Why Should The Employee (Congress/Senate/President) Get Better Insurance Policies Than Their Bosses, The People?

shared Teanderthal Party‘s photo.

16 hrs ·

 (I copy pasted this from a forward a friend posted on FB, I agree
 with this statement, do you?)

How Much Longer Until The Pakistani Army Overthrows The Civilian Government?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Dawn Leaks reflects larger problem of Pakistan Army undermining politicians

The standoff over Dawn Leaks Dawn Leaks reflects the larger problem of the Pakistan Army constantly trying to undermine the country’s political leadership.

WORLD Updated: May 02, 2017 20:12 IST

Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan

File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a ceremony to inaugurate the M9 motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad, in February 2017. (Reuters)

The standoff between the parallel power centres in Pakistan – the political government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military high command led by army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa – seems to have come to a head over the release of the report of the probe into Dawn Leaks.Based on the report, Sharif issued a series of instructions, including the sacking of his special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, and action against principal information officer Rao Tehsin. Within hours of the instructions being released, the army publicly rejected the measures.

More unusual was interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticising the army for using social media to give opinions on what was an internal matter that could have been addressed through proper channels.

It is clear that the army is unhappy with the action taken by the government over the probe into a report last year in the Dawn newspaper on differences between the military and the civilian set-up on tackling terror groups.

The army was represented on the inquiry committee by two representatives – the Inter-Services Intelligence agency nominee and one from Military Intelligence. Both had recommended strong action against journalist Cyril Almeida, who wrote the report in the Dawn, but the Sharif government did not consider this.

More important, the army is incensed over the fact that it considers the prime minister’s secretary, Fawad Hasan Fawad, as part and parcel of the problem. Instead, Fawad was used to issue Sharif’s instructions – which the army high command did not take to very kindly.

Most analysts say Dawn Leaks reflects a larger problem in Pakistan – the constant efforts by the army to undermine the political leadership.

“The army continues to challenge the government and keep it on the defensive. The whole idea is to keep the civilian government in a state of flux,” said Abid Hussain, an Islamabad-based journalist. Hussain said this is a cycle that keeps repeating in Pakistan: “Whenever civilians are in power, the military wants to show that politicians are corrupt and ineffective.”

As the general elections approach in 2018, there are expectations that Sharif will come back to power with a bigger mandate.

This is what the army high command is afraid of, say observers, who add that a Punjabi prime minister with a bigger mandate is the only political threat that the army high command faces. The last time Sharif had such a mandate, he was removed from power through a military coup. This time it would be more difficult.

What has become increasingly common is for the military to comment on issues outside its domain. Last month, the military spokesman commented that the army would welcome the Supreme Court’s verdict on corruption allegations against Sharif and his family based on the Panama Papers leaks.

This was a clear signal to the public that the military would not be adverse to Sharif stepping down. But the judgment, which it is rumoured came after much back-door lobbying by the ruling PML-N party, gave the prime minister a breather, much to the dismay of many in the corridors of powers.

Soon after, an army-led media campaign was started to condemn the meeting of Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal with the prime minister last week. The military has continued to lead the media in campaigns against the elected government.

Over the past few years, the army has acquired a TV channel and used aggressive advertising through its various commercial enterprises to buy over the rest of the big houses, with a few notable exceptions.

Despite all this, analysts said the army’s high command can see its role being reduced in the coming years. “Short of staging a coup, it is doing all it can to ensure that its military and economic empire continue to grow and its say in national affairs remains unchallenged,” said one analyst.

“What we are seeing are the last desperate acts of an emperor that senses its status as an unquestioned power is coming to an end.”

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Once Again Jeff Sessions Makes A Pathetic Joke Out Of The “Justice Department”!!!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘VOX’ NEWS SITE)

A Democratic And Free Jammu And Kashmir, Is It Really Possible, Or Logical?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GREATER KASHMIR’)

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 28 2017 11:52PM | Updated Date: Apr 28 2017 11:52PM


Kashmir: What Lies Ahead? File Photo

“The only way forward is the establishment of a free and independent state of Jammu & Kashmir with democratic system of government, a federation of 5 provinces, having friendly relations with its immediate neighbours in particular and with entire world in general.” Excerpt from a letter from Aman Sahib to Dr. Fai dated June13, 2013.

I treasure this opportunity to write on the subject of “Kashmir: What Lies Ahead!” at the anniversary of an iconic leader, Amanullah Kahn Sahib who was a symbol of decency, politeness and uprightness. He was a dominant figure in Kashmiri resistance movement for decades. His consistency of the advocacy of freedom, his steadfastness for his cause and his personal sacrifices had earned him the respect of all factions of the Kashmiri resistance movement.

I recall the meeting that I had with Aman Sahib at Luton, England in 1982. I have a most pleasant recollection of it. Even then he was tirelessly working for the cause of Kashmir in the corridors of power in Great Britain. I found him informed, poised, and engaging. In the annals of Kashmiri resistance, Aman Sahib stands tall.

Now, that the Kashmiri movement for self-determination is at a critical juncture. A youth-led, indigenous and spontaneous mass movement is underway. This movement is both internal, within Kashmir, and external throughout the world.  It is mostly non-violent, pluralistic and resilient. This movement reverberates with cries of freedom and believes in a simple truth: a fair and impartial referendum in Kashmir.  Time and time again, Kashmiris have surprised even the most hardened of their detractors. Attempts at delegitimizing the Kashmiri struggle have fallen entirely on deaf ears.  No amount of wishful thinking has successfully persuaded growing international opinion that Kashmir, is not an integral part of any society other than its own.  This belief is unshakeable, consistent and formidable.

The latest re-polling in Srinagar – Budgam Parliamentary constituency that took place on April 13, 2017 has given enough indications by now to the Government of India that any attempts to assemble fake leadership in Kashmir on a collaborationist or capitulationist platform will take it nowhere. These so-called leaders are so thoroughly discredited that they could not even get 2 % of the votes in this re-poll. By persisting in these attempts, Indian leadership betrays not only cynicism but also an uncharacteristic lack of political sense. This latest election is the proof that the resistance in Kashmir has not weakened, and will not weaken, on account of the paucity of its resources. The hunger of the people of Kashmir for the freedom which has been denied to them supplies it an inexhaustible store of strength.

Fresh thinking is needed to cut the Gordian knot in Kashmir, which has been flailed at for more than half a century bilaterally between India and Pakistan without result. I do not mean to suggest, however, that tackling Kashmir will not be difficult.  I do not want to expose myself to Hotspur’s derisive retort to Glendower when the latter boasted he could call spirits from the vastly deeps: Yes, but will they come when you call for them?

We are fully aware that the settlement of the Kashmir dispute cannot be achieved in one move. Like all qualified observers, we visualize successive steps or intermediate solutions in the process. It is one thing, however, to think of a settlement over a relatively extended period of time. It is atrociously different to postpone the beginning of the process on that account.

The people of Kashmir also understand that it cannot move immediately into a plebiscite. They have watched other processes in East Timor, Montenegro, Bosnia, Southern Sudan, Kosovo and recognize that a transitional period is necessary to build the confidence of all parties and to create a conducive atmosphere for stability.

We owe it to our people to take a rational and responsible position. Accordingly, we have confined ourselves to demands only for those actions at the preliminary stage which do not involve any prejudice to the claims of any party to the dispute – India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. However, if India or Pakistan or any other power would like to bring pressure on the people of Kashmir to capitulate, or to agree to any terms which will compromise their freedom, then any so-called peace process is foredoomed. The people of Kashmir wish to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind on that score.

It is known to all that any talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir will be a charade unless some basic conditions are fulfilled. There must be the end to the campaign of killing of innocent civilians. The representatives of the Kashmiri resistance must be associated with the negotiations. The talks between India and Pakistan must be held at the level of their political leadership.

We do not wish the future dialogue on Kashmir between India and Pakistan to stagnate or be broken off. Nor do we want it to be just make-believe. We remind all concerned that there are equal dangers for peace in the two possibilities. Each of them can be averted only by the mediation of an impartial third party or the United Nations or a person of an international standing, like Kofi Annan or Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Here are my thoughts about a new approach to set a stage for the settlement of the Kashmir problem.

An intra-Kashmir dialogue between the leadership of All Parties Hurriyet Conference, Dogras, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Pandits. This kind of dialogue is not only desirable but also possible because Kashmir is a pluralistic society. It has a long tradition of moderation and non-violence. Its culture does not generate extremism. Can anyone deny the fact – of no small significance – that while the Subcontinent under British rule was the scene of recurrent murderous strife, communal riots were unheard of in Kashmir? That unquestionable fact brings out the real character of Kashmir’s heritage.

Both India and Pakistan should be persuaded to issue relevant travel documents to enable the representatives of the different components of the population of Jammu and Kashmir (The Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgat-Baltistian) to meet at a place outside South Asia and formulate their proposals for the procedures of a just and lasting settlement. Our concern goes beyond the Kashmiri speaking majority of the State. We are mindful of the interests of the Dogra and the Buddhists communities as well. We demand the establishment of genuinely peaceful conditions in which we can earnestly welcome Kashmiri Pandits back to their homes. Their future as a community lies in Kashmiriyyat with us. They too have suffered, though in a different way, because of then the Governor of Kashmir, Jagmohan’s cruel and shortsighted policies.

India does not want to give up its claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan insists that Kashmir is its jugular vein. And the people of Kashmir do not want to compromise on their right to self-determination. That means a deadlock, which has proved catastrophic not only for the people of Kashmir but for both India and Pakistan as well. Only an impartial mediator can help initiate a process of ‘negotiations without pre-conditions’ whereby all sides can sustain the necessary political support in their respective constituencies to participate in the process. Without an intermediary, our differences will forever keep us divided.

The negotiations should leave aside the question of the end result of efforts towards a settlement. This is most wise. We must stress it again and again that the immediate question is not what is the best solution of the problem but how the problem should be put on the road to a comprehensive solution. Since, we are concerned with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, we believe it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution.  Any attempt to do so amounts to playing into hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace is South Asia.

The peace in South Asia will not come without sacrifices.  Each party will have to modify her position so that common ground can be found.  It will be impossible to find a solution of the Kashmir problem that respects all the sensitivities of Indian authorities, that values all the sentiments of Pakistan, that keeps intact the unity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and safeguards the rights and interests of the people of all the different zones of the State.  Yet this does not mean that we cannot find an imaginative solution. A workable solution will demand some compromises and modifications from each of the parties.

The world powers should be persuaded to play a more activist role in regard to Kashmir by strengthening a peace process. This can take the shape of:

 

i). a polygonal dialogue – USA, China, India, Pakistan, and Kashmir; OR

ii). an appropriate use of the newly developed procedures and mechanisms at the United Nations.

 

In neither case would the handling of the dispute be a rehash of the old arid and acrimonious debates at the U.N. The U.N. would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement.  There are alternative courses of action which can be spelled out and involved in a sequence of interactive steps over a period of time. None of them would put the peace process in the straitjacket of rigid adherence to old texts. But if a solution of the problem will be a graduated process, consisting of incremental measures, the violence in Kashmir needs to be brought to a quick end in order to set the stage for a solution.

These ideas need refinement, but they build on the ineluctable truth that nothing fruitful is possible in Kashmir without the primary participation and willing consent of the Kashmiri people. Schemes and negotiations that neglect that truth are doomed to failure, as proven by 70 years of grim conflict in Kashmir with no end in sight.

Finally, win-win solutions are further important because they safeguard against prospective bitterness or humiliation that are the fuel of new conflict.  If one party to a solution feels exploited or unfairly treated, then national sentiments to undo the settlement will naturally swell.   We must not belittle, embarrass, or humiliate any party.  Every participant should be treated with dignity and humanity. Charity, not the triumphal, should be the earmark of the negotiating enterprise. Also, we should not sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect.  Compromises are the staple of conflict resolution.  To achieve some good is worthwhile even though not all good is achieved.


Dr. Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness  

 

Portland Oregon: Rose Parade Canceled After Threats Of Violence From “Antifascist” Democrats

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Portland rose parade canceled after ‘antifascists’ threaten GOP marchers

April 27 at 6:31 AM

For 10 years, the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association has kicked off the city of Portland’s annual Rose Festival with a family-friendly parade meant to attract crowds to its diverse neighborhood.

Set to march in the parade’s 67th spot this year was the Multnomah County Republican Party, a fact that so outraged two self-described antifascist groups in the deep blue Oregon city that they pledged to protest and disrupt the April 29 event.

Then came an anonymous and ominous email, according to parade organizers, that instructed them to cancel the GOP group’s registration — or else.

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” the anonymous email said, referring to the violent riots that hit Portland after the 2016 presidential election, reported the Oregonian. “This is nonnegotiable.”

The email said that 200 people would “rush into the parade” and “drag and push” those marching with the Republican Party.

“We will not give one inch to groups who espouse hatred toward LGBT, immigrants, people of color or others,” it said.

On Tuesday, the business association buckled, announcing it would cancel the parade altogether.

“Following threats of violence during the Parade by multiple groups planning to disrupt the event, 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association can no longer guarantee the safety of our community and have made the difficult decision to cancel the Parade,” the group said in a statement.

The “antifascist” groups Oregon Students Empowered and Direct Action Alliance were behind the organized protests scheduled for the parade Saturday but told the Oregonian they had nothing to do with the anonymous email.

A petition to bring back the parade garnered nearly 200 signatures online, but on Wednesday organizers stood firmly beside their decision.

“It’s all about safety for our fans, first and foremost. If we can’t provide safety for our fans, there’s no use in trying,” Rich Jarvis, spokesman for the Rose Festival Foundation, told the Oregonian. “Our official position is we’re extremely sad about this.”

Online, others were outraged, calling members of the antifascist groups who planned to protest “snowflakes,” “anti-American” and “a bunch of chickens and brats.”

“Shutting down free speech is the (epitome) of fascism,” one person wrote on Facebook. “This is America.”

The free speech uproar in Portland reflects controversies across the country, particularly on college campuses, where speakers with conservative and sometimes extreme right-wing ideologies have been met with occasionally violent protests or threats of protests.

Portland’s anti-Trump protest turns destructive

 

Police in Portland, Ore., said that protests against President-elect Donald Trump had turned into “a riot,” on Nov. 10, with some smashing windows and lighting fires in the streets. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Appearances by former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer and, most recently, conservative commentator Ann Coulter have all been disrupted or canceled.

In a statement, Direct Action Alliance said it was “disappointed” that the parade was canceled but added that “no Portland child will see a march in support of this fascist regime go unopposed.”

James Buchal, chairman of the Multnomah County Republican Party, said in a statement that his group wants the parade to continue.

“The bottom line is that Portland needs to choose between supporting terrorist thugs and protecting average citizens who want to participate in their community,” Buchal said. “The Multnomah County Republican Party is not composed of ‘Nazis’ and ‘white supremacists’ and those who think we would tolerate marching in a parade with folks carrying swastikas are delusional.”

India’s Delhi Elections Shows The People Have Chosen The BJP: Pro PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S NDTV)

NEW DELHI: 

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. “BJP headed for a big victory”, predicted Yogendra Yadav
  2. Result reflects people’s anger with Delhi government: Yogendra Yadav
  3. His party Swaraj India also contested MCD polls

Delhi has made its preference for the BJP abundantly clear, Yogendra Yadav, the founder of Swaraj India, said today, predicting, before 9 am, “the BJP is headed for a big victory” in local elections. The result, said Mr Yadav, reflects the people’s anger with the government that is headed by Arvind Kejriwal – the men were part of the same Aam Aadmi Party till two years ago when Mr Yadav and another senior AAP leader Prashant Bhushan were evicted after taking on Mr Kejriwal.

The ballooning of the BJP in this election for three local corporations, Mr Yadav said, owes everything to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  “People have ended up rejecting the CM (Chief Minister) and electing the PM,” he commented on NDTV.

Mr Yadav said his own Swaraj India does not expect much today. “This is a starting point, this is not our election to gain big seats, it was a foundational election,” he claimed.

Even before the counting of results began, Mr Kejriwal repeated electronic voting machines or EVMs for being rigged, a claim he first made when his party failed to win Punjab in February’s election, defying a massive campaign fronted by him and the forecast of exit polls.

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Americas

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

An opposition activist clashes with riot police during a protest march in Caracas on April 26. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

By Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff April 26 at 7:57 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela — Faced with growing criticism from its neighbors over a slide toward authoritarian rule, Venezuela announced Wednesday it will quit the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s oldest regional alliance.

The move comes after OAS member states voted Wednesday to convene an emergency meeting of their top diplomats to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis and deadly political violence that has convulsed Venezuela all month. At least three people were killed in fresh protests Wednesday, including a 20-year-old student struck by a tear gas canister in Caracas.

Speaking on national television Wednesday evening, foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolás Maduro would give formal notice on Thursday of Venezuela’s plans to renounce its OAS membership. During the 24-month period it will take for the country to formally leave, Rodriguez said her government will no longer participate in OAS activities or meetings with other nations she said are trying to “undermine the stability and peace of our country” with the goal of promoting an “invasion.”

OAS general secretary Luis Almagro in recent months has become a fierce critic of Maduro’s, calling him a “dictator” guilty of widespread human rights violations. His concerns are backed by the Washington-based OAS’s largest member states: the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Colombia and several others.

If Venezuela quits OAS, which was founded in 1948, it would join its leftist ally Cuba, whose communist government was expelled in 1962, as the only non-OAS nation in the hemisphere. But Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature may attempt to block it, and if Maduro is unseated in elections due to take place late next year, his successor could halt the process.

Opposition supporters attend a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas as police respond with tear gas. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Chris Sabatini, a Latin America expert at Columbia University, said Venezuela’s withdrawal risks a major split in OAS if Nicaragua, Bolivia and other Maduro allies follow him in protest.

“At that point, the body that had once represented the hemisphere would be fractured,” Sabatini said, adding that none of the region’s other international organizations has the same institutional heft as the OAS, including the CELAC bloc of states that excludes the United States and Canada.

Venezuela has asked for an emergency CELAC meeting, that, if boycotted by many other Latin America nations, could leave that international body crippled as well, Sabatini noted, saying Venezuela’s decision is a “rejection of long-standing international rules and commitments” that leaves it increasingly isolated.

On Wednesday, thousands of anti-Maduro protesters again seized control of the main highway through Venezuela’s capital, but their march toward government buildings downtown was pushed back by police water cannons and stinging clouds of tear gas.

Although the standoff has played out the same way several times this month, opponents of Maduro insist they will continue to pressure his government through near-daily protests, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

One 20-year-old protester died after being struck with a gas canister in the city’s upscale Altamira district, authorities said.

As the government lashed out at foreign critics Wednesday, the blocked march underscored the degree to which the country’s political crisis has become a battle of attrition ­between Maduro and his ­re-energized opponents.

Venezuela’s opposition clashes with police

The country’s political crisis intensified after its supreme court curbed the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature, then reversed the rulings days later.

Caracas was crippled for another day as the government shut down subway and bus systems and choked off highway access to the capital in what appeared to be an attempt to limit the size of the protests.

Thousands marched against the government anyway, some ready with gas masks. By calling their supporters into the streets repeatedly, opposition leaders say they want to wear down security forces and push the government to meet their demands: new elections, the release of political prisoners, acceptance of international aid and a return to democratic rule.

Their ability to summon huge crowds also sends a message to Venezuela’s armed forces, said political analyst Margarita López Maya, because Maduro grows increasingly dependent on their loyalty as he weakens. Opposition leaders are appealing directly to Venezuelan soldiers, asking them to defy Maduro’s orders and force the government to give ground.

“By putting thousands and thousands of people in the streets almost every day, they’re trying to keep the cost of supporting Maduro very high for the armed forces,” said López Maya. “And the government is in a slide that looks irreversible.”

[Government opponents appeal to Venezuela’s military as chaos grows]

The unrest has left at least 29 dead this month, according to Venezuelan officials, including protesters, police, government supporters, alleged looters and several others who appeared to be bystanders.

The antigovernment surge was triggered by a perfunctory attempt by pro-Maduro judges last month to incapacitate Venezuela’s legislative branch, which the opposition has controlled since it won a landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

The court mostly reversed the decision, but anger swelled again a few days later when the government barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office.

Venezuela’s downward spiral has left food and medicine in short supply but anger at the government in abundance. Maduro charges that his enemies are trying to sabotage the oil-rich country’s economic recovery and are paving the way for a foreign invasion.

“They want to fill our country with hate, to push our country into violence,” Maduro said Wednesday. He said he plans to announce “a historic measure” in the coming days but did not elaborate.

Coexistence In The Middle-East (And Every Where else On Earth): Or Self Inflected Armageddon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY  ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Colorado State Congress Votes To Allow Marijuana Use To Help People With PTSD

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE DENVER GAZETTE)

As marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Denver’s Civic Center on Thursday, praying for rain to hold off during 420 festivities, lawmakers across the park rejected an effort to ban cannabis use in churches.

The Legislature on Thursday also approved adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, pushed a last-minute amendment as a bill that addressed open and public consumption was being considered for a final time in the House. Some lawmakers suggested that Pabon had hijacked the broader bill for an unrelated issue.

“This bill is about open and public. I’m confused about what we’re doing here because we’re talking about a place of worship …” said Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton. “Allow people to do what they want in a church.”

Pabon pushed the amendment in response to the International Church of Cannabis, which opened in Denver as lawmakers were debating the legislation. Pabon was careful to offer an exemption for religious purposes, but it wasn’t enough to persuade colleagues.

“We have a particular group of individuals who are seeking to take advantage of our consumption laws because a church would be considered private … and using that as a shroud to essentially allow consumption in a place where it should not be allowed,” Pabon said “A place of religious worship should not be authorized as a place for marijuana consumption.”

The International Church of Cannabis made national headlines after it boasted “Elevationism,” what the church refers to as religion for marijuana consumers. Followers believe cannabis should be used as a sacrament.

The effort by Pabon saw criticism from both sides of the aisle. It failed on a procedural motion and never came up for a vote.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said he “thoroughly and utterly” disagreed with the proposal.

“This is the archetypal nanny state right here,” Salazar said. “This amendment is saying to people we don’t like the way you worship.”

The attempt highlighted the continually evolving Senate Bill 184, which started as a measure that would have authorized local governments to allow private marijuana clubs. But that provision was stripped from the bill over health concerns and opposition expressed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Instead, the measure only defines what open and public consumption of marijuana is, a thorny issue that has perplexed lawmakers since rules and regulations were first crafted in 2013.

Public places – where marijuana use is prohibited – would be defined as highways, transportation facilities, parks, playgrounds, and the common areas of public buildings, to name a few places.

The stripped-down bill was approved by the House on a vote of 35-30. It now heads back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments before it can go to the governor for his signature.

Also on Thursday, the House gave initial approval to a bill that would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Legislature has been debating the issue for years, but this is the first year that offers a glimmer of hope for pushing the legislation through.

“On this auspicious day, we have a serious bill,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, a sponsor of the bill, who pointed to the 420 celebrations.

“We know that there is no medical cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy, medication, exercise, diet, there’s no silver bullet. … This bill opens that door, it opens that door for our veterans to ensure that they are not sacrificing their future the way they decided to sacrifice their own health, and in some cases their own mental health for our country.”

The legislation saw some controversy over whether children should be allowed to use medical marijuana for PTSD. A successful amendment was offered Thursday that adds strict guidelines for recommending marijuana for children, including requiring that a pediatrician, board-certified family physician or board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, make the recommendation.

Senate Bill 17 must still receive a final vote by the House before heading back to the Senate to approve amendments.

Jeff Sessions: If a Judge In Hawaii Shouldn’t Count Should A Idiotic Former Federal Judges Opinion From Deep South Alabama Mean Anything?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week he was amazed that a judge in Hawaii could block President Donald Trump’s executive order halting immigration from several majority Muslim countries.

Sessions made the comments in an interview with “The Mark Levin Show” Tuesday evening that was put online Wednesday.
“We’ve got cases moving in the very, very liberal Ninth Circuit, who, they’ve been hostile to the order,” Sessions said. “We won a case in Virginia recently that was a nicely-written order that just demolished, I thought, all the arguments that some of the other people have been making. We are confident that the President will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the Ninth Circuit. So this is a huge matter. I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”
Last month, a federal judge in Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson, issued an order that blocked Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. The Department of Justice is currently appealing the decision.
In tweets on Thursday, both Senators from Hawaii responded to Sessions’ comments.
Justice Department spokesperson Ian D. Prior clarified Sessions’ remarks in a statement on Thursday.
“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” he said. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”
In the interview on Tuesday, Sessions also added that judges shouldn’t “psychoanalyze” Trump when he was asked about potential judges Trump would appoint.
“I think our President, having seen some of these really weird interpretations of the executive orders that he’s put out, I think he’s more understanding now that we need judges who follow the law, not make law,” Sessions said.
“The judges don’t get to psychoanalyze the President to see if the order he issues is lawful. It’s either lawful or it’s not. I think that it will be real important for America to have judges in the model of Judge (Neil) Gorsuch and (the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia, people who serve under the law, under the Constitution, not above it, and they are faithful to the law. They honor it and don’t try to remake it as they’d like it to be.”
Tal Kopan contributed reporting to this story.

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