Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Democrats get serious about the next phase of inquiry.Since taking office in 2017, President Trump and his administration have sought to remove — and in some cases, destroy — many of the guardrails of precedent and tradition surrounding the conduct of the executive branch.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to erect a series of guardrails of its own, for the possible impeachment of the president. The resolution now before Congress avoids past missteps by allowing extended questioning of witnesses by staff lawyers before preening lawmakers take the stage, and it sets fair rules that respect precedent.
Such rules are needed because the stakes are so high and the charges against Mr. Trump so serious. The latest bombshell landed Tuesday, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer who serves as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, testified that he was on the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and that he heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Zelensky to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. More concerning, Colonel Vindman shared that the White House’s reconstructed transcript of the call left out some key details — and that administration officials refused his repeated efforts to correct the record before it was released to the public, according to an account in The Times.
Colonel Vindman considered Mr. Trump’s handling of Ukraine so damaging to national security that he reported his concerns to his superiors. Twice.
With such revelations piling up, the White House and its backers have opted for a defense strategy that avoids addressing the president’s actions and focuses instead on discrediting the impeachment process as illegitimate and unfair. They have criticized House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for not holding a formal authorization vote, for conducting closed-door depositions and for denying the president the due process afforded in formal criminal proceedings.
None of these objections hold up. Even so, Democrats aim to address them with the provisions of the resolution they will consider on Thursday.
Central to the resolution’s ambitions are ensuring order, transparency and fairness as the inquiry moves to the public stage. Rules are being set for conducting public hearings (including who gets to question whom and for how long), publicly disclosing depositions and issuing subpoenas. Guidelines have been established for the participation of Mr. Trump and his lawyers and the transfer of evidence from other committees to the Judiciary Committee, where any articles of impeachment would be considered. The rules providing for the minority party to call its own witnesses are basically the same as those set by Republicans during the Clinton impeachment.
Indeed, many of the procedures outlined in the resolution, and in a related set of procedures drawn up by the Judiciary Committee, are in line with those followed in the impeachment inquiries in 1974 and 1998. These include the president receiving copies of all evidentiary material; the president and his counsel being invited to all hearings; and his counsel being permitted to ask questions at the presentation of evidence, submit evidence on the president’s behalf, question witnesses, object to the questioning of witnesses and so on.
Perhaps the most notable departure from precedent is a provision concerning the Judiciary Committee stipulating that if the president “unlawfully” refuses to make witnesses or evidentiary material available to the investigating committees, “the chair shall have the discretion to impose appropriate remedies, including by denying specific requests by the president or his counsel under these procedures to call or question witnesses.” How to determine what qualifies as “unlawful” and what remedies are “appropriate” will most likely provoke heated disagreement. But in light of Mr. Trump’s open policy of obstructionism, Democrats are right to seek extra leverage. The alternative is lengthy litigation, which would chiefly serve the president’s interest.
Procedures like these aim to fulfill Congress’s obligation to be as deliberative, fair and open as possible. That is the right focus. Of course, no matter how many concessions the Democrats make, Republicans will cry foul.In a statement Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, called the inquiry “an illegitimate scam” that left Mr. Trump’s rights “undefined, unclear, and uncertain.” It would be interesting to know what impeachment process the president would approve.As the investigation moves into its public phase, Democrats are determined not to get bogged down in court fights over every document and hostile witness. “We are not willing to let the White House engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts, so we press ahead,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who has been spearheading the investigation.
When Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, defied a subpoena on Monday, after filing a lawsuit last week asking the courts to decide whether he must testify, Mr. Schiff warned that such noncooperation only fueled the case for impeachment. “If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would want him to come and testify,” he said.
This is the right approach. Court cases can and should continue. But if transparency and accountability are the goals of this process, they will be achieved by focusing on those officials who are willing to serve the public interest by testifying under oath about their experiences. The White House is not interested in transparency or accountability, which explains its efforts to stop potential witnesses from appearing.
In other words, process, as important as it is, gets you only so far. Mr. Trump seems to agree. “Process is wonderful,” he told reporters on Monday. “But I think you ought to look at the case.”
Mr. Trump should be careful what he wishes for.
The government’s failure to protect people from exposure to hazardous air in Punjab risks violating their human rights to life and health, Amnesty International said today.
Levels of air quality have been rated “near unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” for most of the year in Punjab. During the “smog season” – from October to January – air quality reaches “hazardous” levels, as recorded by multiple, independent sources including the air quality monitors installed by the United States Consulate in Lahore and the crowdsourced data collated by the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Lahore reached 484 at 10am Pakistan time today. The threshold for “hazardous” levels of air quality is 300, where people are advised to “avoid all physical activity outdoors”.
“The high level of smog is neither a new problem, nor one that came without warning. The government of Pakistan needs to do much more to adequately address such a severe public health crisis - one that endangers people’s health and even their lives,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
There is something very wrong when the air becomes so toxic that you cannot breathe without hurting yourself
Prolonged or heavy exposure to hazardous air can result in severe health issues including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections and heart problems and shortened life expectancy – putting at risk people’s rights to life and to health, as well as the right to a healthy environment.
The so-called “smog season” is where poor fuel quality, uncontrolled emissions and crop burning worsens the quality of the already unhealthy air, from October to December.
According to the 2015 findings of the medical journal Lancet, a whopping 22 percent of annual deaths in Pakistan are caused by pollution, and the majority of those are due to air pollution.
Low income workers, such as labourers, construction workers and farmhands, and marginalized groups are particularly vulnerable as the nature of their work forces them to be exposed to hazardous air throughout the day. The fact that health care is not easily affordable to all means that only those who can afford it will be able to access health care and other preventative measures to mitigate the effects of breathing in hazardous air. Low visibility can also result in accidents and loss of life.
Warmer temperatures, a direct result of climate change, create an environment for smog formation and can lead the air to stagnate – preventing dirty air from leaving an area.
“Air pollution and climate crisis are intricately linked. It exacerbates existing inequalities and paves the way for human rights violations. If authorities continue to stall making concerted efforts to address the smog crisis, it will continue to devastate human life,” said Rimmel Mohydin.
The court-appointed Smog Commission made a number of recommendations in May 2018 including the immediate adoption and implementation of the Punjab Clean Air Action Plan, establishing Smog Response Desks at district levels, adoption of appropriate technologies that reduce emissions of harmful pollutants from brick kilns. Those have only been partially implemented, if at all. Real-time data from the Environment Protection Department on air quality remains unavailable to the public and no efforts are being made to switch to higher quality fuel.
A fundamental shift needs to take place across Pakistan’s industrial, agricultural and transportation practices, to make sure they are consistent with people’s human rights.
“There is something very wrong when the air becomes so toxic that you cannot breathe without hurting yourself. The government can no longer afford to waste time while people are choking to death,” said Rimmel Mohydin.
Reporters Without Borders says regulatory body's 'draconian' orders for TV anchors violate journalistic independence.A media watchdog has condemned a decision by Pakistani authorities ordering news anchors not to express their opinions on air, the latest in a series of assaults on press freedom in the South Asian country. The statement by Reporters Without Borders, released on Tuesday, came after Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) sent the directive to TV channels on Sunday, sparking an outcry from some of the country's most prominent news anchors. The statement asked anchors to refrain from commenting on matters that are "under trial" in the courts. But it adds that only "unbiased" analysts with "requisite" knowledge should be invited to speak on any subject, and warns that anchors must stick to moderating only, excluding their "personal opinions, biases and judgements on any issue". Many Pakistan television channels host multiple current affairs and politics programmes with often lively discussions of the day's events. But the space for dissent has been shrinking fast in recent months, with rights activists voicing concerns and many journalists already practising self-censorship so as not to cross the powerful army, which has ruled the country for roughly half its 72-year history. "It is not the media regulator's role to dictate who can express opinions during debates, or to decree what can or cannot be said," said Daniel Bastard, head of Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) Asia-Pacific desk, in a statement."This grotesque PEMRA directive not only violates journalistic independence and pluralism but even goes so far as to criminalise opinions."We urge PEMRA's members to recover a semblance of credibility by rescinding this order, whose sole aim is to intimidate media outlets and journalists."RSF said the PEMRA directive was sent after television journalists commented last week on the release of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, bailed from prison on health grounds. Judges had "expressed annoyance" over the comments, the monitor said, adding that Sharif is one of the subjects seen as implicitly off limits. One political analyst is being charged with contempt of court, RSF added. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/media-watchdog-slams-pakistan-curbs-news-anchors-191030112038182.html
By Maria Abi-Habib and Salman Masood
After the reuse of syringes infected hundreds of children in a small city, health workers say the entire system needs to be revamped.A pediatrician accused of reusing syringes and infecting scores of Pakistani children with H.I.V. is now practicing in a government-run hospital after his private clinic was shuttered, in a case that is raising widespread questions about the integrity of Pakistan’s health care system.The pediatrician, Muzaffar Ghanghro, was initially the sole focus of blame in an H.I.V. outbreak that has hit more than 1,100 people — so far nearly 900 of them are children — in the small city of Ratodero. But government officials believe he is not the only cause there, and that the bad practices he is accused of, including reusing syringes and IV needles, are so widespread across Pakistan that the entire health care system needs better regulation. Health workers say the government needs to revamp the national medical syllabus to prioritize infection control, currently a minor part of doctor training. And they say hospitals often scrimp on the sterilization process for tools.“The only good thing about the outbreak has been that it laid bare the multiple flaws in the system that the government with support of U.N. agencies needs to address,” said Dr. Fatima Mir, a pediatric infectious disease expert working at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. She was one of the first responders to help with the outbreak in Ratodero.“What the outbreak in Ratodero says about Pakistan’s health care is that infection control is poor or nonexistent. Pakistan’s health care system is now trying to integrate infection control as a formal part of the system,” Dr. Mir added. She said that Pakistan’s medical practitioners often lack the logistics and supplies necessary to prevent and contain infections. When she was in Ratodero to help, Dr. Fatima said it was a challenge finding clean water to wash her hands with while seeing patients. “With the lack of infection control, this outbreak is not unexpected. What is unexpected is that this time, children are the main victims, and there are a lot of them,” she said. Of the nearly 36,000 residents in Ratodero tested since late April, 1,112 of them have tested positive for H.I.V., 889 of them young children. With not even a quarter of Ratodero’s population tested, officials worry the real numbers are much higher. The police investigation into Dr. Ghanghro is ongoing, and he has been cleared only of the charge that he intentionally spread the virus, the district inspector general in charge of the case said in an interview. Dr. Ghanghro’s court case for medical malpractice is still ongoing, said the district inspector general, Irfan Ali Baloch. Dr. Ghanghro has denied that he reused syringes, which is illegal. “A team of medical experts came and interviewed him,” Mr. Baloch said. “The medical board determined that he did not intentionally spread H.I.V., but his clinic was in such a condition that the protocols were not being maintained.” Dr. Ghanghro still faces criminal charges, making it unclear how he is able to continue practicing, and why he was recently posted to a government-run hospital near Ratodero.
Provincial health care officials in Sindh Province, who would be responsible for reassigning Dr. Ghanghro, said that he has not been given the permission to resume practicing medicine and that his medical license was not recently renewed. But Dr. Ghanghro said in an interview with The New York Times last week that he recently renewed his license, and was practicing in a government hospital with a stream of patients waiting to be seen by him, questioning the government’s ability to regulate the system.“He has applied to us to start practicing again,” said Abdul Sami, an official from the Sindh provincial health care commission. “But so far, we have not allowed it. “If he has already started practicing, it is not to our knowledge,” added Mr. Sami, who is based in the district of Larkana, where Ratodero is. Officials from the governing Tehreek-e-Insaf party blamed the outbreak on the poor governance and corruption of the local government of Sindh Province. Other observers said the outbreak is more about systemic failure. Zaigham Khan, a development expert who writes a column for The News newspaper, noted that Pakistan spends less than one percent of its G.D.P. on health care, and that only one doctor is available for every 6,000 people, mostly concentrated in urban areas. “Pakistan is facing a full-blown public health crisis, mainly rooted in ineffective governance and dominance of special interests,” Mr. Khan said.
“Pakistan is one of the two countries in the world where polio persists, the other being Afghanistan” and treatable conditions like rabies and dengue contribute to dozens of deaths annually, he added. “In rural areas, most people are treated by quack doctors. As if that was not enough, even doctors often administer expired medicine. Doctors are hardly ever made accountable for these practices in the legal system.”Dr. Baseer Khan Achakzai, the program manager of the central government-run National AIDS Control Program, said that Ratodero’s conditions were not unique, and that much of Pakistan was struggling to combat the spread of H.I.V., which causes AIDS. Unregulated clinics were continuing to operate, he said, and used syringes are frequently repackaged to sell as new, although they are supposed to be incinerated after use. From 2010 to 2018, the number of H.I.V.-positive people in Pakistan nearly doubled, to about 160,000, according to estimates by U.N.AIDS, the United Nations task force that specializes in H.I.V. and AIDS. During that time, the number of new infections jumped 38 percent in those 15 to 24. And only about 10 percent of people thought to be H.I.V.-positive are being treated. “With the help of U.N. agencies, a state of the art AIDS control center is being established,” Dr. Achakzai said. “It will ensure that contaminated syringes will not be used and all medical waste would be put in the incinerator.” With the exception of the capital, Islamabad, medical laboratories across Pakistan are not under any regulatory framework, Dr. Achakzai said. “There is no check and balance,” he said.