Saturday, November 22, 2014

Video - Hungary: Thousands of teachers protest planned governmental budget cuts

'Western sanctions aimed at regime change in Russia' – Lavrov

Report: Obama Signs Secret Order Extending U.S. Combat Role In Afghanistan

The New York Times" reports that U.S. President Barack Obama has extended the combat role for U.S. troops in Afghanistan by another year in a classified order he signed in recent weeks.
Obama previously said U.S.-led NATO combat operations in Afghanistan would finish by the end of 2014.
NATO's follow up mission, beginning January 1, includes 9,800 U.S. troops and 3,000 from Germany, Italy, and other NATO countries.
Its initial intention was to focus on supporting Afghan forces.
But "The New York Times" reported on November 22 that Obama's order authorizes U.S. troops to continue combat against militants in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if they threaten U.S. forces or the Afghan government.
It also allows for U.S. air support during Afghan combat missions.
The Associated Press (AP) news agency says U.S. officials confirmed details of the report on condition of anonymity.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Immigration Accountability Executive Action

Video - President Obama Speaks on Immigration at Del Sol High School

On November 21, 2014, President Obama followed up on his new steps to fix our broken immigration system at Del Sol high School in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Published Photographs Lead to Death Threats in Pakistan

Olivier Laurent
A photographer has received “a credible and direct threat" against her life after five years of images shot in Pakistan were published in the U.K.
With the rise of extremist movements around the world, journalists have become prime targets in a war of communication both in the field and back at home, once their images have been published, as photographer Alixandra Fazzina learned this week.
Fazzina was due to travel to Pakistan on Nov. 20, but she has since received warnings from diplomatic sources about “a credible and direct threat against my life,” she says. “I’ve taken risks in Pakistan, but they were very weighted up risks,” she says. “I don’t want to kill myself for a story.” Now, she feels, fear has caught up to her in London.
Fazzina started her career as a frontline photographer covering under reported conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. “Over the years, my work has changed” she says, “It’s gone on instead to look at the consequences and fallout of wars.”
In 2008, after working on a long-term project in Somalia, she moved to Pakistan. “When I arrived, the effects of extremism were really starting to hit home,” she says. “One of the first things I did was to cover what was essentially Pakistan’s first frontline in the tribal areas. It was the first time that Pakistan’s military had engaged and began an operation against the Taliban there.” Pakistan has been facing conflicts on multiple fronts – from separatist movements in Balochistan to homegrown Pakistani Taliban factions spreading violence across the country and all the way to Karachi – in June, 28 people were killed in a coordinated attack at Jinnah International Airport in the country’s economic capital.
Fazzina’s ambition was to document the consequences of these conflicts. “What I want to get across is how much civilians suffer and to try and tell their stories, to show what the real effects of war are away from the frontlines,” she says. “Millions of people in Pakistan are still suffering now, and they’re not getting any assistance.”
In her photographs, Fazzina has tried to avoid pointing the finger at one particular culprit, instead putting the blame on all participants. “I’ve covered victims of collateral damage, victims of airstrikes, victims of drone strikes. I covered people suffering from the military, from foreign intervention in region and also from the Taliban. I’ve tried to cover victims of war from all sides because I believe that in any theater of war, all players are responsible.”
After diplomatic sources in Islamabad warned her of the threat on her life from local extremist groups, Fazzina has been forced to cancel a planned trip to Pakistan where she was to report on maternal health. “I take this threat very seriously. There is a strong possibility if I return I will be killed simply for having documented what are realities on the ground” she says. “But, I won’t be silenced by this threat.”
Fazzina’s situation isn’t unique, she explains, as Pakistani journalists and photographers constantly risk their lives to document their country. “It’s extremely difficult for journalists to report without facing some kind of a risk – be it threats, harassment, or even expulsion from the country by the state,” says Mustafa Qadri, a researcher at Amnesty International. “We’ve certainly seen this year a number of high-profile attacks on journalists, which seems to be in response to their work being critical of the government, Taliban, or political parties. What brings all of these cases together is the fact that there’s no justice, there’s no accountability. That basically sends a signal that if you’re not happy with what journalists are reporting, you can literally get away with murder.”
Since 2008, Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of journalists who were killed in response to their work, with many more cases of harassment remaining undocumented. The Committee to Protect Journalists has been trying to fight this problem, says Bob Dietz, the Asian program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Everyone feels that they have total impunity to direct a threat towards a journalist. Foreign journalists aren’t the largest targets for these things; it’s really the local Pakistani journalists who bear the brunt of it. A Pakistani journalist awakes in the morning, opens his phone and check for messages and there might well be a string of threats in there. It’s a way of life. It’s a reality that people are dealing with.”
“We’ve tried to combat it,” Dietz adds. “[We’ve asked] journalists not to hide these threats, and instead to bring them out in public as a way to disarm them.” Yet, the CPJ and Amnesty International don’t expect such menaces to subside, including those against Fazzina. “We really welcome the work that she did,” says Qadri. “We feel that not enough is done to expose the condition of women and girls in Pakistan; what ordinary life is for them. It’s really sad that in trying to do that, she’s now facing these kinds of threats.”
For the 40-year-old photographer, these threats are indicative of a massive shift in war reporting. “The landscape has really changed from fundamentalist groups wanting to tell their stories to journalists becoming actual targets of these groups,” says Fazzina. “In some way, the voices that can speak out against human rights abuses are slowly being silenced. And people would rather shoot the messenger than acknowledged the actual state of [affairs].”

Pakistan: ANP - ‘Imran should seek KP’s view over Kalabagh dam’

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s rally in Larkana has drawn criticism from his political rivals as Awami National Party (ANP) leader, Senator Zahid Khan on Friday advised him to seek an opinion of masses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the construction of controversial Kalabagh dam.
Khan, during his party’s rally in Larkana earlier today, promised thousands of supporters that the PTI will not allow the construction of the dam without the consent of the people of Sindh.
The construction of the Kalabagh dam has long been a heated debate in Pakistan, where politicians and pressure groups argue over the provinces' fair share of water from the river Indus to support local agricultural needs.
In a statement issued soon after the conclusion of PTI’s rally, Zahid Khan said that besides seeking people’s views regarding the dam in Sindh, Imran Khan should also ask the masses in the province, where his party rules.

Pakistan: ‘Imran likes eating his own word’

In Punjab, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan talks about construction of Kalabagh dam but in Sindh, he contradicts his own statement, said Punjab government spokesman and provincial assembly member Zaeem Qadri while commenting PTI chairman’s speech in Larkana on Friday
He said that the politics of hypocrisy and lies will not be tolerated. What kind of politics is to level allegations against the people of Punjab in Punjab and people of Sindh in Sindh, he questioned. He said that the policy of fascism, violence and hatred of Khan will not succeed. He said that Pakistani people believe in political process and those finding shortcut will have to ultimately face failure.
He said that due to so-called protest movement, the popularity graph of the PTI has further decreased. He said that Khan has become the symbol of politics of stubbornness and promoted the attitude of intolerance. He said that the PTI did not play its political role according to the votes given by the people and Khan delivers the same speech in every city.
He asked the PTI chairman that how much credit he wants for the hospital and university constructed through public donations and whether he has become eligible for coming into power as a reward. He said that it has been proved that after Punjab the show of Khan has also flopped in Sindh.

Pakistan - lynching a Christian couple - Will it even help if I raise my voice for Shama and Shahzad?

The Kot Radha Kishan case of lynching a Christian couple, Shahzad and Shama, is no longer breaking news. In fact, killing minorities has hardly ever been ‘breaking news’ in Pakistan. As minorities are tortured, condemned and brutally killed in broad day light, it comes as no surprise at all to now find out that the family of the slain fear for their lives as they seek justice.
Shahzad and Shama were thrown into a brick kiln by an angry mob for having burnt the verses from the Holy Quran. There was no evidence, no investigation, no hearing, just an atrocious execution. Days after the shocking event, which caused a lot of stir in the cyber-world gaining international attention, this is the first time that the state will be acting as the plaintiff in the case.
Even though the state will be setting a precedent by acting as plaintiff, whether the state will finally look into the blasphemy laws and perhaps amend them, is yet to be seen. Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Aasia Bibi and countless others have been victims of a law which makes no sense at all. It is as though we tread on a very thin line when it comes to blasphemy in Pakistan. You just never know when you will be targeted under this law created by General Ziaul Haq.
Putting the pertaining issue of blasphemy law aside, as there is no way that this blog is going to change it, I will shift my focus on what the relatives of Shahzad and Shama are going through.
Even though the media has given tremendous support in condemning the atrocious act committed against Shahzad and Shama, and has paved out a way to seek justice for the couple that was murdered in cold blood, the family of the victims now fear for their lives. According to a press conference that was held earlier in the week, the family reported that they are being offered money and land as compensation and are being pressurised to withdraw their case. They have also received threats. The family has informed the police about this, but we all know too well how ‘safe’ they could be in the hands of the police. They have demanded protection as it’s their lawful right to do so, but they are not getting any. So in case one of the surviving members of this family is murdered, are we again going to raise our voice on social media platforms that will result in more international humiliation or is the government going to give them the safety that they deserve?
Why is it that the blood of the minorities is any less ‘red’ than that of the majorities? Why is the family that is already going through such an ordeal, not being given protection and instead are being forced to take back their case? And lastly and more importantly, when will the government look into the blasphemy law? These questions, although simple in their context, are quite complex in the mysterious thread of the society and the government.
I demand justice for Shahzad, Shama, Sahar Batool, Aasia Bibi, and countless others. But who am I?  I’m just another ‘majority’ who is a ‘minority’ in her country seeking justice only on humanitarian grounds but perhaps will not be offered any. So what’s the point of me even being classified as a majority since my demands are going to be squashed over like those of the minorities?

Reviving the left in Pakistan

Once dialectics go out the window, so does all sense of decency, discourse and, subsequently, peace
Whether one disagrees with the programme and solutions put forth by the left for organising society or not, there is no denying that the existence of a credible left wing in a country’s politics is essential for a political balance in national discourse. Even otherwise it is the left wing in any country that produces its intellectual and cultural voices and creates that very important space for dissent and alternative points of view. The absence of the left not only deprives a country of people’s movements in the long run but also has profound effects in terms of art, music, culture and other forms of expression. A country that cannibalises the left, as we did in the late 1970s and the 1980s, sees a narrowing of the secular space and erosion of reason. This is because the left intellectual is — unlike the right wing ideologue — always ready to engage in dialectics to resolve a question or a dispute. Once dialectics go out the window, so does all sense of decency, discourse and, subsequently, peace. There was a strong tradition of the left from the beginning in Pakistan. The Communist Party of India endorsed the creation of Pakistan and sent (perhaps naïvely) comrades to Pakistan to help usher in a socialist state, but there were more serious attempts as well. 
In the early years after the creation of Pakistan, Pakistani politics began to undergo the inevitable process of realignment. The left wing within the Muslim League, comprising of Mian Iftikharuddin and Maulana Bhashani broke away to form their own parties. Mian Iftikharuddin formed the Azad Pakistan Party while Maulana Bashani founded the Pakistani Awami Muslim League in conjunction with Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, another former Leaguer. Suhrawardy was decidedly a pro-west politician and that led to a break between Suhrawardy and Bhashani. The Awami Muslim League went on to become the secular Awami League after several iterations. 
Another political party that emerged over this time was Ganatantri Dal, a secular, left political party formed by former Muslim League stalwart and General Secretary Mahmud Ali. Meanwhile Bhashani joined hands with Mian Iftikharuddin’s Azad Pakistan Party and pro-Congress Khudai Khidmatgars of Bacha Khan as well as Abdul Samad Achakzai from Balochistan to form a new party called the National Awami Party (NAP). This party became the big tent party for the left. Bacha Khan’s brother, Dr Khan Sahib, meanwhile joined hands with Iskandar Mirza and the establishment to form the Republican Party. The Muslim League itself was reduced to mere husk and a decidedly centre-right party after its left wing began to reorganise elsewhere. The NAP and parties from across the spectrum came together to support Fatima Jinnah’s unsuccessful candidacy in 1964. 
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1967 after having rejected the option of joining the NAP. At the time, NAP had gone through a major split between the pro-Maoists led by Bhashani and pro-Soviets led by Wali Khan over the issue of Fatima Jinnah’s bid for the presidency. Wali Khan had chosen to support Fatima Jinnah while Bhashani had de facto sided with Ayub Khan. With the coming of the PPP, most progressives switched from NAP to PPP, leaving the NAP-Wali Khan group an exclusively Pashtun nationalist party that today continues in the form of the ANP. Through the 1970s, the NAP-PPP conflict further eroded the left’s political space that was all but crushed by General Zia’s regime in the 1980s. We need not go over the permutations of the 1990s but, needless to say, even the politics of the 1990s further damaged the left’s ideological base in Pakistan while politicians played politics at the national level. 
This trend continued in the 2013 elections where, owing to the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s (TTP’s) involvement, the centre-right PML-N and right wing parties like the PTI control politics, with the PPP, much like the NAP of the 1970s, being reduced to a regional ethnic party instead of the national federal party it was. This is a disturbing trend and requires the PPP to reinvent itself as a national big tent left party, which is easier said than done. While it is a very difficult task, it is not an impossible one. First and foremost, the PPP needs a socially progressive agenda. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already articulated the silhouette of this agenda by coming out guns blazing against religious extremism. Religious extremism is the number one issue that faces Pakistan today. It is this one point thing that will resonate with the left and liberal groups in this country. However, merely the Bhutto name is not going to revive the PPP. 
The PPP should actively reach out to the groups alienated by it. The newly formed Awami Workers Party may be cajoled into coming into a broad based alliance with the PPP at the Centre. The ANP can also be asked to ally with the PPP while retaining its own identity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindhi nationalists, Baloch nationalists and other Pashtun nationalists must be approached with an olive branch. 
The most important thing is that there has to be a broad-based agenda that unites not just the left but liberals as well on one platform. The revival of the left benefits not just those who agree with the politics of the left but also all those who want to see Pakistan a progressive and peaceful society based on reason. Saving the secular space and voices of dissent in Pakistan has to be the common point between these varied groups that otherwise may share no commonalities in goals, methods or ideologies. If the left and the liberals do not rise above mutual pettiness, they may well become extinct in the coming future. 

Pakistan: Withering souls - Children Dying

It is disgusting to find children dying in Thar and in Sargodha because the Sindh and Punjab governments respectively have been unable to look into the healthcare needs of the people. And when the Chief Ministers (CM) of both provinces weirdly defend themselves or remain silent, the anguish doubles. For the CM Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, children in Thar are not dying of poverty but because of maternity-related complications and malnutrition. Would the CM care to explain how else malnutrition occurs if not from lack of food resulting from poverty? For Shahbaz Sharif, the CM Punjab, the completion of bridges and roads in record time is more important than providing resources for healthcare facilities. He has the time and stamina to work day and night to see to it that his pet projects, laptop distribution, bridges, metros and car schemes are completed in the shortest possible time. But he failed to notice the lapse in the deadline of building a maternity ward in the Maula Baksh Hospital, the only hospital in Sargodha. The 11 children who have died in the District Teaching Hospital (DTH) Sargodha were shifted there from Maula Baksh Hospital for lack of facilities in the latter. But the poor souls had to encounter a dire fate in the DTH, which had five incubators for 20 patients and 25 beds to accommodate 50 children. There was insufficient oxygen supply and the staff, including the doctors, either was sleeping when the children were dying or had little expertise and resources at its disposal to treat the withering souls. Since 2013, 191children have lost their lives because of inadequate and poor health facilities in Punjab, while in Thar the dance of death continues with the number of children’s deaths reaching 300.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan has one of the poorest public healthcare systems. It is spending $ 9.30 against the internationally recommended $ 60 per capita. Pakistan has the third highest number of maternal, foetal and child mortality deaths, with 57 percent of neonatal deaths occurring in the first 72 hours after birth. Governance crises and poor political ownership has retarded progress in women and children’s health in Pakistan. No political party has prioritized reforming healthcare because unlike bridges and laptops, it largely goes unnoticed. It is the responsibility of the state to provide to its citizens food, shelter, education, healthcare and social welfare. This is the minimum a state has to do, and short of it, it loses its raison d’être. We have yet to see the state coming into action in the case of either Thar or Sargodha.  

PTI, JUD using crises to grow their own power at the expense of the state

Four years ago, historic floods devastated Pakistan. The government immediately launched an effort to raise money to provide relief for affectees, with President Zardari stepping up and donating over Rs.300 millions of his own money to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. The government admitted being overwhelmed by the unprecedented natural disaster, but efforts to help those suffering the most were hindered when ambitious politicians chose to use the event for their own personal agendas. Imran Khan led the pack in this move, telling the international community that Pakistan’s government was too corrupt and that they should donate their money to his own personal foundation. In doing so, the PTI chief was able to build his own personal stature, but at the cost of undermining the state itself.
Imran Khan wasn’t the only one who took this cynical attitude towards suffering, however. Also there was jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed who used his newly formed front group “Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation” to distribute relief goods. Like PTI, Hafiz Saeed uses “humanitarian relief” work as a cover for promoting extremism.
In Pakistan, Jamaat ud-Dawa and the FIF continue to operate quite openly and Hafiz Khalid Waleed said the group was using its flood relief camps to preach its version of Islam.
“We think that a Muslim has to live according to his religion in order to become a good human being. Thank God, we do preach to them, and it has its effects, and they are converted. To us, this is social work, too.”
Today, PTI and Jamaat-ud-Dawa are working hand in hand in Sindh, where Imran Khan is desperate to get a political foothold. By providing humanitarian relief, PTI and JUD are able to win the “hearts and minds” of the people there, turning them against their own government and making them more sympathetic to the PTI’s and JUD’s agendas.
This may be a cynical political ploy by PTI and JUD, but the real responsibility comes back to the state. If the state was providing adequate relief to affected people, there would not be a ‘vacuum’ for other groups to step into and take over the role of the state. By failing to provide for the people, the state is undermining its own legitimacy and fueling its own demise.

Pakistan: Two more polio cases reported in Balochistan

Two more polio cases were reported in Balochistan on Saturday, taking the number of polio victims to 14.
According to health officials, polio virus was detected in an 18-month-old girl Bibi Amina who is a resident of Killi Tarkha, Quetta.
The second case was confirmed in Balochistan's Khuzdar district.
Shah Zaman, a resident of Chandni Chowk in Khuzdar, fell prey to the virus even though he was administered polio drops, according to health officials.
The crippling disease continues to spread despite tall claims on the part of the government regarding its eradication. Majority of the cases that have been reported are found in Quetta and Killi Abdullah districts of Balochistan.
Earlier on Wednesday, a child in Killa Abdullah was reported to have the virus despite being administered polio drops.
Balochistan remained polio-free for almost more than two years before the first polio case was reported in July this year from Maizai Addah area of district Killa Abdullah.

Pakistan: Sargodha Hospital deaths Of Newborn

SOME 15 newborns have died in Sargodha this week because of lack of facilities at the district headquarters hospital. Allegations of neglect by doctors have expanded to criticism of the government officials’ apathy.
Once again promises have been made — among them a commitment to rush to Sargodha 20 incubators, whose shortage, along with that of some other equipment and, most tellingly, of doctors, is said to have contributed to the death of the newborns.
As help is awaited, there are fears that many young lives may still be in danger. The explanation offered by those tasked with running the DHQ is hardly credible — it is too simplistic to hold premature births responsible.
Child delivery, premature or otherwise, is a basic medical task a DHQ is expected to deal with efficiently. Failure to provide even this would mean that district-level public hospitals have degenerated alarmingly.
There have been calls for quick life-saving interventions in Sargodha from the government, just as there are demands for fixing the official focus where it is most needed.
The official tendency, as we all know, is to react to a situation, and quite often insult is added to injury when government functionaries seem to be more protective of the government’s reputation than attempting to fulfil their responsibilities towards the people.
Such are the workings of the system which we all believe has to be improved if not altogether discarded in favour of a new effort.
In Punjab, for some time there has been an inclination to address the issues via a short cut under the direct supervision of the chief minister. In the current case, too, a chief ministerial inspection team was sent to Sargodha, and according to news reports, a couple of newborns died while it was investigating.
The inspection’s purpose would be half served if the remedial measures it proposes after, hopefully, a thorough probe, are limited to just one DHQ or just one province. Let the tragedy in Sargodha be a turning point that leads to a redefinition of official priorities.

7m asthma patients in Pakistan

Chest specialists have observed that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is caused by smoking and environmental pollution, which is increasing in Pakistan against the declining trend in the world.
The COPD is considered 4th largest killer disease in the world, which will become 3rd largest killer disease by 2020.
They were speaking at a public health seminar on ‘Yet, it is not late to bring patients of shortness of breath back to normal life’ held in connection with World COPD Day under the aegis of the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Memorial (Jang Group of Newspapers), Pakistan Chest Society and GSK here at a local hotel.
Prof Dr Kamran Cheema, President Pakistan Chest Society and Head of Pulmonary Medicine Services Institute of Medical Sciences/Services Hospital Lahore (SIMS/SHL), explained that COPD gradually squeezed the breathing vessels, which caused cough, sputum and shortness of breath.
In addition to this, COPD also swells and blackens breathing bags in lungs, which is primarily caused by cigarette smoking and environmental pollution of smoke-emitting vehicles, factories, etc.
He said that COPD was the 4th largest killer disease in the world, which will become the 3rd largest killer disease by 2020.
Prof Dr Zafar Hussain Iqbal, Head of Pulmonary Medicine Allama Iqbal Medical College/Jinnah Hospital Lahore (AIMC/JHL), while quoting the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ regretted its non-compliance, saying that at least 50 percent men and 11 percent women were addicted to smoking, which was the cause of various diseases, including COPD.
He observed that it was not an easy task to quit smoking and therefore needed a greater resolve and commitment, saying that the doctor, smoker’s family and friends should also help the person in quickly getting rid of smoking.
‘Only 25 percent of smokers succeed in quitting smoking,’ he said, adding that those persons, who are able to quit smoking for a year, are called ex-smokers in medical terminology.
He urged the government to control environmental pollution and also advised people to quit smoking, take balanced diet and do physical exercise with a view to avoiding this disease.
Dr Ashraf Jamal, Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine, SIMS/SHL, said at least 15 to 20 percent of smokers contracted COPD, which was quite alarming.
He said that at least seven million people were suffering from COPD in Pakistan, while prevalence of COPD was recorded up to 9 percent among the population of the world.
He said that balanced diet, regular exercise, medicines and green tea considerably helped to reduce the gravity of this disease.
He also advised the patients to take medicines through inhalers and avoid direct medicines and injections. He advised people to avoid fried food and those eatables that caused acidity.
Instead, he said the people should increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
Later, the panel of experts gave answers to questions of the audience. Besides, Dr Hafeez and MKRMS Chairman Wasif Nagi also spoke on the occasion.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bahrain : Al-Wefaq urges end to Al Khalifa power ‘monopoly’

Bahrain’s main opposition party has called for an end to the power “monopoly” in the country, warning that the ruling Al Khalifa regime’s refusal to relinquish power could cause an “explosion” of violence.
Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of Bahrain’s al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, said on the eve of the elections on Friday that the Manama regime’s failure to reach a political agreement with the opposition could spark an “explosion” of violence in the Persian Gulf Arab kingdom.
Salman added that the opposition could only continue talks with the government if it agreed to implement reforms in line with a strict timetable.
“This has been our strategy in the past, it is our strategy today and will be our strategy tomorrow... in order to reach a consensus that would end the ruling family’s monopoly of all power,” he said.
Al-Wefaq and four other opposition groups have boycotted the legislative and municipal polls slated to be held in Bahrain on Saturday.
Observers and political analysts say the boycott means the polls with whatever outcome will not end the anti-regime protests in the country.
“The number of laws that violate human rights legislated by the existing parliament is more than the laws we had since the independence of Bahrain… So the Bahraini opposition [groups] don’t want to give legitimacy to those laws,” Nabil Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist, told Press TV.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to give up power.
Bahrain has been severely criticized by human rights groups for its harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has claimed the lives of scores of people so far.

Horrorism in the Middle East

You know who agrees with Carrie about the Middle East these days? Everyone. We sit here an ocean away and watch it go from bad to worse. 
There’s New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who wrote this week, “What is unbearable, in fact, is the feeling, 13 years after 9/11, that America has been chasing its tail; that, in some whack-a-mole horror show, the quashing of a jihadi enclave here only spurs the sprouting of another there.”
There’s Tom Friedman, also writing for The Times, who all but threw up his hands in his last two columns. “In sum,” he wrote, “there are so many conflicting dreams and nightmares playing out among our Middle East allies in the war on ISIS that Freud would not have been able to keep them straight.”
There was the estimable Robert Satloff, in Politico: “It will likely take an even more dramatic brand of divine intervention to prevent a slew of worsening Mideast problems — renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Islamic terrorism, Iranian nukes and so on — from landing squarely on the desk of the next U.S. president.”
And former diplomat Aaron David Miller, who wrote this week on, “We’re stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, and where ambiguity and uncertainty will rule over clarity and stability for years to come.”
This week began with the execution of American hostage Peter Kassig, and before it was out, we witnessed the attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, which left (as of press time) five Israelis dead. 
These acts share a brutal, personal, senselessness that “terrorism” doesn’t quite begin to describe. A British journalist coined a better term: “horrorism.”
Horrorism combines terror with the purposeful depiction of as much personal human suffering as possible. Terrorism uses bombs, and airplanes; horrorism uses knives, fists and axes. The ISIS video, the aftermath of the bloody synagogue — there is nothing more frightening than what one pair of human hands can do to a fellow human.
In Israel, after the creation of a strong, vibrant nation state, we are back to Kishinev 1903, and the pogrom that inspired Theodor Herzl to push for a Jewish state. As the poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik wrote back then, “… the hatchet found them there.” And again it finds them, and again we mourn, “A place of sainted graves and martyr-stone.”
And that’s what makes great minds, starting with Carrie Mathison, despair. After all the involvement, money, strategy and grand plans, we are back to the Bronze Age, back to bloodlust and human sacrifice. What’s worse, as the political solutions recede, the religious aspects of these conflicts loom larger and larger. 
In Iraq and Syria, the religious war — a disaster we helped create — now seems entirely predictable. In times of chaos, people gravitate toward what the philosopher Robert Nozick calls “protective associations.” Kurds become more Kurd, Sunnis more Sunni, Shiites more Shiite. If a functioning state can’t offer protection and security, pre-existing identities will.  
“When the state collapsed,” legal and Islamic scholar Noah Feldman writesin “What We Owe Iraq,” “people had little choice but to find some marker of identity that they thought would have some chance of working for them. And these were the identities that were there. We didn’t create these identities —they already existed — it’s that we turned those identities into focal points for self-organization, by virtue of our failure to provide security. And we therefore made these ethnic/denominational identities much more important for Iraqi politics than they otherwise would have been.”
Speaking last month at Harvard Law School, Feldman (who will be a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple Dec. 4-6) said he doesn’t think ISIS will survive three years facing opposition from most of the Arab and Muslim world. But he doesn’t say that what will follow will be any less extreme.
In Israel, there’s a similar dynamic. Secular Palestinian leadership is almost an oxymoron. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas foments revolt and Jew-hatred on the one hand, then condemns, in the weakest possible way, attacks on innocent Israelis. Lacking strong secular leadership, young Palestinians from Gaza to East Jerusalem turn to their “protective associations” — religious leaders, the mosques, Hamas.
The police call them “lone wolf” attacks, but you can only have lone wolves when there is no alpha dog.  
Attacks in Jerusalem, the holy city, carry the import of holy war. Things can so easily spiral out of control, beyond the city limits, beyond Israel and into the rest of the world.
“The religious dimension of the conflict is very dangerous and explosive,” Shin Bet security services chief Yoram Cohen told members of a Knesset committee, according to Ha’aretz, “because it has implications for the Palestinians and for Muslims everywhere in the world. We have to do everything possible to instill calm.”
Instill calm. When he figures out how to do that, he should let the rest of the world know how.

Three assumptions about the Middle East that are just plain wrong


By Orit Bashkin
 The West’s understanding of the Middle East has often been laden with misconceptions—this has especially been the case in the years following the Arab Spring.
Here are three assumptions about this part of the world that need to be challenged.
Doing so is important as people all over the world often perceive the Middle East as a region in which ancient religious rivalries prevent the emergence of secular democracies. Among other things, this can wrongly inform foreign policy decision-making regarding ongoing crises in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Assumption no. 1: If leaders are secular, sectarianism will disappear.
This view sounds plausible, but is challenged when we take a quick look at the Levant. The Ba’ath regimes in Syria, and previously in Iraq, would have liked us to believe that they were secular—after all, their leaders pronounced their commitment to the ideas of Arab socialism and nationalism, championed the integration of women into the labor market, and labeled their opposition as religious and conservative. Saddam Hussein’s biography does suggest a man following closely the tenants of Islam, to use the understatement of the century.
And yet both regimes were loyal to the interests of the religious groups from which their leaders came. For example, when Bashar al-Assad’s regime began to crumble, he relied on a Syrian-Iranian front to protect him, throwing in the wind his previous strategic alliance with Sunni businessmen and professionals.
Many people in the Middle East, especially members of the generation growing up in the post-colonial era, identify with their religious groups. They might drink, gamble and otherwise view themselves as very secular, and yet strongly identify as Sunni, Shi’ite or Christian, in certain contexts. This is largely due to historical developments, like the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the catastrophe that is Syria today. Being “secular” and “modern,” then, does not mean being unsectarian.
Assumption no. 2: All Islamist organizations are the same, the end result is always violent extremism.
While many of the Muslim Brotherhood organizations have platforms which are not fully democratic, there is a world of difference between them and the brutality of the so-called “Islamic State”, also known as The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. These organizations are not the same in the ways they view elections or minority and women’s rights. The more moderate organizations are more than ready to have women play a part in their political organizations. The sights that we see today in northern Iraq, in which Christian and Yazidis are harshly persecuted, are utterly repulsive to the more moderate Muslim political organizations.
Moreover, whereas Islamic State sees itself as an authentic, pre-modern, Islamic state, nothing could further from the truth. Islamic State does not share the ecumenical vision of the early Muslim community during the 7th century and its disdain for the sciences and innovation puts them in polar opposition to the cultural curiosity typical of medieval Islamic court culture.
Joan Cusack once said in the film Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” The same can be said about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the caliphate.
Assumption no. 3: Some Middle Eastern countries are ‘Western’ and others aren’t.
We often read in the media about pro-Western Arab regimes. But does pro-Western actually mean secular? And what is Western? Is it simply being pro-American or pro-European?
The regimes in the Gulf can complicate our thinking on these matters. Many of the Gulf monarchies have maintained very good relationships with the United States–the investment portfolios of their leading companies are deeply intertwined with the U.S. and European economies. The U.S. university campuses and Al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha indicate a desire to play a more prominent role on the global stage.
And yet, these regimes are socially conservative and are not, by any means, secular. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Syrian civil war, arming various Sunni rebel and militia groups.
On the other hand, during the 1970s and 1980s, the postcolonial regimes in Syria and Iraq propagated daily critiques of Western colonialism and imperialism, alongside their secularizing and modernizing agendas.
Given these contradicting pictures, it makes little sense that we still use terms like ‘Western.’
Of course, this is not to dismiss all of these categories entirely. Indeed, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘Islamist’ are relevant to the ways in which electoral politics are framed in some countries—such as Tunisia and Egypt. Tunis, in fact, provides a hopeful example of political change through elections.. However, it is wrong to assume that everything in the Middle East is connected to battles whose roots are religious and medieval.
Many of the struggles in the Middle East are the result of regional rivalries between Iran and the Gulf monarchies, and of the civil war in Iraq which have brought unprecedented waves of sectarianism all over the Middle East. And they owe their existence to very modern processes like the oil politics, the failure of nation-states to attend to the needs of ethnic and religious minorities, and global politics.
The powers invested in the Syria conflict these days include China, Russia, and the United States –in its decisions on intervention or and lack thereof. These are not exactly powers formed in 7th century Arabia.
The politics in the Middle East are among the most complex in the world. The nuances in ground realities—so easily lost when we use terms like ‘Islamist’, ‘secular’ and ‘Western’—must be acknowledged if we are to theorize about why the region is the way it is right now and the possibilities of attaining a democratic future, the same future desired by so many young people who initiated the Arab Spring.

President Obama's immigration move is a win

By Maria Cardona
President Obama finally did it. Through an executive order, the President intends to grant up to 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation.
Will the angry bulls rise up? Has the well been poisoned? Will Republicans follow through on their threats of government shutdowns because they consider this an "impeachable offense"?
Republicans, who now have a responsibility to prove that they can govern, should take a step back and see what the President is trying to achieve and then decide whether it's worth expending political capital to battle over. The President's Executive Action on deferring deportations for noncriminal undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and contributed to our society will achieve three major goals:
1. Boost the American economy
Studies show that passing comprehensive immigration reform will increase our economic gain by more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years, decrease our deficit by almost a trillion dollars in the next 20 years, and boost GDP growth by more than 5 percentage points. While the President's action is not the permanent legislative reform we ultimately need to gain all these benefits, starting out by letting a large group of people legally work and holding them accountable by ensuring they pay their fair share of taxes will put us on a more prosperous path. 2. Strengthen our national security
Millions of undocumented immigrants will now be allowed to come out of the shadows, be identified, given background checks and legal work permits. This will help us understand who they are and if any are here to do us harm.
3. Help keep families together
America was built on the labor of generations of immigrants. Our strength as a country comes also from the strength of families. Instead of deporting grandmothers and fathers and children, the President will use our precious resources to deport gang members instead. This priority will reduce the tragic loss that occurs when families are torn apart by senseless deportations.
For a political party that prides itself in standing for a strong economy, strong national security and strong family values, please tell me -- which of these values are Republicans so adamantly against?
The President's detractors say he has no constitutional authority to give relief to so many people. While the courts may ultimately decide this, as someone who has worked in what was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, I can tell you without question, the President indeed has prosecutorial discretion to decide which limited resources to dedicate to which undocumented immigrants he wants to deport. In fact, immigration officials, district attorneys and other law enforcement personnel exercise prosecutorial discretion every single day. Moreover, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, each in their own ways, used executive authorities derived from this notion of prosecutorial discretion to grant relief to whole populations of undocumented immigrants for many reasons. Conservatives who oppose the President might also say that an executive order on immigration will poison the well and that he should work with Congress to pass a legitimate and permanent reform the way it should be passed: in Congress.
I would be the first one to advise President Obama to wait in favor of congressional action. And by the way, it is the preferred way to go. There is just one problem. We have already seen this movie and we know how it ends. The President has been trying for years to get Congress on the same page. But Republicans have looked for excuses, continued to move the goalposts and voted several times to deport DREAMers.
Republicans must understand just how ridiculous they sound when they say President Obama should wait until the new Congress is sworn in and work with them to pass real reform. Who in their right minds -- no pun intended -- thinks that with both houses of Congress controlled by more conservative Republicans who ran on a platform to oppose anything President Obama does, we can get a bill out of Congress that the President can sign?
Republicans will point out that the American people are not on the side of the President on the immigration issue by pointing to a recent USA Today poll indicating that 46% preferred waiting for a Republican Congress to take action, while 42% approved of the President taking unilateral action now.
However, perhaps a better reflection is the Washington Post September 2014 poll that asked whether Americans would support presidential action in the absence of any congressional action. Support rose to 52%.
The absence of congressional action is exactly what we have had for the past year and half. As such, the American people cannot now let Republicans off the hook to get comprehensive immigration reform done legislatively, no matter how upset the GOP may be that the President acted. Temper tantrums are not an excuse for no action.
So, the President delivered on his executive action and he, the Democrats and the immigration advocacy community will now have to work diligently to explain to the American people that the well is not poisoned, and that this is the right thing to do for our economy, national security and above all, it is consistent with our American values.
For Republicans, it is not too late. They can make what the President announced moot and irrelevant. How? House Speaker John Boehner could bring the current bipartisan Senate immigration bill to the House floor for a vote on Friday -- and it would pass. Done.
So when the Republicans get it together, if they can get it together to pass something the President can sign, the President's unilateral action would be stopped, the angry bulls will calm down, and showdowns, shutdowns and impeachment hearings can be left for another day. Most importantly, the American people would finally see their elected leaders put politics aside and do what is best for the country.

Video Report - Activist: Obama speech a 'complete relief'

U.S. - Immigration plan draws cheers, criticism across US

Thousands of immigrant-rights activists, families and elected officials cheered across the country as President Barack Obama announced on television his plan for relief from deportations for about 5 million people.
But after the initial burst of emotion Thursday evening at hastily organized watch parties and in living rooms, many said Obama's plan was just the first step in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant families pointed out the plan would only cover about 5 million of the 11 million without legal status, leaving many families and individuals in limbo.
Republicans slammed the president's action as an overreach, while advocates — including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and California Gov. Jerry Brown — praised Obama's plan.
Not everyone was happy with Obama's action. A couple of protesters held "no amnesty" signs outside a New York union office where supporters watched the speech.
A snapshot of reactions across the country:
___ "This will definitely help our family no longer live in fear, fear that we will have to drop everything if our parents are deported. But there is still fear, because this is a temporary, and we need something permanent," said Isaura Pena, 20, of Portland, whose father and mother lack legal status.

"This is a great day for farmworkers. It's been worth the pain and sacrifice," said Jesus Zuniga, 40, who picks tomatoes in California's Central Valley and watched the speech at a union gathering in Fresno.
___ "Simply stated, you're the only singular person in this entire country that can advance or adopt meaningful immigration reform. By that very definition then, it is your singular failure alone as to why we do not yet have reform, why America continues to be at risk, and new crimes and new victims are mounting each and every day in every single state," said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, addressing the president directly in a video posted by his office Wednesday on YouTube. Jones vowed to crusade against illegal immigration after the shooting rampage last month by a Mexican man with a long criminal history who was in the country illegally. ___
"They're going to have a chance to be what they want to be and get an education," said Maria Perez, 41, of Fresno, California. She is in the country legally, but she often worries about her nieces, ages 16 and 18, who aren't. With the president's speech, she feels hope that her nieces now can achieve her dreams.
___ "I believe that is a good step forward, but again I look at the other side and I believe he is maybe acting too rash. I don't know why he is doing it without the consent of Congress. ... I think that is creating too much dissension in Congress where it is already, and I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing. I think for a lot of people — especially those who are here undocumented — it is great, but at some point we have to draw the line," said community activist Bob Hernandez of Wichita, Kansas. ___
"I don't think it helps because it's going to create friction with the new Congress that's Republican. While I think it's probably the wrong thing for him to do, there's a possibility it starts a dialogue and pushes the Republicans to move more quickly," board chairman Jonathan Johnson said at his company's Salt Lake City, Utah, headquarters.
___ "I am a mother of Dreamers (the children who benefited from Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.) They are not citizens. It was a great disappointment to hear I won't benefit from it. It's bland. He gave us a little taste but it had no taste," said Rosa Mejia, an immigrant in El Paso, Texas, who has been living in the US since 1999. ___
Abel Rodriguez, of Phoenix, said Obama's proposal could mean that he and his wife would be able to visit their family in Mexico without fear of not being able to return to the U.S. or getting separated from their daughters. "I have not seen my family for 10 years. I have two grandsons that I don't see," Rodriguez said.
___ "We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don't understand why unemployed Americans can't be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing," said John Wilson, who works in contract management in New York City. ___
"This is not a partisan issue. When the bluest of blue states — like Oregon, for example — vote overwhelmingly to prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses, it speaks volumes about the widespread lack of support for President Obama's immigration policies. The American people have spoken, and time and again they have been ignored," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said.