Monday, December 1, 2014

Video Music - Pharrell Williams - Happy

Video - President Obama on World AIDS Day 2014

Western academics OK human rights abuses in the Gulf

Alastair Sloan 

Mass abuse of migrant workers by the Gulf monarchies and sheikhdoms has a fan-club in the West; a clique of academics, lawyers and ideologues who think that exploitative labour is OK. The last few months have seen a major push from this group to help the GCC states get off the hook following bad publicity, by applying their free market ideology to human suffering. Their arguments are extremely worrying.
Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, professors in economics and law at the University of Chicago, penned an article recently for The New Republic, entitled "A Radical Solution to Global Income Equality: Make the US More Like Qatar." The pair suggested that inviting large numbers of migrant workers to the US would redistribute global wealth faster than foreign aid programmes. They brushed aside human rights concerns: "Qatar would not welcome so many migrant workers if it had to give them generous political and civil rights; in fact, Gulf states explicitly seek non-Arab, dark-skinned migrants so as to minimise the risk that nationals will sympathise, fraternise or intermarry with migrants (who would then demand permanent residence, if not citizenship)."
Proposing a similar policy for the United States, a country that already has such profound issues with racial inequality, this rhetoric is worrying, although not, it seems, for Posner and Weyl. "Reducing inequality will require uncomfortable trade-offs," they conclude.
When a Human Rights Watch researcher tweeted a link to the article in question, Weyl fired back from the hip, tweeting that the organisation was "excluding the poor from a future"; calling HRW somewhat sarcastically "human rights heroes"; and with even more sarcasm, saying: "It is your job to decide what is good for the world's poor, even if they violently disagree... Glad they're in hands of group that doesn't care about consequences."
Posner published another piece in the United Kingdom; "The twilight of human rights law" called for countries to consider the migrant worker model favoured in the Gulf. "Human rights advocates often pressure countries with guest worker systems to grant guest workers the full panoply of rights," he argued. Describing this as "rigid utopianism", he added that if Gulf States were forced to recognise human being as human beings, "they will often choose to keep them out."
An economist at the Centre for Global Development, a Washington DC think tank, and the International Organisation for Migration, Michael Clemens, is referenced frequently in Posner and Weyl's work. The IOM is partly funded by the United Arab Emirates, which is complicit in the abuse of migrant workers. Clemens admits to having work funded by the IOM. He has also written a paper linked to the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, an Abu Dhabi think tank funded by the country's ruling family. The paper called for Gulf think tanks to push his colleagues' message that the economic benefits of migrant labour outweigh the human rights abuses from which many workers suffer.
Of course, if you take Posner, Weyl and Clemens as economists, their arguments have some validity. There is no denying that remittances from the Gulf provide sources of otherwise inaccessible income to several developing countries, notably India and, increasingly, east African nations. However, the real world can't be plotted on a graph. It's difficult to explain to a Filipino domestic worker who is raped repeatedly by her Saudi Arabian employer, upon whose grace her continued visa status depends, that her ordeal is acceptable because, on average, an economists' graph shows that her country is getting wealthier. Nor is it easy to explain to an Indian construction worker that being denied his wages, having his passport confiscated or being deported back to poverty if he objects to such employment conditions is justifiable for macro-economic reasons.
It is imperative that Western academics do not pander to the Gulf status quo. The incentives to do so, however, are increasing. Some of the best funded think tanks in Washington are funded by GCC countries. The United Arab Emirates funds the London School of Economics Middle East research programme in its entirety, and contributes to half a dozen more top universities in Britain. New York University is currently building a new branch in Abu Dhabi, using migrant labour to do so; the British Museum in London has a stake in the project. Both have hired public relations agencies to deal with the predicted media fall out, but are desperate for the cash.
There is a case for migrant labour in the Gulf as a way to generate wealth for poor countries. There is also a case for a little more humanity in how such labour is recruited and workers are treated. Offering the rights to change employer, strike and have access to effective legal redress if wages go unpaid, is not a great ask for a government. Clemens, Posner and Weyl say that the Bin Zayeds, the House of Saud and the Al-Thanis cannot be pushed to offer workers more rights. My question is simple: why not?

Palestinian cause most affected by ongoing events - President al-Assad

President Bashar al-Assad received Monday members of the general secretariat of the Union of Palestinian Communities in Europe who wrapped up a recent conference in Damascus.
The secretariat’s chairman Dr. Radi al-Shoaibi led the delegation.
President al-Assad stressed during the meeting that the secretariat choosing Damascus to hold the conference in despite circumstances in Syria and the region carries significant implications, especially the Palestinians’ appreciation for Syria’s key role in championing the Palestinian cause.
It also signifies, added the President, that the Syrian people remain committed to supporting the Palestinian people whatever the challenges as “the Palestinian cause is the most affected by the events unfolding on the Arab arena.”
الرئيس 2
Palestinian communities in Europe have a pivotal role in explaining Arab causes and the dangers posed by Western policies in the region and the world, the President said, affirming Syria’s support for these unions and gatherings that reflect the pulse of Palestinian and Arab peoples.
The secretariat’s members thanked Syria for its support for the Palestinian people, vowing to remain faithful to Syria that has made great sacrifices in support of their cause.
The war against the Syrian people is due to their national and pan-Arab stances, they added.
The General Union of Palestinian Communities in Europe on Sunday wrapped up the 3rd general conference in Damascus with a closing statement pledging unlimited support for the Syrian people, army and leader.
The statement expressed utter rejection of foreign interference in the Syrian internal affairs.

European media see racial discrimination, wealth gap as root causes of Ferguson case

The Ferguson incident has come as a result of a deep-rooted mindset of racial discrimination and the increasingly widening wealth gap in the United States, major newspapers of some European countries say.
Greek media have been following the incident, which has sparked widespread protests after a white police officer shot dead a black teenager, almost on a daily basis since August.
Commentators pointed to social inequality and racism that are still prevailing in the U.S. society.
"The news is bad for those who still believe in the American Dream, in particular those who were born black, Spanish, poor and the shrinking middle class nowadays ... More and more realize that the distance between theory and reality is enormous," Irene Psichari, a Greek columnist, wrote in an article carried by the daily newspaper Vima.
According to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, about 46.5 million Americans lived in poverty, a record high in the bureau's 54-year-old history. White Americans, who accounted for 64 percent percent of the country's population, controlled 88 percent of the wealth.
The article quoted Erik Olin Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as saying: "The U.S. society does not offer opportunities to the poor and President (Barack) Obama did nothing for the redistribution of wealth."
"The mass protests are not a reaction to one incident -- (Michael) Brown's killing, but a reaction to the racism which is still a plague for U.S. today ... The impression that under a black president the country has become more liberal and progress has been achieved in social justice is wrong," Nema Jordan, an Afro-American student at Berkley University told Daphne Majiaraki, a Greek fellow student, who wrote a commentary for the Kathimerini newspaper.
"White bullets, black targets" was the characteristic title of another article carried by the daily newspaper Avgi.
"How is it possible that a country which so easily starts wars across the globe to 'safeguard human rights' violates them so clearly at home? Why does the first black president in U.S. history have so little to say for a justice system which remains so obviously racist, after so many decades of struggle for more rights?" Michalis Trikkas, another columnist, said in the article.
In a commentary, Russian newspaper Vzglyad said the incident showed that the United States applies totally different standards of approaches to itself than to the rest of the world
"This is not normal for the country which declares itself a beacon, a guiding star and a model that other nations should follow," the commentary said.
"The so-called ethnic integration in the United States exists in the propaganda. In fact, real integration of different ethnics and civilizations in the country has yet to come," it added.
Mrutyuanjai Mishra, an expert in human rights, said in an article carried by the Danish newspaper Politiken that racial discrimination is still a major problem in the United States.
A study showed that the difference in income between the white and the black in the country is bigger than that of South Africa during the apartheid regime, he said.
"If the black, brown and less privileged can have access to good education and jobs and experience greater justice through the legal system, it will automatically show up on crime statistics with the lucky twist -- less crime in general," he added.
In the view of Mads Fuglede, the Ferguson turmoil was rooted in the long-standing discontent among the black.
"This case is not so much about Michael Brown... What is going on is a product of U.S. history. The U.S. has been a society which has made promises of a better life -- a life with opportunities for social mobility, where generations are experiencing growth," he said.
"It is a fundamental consequence of the fact that African-Americans do not feel that they have the same access to the American dream," he added.

China slams British lawmakers' attempt to visit Hong Kong

China on Monday explained the refusal to allow British lawmakers to visit Hong Kong and urged them not to interfere in HK affairs.

"The Chinese central government and the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have told Britain several times that they resolutely opposed the so-called delegation of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee going to Hong Kong for a so-called investigation and asked for the visit to be canceled," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a press briefing.

She was responding to a question regarding remarks by the chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee saying China had acted in an overtly confrontational manner by refusing their access.

Hua said if certain British lawmakers were determined to do this, that would be genuinely overt confrontation and not beneficial for Sino-British ties.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, and HK affairs are purely China's internal affairs, said the spokesperson.

"China has many times expressed its firm opposition to any foreign government, organization or person's interference in HK affairs," she added.

China has always attached great importance to Sino-British ties, which meet the common interests of both countries and peoples, she said.

"The door is always open to those who are committed to enhancing Sino-British ties. Meanwhile, we firmly oppose and will never allow anyone interfere in our internal affairs," she said.

Increasing Hong Kong residents demand end to Occupy Central

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said here Monday that a series of polls have indicated that more and more HK residents demand an end to the Occupy Central Movement and he urged remaining protesters to leave the occupied sites.
Leung said to media that the protesters charged police cordon lines and police responded with tolerance. However, Leung said that if the situation deteriorates, "police will enforce the law resolutely."
Protesters unlawfully gathered on Sunday night and Monday morning for planning and organizing the storming of police cordon lines and blockading access to the Central Government Offices (CGO) and Lung Wo Road.
During the jostling, the radicals deliberately threw objects including water bottles, helmets and pepper powders at police officers. They also used strong flashlights against police officers and attacked them with fire extinguisher spray.
To prevent the situation from deteriorating, police took resolute action by using appropriate force to stop these illegal acts.
Meanwhile, the radical protesters ignored repeated police appeals and warnings, continuing to charge the police cordon lines.
Eleven police officers were injured during the incident and 40 persons have been arrested so far.
Leung said a number of polls have revealed that public tolerance towards the Occupy Central Movement was decreasing while demand for police clearance was increasing.
Leung noted that over the past two months, blockade of roads has dented HK's international image and caused damage to economy.
Leung stressed that the police and HK authorities have the responsibility to restore social order as soon as possible and protect public safety.

Video Report - U.S. troops and veterans warned of IS attacks

Video - Holder Announces Plan to Target Racial Profiling

Video - Obama: Don't Want 'militarized' Police Culture

Video - USA: Obama wants to fund 50,000 body-cams for cops

Video Report - Ebola Virus: Grave digging in Sierra Leone

Well-Known Bahrain Activist Maryam al-Khawaja Sentenced to Prison

A top Bahraini prosecutor says that the country's higher criminal court has sentenced well-known activist Maryam al-Khawaja to one year in prison for assaulting police officers during questioning.
Al-Khawaja was tried in absentia. The dual Danish-Bahraini national left to Copenhagen soon after a travel ban against her was lifted in October.
Prosecutor Abdullah Al-Dosari said in a statement Monday the court found her guilty of an assault on police personnel that led to injuries.
The 27-year-old said in a statement that she had expected to be sentenced on what she called "trumped up charges" of assaulting the policewomen at Bahrain's International Airport in August.
She spent three weeks in jail for the incident. Her father is serving a life sentence for his role in Shiite-led protests against the Sunni monarchy.

Did ISIS Attack Kobani from Turkey?

Jamie Dettmer

Islamic militants have stepped up their assault on the Syrian border town of Kobani, challenging once again the American-led efforts to help defend it from the air.
On Saturday fighters from the so-called Islamic State launched five suicide bomb attacks and used tanks to shell Kurdish defenses on the west of the besieged town. Kurdish commanders claimed the jihadists used Turkish territory to mount one of the suicide attacks—the Turkish government has been accused of favoring the Islamic militants—but Ankara flatly denied that was the case.
The redoubled offensive began when a suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle detonated his explosives on the main border crossing between Kobani and Turkey, says Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party. He claimed fighters from the self-styled Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, also used grain silos just inside Turkey in the assault. The militants “used to attack the town from three sides,” Khalil said. “Today, they are attacking from four sides.” 
Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobani, said the first car bomb killed two people. He said two suicide efforts to the south of the town were halted with Kurdish fighters killing the bombers before they could reach their targets inside the town.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition activist network, seconded the Kurdish claims about ISIS using Turkish territory and said more than 40 fighters on both sides died in the renewed fighting.
But Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s vehemently dismissed the accusations that jihadists had launch a bombing run from Turkey saying Turkish security forces were maintaining “all necessary precautions” along the border.
ISIS “used to attack the town from three sides. Today, they are attacking from four sides.”
This isn’t the first time Turkey has been accused of laxity policing the ten-mile stretch of the border facing Kobani. Local Turkish-Kurdish farmers have been reporting for weeks that they see militants slip back and forth, especially to the west of the mainly Kurdish town, and Kurdish activists have photographed ISIS fighters apparently fraternizing with Turkish soldiers at the final Turkish border fence, which would put them, officially, inside Turkey. Jihadists have been spotted before firing from the grain silos north of the battered town in a border zone where the demarcations are not entirely clear. 
Launching a suicide attack from Turkish territory would be a first, however, and European security sources monitoring the fighting questioned the accusation. They say it’s unlikely the suicide bomber who mounted the attack close to the border gate started out from Turkey. More likely he drove parallel to the border on the Syrian side before detonating the explosives.
For Ankara to allow a suicide bomber through to launch a flagrant attack at this moment also would appear to be odd timing. Peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have picked up in recent days. The imprisoned leader of the outlawed PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, told a delegation of Kurdish politicians visiting him at his prison on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul that a peace deal to end the decades-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey might be attainable in the next four or five months, if negotiations are handled with determination.
The weekend clashes in Kobani, where jihadists first launched an offensive in mid-September, capturing almost half of the town as well as dozens of nearby Kurdish villages, marks an escalation in the fighting. Redoubled U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic militants had assisted the Kurdish fighters along with Syrian rebel reinforcements and a detachment of Iraqi Kurds to push the jihadists back.
At the weekend U.S. warplanes again launched airstrikes on jihadists fighters in Kobani and mounted 30 air strikes on against the ISIS stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa.


Women belonging to Iraq's Yazidi minority, who follow a religion that is neither Christian nor Muslim, have borne much of the worst of the horrors to which Islamic State terrorists subject so-called "infidels." Turned into sex slaves for and sold as wives to jihadists, the Iraqi doctors who treat them say the abuse is often beyond anything they have seen.

Speaking anonymously to Niqash, a publication focusing on Iraqi issues, doctors working in and around Mosul, the largest city in Iraq under Islamic State control, say Yazidis are among the most abused of those facing extinction at the hands of the terrorist group.
“It is a public, collective act of rape," said one doctor, who remained anonymous for fear of retribution from Islamic State terrorists. "I treated about ten women and I was stunned to find one who was just 13 years old. Her mental and physical health were very bad," he noted.
Another woman arrived in a such a state that doctors almost pronounced her dead. "She had been on a hunger strike after being raped by several of the IS gunmen and if she had not been brought to hospital, I am sure she would be dead by now," the doctor said.
Another doctor in Mosul told the story of "Layla," a Yazidi girl who is the focal point of the article, perhaps because hers was the story doctors could tell with the most detail. Layla was not a sex slave, but married off to a jihadist, one who forced her to convert to Islam and was clearly abusive. Layla was brought to live in the small town of Tal Afar, where her Arab neighbors noticed her deterioration, and finally one woman requested that her husband let her travel to Mosul for medical treatment. He, surprisingly, acquiesced, though demanding another Islamic State jihadist accompany the women.
A doctor described Layla as "pale and she had physical and psychological pain,” yet by virtue of being relatively intact, he said, "she was in better condition than some of the other Yazidi women we have treated here. Those women were beaten because they did not yield to the demands of the IS group members.”

The plight of Yazidi women during the Islamic State takeover of northern Iraq has become one of the most catastrophic humanitarian disasters of this war. The few that have escaped tell of a miserable existence in terrorist-run brothels, in which the jihadists force themselves by the dozen on the women, some barely adolescents. The brothels are often run by women, the wives of Islamic State jihadists or recruits to the Islamic State themselves, many from Western countries. While the number of Yazidis being subjected to this abuse remains unknown, it is estimated that it may be in the thousands, with reports of hundreds of Yazidi women being abducted in individual attacks on towns.



Outside Syria, support for ISIS in social media although is a minority among online communities, but rises significantly.For example Forty-seven per cent of studied tweets and posts from Qatar are pro ISIS.
Support for so-called “Islamic State” (Isis) among Arabic-speaking social media users in Belgium, Britain, France and the US is greater than in the militant group’s heartlands of Syria and Iraq, a global analysis of over 2m Arabic-language online posts has found, as Guardian reports.
In what is understood to be the first rigorous mass analysis of those for and against the world’s largest terrorists organization, Italian academics found that in a three-and-a-half month period starting in July, content posted by Arabic-speaking Europeans on Twitter and Facebook was more favorable to Isis than content posted in those countries on the frontline of the conflict.
In Syria, Isis appears to be dramatically losing the battle for hearts and minds with more than 92% of tweets, blogs and forum comments hostile to the militants who have rampaged through the east of the country and western Iraq, seizing tracts of territory and declaring the establishment of a religious state.
The terrorist militants are known for operating a slick propaganda machine – managing online distribution in order to successfully evade content controls, piggybacking popular online conversations and galvanizing thousands of global supporters into spreading their message.
Their efforts appear to be having an effect. Outside Syria, support for Isis, always a minority among online communities, rises significantly. Forty-seven per cent of studied tweets and posts from Qatar, 35% from Pakistan, 31% from Belgium and almost 24% of posts from UK and 21% from the US were classified as being supportive of the terrorist organization compared with just under 20% in Jordan, Saudi Arabia (19.7%) and Iraq (19.8%).
Dr Luigi Curini from Voices from the Blogs, a company set up by academics from Milan University that has been pioneering new forms of large-scale analysis of online opinions, known as sentiment analysis, says the research is good evidence for the proposition that to know Isis up close is to be hostile to them.
The team, including statistician Professor Stefano Iacus, political scientist Andrea Ceron, and translators, found there was also an intense battle raging over Islamic State’s religious legitimacy.
Out of the vastly larger proportion of anti-Isis comments in the posts studied, one out of three (32.8%) criticises Isis for abusing Islam and using the faith as a cover for pursuing power and other “private” interests.
One tweet collected by the team on 23 September read: “They are tyrants and have marred Islam. Everyday Isis makes Islam wear the mask of a barbarous sexual monster.”
Almost a third (29%) of anti-Isis posts expressed horror or outrage towards the group’s violent methods and a further 17% aired fears of the group’s hostility to religious and political freedoms, the study found.
Meanwhile, nearly all of the smaller global community of Isis supporters – making up just over 20% of the 2m posts – championed the group for defending or “unifying” the global community of believers or spreading their faith.
Perhaps counter to western expectations, only 8.3% of pro-Isis posts were supportive of the group for being an enemy of the west.
Curini said it was good news that Isis was being massively attacked online over its claim to be Islamic, as it demonstrated just how weak their theological standing was among online Muslims. “I’d be more worried if people, when they attack Isis, when they say something negative about Isis, they talk only about terrorism, or violence … and they weren’t considering the religious issue.”
The team say their peer reviewed methods have a 95%-98% accuracy rate.

Trawling for Isis-related words such as Syria, the caliphate, and the name of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the team manage to collect 2,195,000 public posts on social media, 93% of which came from Twitter and the rest from public Facebook pages, forums and blogs. Posts which did not express any clear opinion were ignored.
Form 1 July until 22 October, the study tracked shifts in sentiment over some of the most dramatic events of Syrian conflict this year, including Isis’s attack on the Yazidi minority and its swift advance across western Iraq, the publication of videos showing the beheadings of hostages, the bombings of Isis positions by the US and a consortium of other Arab countries, and the siege of the Kurdish town of Kobani.
Violence appears to mobilise people against the perpetrators, the study found. The beheading of British aid worker David Haines on 13 September and the start of US-led bombardment of Isis positions in Syria on 23 September were followed by large anti- then pro-Isis reactions.
The team also collected and analyzed over 90,000 Arabic-language news articles to compare the social media posts against. They found the news articles to be hostile to Isis nine times out of 10 and no statistical correlation between the two, suggesting official and often state-controlled media were not controlling opinions online. “By analyzing social media we can see there is not always this homogenous sentiment against Isis,” Curini said.

Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists

A new study shows that internet trolls really are just terrible human beings.
In this month's issue of Personality and Individual Differences,a study was published that confirms what we all suspected: Internet trolls are horrible people. 
Let's start by getting our definitions straight: An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their commentsexcept to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response. 
What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out.
They conducted two online studies with over 1,200 people, giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. They were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the "Dark Tetrad" of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism,psychopathy, and sadism. 
They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite Internet activity. To get an idea of how much more prevalent these traits were among Internet trolls, see this figure from the paper:

Look at how low the Dark Tetrad scores are for everyone except the trolls! Their scores for all four traits soar on the chart. The relationship between trolling and the Dark Tetrad is so significant that the authors write in their paper:

"... the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists." [emphasis added]
Trolls truly enjoy making you feel bad. To quote the authors once more (because this is a truly quotable article): "Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!"
The next time you encounter a troll online, remember:
  1. These trolls are some truly difficult people.
  2. It is your suffering that brings them pleasure, so the best thing you can do is ignore them. 

Video Report - GOP staffer out after comments on first daughters

Video Report - Where did Aids come from?

How Obama and the Democrats can save their agenda


President Obama issued a veto threat last week against a corporate tax-cutting orgy that promised the world to many powerful interests but did little for the middle class and nothing for low-income Americans. The president’s move was singularly useful. It should be a sign of things to come.
The widespread pessimism about the next two years in Washington is premised on the view that divided government can work only if both sides are reasonable and engage in amiable bargaining. Obviously, given how profoundly conservative Republicans have become and how deeply many of them loathe Obama, that’s not about to happen.
But the coming period could be useful in an entirely different way. There will be a new clarity in the nation’s political argument. No longer will issues be muddled by a divided Congress in which a Republican House could block a Democratic Senate’s initiatives, and vice versa. Now, it will be a Republican Congress vs. a Democratic president. Voters will have a much easier time seeing who stands for what.
Moreover, the president still has a great deal of power. There is the negative power to veto bills, and he needs only one-third of the membership of one house to sustain him. In this configuration, Democrats in the House, far weaker in theory than Democrats in the Senate, become more powerful, given their cohesiveness. If Obama and House Democrats find ways of sticking together, they can prevent the next two years from becoming a festival of reaction.
Something like this happened on the corporate tax deal that was being cooked up between House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The agreement that was in the works would have made a variety of corporate tax breaks permanent while extending others, at an estimated 10-year cost of around $400 billion. Missing from the agreement was any permanence to improvements passed in 2009 to two tax provisions valued by progressives, the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit. It’s also strange that some who claim to care passionately about deficit reduction abandon their inhibitions when corporate tax breaks are on the table.
The emerging accord had already provoked a Democratic revolt led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass). Some of these congressional foes of the package told the White House that a veto threat would make it easier to rally opposition to it. The administration was reluctant to issue one unless it knew its veto could be sustained, but ultimately resolved the chicken-and-egg dilemma by going ahead with the warning. This appears, for now, to have headed off the great tax giveaway.
But if Obama and progressives can cooperate to keep the worst from happening, they — and particularly the president — can also get things done. Obama’s executive actions on immigration squarely challenge congressional Republicans to put up or shut up on their claims that they actually want reform.
Obama could act in other areas as well and in the process send a signal that he wants to do something about stagnating wages. One example: Labor Department regulations could restore overtime pay to most salaried workers by adjusting current limits to account for inflation. This would curb a common practice of reclassifying employees as “managers” to get out of wage-and-hour rules. Would Congress want to block a pay raise for people who work 60 hours a week?
The Obama administration moved on another front last week to curb ozone emissions linked to asthma and heart disease. Republicans said they would try to block the new anti-pollution regulations. Okay, let’s fight it out. Again, conservatives will have to explain why they want to reverse an initiative rather than obstruct action altogether and then blame Obama for being ineffectual.
Yes, such steps will call forth enraged rhetoric about “the imperial president.” But guess what? Starting in the Reagan era, when Democrats controlled Congress, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups put out studies and books attacking “the imperial Congress” because they didn’t like any interference with a president from their own side. It seems that altered political circumstances can lead to neck-snapping changes in convictions that are allegedly rooted in constitutional principle.
Obama and progressives should spend the next two years accomplishing as many useful things as they can, blocking regressive actions by Congress, and clarifying the choices facing the nation’s voters. And they’ll get much further by doing all three at once.

U.S. - Women Who Work

If Peggy Young, who was a driver for United Parcel Service, had had an accident that limited her ability to lift heavy packages, or even lost her license because of driving while intoxicated, U.P.S. would have allowed her to go on “light duty” or assigned her another type of work. But Ms. Young got pregnant. When her doctors told her not to lift packages over 20 pounds to avoid jeopardizing the pregnancy, U.P.S. refused to accommodate her and effectively compelled her to go on unpaid medical leave.
Her case, which has implications for millions of American women and their families, will be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. It is an opportunity for the court to strike a blow against discriminatory treatment and the resulting economic harm that are too often imposed on women who get pregnant — as the vast majority of women entering the work force eventually do.
Although many women can work through an entire pregnancy without job modifications, some — especially those in low-wage jobs requiring long hours, prolonged standing and heavy lifting — may require temporary help to safeguard their own health and their pregnancies.
U.P.S. claims it has a legal right to deny pregnant workers who have temporary physical limitations the flexibility it shows workers with other conditions that similarly affect the tasks they are able to perform. It said its collective bargaining agreement limited work modifications to only three categories: those with injuries that occur on the job; people covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act; and those who lose their Department of Transportation certification because of a legal impediment, like a license revoked for driving while intoxicated. Sorry, pregnancy is not included.
Ms. Young argued in her lawsuit that the policy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the 1978 law that requires employers to give women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions the same accommodations it gives other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
The language is plain and clear, as is the statute’s history, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected Ms. Young’s complaint. It said that respecting the act’s “unambiguous” text would create “anomalous consequences,” allegedly giving pregnant women preferential treatment. That is preposterous. To avoid systematically forcing pregnant workers out of their jobs, the law merely requires employers to treat them as they would treat employees eligible for a change in duty for other reasons.
In a brief filed in October, U.P.S. said it is discontinuing its policy of not accommodating pregnant workers as a matter of “corporate discretion,” but claims the policy was legal and denies any liability for damages. It is good that, beginning on Jan. 1, pregnant U.P.S. employees will be treated better. But the notion that the better treatment is optional should not be allowed to stand.
U.P.S. said it was merely following the same pregnancy policy observed by the United States Postal Service and defended in the past by the Justice Department. But, in a brief supporting Ms. Young’s claim, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. renounced the Justice Department’s stance and said the Postal Service was reviewing its policy. Someone in the Obama administration needs to check how many other parts of the federal government have been following the same unfair policy for pregnant workers and put a stop to it.
Under a plain reading of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and also as a matter of fairness, pregnant workers should be treated no worse than employees who are injured on the job, and the Supreme Court should use the Young case to say so.

Obama to Hold White House Meetings about Ferguson

President Barack Obama is to discuss the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and others at the White House on Monday.
The meeting will focus on a review of federal programs that provide military-style equipment to law enforcement agencies.
Later, Obama meets young civil rights leaders to discuss the challenges posed by "mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color." 
He also plans to meet government and law enforcement officials, as well as community leaders, to discuss how to strengthen neighborhoods.
Protests have continued in Ferguson since a grand jury's decision last week not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black.
Since August, roughly 300 people have been arrested amid the protests, which have been marred by looting and arson attacks. 
Those arrested face charges of unlawful assembly and trespassing, interfering with police activity and resisting arrest, as well as felonies, including second-degree burglary, arson, unlawful firearm possession and assault.
Also Monday in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is to meet with law enforcement officials and city leaders to discuss ways to improve relations between law enforcement and the community.

Music Video - Ahmad Zahir ( Obe derta Rawrlem)

The politics of the Afghan war

By Shahzad Chaudhry

Ashraf Ghani seems like a man with promise. He has got to be. He has taken over as president of Afghanistan at a time when his country seems to have lost its way. Under Hamid Karzai, it wasn’t talking to America, and was hateful towards Pakistan, Afghanistan’s critical neighbour. With a leadership that only huffed and hawed without putting in place a coherent plan of recovery for its polity, economy or society, Afghanistan seemed forever lost.
Ghani has to change all that to regain normalcy. War has fatigue; the Americans, the Taliban, the Afghans, and the Pakistanis, all have hit against that threshold having lived among ruin, blood and turmoil for decades now. And in there lies that window of opportunity that Ghani could exploit to find peace and normalcy, and the process of rebuilding.
Two developments in recent days are instructive. The first thing after the new administration (pun intended) came into power in Kabul, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) was signed, but then in recent days there has been news that President Barack Obama has authorised the continuation of the combat role for his residual forces in Afghanistan even after the planned withdrawal of the rest continues unabated. This is significant, since for the last 18 months, the security transition had meant transferring the mission over to the Afghan forces. Therein, even the chaperoning of the Afghan forces had been discontinued, with the Americans literally restricting themselves to only counterterror missions against al Qaeda. The Taliban were for the Afghans to deal with.
Ghani, perhaps, felt the need for an active American engagement in security operations and found it appropriate to ask for it when signing the BSA. Perhaps, it was Abdullah Abdullah, his partner in power, who pushed Ghani into asking for such re-initiation of the combat role to counter a likely resurgence of the Taliban as a security threat, but in effect use the consequence as a political plank to keep the Pashtun Taliban out of any settlement while retaining eminence in the unity government. It could well have been both; the region though must be ready to deal with the consequence — the Taliban-Afghan government rapprochement may still be months, if not years, away. And that has implications.
One other development was the Pakistani army chief’s recent visit to Washington. It grew in significance as it went along. Perhaps it was there, or during his visit to Kabul before proceeding to Washington, that General Raheel Sharif learnt of the extension of the combat role of the American forces in Afghanistan. It is also possible that it was as a consequence of his discussions with the Americans and the Afghans (remember, Ghani recently was a guest of the general in Rawalpindi) that such revision of the task was instituted. It is likely that the Pakistani Army complained of the sanctuaries that the TTP enjoys in Kunar and Nuristan across the Afghan border even as it fought and dismantled the base of those groups that threatened both Pakistan and Afghanistan from North Waziristan. It is equally likely that the issue of capacities, or lack thereof, came up when discussing the inability and inaction of the Afghan forces to undertake missions to wrest control away from those holding Afghan areas as sanctuaries.
That threw up two options: Pakistan could extend its own capacity and capability to neutralise those who target Pakistani territory from Kunar and Nuristan with implicit diplomatic complexities; or importantly, the US could extend its resident capacity to do the needful. That the latter was politically more acceptable is more than obvious. Relate this to the counterterror strikes that US drones have undertaken in recent days in those areas where there are TTP sanctuaries, with reports that Fazlullah was the intended target. The dots begin to connect.
There were affiliated ramifications, too, of General Raheel’s visit. President Obama had a telephone chat with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the general finished his week-long visit, where the protocol extended to him was nothing short of what is extended to a visiting political head. The Americans have all to be happy for with the general. He has eliminated the Haqqani bases from Pakistan, a long-time American demand, and has hit off well with the new administration in Kabul, which can only mean better chances of finding stability in Afghanistan. Both add credibility to America’s mission as it heads out of Afghanistan. In doing so, the general in turn may have added some space for greater congruence in US-Pakistan relations.
Locally, though, it became a bit awkward. Prime Minister Sharif, on his recent visit to New York, could not elicit such interest from the Americans and his trip was a bland one. With the general, the flavour was entirely different. If he had indeed delved into some effective diplomacy and political closing of ranks with the Americans, it was perhaps appropriate that the prime minister, too, was brought in, even if nominally. Hence, the call. If statements are any indication, the government went on to exact its own price for the varying treatment:Sartaj Aziz, goofed (deliberately?) while referring to why Pakistan would not act against the Haqqanis earlier; while Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was outright critical of American policies, which in his opinion had pushed the region into such turmoil.
The prime minister made two distinct recommendations in turn: he asked the American president to help resolve the Kashmir issue with India, and two, he probably asked him to use some influence on Imran Khan to ease some pressure on his government. The American ambassador duly visited Imran Khan at his residence the next day. Whether this will be sufficient to placate some of the prime minister’s ire remains to be seen. But it has the making of some coordinated functioning among the three sides, perhaps for the first time since 2002 when America first moved into Afghanistan, bringing about a closure to a war that for the most part was fought in fragments and without unity of purpose.
Will this re-found congruence with the Americans be long term? Only time will tell. But what the extended combat role of the American forces will result in — in terms of the Taliban reflux — is a question that will need greater comfort between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that they can tend to their common problem. To meet that challenge, both countries need to hold onto the promise that Ghani exhibits.