Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Karzai Meets With Youth, Talks About Elections, BSA

At a gathering organized for Afghan youth in Kabul on Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai spoke to a crowd of hundreds of young Afghans from around the country about the importance of the upcoming elections and the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. The gathering on Tuesday organized by the Youth Secretariat, a part of the Ministry of Information and Culture, saw over 400 hundred young Afghans from around the country converge on the capital. President Karzai said that the elections were the only way to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. He warned that if the elections were not held it would threaten the future of Afghanistan. "Elections are the strength and stability of Afghanistan and there should be no doubt whether or not the elections will be held on time," President Karzai said. Concerns about whether or not the elections will be held on time, or at all, have primarily been related to security concerns. Nevertheless, in addition to security threats, many Afghans have expressed worries about the potential for fraud and other improprieties in the elections, which were a major problem in 2009. President Karzai assured those present at the event on Tuesday that the upcoming elections would be held in a transparent manner and he would not allow any foreign entities to interfere with the process. "The elections would be impartial and no foreign entities will be allowed to interfere," Karzai said. According to a recent survey conducted by Asses, Transform and Reach Consulting in five provinces, 50% of respondents said they agreed with the statement "the foreigners might interfere in the results of the elections," while only 17% said they didn't agree. When asked about the BSA, President Karzai said that he would sign the agreement only if security is assured by it, the foreign troops can guarantee Afghan sovereignty and the strengthening of the Afghan forces. "Security must be provided and if there is an American base and security is not provided, it is not acceptable to us. Also, strengthening of the Afghan security forces and respect for national sovereignty are some of our pre-conditions," Karzai said. BSA talks were stalled back in June when the Afghan President froze them out of frustration with the U.S. over the botched attempt at negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar. Although they soon recommenced, it has been no secret that there has been tension between Washington and Kabul over them. Back in July, U.S. officials said they would give Kabul until October to finalize the agreement. It is unlikely any American troops will stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014 if an accord is not met, which is an outcome – called the "zero option" – that the U.S. has floated in apparent attempts to put pressure on the Karzai administration. Most experts say a comprehensive withdraw of U.S. forces would be extremely dangerous for Afghan security in the coming years. Before the security transition enters its last months, however, Presidential and Provincial elections are set to take place are taking up much of the focus of the Afghan government and public. They are scheduled to take place on April 5. The nomination filing process for candidates began on Monday. With only 19 days remaining for the nomination filing process to end, news about the probable candidates is expected to start opening up over the coming weeks. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) will announce the names of the electoral candidates on October 16.

U.S. poverty rises despite economic recovery

The number of U.S. residents living in poverty edged up to 46.5 million last year, the latest sign that an economic recovery marked by a stock market boom has not trickled down to ordinary Americans. The figures from the Census Bureau on Tuesday highlighted the lingering scars from the 2007-2009 recession and added fresh fuel to debates over government austerity and widening income inequality. It could also renew calls to raise the minimum wage. Although the number of people in poverty went up from 46.2 million in 2011, the national poverty rate was unchanged at 15 percent, the annual report said. The poverty threshold in 2012 was an income of $23,492 for a family of four. "Today's data underscore that it is time for Congress to pivot from a focus on austerity to an agenda emphasizing jobs and shared economic growth," said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group in Washington. The recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s has been marked by a jump in stock prices to record highs, aided in part by the Federal Reserve's ultra easy monetary policy. While the Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 16 percent on a total return basis last year, including reinvested dividends, the Census Bureau report showed median household income slipped to $51,017 from of $51,100 in 2011. The economy has struggled to sustain growth rates of more than 2.5 percent since the recession ended. Although the bulk of the more than 8 million jobs lost during the downturn have been recouped, many of the jobs have been in services industries such as retail and restaurants that typically do not pay well. Belt-tightening in Washington to slash the government's budget deficit has significantly shrunk the social safety net. About 16.1 million children and 3.9 million people aged 65 years and older were living in poverty last year. "Millions are struggling to keep their heads above water, while the richest one percent is doing better than ever," said Joan Entmacher, vice president of Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center in Washington. MORE HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE There was some encouraging news in the report. About 48 million people did not have health insurance last year, down slightly from 48.6 million in 2011. The number with health insurance rose to 263.2 million in 2012 from 260.2 million the prior year. The rate of uninsured people declined for a second straight year since President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. Much of the decline was due to an increase in enrollment in the Medicare program for Older Americans as the population aged, said Brett O'Hara, chief of the health and disability statistics branch of the Census Bureau. O'Hara also cited expansion of government-paid coverage for children. The U.S. government expects further declines in the uninsured rate. About 9 million people are expected to gain insurance through the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor in 2014, now planned in about half of U.S. states. An additional 7 million people are expected to buy insurance in 2014 on subsidized, state-based public exchanges set up under the law. Employment-based insurance coverage fell to 54.9 percent from 55.1 percent. The rate of people insured through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid rose to 32.6 percent from 32.2 percent. In 2012, the uninsured rate for households with annual income less than $25,000 was 24.9 percent compared with a 7.9 percent rate for those households with income of $75,000 or more, the report said. The uninsured rate for children in poverty was 12.9 percent compared with 7.7 percent for children not in poverty, the Census found.

Malala receives top Amnesty award

Rights group Amnesty International announced on Tuesday it had awarded its highest honour to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot in the head last year by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education. Malala will share the 2013 Ambassador of Conscience Award with American singer and human rights activist Harry Belafonte, the London-based NGO revealed. The award, which recognises “individuals who have promoted and enhanced the cause of human rights through their life and by example,” will be presented by Irish rock singer Bono at a ceremony in Dublin, Ireland, on Tuesday. “Our two new Ambassadors of Conscience are different from each other in many ways, but they share a dedication to the fight for human rights everywhere and for all,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “Harry and Malala are truly Ambassadors of Conscience, speaking up for universal rights, justice and human dignity and inspiring others to follow their example. ”Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban on a school bus last October, an attack that drew worldwide condemnation. She was flown to Britain for surgery for her head injuries and returned to school in Birmingham in March. The 16-year-old said she was “truly honoured” to receive the award. “I would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that there are many millions of children like me across the world who fight every single day for their right to go to school,” she added. “I hope that by working together we will one day realise our dream of education for every child, in every corner of the world.” Emmy award winner Belafonte paid tribute to his co-winner. “I am especially honoured to receive the Ambassador of Conscience Award because I am having the distinction of sharing this with Malala Yousafzai, a true hero of our time,” he said. “My admiration for her is unending. She has awakened many in the global family to a commitment in struggle against tyranny. For all this I remain eternally grateful.”

Pakistan: Inflation rate reversal of positive economic trend

Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian Sindh chapter General Secretary Taj Haider termed the rising inflation rate and the raising of Bank Rate by the State Bank of Pakistan as reversal of a positive economic trend, which would result in serious consequences for national economy. Haider reminded that back in 2008 when the PPP government had taken over the inflation rate in Pakistan had touched 25 percent. That rate was gradually brought down with sound economic policies of raising national production. In June 2013, inflation rate had come down to as low as 5.8 percent. Quite alarmingly in August and September 2013 it had risen to 8.5% and 8.9 percent indicating a serious trend of rapidly rising inflation in the country. The Bank Rate in 2008 was abnormally high at 14 percent. This had greatly raised the cost of doing business. PPP government was repeatedly advised against bringing down the Bank Rate as according to text book economists a reduction in Bank Rate creates inflationary pressures, he said adding that the PPP government faced the challenge in order to boost production and to promote business activity and started reducing the Bank Rate gradually. By the end of its tenure PPP government had brought down the Bank Rate by a full 5 percentage points to 9 percent. He was of the opinion that the recent increase of the Bank Rate by half percentage points had obviously been made with the purpose of arresting inflation. However, in the present scenario it will have just the opposite effect by raising the cost of doing business, restarting production and causing lay-off of workers and employees. He said that a vicious negative economic cycle had been set in by the present government in its first 100 days by raising the prices of wheat, electricity, petroleum and petroleum products and now by increasing the Bank Rate.