Tuesday, March 12, 2013
In an exclusive interview with ABC News today, President Obama confirmed authorities were investigating whether hackers had indeed obtained and posted online financial information belonging to his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and nearly a dozen celebrity A-listers and political heavy hitters. "We should not be surprised that if we've got hackers that want to dig in and have a lot of resources, that they can access this information," Obama said. "Again, not sure how accurate but ... you've got web sites out there that tell pepole's credit card info. That's how sophisticated they are."On Monday, a web site posted what hackers claim to be Social Security numbers, credit reports, former addresses and personal banking information of celebrities and top Washington, D.C., officials. The hackers claim to have what appears to be first lady's credit report, Social Security number and phone numbers. Other targets include Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, FBI director Robert Mueller, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.Information posted about Biden and Clinton did not include credit reports but included addresses and other sensitive information. Sources told ABC News that it would take a long time to track the digital trail. Law enforcement officials including the FBI and Secret Service were trying to determine how much of the information was authentic and how it might have been compromised. This morning, ABC News tried calling a number listed for Biden and it turned out to be a local business in Delaware. "The Department is aware of the report and the FBI is investigating the matter," a Department of Justice spokesperson told ABC News. The site's so-called "secret files" claim to reveal everything from how much Kim Kardashian pays for her car lease to Ashton Kutcher's American Express bill and even Paris Hilton's credit score. Beyonce, Jay Z, Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump were some of the other celebrities who were allegedly hacked. ABC News reached out to them overnight, but they did not respond to calls for comment. Kardashian, Hilton and Kutcher have also not responded to ABC News' request for a comment on the hacking allegations. Gibson's rep told ABC News that they haven't verified that he has been hacked. ABC News is not disclosing the website's name, which appears to originate in Russia because the Internet suffix of the site's web address was originally assigned to the Soviet Union. ABC News consultant and former FBI agent Brad Garrett said the entire site could be a fraud designed to embarrass those in the public eye. "I'm very suspect [about] information released online. It goes against the very reason you steal them, it's to use them," Garrett said. "Is this a prank? Is this a hoax? Is it to get attention? That wouldn't surprise me one bit." The possible security breach extends to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck as 30 pages of his personal financial data appears to have been exposed. "If we find the individuals -- and I'm confident that we will -- that are responsible, we will prosecute them," Beck said. "It's just a creepy thing that people do every once in a while, is put police officer's names, their family members' names, their addresses on web sites," Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.Smith told The Associated Press confidential information on top police officials has been posted online at least twice before. Smith said the LAPD was investigating any posting of information on any celebrities who live in the city and request an inquiry. "Some hackers sort of get into brinksmanship. And they want to try to see, 'Well, this is a well-known person, probably has a lot of security. Let's see if I can hack through their system,'" Garrett said. Several of the pages featured unflattering pictures of the celebrities or government officials whose information was posted. The site's homepage, which features an image of a girl with her eyes covered in black makeup, had more than 111,000 hits as of 7:15 a.m. ET.
Sayeed Agha woke just before 4am to pray. In the moonlight, he opened the door of his home and began to walk down the dirt road to his village mosque, passing the apple orchards that his province, Maidan Wardak, is famous for. As he neared the mosque, he says he was stopped by a group of men in what he described as US military uniforms. “What are you doing here?” they asked him. “I told them that I wanted to go to the mosque and pray. So I kept walking and went into the mosque. Then they shouted at me again. They told me to come out,” said 45-year-old Mr Agha. “They all had long beards, and the guy speaking Pashto had a red beard. They were dressed like foreign soldiers.” They called to him again, telling him to come out. When he refused, he says the men began beating him. The “soldiers” handcuffed him and put him on the back of a four-wheeler, a kind of motorcycle only used by foreign military forces in Afghanistan. There were nine other prisoners with them, Mr Agha said. “They were beating me and I was telling them that I am just a worker at the mayor’s office,” he said. Eventually, they took him to a foreign military base near Nerkh, one of four highly unstable districts in Maidan Wardak. It is a province seen as a coveted strategic prize because of it sits just south-west of the capital, Kabul, and is known to be used by the Taliban as a staging ground for attacks on the city. Mr Agha’s seemingly arbitrary detention (he was released the next afternoon) is an everyday story in today’s Afghanistan. But in Maidan Wardak, the tensions between local people, foreign forces, and particularly the Afghans who work for those forces, have reached boiling point. The latest example came on Monday, when two US special forces soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan police officer in Maidan Wardak’s restive Jalrez district. Two Afghan policemen were also killed and four others wounded before the shooter was gunned down, according to the provincial deputy police chief Abdul Razaq Koraishi. Other sources said that as many as five Afghan soldiers and police were killed in the attack. Some “green-on-blue” attacks – the term used when Afghan security forces turn their guns on their Nato counterparts – are blamed on Taliban infiltration, but many others are the result of local anger directed at foreign forces and those who work with them. Two weeks earlier, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai had ordered US special forces to leave Maidan Wardak within a fortnight, after hundreds of complaints from locals accusing them and their Afghan allies of taking part in assaults, disappearances and killings. Monday’s attack came less than a day after Mr Karzai’s deadline passed. Announcing the move on 24 February, the President’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, accused US special forces in the area of abetting “insecurity and instability”. A statement posted on the President’s website said the decision was taken after “it became clear that armed individuals named as US special forces stationed in Maidan Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people.” It went on to highlight specific examples. One involved an incident in which it claimed that nine people had “disappeared”. In another, separate incident, “a student was taken away at night from his home. His tortured body with throat cut was found two days later,” it said. However, little else is known about specific allegations levelled at US special forces, and the Afghan people who work with them. “It is very difficult to get beyond the level of rumour on this,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. Some observers have suggested that the Afghans allegedly involved could be from militia groups unrelated to the US forces. But it seems Mr Karzai believes there is enough evidence to justify the demand that US special forces leave the area. “There’s enough smoke so that it looks like there certainly must be some fire,” said Ms Barr. “This is not the first time that there’s been evidence that these kinds of forces are operating. Forces that are, in a sense, vigilante forces assembled by the US.” Much of the work done by American Special Operations forces in Afghanistan is classified. Ms Barr says this lack of transparency makes it difficult to know whether such groups “are a child of Special Operations forces, or whether they are operating without the knowledge of the US military and are supported by the CIA, for example”. Both the US military and CIA are believed to have organised and trained clandestine militias since the US-led invasion in 2001, whose operations are not declared to the Afghan government. Mr Faizi said it was time foreign forces handed over control of “parallel structures” to the government. With the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan looming, most conventional Nato forces in eastern Afghanistan have now taken on purely advisory roles, while special forces are increasingly taking on offensive operations. “It’s pretty much inevitable that, as we move towards the 2014 deadline and the drawdown of conventional forces what we are actually going to see is the conflict here change to an unconventional conflict, meaning that the US will be replacing their soldiers with drones, CIA and contractors,” said Ms Barr. In his statement, Mr Faizi said the security situation in Maidan Wardak had not improved in years, despite the involvement of US special forces in operations to kill or capture high-ranking Taliban insurgents. “Those operations have failed to reduce the violence”, he said. US officials have denied the allegations its elite units have been involved in the torture and disappearance of Afghan civilians. In response to the ban, they have also said they are working with their Afghan counterparts on finding a solution that will answer Mr Karzai’s concerns, while maintaining security in Maidan Wardak. There appear to be no moves to heed the ban. But Mr Karzai’s actions have certainly shown that the Afghan government is now willing to take a harder line against abuses linked to foreign troops than previously. It also highlights the deep distrust of international forces in Afghanistan, and reflects the sentiment that it is not only the insurgents who stoke the violence that plagues the country. For the Afghans on the ground, the situation has become increasingly complex and divisive. Senator Samir Shirzada held the floor amongst other elders who had come from Chak District to gather in an upstairs room of the Wardak provincial governor’s offices to support the decree against the US special forces. The room is still windowless after a bombing in November killed three and wounded around 90. Mr Shirzada had come with a warning. “Right now, there is no such thing as militias. But when the Special Forces carry out raids in the winter it makes it more likely that people will join the insurgents. This makes it more likely that when the insurgents return in the spring or summer that they will have more support among the people. And if the special forces do not leave this province, next summer all of the province will fall into the hands of the Taliban.” Not all Afghans agree – especially those in the Afghan National Army. “If tomorrow the special forces leave the province, the next day, where I am right now in Nerkh district, this place will fall to the Taliban. We need the support of the special forces in Wardak,” said Lt Mashouq, an officer in the Afghan National Army. Besides the villagers’ feelings of anger, helplessness and lack of justice at crimes committed against civilians by shadowy forces is the fact that Kabul is only 25km from Wardak by road. The people know that instability here could spill over into the capital, destabilising a period of relative peace – a major setback for the international forces, the Afghan government and people. “If there is security in Wardak, there is security in Kabul,” said Mohammed Rafiq Wardak, head of the provincial council. “If Wardak is not secure, then Kabul will not be secure.”
The Taliban have halted an annual polio vaccination campaign in a remote part of Afghanistan, according to a senior official, raising concerns that opposition to the critical immunisation drive could be spilling across from insurgent groups in neighbouring Pakistan. The Taliban have controlled parts of poor, isolated and mountainous Nuristan province for several years, but they have never before prevented medical workers reaching children in their strongholds, said the governor Tamim Nuristani. "For the past three years Waygal district has been under the Taliban, they are very strong there. For the last two years the vaccine process went on in the district, but this year they stopped it," he told the Guardian by phone from the provincial capital, an island of government control in the restive area. "They are saying in terms of religion it is a problem and we have to stop it. In Kamdesh district we also have problems, they have stopped the programme," he added. Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. Kabul reported a surge of cases in 2011, and in some areas only two-thirds of children have been protected against the disease, which can kill or paralyse. There have long been fears that the Pakistani Taliban's opposition to polio vaccination campaigns, which militant leaders have banned at least three times, could influence Afghan groups which have so far supported or at least tolerated immunisation teams. A spokesman for the Taliban confirmed that the anti-polio campaign was stopped in parts of Nuristan, but denied the insurgent group played any role. "I want to refute this. The Taliban never stop the vaccination. It's a health issue. We have no problem with it," a spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. "Local people are stopping the process. The Taliban can't force the local people to let it go ahead." But Nuristani said he had checked with local clerics, who did not consider the vaccination un-Islamic, and the people of Nuristan who, he said, were keen to protect their children. "I am sure in religious terms there is no problem. I have spoken with several members of our Ulema council and they have said there is no problem with it, because it is a health issue." The UN, which helps organise the national vaccination programme, said the Afghan Taliban had not generally tried to prevent healthcare workers reaching children. "We have not faced any policy level resistance from the Taliban," said Vidhya Ganesh, deputy representative for Unicef in Afghanistan. "Usually it's local negotiations, local issues which we can resolve through our interlocutors in the community. Over the last year access has actually been improving quite well," she added. But there are believed to be a high number of foreign fighters among insurgents in Nuristan, many of them with very extreme views. Around a year ago internal refugees fleeing Waygal and Kamdesh described the rule of a shrouded "vice and virtue police" said to surpass even hardline Taliban. Many of the men spoke with foreign accents. Across the border, the Pakistani Taliban this summer in effect banned polio eradication in South Waziristan, one of the most troubled areas of the country, in an effort to force the US to end drone strikes. Leaflets distributed in the area accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies. Several have since been killed. The Afghan health ministry declined to comment on the polio campaign in Nuristan, saying senior officials were in meetings to discuss reports from newly returned vaccination workers.
by Leslie H. GelbHamid Karzai is beating up on the United States to score domestic political points once again, this time on the occasion of Chuck Hagel’s maiden visit as Defense secretary to that sad country. Yet the Obama team and America’s foreign-policy cognoscenti can’t seem to draw the obvious conclusions—stop letting these Karzai guys play us for suckers and speed up our exit, and stop wasting American lives and dollars. Digest his latest mal mot in the wake of new suicide bombings in Kabul and Khost: “Those bombs, set off yesterday in the name of the Taliban, were in the service of the Americans to keep foreigners longer in Afghanistan.” Disgusting! (Rand Paul, where are you when we need you to express practical outrage?)This clown is proclaiming that we are colluding with the enemy to prolong our stay in Afghanistan. And yet I already hear my foreign-policy colleagues’ familiar excuses for these rhetorical knives. “You know old Hamid,” they’ll say. “He’s just doing this for the home audience, trying to score a few harmless points. Forget about it; the Afghan people are with us.” Think about that response. These excuses are tired, because we’ve been pardoning hateful stuff like this for more than 10 years now. And when have we heard any of those Afghan people coming to our defense? It would be foolish to think for a moment that this problem is limited to Karzai. Because he’s no fool himself. He says this smelly stuff because he truly believes it will go down well with his fellow Afghans. He reckons he gains popularity by accusing Washington of working with the Taliban so U.S. troops can stay in their country and extend the suffering of the Afghan people. Really, think about this. Maybe Karzai’s message actually is meant for the non-Pashtun Afghans, so they’ll worry about Americans’ collusion with the Pashtun-heavy Taliban, and he’ll somehow build support for next year’s elections. This explanation makes even less sense. The non-Pashtuns, who make up around 60 percent of the Afghan people, are the most pro-American in the country. If anything, the non-Pashtuns would like to see Americans fighting in and for their country, against their Pashtun enemies, for the next century. To Northern Afghans, we’re the best guarantee against a Pashtun takeover—the last thing the non-Pashtuns want. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of Karzai’s baloney, his family’s corruption, the corruption of the Afghan political and economic elite, the grotesque waste, the thievery, the drugs, not to mention their own collaboration with the Taliban. The only ones I truly feel for are the Afghan women and those armed forces that continue to fight for a free society that may never come. I wish we could evacuate all of those who wish to flee their mistreatment and enslavement. The Afghan leaders for whom we’ve been fighting and dying these last 12 years aren’t going to change. We can keep funding the Afghan security forces, and they might get better, but their utterly selfish and drug-dealing political leaders won’t change. You would think they’d want to do better for their fellow countrymen and women, and save themselves. After all, there are 30 million Afghans and only about 20,000 Taliban fighters. But they have spent more than a decade robbing and killing each other, and have proven to be far better at exploiting their fellow Afghans than fighting the Taliban. Now consider the message Karzai is sending by torpedoing the planned press conference with Hagel. Hagel pretended the joint appearance couldn’t be held for “security” reasons, but after all America has sacrificed for this tribe of thieves, why on earth would he make this lame excuse? Frankly, were I Hagel, I would have held the press conference and said, “Karzai’s failure to show up today endangers the American commitment to Afghanistan. How can he expect us to fight, and die, and pay the bills with this kind of behavior?” “Mr. Secretary,” some journalist would have said, “are you threatening to withdraw U.S. forces?” “I’m threatening nothing,” Hagel would respond. “I’m just saying the obvious. The American people won’t stand for this while our men and women are sacrificing themselves for the Afghan people.” Then, if I were Hagel, I’d come back home and propose to President Obama that he call two emergency meetings: one of the allies fighting on our side, the other of all Afghanistan’s neighbors. To our fighting allies, I’d say: let’s expedite the withdrawal process. Instead of keeping 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops here through the end of 2014, let’s cut that in half, and step up the training and arming of Afghan forces. And let’s leave the decision on when to withdraw the remaining troops until the results of the second meeting, with states bordering Afghanistan. In that conference, I’d tell the neighbors that we’re heading homeward. We’re open to slowing down that process and continuing to provide economic and military aid to Afghan forces—but if and only if your countries step in and pick up the main burden.
Frankly, I’m sick and tired of Karzai’s baloney, his family’s corruption, the corruption of the Afghan political and economic elite, the grotesque waste, the thievery, the drugs, not to mention their own collaboration with the Taliban.You might well ask: why should they do this? The answer is plain and simple, and something Washington should have realized long ago. These neighbors have far more to win and lose from a stable Afghanistan than we do, and they know this. They most of all fear an Afghan implosion, with refugees spilling into their territories, drugs pouring into their countries, and Taliban extremists spreading religious insurrection. The neighbors don't have to do anything about these fears so long as the United States is there fighting their war for them. Let’s make clear that this freebie is coming to an end. As long as they take the lead, we’ll stay in some numbers and help get and keep things organized. But if they don’t, let’s get the hell out—as we eventually did in Iraq. Karzai won’t be allowed to run for another presidential term, but it’d be idiotic to count on his successor’s doing better in fighting the Taliban or halting corruption and waste. In other words, let’s not delude ourselves into believing things will get better after Hamid, nor that an excess of Afghans are worrying about Americans fighting in and for their country. Numerous senators and Washington columnists almost totally lost their equipoise over the droning down of my great fellow American Anwar al-Awlaki. Perhaps some of them might dredge up some outrage over the message behind what Karzai did to the United States yesterday.
By THOM SHANKER FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan – The new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, arrived at this rugged security outpost situated along a ratline of insurgent infiltration from Pakistan to talk to American troops about the war. Instead, the soldiers wanted to hear only about the budget battle back in Washington – in particular, how steep reductions in spending for the Pentagon would affect their careers, their salaries and their health care benefits, and their eventual retirements. Perhaps that could be viewed as a positive sign of the status of combat operations in Afghanistan. As Afghan forces take the lead in securing their own country, members of the 101st Airborne Division’s First Brigade Combat Team were not so concerned about the quality of their body armor, or the details of counterinsurgency tactics, or whether there was a slackening of support for the war back home. Those are the sorts of things that usually come up when a defense secretary convenes a town-hall-style meeting with troops in the combat zone. In his opening remarks delivered this weekend at the forward operating base, located in Jalalabad, a strategic crossroads in eastern Nangarhar Province, Mr. Hagel discussed the war effort, of course, and thanked the troops for their service to the nation. And he pledged to always keep at the forefront the needs of America’s service personnel and their families. Then he opened up the dialogue to questions. Not a single one was about the war effort. “Mr. Secretary,” came the first question, “with the high unemployment rate facing our veterans of our Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, what is — what are we doing to help veterans as they transition out of the military and back into the civil sector to be successful?” The second query to Mr. Hagel went straight at the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, and their impact on the military. “Mr. Secretary,” the soldier asked, “how will sequestration affect military P.C.S. movements?” The initials P.C.S. are military shorthand for “permanent change of station,” the official term for being given a new assignment at a new location as members of the military advance their careers. The next question went to a specific category of military spending, in particular whether a partner in a same-sex relationship with a member of the armed services would be receiving the full set of benefits traditionally given to spouses. Following that was a question on “budget cuts and the downsizing of the military,” followed by a final question on “how is everything going on in Congress right now going to affect us that are about to retire?” “I think you all are aware of what’s going on in Washington with sequestration,” Mr. Hagel said. “We are required to take a cut in our budget. We are managing that. We are dealing with it. We will continue to manage with those realities.” But he acknowledged that the shifting budgetary foundation for the Pentagon “affects everything; it affects all of our programs.” He told the soldiers that he and the military chiefs were committed to assuring that “our readiness continues to stay as active and alert and essential as at any time. And so we are adjusting in training, steaming time, flight time, areas that don’t affect directly our men and women in uniform and our readiness.” The defense secretary did not try to dissuade the troops from fearing that sequestration was a serious problem. “If it continues, it’ll be more and more difficult for us to do what we are required to do, and that is to assure the security of America around the world,” he said. “We will work through it,” Mr. Hagel concluded, “and we’ll continue to work with the Congress on ways to make sure that that certainty of security is there, and will continue to be there.”
by ALAN GREENBLATTWhether President Obama attacks members of Congress, takes them out to dinner or pays them visits on Capitol Hill, he needs their support in order to achieve major parts of his agenda. That presidents are at the mercy of Congress when it comes to budgets and legislation is an obvious point, and one deeply embedded in the U.S. constitutional system. But it's a truism that often gets overlooked in the rush to assume that what a president wants, a president can get. "We are taught that presidents are the center of government, and great presidents can make things happen," says Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, a political scientist at the University of North Texas. "There's this Rushmore view, and it's a myth." Obama has made mistakes, and, naturally, many Americans think his policies on issues such as tax rates and health care were wrongheaded to begin with. However, some of his perceived failings may be the result of an inflated expectations game that all modern presidents must play. "Expectations tend to be wildly unrealistic," says Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Presidents can be important, but their scope for solving problems that are the source of substantial disagreement [is] exceedingly limited within our constitutional system." Given the constraints of divided government and the current polarized landscape, not many presidents would be able to accomplish more than Obama has, says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Pennsylvania's Villanova University. Still, all presidents are dealt tough cards. Obama has not always played his well, Brown argues, because he tends to promise more than he can deliver and then attempt to lay the blame elsewhere, typically on congressional Republicans. "I don't imagine history will forgive him for his self-constructed victimhood to the House GOP," she says. "Successful leaders control the political definition of their actions." Majesty Of The Office Walk into an elementary-school classroom, and chances are still pretty good that you'll see miniportraits of all of the presidents lining the wall. Schoolchildren, however, are not taught the names of Thomas B. Reed or Nelson W. Aldrich or any other bygone congressional leaders. "My 6-year-old daughter, when she was asked what she would do as president, said she'd lower taxes and bring peace to the world," says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. "That's the way children think of the world — that presidents actually do these things." That sense of the majesty and centrality of the presidency tends to stay with Americans as adults. Books such as The Age of Reagan and The Age of Jackson argue through their very titles that presidents can dominate and define their eras. "The modern presidency is in fact that notion that the president is in some sense front and center," says Bill Connelly, a political scientist at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. Less Potential To Persuade But in order to achieve great things, a president has to bend Congress and the country to his will. "It's tough governing," says Mann, the Brookings scholar. "It's especially tough now, given the differences between the parties." Mann faults congressional Republicans for being unyielding. He notes that many 1960s-era members of the GOP were willing to support Lyndon B. Johnson's civil rights agenda. Conversely, conservative Democrats backed Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in 1981, even as their party controlled the House. But liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are few and far between these days. Old-fashioned aisle-crossing seldom happens, making life difficult for a president facing a divided Congress. In addition, the public has become more polarized. As with other recent presidents, Obama is disliked and distrusted by roughly half the public. "If you're looking at half the population that disagrees with you already, it's not like the president can put pressure on Congress by making people agree with him," says Eshbaugh-Soha of the University of North Texas. "If a president once had real potential to influence the public through speeches, that really isn't possible anymore." Can't Control The Economy There's some research to suggest that presidents who talk optimistically about the economy can help boost consumer confidence, Eshbaugh-Soha notes. But even if a president can convince the nation and Congress that his economic ideas are the way to go, he'll still have a limited ability to shape the economy. As Pitney notes, a president is only one part of a government that controls only some aspects of the economy. The political branches set fiscal policy (tax and spending rates), yet have limited influence over what the Federal Reserve decides regarding monetary policy (interest rates and the size of the money supply). All of these governmental actors in total may help set conditions, but they can't make a market economy boom on their own — especially in an era of global finance. While presidential fortunes may rise and fall with the economy, expectations that a president can create jobs or make the economy grow are generally overblown. "That expectation, that presidents have the wherewithal to manage the economy, has led the economy to control any number of presidents, Republicans and Democrats," says Connelly, the Washington and Lee political scientist. "The economy goes down, and we blame presidents. It sets presidents up for failure." What Have You Done Lately? All presidents may nod with recognition when reminded of Abraham Lincoln's words from 1864: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me." For certain, all presidents have the same set of powers granted to them by the Constitution to make appointments and veto legislation. How they combine those enunciated powers with less formal ones, such as their command of the bully pulpit, in order to respond to the events of their time is what separates the great ones from the mediocre. "Obama's dilemma was also Bush's dilemma, and Clinton's, etc.," Connelly says. It's impossible to judge presidential success in midterm. Connelly notes that many presidents regarded as failures still managed to achieve some real victories. Americans empower presidents when they need to, he says, whether it was Lincoln during the Civil War or George W. Bush following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Then we immediately start pushing back and trying to humble these individuals," Connelly says. That might be the perverse upside to the expectations game. Hoping for so much from the White House, Americans tend to denigrate presidents who disappoint — a mood swing that keeps our awe of the office in check. "We use these people and we throw them out," Connelly says. "Madison would say it's a good thing, that as a Democratic people we are impatient."
By GINGER GIBSONPresident Barack Obama told Senate Democrats on Tuesday that his budget to be released in April would align closely with their priorities. He also warned that Democrats need to embrace at least some changes to unsustainable entitlement programs in order to achieve their long-term priorities.The president made the case, senators attending the luncheon said, to protect entitlements for future generations — a key Democratic priority in negotiations with Republicans over a deficit reduction deal known as a grand bargain.But Obama acknowledged that Social Security and Medicare — big drivers of federal spending — wouldn’t survive without some changes to save money. Obama added that Republicans must first agree to more revenue hikes before the White House would concede on changes to entitlement programs, senators attending the luncheon said. Obama seemed to be opening the door a crack toward a way forward: if the White House is seen as willing to put entitlements on the table, some Republicans may reconsider their staunch opposition to new revenue. Obama told Senate Democrats that he sees his framework — a mix of new revenues and spending cuts — as a big enough compromise. He said Republicans will need to move toward him to obtain a grand bargain, which he sees as the way out of the sequester, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. Obama also reiterated that he isn’t going to negotiate over the next debt ceiling increase, slated to come up this summer. “I think the president made it clear he understands the framework of a major [budget] agreement,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. “It’s got to be this idea of common ground… That’s [the] basis of his outreach to senators and [House members]. He’s going to be doing a lot of eating on the Hill this week.” Whether both sides can reach a deal that includes entitlement changes and new tax dollars may become clearer on Wednesday, as the president meets with House Republicans. Obama completes his Hill tour on Thursday with meetings with House Democrats and Senate Republicans. Obama’s blunt talk on entitlements doesn’t mean that Senate Democrats are on board. Several members in the meeting spoke up about the concerns that changes to the programs would be part of a deal, attendees said. “He said he hoped we can reach some sort of grand bargain,” Harkin said. “Of course some of us responded by say, ‘Yes, but what is in that grand bargain?’ We don’t want to start whacking away at Social Security or Medicare.” According to Harkin, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked the president about his plans to switch to a “chained-CPI,” which would lower the rate at which Social Security benefits are increased and cut the cost of the program in the long run. “We’re not going to go so far as to negotiate away our principals and what we think is best,” Harkin said. “When you’re talking about entitlements, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, there is more than one way to solve that problem.”Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that House Republicans have never gone beyond broad discussions about entitlement programs and that their talk has been used to argue Obama would agree to changes. “Here’s the issue — the president in the past in personal negotiations with Boehner, Biden, in personal negotiations with Cantor has indicated that they would be willing to do certain things,” Reid told reporters after the meeting. “The Republicans never get further than that.”During the luncheon, Obama also fielded questions on a host of other agenda items, including immigration and gun control. He also talked about the administration’s drone policy. “He thinks we’re making good movement on immigration,” Harkin said. “He feels very positive that we’re actually going to get a good immigration bill.”On the topic of drones, Harkin said Obama told senators that the administration is doing everything it can to comply with the law and is giving information to the intelligence committee. Obama’s visit came on the same day as House Republicans and Senate Democrats unveiled their budget resolutions for 2014. Both are highly political documents that are unlikely to be reconciled with each other and become law. Obama’s press secretary said on Tuesday that the president plans to unveil his budget on April 8. And the president told lawmakers it wouldn’t be much different than that revealed by Senate Democrats. “On the budget issues, [Obama] acknowledged that, look, the best course now is to let the [House and Senate] budgets go, get ‘em into conference, and try to reconcile the two. If we can get a broader budget understanding, than we can deal with things that replace sequestration.” “It will be different, but I don’t think dramatically different,” Cardin said of the White House budget proposal. “But he didn’t tell us what his budget would have.” The Senate Democratic budget — introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — would raise $1 trillion in new revenue, while cutting an equal amount in spending over 10 years. Murray’s plan calls for $1.85 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next decade, Democrats said Tuesday. It calls for $975 billion in spending cuts and an additional $975 billion would be raised through an overhaul of the Tax Code by eliminating certain tax deductions, including ones typically claimed by high earners and corporations. And Murray will include fast-track provisions calling on congressional tax writers to draft filibuster-proof legislation that would raise new revenue. The so-called reconciliation provisions have drawn strong objections by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who argued that the budget parameters would limit his ability to push a full-blown rewrite of the Tax Code. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also introduced his own budget on Tuesday, which would also balance the budget in 10 years and eliminate Obamcare. As Obama walked into Tuesday’s meeting room, he waved at the cameras and said hello, but took no questions. Obama’s outreach to the Hill is a new tactic for a president who has typically kept his distance from lawmakers and doesn’t have a lot of close relationships with lawmakers. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered rare praise for Obama’s decision to meet with members of Congress. “We’re looking forward to having him up here on Thursday to speak with our group,” McConnell told reporters while Obama met with Democrats only yards away. McConnell called the president’s outreach a positive sign. “I hope he’ll invite all of our members for these dinners,” McConnell said. But McConnell wasn’t without criticism. He derided the president for not offering his own budget and for suggesting more revenues are needed.Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the meetings with the president are important to keep dialogue flowing. “It requires attention, and that’s the name of the game,” Levin said ahead of the meeting. “You’ve got to pay attention to the people who have roles if you’re going to get things done. It’s a matter of taking the time to pay attention and that’s what he’s doing.”Obama is hoping to create some momentum for a grand bargain toward deficit reduction, despite the fact that both parties are fairly well dug in to their positions. Obama’s “charm offensive” began last week when he broke bread at the Jefferson Hotel with Senate Republicans. He then lunched with Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday. Obama faces hurdles from all sides. Republicans are demanding changes to entitlement programs. Democrats are insisting that changes be made to Medicare and Social Security. Democrats want loopholes closed and new revenue from the Tax Code. Republicans don’t want to raise any taxes, arguing they’ve given enough as a result of the fiscal cliff deal at the start of 2013. Entering the lunch meeting, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he is hopeful Obama will talk about preserving entitlement programs and not put them on the chopping block as part of a deal with Republicans. “There is nothing magical about the word ‘grand bargain,’” Sanders said. “The question is what is in the grand bargain? And if we can have a grand bargain which raises substantial revenue by doing away with corporate loopholes, at a time when corporations are enjoying record-breaking profits, if we can have a grand bargain that protects Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare, it would be great. You’ve got define what you mean by grand bargain. A bad grand bargain is a bad deal. We want a good grand bargain, we want a good budget.” Obama’s meetings come in the midst of the opening rounds of budget and spending fights in Congress. The Senate began consideration Tuesday of the continuing resolution that will keep government functioning after March 27. The Senate version is the product of bipartisan compromise and will likely receive support from both parties in the upper chamber. Both chambers also unveiled their respective budget proposals on Tuesday. Before Obama spoke to her caucus, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) rolled out a fifty-fifty budget approach that would include $1 trillion in new tax revenues, mostly through closely loopholes, and $1 trillion in spending cuts. Ryan outlined a budget that includes no new tax revenues and $4.63 trillion in savings, most dependent on a repeal and defunding of Obamacare. The Ryan budget also includes the $700 billion in Medicare savings counted by the implementation of Obamcare. While Obama has been staunchly opposed to cutting his banner legislative accomplishment or passing deficit reduction that doesn’t include new revenue, the White House released a very measured response to Ryan’s rollout. Press Secretary Jay Carney countered Ryan’s proposal by saying “the math just doesn’t add up.” “While the President disagrees with the House Republican approach, we all agree we need to leave a better future for our children,” Carney said in a statement. “The President will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to grow the economy and cut the deficit in a balanced way.”
By Jonathan Capehart When black smoke billowed from the Vatican chimney this afternoon, I couldn’t help but wish that the latest version of “The Path to Prosperity” from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was its source. From its reliance on a repeal of Obamacare to an assumption that “the U.S. economy will grow faster than spending,” the plan put forth by the House Budget Committee chairman ought to be burned because it can’t possibly be taken seriously. Any budget plan that has as its foundation the repeal of President Obama’s signature health-care law is dead-on-arrival. But the Tax Policy Center (TPC) points to two other reasons why Ryan’s path is pockmarked with problematic assumptions. Greg Sargent at Plum Line highlights TPC’s warning about the tax perils for the middle-class. “[Ryan] has made it impossible to determine whether his budget would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for tax cuts on the rich,” he writes. That’s because his call for a top tax rate of 25 percent is merely a “goal.” Also, Sargent points out, Ryan is mute on rates on capital gains and dividends. There is an apparent method to leaving these two things vague. It makes it impossible to say whether the plan can be paid for without targeting loopholes enjoyed by the middle class. According to the Tax Policy Center…, without this information, it’s impossible to say whether the plan’s stated goals are feasible. In his analysis of the Ryan plan, TPC’s Howard Gleckman shows the incredible game of charades being played. Under the 2010 health law, high-income households will pay an additional 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax and a new 3.8 percent levy on investment income such as capital gains and dividends. ATRA [the fiscal cliff deal] restored the old 39.6 percent tax bracket for top-bracket households. Ryan would repeal all of Obamacare, including its new taxes. And he’d roll back the top tax rates in ATRA. But by assuming the level of revenues both laws would collect, Ryan makes it easier to balance his budget in 10 years since current law brings in higher revenues. Thus this budget now accepts the extra revenues (though not the specific taxes) that Ryan and Hill Republicans so vehemently opposed just two months ago. In case you couldn’t follow the bouncing ball, Ryan wants to repeal Obamacare and its taxes, but keeps the cash derived from it in his plan in order to bring his books into balance. I’m neither a tax nor budget expert. But I know when something is not serious or doesn’t make sense. And Ryan’s budget is neither serious nor makes sense.
The Express TribuneFather Yaqub Gill from Saint Mary’s Church, Sukkur, and Father Muneer from Saint Saviour’s Church, Sukkur, condemned the incident in Joseph Colony, Lahore, on Saturday in which a 100 houses were torched by an angry mob. “The Punjab government has failed miserably to protect the lives and properties of its minorities,” said Father Gill in an interview with The Express Tribune. “What justification is there in torching the houses of a hundred Christians if the man who committed the blasphemy was already in police custody,” he asked. Father Gill went on to state that the man who committed the blasphemy should be awarded the death penalty if he was actually found guilty. “However, the men who started the fire also committed blasphemy because they torched a number of copies of the Bible in the process. They should also be punished,” he said. “The clothes and other necessities that people had brought for Easter, which is celebrated on March 31, were reduced to ashes,” he explained. “Many families had bought dowry for their daughters who were supposed to get married after Easter which was also ruined.” He went on to add that the damage from the incident could have been minimised if the police had acted in time. Quoting similar mob riots that took place in 2009 and 2006 after some people allegedly made blashphemous comments, he said that no steps had been taken to apprehend the culprits. “We are enjoying a ‘confined religious freedom’ which allows us to preach but only within the four walls of our churches,” said Father Gill. “We can’t even use a loud speaker without the permission of the relevant SSP.” “Cases like these were unheard of before 1988 when the blasphemy law was introduced,” interjected Father Muneer from Saint Saviour’s Church. “There is nothing wrong with the law itself but it has often been used to victimise people from certain communities.” He went on to give the example of a little girl, Rimsha Maseh, who had falsely been accused of blasphemy by a Muslim cleric in August, 2012. “The law needs to be applied with a lot of care as being charged of blasphemy is a very sensitive matter.” Father Muneer and Father Yaqub demanded that the government compensate the residents of Joseph Colony for their losses without any delay.
Ironic that a country a quarter of whose flag represents minorities allows them to be persecuted one way or another. The 10 March incident in Lahore is not a bolt out of the blue but a continuation of oppression and violence against minorities in the Islamic Republic. Ahmadis were the target of choice almost four decades ago, then came the Shias’ turn, followed by Hindus and now the Christians. It seems the country that was going to be a laboratory to test Islamic way of life has failed to achieve its basic objective. As the protests continue across the country against a mob attack on the Joseph Colony in Lahore, questions are being raised, and rightly so, on the performance of the government and its law enforcement agencies. The Punjab administration, as it admitted, had information beforehand on what was going to transpire on that night, but instead of taking measures to protect the life and property, a duty it is bound to fulfil under the constitution, of the residents, it opted for an easy solution: it issued orders to evacuate the area and then looked the other way when the extremists went on a rampage and pilfered the area, taking with them what few valuables the residents had in their homes. That it happened right under the nose of the Punjab Police speaks volumes about the Punjab government’s priorities. Adding salt to the injury was the fact that the FIR of the incident was registered late. That the Punjab CM did not listen to affectees’ pleas when he visited the area does not help improve the government’s image. Chief Justice of Pakistan, in a suo motu notice of the incident, was also of the opinion that the government failed in performing its duties while pointing out that the police had submitted an incomplete report to the court, which raises questions on Punjab Police’s credibility, competence and whether it was in cahoots with the criminals, as alleged by human rights organisations. The Christian community staged protests over the issue, and shut down one of country’s highly valued school systems run by the community. Some have said that Punjab government’s close links with extremist parties have allowed such transgressions happen in the first place. Had the perpetrator of Gojra incident of 2009 against the Christians been caught and convicted, it might have given a message that the government was as serious in protecting its minorities as it was in protecting its majority. Promises that would lead to nowhere is not what they need right now; the government needs to take proactive measures to restore the confidence of all minorities, and make sure that they are given the same rights and protection that is afforded to everyone else.
A Muslim Fanatic,throws items taken from Christian houses into a fire in Lahore, March 9, 2013.Even as one considers the possibility of a property issue being the real motive behind the recent mob attack in Lahore’s Joseph Colony, representatives of the Christian community have not ruled it out — with some saying it was indeed the driving force behind the attack that left over a hundred houses burnt beyond recognition. President of Pakistan Minority Front’s Lahore chapter, Saleem Shakir told Dawn.com that weeks before the incident took place, “a group from the land mafia in the city’s Misri Shah market had started threatening the colony’s residents to vacate the area”. Situated close to Joseph Colony, Misri Shah is famous for being an old steel and scrap market in Lahore, similar to Shershah in Karachi, with a shanty town, for instance, the Henry and Joseph colonies, located nearby. “The issue was to move these people so that the scrap market could be extended,” said Shakir. When asked about Imran Shahid and Sawan Masih’s ‘drunken’ brawl that preceded the attack, Michael Javed, who heads the Pakistan Minority Front in Karachi, said the allegation against Sawan Masih was “used as the perfect excuse to drive residents out of the area”. “The two were friends,” added Javed. “They used to chat and drink together. I know for a fact that after the brawl, there was a lot of instigation to make it seem like a religious issue.” Shakir further noted that the police cleared up the area before the mob marched in. “If the police knew there was going to be an attack, why didn’t they do anything to prevent it?” This is not the first time the Christian community has been attacked in Pakistan. In August 2009, seven Christians were burnt alive in Gojra over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. In Saturday’s attack, Javed said two churches and more than a hundred bibles were also set ablaze. And although police clashed with the arsonists and made some 25 arrests following the incident, Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) believes those nabbed will be set free after some time, saying “the police does not investigate such matters”. The police’s role has also come into question over the events that preceded the arson where it had alerted the residents to the possibility of an attack and had advised them to leave the area. Calling it “criminal negligence” on part of the law enforcement agencies, Yusuf, who heads the HRCP, said the incident could have been averted “had the Punjab government not tolerated militant organisations and launched a crack down on their activities”. She said those protesting on Sunday against the arson attack in Karachi and Lahore were dispersed through tear gas and baton-charge, asking “why the same tear gas was not used against the mob on Saturday?” However, speaking to Dawn.com, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan, said: “It is encouraging that there has actually been some movement in arresting the culprits of the Badami Bagh incident. If these individuals are held legally accountable, it will be the first tangible evidence that the state is doing something other than appeasing extremists.” However, it remains to be seen whether accountability will actually take place or not, he added. “Both the federal government and the Punjab government have apprehended those involved in similar violence in the past also, only to release them quietly once the attention shifts. Deterrence comes, above all, from accountability,” he added. In this respect, Dawn.com made several attempts to contact officials in the Punjab government who remained unavailable for comment. What transpired on March 9 takes us back to the fundamental questions surrounding the country’s blasphemy laws and to the calls that have been made for their reformation. And although, former information minister and Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman had proposed an amendment to the laws, she eventually withdrew her private member bill following pressure from the party machinery. “The situation as it stands is indicative of an ethical crisis, a legal quagmire and the impotence of a corrupt, incompetent and bigoted criminal justice system. It is for the state to perform its due role as a neutral arbiter between citizens and to ensure that a rights-respecting rule of law prevails,” Hasan said. And for that purpose, the blasphemy laws need revisiting, Yusuf said, adding that if the issue is not tackled effectively, “the state may slide toward further chaos”. The attack and the debate that has followed again redirect us to the issue of increased religious fanaticism in the country, with religious minorities questioning the protection afforded to them by the state. “In the short term, those inciting and perpetrating violence against vulnerable groups need to be arrested and charged under relevant legal provisions to ensure that they are unable to abuse with impunity. In the long term, Pakistan needs to end legal discrimination that enables abuse against minorities and the political cowardice and myopia that facilitates it,” Hasan said. Javed said a number of Muslim clerics had condemned the attack and had been stressing the need to foster religious harmony. He, however, lamented that Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) had often been used to justify persecution of the Christian community and other vulnerable individuals and groups. He asked: “Why is the same law not being applied on those who have torched churches and desecrated the Holy Bible?”
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan says Badami Bagh incident is reflective of Punjab Government's complete failure. Talking to media during his visit to Badami Bagh Lahore on Tuesday evening‚ he accused the Punjab government of having links with the banned organizations. He stressed upon holding of general elections on time. He said only free and fair elections can streer the country out of crisis.
The United Nations strongly condemned the ongoing violence in the country, particularly the recent tragic events in Quetta, Karachi and this past weekend in Lahore, especially targeting religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan. “All human beings have equal right to life irrespective of diversities and differences in religious or political beliefs. It is alarming that in one year hundreds of Pakistanis belonging to different minority groups have been killed which is denial of right to life and disrespect of humanity,” said Timo Pakkala, United Nations resident coordinator, in a statement today in Islamabad. It said in the face of the recent attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan, the United Nations secretary-general had called for swift and determined action against those claiming responsibility and perpetrating such actions. “The United Nations reiterates its strong support for efforts by the government and people of Pakistan to protect religious and ethnic minorities.” “Pakistan is embarking on an important political transition that people hope will help realise their aspirations towards a stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan. The gains that the country has made in recent years in many areas in human rights must not be put in jeopardy by the intolerance of a few. The United Nations urges the Government and all political parties to accelerate efforts to build harmony and peace among different sections of society and take concrete measures to protect the existence and identity of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities in Pakistan,” Pakkala said.
Did the attack occur just because he and his neighbors are Christians? Kala Jee Allah Ditta is crouching on the remains of his home in the Pakistani community of Badami Bagh, near Lahore’s landmark railway station. All that remains of the boundary wall is a jagged edge at each end. Broken masonry is strewn around him, along with broken doors and crumpled sheets of metal. The small, three-room home he shared with six other relatives is deeply charred. The flames melted the blades of the ceiling fan, leaving the mounting device dangling awkwardly on its own. Below, broken bits of cups and plates are strewn across the floor. In a corner, a faint curl of smoke still rises from a pile of broken wood. The scene is depressingly reminiscent of an earlier tragedy. In 2009, a group of masked gunmen went door-to-door setting fire to homes and churches in a similar clustered and overcrowded colony of small, red brick Christian homes in the town of Gojra, which like Badami Bagh is in the Pakistani province of Punjab. They poured chemicals over 45 homes and three churches before setting them ablaze. The smell lingered for days — the same smell that remains pungent in Badami Bagh. Then, as now, the attack was sparked by rumors of blasphemy — the bane of Pakistani politics and jurisprudence in recent years. Both times, the police failed to protect the Christians, or even stood aside. The sole mercy for the Christian residents of Badami Bagh is that they were able to get away the night before. In Gojra, nine people were killed. The Badami Bagh incident, however, has its own set of local complications — including, it seems, the politics of a local steel-traders’ elections. Beset on several fronts, the Christians also fear that there may be forces trying to force them out in order to grab their property. On Friday night, Kala Jee and the other residents in the area were told to flee. “The police came and told us to go away,” he says. “A big, angry crowd had gathered on the main road. They had sticks and chains with them. We left and spent the next two nights with families that lived elsewhere.” Once the community had been emptied of its residents, the crowd returned the next day, Saturday, looting, destroying and torching some 150 homes and at least two churches. On Sunday, the residents returned to survey the ruin. According to the Christians, the conflagration was sparked, some days earlier, with a quarrel between two old friends. Sahwan Masih was a 26-year-old Christian who was popular in his area for his billiard table. During the day, he worked nearby, as sanitation worker for the municipal authority. “When he would finish work at 3 or 4 in the afternoon,” says his younger brother, Sabir, “he and his friend Imran would sit together and drink together.” Imran, a Muslim known in the area as both Mohammed Imran and Shahid Imran, had a barbershop on the main road, just opposite Masih’s home. Last Wednesday, according to Sabir and others, as the two friends sipped some hooch brewed locally, the conversation apparently turned toward each other’s religions. It isn’t clear what was said. Accounts within the community differ. “Imran called Sahwan a choora,” says Amir Gill, a pastor and local resident who says he witnessed the argument. The word is a pejorative used to insult members of Punjab’s Christian community, who suffer from as much a caste prejudice as a religious one. In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthiest province, most of the Christians are evangelical converts, formerly low-caste Hindus who were branded as “dirty” by Pakistani bigots. Many are able to find work only as sanitation workers, menial jobs reserved for those at the bottom of the social ladder. The residents in the area don’t know what Masih said exactly in reply. Gill, who works in a government department during the day and serves his evangelical local community in the evening, said he heard Masih saying something about “getting back at Imran and his Muslims.” Word of the exchange seems to have traveled through the local area over the next couple of days. A friend of Imran’s known as Chico Shafiq then apparently attempted to avenge the alleged insult. He took large dagger, residents say, and waited outside Masih’s home, demanding he come out. It was at this time that the local steel-trading community allegedly got involved. The Badami Bagh area is famous for its many steel mills. Sprawling compounds produce endless steel beams and rods that are then stacked high on the back of brightly painted trucks and delivered to construction sites across Punjab. The local bosses of the area are having election. Vast billboards with unsmiling mustachioed men running for president and other posts bear down from most buildings’ walls in the area. Somehow, the blasphemy allegation turned into a campaign issue, the residents say, because the accusation always has popular resonance — and little opposition. In Pakistan, few dare counter allegations of blasphemy for fear of being denounced as blasphemers themselves. “On Friday, the candidates announced a strike after Friday prayers,” says Gill. The crowd was a mix, Gill and other residents say, of Muslim worshippers emptying out of a local mosque, a gang of boys and supporters of the candidates standing for the steel-traders’ elections. “Sever the head of the blasphemer” was one of the slogans they were chanting, says Gill. The police in the area staved off the attacks the first night. But they offered little resistance on Saturday morning, when another strike was called and the door-to-door attacks began through an emptied Badami Bagh. In chilling photographs taken during the assault, a group of teenage boys is seen attacking the homes in the Christian colony. In some of the shots, they pose defiantly for the camera, some wearing triumphant grins and holding aloft sticks, as a bright fire blazes behind them. In other photographs, they can be seen splashing chemicals from bottles and containers onto already raging flames. The flammable chemicals, says Sajjad Mushtaq, 25, another local resident, appear to have come from the local steel mills. Another resident produces two blackened plastic bottles that apparently contained chemicals that were hurled into his home. Last Christmas, adds Mushtaq, a gang apparently made up of the most of the same teenage boys went to the colony to taunt and threaten residents celebrating the holiday. Outside Masih’s home on the main road, a crowd of Christian protesters has formed. They demand that he be released. The police say they have taken him into “protective custody,” but few Christians accused of blasphemy ever manage to secure a release. “I want my son back, please bring my son back,” wails Zahida Parveen, Masih’s mother. The combination of pressure from angry mobs, threats from local clerics and a paralyzing fear among politicians and judges means an individual can be charged with blasphemy on little or no evidence — a charge that carries the death penalty. Elsewhere in Lahore on Sunday, members of the Christian community, calling attention to their latest tragedy, blocked two main roads. They are emulating Pakistan’s Shi‘ite population, who earlier took to the streets after three major attacks this year. One banner reads: “Who Will Protect Us?” In what is becoming one of the bloodiest years for Pakistan’s long-suffering religious minorities, no one seems to have an answer.