Sunday, November 4, 2012

What Obama's accomplished
Every now and again, the other side likes to claim President Obama doesn't have a record to run on. They're wrong. Here's a taste of why:
1.The first bill President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to help women fight back when they don't get equal pay for equal work. His Recovery Act supported millions of jobs and helped to stave off a second Great Depression. He pushed for and won middle class tax cuts that benefited every American worker, and saved the typical family $3,600 in taxes over the last four years. President Obama rescued the auto industry, and now GM and Chrysler are healthier than they've ever been. The American auto industry has added nearly a quarter of a million jobs since June 2009—and they most likely wouldn't exist right now without President Obama's leadership. He doubled funding for Pell Grants, helping to make college more affordable for nearly 10 million families. His student loan reform ended billions in subsidies to banks serving as middlemen and reinvested those savings directly in students. The President established the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $10,000 over four years of college. His Race to the Top Initiative helped spur nearly every state to raise academic standards. His tax cuts, social-welfare programs, and economic policies lifted nearly 7 million Americans above the federal poverty line in 2010. President Obama has signed 18 tax cuts for small businesses since taking office. We've seen 5.2 million new private sector jobs over the last 31 months. The unemployment rate is at the lowest level since President Obama took office. Health care reform—passed after decades of failed attempts by every previous president—provides affordable health coverage to every American and will lower premiums by an average of $2,000 per family by 2019. Obamacare expanded access to lifesaving preventive care such as cancer screenings and immunizations with no out-of-pocket costs for 54 million Americans. Obamacare ends insurance discrimination against the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. Because of Obamacare, over 3 million more young adults have health insurance today than would if the new law hadn't passed. The parents of over 17 million children with pre-existing conditions no longer have to worry that their children will be denied coverage. President Obama has ordered the overhaul of federal government regulations to make them smarter, practical, and more efficient. Just a fraction of these common-sense initiatives will help save businesses $10 billion in the next five years alone. His historic investments in clean energy have helped more than double the amount of electricity we obtain from wind and solar sources and helped increase biofuel production to its highest level in history. President Obama is doubling fuel efficiency standards, which will save drivers more than $8,000 at the gas pump, not to mention lessen the impact of automobiles on our environment. President Obama has taken unprecedented action to address climate change, reaching historic international agreements to curb carbon emissions, and taking action here at home to reduce carbon pollution from our vehicles and promote clean energy production. He has taken historic action to protect our environment—signing one of the largest expansions of protected wilderness in a generation and putting in place standards to reduce toxic air pollution that will save thousands of lives. President Obama fought for and won landmark Wall Street reform that reins in the abuses that led to the financial crisis and ends the era of taxpayer bailouts and "too big to fail." Wall Street reform created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the nation's first federal agency focused solely on consumer financial protection—and the Bureau is already protecting families from unfair and abusive financial practices from Wall Street banks and shadowy corners of the financial industry. As part of President Obama's commitment to transparency, the White House has posted its visitor records online for the first time ever. President Obama's all-of-the-above approach to energy has helped cut the United States' dependence on foreign oil to its lowest level in 20 years. President Obama responsibly ended the war in Iraq. He announced a plan to end the war in Afghanistan and transition security responsibility to the Afghan people. President Obama sent the largest security assistance package to Israel in history and funded the Iron Dome system, which is protecting Israeli homes and schools from rocket attacks. President Obama rallied the international community to implement the toughest sanctions on Iran in history. Through the President's historic increases in Veterans Affairs funding, he has expanded and improved healthcare and job training access for our returning veterans. President Obama negotiated the New START Treaty with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both countries. At the same time, he also secured commitments from dozens of other countries to lock down nuclear materials. His administration naturalized 11,146 military servicemembers as U.S. citizens in 2010; more than in any year since 1955. President Obama set a bold new plan for the future of NASA space exploration, using the skill and ability of the private sector for short trips to the International Space Station, while building a new vehicle for exploration of distant space, and doing everything in his power to support the economy on Florida's Space Coast. President Obama recognizes that tourism is one of America's largest economic engines; he's worked to encourage international visitors to come here, maintaining our security while keeping millions of Americans in good, paying jobs. He has affirmed his personal support of marriage equality, directed the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in federal courts, and took the practical and compassionate step of extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners. He fought for and won the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", allowing gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly for the first time in history. When Congress failed to fix our broken immigration system, his administration did everything in its power to improve it, streamlining the legal immigration process and announcing a policy that lifts the shadow of deportation from hard working young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Oh, and he gave the order to send troops in after Osama Bin Laden—and has decimated al Qaeda's senior leadership.

Obama leads Romney by 5 points in Ohio, up 4 in Virginia
President Obama is ahead in the two crucial swing-states of Ohio and Virginia, according to a survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP).
PPP’s final polls in the state find Obama up 52 to 47 over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in Ohio and with a 51 to 47 edge in Virginia. In Ohio, Obama enjoys a strong early voting advantage, with 60 percent of those who have cast their ballots already to 39 for Romney. Romney leads 51 to 48 among those who will vote on election day.Obama also wins women in Ohio by 54 to 44 percent and has strong support among voters under 30 at 61-33. Romney is ahead with Buckeye state independents at 49-47. The president enjoys similarly strong support among female voters in Virginia at 56-43. Dean Debnam, president of PPP dubbed Obama “the favorite in Ohio and Virginia.” “We have found him leading those states in poll after poll during the closing stretch,” he said in a statement announcing the poll’s findings. Ohio is crucial to Mitt Romney’s electoral hopes, as no Republican has ever won the presidency without capturing the state. The GOP nominee’s path to victory would narrow considerably if he failed to take Ohio. Other polls have suggested that a tighter race, with a Columbus Dispatch poll released Sunday showing Obama up 2 points at 50-48. While conservative-leaning Rasmussen puts the two candidates in a 49-49 tie in the state, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll gives Obama a wide 51-45 lead. Both candidates have pressed hard to win Ohio’s voters and will both campaign there on Monday, one day ahead of election day. Polls in Virginia have also given Obama a slight lead in the run up to Tuesday’s vote, with a WeAskAmerica poll putting him up 1 point at 49-48 and a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll giving him a 49-47 lead on Romney. The PPP polls were conducted on Nov. 3 to 4 and have a 3-point margin of error.

President Clinton Introduces President Obama in Bristow, VA - Full Speech

Obama, Clinton: Romney will hurt middle class
President Obama launched the final 48 hours of his re-election campaign Sunday with new best friend Bill Clinton, both arguing that Democratic economic plans are better for the middle class than those of Mitt Romney. Both Obama and Clinton said Romney's proposals, including more tax cuts for the wealthy, mirror those of Republican President George W. Bush, which led to the economic meltdown of 2008 -- and that Obama's approach is bringing back jobs and growing the economy. "We've made real progress these last four years," Obama told some 14,000 backers huddled together on a chilly, blustery day outside the New Hampshire statehouse in Concord. Obama said his ideas -- from the health care plan to new regulations on banks and other large institutions -- have "worked for middle class families." Romney and aides say joblessness remains high and economic growth remains slow on Obama's watch. "On Tuesday, Americans will have a clear choice between four more years of stagnation or four years of prosperity and opportunity," said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "With 23 million Americans struggling for work, incomes falling, and gas prices rising, President Obama's failed policies have devastated the middle class." Clinton, who reminisced about his own experiences in New Hampshire, reminded the crowd that Obama inherited a near-depression when he took office in 2009. "Compared to what could have happened, Barack Obama has done a good job," Clinton said. "With a tough hand he has done a good job." The former president tangled with Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries in which the future president defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in a hard-fought contest. This year, Bill Clinton will wind up doing nearly three dozen events for Obama by the time Election Day rolls around on Tuesday. In his New Hampshire speech, Obama revived one of his major issues from the 2008 campaign: Change. The president said he has been an agent of change on items ranging from health care, education and energy to winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and authorizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Romney and other Republicans, he said, want to return to the old "status quo." After Concord, Obama planned to travel to other battleground states that are likely to decide his battle with Republican challenger Mitt Romney: Florida, Ohio and Colorado. On Monday, the last 24 hours before Election Day itself, Obama hits Ohio again, as well as Wisconsin and Iowa. The president will spend Monday night at his home in Chicago; his plans for Election Day itself are not yet known. Along the way, aides said, Obama will continue to get updates on storm recovery in New York, New Jersey, and other parts of the northeast, a topic he also mentioned during the New Hampshire speech. "The President has been regularly engaged with his team on recovery efforts in the wake of hurricane Sandy," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Obama cheers positive jobs report and recovering auto industry at Ohio rally

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is confident the president has the upper edge in early voting in Ohio, but there are signs of weakness. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters Barack Obama returned to the crucial battleground state of Ohio on Friday following his storm-induced break from campaigning, with a sharpened rhetoric as he scrambles for the finishing line now just four days away.
In the first of three stops in Ohio on Friday, Obama poured scorn on Mitt Romney in front of a barn full of about 5,000 supporters in Hilliard outside the state capital Columbus. "Governor Romney is a very talented salesman," he said. "He has tried as hard as he can to repackage his old policies and offer them as change."
Obama ridiculed Romney's recent attempt to cast himself as the candidate who would bring change to Washington, accusing him of misleading the American people. "Trying to massage the facts, that ain't change, that's …" "Lying!" chanted the crowd obligingly. Obama made a particular bid to woo employees of the car industry who represent one in eight of the Ohio workforce. "The American auto industry is back on top," he said, an allusion to the federal bailout that he authorised. He also referred to Friday's US employment figures that showed 171,000 new jobs in October – an increase, Obama pointed out, greater "than at any time in the last eight months". Both presidential candidates are now going hell to leather for the Ohio vote. The reason is simple: taking the White House will be difficult without this state's 18 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win. In Romney's case it is particularly urgent – no Republican president has attained the highest office without first winning this state. All recent polls, with the exception of Rasmussen, put Obama in the lead in Ohio, but the advantage is in most cases within the margin of error which is why both presidential candidates will be running around the state in the sort of frenzy normally only seen in children's animations. Obama will be in Ohio on each of the final days of campaigning, in addition to dashes to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. To add stardust to proceedings, he is dragging Stevie Wonder on stage with him on Sunday in Cincinnati, and Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen in Columbus on Monday evening. Romney too is going for star power, in bucket loads. On Friday night he is staging a mega-rally in West Chester in west Ohio that will pack in almost 100 senior Republican politicians including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, and for good measure the golfer Jack Nicklaus. The purpose of all this frenetic activity is not to persuade any undecided voters still standing. "I don't know that there are any truly undecided voters right now – this race has been very polarising," said Joe McNamara, president of the city council of Toledo, a Democratic stronghold in north-west Ohio. The intention, rather, is to energise the Democratic and Republican base so that supporters get out and volunteer in the final three days. Obama made his bid to fire up the base at the Hilliard rally by painting his rival as a bastion of the greedy rich. "The folks at the top in this country don't need another champion in Washington. They already have a seat at the table," he said. He warned the crowd that the Republicans were trying to wear the American electorate down so that they didn't bother to vote. "In other words, Ohio, their bet is on cynicism. My bet is on you." As the presidential race turns to its ultimate stage – the all-important drive to get out the vote – Obama has an inbuilt head start. He has been campaigning in Ohio for 18 months, far longer than Romney who was distracted for months by the primary race, and on the ground has 130 offices spread throughout the state to his rival's 40. But doubts still remain that Obama will be able to enthuse his followers to the giddy heights that he achieved in 2008. Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, insists enthusiasm levels are equivalent to four years ago, and he has also claimed that the president has the upper edge in early voting in Ohio. But there are signs of weakness in some parts of the state. A politician in a key urban area where Democratic candidates traditionally do well told the Guardian that the Obama campaign was struggling to fill volunteer rotas. Phone banking was being switched to supporters in other states to free up bodies on the ground in Ohio, and volunteer canvassers are being bussed in this weekend from as far away as Brooklyn. "We have been genuinely surprised by the lack of enthusiasm we've found. The Obama ground game is going to be better than the Republicans', no doubt about that, but not by the degree it was four years ago," said the politician, who asked not to be named. The Romney campaign also claims to have its base fired up following the televised presidential debates last month. But on the Republican side it is unclear whether they have managed to build on that momentum and it remains to be seen whether they can convert it into extra votes. The truth is that as they hurtle up the home stretch, both campaigns are depending on the exceptional fortitude of their most loyal followers. Individuals such as Sheila Oxsher, who has turned up at her local campaign office in Columbus every day since mid-August to volunteer for Romney. She works up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and has so far logged 14,707 phone calls to potential Republican voters. "This is my patriotic commitment – it's my equivalent of George Washington crossing the Delaware in 1776," she says.

America decides: With just 48 hours to go, the ground war begins

In 48 hours, after the expenditure of upwards of $2.5bn and an even greater outlay of human energy and toil, it will be done. The longest, the largest, the most important, the gaudiest and, it must be said, on occasion the silliest, exercise in elective democracy on the planet reaches its climax, as Americans finally make their choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. It may be asked at the outset whether either deserves the prize. Politics is a no-holds-barred trade in which truth and human kindness are invariably among the early casualties. But rarely has a presidential campaign been as unsatisfying as the one now drawing to a close. The incumbent has been relentlessly negative, the challenger consistently mendacious. Neither has deigned, beyond the most vacuous generalities, to tell those whose votes they seek what they propose to do if entrusted with office. In 2008, the promise of change was in the air, of youth, novelty and, however naively, a sense of cleansing. In the final stages, the winner was not in doubt. Four years later, the reverse is true. The air is stale, "change" has been stripped of meaning, and of novelty there is next to none. The contest has pitted a Democratic incumbent who has fallen back to earth, perhaps inevitably, against a Republican who, at least until these past few weeks, was deemed to be running the worst campaign in modern times, failing to excite swathes of his own party, let alone the electorate at large. And all this against the backdrop of what feels like a recession even if technically it isn't one; when Americans, by nature optimists, tell pollsters by a two to one margin that the country is on the wrong track, when the concentration of wealth is greater than at any time since the Crash of 1929 and when social mobility – a core element of the American Dream – is less than in scorned, sclerotic Europe. The mood is weary and expectations low. Often, the media are criticised for reducing US elections to horse races. But in Campaign 2012, the horse race has been the saving grace. For with just two days to go, the winner is still very much in doubt. Set in an international context, that of itself is a small miracle. These are wretched times for incumbents everywhere. Since 2010, presidents and prime ministers have been thrown out in a host of US allies: France, Britain, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain among them. The US economy may have been marginally less dire, but why should an American president be spared the wrath that brought down his European counterparts? Yet the oddsmakers favour Obama to win. Polls show support evenly split between the candidates, but when asked to name who they expect to win – a more accurate guide to the outcome than the question "who do you want to win?" – a clear majority of Americans say Obama. That may reflect the fact that while Romney has a slight lead nationally, the President is ahead in a vital handful of states that will decide the outcome. It may also reflect the fact that Obama has, on the whole, been a pretty competent president. He's made his mistakes to be sure; by and large, though, he's been a safe pair of hands. His administration has been remarkably scandal-free. He may not be very good at buttering up recalcitrant lawmakers, but he was not to blame for the blanket opposition from Congressional Republicans from the day he was sworn in. Yes, he hasn't quite lived up to that absurdly premature Nobel Peace Prize of 2009, but he's made no foreign blunders either. One way and another, "GM is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead," isn't a bad way to sum up one's record. The problem has been his campaign, both the lack of substance, and the style of it. Obama has been trapped by his very rationality. After the tribulations of the last four years, he knew vague promises that things will get better would not suffice. Nor would reliance on Americans to accept he had inherited a terrible hand. So his team went negative, dismantling Romney, and replacing 2008's national movement with a steely focus on the swing states. Inevitably, it wasn't pretty. But, thanks in good measure to Romney's ineptitude, the strategy worked, and until 3 October, he seemed to be coasting to a straightforward, if forgettable, win. Then came the first debate, which turned the campaign on its head. Obama came across as aloof and uninterested, almost contemptuous of his rival. Romney was not only crisp and commanding. The self-described "severe conservative" of the primaries had mutated into a moderate, a more than credible occupant of the Oval Office, anything but the greedy vulture capitalist who hadn't a clue how ordinary people lived, as the Obama people had portrayed him. A glide to re-election turned into a desperate race, and it was Romney who now possessed what the elder Bush once called "the Big Mo". By last weekend, he was probably favourite to win. Then came Sandy. By common consent, Obama had a good storm. Big government, so reviled by Republicans, proved to be of some use after all, and the praise lavished upon him by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey – who had delivered the keynote speech, no less, at the Republican convention – allowed the President to wrap himself in the mantle of bipartisanship. Whether Sandy has changed many minds, it is impossible to say. Ditto, the jobs news on Friday, better than expected and suggesting that recovery is slowly gaining steam. But in a contest as close as this one, even one extra vote is precious. Politicians, of course, always proclaim they are winning an election until it is certain they have lost. But usually a losing campaign's collective body language betrays the truth. Not this time. Both parties seem convinced they will win. Republicans believe "the cake is already baked", and that no amount of adept storm-management can save Obama. Wavering voters, they insist, are breaking for Romney, just as they broke for Ronald Reagan in the closing phase of his 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter – the election to which 2012 is sometimes compared. But Democrats have faith that their "firewall" of swing states is holding and the latest polls would seem to bear them out – just. Everything now depends on the "ground game", on getting supporters to the polls, whether by electronic reminder or old-fashioned phone calls and door-to-door stumping by volunteers. But Tuesday could be a very long night. The results from the most close-fought states could be delayed by recounts or validation of provisional ballots, which, like Florida 2000, might end up in the courts. Nor is an electoral vote tie, 269 to 269, impossible. Conceivably, too, we could see the reverse of 2000, this time with the Republican, more probably, winning the popular vote while Obama sneaks the electoral college and thus the White House. If so, the continuing existence of the college – an 18th-century anachronism that, in effect, confines the election to a dozen or so battleground states, and which in the space of 12 years twice stole victory from the winner of the national vote – would surely be indefensible. For once both parties, each having been gored by the beast, might make common cause to scrap it. On one thing, however, they already agree: that this election is of extraordinary importance. In fact, of course, each US election is important, but its true significance is only clear in retrospect. Obama's triumph in 2008 was widely seen as a watershed, less because a black president had been elected, than as the end of four decades of Republican dominance. If the President loses, however, that thesis will look hollow. All that may be said is that this is the most important election between 2008 and 2016 – and that, whatever the campaign trail hyperbole, Obama and Romney do not represent an existential choice between cradle-to-grave socialism and winner-takes-all Darwinian capitalism. Yes, a Romney win would suggest that America's shift to the right continues, and that the Obama years were a short-lived interruption, as was Carter's single term before it. But victory for the incumbent would not signify an era of government run riot (Obama has shown scant appetite to take on Wall Street and big business). It would be acceptance of his argument that government has a role to play, and that, after so devastating a crisis, no president could restore the economy quickly. Most important, even if either wanted to live up to his caricature, he couldn't. In the heat of a general election, it is easy to forget that even in normal times, an American president's power is limited. The system is built around checks and balances. He can order the invasion of Iraq (or Iran). But in domestic matters he must act through Congress. Should Obama win, he will probably be dealing again with an obdurate Republican majority in the House of Representatives. And even if the Democrats retain control of the Senate (likely but by no means certain), they will fall far short of the 60-vote super-majority needed to pass anything of importance. Conversely, a Democratic Senate could thwart Romney at every turn, not least his vow to repeal Obama's healthcare reform. But these are not normal times – or, more exactly, they're the new normal: a "50/50" country split into two roughly equal camps, a dysfunctional system of government in which special interests and lobbyists have more clout than ever, where the political centre ground has all but vanished, and where compromise is a dirty word. Add to that the constraints of the deficit, and the need to find a safe path back from the "fiscal cliff" looming at the end of the year, when the expiry of the Bush-era tax cuts and mandated deep government spending cuts both kick in, and the limits to a president's freedom of action are obvious. American exceptionalism, the doctrine no presidential candidate dare disown, has it that the US is special, and thus uniquely equipped to solve problems which floor lesser countries. In this way, harsh home truths may be avoided on the campaign trail and 2012 has been no different. The reality check, for whoever wins, starts even before Inauguration Day on 21 January – and will be particularly abrupt for Mitt Romney. The presidency is a job for which nothing can prepare you; how a candidate will perform in office can only be guessed. In Romney's case, his constant shifts of policy, his lack of any discernable ideology, make predictions doubly difficult. But tensions will probably quickly surface between his party's conservative wing and his own instinctive pragmatism. If Mitt Romney is anything, he is a results-driven businessman, the executive out to clinch a deal, who will not waste time banging his head against a brick wall. That was how he ran Democrat-dominated Massachusetts, and that is how, one suspects, he would run America. If Obama wins, a no less intriguing question arises: of where a supremely rational and competent man, who will never worry about an election again, would seek to take America. At the very least, victory would consolidate his legacy, ensuring the survival of his biggest, if flawed, achievement, giving America something close to universal health care. For the loser, though, politics will be over. Defeat for Romney would surely convince the conservatives who dominate the Republican party that the path to victory lies even further to the right. For Obama, defeat would signify the extinction of one of the most dazzling meteors to flash across American political skies, a man who travelled from virtually unknown state legislator in Illinois to defeated one-term president in the space of nine short years. For a keenly competitive man, sure of his abilities, failure would be personally traumatic – and no less so for the Democrats. Youthful promise would have gained its comeuppance. Disillusioned and divided, his party might have little choice but to regroup around the hope of a Clinton restoration in 2016. There is no guarantee of such salvation. This campaign may have been ugly, but the rewards of victory on Tuesday are huge. The 2008 winner was facing the worst economic crisis since the Depression, from which recovery would be slow at best. This time, the prospect is of steady growth, expanding employment and an improving national mood, for which the incumbent – whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama – will take the credit. As of today the odds, fractionally, are that it will be the latter.

Obama has slight lead in electoral votes; Congress expected to remain status quo

By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza,
On the final weekend of a fiercely fought presidential campaign, President Obama holds a narrow advantage over Mitt Romney in the crucial contest for the electoral votes needed to win the White House, even as national polls continue to show the candidates in a virtual tie for the popular vote. In Congress, despite record levels of disapproval with the institution, voters seem likely to opt for the status quo — Democrats in charge of the Senate and Republicans in the House. Democrats are expected to gain seats in the House but not the 25 needed to recapture the majority lost in the Republican sweep of 2010. In the Senate, Democrats hold a 53-47 majority, including two independents who caucus with them. Although 10 or more races were considered too close to call through much of the fall, Democrats are now in a position to maintain their majority, although perhaps barely. This election assessment, along with reports on all the states, is based on interviews by a team of Washington Post reporters with strategists in the two parties and both presidential campaigns, as well as state and local officials and independent analysts. The assessment includes an analysis of polls on individual states and races that have poured forth over the final weeks before the election. In the presidential campaign, the biggest and most consequential unknowns at this point are the size and shape of the voting population. An electorate that resembles or even slightly exceeds 2008 in terms of the share of minority voters vs. white voters would clearly benefit Obama. A slight decline in the minority share of the electorate and a more even split between Democrats and Republicans — closer to the 2004 electorate than 2008 — would greatly help Romney. Obama, however, may do better among white voters in some of the battleground states than he will do nationally. The latest Washington Post-ABC News national poll shows a dead heat this weekend, with Obama and Romney both at 48 percent among likely voters. The survey has barely fluctuated. Obama spent part of this past week in his official capacity as commander in chief as Hurricane Sandy devastated the Atlantic Coast, pummeling New Jersey and New York the hardest. His attention to the cleanup earned praise from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Romney supporter who delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. Almost half of all Americans said Obama’s hurricane response would be a factor in their vote, according to the latest Post-ABC tracking poll. An earlier survey found that 79 percent rated his handling of the situation excellent or good. Another wild card is whether the latest jobs report will have a demonstrable effect on an electorate deeply polarized and with few undecided voters left. The report, released Friday, showed that 171,000 jobs were added while the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent. Presidential Through much of the fall campaign, nine states have defined the presidential battleground: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Obama began the general-election race with a base of 18 states plus the District, totaling 237 electoral votes. Romney began with a base of 23 states, totaling 191 electoral votes. North Carolina is tipping toward Romney and Nevada toward Obama, putting the president at 243 and Romney at 206. Romney is making a late play in Pennsylvania and Minnesota and will campaign in the Keystone State on Sunday. Both states continue to lean toward the president, but Obama’s campaign has decided to send former president Bill Clinton to Pennsylvania on Sunday for extra measure. Assuming those states continue to stay in Obama’s column, the president would need only 27 of the remaining 89 electoral votes to win. Romney would need 64 of the 89, which explains why Obama still has an easier — but by no means certain — path to an Electoral College majority. For example, he could win a second term simply by winning Florida, which remains competitive. If the Sunshine State goes for Romney, then much will depend on Ohio, which is why it is the focus of so much campaign activity in the final days. Its 18 electoral votes represent the bulwark of Obama’s Midwestern line of defense against Romney. If the president were to carry Ohio — and he continues to hold a narrow lead in public polls there — he could win an electoral majority by adding Virginia (13 electoral votes) or Wisconsin (10) or Colorado (nine), or by winning Iowa (six) and New Hampshire (four). If Romney does not win Ohio, his path to victory would have to include Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin and either Iowa or New Hampshire. But if he does capture the Buckeye State, he could become president by taking Florida and Virginia and then just one other contested state. Poll The Post-ABC tracking survey underscored the closeness of the race nationally. During two weeks of polling, the largest lead by either candidate was 50 percent to 47 percent, favoring Romney. Obama’s biggest was one point. Neither was statistically significant. Obama’s job approval rating continues to hold at 50 percent, with 34 percent saying they strongly approve and 39 percent saying they strongly disapprove. Romney holds a statistically insignificant three-point edge on who is trusted more to handle the economy. Obama has a six-point advantage on who better understands Americans’ economic problems. Through most of the campaign and as recently as October, more voters offered unfavorable than favorable impressions of Romney. Today a majority of likely voters has a favorable view. In fact, he and Obama are virtually tied on this measure: 54 percent say they have a favorable impression of the president, while 53 percent say the same of Romney. For the first time in the Post-ABC poll, independent voters are evenly split between the two candidates, at 46 percent each. Until now, Romney has held an advantage ranging from three to 20 points. Obama leads among women by six points, Romney among men by seven points. Obama is winning 38 percent of white voters and 78 percent of non-whites. He gets 33 percent of whites without college degrees and 44 percent of whites with college degrees. Campaign Obama’s hopes for a second term rest on his ability to reassemble and motivate a coalition of African Americans, Hispanics, young voters and women, despite disappointment and diminished enthusiasm since his historic 2008 victory. In Ohio, he is aided by the success of the auto-industry bailout and the campaign’s attacks on Romney’s business background, which have bolstered the president’s support among white working-class voters. Beyond that, Romney has been hammered in Ohio for an ad suggesting that Chrysler’s new owners plan to shift production of Jeeps to China, which the chief executive denied. Romney has a motivated base, with Republicans eager to defeat a president they think is taking the country in the wrong direction. But he needs both a turnout that is large enough to make the GOP share of the electorate almost equal to that of the Democrats. He also needs an edge among independent voters. For the past week, Obama’s advisers have expressed confidence that the race is theirs to lose and that they will not lose it. “The economic debate has crystallized,” campaign manager Jim Messina said Saturday. “We have picked up steam and now what we have to do is turn out our vote. We continue to lead or are tied in every battleground state and have the ability to get to 270 electoral votes in a variety of ways.” Romney advisers have said their polls show that the battlegrounds, particularly Ohio, are closer than public surveys suggest. They also say that an incumbent who is not above 50 percent in the polls in the final days is in a precarious position. “When you take a look at the big three — Florida, Virginia and Ohio — we feel very good,” said Romney senior adviser Russ Schriefer. “Ohio is tight but it’s tied and I think we’ve got some advantages there. I think then you look at the rest of the map that, in a million years, the Obama campaign never thought they would be campaigning in these states the weekend before the election.” He added: “We’re going to win this thing.” Senate Democrats appear poised to hold on to their narrow Senate majority on Tuesday, a prospect that as recently as a year ago seemed far more difficult, given the disparity in the number of seats Democrats (23) and Republicans (10) had to defend. The turning point for Democrats may have been the surprise decision by Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) not to seek another term. Snowe was considered a shoo-in for reelection but in her absence, former governor Angus King, an independent who would caucus with Democrats, has emerged as a favorite. Then Republicans made a series of self-inflicted mistakes, two centering on the subject of rape. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who ousted longtime Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the GOP primary, gave Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly an opening. Then Mourdock’s comments at a late October debate — where he said a woman who becomes pregnant by rape is carrying a “gift from God” and therefore must have the child — turned the race from a tossup to one that favors Donnelly. In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin won the GOP nomination and days later made a comment about “legitimate rape” rarely causing pregnancy that created a national firestorm. Much of the party establishment abandoned Akin, but he refused to drop out of the race. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is favored to win reelection. Democrats have growing confidence that former Obama administration official Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, will beat Sen. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts. The contest is the premier Senate race in the country for the seat long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy (D). Republicans have a number of opportunities to pick up seats held by retiring Democrats. Races in Nebraska and North Dakota, where Democrats are retiring, seem likely to fall for Republicans. Virginia has a very tight race between two former governors: Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican George Allen. In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) have been tied for months. Even if several of those races tip to Republicans in the final hours, it still seems unlikely that the GOP will add the four seats it would need to control the Senate if Obama is reelected or the three it would would need if Romney wins. The most likely outcome is no net change, or Republican gains of one or two seats. House In the battle for control of the House, it has become clear over the past few months that the wave of elections that roiled the chamber in 2006, 2008 and 2010 will not be repeated Tuesday. Democrats need 25 seats to regain the majority. Not even their most optimistic strategists think that is anything more than a remote possibility. Because of the decennial redistricting process, both parties will score heavy gains in certain states. Republicans look poised to pick up at least three and maybe four seats in North Carolina. Democrats could take five seats from Republicans in Illinois. After taking control of more governorships and state legislatures in 2010, Republicans had the political muscle to carve up new congressional districts to their advantage. They shored up some of their most vulnerable incumbents and drew difficult districts for Democrats. The result: Republicans are now likely to gain at least 10 Democratic seats simply because of the partisanship of redrawn districts, and Democrats are fighting from behind in their effort to win back the House. That is why overall Democratic gains may be held to the mid-single digits. Aaron Blake, Sean Sullivan, Jon Cohen and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Mitt Romney insults the American electorate one last time
By Greg Sargent
Yesterday in Springfield, Ohio, the crowd listening to Barack Obama booed when the President brought up Mitt Romney and the Republican Congress. That prompted Obama to say: “No, no, no — don’t boo, vote. Vote! Voting is the best revenge.” Romney promptly pretended to be very outraged by this. He told his supporters: “Yesterday, the President said something you may have heard by now. That I think surprised a lot of people. Speaking to an audience, he said, ‘voting is the best revenge.’ He told his supporters — voting for revenge. Vote for revenge? Let me tell you what I’d like to tell you. Vote for love of country.” Romney picked up that refrain a second time: “Did you see what President Obama said today? He asked his supporters to vote for revenge — for revenge...Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country.” Of course, Obama was only encouraging people to vote. He was telling them that the real way to express opposition to GOP policies is to vote against them, rather than to merely boo them. And guess what: You may have forgotten about this one, but this isn’t the first time Romney has attacked Obama for encouraging people to get more engaged in the political process. In September, Romney blasted Obama for saying that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.” That September quote from Obama, however, also constituted urging people to get more involved in politics: “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. And that’s how the big accomplishments, like health care, got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out...something that I’d really like to concentrate on in my second term is being in a much more constant conversation with the American people, so they can put pressure on Congress to move some of these issues forward.” Romney pretended to be very outraged about that, too, just as he is doing with regard to Obama’s perfectly innocuous “revenge” quote. The important thing to remember here is that the GOP argument for a Romney victory rests explicitly on the hope that those who turned out to vote for Obama last time won’t be quite as engaged this time around. Republicans are hoping the electorate is not as diverse as it was in 2008, and they are arguing that the GOP base’s enthusiasm is much higher than that of core Dem constituencies. The Romney camp seems to think it will help whip GOP base voters into a frenzy — and perhaps boost turnout — if Romney casts the way Obama is urging Democratic base voters to get more involved in the process as something sininster and threatening. This is beyond idiotic; it is insulting to people’s intelligence. The Post editorial board, in a widely cited piece, has claimed that the one constant about the Romney campaign has been that it is driven by “contempt for the electorate.” To make this case, the editorial cites Romney’s nonstop flip flops, his evasions about his own proposals, his refusal to share basic information about his finances and bundlers, and his monumental Jeep falsehood and all his other big lies. It’s fitting that Romney’s closing argument rests heavily on one last sustained expression of that contempt for the electorate — one focused squarely on a call for more engagement in the political process, i.e., on something that is fundamental to democracy itself.

Obama Jokes "I'm Sort Of A Prop In The Campaign"

New Jersey's own Springsteen and Bon Jovi sing for Sandy victims

New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi joined Staten Island-born Christina Aguilera and others on Friday in a televised benefit concert for victims of Sandy, the storm that killed more than 100 and devastated parts of the U.S. Northeast. The commercial-free one-hour telecast, "Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together," included appearances by Sting, Billy Joel, Jimmy Fallon, Steven Tyler, Mary J. Blige, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Bacon and Danny DeVito. The host was "Today" show co-anchor Matt Lauer, who said, "We haven't seen a storm like this in 100 years." The fundraiser, shown on NBC, opened with Aguilera saying: "I was born in Staten Island. Four days ago, Hurricane Sandy came through and devastated it." The New York City borough accounted for about half the city's 41 deaths from the storm. Aguilera, a judge on the television singing competition "The Voice," vowed that "we will do whatever we can to help, we will not leave anyone behind," then performed "You Are What You Are (Beautiful)." Next up was Bon Jovi, who was seen in footage filmed this week after he rushed back from a British promotional tour to visit his hometown of Sayreville, New Jersey, to console residents and view the devastation. Bon Jovi sang "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Fey, an actress and comedian, implored viewers to donate at 1-800-HELPNOW and spread the message for donations via social media such as Twitter. Donors can also text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 contribution. All proceeds were earmarked for the American Red Cross to benefit victims of Sandy and rebuilding efforts. The show was sprinkled with news footage of destruction in New York City and along the New Jersey coast, such as the ruins of the amusement pier familiar to viewers of "Jersey Shore." Long Island-raised Joel performed an early song about devastation full of references to New York: "Miami 2017," often known as "Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway." Joel tweaked the lyrics to incorporate areas especially hard hit by Sandy. Sting chose "Message in a Bottle," with its familiar refrain "Sending out an SOS." Tyler, with Aerosmith, performed "Dream On" and teamed up with Fallon for "On the Boardwalk," backed up by Joel and Springsteen. Blige sang "The Living Proof," and the telecast ended with Springsteen and the E Street Band's "Land of Hope and Dreams." "God bless New York, God bless the Jersey Shore," Springsteen said as the band struck the final chords. The telethon was also aired on NBC Universal networks Bravo, CNBC, E!, G4, MSNBC, Style, Syfy and USA, as well as HBO, and was live-streamed on and simulcast on Springsteen's E Street Radio on SiriusXM. On Thursday, Walt Disney Co announced a $2 million donation for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, while Disney/ABC Television Group designated Monday as a "Day of Giving" when viewers of network and syndicated programming would be encouraged to help. Entertainment giant Viacom Inc announced a $1 million donation to the Mayor's Fund NYC and local organizations.

Resolving Balochistan issue

NO doubt the situation in Balochistan today is quite horrendous. Tariq Khosa in his article ‘Blueprint for Balochistan’ (Oct 26) has given a good account of problems, but they are limited to administrative perspective. The problems in Balochistan are multifaceted and should be so addressed. The issues that need also to be considered before addressing them are authentic historical facts, regional geopolitical situation, corruption, wrong administrative decisions, policies and misdemeanours of successive governments right from the day when Pakistan acquired independence. Policies are made to protect self-interests and the government rather than strengthening the foundation of the country. The question is not about small or large groups which are antagonised, but how the largest province of the country reached the present state. The circumstances, which are the result of events during more than 60 years, cannot be reversed in a few days and that too through the barrel of the gun. It rather needs the government’s firm, long-term and stable policies and decisions in the right direction, honest and trusted people (not necessarily parliamentarians) who should be involved in pacifying the angered Baloch. I say the Baloch and do not name the tribes deliberately as the present uprising is quite different from what Balochistan has witnessed earlier. It may not be forgotten that these angered Baloch are Pakistanis and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, the government has no writ and political will. All the funds given to the provincial government hardly reach the people at the grassroots level. Jobs created are sold and the most cognisable development in the province is a competition between most of the parliamentarians and bureaucrats of owning a number of expensive four-wheel drive vehicles parked in front of their houses. Having no writ, various law-enforcement agencies are taking unilateral actions without any check, without realising that such actions create a state of anarchy which is detrimental to the very existence of the country. Since two wrongs never make a right, it is time those at the helm of affairs woke up to address the issues before more valuable lives are lost.

Pakistan has spent $80b fighting militants: President Zardari

The Express Tribune
President Asif Ali Zardari , in his inaugural address to the 6th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference in Islamabad, stated that Pakistan has been the victim of terrorism for far too long, having spent nearly $80 billion on the constant battle against militant groups. Zardari cited drug trafficking as the financial source of militancy. He calls upon the SAARC countries to assist Pakistan in the fight against heroin and other drugs being smuggled into the country. “Heroin was developed as a war weapon,” said Zardari in his address. The President also called on the SAARC countries to help promote democracy in the region. Greater participation of women in SAARC Agendas for the SAARC’s female parliamentarians’ stability and economic development in the region were finalized at the conference. Dr Fehmida Mirza chaired a meeting in which a joint statement was finalized and it was agreed upon that the expansion of the SAARC platform would allow women to play a greater role in the association. SAARC speakers and parliamentarians visited the Parliament House in Islamabad and have declared Dr Mirza as the Chairperson of the 6th SAARC conference. The Vice Chairperson has been selected as a representative from Maldives, where the speakers have agreed upon to hold the next annual SAARC conference.

Secular Pakistan: ‘Pakistanis should know Quaid’s Aug 11 speech by heart’

By Sonia MalikPublished: August 12, 2012
Speakers and the audience at a seminar Jinnah ka Pakistan (Jinnah’s Pakistan) on Saturday agreed that the Quaid had wanted to keep religion and state separate. The seminar was organised by the Awami Party in Model Town to mark Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech. Jamil Omar, the party’s general secretary, compared Jinnah’s August 11 speech with the Gettysburg address by Abraham Lincoln and Jawaharal Nehru’s August 15 speech. Every child in the United States and India knows these speeches by heart since it is part of their syllabi, Omar said, but in Pakistan this speech has been censored from the press and never included in school syllabi. The people of Pakistan should know the speech by heart, he said, but the few who know about it have seen only a censored version of it. Omar said the speech had touched upon four important points: that nepotism will not be tolerated; that the government’s “first, second and last” responsibility is the people’s welfare; that citizens of all faiths will be treated equally; and that Pakistan is an independent and a self-sufficient country. He said it was the third point which had led to the speech being blacked out. Jinnah had reiterated secularism and wanted to keep state and religion apart, said Omar. If these four points had been adhered to, he said, Pakistan could have been the best country in the world. Wajahat Masood cited references from several books quoting from Jinnah’s speeches that promote a tolerant Pakistan where religious minorities had equal rights. He said the Quaid had objected to slogan Pakistan ka matlab kia, La ilaha illallah. Quoting from Malik Ghulam Nabi’s book Daghon ki Bahar he said during his last address to All India Muslim League in December, 1947, a man had asked the Quaid if the slogan was the foundation of Pakistan’s ideology. The Quaid had told him that was not what Pakistan stood for, Masood said. He said three articles of the national constitution needed to be expunged – Article 2 (a) upholding the Objectives Resolution; Article 227, which says that no law can be repugnant to Quran or Sunnah and Article 203 that gives the Federal Shariat Court the power to strike down any law passed by the parliament that is repugnant to Quran or Sunnah. He also quoted Thomas Jefferson who had warned that if church was not separated from the state half the people will be hypocrites and the other half stupid. “We should not care if Jinnah was a mullah, a secularist or a pluralist; a nation-state by definition is a secular entity,” he said. He ended his speech by quoting Jinnah, “In the course of time, Muslims will cease being Muslims; Hindus will cease being Hindus, not religiously, but politically.” IA Rehman urged the participants to reflect on Jinnah’s views. He said Jinnah had wanted a government that worked for the citizens’ welfare and a country where everyone had equal rights. After the speeches, the participants asked the party to demand that the clauses added to constitution during General Zia’s rule be removed and the Objectives Resolution declaring Pakistan an Islamic state be denounced. They also demanded that the federation should retain minimal authority and give more powers to the provinces.

Jinnah's or Taliban's Pakistan? MQM’s national referendum on November 8

The MQM has announced that the national referendum asking Pakistanis if they wanted Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan or Taliban’s Pakistan will be held on November 8. Booths for citizens to answer this question will be set up across the country and will be operational from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. MQM leader Farooq Sattar said Sunday that Pakistan was faced with both internal and external threats. Sattar added that terrorists were targeting innocent people, children and were destroying schools. "The attack on Malala was a wake up call for the nation," Sattar said. According to the MQM leader, drone attacks had put the nation’s sovereignty into question. MQM chief Altaf Hussain last week on Thursday had asked the party’s coordination committee to start preparing for the national referendum.

Pakistan: Punjab govt unconstitutional

Terming the Punjab government unconstitutional, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Punjab President Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo on Saturday said the Sharifs have been found guilty in Asghar Khan case, therefore, they should leave the provincial government. Addressing the party workers at the PPP Punjab Secretariat, Wattoo said the Sharifs should comply with court orders, adding that after the Supreme Court's decision under the articles 62 and 63 of the constitution they should resign from their offices. He also said the SC verdict was thought provoking for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and it depended on the party's leadership whether they relinquish their posts morally or not. Referring to ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, Wattoo said his party member followed court orders and relinquished his office, adding that Shahbaz Sharif should also act in the same manner. Alleging the Punjab government of misusing the provincial funds, the PPP Punjab president said that the PML-N-led government was spending billions of rupees on political campaigns in by-elections. He demanded that the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan take notice of this misappropriation. He said no political party was ready to forge alliance with the PML-N owing to the attitude of the party leadership. Wattoo said he was a proud claimant of a unique political history of defeating PML-N twice in Punjab and he also subdued PML-N in the recently held AJK elections, expressing the hope that the PPP would defeat PML-N in the next general elections as well. The PPP Punjab president challenged that the PPP and the PML-Q would defeat the PML-N in Punjab in the upcoming general elections. "Days are not far when the egoistic Sharifs will have to go to workers after they quit PML-N and join PPP," he added. Wattoo said his former colleagues, who had worked with him in 1993, would soon desert the PML-N and come into the PPP fold. He said he would announce new executive council in Punjab after consultation with the party leadership and the workers, adding that a new PPP Punjab secretariat would also be inaugurated soon. He said the new secretariat would work day and night to resolve workers' problems, assuring the workers that their siblings will be preferred in jobs quota. On the occasion, PPP Punjab General Secretary Tanveer Ashraf Kaira, Labour Bureau Chairman Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, Munir Ahmed Khan, Usman Malik, Iqbal Sialvi, Ajmal Hashmi, PSF and PYO office-bearers and a large number of party workers were present. Earlier on his arrival at the party office, PPP workers and provincial leaders gave him a warm reception.

Pakistan: Mystical Islam 'a threat to the Taliban'
The recent attack on a shrine in Pakistan's northwestern district of Nowshera is proof that the Taliban consider pluralistic Islam a big ideological threat, say experts. On Sunday, a bomb blast outside the shrine of Kaka Sahib - a 16th century Sunni Muslim saint - in the district Nowshera of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, killed at least three devotees of the saint and wounding 25 people. "It was a remote-controlled bomb that killed three people at the site," local police chief Muhammad Hussain told the media. Some Pakistani newspapers have put the death toll higher. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but Taliban militants have been known to attack shrines in the region in the past.Pakistan is facing a protracted insurgency in its troubled northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have killed thousands of people over the years and attacked places of worship of minorities and followers of other Islamic denominations. Pluralism The militants - most of whom belong to the Saudi-Wahhabi sect of Islam - have attacked a number of Sufi shrines in many Pakistani cities in the past, killing scores of devotees, who mostly belong to the minority Shiite Islamic group or the majority Sunni Barelvi sect. Historians say that both Shiites and Barelvis believe in a wide cultural interpretation of Islam and seek inspiration from the Persian and Arabic saints, who played a role in spreading Islam throughout the Indian subcontinent. Many Shiites and Barelvis also revere mystics of Indian origin and regularly visit their shrines which are spread throughout India and Pakistan. These Muslims saints are equally loved by Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Jews in South Asia.On the contrary, the Wahhabis, which are a relatively smaller group among the Sunnis, believe in "puritan Islam" and consider pilgrimages to shrines outside of the Islamic faith to be against the teachings of Muhammad. Dr. Mubarak Ali, a renowned Pakistani historian, told DW that the Taliban were against cultural variation. "Wahhabis are against any cultural plurality so they attack shrines, music festivals and other cultural centers that are not Islamic in their view," he said. The historian said that the influence of Saudi Arabia had seeped into the psyche of many Pakistanis, causing an "Arabization" of their many traditions. Many Pakistani analysts, including Ali, say that the zealot Wahhabi groups and political parties not only frown upon pilgrimages to non-Islamic shrines, they also endorse the demolition of historical Muslim sites, and emulate Saudi Arabia in this regard. A recent article in The Independent newspaper titled "Media: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam's history" claims that the Saudi regime had destroyed a number of graves of known Islamic figures and historical sites such as the prophet of Islam's birthplace and the house of the prophet's first wife Khadija for the fear that people might convert them into places of worship. An ideological battle Shoaib Ashraf, a lawyer and rights activist in Karachi, told DW that the Taliban were bent on destroying the diverse cultural fabric of Pakistani society. "Pakistan cannot afford this kind of extremism. It is facing several crises at the moment but this is going to do an irreparable damage to the country. Pakistan will not survive if a minority forcefully imposes its extremist agenda on majority," Ashraf said.Attiya Dawood, a writer and peace activist, told DW that the love for saints ran deep in hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan and that a big number of Pakistanis went to the shrines and listened to qawwali, or Sufi music. "The Taliban want to create fear among the people by attacking their sacred places so that they can restrict their social mobility and freedom," she said. Many Pakistani analysts are of the opinion that the main reason behind the attacks on shrines and followers of the saints is more political than religious. They say that the mystical Islam provides a counter-narrative to extremist Islam and is probably the biggest ideological threat to the Wahhabis. Some believe that mystical Islam could be more effective in defeating the Taliban than any military operation. State support Experts, however, say that the policies of the Pakistani state are not in favor of the proponents of Sufi Islam and are thus emboldening fanatics. "As long as the Pakistani state and security agencies continue to use Wahhabism as a dominant state narrative, attacks on shrines and their devotees will not cease," said Ashraf. Ali also pointed out that Wahhabi groups and organizations enjoyed state patronage and flourished at the expense of other groups, which in the past had been snubbed by the government. "It is a bit strange though because Wahhabism is a minority Sunni sect in Pakistan," Ali said. Ashraf demanded that the Pakistani government not only abandon its support to zealot Wahhabis, but also promote pluralistic Islam. This, he said, would not only be beneficial to Pakistani society in the long run but would also improve the international community's image of Pakistan.

U.S. Questions Islamabad's Balochistan Crackdown
The U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council has expressed "serious concern" over Pakistan's violent response to separatists in southwestern Balochistan Province. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe told the council in Geneva on October 30 that Washington has serious reservations about human rights situation in Balochistan. She said Pakistan Army operations there are "aimed at silencing dissent." She said Pakistan should ensure that those guilty of torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings must be prosecuted. Donahoe made the remarks during Pakistan's Universal Periodic Review. All UN members are expect to undergo such a review of their human rights record every four years. Thousands of civilians, soldiers, and guerillas have been killed in eight years of unrest in the vast desert region where numerous ethnic Balochi factions are fighting for independence from Pakistan.

Gay Pakistanis, Still in Shadows, Seek Acceptance

The group meets irregularly in a simple building among a row of shops here that close in the evening. Drapes cover the windows. Sometimes members watch movies or read poetry. Occasionally, they give a party, dance and drink and let off steam. The group is invitation only, by word of mouth. Members communicate through an e-mail list and are careful not to jeopardize the location of their meetings. One room is reserved for “crisis situations,” when someone may need a place to hide, most often from her own family. This is their safe space — a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis. “The gay scene here is very hush-hush,” said Ali, a member who did not want his full name used. “I wish it was a bit more open, but you make do with what you have.” That is slowly changing as a relative handful of younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West, seek to foster more acceptance of their sexuality and to carve out an identity, even in a climate of religious conservatism. Homosexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan, based on laws constructed by the British during colonial rule. No civil rights legislation exists to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. But the reality is far more complex, more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly. One journalist, in his early 40s, has been living as a gay man in Pakistan for almost two decades. “It’s very easy being gay here, to be honest,” he said, though he and several others interviewed did not want their names used for fear of the social and legal repercussions. “You can live without being hassled about it,” he said, “as long as you are not wearing a pink tutu and running down the street carrying a rainbow flag.” The reason is that while the notion of homosexuality may be taboo, homosocial, and even homosexual, behavior is common enough. Pakistani society is sharply segregated on gender lines, with taboos about extramarital sex that make it almost harder to conduct a secret heterosexual romance than a homosexual one. Displays of affection between men in public, like hugging and holding hands, are common. “A guy can be with a guy anytime, anywhere, and no one will raise an eyebrow,” the journalist said. For many in his and previous generations, he said, same-sex attraction was not necessarily an issue because it did not involve questions of identity. Many Pakistani men who have sex with men do not think of themselves as gay. Some do it regularly, when they need a break from their wives, they say, and some for money. But all the examples of homosexual relations — in Sufi poetry, Urdu literature or discreet sexual conduct — occur within the private sphere, said Hina Jilani, a human rights lawyer and activist for women’s and minority rights. Homoeroticism can be expressed but not named. “The biggest hurdle,” Ms. Jilani said, “is finding the proper context in which to bring this issue out into the open.” That is what the gay and lesbian support group in Lahore is slowly seeking to do, even if it still meets in what amounts to near secrecy. The driving force behind the group comes from two women, ages 30 and 33. They are keenly aware of the oddity that two women, partners no less, have become architects of the modern gay scene in Lahore; if gay and bisexual men barely register in the collective societal consciousness of Pakistan, their female counterparts are even less visible. “The organizing came from my personal experience of extreme isolation, the sense of being alone and different,” the 30-year-old said. She decided that she needed to find others like her in Pakistan. Eight people, mostly the couple’s friends, attended the first meeting in January 2009. Two months later, the two women formed an activist group they call O. They asked for its full name not to be published because it is registered as a nongovernmental organization with the government, with its true purpose concealed because of the laws against homosexual acts. O conducts research into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, provides legal advice and has helped remove people from difficult family situations, and in one case a foreign-operated prostitution ring. The group has made a conscious decision to focus its efforts on the dynamic of family and building social acceptance and awareness rather than directly tackling legal discrimination. Their current fight is not to overturn Article 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, on “Unnatural Offenses,” but to influence parents’ deciding whether or not to shun their gay child. They see this approach as ultimately more productive. “If you talk about space in Pakistan in terms of milestones that happen in the other parts of the world like pride parades or legal reform or whatever, that’s not going to happen for a long time,” the 33-year-old organizer, who identifies as bisexual, said. “Families making space — that’s what’s important to us right now.” Both women say their families have accepted them, though it was a process. There are distinct class differences at work here, particularly when it comes to self-definition. Most of those actively involved in fostering the gay and lesbian community in Pakistan, even if they have not been educated abroad, are usually college graduates and are familiar with the evolution of Western thought concerning sexuality. Mostly city-dwellers, they come from families whose parents can afford to send their children to school. Those who identify themselves as gay here are usually middle and upper middle class, the 33-year-old woman said. “You will get lower middle class or working-class women refusing to call themselves lesbian because that to them is an insult, so they’ll say ‘woman loving woman.’ ” While the journalist lives relatively openly as a gay man, and says his immediate family accepts it, he understands that older gays have separated sexuality from identity, and he also recognizes that this approach is changing. Still, he sees the potential for serious conflict for younger Pakistanis who are growing up with a more westernized sense of sexual identity. “They’ve got all the access to content coming from a Western space, but they don’t have the outlets for expression that exist over there,” he said. “Inevitably they will feel a much greater sense of frustration and express it in ways that my generation wouldn’t have.” That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it. “It is the policy of the United States government to support and promote equal rights for all human beings,” an embassy spokeswoman, Rian Harris, said by e-mail when asked about the backlash. “We are committed to standing up for these values around the world, including here in Pakistan.” Well intended as it may have been, the event was seen by many in Pakistan’s gay community as detrimental to their cause. The 33-year-old activist strongly believes it was a mistake. “The damage that the U.S. pride event has done is colossal,” she said, “just in terms of creating an atmosphere of fear that was not there before. The public eye is not what we need right now.” Despite the hostile climate, both the support group and O continue their work. O is currently researching violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis. “In a way, we are just role models for each other,” the 30-year-old said. When she was growing up, she said, she did not know anyone who was gay and she could not imagine such a life. “For me the whole activism is to create that space in which we can imagine a future for ourselves, and not even imagine but live that future,” she said. “And we are living it. I’m living my own impossibility.”

Inflated prices: Peshawar markets run out of essential drugs

The Express Tribune
Commonly used drugs are fast disappearing from Peshawar markets as the ‘medicine mafia’ is hoarding medicines and selling them in black markets for considerable profit. A number of medicines such as Actifid, including Actifed DM syrup and Actifed cold, Sancos cough syrup and Augmentin injections are no longer available. Meanwhile, prices for medicines such as Hydraline, Augmentin, and Palmonale, which had disappeared from markets for some time, have increased by 30%. Silicose used by blood pressure patients is only available in the black market on double the retail price. Thyrosin (a tablet which most patients have to take for life once prescribed), Lexotanil and Thioredoxin are also nowhere to be found. Chief Drug Inspector of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sabir Ali, told The Express Tribune that a drug pricing committee has been formed at the federal level to stipulate and approve the prices of medicines. The price of a particular product depends on its availability, he said. The inspector said that pharmaceutical companies are being encouraged to sell their products directly to the retailers in an attempt to prevent hoarding, which creates an artificial shortage in the market. Waheed Ullah Wazir, a medicine retailer, said: “Pharmaceutical companies have contracts with wholesalers who hoard products.” He also alleged that “Doctors prescribe foreign medicines that are not usually available in the market. This creates a problem for patients.’ Dr Saoodul Islam, a general physician at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), acknowledged that doctors prescribe medicines that are often not locally available. “International brands provide doctors with benefits to sponsor their products so they prescribe them instead of their local alternatives.” Islam too, said that a ‘medicine mafia’ is responsible for the shortage of medicines in the city. Nasirullah, a medicine wholesaler, refused to accept the blame. “The government imposes taxes and prevents us from increasing the retail price,” he said, adding “That is why many of us stop supplies.” He claimed that pharmaceuticals are responsible for hiking up prices and withdrawing products.

MQM MNA files in SC to declare Nawaz ineligible to contest elections

The Express Tribune
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker Iqbal Qadri has filed an application with the Supreme Court Karachi registry asking the court to declare Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Nawaz Sharif ineligible to contest elections, Express News reported. The application filed on Saturday stated that Nawaz was responsible for the extra-judicial killing of MQM workers in Karachi during the 1992 operation. The petition further added that the PML chief had assets abroad and that he was a loan defaulter. Earlier Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon had also requested the Election Commission of Pakistan to disqualify the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, saying that Nawaz was the ‘brainchild of dictatorship’ and his propaganda and conspiracies against the present government have failed. Memon said that the Asghar Khan case has revealed Nawaz Sharif’s true nature.

Pakistan: Cricketers not paying tax

Tax evasion is one of the most commonly use practice is Pakistan where the taxation system itself is overwhelmed with anomalies if all sorts, the most glaring of them being not charging the powerful elite, predominantly the landed aristocracy, with tax encumbrance. In the past men and women associated with cinema in Pakistan, more prominently top actors and actresses, not paying their taxes used to attract the mind of the common person. Now that the film industry has collapsed, the focus has shifted the top cricketers not fulfilling their national obligation, is the focus of attention. Recent media reports suggest that the income tax department has issued notices 21 top cricketers who were found to have evaded taxes of more than Rs100 million over the past two years. This is the first time that the Federal Board of Revenue has issued notices to cricket celebrities who will be grilled about tax liabilities. The investigation department has already compiled the tax profiles of these cricketers on the basis of information collected by the income tax intelligence directorate of the FBR. The Regional Tax Office (RTO), Lahore, had issued notices to Umer Akmal, Misbahul Haq, Kamran Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Imran Farhat, Rana Naveedul Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Taufiq Umar and Wahab Riaz. RTO Karachi issued notices to Shahid Afridi, Younus Khan, Abdul Rahman, Asad Shafiq and Tanvir Ahmad; RTO Sialkot to former captain Shoaib Malik, RTO Peshawar to Umar Gul and RTO Rawalpindi has finalized notices to be served on Shoaib Akhtar, Sohail Tanveer and Yassir Arafat. Umar Akmal alone owes to the national exchequer Rs7.5 million, the highest among his colleagues because he is the busiest cricketer at present with a number of international engagements.May they be cricketers or people from other walks of life, the FBR's revenue collecting machinery has always shown flexibility over and above the law and consequently bing unable to meet targets stipulated at the beginning of every fiscal year. Every time it sets targets that are ambitious rather than being objective and in the end it has to lower them to demonstrate that it has achieved revenue collection targets. The very recent example is the shortfall of nearly Rs 66 billion during the first four months (July-October) 2012-13. So far, the FBR has not revised downward the ambitious revenue collection target of Rs 2,381 billion for the current fiscal. However, there seems a little improvement for the month of October when the FBR provisionally collected Rs 138 billion against Rs 126 billion in the corresponding period of last fiscal, reflecting an increase of Rs 12 billion.Some other FBR targets can also materialize to portray a rosy picture of revenue collection in Pakistan for the fiscal year 2012-13. For example, Islamabad is highly more or less sure of receiving $680 million from the United States on account of coalition support prgramme. The country's economic manager also hope to realize around $800 million upon the auction of the third generation telecom licences. But this proposition, which remained unfulfilled even last year, seems difficult to be realized this year also because the team working on this has not so far been able to appoint a consultant despite the lapse of five months. Almost similar is the status of the FBR's tax amnesty scheme that proposes whitening the black money amounting to around Rs170 billion, because the FBR has not so far whetted it with a cover of a legal regime. Thus the has not yet been submitted to the government.Pakistan's economic survival lies in collecting taxes wherever due by abandoning the policy of appeasement towards the powerful and the rich, spending the funds prudently by right-sizing gigantic government machinery, benefits of civil servants and public office holders, investing in long-term productive projects, and catering for basic needs of the citizens. An unshakable determination, consistency in policies and political will are required to curb the years-old habit of defying tax laws with the purge in tax machinery and spending tax money for the welfare of the entire population and not merely a handful of people.

Pakistan: Tribal women can play vital role in Fata uplift

The Frontier Post
Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Barrister Masood Kausar has said that economic development guarantees lasting prosperity of a nation and tribal female could improve their socio-economic conditions learning by various skills. He stated while addressing a certificate distribution ceremony held at Governor\'s house on Saturday on conclusion of a training workshop for the internally displaced tribal female. MNA Munir Orakzai and Officials of FATA Development Authority were present on the occasion. The Governor gave away certificates and sewing machines to 60 IDPs female for successfully completing the training conducted by FATA Development Authority (FDA). Barrister Masood Kausar said that skills are not only used for the benefits of the country but also used for participants to bread earn. Shedding light upon FATA Skills Development Programmme, he said that this programme was based on National Skills Development Strategy. He said that this strategy has been made in view of the socio-economic conditions in FATA and the prime objective of the plan was to give skill development training to the tribal youth that would help them earn their livelihoods. The Governor appreciated the efforts of FDA and said that the authority has set up 42 women business centers in the tribal areas, which was a commendable step towards economic empowerment of tribal female. He said that the government was taking all possible steps to provide education and technical skills training to the tribesmen and the internally displaced persons so as to remove the lingering sense of deprivation among them and bring them in the main stream of life. The Governor asked media to highlights development projects initiated by government in tribal areas.

Pakistan: People to vote against those who robbed their mandate in past

Information Minister says more facts will be revealed in Asghar Khan case in the days to come.Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira says the people will take action through vote against those who had robbed their mandate in the past. Talking to newsmen in Lala Musa on Saturday‚ he said Supreme Court verdict in Asghar Khan Case has turned the first page of the political history of the country. He said more facts will be revealed in the days to come. Qamar Zaman Kaira said mandate of the people was stolen with the connivance of establishment and politicians.