Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Comey in line to become FBI director, officials say
President Obama plans to nominate James B. Comey, a former senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, to replace Robert S. Mueller III as FBI director, according to two people with knowledge of the selection process. Comey, 52, was at the center of some of the most bruising debates over counterterrorism during the Bush administration and established a reputation as a fierce defender of the law and the integrity of the Justice Department regardless of the political pressures of the moment.The expected nomination of Comey, a Republican, was seen in some quarters as a bipartisan move by a president besieged by Republicans in Congress. But Chuck Hagel’s prior service as a Republican senator from Nebraska did not spare him from a bruising nomination battle for secretary of defense. Mueller has served 12 years as FBI director, a period of enormous transformation for the bureau in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The director’s term is limited by law to 10 years, but Congress unanimously approved Obama’s request in 2011 that Mueller be granted another two years. Comey was famously involved in a 2004 hospital-room confrontation with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and the president’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. The two White House officials were attempting to persuade Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who was recovering from emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder, to reauthorize a controversial warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. Comey, who was acting attorney general in Ashcroft’s absence, had refused to agree to extend the program. When he learned that the White House was attempting to go around him and get the ill Ashcroft to sign off on an extension, Comey rushed to George Washington University Medical Center, arriving just before Gonzales and Card. Comey explained to Ashcroft what was happening and, when the White House officials arrived, the attorney general raised himself up and said he never should have authorized the program. He gestured at Comey and said, “There is the attorney general,” according to an account by former Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. The White House had narrowed the search in recent days to Comey and Lisa Monaco, a former assistant attorney general for national security who became Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser this year. One law enforcement source said that a few weeks ago, the Justice Department sent both names to the White House for consideration. Monaco would have been the first woman to lead the FBI, but Comey comes with extensive law enforcement experience. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, and he was the managing assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Richmond division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. While in Richmond, he was credited with reducing the homicide rate by shifting gun prosecutions from state court to federal court, where the sentences were tougher. From 2003 though 2005, he served as deputy attorney general, responsible for overseeing the operations of the Justice Department.Jim is one of the great leaders of the Justice Department,” said Jamie Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. “He has worked very closely with the bureau. He knows its strengths and will be great at enhancing its capabilities.” The officials who said Comey was selected spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a pending decision. They did not say how soon Obama would make the official announcement. News of Comey’s appointment was first reported by NPR.A White House spokesman would not confirm the appointment Wednesday night, saying he had no personnel announcements to make. Comey, who is married and has five children, could not be reached at home or work Wednesday for comment. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the University of Chicago Law School. Comey’s objection to the warrantless wiretapping — he told Congress that he would have resigned had the technique continued — was not his only brush with Bush-era policies. He also opposed the approval of enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA. He said at the time that the Justice Department would eventually be ashamed of its legal backing when the world learned about the methods, which included waterboarding. At the same time, in January 2005, he invoked the state secrets privilege in the civil case of a Syrian Canadian who was sent to Damascus in 2002 to be interrogated and was ultimately tortured. Comey’s role in that episode elicited some criticism from civil liberties groups. “James Comey’s nomination should raise serious concerns, and his role in the Bush administration needs to be examined,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “We need to know the full story of his role in the torture memos. It does not sound like a great nomination. Recycling Bush people is not a good guarantee for the protection of civil liberties.” Comey later came under criticism from some Bush administration officials for his role in selecting Patrick Fitzgerald to lead the special investigation into the leaking of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, a probe that led to the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s adviser Scooter Libby. Comey prosecuted numerous terrorism cases while in New York and created a specialized unit to go after international drug cartels. While in Virginia, he handled the case that arose out of the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia. Comey has prosecuted a variety of other types of cases, including the 1993 racketeering and murder trial of New York mob boss John Gambino. Comey left the Justice Department in 2005 and served as a senior vice president and general counsel at the defense contractor Lockheed Martin until 2010. In June 2010, Comey joined Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based hedge fund with $75 billion in investments for clients including universities and foreign governments. He left the hedge fund in January and now teaches national security law at Columbia Law School in New York. White House officials have been eager to send a nomination to Capitol Hill in order to complete the confirmation process and have the new director in place before Mueller must leave Sept. 4. Given summer recesses and the likelihood of Republican criticism, the White House is expected to formally announce Comey’s name soon. Comey, if confirmed, will lead an agency whose primary mission is now counterterrorism. And until the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI had been praised for its success in largely preventing terrorist attacks in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. Although Mueller has won bipartisan support on Capitol Hill through two administrations, the FBI has been criticized by civil liberties groups for its surveillance operations and aggressive sting operations, which defense lawyers say amount to entrapment.

Obama says Democrats could win back US House in 2014

US President Barack Obama, whose agenda has been frustrated by Republicans in Washington, said on Wednesday he believed his party could reclaim control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterm elections but conceded it was an uphill struggle. The party in power in the White House typically loses seats in the first midterm election after a presidential campaign, and many political analysts believe Democrats could lose seats in Congress in 2014. But Obama, appearing at fundraisers for Democratic House candidates in his hometown of Chicago, said he believed 2014 could prove different.

Over 7 Mln Egyptians Sign Anti-Morsi Petition

More than 7 million signatures have been gathered under a petition to oust Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, anti-Morsi movement spokesman Mahmud Badr said Wednesday. The movement aims to collect 15 million signatures by June 30 to demand early presidential elections. Campaign organizers urged Egyptians to join their call for a million-man march outside the presidential palace in Cairo on June 30 to protest the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule and demand snap presidential elections. “Whoever wants the revolution to prevail must rebel; whoever wants to achieve bread, freedom and social justice must rebel. Let June 30 be a decisive day for the revolution,” Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the movement’s organizers, was quoted by Ahram Online as saying. Mahmud Badr earlier told AFP the campaign was launched “because the president is no longer able to manage the country." Ten months into his presidency, Morsi, Egypt's first freely-elected civilian president after a revolution that ousted Mubarak two years ago, stands accused of betraying his election campaign promises by consolidating the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and of failing to become a leader of all Egyptians.

Pakistan: Sharif’s Pyrrhic victory

by Lal Khan
Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently
In an election devoid of any real ideological debates, the much-flaunted victory by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has nothing to ameliorate the sufferings of the impoverished masses. Sharif represents the national, i.e. ruling class interests and campaigned with a chauvinist rhetoric. In a situation whereby the political consciousness of the working classes had suffered a setback, such an outcome is not surprising. Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently. The victory of Sharif reminds one of the comments made by Karl Marx after the spectacular victory of Louis Napoleon in the presidential elections of December 1848 in France. Marx wrote at the time: “Why had the French voted, in such overwhelming numbers, for this preposterous deadbeat — clumsily cunning, knavishly naïve, doltishly sublime, a calculated superstition, a pathetic burlesque, a cleverly stupid anachronism, a world historic piece of buffoonery and an undecipherable hieroglyphic? Simple: the very blankness of this junior Bonaparte allowed all classes and types to reinvent him in their own image...Thus it happened that the most simple minded man in France acquired the most complex significance: ‘Just because he was nothing, he could signify everything.’” The Sharifs entered the political arena under the patronage of the Zia dictatorship. Their immediate benefactor was General Jilani, the martial law administrator and governor of Punjab. General Ziaul Haq was generous to the Sharifs. Their (in)famous Ittefaq Foundry, nationalised by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s, was handed back for peanuts. There are harrowing tales of brutalities inflicted upon the workers when the Ittefaq was owned by the Sharifs before it was nationalised. Groomed by the dictatorship, Nawaz Sharif made a meteoric rise to the dizzy heights in the hierarchy of the dictatorship. As he was reaching new heights, the working class activists of the left and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were being subjected to horrible atrocities by the Zia dictatorship. Ever since the Sharifs have also become lieutenants of the reactionary Saudi monarchy. They are also part of the nexus between finance capital, drug barons, sections of the religious right, organs of the deep state and the political protégés of the ruling classes. A society often goes through sudden changes and sharp turns. The demise of General Zia in a C-130 plane crash in 1988 heralded a new period with the working masses yearning for a new dawn. However, Benazir Bhutto turned her back on the PPP’s socialist tradition. Instead she looked towards US imperialism and embarked upon Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies, rolling back Bhutto’s nationalisation thrust. She initiated the privatisation process. These pro-capitalist policies resulted in the disillusionment of the masses and enabled the Sharifs to gain politically. They returned to power with a vengeance against the working masses. Sharif became the champion of right-wing politics. His accession to power as prime minister for the third time is in large part due to further political and ideological betrayal and deterioration of the PPP leadership. Turnout and elections results were managed by the deep state like in previous cases favouring the PML-N, allocating far more seats than they even envisaged. As Maryam Nawaz commented, “It is beyond our expectations.” Six independently elected National Assembly members from the tribal areas were made to join Sharif’s party. The election of a Marxist contesting as an independent from NA-41 Wana, South Waziristan, Ali Wazir, was conveniently stolen by a margin of a mere 300 votes. The agencies were fully aware that Ali could neither be bought, nor coaxed or terrified to join this right-wing government. The PML-N candidate was declared officially the winner. But that is a bad omen for the state itself as Wazir aroused the youth of this hinterland with most advanced revolutionary ideas and has gained a mass base in the region. The raging inferno amongst these youth striving in such atrocious conditions can be well imagined. But despite the backing of imperialist media, the state, Chinese corporate elite, Saudi Arabian and Gulf monarchs, this right-wing government will not be stable or able to solve any of the burning issues afflicting society. The so-called peaceful transition will become turbulent and furious in the weeks and months ahead. In the past, as the crisis exacerbated, there were conflicts between Sharif and sections of the state that led to the dismissals of his governments. Currently, imperialist aggressors and the fundamentalist terrorists are involved in a bloody mayhem that is tearing apart the social fabric of Pakistan. Sharif’s slogan to negotiate with the Taliban is mere rhetoric. There is no united leadership or representation of these fundamentalist outfits, splintered into innumerable groups and indulging in endless feuds to gain a bigger chunk of the black money. Sharif evades the question of drone strikes, as he is well aware of his limitations and impotence in this matter. Sharif’s experts do not have a clue how to salvage the crumbling economy. The illusion of overcoming a massive deficit and preventing an economic meltdown with Saudi oil subsidies or Chinese aid is a fallacy. Sharif’s main focus is on macroeconomic stability. His policies of aggressive privatisation, restructuring, and deregulation will exasperate redundancies, cuts in social spending and price hikes devastating the already impoverished masses. The informal or the black economy cannot be brought into the tax net. If he tries to take measures such as increased taxation, etc, against sections of his own corrupt class, there will be a brisk flight of capital and assets, further bludgeoning the decaying economy. On the question of improving the toxic relations with India, Sharif is well aware of the economic interests of the military top brass, the imperialist military-industrial complex, reluctant diplomats, and shadowy lobbies fostering this conflict. At most, both sides will manage to announce some cosmetic measures while the fundamental reality of Indo-Pak relations will remain unchanged. The two countries can neither afford a full-fledged war nor can they sustain a durable peace. Since both Manmohan Singh and Sharif represent the capitalist class, they will try to maximise their profits by expanding trade, etc. But this will fail to boost the dwindling economic growth in the two countries. However, no major initiatives are likely until the 2014 general elections in India. Pakistani capitalism in a rotten state will further pauperise the already deprived masses. In the scenario of a right-wing government launching severe attacks on the working classes, this can provoke an upheaval that can become the death knell for the rule of the capitalist system and the classes that Sharif represents.

Syria has no pre-conditions for dialogue

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem said Wednesday that his government has no pre-conditions for holding peace talks, however, excluding those who have Syrians ' blood smeared over their hands. Al-Moallem made the remarks during an interview with pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV, saying his government has not been invited to the conference, but Damascus is ready for dialogue without pre- conditions, excluding "those who have Syrians' blood smeared over their hands." He added that the results of the Geneva conference would be put for popular referendum before being "literally" implemented, stressing President Bashar al-Assad will remain in his post until the presidential elections in 2014. Al-Moallem also slammed some remarks from the opposition and their western allies about the destiny of Assad and their desire for him to resign as a pre-condition for political settlement. "President Assad is in contact with his people and the election in 2014 is in the hand of the Syrian people," the minister said, adding that "if the people in 2014 wanted Assad to run for the elections, he will do." Regarding the recent French allegations about the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons in the fight against the rebels, al-Moallem said "France is a liar." "The chemical weapons was only used once by the armed opposition in March in the northern city of Khan al-Asal," he reiterated, adding that his government had immediately asked the UN to send a technical team to probe the incident. "(But) we will not allow any (UN) team to wreak havoc in Syria because the UN mission that went into Iraq (before 2003) led to its invasion later... and we will not allow a repetition of the Iraqi scenario," al-Moallem said. As for Israel's latest airstrike against Syrian army positions in Damascus earlier this May, the head of Syria's diplomacy said that his country will respond in case of further aggressions by Israel. "Our response will be proportionate to the scale of the attack," he contended. Asked about Syria's Arms deals with Russia, al-Moallem said " Russia gives us only defensive weapons." The arms deals issue was highlighted recently as Moscow announced that it was sending Russian-made long-range S-300 anti- aircraft missiles to Syria. Moscow said recently that sending the missiles to Syria constitutes "a stability factor" and prevents foreign forces from interfering in the country, adding that the shipment is being carried out according to a contract signed between Syria and Russia five years ago.

Tunisians rally in support of Syria

Tunisians have held a demonstration in the capital, Tunis, in protest against the presence of foreign-backed militants in Syria.Politicians, students and human rights activists as well as the family members of young men recruited by foreign-sponsored armed groups in Syria gathered in front of the foreign affairs ministry building to voice support for Damascus. The protesters slammed foreign countries for œinterfering” in Syria™s internal affairs.
Qatar is the base for this Zionist project. It is financing terrorists while Saudi Arabia is arming them. They are killing innocent civilians in order to empower Israel and its allies,” a protester said.
The demonstrators also called for the resumption of diplomatic ties between Tunisia and Syria. Another demonstrator asked the Syrian government to release his mentally-retarded son who was recruited by militants in the Arab country.

Bahrainis hold fresh anti-regime demo in Manama

Bahraini demonstrators have staged a fresh anti-regime protest rally in the capital Manama despite the ongoing heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the Persian Gulf kingdom. On Wednesday, protesters took to the streets in the city and chanted slogans against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family. Earlier in the day, Bahraini regime forces attacked the funeral procession of a man identified as Omran al-Seyed who died after inhaling toxic tear gas used by regime forces in the village of Karzakan. The Bahraini revolution began in mid-February 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations. The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries. A report published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011 found that the Al Khalifa regime had used excessive force in the crackdown and accused Manama of torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters. The protesters say they will continue holding anti-regime demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically elected government is met.

Saudi writer urges groping of women to make them stay at home

A Saudi writer with more than 97,000 Twitter followers has been promoting the molestation of women on under the hash-tag #harass_female_cashiers to pressure for Saudi women to stay at home in order to protect their chastity. Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, author of several books, urged his abundance of followers to harass women working in Saudi grocery stores nationwide. He is attempting to campaign against the employment of women in mixed-gender environments and his move towards condoning assault is regarded as a backlash against mild socioeconomic reforms in the country. Since 2011, women have begun taking up private-sector work in increasing droves, following official moves encouraging their influx into the sphere in order to boost the country’s economy. His tweet was apparently ‘justified’ by a sermon about a 7th-century Islamic warrior who did not want his wife to leave home to visit the mosque, according to Gulf News. The warrior, Al Zubair, hid in the dark and molested his wife anonymously when she left the house. His terrified spouse never set foot outside again, realizing that the external world was a corrupt and evil place. Some fellow conservatives have lauded his Twitter campaign as part of a great fight against government efforts to ‘Westernize’ the nation. One cleric, named Khalid Ebrahim Al Saqabi was fully supportive, saying that government laws against sexual harassment were only meant to encourage consensual debauchery, and accused the labor minister of being “concerned with finding jobs for women instead of men.” Another stated that, “They had better ban mingling of the sexes, not protect it.” However, his comments have sparked a backlash across the Twittersphere from people suggesting that he wouldn’t like his own words if the women in question were his wife or sisters.

'It can become a cancer': Rising crystal meth use worries Afghanistan
By Amie Ferris-Rotman, Reuters
Impoverished Afghanistan, already plagued by insurgency and struggling to contain crippling rates of opium addiction, faces another potential headache with spiraling usage of the synthetic drug crystal methamphetamine. The growing use of the drug, known as crystal meth or ice, comes at a critical time. Some fear that, with the exit of most foreign troops by the end of next year and dwindling interest and aid from the international community, significant addiction to the relatively new drug could wreak social havoc. The number of crystal meth samples taken from seizures tripled to 48 in 2012 compared with the year before, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).Treatment options for Afghanistan's 1 million heroin addicts, some of whom inject into their groins in broad daylight in central Kabul, are sorely limited. In the country's sole, ultra-secretive drugs lab on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghan pharmacists analyze samples from seizures brought in on a daily basis, which are subject to three rounds of testing to identify the substance and its potency. A sack of translucent crystals resembling large grains of sea salt sat on one of the lab's tables -- one of the recent seizures of crystal meth. It stood out starkly among the brown hues of heroin, opium, morphine and hashish in tiny bags. "If only we could get the punishment increased for selling this," said Mohammad Khalid Nabizada, the head of the lab, which operates under the Interior Ministry's Counter Narcotics Police. Prison terms for selling crystal meth are relatively light, with dealers facing up to one year behind bars for a kilogram (2.2 lbs.), compared with up to three years for opium and a maximum of 10 years for the same amount of heroin. Dubbed "glass" in Afghanistan, crystal meth appeared there only in recent years and is made in high-tech labs across the border in Iran. Most of it is consumed in the border provinces of Herat and Nimroz, but seizures have been scattered across the country. Its street price is about $20, or five times that of heroin, making it relatively expensive in one of the world's poorest countries, said Ahmad Khalid Mowahid, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force that convicts serious drug offenders.But its rocketing use hints at falling exclusivity. "If glass users are added to our opium addicts, it'll be a disaster. Meth addicts jump off roofs and punch fists in walls. Imagine such abnormal behavior here," Mowahid told Reuters. He said Afghanistan does not have the "medicine nor the means" to try to contain a growing meth addiction. The United States is no stranger to the epidemic of crystal meth, where homemade labs and a booming Mexican trade have consumed small towns. "It has that same look coming out of Iran, of large-scale commercial properties. ... It can become a cancer," the DEA official said.

U.S. spelling bee starts with a new challenge : definitions

REUTERS.COM Sometimes-nervous contestants in the United States' Scripps National Spelling Bee launched two days of competition on Wednesday, facing the new challenge of not only having to spell obscure words correctly, but also knowing what they mean. A total of 281 contestants aged 8 to 14 from across the United States and other countries took to the stage for a preliminary spelling round in the spelling bee. The finals are on Thursday night. For the first time since it began in 1927, the contest is requiring young spellers in preliminary and semifinal rounds to take a computerized vocabulary test. Organizers say it is part of the Bee's commitment to deepening contestants' command of English. Sixteen spellers were eliminated in a first onstage round, with a second round to come for survivors. They stumbled on such words as "sinecure," a paid job with little work; "weissnichtwo," an imaginary place; and "yannigan," player in an individualized baseball game. Some spellers were visibly nervous before advancing to the microphone in the packed auditorium, clutching arms to sides, jiggling feet or crossing themselves. "I felt a little nervous before I got on stage, but once I was on stage I was OK," said Matthew Griffin, a 12-year-old home schooled eighth grader from Bailey, N.C., who correctly spelled "panglossian," or extreme optimism. "It's pretty cool. I've made a lot of friends," he said. Owen Duffy, 13, from Fort Johnson Middle School in Charleston, S.C., did not fare as well. Given "langlauf" to spell, the seventh grader asked chief pronouncer Jacques Bailly for the pronunciation of the German word for cross-country skiing several times. "Langlauf? Langlauf? Langlauf?" Duffy said slowly. He barely finished spelling it, incorrectly, before his time ran out. Almost all the contestants asked for the origin of the word, the kind of word and a definition, which is allowed as an aid to spelling. They then wrote it out on the palm of their hands with a fingertip while spelling aloud. DEFINE THAT Since 2002, a written or computer spelling test has been a component that, along with onstage spelling, factored in determining which spellers advanced to the semi-finals. This year, competitors will advance to the semi-finals and finals based on their onstage spelling, as well as computer-based spelling and vocabulary questions. Vocabulary evaluation will count for half of a speller's overall score. Contestants said the multiple-choice test taken on Tuesday was fairly easy for them. Amber Born, 14, a home-schooled eighth grader from Marblehead, Massachusetts, said after the first round of spelling that it "was good, it was fun." Standing next to Born, Katherine Wang, an 11-year-old sixth grader from the Qooco School in Beijing, called it "nerve-wracking." "It was multiple choice, so you could narrow it down," Born said. She and Wang had met at last year's contest and stayed in touch through e-mail. Griffin said the test was "a little hard. I knew how to spell the words but now having to know them makes the challenge a little harder." Paige Kimble, the Bee's executive director who won the competition in 1981, told a news conference the decision to add the vocabulary test had come after about a year and a half of discussion. A key element was support from spellers and their parents who believed that adding the test would increase the tournament's prestige, she said. The contestants hail from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Defense Department schools around the world. Some contestants come from the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. The Bee is taking place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington. It is being broadcast by ESPN. The contestants range from third to eighth graders, with 116 speaking more than one language. The group is 52 percent girls and 48 percent boys, organizers said.

Pakistan's Caretaker’s controversial step: Polio cell abolished

The caretaker government took another controversial step by abolishing the Prime Minister Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, established by the Pakistan Peoples Party government in 2011. According to a notification, the caretaker prime minister has approved the dissolution of the Polio Cell with immediate effect. The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination would be the apex nodal ministry for the Polio Eradication Initiative. Under the cell, the number of polio cases had been reduced to 58 in 2012 from the 198 cases in 2011 (a 70 percent decrease). Former adviser to the Prime Minister for polio eradication, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, condemned the move and lashed out at the caretaker government. “It is a very surprising move and will give a bad message to the donor agencies and the world community. It would show that the Pakistani government did not fulfill its commitments,” she told Dawn. “The caretaker government has now placed the monitoring cell under the Ministry of National Health Services which is against the 18th amendment. Under the amendment, it is clearly stated that health is the subject of provinces,” she said. High ranking officials associated with international donor agencies working with the polio cell have also expressed their disappointment regarding the decision. “We received a shock when we heard the polio monitoring cell was being dissolved,” said an official of an international donor agency requesting anonymity. Caretaker Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arif Nizami was not aware of the move. Similarly, Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso’s spokesman Shafqat Jaleel, when approached, said the decision had not been announced and he was not aware of it.

U.S. drone kills 4 militants in Pakistan
A pair of suspected U.S. missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft killed four alleged militants early Wednesday near the Afghan border in Pakistan, intelligence officials said, the first drone strike since Pakistan's nationwide elections earlier this month. The strike was also the first since President Barack Obama's speech last week on the controversial U.S. drone program and more restrictive rules he was implementing on their use in places such as Pakistan and Yemen. Wednesday's strike came in the North Waziristan tribal region, a stronghold for militants in the mountainous stretch of land bordering Afghanistan to the west. Pakistani intelligence officials said the missiles hit a house in the town of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said they suspected the house was being used by foreign militants but had no other details. The tribal region is home to a variety of local and Afghan militant outfits, including al-Qaeda-linked fighters. The U.S. has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas. Using their safe havens in Pakistan, militants are then targeting American troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say their military is already overly overtaxed by fighting militants in both the northwestern tribal regions and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and that the casualties they've already incurred battling militants have not been properly recognized. Washington's drone program is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, although the number of strikes has dropped significantly since the height of the program in 2010. The country's incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly said he is against the use of American drones on Pakistani soil, and Pakistani officials have demanded publicly that the program be stopped. Senior civilian and military officials are known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past, but that is no longer the case. Pakistan has been hit by 355 such attacks since 2004, according to the New America Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank. The figure does not include Wednesday's strike. Up to 3,336 people have died in the strikes, said the think tank. Obama's speech last Thursday was his most extensive comments to date about the secretive drone program, which has come under increased criticism for its lack of accountability. The president cast drone strikes against Islamic militants as crucial to U.S. counterterrorism efforts but acknowledged that they are not a "cure-all." The president also said he is deeply troubled by civilians unintentionally killed in the strikes and announced more restrictive rules governing the attacks — measures that his advisers said would effectively limit drone use in the future.

Fighting measles in Punjab: Province-wide vaccination must wait four more weeks

The Express Tribune
Four months after measles cases started surfacing in the Punjab, the Health Department is yet to launch an immunisation campaign in districts other than Lahore. According to official figures, 117 children in the province have died of the disease since January. 73 of them were from Lahore. A total of 14,300 cases have been reported from the province so far. Maryam, a five-year old, died of measles in Lahore on Tuesday. “Health officials thought that the epidemic would die down with the increase in temperature. That has not been the case,” said a senior paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital. The vaccination campaign has been limited to Lahore so that children in other districts are still at great risk, he said. The Health Department, at the onset of the epidemic in January, identified 12 high-risk districts in the province: Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Okara, Kasur, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, DG Khan, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan. “Measles is a droplet infection. You cannot contain it if you don’t vaccinate the children at risk,” a senior doctor at Mayo Hospital said. The epidemic here started in Sindh. Had the government taken pre-emptive measures and vaccinated children in the province, many lives could have been saved, he said. The government is unfortunately repeating the mistake by not vaccinating children in districts other than Lahore. “Many families travel from high-risk districts to Lahore and many leave the city for these districts,” said the doctor. This increased the risk of contracting measles. The Health Department thought it would die down with time, but that hasn’t happened, he said. Young Doctors Association (YDA) leader Dr Salman Kazmi said it was criminal negligence on the Health Department’s part. “This is height of mismanagement. It should have acted promptly,” he said. The health secretary and expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) director should be held responsible, said Kazmi. EPI Director Dr Tanveer Ahmed told The Express Tribune that the department did not have enough vaccine to carry out an immunisation campaign in all high-risk districts. “We will receive a shipment of vaccine on June 15 and launch a province-wide immunisation campaign from June 24 to July 4,” he said, “We cannot get the vaccine earlier than that.” He said the government was spending Rs458 million on the vaccine. A health department spokesman said that the department had a cold chain system to store the vaccine so they would not have a problem storing the vaccine imported for the campaign. The spokesman said, in a statement issued on Tuesday, that in addition to 10 cold rooms in Lahore, there were 22 cold rooms in other districts. He also said that there was a need to improve the cold storages. The Health Department had approached the government to procure additional cold rooms. He said that the existing system had the capacity to store measles vaccine for the coming vaccination campaign. However, the department had prepared a proposal (PC-1) to purchase new cold rooms at a cost of Rs3.6 million for a 40 cubic metre cold room, (a 10-cubic metre cold room will cost Rs2.7 million). The spokesman hoped that the next government will approve the proposal.

Pakistan: People’s misery: Power woes

MOST parts of the country were without electricity when incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif delivered a speech at a function in Lahore to mark the 15th anniversary of the nuclear tests. The persistent power cuts of the past several months led him to remark that it was a tragedy that a country with a nuclear arsenal was facing chronic electricity shortages. But he could not give a definitive time frame for when the shortages would end, and instead warned the people against harbouring too many hopes that the formation of his government would lead to an instant solution. How the voters, especially in Punjab, who have returned his party to power with an emphatic majority, are going to react to his appeal for patience will become clear in the next several weeks, given that the party’s pledge to end the power crisis was a key plank of the PML-N’s poll strategy. For now, many people in different parts of the country are protesting against unannounced blackouts of up to 18 hours a day. In Mirpur, where scores of demonstrators had clashed with police, Mr Sharif’s own party called for public protests against the power cuts. Indeed, growing power shortages have not only crippled daily life, they are also disrupting industrial production. The incessant power cuts are estimated to cause an economic loss in excess of 4pc of GDP a year. Hundreds of factories have been forced to close down while others are operating far below their capacity. Thousands of jobs have been lost. The reasons for the country’s power sector woes — mismanagement, corruption, lack of investment, etc — are well known. So are the solutions to the power crisis — deregulation and privatisation of generation and distribution companies, change in the energy mix, reform of the pricing structure of different fuels, investment in hydel and coal generation, etc. The crisis has worsened ever since the caretaker government took over. But it would not be fair to fault it for doing too little as it has had neither the mandate nor the money to carry out reforms. Meanwhile, considering the extent of the crisis, it is hardly likely that the problem will go away soon. Yet the incoming government will have to move swiftly to minimise shortages by implementing power sector reforms and ensuring optimal utilisation of the available generation capacity to revive growth. Those who voted the PML-N into power in the hope that it could end the crisis will be watching the government’s performance closely on this front.

Electricity and WAPDA

Power crisis further deepened on Monday when energy shortfall rose to around 7,000 Megawatts and this led to riots in many parts of the country, including some Federally Administered Tribal Areas. About 50 political activists were injured in clashes with police on Mirpur-Mangla Road. Similar riots have also been reported from Faisalabad, certain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Lahore. The production of electricity from all sources is about 10,500MW against a demand for 17,500MW. Besides, the circular debt has risen to Rs761 billion and climbing. The infamous circular debt is the gift of introducing corporate culture in the Water and Power Development Authority which, under a World Bank Corporate Plan, was enforced in 2006 to establish three 'autonomous' companies in generation and transmission and nine in electricity supply to settle among them the question of financial transactions. In fact, the plan was envisaged in 1997 and the Musharraf regime only implanted it. The second Nawaz Sharif government sought the WB financial assistance to turn WAPDA into 12 companies after the failure of an identical corporate plan for the Pakistan Railways which has now reached the brinks of a total collapse. This is ironic that the people at the helm of affairs repeated the mistake after the PR disaster. The corporatization of WAPDA has not only lead to untold miseries of the people confronting prolonged electricity outages in the scorching heat of the sizzling summer weather, it also resulted in mounting circular debt in the absence of a central command of WAPDA which used to show overall system and line losses at a maximum of 20 per cent. These losses have now reached up to 35 per cent because each of its 12 companies have been showing various degrees of accumulated losses. An immediate solution of substance is the restoration of the WAPDA's central authority which used to be managed in the past by a chairperson and members of water, power and finance. The Pakistan People's Party-led government in the past took some initiatives to meet the objective and the PML-N's, which is now a matter of about a week or so away from getting in power, must also consider to carry on the unfinished job. Maybe the government now assuming power will find it difficult to implement a scheme of its political adversary, no other substantial option is probably available to relive the people of their miseries. This will also save the national economy from sluggishness that is causing a loss of about Rs5 billion on each day of power load-shedding. What the country needs is that system and line losses are brought down by half. This can easily be done by restoring the WAPDA's central command and not spending even a single penny. If this is not done, the government will keep doling out billions to oil companies without any positive and permanent outcome.