Friday, May 11, 2012

U.S. :The Human Cost of Ideology

For more than a year, House Republicans have energetically worked to demolish vital social programs that have made this country both stronger and fairer over the last half-century. At the same time, they have insisted on preserving bloated military spending and unjustifiably low tax rates for the rich. That effort reached a nadir on Thursday when the House voted to prevent $55 billion in automatic cuts imposed on the Pentagon as part of last year’s debt-ceiling deal, choosing instead to make all those cuts, and much more, from domestic programs. If this bill were enacted, estimates suggest that nearly two million Americans would lose food stamps and 44 million others would find them reduced. The bill would eliminate a program that allows disabled older people to live at home and out of institutions. It cuts money that helps low-income families buy health insurance. At the same time, the House bill actually adds more than $8 billion to the Pentagon budget. In all, the bill would cut $310 billion from domestic programs; a third of that comes out of programs that serve low- and moderate-income people. Other provisions would slash by half the budget of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was set up after the financial meltdown to protect consumers from predatory lending and other abuses, and reduce the pay of federal workers. Fortunately, it will never be taken up in the Senate, where the majority leader, Harry Reid, has said it would “shred the social safety net in order to protect tax breaks for the rich and inflate defense spending.” House Republicans are already claiming that this bill, along with the equally inhumane overall 2013 budget written by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, shows their seriousness in reducing the deficit and why they should keep control of the House in November. In fact, it does the opposite on both accounts — and serves as a reminder of their destructive priorities. As a resolution to the debt-ceiling crisis, Republicans had already agreed to $109 billion a year in automatic spending cuts — half from defense, half from the domestic side — if lawmakers failed to agree to lower the deficit in more reasonable ways such as mixing targeted cuts with tax increases on the rich. Even Democrats who supported big defense cuts wanted them chosen carefully, not with the sequester’s cleaver. But Republicans refused to take that path when the supercommittee deliberated and now are trying to make all of the cuts on the domestic side. In just one particularly destructive example, the bill would eliminate the social services block grant, a $1.7 billion fund that is given to the states to help people struggling the hardest. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the fund provides services to 23 million people, including Meals on Wheels and other programs that help older Americans. It also helps pay for child care assistance, foster care and juvenile justice at a time when states are cutting back these programs. House Democrats offered an alternative bill that would replace the $109 billion sequester by raising taxes on the wealthy, ending oil company tax loopholes and cutting farm subsidies, but it was rejected. Republicans are determined to protect millionaires and defense contractors, no matter the costs to the country.

President Obama $15 Million Hollywood Fundraiser Hosts Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire

President Obama
again affirmed his support of gay marriage
 on Thursday night at a star-studded Los Angeles fundraiser at the home of George Clooney. The event, which reportedly raised a record $15 million for the Obama re-election campaign fund, was attended by around 150 guests who paid $40,000, along with two women who won tickets by pledging $3 in an online raffle.Speaking in front of an audience that was likely to be receptive
 to the message, Obama expanded on his view of gay marriage. "Obviously, yesterday we made some news," he said to what was reported by The Los Angeles Times to be enthusiastic. Obama was referring to an ABC interview in which he revealed that he now personally supports same-sex marriage, which made him the first sitting president to ever do so. "It was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. It grew directly out of this difference in visions: Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren't like us -- does that make us stronger? I believe it does. So that's what's at stake."

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The comments reiterated his earlier embrace of gay marriage, which was applauded by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton
, who told MTV on Thursday that the news was happy, if a bit late in coming. "I wish he would have done this a long time ago," Hilton said. The gathering was organized by DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, featured food by famed chef-to-the-stars Wolfgang Puck and took place in a large tent on the basketball court outside Clooney's huge Tudor-style Hollywood home.

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Among the stars in attendance were Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire, Jack Black, Salma Hayek, Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand and husband James Brolin and Clooney's girlfriend, Stacey Kiebler. Fresh off his joke-filled appearance at the Correspondents dinner in D.C., the president went for laughs again, chiding the host that his famous 2008 "Hope" campaign poster was taken from a photo of him sitting next to Clooney when Obama was a U.S. Senator. "This is the first time that George Clooney has ever been PhotoShopped out of a picture," Obama said. "Never happened before, never happen again." And while the night had a positive tone, Obama acknowledged to his high-dollar donors that the upcoming election is going to be much more difficult than the 2008 contest. "This is going to be harder than it was the last time," he said. "2008, in some ways, was lighting in a bottle ... So we're going to have to fight against cynicism and a belief that maybe things can't happen and maybe the game is rigged, what's the point. That's what we're going to be fighting against this time."

Pakistan’s puppet court – by Shiraz Paracha

Let Us Build Pakistan
by: Shiraz Paracha
The Supreme Court’s controversial detailed verdict against the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan is one more bad decision by a Court that has a dark history of collaboration with the military in depriving the people of Pakistan of their fundamental rights. The Supreme Court has been transcending its legal boundaries and constitutional role. Its decisions are biased, unfair and politicized. The Court is not a neutral and objective defender of law and judges have been acting as puppets. The Judiciary is not independent and appears to be playing someone’s game. Indeed the Supreme Court is acting as a proxy for imposing a controlled democracy in Pakistan. It seems that characters such as Imran Khan and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan are part of this game. The former ISI chief Lt. General Shuja Pasha was an architect of the latest effort to introduce ‘clean democracy’ in Pakistan. General Pasha was not alone in military’s one more political adventure. Actually, the military considers itself the sole defender of Pakistan and generals have been trying to shape and control the Pakistani politics. In fact, the military never felt comfortable with parliamentary form of democracy. For this reason every few years new campaigns are launched to ‘clean’ the system. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s recent calls for the establishment of a technocrat government and Imran Khan’s Tsunami are reflections of military’s new efforts to bring a setup that ‘suits’ Pakistan. The Judiciary and media are means to complete that agenda. As the Parliament is about to complete its term, Imran Khan is threatening that he would not accept results of the new elections. Dr. Qadeer, dubbed by some as the future president, has joined hands with Imran Khan. The media and the Judiciary are taking cue from some in the military to pressurize the present government. All these actors want to maintain the status quo by imposing a controlled democracy. The military’s frustration with the current political system is understandable. The System is inefficient and has failed to solve key problems. It is also true, to some extent, that Westminster style democracy is not suitable for Pakistan because it is not an indigenous governing system and doesn’t represent the true soul of the Pakistani society. Therefore it is a fact that the Pakistani political system is in need of major reforms. The country has to develop a democratic model that meets local needs and reflects aspirations of the people of Pakistan. However, this goal can only be achieved through democracy, not by military rules or military controlled system. Historically, the military has damaged Pakistan more than any other institution. General Ayub Khan turned Pakistan into a U.S satellite state. He had sown seeds of hatred in East Pakistan and General Yahya Khan’s military operation broke Pakistan; General Zia’s evil policies and his Afghan Jihad divided and destroyed all fibers of our society. General Aslam Beg’s intervention in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and General Musharraf’s participation in the ‘war on terror’ all the above actions and policies have devastated Pakistan. There is a perception in Pakistan, some have been promoting it intentionally, that only a few generals are responsible for crimes against the people and constitution of Pakistan. It is a false argument; the military as an institution and organization violated the Constitution. Also the Judiciary as an institution collaborated with the military to harm and hurt Pakistan. Islamic parties and the media always supported the military and the Judiciary. The military interventions have been disastrous for Pakistan because military dictators promoted extremist, racist and narrow-minded agendas. From the very beginning, with the help of its proxies, the military manufactured an ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ and an inflated and superficial nationalism blended with distorted Islamic history. During the Zia’s era the military had portrayed itself as the Holy Army of Islam. Up until today some military officers, judges and mullahs as well as the media argue that Pakistan is a security state, which is at perpetual war with its neighbors and most of the world. They insist that Pakistan was created with a purpose to lead the so-called Muslim Ummah and it will eventually dominate the entire world. People with such thinking often follow double standards. A Supreme Court judge, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa is one of them. Justice Khosa likes to attack those who disagree with deeply flawed security perceptions of the military and judiciary, their misplaced self-righteousness and false moral and cultural values, but Justice Khosa doesn’t have the moral courage and grace to say that his own father-in-law and a retired Supreme Court judge Naseem Hasan Shah was professionally dishonest and had committed a judicial murder. Shouldn’t Justice Shah be tried by Justice Khosa’s court? People with Justice Khosa mindset consider the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) unfit to govern the country despite that fact that it is the single largest party that enjoys support in all parts of Pakistan. Once again, financially and morally corrupt generals, judges and journalists have launched a concerted attempt to disrupt the smooth transition of power and continuity of democratic process. The PPP-led coalition government has been under attack because some perceive the PPP a threat to their security agenda. The military eliminated the founder leader of PPP, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, because independent minded Bhutto was a Pakistani nationalist with a modern world-view. Besides, visionary Bhutto had become a threat to imperialist interests in a region where the Pakistani military was a tool of Western imperialist powers. To appease the domestic audience the military used the name of Islam to remove and assassinate Bhutto but in reality generals were protecting Western (American interests) in the region. The mindset that had eliminated Bhutto is active again to drive the PPP out of power before it completes its term. The Judiciary, the media and some politicians have been inventing scandals. Spy agencies have been involved in dirty campaigns. For example, SMS services on mobile phones are used to defame and unnerve President Asif Ali Zardari. In Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the establishment has found an ambitious and egoist judge who likes limelight. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was a member of the Supreme Court Bench that had provided legal cover to General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also took a new oath under a PCO and is therefore a PCO judge. Justice Chaudhry is managing the Judiciary as a political party with the help of media cheerleaders. As a proxy of the establishment, the Judiciary is haunting the Parliament and a large number of media black sheep are justifying and glorifying inappropriate actions of judges. Perhaps some generals, judges and journalists are preparing the stage for a ‘new dawn’ in Pakistan.


General ® Aslam Baig, a former Army chief of Pakistan, had claimed that the illicit funds had been distributed by the ISI and on the orders from the former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. He claimed innocence in this scandal that shocked the whole nation. He said he did not apply any pressure on the former DG ISI on distributing illicit money among the politicians of national rank. In any case, the politicians had received the illicit money and in an illegal manner. There is no controversy about it. All the politicians who received the illicit funds were pro-establishment politicians and they always remained in the good books of the establishment. It is also a fact that without the consent and approval from the Army Chief, the DG ISI can’t move an inch and it is unthinkable that it will distribute money against the order, will and consent of the Army Chief. It was a collective decision of the dubious rulers, led by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, General Baig and their behind the scene political advisers to keep PPP away from power considering the former Prime Minister of Pakistan as a security risk. It is shame an elected Prime Minister was considered a security risk by public servants. It had been our stand that the Establishment felt comfortable whenever Muslim League was in power and it felt uncomfortable when there is a non-Muslim League Government at the Centre and such a government had been brought down through conspiracies and covert operations, including ‘the mid-night jackal’ . It means that the dubious rulers, including those from the disciplined forces, tampered with the verdict of the people and used full might of the State not to implement the verdict of the people on political and constitutional issues. The Supreme Court should take up the issue and it should not keep in the back burner as the politicians and the public servants will do it again in future if they are not punished severely. Let will of the people should rule supreme and not will of the intelligence agency, the people in their payroll or military command or men like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Roedad Khan should rule the country. The illicit money should be recovered from all concerned and they be censured for accepting money in illegal manner and use the money in influencing the election results.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: ‘Number of missing persons rising

The Express Tribune
After Balochistan, the number of missing persons in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab is also rising, the Interior Ministry informed the Senate on Friday. Approximately 358 out of 538 missing persons’ cases were registered from K-P and Punjab with the Commission of Inquiry on Enforcement Disappearance (CIED) since December 2011, the Interior Ministry stated in its reply submitted to the Upper House of the Parliament. The CIED which has yet to submit its report to the concerned quarters – the Supreme Court, prime minister and president – registered a total of 676 cases since the commission was constituted on September 26, 2011 under directives by the Supreme Court to the Interior Ministry. The commission in its written statement also stated it had registered approximately 138 cases in December 2010. According to CIED’s findings, the number of missing persons is swelling in K-P and Punjab rather than in Balochistan. As many as 189 missing persons were registered in K-P, 169 in Punjab and 82 in Sindh while 44 people went missing in Balochistan, where current balance of cases is at 56. Approximately 16 cases of enforced disappearances were also registered in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), 16 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and 22 in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). The commission has disposed off some 209 cases and claimed to have traced 176 missing persons. It traced 68 persons in K-P, 43 in Punjab, 21 in Sindh, 22 in Balochistan, 11 in ICT, six in Fata and five in AJK accordingly. CIED President (retd) Javed Iqbal directed the deletion of 27 cases due to no identity and six cases owing to other reasons. During the Senate’s question and answer session, Minister of State for Interior Affairs Imtiaz Safdar Warraich informed the lawmakers that around 315 missing persons have been traced so far and 471 such cases have been disposed off by the two commissions constituted to investigate the issue of missing persons in Pakistan. After going through the report, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Senator Col (retd) Tahir Mashhadi remarked, “Missing persons’ dilemma is a stigma on incumbent government’s face… (Enforced disappearances) are Musharraf’s legacy.” Awami National Party (ANP) senator Farah Aqil, meanwhile, questioned if any law existed to keep a check on intelligence agencies which continued to keep missing persons in their custody despite courts’ orders to release them. “There should be some check on intelligence agencies now.” Responding to queries, Warriach informed the House that the commission has already submitted a comprehensive report to the (aforementioned) concerned quarters. “This report will be made public after the Interior Ministry receives it,” he said. The CIED is still working to resolve the missing persons issue and will finalise its second report in the near future, Warriach added. He stressed that the courts’ decisions were binding on all state institutions and that agencies had no role in such matters. To another question posed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) senator Talha Mahmood, Warraich said both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are working on a joint strategy to exchange more and more prisoners under an extradition treaty. Walkout against loadshedding Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) members staged a walkout from the proceedings over the failure of the government to address the loadshedding issue in the country. Federal Minister Naveed Qamar assured the Senate that unscheduled loadshedding has ended in the country, and three provinces are implementing the recommendations of the energy conference, but Punjab isn’t. Punjab is rather protesting out on the streets, he added. The Senate members recommended that the Karachi Electric Supply Company’s (KESC) administration be handed over to the government, but Qamar turned down the request. Senate resolution The Senate adopted a resolution condemning the terrorist attack on the mausoleum of former senator Ajmal Khattak and demanded strict action against those involved in such acts of terrorism. It said that the terrorists are attacking mosques and mausoleums throughout the country but they cannot succeed in their “heinous” designs because the people of the country are united against them. The resolution was moved by Senator Zahid Khan of Awami National Party (ANP).

Pakistan: Rich sons of rich politicians

The rich sons of the leading politicians have come up with details of their statement of assets and liabilities, and Mian Shahbaz Sharifís son MNA Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz is among the leading legislators in terms of fortunes as per the details he submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan. The details of his assets show him more like a corporate figure than a politician, who talks so much about the plight of the teeming millions across Pakistan. The PML-N legislator, elected from NA-119, has Rs213.778 million net wealth. He has shares in Chaudhry Sugar Mills, Ramzan Sugar Mills, Hamza Spinning Mills, Muhammad Bukhsh Textile Mills, Kalsoom Textile Mills, Hudebiya paper Mills, Hudebiya Engineering Co. (Pvt) Ltd., Khalid Siraf Industries Ltd., Madina Trading (Pvt) Ltd., Madina Construction Company, Sharif Food Mills Ltd., Sharif Poultry Farms (Pvt) Ltd., Sharif Dairy Farms (Pvt) Ltd. And Ramzan Energy Limited. The net value of all these shares is Rs116.198 million, as reflected in the statements, he filed with the ECP and printed in the official gazette by the electoral body for the year 2011. There is unsecured loan to the tune of Rs90.137 million in the name of Sharif Food Mills, Sharif Poultry Farms, Madina Trading and Madina Construction Company. Hamza has cash and bank balance amounting to Rs7.425 million. There is also a mention of assets, owned by his spouse Mehrunissah Hamza: she has 50-tola jewellery, valued at Rs0.9 million. Her cash and bank balance is Rs1 million while the value of her furniture and other articles is estimated at Rs0.6 million. Hence the total value of her assets is Rs2.5 million. These details indicate she has no share in what her husband Hamza has got. Hamzaís father Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif, like him, is also apparently the richest among the Punjab Assemblyís lawmakers with assets of Rs315.78 million, showing a significant increase of Rs69 million, as compared to what he had got the corresponding year. On the one hand, his net assets have registered increase, on the other there has been a decline of around Rs47 million. At the same time, the cash in hand and bank balance has also shown a whopping jump to Rs123 million from mere Rs5.75 million. The chief minister owns two properties in Murree, valuing Rs16.60 million and 728-kanal of farm land worth just Rs6.9 million. He has also invested in sugar, paper mills and textile mills, but far less than his son Hamza. His investment in these mills is around Rs21 million. He also has property abroad (UK) like some other politicians and bank accounts as well worth nearly Rs123 million. Shahbaz owns only a Land Cruiser, valued at Rs20.81 million that too was gifted to him. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilaniís elder son Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani, who is an MPA, is also among the rich members of the Punjab Assembly, who owns properties worth Rs47.36 million, besides having two vehicles that include a bullet-proof Toyota Land Cruiser worth Rs12.80 million. His fortunes also include 500 tola gold worth Rs13 million and Rs2.55 million in banks. His younger brother Ali Musa Gilaniís statement of assets and liabilities is not included in the official gazette, since he became MNA early this year, whereas this requirement has to be fulfilled by September 30 every year.Moonis Elahi, the son of ex-chief minister and Senior Minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi, owns assets, valued at Rs465.99 million.

Pakistan-US ties hit new lows: Foreign Office mum on new US aid restrictions
Pakistan-US partnership appears to have reached a new low subsequent to Hillary Clinton’s statements on her recent visit to India and the new congressional move restricting Pakistan aid, plunging the Foreign Office in a quandary, forcing it to cancel its weekly press briefing on Thursday. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited New Delhi after staying in Dhaka and skipped Islamabad. In addition, she repeated the ‘do more’ mantra, asking Pakistan to make sure that its territory was not used as a launching pad for terrorism. She also repeated Washington’s stance on the chief of a banned outfit, Jamaatud Dawa, Hafiz Saeed, saying the US had every reason to believe Saeed was the ‘principal architect’ of the Mumbai terror strikes that claimed 166 people, including six Americans. Clinton, according to some reports, was supposed to visit Islamabad but her departure from New Delhi, skipping the important ally in the war on terror reflected the state of deterioration in ties between the two countries. The freeze began last year after a Nato air strike on the Salala border post on November 26 that killed 24 soldiers. Pakistan is yet to receive an invitation to attend the Chicago conference scheduled for May 20-21 to discuss Nato’s future in Afghanistan. Analysts point to the time when Pakistan refused to attend the last year’s Bonn conference as a protest against the Salala attack. Furthermore, a bill moved in the US House Appropriations subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations was very disappointing for Pakistan which sought US Congress restrictions on Washington’s assistance to Islamabad, making aid subject to the Secretary of State’s certification. The bill had some clauses that might be even more anathema to the military than the clauses in the Kerry-Lugar bill over which Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff had publicly expressed reservations. The offending clause of the bill which seeks Secretary of State to certify that Pakistan is: “not supporting terrorist activities against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are not intervening extra-judicially into political and judicial processes in Pakistan”. Furthermore, the bill also seeks the Secretary of State to certify that Pakistan is “cooperating with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts against the Haqqani network, the Quetta Shura of Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Al Qaeda and other domestic and foreign terrorist organisations, including taking steps to end support for such groups and prevent them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries; “And dismantling improvised explosive device (IED) networks and interdicting precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of IEDs; (D) preventing the proliferation of nuclear related material and expertise; “Issuing visas in a timely manner for United States visitors engaged in counter-terrorism efforts and assistance programs in Pakistan; and providing humanitarian organizations access to detainees, internally displaced persons, and other Pakistani civilians affected by the conflict.” Business Recorder made repeated attempts to solicit the view of Foreign Office’s spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan on the issues but he was not available for comments. However, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Salim Saifullah Khan regretted the new bill in the US Congress, saying that it was not for the first time that Washington had been trying to exert pressure on Islamabad. He said that the US and the world, instead of recognising Pakistan tremendous sacrifices in the war against terrorism, were undermining its efforts. He said that the US Secretary of State’s recent statements during her India visit were more regrettable and the Foreign Office should have come up with a reaction. Referring to Clinton’s remarks, he said that the world was like a ‘fly’ which always chooses dust to sit on. For Pakistan, he said that it was high time to say ‘goodbye’ to the war on terror. “If France and Germany can pull themselves out of the war on terror....why not Pakistan?” He, however, argued: “We should put our house in order before taking some important decisions, like saying ‘goodbye’ to the war on terror.”