Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Approval of U.S. Congress ties historic low: poll

Public approval of

U.S. Congress's performance has tied its historic low of 13 percent, according to Gallup poll results released Tuesday.

The previous low point was set in December 2010, during the lame-duck session. Meanwhile, disapproval of Congress hit an all-time high of 84 percent, eclipsing the 83 percent disapproval rating last December.

The results are based on an Aug. 11-14 Gallup poll, the first update on Congress's job approval rating since the government reached agreement on a deal to raise the debt ceiling after contentious and protracted negotiations between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

Standard & Poor's subsequently downgraded the United States' credit rating, partially citing the current political environment in Washington. That sparked a week of intense volatility in the stock market, with days of sharp losses and large gains.

Americans have usually not held Congress in high regard, but currently they have a more negative view of the institution than any other time Gallup has measured, according to the polling agency.

Frustration with Congress was evident immediately after the debt ceiling agreement, with a record-low 21 percent of registered voters in an Aug. 4-7 USA Today/Gallup poll saying most members of Congress deserve re-election.

Obama's job approval rating has also declined in recent days, reaching a low of 39 percent.

When Gallup last measured Congress's job approval rating in early July, 18 percent approved and 77 percent disapproved. That poll came while the debt ceiling discussions were underway but well before the talks dragged on to just before the Treasury Department's Aug. 2 deadline.

Coalition tries to build cadre of Afghan leaders

The local Afghan leader's community meeting was off to an unpromising start.
Hours after the meeting, called a shura, was supposed to begin, only seven old men waited at the gate of U.S. Marine Patrol Base Salaam Bazaar in the northern part of Helmand province.
Frustrated, Naw Zad District Chief Said Murad Sadtak chastised an Afghan army commander.
"Why did you not invite more people?" he demanded. "It was your task to tell the people and make sure that they come to see us so we can discuss their problems. It's kind of a waste that I am here."
The army commander had invited locals to the small fortified camp, but sometimes those invitations were extended during gunfights when soldiers and U.S. Marines were using private Afghan homes and farmers' poppy fields for cover.
Sadtak continued to complain and his American mentor, U.S. Marine Maj. Aniela Szymanski, moved to the old man's side.
"Maybe we should welcome those who have come to see you," she said gently.
In Helmand, unpracticed local leaders are wielding the levers of a fragile government for the first time.
They urge local communities to support the government and reject the Taliban, often in places where the insurgency is more conspicuous than the new Afghan state.
But many local Afghan leaders still lack skills and resources to address severe problems facing Helmand communities, including drought, joblessness and the chaos of living between two determined combat forces. Others are cut off from their constituents by insecurity. Some are corrupt.
This is the challenge for the international coalition: create a cadre of Afghan leaders and institutions robust enough to resist the Taliban's advances after NATO withdraws combat forces by the end of 2014.
Filling government positions remains difficult due to illiteracy and insecurity. Provincial officials are under constant threat of assassination, so they live within Western military installations and must be escorted outside by U.S. military convoys and helicopters.
The week Sadtak met with tribal elders in Siraqula, the mayor of Kandahar's provincial seat was assassinated by a suicide attacker who detonated a bomb hidden in his turban. A few days later, a dozen policemen were killed by a suicide bomber in Helmand's provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
Lashkar Gah was one of five provincial capitals and two provinces chosen to start the transition from NATO to Afghan control. The coalition hopes to use the security zone around the provincial capital and the central Helmand River Valley as a foothold to push Afghan governance into outlying areas like Kajaki.
"My son was blown up," a village elder told Kajaki District Chief Mohammad Salim Khan Rodi during a recent meeting at his compound inside a Marine camp. "Can you compensate me? I am just a poor man. My oldest son was my right hand. Without him we have nothing."
Rodi offered his condolences, but no funds.
There were 20 local elders at the meeting in Kajaki, a good showing at a small, mine-encircled Marine camp. Rodi has hosted four other shuras in the last six months; none of them drew more than 24 men. The old men told him that drought is withering their crops and that they need more electricity from the Kajaki Hydroelectric Power Station to run irrigation pumps on their wells. And they demanded the Marines stop night raids in nearby villages.
Rodi offered his visitors no promises. Electrical power is low because the Taliban illegally tap the power lines, he said, and insurgent checkpoints and bomb threats are delaying a long overdue upgrade to the power plant.
"You yell at me to turn the power on," Rodi told them. "But go tell the Taliban to let you have more electricity and see what they say."
And night raids would cease when residents stand up to the Taliban, the district chief said.
"The government is here to serve the people, but you have to tell the Taliban to stop planting IEDs," Rodi said. "The other day, two policemen who protect me — they are as close to me as my own sons — were hurt because they stepped on an IED."
The villagers said they were afraid of mines too, but had to defer to the Taliban in the absence of a government security presence outside of Kajaki's district center. About 90 Afghan policemen are in Kajaki, but they remain within the Marines' perimeter. Namatullah, 55, a village elder who voiced many of the delegation's concerns, said he got permission from the Taliban to visit the district chief.
"In this situation, if we stand on our feet, they will cut them out from under us," Namatullah said. "If they kill 800 men or one man, no one cares, no one will help us."
There are no functioning government schools or medical clinics in Kajaki district. Marines in Kajaki are in a defensive position around the dam. In the area, the insurgency prevents Afghan governance from taking hold, Rodi said.
"I'm so isolated from the people," Rodi said in an interview after the shura. "And I'm not able to offer them my help the way I'd like to."
In many of Afghanistan's most insecure areas, Western diplomats and military commanders provide key links between local Afghan officials and provincial and national institutions. Western advisers organize travel and payment transfers for Afghan officials. Advisers also hold daily meetings with their Afghan counterparts to impart their best political counsel.
Bryan Jalbert, a political officer for the State Department, meets every afternoon with the Musa Qala district chief at his office at the Marines' battalion headquarters.
They discuss joint coalition and Afghan projects that will lend credibility to the local government. Sometimes they share pictures and stories about their families.
Jalbert says he walks a fine line between teaching Afghans officials how to serve their own people and reinforcing a culture of dependency on transient foreigners.
"I had an Afghan official come to me and he wanted to show me the rashes on his legs from the heat. He wanted me to find him a new air conditioner," said Jalbert. "I don't do that. If he wants an air conditioner, he can get it through their process."
Whenever possible, Jalbert said he runs funding and planning of projects through provincial institutions to develop Afghan independence and to help the state win the allegiance of the local population.
The most prominent project of this sort in Musa Qala is a British-funded $970,000 grand mosque. It will replace another mosque that NATO bombed after the Taliban used it as an armory.
The district chief, Naimatullah, who goes by one name, is managing the project and Afghan contractors are providing local labor. Apart from funding, the coalition takes a low profile on the mosque project. Jalbert is monitoring the construction, but discretely.
"I fly high cover on that one," he said. "You have to keep in mind, you're an adviser. This is not your country."
Despite the progress in Musa Qala, less than a third of provincial staff positions were filled.
"This has a very negative effect on my administration," Naimatullah said. "I do not have a judge or criminal investigator. I do not have any legal or irrigation officials. So the government cannot solve problems related to these matters, like legal or water disputes."
And Naimatullah is worried that his Western partners are counting the days before their departure. His district government would not last long without the coalition, he said.
"If America left now," he said, "it would be a kind of betrayal."

Bahraini hunger striker hospitalized

A female Bahraini prisoner on hunger strike has been transferred to a hospital after her grave health conditions deteriorated.

Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA), Jalila al-Salman, was hospitalized on Tuesday with chest pains following a 10-day hunger strike to protest her continuing torture and ill treatment while in custody, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Salman is among several board members of BTA arrested in Manama after the group called for a teachers' strike amid wide-scale anti-government protests in March.

On Saturday, the Bahraini regime fired some 14 university teachers for taking part in demonstrations against the ruling Al Khalifa family.

Since the beginning of Bahrain's revolution, large numbers of anti-government protesters have poured into the streets across the Persian Gulf state, demanding more rights, freedom and wide-ranging political reforms in the political system of their country.

According to local sources, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested so far during the harsh government clampdown on peaceful demonstrations.

According to Bahrain Center for Human Rights -- a non-governmental organization -- there are currently over 1,000 political detainees inside the country.

India battles poverty at 64

In New Delhi's upscale diplomatic district, Ram Dhan lives in a parallel world.
For years, his home has been a rickety shanty that he shares with his ailing wife, a young son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
Now 62, Dhan has lived through India's journey as an independent nation. He finds little reason to rejoice as the country celebrates Monday, the 64th anniversary of freedom from British rule.
"The poor have hardly benefited," he says.
Sitting on a cot in his shack huddled in a squalid slum in one of the richest neighborhoods of the Indian capital, he bitterly recalls how flooding in his native village ravaged his ancestral land way back in 1978 and forced him to move to the city in search of work.
But today, Dhan says, the family of six can barely manage $130 a month. "This is no development ... or growth. I think we have moved backwards," he says.
Dhan typifies the hand-to-mouth existence millions of Indians still live despite the nation's rise as Asia's third-largest economy.

In a speech on the eve of his country's independence in 1947, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made an impassioned call to fight and end "poverty and ignorance and disease."
Sixty-four years later, his successors accept that that fight is far from over.

"We have to banish poverty and illiteracy from our country. We have to provide the common man with access to improved health services," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his annual Independence Day address Monday.
According to the World Bank, India is home to one-third of the world's poor.
The twin monsters India faces today are inflation and corruption, both of which could derail the India growth story.

Corruption, policymakers have agreed over the years, is a major culprit.
"Corruption manifests itself in many forms," Singh said in what has been a refrain by Indian planners on the chronic scourge. "In some instances, funds meant for schemes for the welfare of the common man end up in the pocket of government officials. In some other instances, government discretion is used to favor a select few. There are also cases where government contracts are wrongfully awarded to the wrong people. We cannot let such activities continue unchecked."
Singh's remarks came ahead of a hunger strike anti-corruption activists have planned to press for an anti-graft law stronger than the legislation introduced in Parliament this month to create a citizen ombudsman.
Indian leaders concede no single measure will work to combat corruption, which is believed to be deeply entrenched in the system.
"I believe that there is no single big step which we can take to eradicate corruption. In fact, we will have to act simultaneously on many fronts," Singh said. He disapproved of hunger strikes as a means to push demands.
As India's finance minister, Singh unleashed economic reforms in the 1990s that dismantled stiffening regulations and opened the nation to foreign capital.
This year, India also marked another milestone event: the 20th anniversary of liberalization. But the occasion has been clouded by massive corruption scandals in Singh's administration and a rigid inflation crushing impoverished groups and the country's growing middle-class alike.
Criticism is mounting against the nation's political establishment.
"The twin monsters India faces today are inflation and corruption, both of which could derail the India growth story. To keep that story going, today's dysfunctional political class will need to radically re-invent itself," wrote the Times of India in an editorial headlined "Batting at 64."
India's marginalized communities often feel forced to compromise skills that are key to eliminating poverty.
Fears haunt Dhan that his grandchildren, like his son, also might not be able to achieve higher education if economic conditions at home do not improve.
And Dhan's cab-driver son, Ashok Kumar, leaves it to luck.
"I am trying my best to see that my children don't face the same circumstances that I went through. I am putting my best efforts. The rest is their luck," Kumar said.

America's fractured relationship with Pakistan

Al-Jazeera journalist detained by Israel

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Israel to clarify the legal basis for holding Al-Jazeera correspondent Samer Allawi, who has been in Israeli state custody since Tuesday.
Allawi, the Kabul bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, was arrested at al-Karama border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank while leaving the Occupied Territories after a three-week vacation in his hometown near Nablus, Al-Jazeera reported. Allawi's brother, Musaab, told Al-Jazeera that the journalist intended to cross into Jordan then travel back to Kabul. He had entered the West Bank at the same crossing without difficulty three weeks earlier.

"Israel must clarify why it continues to hold Samer Allawi," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Our concern for Allawi's well-being and his legal rights is amplified with every passing day that he is held without due process."

On Tuesday, Israeli authorities informed Allawi's family that he was in custody and would be held for four days for questioning. At the time, the authorities provided no justification for holding the journalist, who carries a Jordanian passport, and said only that it was a "security-related arrest," Al-Jazeera reported. On Thursday, Israeli authorities informed Allawi's employer that his detention would be extended to eight days, but again failed to provide a reason.

Majed Khader, program editor and head of assignments at Al-Jazeera, said Allawi told Salim Waqeem, a lawyer hired for him by Al-Jazeera, that he would be charged with transferring money and orders from Afghanistan to the West Bank if he refused to act as an informant. Allawi will appear with Waqeem in front of an Israeli military judge at the Salim military checkpoint, south of Jenin, on Tuesday, Khader told CPJ. Khader also said that Allawi has not been charged with any crime thus far.

Several local human rights and press freedom groups released statements condemning Allawi's arrest and calling for his immediate release. CPJ has documented persistent press freedom violations in the West Bank, including detentions, censorship, and physical attacks by Israeli soldiers. In March 2010, CPJ called on Israel to end the harassment of journalists and bring the military's practices in line with international standards for press freedom, allowing journalists to conduct their work without interference.

Peshawarites are happy with traffic cops!


It has become routine for the residents of the provincial capital that commuters face daily problems when travelling by public transport.Sometimes they have to face shortage of the transport during peak hours, while sometimes shortage of seats in buses and wagons and have either to stand, pushed and pressed from all side and trying to get a breathe of fresh air in the damp and sweltering hot weather or, when travelling in a wagon stuffed with passengers when has to stand in a stooped position and still be pressed and pushed from all sides and gasping for fresh air. Over and above the aforementioned conditions the drivers of the city buses and wagons have now caught on a new habit: Drivers don’t fully stop their vehicles and want the passengers, lady commuters included, to climb in and out of the vehicles with a jump and a hop. This is totally against the law— traffics laws mean nothing on the roads of Peshawar, so lets pass this point without further comment. It however is also against the safety and security of passengers, which again, I mean the lives of passengers, have no importance for the traffic cops and the drivers no matter how much the passengers hold their lives dear. The newspaper is just reporting what is happening; the reader nor the commuters should expect any action from the top cops, they have too many other things to do: one of them being to look the other way when the cops on the road close their eyes against all kinds of traffic violations committed by the drivers of the public transport. The public transport plying city roads are driven by some very expert drivers who can sham the kids of rich parents driving motorbikes on the roads of Islamabad. Passing in front of them thinking that they are too far away and will be travelling normal speed and so one can cross the read before the vehicles reach the point is considered a dangerous game, in fact risking one’s life. To bypass it is very risky for any small vehicle as these buses and wagons while speeding straight on the road can make a slight turn and start travelling diagonally and can either squeeze towards the raised edge of the footpath or throw you off the road. These drivers do not bother if the passenger is women or man, young or old; they keep on moving at high speed and if you cannot move in time; well, bad luck. Women and and elderly passengers fall to the ground while trying to do the hop and a jump climb up in or climb down from buses as the bus simply slows down on the bus stops instead of stopping completely as used to happen years back. Well if the girls, young women, elderly men and women get hurt in the process: too bad again far Peshawar is becoming very modern and either move fast or move out of the city is now the new slogan for Peshawarites. Even the traffic police wardens to not bother to take action against such drives and punish them for the sins they commit, for rush-driving on roads has been legalised by the cops and drivers by word of mouth, written laws and written words are not as respected in Peshawar as they used to be. Drivers while picking up a passenger do not obey the bus stop obligation on them and break the rules by stopping even in the middle of the road just to pick up a passenger. The new and word of mouth law agreed between the drivers and the traffic police has overtaken the written traffic rules. When it comes to dropping \passenger,s the same drivers try to stop at a place where they could pick some more passengers and for that they even miss slowing down at a designated bus stop which forces passengers to walk back to their stops. The residents of Peshawar demand nothing of the traffic officials, high and low. They know that high traffic officials have better things to do than supervise their juniors on the roads in hot or cold weathers. They also feel that it is they, the people of Peshawar, who should be aware of the change in the rules of traffic agreed upon verbally between the traffic cops and public transport drivers. Of course, they hear that when the buses and wagons come out early in the morning, the first thing is that each driver gives a piece of paper, bearing the photo of the father of the nation. And in respect of that picture-bearing paper, the verbally agreed law meaning that the drivers can do what they want on the roads of Peshawar, is reaffirmed

Tribal elders welcome Governor's statement

Tribal elders from Frontier Regions (FR) Lakki, Bannu and Tank have welcomed the declaring these areas as cleared from militancy.
They appreciate the announcement of the Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar, saying the people of the FRs are jubilant over the statement.
Addressing a news press conference here in Peshawar Press Club on Monday Malik Sabir Khan Bettani, Malik Abdur Rahman and Malik Haji Afzal said that the elders of the concerned areas have called on the Governor Khyber Pakhtukhwa under the leadership of Zafar Baig Bettani MNA and brief the Governor about the problems of the three FRs.
They said that Governor Barrister Masood Kausar had declared FR Lakki, Bannu and Tank cleared of militancy and announced the establishment of a grid station at Jandola.They demanded the Governor to compensate the owners of 750 shops and 200 houses damaged in Jandola in the operation against terrorism.
They presented tributes to Governor for the announcement.

Awan wants judicial probe into Shahbaz's statement

Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Finance Secretary, Babar Awan, has said his party has taken a serious note of the statement made by Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, expressing that his life could be endangered by President Asif Ali Zardari.

"The PPP condemns the irresponsible statement by Shahbaz Sharif and asks the chief justice to institute a judicial inquiry and nominate a senior judge to inquire into the statement," he said, while addressing a press conference here at the Press Information Department (PID) on Monday.

Awan, who is also a close aide of President Zardari, said: "No politician has ever made such a statement in the past and so a judicial inquiry should be set up.î He said the PPP had never believed in politics of slogans and always took practical steps for the betterment of the people. He said President Zardari was the only president of Pakistan elected through a two-thirds majority.

Awan said the PPP would continue its policy of reconciliation and dialogue and would work for the consolidation of democracy and democratic institutions. He rebutted the statement of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, about alleged hindrances in the working of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and said the government extended full cooperation to the committee led by Chaudhry Nisar. "Nobody will be allowed to create hurdles in the working of the PAC. I hope politicians will avoid point scoring," he added.

APP adds: Urging the Punjab government to make public the inquiry report on the murder plan of former LHC chief justice Khwaja Sharif, Awan said according to his information, some senior officials in the provincial bureaucracy had been nominated in the report.

INP adds: Awan said accounts considered by the PAC until now related to the Musharraf government and the PPP had no connection or concern with them. He also pointed out that the PAC had so far not seen the latest report of the auditor general.