Friday, June 30, 2017
The most important aspect of any democratic election is participation. A democracy gains its legitimacy through elections only so far as those elections represent the will of the people. Limit voter participation, and there is a direct correlation between the legitimacy of an election and the democratic system. President Trump and Vice-President Pence’s “election integrity” commission is unequivocally declaring war on voters – our democratic legitimacy be damned.
The commission recently sent a letter to all 50 states asking that they provide all the names and associated birthdays, last four digits of social security numbers, addresses, political parties, and voting histories since 2006 of people on their voter rolls. This letter is helping to lay the groundwork for nationalized voter suppression.
The commission is requesting the same information that Republican state governments have used to create hyper-partisan gerrymandering and enact restrictive voter ID laws. Such measures have been disturbingly successful at suppressing voting of minority and low-income citizens, groups that tend to vote with Democrats. This assault on voters might seem farfetched, except that we’ve seen this strategy too many times before to claim ignorance now.
After slavery ended, white elites invented felony disenfranchisement as a means to delegitimize black citizens and prevent them from gaining influence. We saw Jim Crow gut-punch our democracy in yet another attempt to disenfranchise minorities. We are witnessing history repeating itself.
Nationally, the Democratic party is gaining support as the country’s demographics become increasingly diverse. The majority of black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian voters vote as Democrats. The Republican party has known for several years now that its best tactic to cling to power is not to build a party worth supporting, but to deny participation in the political process to Democratic party voters. Making matters worse, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Office, long heralded as the ultimate guarantor of civil rights, including voting rights, might unknowingly be supporting the commission’s efforts. The Civil Rights Office sent out a letter on Wednesday, the same day as the commission sent its letter, seeking information from states on how they maintain their voter rolls. The office charged with upholding the 1965 Voting Rights Act must resist playing a leading role in further dismantling this most fundamental democratic right.
I would expect these actions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or any of the other authoritarian regimes we have sanctioned around the world – regimes that stay in power by suppressing their people and manipulating election results. We must not lie to ourselves when we see the warning signs here at home. This commission is a harbinger of a top-down, White House-endorsed assault on voters, specifically Democratic voters: the same voters who denied Trump the popular vote.
State leaders have a moral and constitutional obligation to our democracy and to their citizens to refuse to cooperate with this commission. States should refuse to hand over any of the requested voter information, as California, Virginia, Rhode Island and Kentucky have refused to do at this writing. The Connecticut, Oklahoma and North Carolina secretaries of state, on the other hand, have agreed to send “publicly available” information to the commission. This is a mistake.
Our democracy cannot afford to turn over any information now and ask questions later. States turning over any information, including publicly available information, legitimize the commission and betray the trust and privacy of voters. Having publicly available information for in-state use is different from providing information for a national voter database that will be placed at the hands of nefarious actors. States must take a stand to protect their voters’ most fundamental democratic right.
Additionally, Democrats must refuse to participate in the commission. The secretaries of state for New Hampshire and Maine should step down from the commission immediately. Participation risks granting legitimacy where there can be none. Two lone Democrats on this commission will stand no chance of preventing the pre-cooked outcomes. Instead, they and their states are being used to cloak the commission in the guise of bipartisanship. If Democrats refuse to participate, the commission will be left with no clothes on. The litany of research on voting in recent years has failed to come up with but a handful of voter fraud cases. On the other hand, voter suppression techniques, such as those employed by the Republican party, effectively disenfranchise scores of voters across the country. If the real goal of the administration is election integrity, the stated objective from day one should have been to maximize voter participation.
Rather than target minority voters with a modern gloss on McCarthyism, we should be prioritizing a 21st-century Voting Rights Act to protect voting rights and increase access to the ballot box.
Rather than voter ID laws that disenfranchise certain demographics, a new Voting Rights Act could set a national ID standard, granting maximum flexibility to voters. It could also ban felony disenfranchisement in national elections and require publication of new electoral changes to help educate voters.
The options are there to strengthen our democracy and truly protect “one person, one vote”. Instead, this commission appears intent on nationalizing the Republican party’s strategy of “one Anglo-Saxon, financially successful person, one vote”.
Bernie Sanders and James E Clyburn
Community health centers serve roughly 25 million people. We believe our bill will double that number, write senators Bernie Sanders and James E Clyburn.
oday in America, we have a major crisis in primary healthcare. Tens of millions of people, including many with health insurance, are unable to access a doctor or a dentist when they need one. The result is that patients suffer unnecessarily and become sicker than they should. Some end up at expensive emergency rooms and some in hospitals. Our healthcare system wastes billions of dollars on expensive care that could be avoided with a strong primary care system.
Ask any doctor or nurse, and they will tell you this: having reliable access to high-quality primary healthcare is a big part of what keeps people healthy. This is exactly what the more than 1,400 federally qualified community health centers and their 10,000 delivery sites in this country provide every day.
We know community health centers work. Legislation that we introduced in 2009 greatly expanded community health centers as part of the Affordable Care Act, and we are extremely proud of what they are accomplishing. It is time to build on that success.
The bill that we just introduced – the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act – does just that. It calls for a doubling of the number of patients served by community health centers. Under this bill, community health centers throughout the country would be able to increase the number of patients they serve with high-quality healthcare – from roughly 25 million today to 50 million people in the next decade.
We believe that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, every American should have a medical home. This will not only save lives and ease suffering, but will save taxpayer dollars by providing some of the most cost-effective care in the country.
When compared to other providers, community health centers save, on average, $2,371 per Medicaid patient and up to $1,210 per Medicare patient. In one year, they generated more than $24bn in savings to the entire national healthcare system. And because community health centers help people maintain and improve their health and wellness by focusing on primary care that is reasonably priced, they also help people avoid bankruptcy because of unaffordable medical costs.
Our bill also doubles the amount of money for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). At a time when we desperately need more doctors, dentists and nurses in medically underserved areas, this successful federal program provides debt forgiveness for medical professionals who are prepared to practice in communities that need them.
Our bill also includes robust investments in Teaching Health Centers and Nurse Practitioner Residency Training Programs, which train new primary healthcare doctors and nurses – the majority of whom are trained in community health centers and continue working in them after graduating. Today community health centers protect, preserve and improve the health and wellness of 25 million Americans, including some of our country’s most vulnerable residents. In addition to healthcare, they also provide dental care, mental health services and the lowest cost prescription drugs in America.
They provide care to 13 million people in rural communities – most of whom have nowhere else to go. These centers care for 300,000 veterans, tens of thousands of homeless people and roughly 2 million medically underserved seniors. And they do so regardless of a person’s ability to pay, their nationality or religious background, or where they live. In fact, one in three people living in poverty are served by community health centers; one in five who receive health care from them are uninsured.
In the rural states of Vermont and South Carolina, which we represent, community health centers play an enormously important role in the provision of healthcare. In Vermont more than 155,000 people – almost 25% of the state’s population – receive their primary care at community health centers; in South Carolina the number is more than 360,000. For many of these patients, and millions more throughout the country, community health centers are literally the difference between life and death.
In addition, community health centers create jobs and are a boon to local economies in communities that are often struggling. Nearly 190,000 people are employed by community health centers and they generate more than $45bn in total economic activity.
Today, it is vitally important that we fight back against the disastrous Republican “healthcare” plan that would throw 22 million Americans off health insurance while giving $500bn in tax breaks to the very rich and large corporations.
At a time when our healthcare system is facing enormous challenges, this would only make a bad situation much worse. But while we vigorously oppose the Republican plan, it is equally important that we fight for a healthcare system that addresses the real needs of the American people, including millions of Americans who lack access to good quality primary care. The legislation we have introduced is an important step in that direction.
By CHRISTOPHER MELE
Ms. Brzezinski said she believed the tweets were in response to a segment on the show that addressed fake Time magazine covers that Mr. Trump had made up and displayed at his country clubs.
She said she knew he would be “tweaked” by the joking but that it was “unbelievably alarming that this president is so easily played.”
Her co-host, Joe Scarborough, said: “We’re O.K. The country’s not.”
In a pair of tweets on Thursday, the president described Ms. Brzezinski as “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claimed that she had been “bleeding badly from a face-lift” during a social gathering at Mr. Trump’s resort in Florida around New Year’s Eve.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday, Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough said Mr. Trump’s tweets represented a “continued mistreatment of women.”
“It is disturbing that the president of the United States keeps up his unrelenting assault on women,” they wrote. “From his menstruation musings about Megyn Kelly, to his fat-shaming treatment of a former Miss Universe, to his braggadocio claims about grabbing women’s genitalia, the 45th president is setting the poorest of standards for our children.”
The White House did not explain what had prompted Mr. Trump’s outburst, but a spokeswoman said Ms. Brzezinski deserved a rebuke because of her show’s harsh stance on Mr. Trump.
On Friday morning, Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough, who are engaged to be married, focused the discussion on what they said was the president’s “vicious” attacks on women.
“I’m concerned about the messages that are being sent by this president,” Mr. Scarborough said. “You have women who are being constantly degraded.”
Donny Deutsch, a panelist on “Morning Joe,” on Friday morning called Mr. Trump a “vulgar pig.”
In their op-ed and on the air on Friday, the hosts said top members of the White House warned them that The National Enquirer planned to publish a negative article about them unless they called the president to have the story shelved.
Mr. Scarborough said they were repeatedly told that if they called the president and apologized for their coverage, Mr. Trump would intervene on their behalf. “We ignored their desperate pleas,” they wrote.
After the show aired, the fight moved to Twitter. Mr. Trump fired a volley, tweeting that he had watched the “low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time” and called it “FAKE NEWS.”
Referring to Mr. Scarborough, he wrote: “He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show”
Mr. Scarborough responded within minutes, denying Mr. Trump’s claim.
In a statement, The National Enquirer defended an earlier story on Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough and said it had “absolutely no involvement” in any discussions between the co-hosts and the White House.
“At no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story,” said Dylan Howard, the vice president of American Media, Inc., the Enquirer’s publisher.
In their op-ed, Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough disputed the details of Mr. Trump’s Thursday tweets.
His claim that Ms. Brzezinski was bleeding from a face-lift was “a lie,” they wrote, adding: “Mr. Trump claims that we asked to join him at Mar-a-Lago three nights in a row. That is false. He also claimed that he refused to see us. That is laughable.” They wrote: “And though it is no one’s business, the president’s petulant personal attack against yet another woman’s looks compels us to report that Mika has never had a face-lift. If she had, it would be evident to anyone watching ‘Morning Joe’ on their high-definition TV.” Ms. Brzezinski did have a “little skin under her chin tweaked,” but it was not a secret, they wrote. The co-hosts were scheduled to be on vacation on Friday but delayed their plans to appear on the show to respond to the president’s tweets. Until recently, the president had a friendly relationship with the hosts, who were criticized during the campaign for their closeness to the candidate.
In recent months, however, the pair have excoriated Mr. Trump on the air, denouncing his behavior and questioning his mental health — criticisms the president views as a personal betrayal, according to a senior administration official.
Last month, Ms. Brzezinski and Mr. Scarborough told Vanity Fair that the president had offered to officiate at their wedding and host it at the White House or Mar-a-Lago. (Ms. Brzezinski said her answer to that was, “If it weren’t Trump, it might be something to think about.”) Mr. Trump’s invective threatened to further erode his support among Republican women and independents, both among voters and on Capitol Hill, where he needs negotiating leverage for the stalled Senate health care bill.
The tweets ended five months of relative silence from the president on the volatile subject of gender, reintroducing a political vulnerability: his history of demeaning women for their age, appearance and mental capacity.
A spokeswoman for the president, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on Thursday urged the news media to move on. She argued during the White House briefing that Mr. Trump was “fighting fire with fire” by attacking a longtime critic.
A slew of Republicans criticized the president’s comments.
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tweeted: “Stop it! The presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down.”
Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who opposed Mr. Trump’s nomination during the presidential primaries, also implored him to stop, writing on Twitter that making such comments “isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”
A prominent women’s rights advocate in a conservative northern Pakistani region says unidentified attackers have fired two bullets at her house.
Tabassum Adnan told RFE/RL that the attack took place in the Swat district at around 12.45 a.m. on June 30, adding that she was unhurt.
"I received threats before this, including via text messages,” she said. “But I never expected that someone would attack me."
Swat, located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, once was a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban extremist group.
Adnan has established an NGO -- Khwendo Jirga, or Sister’s Council -- to address issues that local women are facing, including honor killings, acid attacks, and other forms of violence.
She was awarded the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.
The annual award recognizes women who have demonstrated "exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk."
Enraged mourners protesting last week’s deadly bombings in Parachinar refused to budge on Wednesday as they rejected monetary compensation offered by the prime minister saying they would not call off their weeklong sit-in until the army chief visits the region.
Premier Nawaz Sharif announced 1 million rupees compensation for the families of every victim of the twin blasts, and 500,000 rupees for the wounded, but the protesters dismissed that, saying “we need to be recognised as human beings first”.
The prime minister has already directed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra to pay the money. Interestingly, the directives came almost a week after the deadly attacks claimed by a faction of the sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Thousands of people began a sit-in at Shaheed Park, Parachinar, soon after the two bombs went off on Friday evening, as shoppers were out buying supplies in preparation for the breaking of the fast on one of the last days of the holy month of Ramazan. At least 75 people were killed and many more wounded when the bombs ripped through the busy marketplace crowded with shoppers. The crowd, already angry over what they see as the failure of authorities to ensure security, has become more enraged by the shooting dead of three protesters by police trying to keep order. Authorities have not confirmed that three protesters were killed, saying only they were investigating.
“We are tired of picking up the dead bodies of our people,” said Arshad Umerzai, the special assistant to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister on technical education. Umerzai said the prime minister and the army chief should visit Parachinar in response to the violence the town has suffered. Sectarian terrorists have repeatedly detonated bombs targeted at the Shia community that lives there.
Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was due to visit the area two days ago, but he had to postpone his visit due to inclement weather.
“Pashtun have become a scapegoat and are being killed everywhere,” Umerzai said. “We will not allow spilling of Pashtun blood anymore,” he added and threatened to bring Peshawar city to a standstill if the federal government failed to meet the demands of Parachinar tribesmen by July 1.
Meanwhile, former interior minister Rehman Malik’s helicopter was not allowed to land in Parachinar. He was accompanied by former deputy speaker of the National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi. “Shortly before the landing, the pilot was told that security agencies have intercepted calls that it would be targeted if it landed,” a close associate of Malik told the media.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari strongly reacted to development, saying: “I cannot understand why Parachinar has been made a no-go area after the bombings.” In a statement Bilawal’s media office quoted him as saying that the PPP delegation had been forced to return.
The PPP also moved an adjournment motion in the Senate to debate the Parachinar bombings and the post-blast deadly shooting by security agencies.
Security forces stopped media crew from travelling into the town to cover the protest on Thursday, saying they needed special permission.
The protesting tribesmen allege that the government was trying to hide the reality “that’s why it is not allowing the media and politicians to visit Parachinar and see the realty for themselves”.
Responding to reports of the shooting of three protestors and the injuring of 16 others in Parachinar, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said:
“It is heart-breaking to see one tragedy so quickly follow another. The people of Parachinar were mourning the loss of more than 67 people in a horrific bomb blast when three more people were shot dead while protesting the violence.
“The authorities must immediately order independent and effective investigations into these deaths. They have a responsibility to respect and protect the rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
By Dilawar Hussain
Citizens of Parachinar began a sit-in protest soon after the two bombs went off last week on Friday evening, as shoppers were out buying supplies in preparation for the breaking of the fast on one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan.
A faction of the Pakistan-based Sunni Muslim militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack in a town where a large number of members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority live.
The crowd, already angry over what they see as the failure of authorities to ensure security, has become more enraged by the shooting dead of three protesters by police trying to keep order.
Authorities have not confirmed that three protesters were killed, saying only they were investigating.
"We are tired of picking up the dead bodies of our people," said Arshad Umerzai, a former provincial government minister.
Umerzai said the prime minister and army chief should visit Parachinar, which is close to the border with Afghanistan, in response to the violence the town has suffered.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced 1 million rupees ($10,000) compensation for the families of every victim of the blasts, and 500,000 rupees for the wounded, but the protesters dismissed that, saying victims of attacks in other places got more, a witness said.
Security forces stopped media crew from traveling into the town to cover the protest on Thursday, saying they needed special permission.
Parachinar is part of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, ethnic Pashtun-majority areas along the Afghan border covered by special laws and regulations.
A former senator, Allama Abid al-Hussaini, said the sit-in, centered in a town park, was estimated to have attracted 70,000 participants on Thursday. A senior government official in the town said tens of thousands joined the protest.
Parachinar had already suffered two bomb attacks this year, before last Friday's blasts, that killed about 50 people.
Religious leader Allama Fida Mazahiri said the killing of the protesters in police firing was particularly infuriating.
"We have sided with the security forces at every turn in fighting terrorism ... but the firing on protesters is uncalled for and action needs to be taken," Mazahiri said.
Probably the most callous thing one can do is to compare tragedies – especially in the current world, where deaths come in varying forms and at an equally precipitous frequency. Juxtaposing reaction to the tragedies, in turn, falls into a similarly inconsiderate bracket.
But while contrasting global outrage to certain events with others might be counterproductive, especially when hashtags are the yardstick, and can eventually metamorphose into acquiescence for all forms of the episode that cause the indignation in the first place, calling out the state rulers’ antipathy over the one set of the citizenry is anything but a case of whataboutery.
And so without the slightest of intents to minimise the agony of the victims of Ahmedpur Sharqia oil tanker fire, and their families, one would have to question why the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hadn’t already cut short his London trip after bombings in Quetta and Parachinar on Friday.
Parachinar, where the death toll from twin bombings has already climbed to 72, has completed a week of mourning and protests, amidst the leaders’ continued indifference to the violence in a city that has been the most victimised this year.
While the PM’s lack of concern was visible over his lack of reaction, the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa saying that the Parachinar attacks were intended to ‘target Eid festivities’ also underscores our collective insensitivity towards the people of Parachinar.
The obliviousness can also be gauged by a leading English daily’s online edition first reporting the bombings as striking ‘Peshawar’s Parachinar area’ in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
At the time of writing, neither the PM nor the Army Chief, has visited Parachinar as yet – the latter citing ‘bad weather’ as reason for continued delay.
If Eid celebrations were the desired target, they have been the aim for jihadists since before the creation of Pakistan, with the Shia majority capital of the Kurram Agency long being the hub of anti-Shia violence.
This year alone Parachinar has witnessed three major terror attacks now, after a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami bombing killed 24 in January, with Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) targeting a local market in March to kill 22.
Both the groups struck in tandem on Friday to target Parachinar and Quetta on Friday. The duo has also overlapped with the ISIS, after paying allegiance to the Middle Eastern terror group, which has formed a global jihadist umbrella that has now well and truly penetrated Pakistan.
More than any festivities being attacked in Parachinar or elsewhere, ISIS affiliated groups are vying to strengthen their stranglehold along the Af-Pak border, where a perpetual political vacuum persists.
While the sectarian strife in Parachinar dates back to the pre-Partition British India, the last decade has been particularly ominous for the local Shia populace with the city put under a Taliban siege after 2007. In the next ten years, the negotiations with the Taliban groups and their constant breaches of the agreements have meant that the locals in Parachinar have had to bear the brunt.
The 2008 Mari agreement allowed the government to target Taliban militants that had blocked the only land route linking the city to the rest of Pakistan: Peshawar-Thall-Parachinar Road. But not only did the Taliban blockade continue for years, the only military action that has been orchestrated by the state has left tens of thousands of citizens from Kurram Agency homeless as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
If there is one city that has epitomised Pakistani state failures on the counterterror front it has been Parachinar – both ideologically and militarily.
As the anti-Shia ideology continues to surge in the region, unchallenged, one jihadist group replaces the other, now culminating in the most grotesque jihadist group the world has seen: the Islamic State.
The state’s indifference to the Parachinar Shia population comes at a time when it is going out of its way to support Saudi Arabia in its military alliance that is increasingly revealing itself to be anti-Shia. And then we have the audacity to say that we won’t let the ‘enemy fan sectarianism’ in Pakistan.
When sectarian foreign policy couples with indifference to the plight of a people of the same sect, we don’t need any enemies to fuel religious extremism and sectarian divide. And before we release any more videos to pin this on RAW, let’s be clear that anti-Shia violence isn’t brewed in New Delhi, but Riyadh. We’ve used the now meaningless phrases like children of a lesser God, or lesser Pakistanis, for the people of Parachinar so frequently that they have lost any intent that they might have once had.
We’ve long abandoned Parachinar and thrown the locals at the mercy of the jihadist groups hungry for the blood of followers of any ideology that differs with their hardline brand of Sunni Islam.
If we believe they’ll stop at the Shia, we’re grotesquely mistaken.