned out to be for a birthday party for Bill Clinton at the home of Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen.

In Kandahar, Looking To Petraeus On Rules Of Fire

At a combat outpost north of Kandahar city, Army Capt. Jeffrey McKinnon peers over a wall of sandbags and points to a location 100 yards away, a tangle of grapevines, trees and brush. "We found an enemy fighting position there about three days ago. They shot at our tower — very brief. I think they were actually test-firing one of their weapons," says McKinnon of the 101st Airborne Division. But the Americans didn't return fire. "We actually didn't see it, that's why we went and patrolled over there" to find the source of the gunfire, McKinnon says. By the time they got there, the Taliban and their weapons were gone. In another incident, taking fire from another Taliban position at a crumbling mud compound, the Americans were able to shoot back. We can't engage until fired upon, and it's not really giving us a fair chance, I don't think. - Spc. Jeffrey Cole "That contact was pretty sustained, a good 10 or 15 minutes. And we fought them off of that," McKinnon says. The difference in the two situations? In the latter, McKinnon says, his forces could "see all the way through that thing," making sure there were no women and children in the compound. The rules of engagement — when and under what circumstances troops can fire on an enemy position — require that soldiers see the enemy, or innocent civilians, before they decide to shoot. The rules are strongly debated among U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan. The man recently ousted as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, tightened the rules a year ago because U.S. bullets and bombs were causing a high number of civilian casualties.

Lahore shrine bombings, nothing seems sacred After last night's bombings in Lahore, an ancient sanctuary, which for centuries was a place for prayer and meditation, has been rudely introduced to Pakistan's very modern conflict. Nothing short of a shift in national culture will rescue the soul of Pakistan's Islamic traditions. In these troubled times of bombings, heatwaves and chronic power shortages, millions have flocked to the shrines of the mystic saints, trying to cajole good fortune out of arguably the most unfortunate period in our country's history. No saint is more venerated than Dhata Ganj Baksh, the great mystical Muslim saint of the 11th century, who is buried in Lahore. When twin blasts exploded in his mausoleum they destroyed more than just the lives of 43 people and their families. A Muslim believes his or her fate is already written. Many will now be wondering what they have done to deserve this punishment. Others, including the Taliban, have immediately blamed foreign powers. Many blame the US for bringing conflict to their region. This is not entirely misplaced – terrorism has increased, not abated, ever since the Obama administration escalated the "AfPak" conflict against al-Qaida and the Taliban by ramping up troop numbers and drone strikes. But, even so, this latest massacre will make even more Pakistanis abdicate responsibility for reforming our society. Dhata's shrine has not changed much since I first visited it as a child three decades ago, only now the pacific ambience has been somewhat ruined by the security guards and metal detectors, which did disturbingly little to prevent the attacks. Like the Haj pilgrimage, a visit to Dhata's shrine is a humbling experience. Rich and poor, men and women, all mingle amid the crowded mass. Sadly, this also made it the perfect target for a suicide bombing. It cannot be a coincidence that the attacks came just over a month after the slaughter of about 90 people in two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi minority sect. Although there has been far greater coverage and condemnation this time around than back in May, the fact that both a minority sect and mainstream Sufi Muslims have been targeted proves that our shared Islamic heritage is a threat to those behind the violence. Hitherto reluctant to expand the military conflict to Punjab, Pakistan's army will feel the pressure of local and international demands to do precisely that. But any response dominated by military means would be a disaster, creating even greater instability and, as more civilians are killed by the army's rough anvil, undoubtedly create more insurgents and leading to more bombings. This is a matter for civil authorities – the provincial and federal government, the police and the courts – to take the lead. Now more than ever, Pakistan must institute a clear and effective system for the regulation of its religious seminaries, mosques and Islamic welfare organisations. A recent government proposal to restrict coverage of the violence and criticism of the state is a backward step. True, Punjab has become saturated with welfare fronts for jihadist groups involved in violence here and in neighbouring India. But part of the problem is that Islamic welfare organisations with links to jihadists have stepped in where the state has been absent, providing meals, education and medical services to poor citizens who would otherwise go without. This does not mean that we are a population of jihadists; rather, that the state has either sat idle or aided Islamists as they deliberately blurred the line between legitimate civil society and militancy. The state must proactively begin the long, slow and difficult process of rolling this back. As I've argued before, one of the key reasons the public has rallied against the militants is a sense that those behind the attacks are not Islamists or even Pakistanis, but foreigners. This mindset creates a dangerous conspiracy theory culture, but it does have one clear advantage. It is difficult for most to be critical of something that is sacred to them, such as their faith. But in blaming outsiders for the violence, people demonstrate their rejection of violence, which they consider antithetical to Islam. Of course, that rejection is at times somewhat hypocritical. Consider, for instance, those who blamed India for the anti-Ahmadi attack in May while giant religious banners openly called the Ahmadi apostates worthy of death. Lahore has been filled with protests from religious parties, shopkeepers and others throughout today. As it is Friday, the mosques have been crowded with worshippers listening to their local imams railing against the violence with varying degrees of hyperbole and prescience. Then there is the voice of Dhata Ganj Baksh, a preacher born in Persia, who went on an astonishing lifelong journey through the Middle East and central Asia before ending his days in Lahore. Dhata's lyrical poetry, laced heavily with notions of love, the ephemeral beauty and power of God, and the necessity of humility in worldly affairs, transformed him into a legend for well over 10 centuries. We would do well to honour the spirit behind the verse.

Pakistan minister seeks death penalty for terrorists

Pakistan's judiciary is under an obligation to root out the scourge of extremism and should award the death penalty to persons convicted for acts of terrorism, a provincial minister said on Friday. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Information Minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said "the heads of several banned groups have claimed responsibility for masterminding acts of sabotage in mosques and bazars and (attacks) on security forces". "Therefore, in view of the serious nature of these acts, the judiciary should impose the death penalty on terrorists," he said. Addressing a seminar on violence against journalists organised by the South Asia Free Media Association at Peshawar Press Club, he said when terrorists are killed, "they are termed as extra-judicial killings and when innocent people die, nobody bothers about them." "When we arrest terrorists, they are freed due to lack of authentic proof," the minister said. Hussain said that terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for various terrorist attacks across the country but the judiciary continued to ask the government to produce viable proof against terrorists. The network of terrorists has been weakened in areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa bordering the tribal belt, he said. "Earlier it was the war of our survival, whereas it is now the war of the terrorists' survival," he added. "This is a guerrilla war and it will continue till the interests of superpowers clashed with each other. Unless these differences are resolved, the war cannot be taken to its logical conclusion," Hussain said. The US, Pakistan and Afghanistan should share intelligence with each other as these countries are the major forces in the war on terror, he noted. Any clash in the policies of these countries could impact the results of the war, he said. Iran, Russia, India and China have their own interests in the region and unless they find a viable solution to their problems, the war against terror could not be won completely, Hussain cautioned. Terrorists were made into hero-like figures by certain sections of the media but the government's political policies turned the tide, he said. The suicide blasts at Data Darbar shrine in Lahore were an indication of the presence of the Taliban in Punjab, he said. Senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, Peshawar Press Club president Shamim Shahid and a large number of media persons were present on the occasion.

Peshawar Police deputed at mosques, imambargahs

In Peshawar, thick police contingents have been deployed at religious buildings including mosques, imambargahs and other sensitive places for stepping up security measures, keeping in view the suicide blasts at Data Darbar occurred on late Thursday. Security around mosques, imambargahs has been made stern on Friday. More police parties are now patrolling bazaars, offices, government buildings and other places, he added.

PML-N MPA Khawaja Muhammad Islam holds fake degree

Intermediate certificate of PML-N MPA, Khawaja Muhammad Islam from PP-72 (Faisalabad-XXII) has been proven bogus, sources in Higher Education Commission told Geo News. According to the sources, MPA submitted Intermediate certificate of Faisalabad Board for admission in University of East Hyderabad. The degree he submitted was of 1987 while the Board was established in 1988. On this reason his degree proved fake. Khawaja Muhammad Islam defeated Sujjah Ullah Khan of PPPP. He has won provincial assembly seat in 1993 and 1997 elections and has been the City President of the party since 1993.

Lahore shrine toll reaches to 43

Death toll of suicide attacks in Data Darbar has reached to 43 among which 28 martyrs have been identified, Geo News reported on Friday. Cultural capital Lahore was on high alert Friday after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Data Darbar packed with devotees, killing more than 40 people and wounding 175. "The first blast occurred in the basement followed by another one with a deafening sound," said one witness. On Friday, large numbers of police and other security personnel were patrolling all busy and sensitive areas in Lahore, a city of around 10 million people. Police sources said heads of two suicide bombers have been found. Security was particularly tight around mosques ahead of weekly Muslim prayers, senior police officer Mohammad Faisal Rana told media. A senior investigating officer told media that the bomber in the basement set off his vest after he was intercepted by a group of worshippers and that police were combing the scene for forensic clues. The entire country is in state of shock and mourning on Data Darbar tragedy whereas several religious parties and traders of Lahore announced ‘Youm-e-Sog’ Friday. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has announced compensation of Rs. 0.5 million each for martyrs and Rs.75, 000 for wounded.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Punjab govt had intelligence on attack threat

LAHORE: Well-placed sources have confirmed that the Ministry of Interior had informed the authorities concerned in the Punjab government two days ago about the impending terrorist threat in Lahore, Daily Times has learnt. Following the information relayed by the Interior Ministry, sources said, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also called an important meeting of high-level officials to review the security arrangements in place in Punjab. Moreover, a number of intelligence agencies also communicated to the authorities concerned that they had received reliable intelligence information about terrorists planning to carry out attacks in Punjab, targeting Lahore in particular, the sources added.

41 dead in suicide bombings in Pakistan

Three suicide bombers struck a Sufi shrine in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 120, officials said, the second major attack in the city in a month. Hundreds of devotees were visiting the marble shrine of the 11th century Persian Sufi saint, Syed Ali Hajwairi, commonly known as Data Gunj Bakhsh, in the heart of the city when the attacks occurred. Muslims in Pakistan visit shrines and mosques in large numbers on Thursday nights and Friday. "Dead bodies are scattered all over the courtyard of the shrine," Reuters photographer Mohsin Raza said from the scene. "There is blood everywhere. Two of the dead were my friends. It's very horrifying," he said in a choked voice. One of the attackers blew himself up at the gate of the sprawling, marble shrine while two other attacks took place in the basement of the shrine where people were washing for prayers. Sajjad Bhutta, a top city administrator, said at least 41 people were killed and 122 wounded. CHAOS Mian Rauf, a witness, said devotees were settling down inside the mausoleum and the courtyard for final prayers when the attacks happened. "First there were three small blasts. People got panicky and started running. But within moments there were big explosions," he said. "It was all chaos. People were screaming for help and running here and there. It was all smoke. Nothing could be seen and only cries could be heard." Taliban militants generally abhor the Sufi strand of Islam and disapprove of visiting shrines, which is popular with many Pakistanis. Militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban have unleashed a wave of attacks across Pakistan in revenge for the military offensives in their bastions in the northwest of the country near the Afghan border. While most of the reprisal militant attacks have taken place in the northwest, militants have stepped up attacks in the heartland of the country, mainly the central province of Punjab, in recent months. Lahore is the capital of Punjab. Officials have blamed attacks in the province on the "Punjabi Taliban," a term used for the militants drawn from Punjab who have joined ranks with Taliban in the northwest. More than 80 people were killed in twin attacks on the mosques of the minority Ahmadi sect in May. The shrine at Data Darbar is one of the most famous in Pakistan, attracting hundreds of devotees every night, with Thursdays being the most popular nights. The complex includes a mosque and a police station in the basement. Farahnaz Ispahani, spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the attack: "This sickening poison of extremism will be driven out of our nation and we will not be cowed." Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the attack on the shrine showed that "terrorists have no consideration for any religion, faith and belief."

U.S. commander restricts Humvee use in Afghanistan

The once-ubiquitous Humvee may become a rare sight in some parts of Afghanistan following a decision by the senior U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan to restrict the use of the vehicles in the field. Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of Joint Task Force-101, ordered this week that the use of Humvee vehicles outside a military base would have to specifically be approved by a colonel -- one of the most senior field grade positions in the military. Prior to this, the use of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV, or Humvee) had to be approved by a lower-ranking officer, according to Task Force spokesman Maj. Patrick Seiber. Seiber said the decision was not specifically in reaction to a number of deadly IED attacks on troops in recent weeks, but is part of trying to improve protection for the force. The Humvee is heavily armored, but its flat bottom and low-to-the-ground profile has made it particularly vulnerable to attacks using improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. In recent years, the military has fielded a new series of armored vehicles with V-shaped hulls to deflect the blast of roadside bombs, but even some of those have been destroyed in large-scale attacks. Campbell's decision comes amid the release of figures showing that June has been the deadliest month of the war for the coalition across Afghanistan, with 101 coalition troops killed and about 400 U.S. troops wounded. Casualties due to IED attacks continue to skyrocket. The Pentagon reports that in May 2010, the latest data available, the number of coalition forces -- including Afghans -- that were killed or wounded by IED attacks was 284, more than double the 104 killed or wounded in the same month last year. The number of overall IED attacks reached 1,128, compared to 513 in May 2009. The Pentagon statistics on IEDs include Afghan troop casualties because those units are suffering very high attacks rates, according to the Pentagon.

Russian spy confesses

Federal prosecutors say one of the suspects in an alleged Russian spy ring has allegedly admitted he was a spy.

Obama pushes immigration reform

President Obama called for immigration reform legislation that would include a pathway to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants

Pakistan Sufi Shrine Bombing Kills 35, Injures 175 in Lahore

At least two suicide bombers attacked a popular Muslim shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore late Thursday night, killing 35 people and wounding 175 others, the city's top official said. The attackers struck as thousands of people were visiting the Data Darbar shrine, where a famous Sufi saint is buried. Islamic extremists consider Sufis to be heretics and have often targeted them in attacks. The first suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a large underground room where visitors sleep and wash themselves before praying, said Khusro Pervez, the top government official in Lahore. Minutes later, a second bomber detonated his explosives in a large courtyard upstairs as people tried to flee the first attack, he said. The blasts ripped concrete from the walls, twisted metal gates and left wires hanging from the ceiling, television footage showed. Blood stained the shrine's white marble floor. Police are still investigating the source of a third blast that followed the two suicide bombers. The heads of the two bombers have been found, said Pervez. At least 25 of those wounded in the attacks are in critical condition, said Pervez. Demonstrators gathered outside the shrine in the hours after the attack, protesting the security lapse that allowed the attacks to occur. Police fired into the air and threw rocks to disperse the protesters. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings — the latest in a wave of deadly attacks to hit the country, where security forces are battling Pakistani Taliban in its lawless regions near the border with Afghanistan. Lahore is Pakistan's second-largest city and capital of its most prosperous province, Punjab. It is a key political, military, and cultural center and has been the scene of some of the most spectacular attacks in the country over the past year. On May 28, gunmen and a suicide squad lobbed grenades and sprayed bullets in attacks on two mosques in the eastern city packed with worshippers from the minority Ahmadi sect. At least 93 people were killed and dozens wounded. The government has been criticized for lacking the will to crack down on militants in Punjab, many of whom are part of now-banned groups started with government support in the 1980s and '90s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and pressure archenemy India. Many of these groups have formed links with the Pakistani Taliban, which has recruited militants to carry out attacks in parts of Pakistan far from its sanctuary in the northwest near Afghanistan. One of the most high-profile attacks in Lahore came in March 2009, when militants armed with rocket launchers, hand grenades and assault rifles attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team and security detail, killing six police and a driver and wounding seven players and a coach. That assault led to the suspension of international cricket matches in Pakistan. In October 2009, teams of gunmen attacked three security facilities in Lahore, leaving 28 dead. In December 2009, two bombs killed 48 at a market in the city.

Afghan government says donor nations must share blame for corruption, cash trafficking

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his finance minister pushed back Wednesday against allegations of government corruption, saying that their international partners must shoulder some of the blame for waste, graft and the billions of dollars streaming out of the country. Corruption and a weak court system have undermined public trust in Karzai's government. The Obama administration and other donor nations, who need Karzai to be perceived as a credible partner, are pressing him to make reforms. Afghan government officials, however, have become increasingly vocal in condemning the way foreign nations award contracts, which sometimes end up in the hands of politicians and powerbrokers. Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said the bulk of the $4 billion in cash that has been flown out of the nation in the past three and a half years is from huge contracts that the international community has given to large Afghan and foreign companies. Zakhilwal also squared off against U.S. Representative Nita Lowey, who threatened this week to block billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan until she was convinced that "U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists." He said Lowey, a Democrat from New York and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department's budget, was wrong to suggest that the Afghan government officials had misused or pocketed donor funds."She is not accurate on the fact to blame the Afghan government for it because it had nothing to do with it," Zakhilwal said, calling for a joint investigation with international partners into cash trafficking. Zakhilwal, who is backed by the West, has acknowledged that there is graft and corruption in the Afghan government, especially in the delivery of government services. But he stressed that there are few, if any, examples of mismanagement of donors' money by the Afghan government, which controls only a small percentage of the funds. His ministry says that since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, 77 percent of the $29 billion in international aid spent in Afghanistan has been disbursed on projects with little or no input from Afghan government officials. "To relate the cash trafficking with corruption in the government of Afghanistan is baseless," Zakhilwal said. "We strongly believe that the bulk of this money is from the huge contracts that our international partners have given out directly to big companies, particularly private security companies, without any involvement from the Afghan government." Corruption was a topic of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's brief visit to Afghanistan. A statement released by Karzai's office said that the president complained to Holder in a meeting at the presidential palace that awarding contracts to government officials, political figures and parliamentarians was helping fuel the "negative phenomenon" of corruption in Afghanistan. Karzai said Holder indicated that the U.S. government planned to review and reform the contract process in Afghanistan. "Giving contracts to such figures is a matter of concern for the Afghan government," the statement said. Karzai also complained that contracts were being awarded to private security firms, which he said undermined efforts to build a strong national army and police force. America's top prosecutor said the U.S. commitment to help Afghanistan create a fair court system and fight terrorism, corruption and drug trafficking would outlast any foreign military presence in the country. He encouraged Karzai to continue efforts to improve governance and law enforcement "as much work remains to be done." In his meeting at the palace, Holder also met with Afghan Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aloko who on Tuesday defended himself against allegations that he's being pressured not to pursue cases against powerful figures. Aloko also accused U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry of overstepping his diplomatic authority by suggesting that he step down as attorney general if he wasn't going to charge an Afghan banker in a corruption case. Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Eikenberry, did not comment on the conversation, saying the ambassador's discussions with Afghan officials were private.

1.3 million unemployed won't get benefits restored

WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million laid-off workers won't get their unemployment benefits reinstated before Congress goes on a weeklong vacation for Independence Day. An additional 200,000 people who have been without a job for at least six months stand to lose their benefits each week, unless Congress acts. For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered a bill Wednesday night that would have continued unemployment checks to people who have been laid off for long stretches. The House is slated to vote on a similar measure Thursday, though the Senate's action renders the vote a futile gesture as Congress prepares to depart Washington for its holiday recess. A little more than 1.3 million people have already lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May. "It is beyond disappointing that Republicans continue to stand almost lockstep against assistance for out-of-work Americans," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The measure, however, stands a better chance of passing after a replacement is seated for Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who died Monday. The measure fell two votes short of the 60 needed to advance Wednesday night, but only because Reid, a supporter of the bill, voted "nay" to take a procedural step that would allow for a revote. "We will vote on this measure again once there is a replacement named for the late Sen. Byrd," Reid said. Byrd's successor will be named by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat. Unable to deliver more stimulus spending for President Barack Obama, Democrats in Congress had hoped to at least restore the jobless benefits. Obama has urged lawmakers to spend about $50 billion to help states pay for Medicaid programs and to avoid teacher layoffs, but Democrats in Congress have been unable to come up with the votes. Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession. However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the growing national debt. Some Republicans offered to support the unemployment bill if it was paid for with unspent money from last year's massive economic recovery package. Democrats rejected the offer, saying the money was needed for jobs programs. "The only reason the unemployment extension hasn't passed is because Democrats simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn't add to the debt," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said, "My concern is that the Democrats are more interested in having this issue to demagogue for political gamesmanship than they are in simply passing the benefits extension." The unemployment bill would have provided up to a total of 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. The money would be borrowed, adding to the budget deficit.