Saturday, January 26, 2013

Malala inspired children worldwide: UN campaigners

The bravery of Malala Yousafzai has inspired children around the world to fight for a better education, key figures in a UN campaign said on Friday. Hosting a discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, UN special education envoy and former British prime minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to 15-year-old Malala, who was gunned down in Swat in October.
“We saw when Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan, girls in Pakistan went on to the streets to protest that they too wanted the education they were being denied,” Brown told an elite audience at the luxury ski resort. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is also involved in UN education efforts, said Malala’s example showed the need for the international community to help “vulnerable states.” “Her story has affected us all, it has affected teenagers all over the world, my own teenage daughters are thinking about this and worrying about girls’ education,” she said. “And that’s why this ownership (of the issue) is so important: some girls don’t get education because their country is at war and a weak state and a very poor country. “But some kids, especially girls, don’t get their education because of cultural, religious choices in their part of the world.” The Danish premier said all countries should take the responsibility for providing a good basic education where possible, but where failed states were unable to, then the world must help instead. “Those examples where girls are allowed into schools, where we help in vulnerable states like Afghanistan, that’s where we can make a difference,” Thorning-Schmidt said. UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Brown last July to lead a campaign to get 61 million more children into school by 2015, opened the discussion by saying that the world “cannot afford a lost generation”. “Education must be a top priority of global and development agendas – this is not an option it is an imperative,” he told the audience of global politicians and business leaders. Malala was shot on her school bus by Taliban gunmen for the “crime” of promoting girls’ education, but survived the murder attempt. Malala first rose to prominence aged just 11 with a blog for the BBC Urdu service in 2009 in which she described life in Swat during the bloody rule of the Taliban. She is still recovering from her injuries at a hospital in Britain. Brown has pushed Malala’s case and in November visited Pakistan to present a million-signature petition to the government calling for change.

Pakistan: Measles and Weasels

Pakistan is currently threatened by a measles epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, 103 children have died from pneumonia and other measles-related complications between Jan. 1 and 19. In Sindh, the worst-hit province, 66 deaths have been recorded this month; in Baluchistan, 33. In Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and politically influential province, the toll is only up to nine. Yet in addition to sparking fears of a health crisis, these deaths are already raising questions about the electoral prospects of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which forms the government of Punjab and, on the national level, is the leading opposition party to the Pakistan Peoples Party, or P.P.P. With a general election just months away, the leaders of Punjab don't want to be accused of failing to provide health care - again. And so even as the Punjabi government has played down the risks of a measles epidemic, Shahbaz Sharif, a PML-N leader who is both Punjab's chief minister and the head of the province's health ministry, has promptly taken action to prevent the spread of the disease. The provincial government has launched a public-awareness campaign, stocked up on vaccines, lowered the recommended age for inoculating children and tasked local officials with monitoring outbreaks. Sharif isn't taking any chances. In late November, the adviser to the prime minister on human rights called for Sharif's resignation on the grounds that, "No one in the Punjab government has taken responsibility of the utter failure and lack of governance, especially in the health sector." This criticism stems partly from political opportunism: The adviser is allied with the P.P.P., which is expecting fierce competition from the PML-N at election time. But it also is deserved. Late last year more than 40 people across Punjab died after consuming a toxic cough syrup produced locally. In early 2012, scores of patients died after being prescribed contaminated heart medication at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, a provincial government facility in Lahore. The previous year an epidemic of dengue fever killed 247 people. Meanwhile, the Health Department of Punjab has been embroiled in a labor dispute with the Young Doctors' Association, resulting in major doctors' strikes. Not surprisingly, the PML-N's rivals regularly cite these failings as proof of the party's inability to govern. Also not surprisingly, Sharif doesn't want his handling of the current measles outbreak to become one more item on their list. And so he is trying to replicate his one big success of last year, when his department managed to curb a dengue fever epidemic: The number of reported cases fell from 21,000 in 2011 to approximately 250 in 2012. Of course, Sharif's swift action against the spread of measles doesn't amount to a serious effort to revamp Punjab's collapsing health sector. The patients are just lucky that what's good for the politicians happens to be good for them, too.

Pakistan - a failed state on a tinderbox

BY:Joel Brinkley
Distracted by the deadly violence in Mali and Algeria, no one seems to be paying adequate attention to the tragicomedy under way in Pakistan. This matters because events of the last several weeks demonstrate without equivocation that Pakistan is an utterly failed state - but one that possesses nuclear weapons. The country is tumbling down the abyss. Where else could a fundamentalist Muslim cleric who lives in Canada draw tens of thousands of fans to a rally calling for dissolution of the government - speaking from inside a shipping container with a bulletproof window? That's just one in a litany of absurdities going on there. At the same time comes the latest round of unresolvable acrimony between President Asif Ali Zardari and the country's Supreme Court, which has been trying to bring him down for years. Two years ago, the court ordered the prime minister of the time, Yousaf Raza Gilani, to open a corruption investigation against Zardari - as if Pakistanis didn't already know that Zardari, like most every government official, was thoroughly corrupt. After all, since the time his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister, Zardari has been known as "Mr. Ten Percent" for the money he purloined from every business deal he managed. The court ordered Gilani to ask Swiss officials for documentation of Zardari's in-absentia conviction on money-laundering charges 10 years ago. Gilani refused, noting that the president is supposed to be immune from prosecution. The court scoffed. One justice spat: "Obedience to the command of a court" is "not a game of chess or a game of hide-and-seek." And soon after, the court forced Gilani to resign. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the information technology minister, took his place. Right away, the court landed on him with the same request: Help us file corruption charges against Zardari; get those Swiss documents. The new prime minister also resisted, and wouldn't you know it: Right now the court is trying to force him out of office - charging him with corruption. It's almost comical. But all of this seems to have paralyzed an already ineffective, incompetent government. Just a few days ago, an officer in the state anticorruption agency who was investigating the allegations against Ashraf was found hanged in his barracks. Police called it a suicide. Awfully convenient timing. At the same time, in northwestern Pakistan, thousands of protesters shouting antigovernment slogans put the bodies of 15 villagers on display, charging that security forces had shot them dead in their homes. The chief security agency, the shadowy, mendacious Inter-Services Intelligence, did not comment but finally did respond to a court inquiry into the fate of seven men who were arrested in 2007. A court ordered them released. But then, all seven men simply disappeared. Finally, on Monday, an ISI lawyer acknowledged the "lack of incriminating evidence" against the seven men but went on to say that they were arrested "on moral grounds." Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry shot back that the ISI simply cannot detain suspects indefinitely and unlawfully - particularly on "moral grounds." "Morally, they can put anyone behind bars, even me," Chaudhry charged. "According to them, all the people are guilty." But despite years of heinous abuses, neither the court nor anyone else in government ever tries to rein in the renegade spy agency. Why should we care about any of this? After all, Pakistan is hardly the only failed state in the world. Think about Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, Zimbabwe. But have any of these other states received more than $12 billion in aid from Washington over the past decade - with another $688 million payment now before Congress awaiting almost certain approval? And do any of the other failed states - Afghanistan, Chad, Nigeria, Uganda - possess nuclear weapons? No. Pakistan is the only state that has bombs - and a vibrant Islamic insurgency intent on toppling the absurdly ineffectual government. And don't forget that senior leaders of al Qaeda live there, too, most of them resident in Pakistan's eastern borderlands. Of course, Osama bin Laden also resided there, undisturbed until U.S. forces killed him in 2011. If the Taliban do ever succeed in toppling the government, they would almost certainly seize the nukes - a terrifying prospect. Right now, though, Taliban militants, responsible for manifest mayhem and thousands of deaths in recent times, appear to be sitting back and watching, most probably with smiles on their faces. Their goal is to destabilize the state, but it's quite obvious now that the sitting government is much better at that than they are.

Court rules Obama's appointments unconstitutional

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that President Barack Obama violated the U.S. Constitution when he used recess appointments to fill a labor board, in a sweeping decision that could limit presidential power to push through federal nominees. The court found that the Senate was not truly in recess, for the purpose of a recess appointment, when Obama in January 2012 installed three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. The nominees were facing stiff Republican opposition, and the appointments caused an uproar at the time. Republicans argued that Obama undercut the Senate's power to confirm nominees because although most of its members were out of town, the Senate had not formally adjourned. In a surprisingly broad ruling, the three-judge panel rejected not only the NLRB appointments but any made while the Senate is in session but on a break. That could limit recess appointments to only a few weeks a year. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also ruled that recess appointments could only be used for positions that become vacant while the Senate is in recess. "If the decision stands, it would be a significant reduction of the president's recess power," said John Elwood, a Washington lawyer who was deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2005 through 2009. "This is a big, big decision for executive power," Elwood said. "It is one of the most important decisions in decades." More immediately, the ruling casts doubt on the ability of the NLRB, an independent agency that oversees labor disputes, to conduct its business if it does not have enough members. Its recent rulings may also be vulnerable to challenge. The ruling also throws into question the legality of the appointment of Richard Cordray, the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Obama used the same type of recess appointment to install Cordray; his appointment was challenged in a separate lawsuit. But the ruling's most profound impact may be its threat to the now-standard practice of presidents ramming through nominees that otherwise would get bogged down in the Senate, often because of unrelated political fights. White House spokesman Jay Carney called the ruling "novel and unprecedented" and said it contradicted 150 years of practice by both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Justice Department said it is considering its options to appeal. Legal experts expect the administration will challenge the ruling, and the case could go to the Supreme Court. Republican lawmakers, who had joined the legal challenge to the NLRB appointments, jumped on the ruling as a vindication of their view that the administration had overreached. "The D.C. Circuit Court today reaffirmed that the Constitution is not an inconvenience but the law of the land," Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said in a statement. NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce said in a statement the board would continue to perform its statutory duties and issue decisions. CFPB spokeswoman Moira Vahey said the ruling had no direct effect on the bureau. A TEST OF POWERS The suit started as a routine dispute between soda bottling company Noel Canning and the labor board, but developed into a high-profile appeal with the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Senate Republicans. The case was seen as a test of the president's ability to bypass a Senate vote on nominees. The Constitution allows the Senate to block nominees, and both Democratic and Republican presidents have used recess appointments as a way around this for decades. When Obama made the NLRB appointments, the Senate was not officially in recess. It continued to meet every few days for minutes at a time with few senators present. The court's decision, issued by a panel of judges who had been appointed by Republicans, hinged on what constitutes a "recess" and whether it includes short breaks while the Senate is still technically in session. Presidents have often used these intra-session recess appointments. Ronald Reagan, for example, made 36 such appointments, and Bill Clinton made 39, according to data from the Congressional Research Service. "Considering the text, history, and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception," the ruling said about the NLRB appointments of Sharon Block, Richard Griffin and Terence Flynn. It said the president could not have "free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law." Jay Wexler, a law professor at Boston University School of Law, said the ruling includes "pretty big restrictions" but that he was most surprised that presidents would only be allowed to use such appointments when a vacancy popped up during a recess. Once rare, recess appointments became more common in the late 1970s as a way to bypass the confirmation process, which senators have used increasingly to block nominees. Recent presidents pushed the boundaries. George W. Bush took the unusual step of filling a judgeship during a recess. For a graphic on recess appointments by past presidents, please see Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy previously challenged the intra-session recess appointment of William Pryor to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004 by George W. Bush. The 11th Circuit upheld the right of the president to make the recess appointment, finding the term "recess" in the Constitution ambiguous. That decision conflicts with the D.C. Circuit's decision on Friday. NLRB, CORDRAY IN DOUBT Pearce of the NLRB said the ruling would not deter the board from getting on with its work. However, the NLRB's recent and future decisions are now on legally shaky ground because without the three appointments, the board lacks a quorum. The NLRB has been active this past year in expanding protections for employees who complain about their employer on social media like Facebook or Twitter. It also issued a ruling requiring employers to continue collecting union dues even after a union contract expires. Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer and author of "Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired," said the appeals court decision would lead to delays in NLRB rulings. Although Friday's decision did not touch on Cordray, his appointment to the CFPB was challenged in a separate lawsuit brought in June by the State National Bank of Big Spring, Texas, and other institutions. That suit presented a similar argument that the recess appointment was invalid because the Senate was technically still in session. Cordray's appointment followed months of rancorous debate over the new consumer bureau, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law to police markets for products such as credit cards and home loans. Obama on Thursday renominated Cordray to head the CFPB, but it is unclear how long the confirmation process will take. Even though the new ruling doesn't deal with the consumer agency, it could call into question supervisory actions and regulations it has taken. "The CFPB world has been turned upside down," said financial services lawyer Richard Gottlieb of the Dykema law firm.