Friday, December 24, 2010

Obama Is Set to Shuffle His Staff

New York Times

President Obama is planning the first major reorganization of his administration, preparing to shuffle several positions in the West Wing as he tries to fortify his political team for the realities of divided government and his own re-election. The president is studying how to maximize the power of the executive branch, advisers said, seeking insight from veterans of previous administrations and fresh advice from business leaders to guide the second half of his term.

He is reviewing the restructuring plan during the holidays, aides said, and intends to make the first announcements in the opening days of January.

A reshaping of the economic team, beginning by naming a new director of the National Economic Council, is among the most urgent priorities of the new year. Gene Sperling, a counselor to the Treasury secretary who held the position in the Clinton administration, is among the final contenders to succeed Lawrence H. Summers in the job, along with Roger C. Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who also served in the Clinton administration.

When Republicans assume control of the House on Jan. 5, ending four years of a full Democratic majority in Congress, the president’s approach to policy and politics is poised to change on several fronts.

The White House is hiring more lawyers to handle oversight investigations from the new Congress, even as the president sets up a re-election headquarters in Chicago and considers ways to streamline operations inside the West Wing.

“You’re not going to see wholesale changes, but there will be significant changes. I think that’s desirable,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser who is leaving the White House next month. “This is a bubble. It’s been an intense couple of years, and there’s an advantage to bringing in folks who have a fresh set of senses — smell, touch and feel — about what’s going on out there.”

The first personnel change inside the White House is the arrival of David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. For the last two years, Mr. Plouffe has been one of the president’s closest outside confidants, but he is set to replace Mr. Axelrod as his chief political adviser, with a broad portfolio.

Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, will depart early next year to manage the re-election campaign in Chicago. His departure, along with those of others inside the West Wing, has created vacancies among the president’s top echelon of advisers that are at the heart of the reorganization plan.

At the final cabinet meeting of the year, on Dec. 8, the president renewed his request that if any members intended to step down, they needed to signal their intentions. White House officials said they believed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is the only cabinet member who definitely plans to leave next year, although one other departure is possible.

There has been far less turnover for the Obama administration than for some of its recent predecessors. But at the midpoint of his term, several aides are considering new opportunities, including the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs will probably either become a senior adviser to the president or work outside the White House, defending Mr. Obama on television and beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. The leading contenders for his job are Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary.

Two months before the midterm elections, even before it became clear that Democrats would lose their Congressional majority, the president ordered a review of how the White House operated and how it could be modernized. The mission of the Reorganization Plan, as it is called at the White House, expanded after the sweeping Republican victory.

Pete Rouse, now the interim White House chief of staff, was already working on the plan in October when Rahm Emanuel stepped down as chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. The process has been a highly guarded secret even inside the White House, with Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser; Robert F. Bauer, the general counsel; and Mr. Axelrod also providing guidance.

The president was frustrated by the bureaucracy of the administration, aides said, and asked Mr. Rouse to recommend ways to improve internal communication and efficiency. Several recommendations were given to the president before he left Washington on Wednesday night to spend Christmas with his family in Hawaii, aides said.

The review has created anxiety in the corridors of the West Wing, where many aides who have spent at least four years working for Mr. Obama are uncertain of their next assignments. Some will be dispatched to Chicago, where the re-election effort is scheduled to be well under way by the spring, with the fund-raising, political and communications staff among the first to report for duty.

The week after the midterm elections, the president began an extensive series of one-on-one conversations in the Oval Office about how he could make the best use of the final two years of his first term.

Mr. Obama discussed the pitfalls — and opportunities — of divided government with former President Bill Clinton during a long meeting this month. He also has held private discussions with an array of figures, including Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., who served as a chief of staff to Mr. Clinton; John D. Podesta, another former Clinton chief of staff; Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader; and Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Obama is reading the biography “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” by Lou Cannon, aides said, and recently completed “The Clinton Tapes,” by Taylor Branch, who chronicled the 42nd president through a series of private interviews.

Despite all his time studying the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama told his aides that he had no intention of following the precise path of Mr. Clinton, who after the Democratic midterm election defeats of 1994 ordered a clearing of the decks inside the White House, installed competing teams of advisers and employed a centrist policy of triangulation. In fact, several advisers confirmed, the word “triangulation” has been banned by Mr. Obama because he does not believe it accurately describes his approach.

On Wednesday afternoon, even as lawmakers were approving a burst of Mr. Obama’s legislative priorities in the waning hours of the Congressional session, the president and a small circle of advisers convened to sketch out the next two months. Mr. Obama intends not only to extend a hand to Republicans but also to begin detaching himself more from Congress and spending more time making his case directly to the American people.

“In a world of divided government, getting things done requires a mix of compromise and confrontation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “What are the things you can do without Congress? In some cases, that involves executive orders, but it also involves using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a political argument about the direction of the country.”

Pakistan to review blasphemy laws, official says

Pakistan will review blasphemy laws to prevent them from targeting innocent people, a government official said.
The government will form a committee of scholars to revisit the law, said Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minority affairs.
It will submit its suggestions and procedures, which will be implemented to stop the law's misuse, the minister said Thursday.
"After the formation of the committee we will .... find the way that whether through the legislation or some other procedural way we can stop the blasphemy law," Bhatti said.
On pardoning of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy of Islam, Bhatti said the president will wait for the judicial proceedings.
Bibi's lawyer has said that the proceedings might take years because the case is still in high court and may later go to the Supreme court.
Religious parties are planning protests after Friday prayers. The parties have been upset since the governor of Punjab province helped file a mercy petition with President Asif Ali Zardari's office requesting a pardon for Bibi.
Parties including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal ur Rehman (JUI-F) party will hold the rallies on Christmas Eve, said Moulana Amjad Khan, party spokesman.
A Pakistani court in November found the 45-year-old woman guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with Muslim fellow field workers.
The offense is punishable by death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan's penal code.
But an investigation by a Pakistani government ministry found the charges stemmed from "religious and personal enmity" and recommended Bibi's release. Zardari has said he would pardon Bibi, but a court has ruled that the president can't act until the sentence is confirmed by a higher court -- a process her lawyer says could take two to three years.
About 2 million Christians live in Pakistan. The Islamic nation has a population of about 170 million, according to government statistics
as religious parties plan Friday rallies to protest possible changes.

Peshawar Fashion Week.

(A model presents a creation by Pakistani designer Omer Saeed, during the Pakistan Fashion Week 2010 in Karachi, Pakistan, 09 April 2010.)

Embrace yourself for the upcoming Peshawar Fashion Week. Now get ready to experience another wondrous fashion sensation of glamour and artistic imagination to happen in the city of Peshawar. Yes, after Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, Peshawar is all ready to enter into the grand arena of Pakistani fashion industry with it's Peshawar Fashion week to happen in 2011. The credit for this revolutionary change goes to Waqas Ahmed of the Peshawar Fashion Council, who is so determined to make Peshawar enter in the glamorous world of fashion.

“I had been working with Style 360 for the past six years and even when I approached my friends in the fashion industry, they started to laugh at me. But I felt that if every major city can have a fashion week, why not Peshawar? We also have a lot of talent that just needs to be unearthed and nurtured.

There are many women designing and selling clothes from their own boutiques and lots of photographers are here as well. With the right kind of media projection even these small scale designers can become Hassan Sheheryar Yasin andi Khawar Riaz", said the incredibly determined Waqas] while talking to The Daily Mail.

“I want to dispel the image of Peshawar as backward which is very wrong. Even last month we had the design students from Iqra University present their thesis as a fashion show,” he added.

“I am going to try my best to make this venture a success and with the support of a few famous designers and models I am sure we can set this project off on a positive path.” Let’s hope that Pakistan fashion industry might become another platform to project Pakistan as a city of culture and creativity and not the terrorism and racism!

Militancy out, science in.... Swat Students exhibition.

The Express Tribune
A science and arts exhibition titled “I do, I learn” was held by the students of Swat to show their interest and love of education. The event was organised by the students of Khushal Public School and College. It was the first such event in the region since the restoration of peace, as such activities were banned by the Mullah Fazlullah led Taliban in Swat.

Talking to The Express Tribune, a grade 10 student at the school, Faraz, who seemed very excited by the arrangements said, “We are having a great time, by making science models we want to show how different science technologies can be applied practically, the activity will definitely develop and improve our creativity and will help us understand scientific knowledge in the truest sense.”

Faraz and his classmate Furasan displayed a large number of plants and enthusiastically briefed every one who visited their stall. “Through this stall, we want to show different medicinal plants to the visitors and inform people of their importance in our daily life.”

“I have made a model of a volcano to show people how it evolves and what are its effects,” said Gul Ranga Ali, a girl student of the school. She said that it is a great opportunity to practically show people from her community, especially her parents, what they have learnt at school. “I wish we are continuously provided such opportunities, as these events were impossible for us to conduct during the times of Taliban,” she added.

Idrees, another student holding a stall in the exhibition said, “This is a real learning opportunity for us, our teachers should arrange more of such practical events on an ongoing process so that the student take keen interest in studies and not get bored by monotonous theory.”

A local journalist, Amjad Ali Sahaab said he was inspired to see such activities being held in Swat for the first time. He said that such are essential to make our new generation more creative. “I pay special tribute to the school administration that has provided such a positive and constructive environment to its students,” he added.

A large number of locals, including army officers and parents of schoolchildren attended the exhibition and appreciated the school administration for organising such an event.

Peshawar all set for 31st National Games

The Express Tribune

Twice postponed due to security threats, the 31st National Games are finally being held in the provincial capital from December 25 to 31. The motto for the games is “play for peace”.

The games were originally scheduled to be held in Peshawar in November of 2009, but the plan was postponed due to aggravating security conditions in the city. The national games were then scheduled in March but were again postponed. However, now preparations for holding the mega sporting event are in their final stages.

At least 7,000 players from 15 organisations, including four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are participating in these events. Qayyum Stadium Complex, where inauguration and concluding ceremony for the games will take place, is witnessing activity – an unusual phenomenon for the city locals for the past some years.

The major roads of the city have been festooned with banners welcoming players, while security has been beefed up with security barricades being set up on Bara Road in Peshawar cantonment limits.

“I hope the games take place peacefully,” said Samia Sehar, a Lahore-based athlete of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) while talking to The Express Tribune. “My parents were hesitant in letting me come to Peshawar given the security risk,” she said. She added that along with her teammates, she plans to stay indoors and avoid going to the markets.

“Pakhtuns are well-known for their hospitality,” said Bushra, the Wapda coach. She said that after arriving in city, the team members have been busy with their practice and have not gone outside. She hoped that the games are held in a peacefully.

Manzar Khan, an organiser, said that they were eager to receive all the guest players in the city. “This event will restore some of the lost lustre of the provincial capital, which was overshadowed by terrorist threats,” he said.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Minister for Sports, Culture and Tourism, Syed Aqil Shah, who is supervising works at Qayyum Stadium told The Express Tribune that all arrangements to hold the games have been made and he was “satisfied with the security arrangements”.

He said that under the security arrangements, all guests will have to come to stadium through Col Sher Khan Stadium on Khyber Road. The authorities will provide a shuttle service to all the visitors and this arrangement will be for the whole period of games.

Shah said that Executive Committee of Pakistan Olympics Association (POA) earlier held a meeting in which POA Chairman Arif Hassan expressed his satisfaction over the arrangements for the national games.

He said that players of the departments including PAF, Air Force, Railway and Higher Education Commission will stay at their own facilities. He added that the number of teams participating in the games had drastically increased as Fata, AJK and G-B were also participating. He said that Pakistan Army will also aid in ensuring security during the event.

In November 2008, a suicide bomb attack killed at least four persons and injured around a dozen at the gate of Qayyum Stadium during the concluding ceremony of the Inter-Provincial Games.

Three including 2 students hurt in Peshawar blast

PESHAWAR: At least three people including two students were injured on Friday in a blast at a private school in Palosi.
According to police sources, the explosion of improvised explosive device (IED) caused the two schoolrooms to collapse, injuring three people including students Muhammed Ibrahim and Naveed Akhtar and a school teacher Sajjad Ali.
The blast was so powerful that the windowpanes of nearby buildings broke triggering panic in the area.

Founder of a School for Afghan Girls

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took her son's life, Sally Goodrich did something as redemptive as it was audacious: She traveled to Afghanistan and built a school there for girls in an area thick with Taliban fighters.Ms. Goodrich, who died Saturday at age 65 of ovarian cancer, was a Vermont educator whose son, Peter Goodrich, was aboard United Airlines flight 175 when the plane slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. Peter Goodrich was age 33 when he was killed.
Overcome with grief and rage, she decided to channel her feelings into cultural outreach—something she thought her son would have done.
"This is really Peter's journey," Ms. Goodrich told the Boston Globe in 2005, during a visit to Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, where the school was under construction. "I am living to move my child's life forward."
A month after the attacks, Ms. Goodrich and her husband Don helped found Families of September 11, a survivors' support and advocacy organization (of which Mr. Goodrich is still chairman). Still, life seemed dark to Ms. Goodrich, who next endured a cancer diagnosis and the death of her father. She became severely depressed.
In 2004, a childhood friend of Peter Goodrich who was serving in the Marines in Afghanistan contacted Ms. Goodrich with a proposal that she later called "the moment of grace." He suggested she organize a program to collect supplies for a rural Afghan schoolteacher whom the Taliban had been threatening because he insisted on teaching girls. Soon she hit on the idea of building a school for girls, and created a charitable foundation. She raised nearly $300,000.
Working with an Afghan nongovernmental organization and Pashtun tribesmen, Ms. Goodrich managed to complete a two-story, 26-classroom schoolhouse meant for 500 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. It opened in 2006. In a glass case in the principal's office was an English-language Koran that had once belonged to Peter Goodrich. A computer programmer by occupation, he wasn't Muslim or even religious, but his interest in the Koran's teachings had been her inspiration.
Raised in Bennington, Vt., Ms. Goodrich married at 19 and had two sons. When they reached adolescence, she returned to school and found work as a remedial reading instructor at schools in southern Vermont and Massachusetts. She became a program administrator and had a reputation for garnering grants for impoverished districts.
At the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation, she helped provide funding for wells, a dental clinic in Kabul and tricycles for victims of landmines. The foundation also sponsors Afghan students to study in the U.S., several of whom lived with the Goodrich family.
In 2009, a bomb exploded not far from the school, killing more than a dozen schoolchildren. The bomb's intended target was unclear, and the school remained open.
Ms. Goodrich visited Afghanistan several times to check on progress and meet the people she was trying to help. "What a great place to be heartbroken," she told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2007. "Anyone who's in pain should have the experience of being plunked down in a place where everyone is heartbroken."