Monday, January 30, 2017
China's plans for deep-space exploration included two Mars missions and one Jupiter probe.
China plans its first Mars probe by 2020, said Wu Yanhua, vice director of the China National Space Administration.
A second Mars probe will bring back samples and conduct research on the planet's structure, composition and environment, Wu said.
Also on the agenda are an asteroid exploration, and a fly-by of the Jupiter system.
China aims to become a space power around 2030 with an advanced and open aerospace industry and space infrastructure.
Key aerospace projects currently planned by around 2020 include manned space programs, lunar probes, the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and the Gaofen (High Resolution) observation satellite program, according to a white paper on space activities released late last year.
Any rational thinking person would believe that Burkina Faso's foreign minister was saying "nothing short of ludicrous." Burkina Faso is listed as one of the 10 Least Developed Countries in the world, according to the United Nations. The landlocked country in western Africa has a small population of 17 million, and a backward economy of $11.2 billion GDP a year.
However, such "insane banter" has pleased Taiwan's " Ministry of Foreign Affairs", as they are still grappling with the recent loss of "diplomatic ties" with other African countries such as Sao Tome and Principe. In response to Taiwan's reaffirmed ties with Burkina Faso and Swaziland, a spokeswoman responded, "Our relations are concrete". A DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) "legislator" also stated in his Facebook, "It is fortunate that certain values and friends are not for sale."
The relationship between Burkina Faso and Taiwan has always been fully sustained with money. The country first established "diplomatic" ties with Taiwan in 1961, but later severed it in 1973. After it formed a diplomatic relationship with Beijing, Taiwan repurchased its "diplomatic" ties with the African country. As a recent example of the nature of their relationship, a Taiwanese "diplomat" promised Burkina Faso a 44 million euro ($47.33 million) aid over the next couple of years during his visit to the country last September.
Beijing is not interested in utilizing monetary inducements to strengthen its roster of diplomatic relationships, a strategy obviously favored by Taiwan. Beijing's appeal is so powerful that every rational nation with a strategic vision simply wants to maintain its diplomatic ties with Beijing. This type of powerful appeal cannot realistically be replaced with monetary promises made by Taiwan. Most of the remaining 21 "diplomatic allies" are eager to develop relationships with Beijing. In fact, the allure is so great that Beijing could attract all of Taiwan's remaining "diplomatic allies" without spending a penny. It is the primary reason that Taiwan's administration remains in panic mode.
Although Taiwan will always be able to maintain a few "diplomatic allies" by spending more money, its real threat lies within the realm of its "diplomatic allies" that may one day voluntarily seek comfort in the arms of Beijing, regardless of any monetary promises from Taiwan. These countries, most barely noticeable in the world map, are essential to Taiwan's "diplomacy", and yet dispensable to Beijing. Even if Beijing decides to teach Taiwan a lesson, buying out their diplomatic relationships is hardly an option.
Burkina Faso's foreign minister mentioned the "$50 billion" for underlying reasons that will soon surface. He is probably campaigning and gearing up to ask Taiwan for more money, a scenario that could play out along the lines of, "Look, Beijing offered us $50 billion. How much are you willing to propose, Taiwan? " Taiwan's leader, Tsai Ing-wen, chose to deny the 1992 Consensus, a decision that has led to soaring prices for Taiwan's "diplomatic" ties.
Those countries that have yet to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing have increasingly felt unconventional in the world. This explains why they willingly pursue diplomatic ties with Beijing, including Vatican that has not established diplomatic relations with Beijing for special reasons. All other countries that remain Taiwan's "diplomatic allies" have only done so for simple and convenient reasons based on money.
Chinese mainland has risen to be a superpower on the world stage. Monetary inducements are unlikely to offset any strategic value attached to having diplomatic ties with Beijing. Beijing always has plenty of bargaining chips on the table.
Taiwan is going to need more money if it wants to continue with its current strategy of "diplomacy." It is very likely that another one of its "diplomatic allies" will soon bring it the news of a $100 billion offer from Beijing. After all, denying the 1992 Consensus is an expensive game that can have less than enjoyable consequences.
Trump has been trying to govern by impulse, on whim, for personal retribution, for profit, by decree ― as if he had been elected dictator. It doesn’t work, and the wheels are coming off the bus. After a week!
Impeachment is gaining ground because it is the only way to get him out, and because Republicans are already deserting this president in droves, and because the man is psychiatrically incapable of checking whether something is legal before he does it.
Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office. The grownups around Trump, even the most slavishly loyal ones, spend half their time trying to rein him in, but it can’t be done.
They spend the other half fielding frantic calls from Republican chieftains, business elites and foreign leaders. Trump did what? Poor Reince Priebus has finally attained the pinnacle of power, and it can’t be fun.
It is one thing to live in your own reality when you are a candidate and it’s just words. You can fool enough of the people enough of the time maybe even to get elected. But when you try to govern that way, there is a reality to reality—and reality pushes back.
One by one, Trump has decreed impulsive orders, un-vetted by legal, policy, or political staff, much less by serious planning. Almost immediately he is forced to walk them back by a combination of political and legal pressure—and by reality.
Unlike in the various dictatorships Trump admires, the complex skein of constitutional legal and political checks on tyranny in the United States are holding—just barely at times, but they are holding. And the more reckless Trump’s behavior, the stronger become the checks.
Only with his lunatic effort to selectively ban refugees (but not from terrorist-sending countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where Trump has business interests) has Trump discovered that the American system has courts. It has courts. Imagine that.
The more unhinged he becomes, the less will conservative judges be the toadies to ordinary Republican policies that they too often have been. Anybody want to wager that the Supreme Court will be Trump’s whore?
In the past week, Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have tripped over each other rejecting his view of Putin. They have ridiculed his screwball claim of massive voter fraud.
They are running for cover on how to kill ObamaCare without killing patients or Republican re-election hopes. This is actually complicated, and nuance is not Trump’s strong suit. Rep Tom McClintock of California spoke for many when he warned:
“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created” with repeal, said Rep. Tom McClintock. (R-Calif.)
“That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, mocking Trump’s own nutty tweeting habits, sent out a tweet calling a trade war with Mexico “mucho sad.”
Trump’s own senior staff has had to pull him back from his ludicrous crusade against Mexico and Mexicans, where Trump forces the Mexican president to cancel an official visit one day, and spends an hour on the phone kissing up the next day.
Trump proposed to reinstate torture, but key Republican leaders killed that idea. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s third ranking Republican said Wednesday that the ban on torture was settled law and the Republicans in Congress would oppose any reinstatement. Trump’s own defense secretary holds the same view. After blustering out his new torture policy, Trump meekly agreed to defer to his defense advisers.
All this in just a week! Now capped by federal judges starting to rein him in.
Two weeks ago, in this space, just based on what we witnessed during the transition, I wrote a piece calling for a citizens impeachment panel, as a shadow House Judiciary Committee, to assemble a dossier for a Trump impeachment, and a citizens’ campaign to create a public impeachment movement.
The bipartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, (CREW) has been conducting a detailed investigation. Senior legal scholars associated with CREW have filed a detailed legal brief in their lawsuit, documenting the several ways Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from profiting from the actions of foreign governments.
There are already plenty of other grounds for impeachment, including Trump’s putting his own business interests ahead of the country’s and his weird and opportunistic alliance with Vladimir Putin bordering on treason. A lesser-known law that goes beyond the Emoluments Clause is the STOCK Act of 2012, which explicitly prohibits the president and other officials from profiting from non-public knowledge.
Impeachment, of course, is a political as well as a legal process. The Founders designed it that way deliberately. But after just a week in office, not only has Trump been deserting the Constitution; his partisan allies are deserting him.
Despite his creepy weirdness, Republicans at first thought they could use Trump for Republican ends. But from his embrace of Putin to his sponsorship of a general trade war, this is no Republican. One can only imagine the alarm and horror being expressed by Republicans privately.
In 1984, the psychiatrist Otto Kernberg described a sickness known as Malignant Narcissism. Unlike ordinary narcissism, malignant narcissism was a severe pathology.
It was characterized by an absence of conscience, a pathological grandiosity and quest for power, and a sadistic joy in cruelty.
Given the sheer danger to the Republic as well as to the Republicans, Trump’s impeachment will happen. The only question is how grave a catastrophe America faces first.
By Nomi Prins
Under President Trump, banking sharks will once again have immense influence on the American economy.
Irony isn’t a concept with which President Donald J. Trump is familiar. In his Inaugural Address, having nominated the wealthiest cabinet in American history, he proclaimed, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth.” Under Trump, an even smaller group will flourish—in particular, a cadre of former Goldman Sachs executives. To put the matter bluntly, two of them (along with the Federal Reserve) are likely to control our economy and financial system in the years to come.
Infusing Washington with Goldman alums isn’t exactly an original idea. Three of the last four presidents, including The Donald, have handed the wheel of the US economy to ex-Goldmanites. But in true Trumpian style, after attacking Hillary Clinton for her Goldman ties, he wasn’t satisfied to do just that. He had to do it bigger and better. Unlike Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, just a sole Goldman figure lording it over economic policy wasn’t enough for him. Only two would do.
THE GREAT VAMPIRE SQUID REVISITED
Whether you voted for or against Donald Trump, whether you’re gearing up for the revolution or waiting for his next tweet to drop, rest assured that, in the years to come, the ideology that matters most won’t be that of the “forgotten” Americans of his Inaugural Address. It will be that of Goldman Sachs and it will dominate the domestic economy and, by extension, the global one.
At the dawn of the 20th century, when President Teddy Roosevelt governed the country on a platform of trust busting aimed at reducing corporate power, even he could not bring himself to bust up the banks. That was a mistake born of his collaboration with the financier J.P. Morgan to mitigate the effects of the Bank Panic of 1907. Roosevelt feared that if he didn’t enlist the influence of the country’s major banker, the crisis would be even longer and more disastrous. It’s an error he might not have made had he foreseen the effect that one particular investment bank would have on America’s economy and political system.
There have been hundreds of articles written about the “world’s most powerful investment bank,” or as journalist Matt Taibbi famously called it back in 2010, the “great vampire squid.” That squid is now about to wrap its tentacles around our world in a way previously not imagined by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
No less than six Trump administration appointments already hail from that single banking outfit. Of those, two will impact your life strikingly: former Goldman partner and soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and incoming top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, former president and “number two” at Goldman. (The Council he will head has been responsible for “policy-making for domestic and international economic issues.”)
Now let’s take a step into history to get the full Monty on why this matters more than you might imagine. In New York, circa 1932, then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his bid for the presidency. At the time, our nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs had, in fact, been one of the banks at the core of the infamous crash of 1929 that crippled the financial system and nearly destroyed the economy. It was then run by a dynamic figure, Sidney Weinberg, dubbed “the Politician” by Roosevelt because of his smooth tongue and “Mr. Wall Street” by the New York Times because of his range of connections there. Weinberg quickly grasped that, to have a chance of redeeming his firm’s reputation from the ashes of public opinion, he would need to aim high indeed. So he made himself indispensable to Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, soon embedding himself on the Democratic National Campaign Executive Committee.
After victory, he was not forgotten. FDR named him to the Business Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce, even as he continued to run Goldman Sachs. He would, in fact, go on to serve as an adviser to five more presidents, while Goldman would be transformed from a boutique banking operation into a global leviathan with a direct phone line to whichever president held office and a permanent seat at the table in political and financial Washington.
Now let’s jump forward to the 1990s when Robert Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, took a page from Weinberg’s playbook. He recognized the potential in a young, charismatic governor from Arkansas with a favorable attitude toward banks. Since Bill Clinton was far less well known than FDR had been, Rubin didn’t actually cozy up to him from the get-go. It was another Goldman Sachs executive, Ken Brody, who introduced them, but Rubin would eventually help Clinton gain Wall Street cred and the kind of funding that would make his successful 1992 run for the presidency possible. Those were favors that the new president wouldn’t forget. As a reward, and because he felt comfortable with Rubin’s economic philosophy, Clinton created a special post just for him: first chair of the new National Economic Council. It was then only a matter of time until he was elevated to Treasury secretary. In that position, he would accomplish something Ronald Reagan—the first president to appoint a Treasury secretary directly from Wall Street (former CEO of Merrill Lynch Donald Regan)—and George H.W. Bush failed to do. He would get the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 repealed by hustling President Clinton into backing such a move. FDR had signed the act in order to separate investment banks from commercial banks, ensuring that risky and speculative banking practices would not be funded with the deposits of hard-working Americans. The act did what it was intended to do. It inoculated the nation against the previously reckless behavior of its biggest banks.
Rubin, who had left government service six months earlier, wasn’t even in Washington when, on November 12, 1999, Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed Glass-Steagall. He had, however, become a board member of Citigroup, one of the key beneficiaries of that repeal, about two weeks earlier.
As Treasury secretary, Rubin also helped craft the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He subsequently convinced both President Clinton and Congress to raid US taxpayer coffers to “help” Mexico when its banking system and peso crashed thanks to NAFTA. In reality, of course, he was lending a hand to American banks with exposure in Mexico. The subsequent $25 billion bailout would protect Goldman Sachs, as well as other big Wall Street banks, from losing boatloads of money. Think of it as a test run for the great bailout of 2008.
A WORLD MADE BY AND FOR GOLDMAN SACHS
Moving on to more recent history, consider a moment when yet another Goldmanite was at the helm of the economy. From 1970 to 1973, Henry (“Hank”) Paulson had worked in various positions in the Nixon administration. In 1974, he joined Goldman Sachs, becoming its chairman and CEO in 1999. I was at Goldman at the time. (I left in 2002.) I remember the constant internal chatter about whether an investment bank like Goldman could continue to compete against the super-banks that the Glass-Steagall repeal had created. The buzz was that if Goldman and similar investment banks were allowed to borrow more against their assets (“leverage themselves,” in banking-speak), they wouldn’t need to use individual deposits as collateral for their riskier deals.
In 2004, Paulson helped convince the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to change its regulations so that investment banks could operate as if they had the kind of collateral or backing for their trades that goliaths like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase had. As a result, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns, to name three that would become notorious in the economic meltdown only four years later (and all ones for which I once worked) promptly leveraged themselves to the hilt. As they were doing so, George W. Bush made Paulson his third and final Treasury secretary. In that capacity, Paulson managed to completely ignore the crisis brewing as a direct result of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the one I predicted was coming in Other People’s Money, the book I wrote when I left Goldman.
In 2006, Paulson was questioned on his obvious conflicts of interest and responded, “Conflicts are a fact of life in many, if not most, institutions, ranging from the political arena and government to media and industry. The key is how we manage them.” At the time, I wrote, “The question isn’t how it’s a conflict of interest for Paulson to preside over our country’s economy but how it’s not?” For men like Paulson, after all, such conflicts don’t just involve their business holdings. They also involve the ideology associated with those holdings, which for him at that time came down to a deep belief in pursuing the full-scale deregulation of banking.
Paulson was, of course, Treasury secretary for the period in which the 2008 financial crisis was brewing and then erupted. When it happened, he was the one who got to decide which banks survived and which died. Under his ministrations, Lehman Brothers died; Bear Stearns was given to JPMorgan Chase (along with plenty of government financial support); and you won’t be surprised to learn that Goldman Sachs thrived. While designing that outcome under the pressure of the moment, Paulson pled with Nancy Pelosi to press the Democrats in the House of Representatives to support a staggering $700 billion bailout. All those taxpayer dollars went with the 2008 Emergency Financial Stability Act that would save the banking system (under the auspices of saving the economy) and leave it resplendently triumphant, bonuses included), even as foreclosures rose by 21 percent the following year.
Once again, it was a world made by and for Goldman Sachs.
GOLDMAN BACK IN THE (WHITE) HOUSE
Running for office as an outsider is one thing. Instantly inviting Wall Street into that office once you arrive is another. Now, it seems that Donald Trump is bringing us the newest chapter in the long-running White House-Goldman Sachs saga. And count on Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn to offer a few fresh wrinkles on that old alliance.
Cohn was one of the partners who ran the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodity (FICC) division of Goldman. It was the one that benefited the most from leverage, trading, and the complexity of Wall Street’s financial concoctions like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) stuffed with derivatives attached to subprime mortgages. You could say, it was leverage that helped propel Cohn up the Goldman food chain.
Steven Mnuchin has proven particularly adept at understanding such concoctions. He left Goldman in 2002. In 2004, with two other ex-Goldman partners, he formed the hedge fund Dune Capital Management. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Dune went shopping, as Wall Street likes to do, for cheap buys it could convert into big profits. Mnuchin and his pals found the perfect prey in a Pasadena-based bank, IndyMac, that had failed in July 2008 before the financial crisis kicked into high gear, and had been seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). They would pick up its assets on the cheap.
At his confirmation hearings, Mnuchin downplayed his role in throwing homeowners (including members of the military) out of their heavily mortgaged homes as a result of that purchase. He cast himself instead as a genuine hero, the guy who convened a cadre of financial sharks to help, not harm, the bank’s customers who, without their benevolence, would have fared so much worse. He looked deeply earnest as he spoke of his role as the savior of the common—or perhaps in the age of Trump “forgotten”—man and woman. Maybe he even believed it.
But the philosophy of swooping in, attacking an IndyMac-like target of opportunity and converting it into a fortune for himself (and problems for everyone else), has been a hallmark of his career. To transfer this version of over-amped 1 percent opportunism to the halls of political power is certainly a new definition of, in Trumpian terms, giving the government back to “the people.” Perhaps what our new president meant was “the people at Goldman Sachs.” Think of it, in any case, as the supercharging of a vulture mentality in a designer suit, the very attitude that once fueled the rise to power of Goldman Sachs.
"In his final official speech as President, he spoke about the important role of citizen and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy — not just during an election but every day," Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a statement. "Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake."
It is the first public comment from Obama since he left office just over a week ago and departed for a vacation in Palm Springs, Calif. In his final press conference, Obama signaled he would give the new president some deference, but that he wouldn't hesitate to speak up if he believed the country's "core values may be at stake," including "systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion." The former president apparently felt that was in fact happening with Trump's executive order, which blocked travelers from seven countries, many of which are Muslim-majority — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia — for 90 days. New refugee admissions are suspended for 120 days, while Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely. Trump also signaled in a weekend interview with the Christian Broadcast Network that he would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. The administration has maintained the sweeping actions don't constitute a Muslim ban, though.
"With regard to comparisons to President Obama's foreign policy decisions, as we've heard before, the President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," the statement from Lewis added. There was confusion across the country over the implementation of the ban, which blocked some valid visa holders from entering and detained many people who had legal status and green cards. Protests sprung up at major international airports, and on Saturday night a federal judge issued a temporary stay blocking the deportation of valid visa holders.
Trump has argued that his new policy is "similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months." However, as the Washington Post points out, that was in response to a specific threat after Iraqi refugees had been found to be colluding against U.S. troops. However, the refugee process was slowed, not halted.
Donald Trump’s White House is plunging the United States into a full-blown constitutional crisis a little more than a week into his administration. One of the prime culprits seems to be his controversial chief strategist: Steve Bannon, whom Nancy Pelosi called a white nationalist.
Massive protests sprouted up around the country on Saturday following Trump’s unconstitutional executive order banning all refugees and all travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries – including those with valid visas. But somewhat lost in that news was Bannon’s central role in the controversy and move to consolidate even more power within the government. On Saturday, Trump installed him on the influential National Security Council (NSC) as part of a radical re-shuffling of the influential White House board of advisers that usually is composed of intelligence and military officials who provide the White House with guidance.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence were removed from the NSC. As journalist Sarah Jeong put it on Twitter, national security “is such an emergency you have to ban Muslims. But also let’s replace chairman of joint chiefs with some guy with a garbage website.”
Meanwhile, chaos reigned on Saturday as dozens of immigrants were detained after the executive order was put into force immediately. As CNN reported Saturday night, the mayhem seems to be Bannon’s doing.
CNN reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency which oversees Customs and Border Protection, did not even know about the executive order until it was being released to the public. Nor did its lawyers, who did not do a legal analysis of it until after it was in effect. DHS lawyers reportedly determined that it did not apply to green card holders and permanent residents, but the White House – led by Steve Bannon – overruled that objection and kept the restrictions on green card holders in place, allowing exemptions on a case by case basis.
Thankfully, several judges put an immediate stay on deporting legitimate green card holders stuck in airports on Saturday night and ordered those still detained get access to lawyers. But the situation got even more bizarre and Orwellian on Sunday: CBP officials at some airports – in direct violation of the court orders – were reportedly still refusing lawyer access and apparently not responding to congressional representatives who were trying to figure out what was going on.
While some immigrants were released from detention, others weren’t even allowed to see volunteer lawyers who had showed up at airports around the country to provide free representation. Democratic congressman Don Beyer tweeted on Sunday afternoon: “We have a constitutional crisis today. Four Members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”
As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wrote: “$64,000 question is: are they being told to violate the court order by the White House?” If the White House is, in fact, directing DHS and CBP to violate a crystal clear court order, the rule of law has completely broken down and we are in a truly unprecedented situation here.
In the face of the massive protests, on Sunday night, new DHS secretary John Kelly released a statement saying all permanent residents will be let in the country, yet there was still no word from lawyers on the ground whether it is actually being obeyed.
The White House, meanwhile, is still pretending that its executive order is not technically a “Muslim ban”. Beyond the obvious fact that Trump campaigned on such a ban, his crony Rudy Giuliani laid those questions to rest on Fox News late Saturday night, claiming Trump asked him to figure out how to make his Muslim ban campaign promise “legal” – confirming it’s a Muslim ban in all but name.
No matter your political views, the fact that the White House is attempting to circumvent legal advice, install dubious appointees to incredible powerful national security positions and violate court orders is outrageous and despicable, so let’s be clear: Congress needs to quickly move towards impeachment if this is true.
The acting US attorney general Sally Yates has instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to reports.
Yates was appointed by Barack Obama, and is serving as the acting head of the Justice Department until Jeff Sessions’ likely confirmation.
“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers, obtained by the New York Times. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
Her decision is the latest show of dissent from a government agency at odds with Trump’s executive order. Earlier on Monday, hundreds of US diplomats were reported to have signed a memo fiercely dissenting from Trump’s travel ban.
In December, the government’s Commission on Enforced Disappearances reported that the bodies of 936 missing persons had been found in Balochistan province alone since 2011. In January 2015, the spectre of such abductions came to Punjab, as five rights and religious freedom activists went missing. Today, it is heartening to know that five more will not be added to the above quoted number with news of three of the five activists being alive and safe.
The sudden return is mysterious, leading to more questions about the disappearances: Who was behind them? What led to the return? Where were the men? Why were they picked up? Questions no one has volunteered an answer to, nor will they.
While there was a vicious social media campaign against these activists, those in Pakistan who believe in tolerance, the peaceful right to protest and free speech had been protesting daily in major cities. It may have been this constant pressure that led to the return of the activists. There are those who still argue that there must have been a reason for the abductions, that these activists were troublemakers. The fact is that who or what these activists were criticising broke no laws, and if they did, their abduction was not the answer, prosecution was.
We have seen large sections of our society speak up to protect murderers like Mumtaz Qadri, and become apologists for militant religious groups who have time and again attacked the civilian population. Extra-judicial violence seems to be an accepted norm, as long as one agrees with the violent mindset. Thus, while these activists may be free from being accused of a crime by the state, their trial by society is not over yet, and thus their safety will always be an issue.
If we have learnt anything from this saga, it is that rule of law, to be followed by citizens as well as the state, has to be the only way of governance, rather than deference to selective moral codes. While the disappearances were applauded by some extremist sections of society, the hate was met with rational arguments for free speech and constitutional rights.
Force on the part of any section of society, political party, or state institution will be met with resistance in today’s Pakistan. If the state wants to make sure that the people of Pakistan do not erupt in violent clashes, it has to make sure it projects one vision of what is “moral” and acceptable in society. That vision is written in the Pakistani constitution, and nowhere else.
While thousands of people from all walks of life and religions across the United States are waging nationwide protest against President Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and travelers from seven Muslim countries, a statement by PTI chief Imran Khan to include Pakistan in the list has stunned Pakistani Americans.
In a report published in a Pakistani newspaper on Sunday, Khan said he would pray that President Trump bans Pakistani visas as well, apparently suggesting that Pakistan be clubbed with the countries which is a source of concern for the new Trump administration with regard to terrorism.
“How can someone who called himself a national leader make such an irresponsible statement? While making such a statement, he clearly missed the underline assumption of this whole affair,” said Mr. Fitzerald Lewis, an attorney of Pakistani descent while talking to APP here. He said it was unimaginable that any national leader would make such a reckless statement.
Through an executive order this weekend, President Trump suspended the program that allowed Syrian refugee entry to the United States, in addition to banning foreign nationals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia aimed at what the President said screen out “radical Islamic terrorists”.
While Mr. Trump’s order is largely seen and interpreted by legal, immigration and rights activists as targeting Muslims, the President defended his order saying it was not a Muslim ban but about the concerns over terrorism. “If you take Mr. Trump’s statement at the face value, what Mr. Khan’s proposal means is that Pakistan should also be listed alongside countries which the new administration is concerned about in terms of terrorism,” said Dr. Asadullah Mir, a Pakistani American educationist. He observed that by implication, such a suggestion by the PTI chief spells disaster for the country as it will strengthen the hands of those anti-Pakistani lawmakers and the Indian lobby which are trying for years to designate Pakistan as a terrorist state.
“Putting in simple words, what Mr. Khan is praying for is that may Mr. Trump designate Pakistan as a terrorist state,” he said and demanded that the government and patriotic Pakistani must take notice of such a damaging statement which may cause irreparable damage to our national interests.
Mr. Hamid Malik, another Pakistani American and President of Pakistan Link USA , termed Mr. Khan’s remarks as the statement against all Muslims which have badly hurt the sentiments of Pakistani Americans and have brought shame to the country.
‘Our Muslim friends from other countries who have seen or heard of Mr. Khan’s statement are baffled that someone who calls himself a Muslim can make such a statement at a time when Mr. Trump’s order is causing so much trouble to thousands of Muslim families in the United States,” he added
Since the issuance of order, protests have broken out in several American cities, including the capital Washington where thousands of people gathered outside the White House to demand the President to withdraw the order.
Lack of legal clarity forces thousands of women to endure backstreet abortions in Pakistan. A helpline is providing information and support, but fears losing funding after Trump reinstated the global gag rule.
onia woke up in dingy room with searing pain in her stomach. All she remembered was being accompanied by her husband to a clinic for an ultrasound. She’d recently found out she was pregnant; her husband had often been abusive and didn’t react well to the news. Today was supposed to be different: he insisted on going to the clinic so he could see the scan and Sonia hoped that reflected a change of heart. However, slowly Sonia realised she had been drugged and given an abortion without her consent at a private clinic. It took years for her to come to terms with the violence she suffered.
Islamic scholars permit an abortion within 120 days of pregnancy in Pakistan. But despite this framework for permitting abortions, health professionals are reluctant to carry out the procedure. Many women resort to ingesting drugs, using sharp objects, or physically abusing their body resulting in long-term health complications. In 2012, an estimated 623,000 Pakistani women were treated for complications resulting from induced abortions. In Sonia’s case, her ex-husband was able to pay an unqualified provider to conduct a procedure she hadn’t not consented to. Her story highlights the danger to women’s health when the only option for is an unhygienic facility clinic with untrained staff.
In such dangerous circumstances, who is filling the gap? Saba Ismail, co-founder of the Pakistani women’s group Aware Girls, launched an abortion hotline in June 2010. Aware Girls has received US Aid funding in the past but now will have to depend on grants from European foundations after President Trump reinstated the global gag rule which prohibits US funding to NGOs which provide information about abortions. “We have not heard any donor withdrawing our funding on this basis yet, but we will become automatically ineligible for US Aid and other state department grants on this basis, and that’s the challenge,” says Ismail. “We fear that Trump’s decision will affect Pakistan because any organisation, hospital or clinic working on abortion will not be able to get any US funding.”
US Aid spent $54.1m dollars funding family planning and reproductive health in Pakistan in 2015 and Marie Stopes International, the family planning NGO which receives funding from US Aid says that its work in Pakistan over the past decade has “averted 4.6 million unintended pregnancies, 1.9 million unsafe abortions and 6,000 maternal deaths”.
Aware Girls provides an anonymous toll-free service called “Saheli” (Urdu for “friend”) to educate on abortions and contraceptives: “When we first launched the helpline we were told that we were promoting murder; that abortion wasn’t about choice but about murder. This stigma and taboo is what bothered us the most.”
Over the course of six years Ismail and her colleagues have faced harsh criticism and threats. “In the beginning we started with 30 calls a month and now we average about 180 calls,” she says. “This is because we went into the communities and spoke to women about their health informing them about the helpline. At one of the events a woman approached me, identified herself as a representative of the Taliban, and told us to stop talking about abortions or contraceptives and instead educate women on how to be better wives to their husbands.” This didn’t stop her, although threats forced them to temporarily close down for six months in 2014.
Ismail’s helpline follows the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on safe methods of abortions that can be performed at home for women under nine weeks pregnant. Misoprostol, a drug used to induce abortions, is available over the counter in many countries including Pakistan because it is also used to prevent stomach ulcers. Ismail’s staff asks women to provide details about their health and verify the length of the pregnancy, and takes them through the process of abortion.
“People think that most women that call us are sex workers or unmarried women. While we do not judge and only ask reasons for abortion for our research purposes, I can tell you that the we get a large diversity of calls. From women aged 17 to 50, women that are married, who have recently given birth, who already have a lot of children and even women who have been raped by their own family members,” Ismail recalls the story of 21-year-old Sameena who was raped by her own cousin and was refused help at a hospital.
An extensive women’s health report conducted in 2012 found that of the 9 million pregnancies in 2012, 4.2 million were unintended; 54% of these unintended pregnancies resulted in induced abortions and 34% in unplanned births.
The vast majority of the helpline’s calls are about abortions, only 4% of the callers ask about contraceptives. Nonetheless, each caller receives information on the use of contraception. The contraceptive prevalence rate is low in Pakistan – out of a population of more than 190 million, only 35% of women aged 15–49 use it. The reasons for this range from lack of sex education and awareness, and the fact that contraception is still considered a taboo and, in some places, seen as a western concept. Last year, Pakistan banned advertising for contraceptives.
The counsellors on the helplines are young women with no medical background who are trained with the WHO’s clinical handbook [pdf] on safe abortions. Tahira Khan says the helpline has now become more than just a job: “This hotline is a part of my life now, I attend to calls even when I am in a family gathering, in a funeral or anywhere, I never miss a single call, I always call back. When I help women, I feel satisfaction and happiness. Before starting counselling, I thought I could never do it, but with the passage of time, I am now an expert.”
The hotline has received over 25,000 calls so far and this is increasing by the day. Ismail’s organisation can only help women who are under nine weeks pregnant, but in some cases they have to provide referrals for surgical abortions at selective clinics that conduct these procedures under hygienic and medically approved conditions. Ismail is determined to continue her work but she knows she is treating a symptom rather than a root cause.
“My fight is against the taboos that tell women that their bodies aren’t theirs,” she says. “Unless women are seen as human beings who have a choice and right to their own body nothing will change.”
Some names have been changed.
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Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed has been detained and put under house arrest for six months by Pakistani authorities. There are speculations that the crackdown came after the US threatened sanctions against Pakistan unless action was taken against Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is also headed by Hafiz Saeed. For years, Hafiz Saeed has been running free in Pakistan despite India presenting proof of his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 166 people were killed.
The house arrest came after a directive from Pakistan's Ministry of Interior dated January 27, ordering action against Falah-E-Insaniyat Foundation and Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
He is currently in detention at the Jamia-al-Qadsia in Lahore's Chauburji area, from where he will be shifted to his house in Faisal Town, sources said. Four others are in detention along with him -- Abdullah Ubaid, Zafar Iqbal, Abdur Rehman Abid and Qazi Kashif Niaz.
The threat of sanctions came days before the Donald Trump administration took over, reported Pakistan daily The News International. The JuD was declared a terrorist organisation by the US in 2014. But Pakistan's stance on him was a source of friction between the two nations.
Mr Trump won the elections in November following his promises to "Buy American and Hire American" and tough action on Islamic terror. While his travel ban on seven Muslim majority nations - Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Libya -- has met with global outrage, the Trump administration has not ruled out including Pakistan in the list in future.
Mr Trump has clarified this was "not a Muslim ban". "This is not about religion -- this is about terror and keeping our country safe," he has said, pointing out that more than 40 Muslim nations are not affected by the order.
Pointing out that the seven nations were identified by the US Congress and the Obama Administration as being "most identifiable with dangerous terrorism," White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, in an interview to CBS News, had added, "Now you can point to other countries that have similar problems, like Pakistan and others. Perhaps, we need to take it further".