Abdul Ghaffar Sheikh, Dedicated AFMI Member, Passes Away

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

scan0129FARMINGTON, MICHIGAN—It is with profound sadness that the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) announces the passing away of Br. Abdul Ghaffar Sheikh. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon.  He was the former president of AFMI-Canada anda life-long dedicated activist for the cause of education.  He suddenly passed away at the Mumbai airport on reaching from Toronto.  He was planning to attend AFMI’s convention scheduled to be held on December 24-25,2011 in Ranchi.

He was associated with a number of community organizations in the Greater Toronto Area. He was deeply concerned about the educational status of Indian Muslims and had many ideas and plans of improving it. In thepast eight years he had hardly missed any of the AFMI’s conventions in India where he often moderated or spoke at the sessions. He would also mingle with the student awardees, giving them advice and inquiring about their career plans.

AFMI has lost a dedicated member whose presence will be sorely missed.

We pray to Allah (swt) to grant him maghfirah and the highest stations in jannah and patience to his family and friends.

The American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin; 29008 W.8 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48336; Tel: 248-442-2364; afmi11@aol.com.

Community News (V13-I44)

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Rehan Khan new Northeastern VP

rehankhanBOSTON,MA–Northeastern University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Stephen W. Director, has appointed Rehan Khan to become the University’s new vice president and chief information officer. Khan, who begins his new role on Nov. 14, is currently the associate provost and chief information officer at West Virginia University.

In an email to faculty and staff, Director noted that “Rehan will oversee the strategic vision and leadership for Northeastern’s information technology and services that serve as vital components in supporting administrative, academic and leadership functions.”

Khan is also charged with enhancing Information Services to meet the growing needs of the Northeastern community, which relies on its vital services for everything from classroom instruction and research to conducting critical administrative duties.

“In order to attract and retain the best faculty and students and remain competitive in academics and research, it is essential that planning and investments in technology infrastructure remain a high priority,” said Khan. “Technology plays a key role in pedagogy, research, health care and service. I look forward to developing strategies that improve and enhance our services. I am very excited to join Northeastern.”

IS provides central information technology to more than 25,000 students, faculty and staff who use Northeastern’s secure, high-speed connectivity to the Internet through the on-campus network. IS also provides a range of other services, such as wireless connectivity through NUwave, robust high-speed Internet in residence halls, the popular 24/7 InfoCommons computing facility, access to the Blackboard instructional tool, myNEU access and academic and administrative software applications.

At West Virginia University, Khan was responsible for upgrading the institution’s core network to 10G/s, as well as the IT infrastructure in the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences. He was also responsible for implementing an identity and access management system, a degree audit system, and launching a shared computational high performance computing (HPC) facility.
Prior to West Virginia University, Khan worked at the University of Georgia, Emory University’s School of Medicine, and at Dartmouth Medical School, as well as in several private-sector information services roles.

He earned a Bachelor of Science in Management from the University of Massachusetts in 1981, and an MBA from Rivier College in New Hampshire. He was a 2006 Fellow at the Woodruff Leadership Academy at Emory University.

Harvard Muslim students dissatisfied with halal options

CAMBRIDGE,MA–Muslim students at Harvard have expressed their dissatisfaction with the halal options available on campus. The Crimson student newspaper reports that many students have completely given up eating on campus or have switched to a vegetarian diet.

Although Harvard University Dining Services has taken some steps to accommodate Muslims in dining halls, some students say the University could do more.

“The Muslim community is growing. There are many more Muslim students than there were a decade ago, or even five years ago,” says Abdelnasser Rashid ’12, a former president of the Harvard Islamic Society. “That’s something that [Harvard University Dining Services] and HIS should be talking about.”

Dr. Raza Dilawari Remembered

MEMPHIS,TN–Dr. Raza Ali Dilawari was the assistant dean for clinical affairs at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences and the vice chairman of the department of surgery at Methodist University Hospital. He died Sept. 18, ten days before what would have been his 65th birthday, and was described as the premier surgical oncologist in the MidSouth in the obituary published in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn. Dilawari, a native of Pakistan, practiced surgical oncology and taught in Memphis for 35 years. His areas of academic interest were in the fields of breast cancer, melanoma and hepatobiliary malignancies, and he was the author of more than one hundred peer-reviewed publications, the obit said. He represented University of Tennessee Cancer Institute on the NCCN Melanoma/Thyroid/Colorectal Cancers. Significantly, he was the recipient of the 2005 Living Award from the Methodist Healthcare Foundation. According to the obit: It is not difficult to find Memphians who have a story about how he helped them or a loved one.

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“Arrest Bush” — Amnesty International Asks Canada

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michel Comte

October 13, 2011 “AFP” – Amnesty International called on Canadian authorities Wednesday to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, saying the former US president authorized “torture” when he directed the US-led war on terror.

Bush is expected to attend an economic summit in Surrey in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province on October 20.

In a memorandum submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general but only now released to the media, the London-based group charged that Bush has legal responsibility for a series of human rights violations.

“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” Amnesty’s Susan Lee said in a statement.

“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in. A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights,” Lee said.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

“This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” he said.

Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Bush canceled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch, told a press conference the rights group will pursue its case against the former US president with the governments of other countries he might visit.

“Torturers must face justice and their crimes are so egregious that the responsibility for ensuring justice is shared by all nations,” Neve said.

“Friend or foe, extraordinary or very ordinary times, most or least powerful nation, faced with concerns about terrorism or any other threat, torture must be stopped.

“Bringing to justice the people responsible for torture is central to that goal. It is the law… And no one, including the man who served as president of the world’s most powerful nation for eight years can be allowed to stand above that law.”

Amnesty, backed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, claims Bush authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “waterboarding” on detainees held in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency between 2002 and 2009.

The detention program included “torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (such as being forced to stay for hours in painful positions and sleep deprivation), and enforced disappearances,” it alleged.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, US documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the US’s war on terror policies.

Amnesty cites several instances of alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by the US military.

The cases include that of Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, both arrested in Pakistan. The two men were waterboarded 266 times between them from 2002 to 2003, according to the CIA inspector general, cited by Amnesty.

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AFMI on Women Empowerment

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah-Chicago

Oct 3rd 2011

The American Federation of Muslims of Indian origin (AFMI) successfully held its 21st annual national convention in Chicago under the leadership of Dr. Tajuddin Ahmed, the incoming AFMI president, and the chairperson Dr. Siraj Ahmed, Co-chair Hassan Kaleemuddin and various heads of other committees. Over 350 people attended the banquet session.

The theme of the convention was “Women Empowerment Through Education”.

Distinguished and knowledgeable speakers from across the nation who participated during the whole day sessions discussed various issues like “Current Status of Indian Muslim Women”, “Tools and Models for Empowering Women Through Education” followed by the session for “Strategic planning and Moving Forward in to Action”.

Mrs. Priya Dutt, Member of the Parliament, address the banquet session of the convention. She is also in charge of women section of the Indian National Congress and Congress party’s general Secretary. The other Chief Guest was the former Illinois senator, Mosley Braun. The theme of the convention being women empowerment, both the main speakers focused on their educational and economic empowerment through creating opportunities at all levels. Priya Dutt is the daughter of Late Sunil Dutt, a Bollywood icon and a former minister of youth affairs. She is involved in running a number of women empowerment centers in the slums of Bombay.

The AFMI convention enables people from Indian origin to find ways of cooperation on issues of concerns for Muslims of India. AFMI organizes an international convention in India in December to distribute medals to students who out excel others in education. Besides, AFMI also runs and supports a number of educational institutions in different parts of India. Relief and political education are two other areas that form the focus of AFMI activities in India. The organization was established in 1989 to provide a platform to Muslims of Indian origin living in the US.to contribute their human and material resources for the Muslims of India. This year’s convention saw the emergence of a youth leadership in the organization as they made significant presentation on educational and economic issues. Some of the presenters presented the conclusion of their research in the city of Hyderabad and other places where women are making significant efforts in bringing about changes in their sociopolitical conditions.  The emergence of a women leadership in India’s Muslim dominated areas is a fact that is being recognized by the community as was suggested by one of the speakers.

Mr. Ashfaq Qureshi, the current President of the organization said that the organization was focused on education and has adopted a motivational approach to help Muslims achieve the goal of 100 per cent literacy.

Dr. Abdul Raheman Nakadar, the founder of the organization presented an overview of the organization’s projects in different part of the country that includes schools, hospitals, clinics, and relief centers besides the distribution of medals to the achievers of highest academic honors. Dr. Nakadar presented the graph of progress in the field of education asserting that the encouragement and recognition of highest achievers create an environment of healthy competition and inspires students to become high achievers.

Among those attended the convention were Dr. Khurshid Malik, a prominent Chicago physician involved in several developmental projects in India. Manzoor Ghori, of the Indian Muslim Relief Committee, Rashid Khan of American Indian Muslim Council, Dr. Abidullah Ghazi, prominent Muslim educationist, Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqi, Media professor at Western Illinois University, Macomb, Dr. Azhar Quader, a community activists and former President of the Chicago Area Council of Muslim organizations, and recipient of AFMI’s award of Excellence. Dr. A. Razzaque Ahmed, recipient of AFMI’s “Excellence” award and an internationally known dermatologist. The youths who made a mark and were keen to participate in AFMI activities were: Dr. Fareen Parvez (Boston), Dr. Tasneem Osmani (Chicago), Dr. Sana Uddin (South Bend-Indiana), Dr. Saad Mahmood (Boston) and many others.

This year’s AFMI international convention will take place in Ranchi on December 24 and 25, zonal conventions in UP is slated for Faizabad and Lucknow. MP zonal convention will take place in Burhanpur.

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Rick Perry, by the book

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ruth Marcus

Rick Perry is no George W. Bush.

This is not a compliment.

Rick Perry Fed UpPerry’s 2010 Tea Party-steeped manifesto, “Fed Up!,” makes George Bush look like George McGovern. Perry has said he wasn’t planning to run for president when he wrote the book, and it shows:

●The Texas governor floats the notion of repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Perry describes the amendment as “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it “was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Raise your hand if you believe, as Perry suggests, that it is wrong to ask the wealthiest to pay a greater share of their income than the poor.

●He lambastes the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators, as a misguided “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government” that “traded structural difficulties and some local corruption for a much larger and dangerous form of corruption.”

Raise your hand if you’d like to give the power to elect senators back to your state legislature.

● Perry laments the New Deal as “the second big step” — the 16th and 17th amendments being the first — “in the march of socialism and . . . the key to releasing the remaining constraints on the national government’s power to do whatever it wishes.”

●He specifically targets Social Security for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” and asserts that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.”

Not by the measure of the dramatically reduced share of elderly living in poverty. Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was impolitic, but he has a legitimate point about the program’s funding imbalance. The bigger problem is his fundamental hostility to the notion of a federal role in retirement security — or, more broadly, a federal role in much of anything beside national defense.

●As much as he dislikes the New Deal, Perry is even less happy about the Great Society, suggesting that programs such as Medicare are unconstitutional. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,” he writes.

Whoa! These are not mainstream Republican views — at least, not any Republican mainstream post-Goldwater and pre-Tea Party. Even Ronald Reagan, who had once criticized Social Security and Medicare, was backing away from those positions by the 1980 presidential campaign.

Reading “Fed Up!,” I had a flashback to scouring the writings of Robert Bork after his 1987 Supreme Court nomination — except that Bork’s most controversial writings were decades, not months, old.
Indeed, Perry’s views on the role of judges may be the most alarming part of “Fed Up!,” given a president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Perry writes about the current court with venomous disdain.

The court “adheres to the Constitution in appearance only and as a matter of necessity,” he writes, “finding in it or in previous case law the single nugget around which the court can marginally justify its policy choice to keep up the pretense of actually caring one iota about the Constitution in the first place.”

Disagreeing with liberal justices is one thing. Accusing them of not caring about the Constitution is like denouncing the opposing party as unpatriotic — and is equally out of bounds.

Perry’s ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying: requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation; and letting Congress override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both houses. This “risks increased politicization of judicial decisions,” Perry allows, “but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy.”

Some benefit. Imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education if the Perry rule were in place.

“Not as often discussed, but equally interesting,” Perry muses, “would be a ‘clarifying’ amendment” — for example, to stop the 14th Amendment  from being “abused by the court to carry out whatever policy choices it wants to make in the form of judicial activism.” How would Perry clarify such grand phrases as “due process” and “equal protection”?

Perry doesn’t say.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is “Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” Reading it summons the image of another, urgent fight: saving America from Rick Perry.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com

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Special Report: Erdogan: The strongest man in Turkey

August 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has an unspoken pact with the Turkish electorate: he delivers rapid economic growth, jobs and money, and voters let him shape what kind of democracy this Muslim nation of 74 million people becomes.

So far, the deal has served him well.

Erdogan has overseen a near tripling of per capita income in the last decade. That has helped blunt misgivings over the way he deals with dissent, and allowed him to subordinate Turkey’s powerful military, which has long seen itself as guardian of the country’s secular soul. Last year he used a plebiscite on constitutional reform to break the cliques in the judiciary, another bastion of Turkey‘s secular old guard.

The prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), socially conservative and successor to a banned Islamist party, won a third term with 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in June thanks largely to the success of its pro-growth free-market policies.

"Erdogan realizes he will be in power as long as the country prospers," Umit Ozlale, an economics professor at TOBB University in Ankara said. "When the economy is on track he handles other challenges from the military, judiciary or from the bureaucracy more easily."

At the same time, many Turks have a sneaking feeling that the prime minister’s road to democracy will always lead to his own party. With the economic boom now wobbling and the resignation on July 29 of the country’s four most senior generals, tensions at the heart of Erdogan’s Turkey are becoming harder to ignore.

"The fear amongst many of the (AKP’s) critics in Turkey is that the party is now overly dominant with fewer checks and balances given its controls all the main levers of the state," said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland.

BEATING THE GENERALS

When Chief of General Staff Isik Kosaner stepped down late last month along with the heads of the army, military and navy, he said he could no longer stand by while 250 fellow officers languished in jail, victims of charges he described as flawed and unjust.

The capitulation of the top brass confirmed what most Turks have known for years: the generals are a spent force in Turkish politics.

In many ways, that’s progress. Generals overthrew three civilian governments between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led coalition of which Erdogan was part from power in 1997. Turks respect their military, but most want to keep the uniform out of politics.

Erdogan has managed to do just that. In 2007, the military failed to stop the AKP government installing Abdullah Gul as president. That same year, Erdogan won a second term as prime minister in a parliamentary poll that let the military know they should stop messing with democracy.

That’s created a new dynamic between soldiers and politicians. The new generals Erdogan selected last week may not love the AK Party, but they’re unlikely to ignore fellow officers plotting against the government. When Erdogan chaired a meeting of the Supreme Military Council a few days after the resignations there was no doubting who was in charge. Flanked by grim-faced four-stars, Erdogan sat alone at the top of the table, where he would normally be joined by the chief of general staff.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Erdogan’s followers like his forceful personality and the fact he grew up in Istanbul‘s rough Kasimpasa neighborhood, where boys learn to carry themselves with a swagger and have the last word in any argument.

More than that, they appreciate his piety and sense of justice that some ascribe to his studies of Islam. Many see him as uncorruptible.

He connects with ordinary people, using everyday language in his speeches and addressing members of the audience with comments like: "Isn’t that the case, sister?," "Don’t you think so, dear mother?"

They also like that he’s engineered a shift in power away from the old Istanbul-based business houses to the so-called Anatolian tigers in the more conservative heartland of Turkey.

And his appeal goes well beyond Turkey.

The tongue-lashing he gave Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009 over the Gaza offensive, cemented his reputation in the Islamic world.

Last December, just before the uprising in Tunisia started the Arab Spring, a taxi driver in Tunis pointed to a photograph of Erdogan in a newspaper. "Nice man," the cabbie told a Reuters journalist. "The best leader in the Islamic world right now."

THREE TIMES A WINNER

Turkey‘s prime minister has long understood that the key to success is economic growth.

Over the past decade he’s transformed Turkey from a basket case dependent on IMF loans to the 16th largest economy in the world. He wants Turkey to be in the top 10 by 2023.

Flush with money and with their own economy faring far better than the euro zone, Turks have grown less enamored of the prospect of joining the European Union.

Last year Turkey notched up 9 percent growth. An Istanbul banker tells a story about a customer who wanted a loan. When asked how many siblings he had in his family the young man said: "We are four, but God has given us Tayyip, so now we’re five."

There is a sense that as long as Erdogan keeps Turks in jobs and the money rolling in, people won’t mind if the AKP government loses some of the democratic zeal that marked its early years. Erdogan has been very open about his plans for a new constitution that could open the way for him to become president.

Chances of the opposition unseating him are remote, and he has no real rivals within the AKP.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul- and Brussels-based think tank, reckons the greatest risk to Erdogan’s dominance is an economic crisis brought on by an external shock.

"Until then the AKP has a blank check," he said, speaking just before the latest market turmoil. "This situation can continue as long as international markets remain benign, as long as interest rates globally remain low, as long as risk aversion remains low."

"THE FINAL WORD"

That is a dismal prospect for members of the old elites, who fear Erdogan’s AKP aims to roll back the secular state envisioned by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan has already been in office longer than any other leader since Ataturk. Critics refer to the possibility he will rule on as president as the "Putinisation" of Turkey, though the term is seldom seen in the press.

When foreign diplomats in Ankara are asked what action Turkey might take on an issue, the answer is often along the lines of: "In the end Erdogan will have the final word."

Normally it would fall to the judiciary and press to provide a check on the government. But Turkey‘s judges and journalists have also had their wings clipped.

Only last year, Erdogan won backing in a referendum on constitutional reforms that included changes to the way judges are selected. There’s little doubt that the judiciary needed reforming, but critics say that the changes also reduced judges’ independence.

Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries in the World Press Freedom Index produced by media freedom pressure group Reporters without Borders, from 101st in 2007. Washington and Brussels have both aired concerns.

Early this year, with the election looming, police detained around a dozen journalists said to be linked to an alleged anti-government network dubbed Ergenekon, the fabled valley of Turkish legend from where a tribe of Turks escaped their enemies by following a lone wolf.

Opposition politicians and military leaders allege some prosecutors are taking revenge for past state repression of Islamist movements. Armed with leaks from either prosecutors or the police, government-friendly media report the detentions in ways that suggest the suspects are guilty before their cases are heard.

"Many people worry that the arrests of these officers and journalists may be the product of a witch-hunt mentality by those who feel they have the power now and are using the judiciary to settle old scores," said Hurriyet Daily News columnist Semih Idiz.

POLITICAL MAKEOVER

Since coming to power, Erdogan has gone out of his way to be seen as a model of pragmatism. Alcohol may cost more, but little in the way of legislation offers evidence of a religious agenda.

An attempt to lift a ban on women wearing the Muslim headscarf entering universities or working in the public sector has not been revived since it was pushed back in 2004.

In the past year, however, there was barely a murmur when universities began taking a permissive stance toward students in headscarves.

Scaremongering over the spread of Islamism proved a vote- loser for the secular opposition, so they stopped campaigning on it, opting instead to pick holes in Erdogan’s image as a champion of democracy.

The pillar of his political program is a proposal for a new constitution to replace the one drafted after a 1980 military coup. Parliament is expected to begin work on the new charter in October, and it is likely to dominate the political agenda until next summer.

"It will be a constitution emphasizing pluralism rather than a single voice. It will take the individual and their rights as its basis, protecting national unity and our shared values and accepting the wealth of social diversity," Erdogan said late last month.

Critics are unconvinced. When Erdogan has said in the past "democracy is not an objective, it is a vehicle," his foes have pounced, pointing to the words as proof of his autocratic tendencies.

"The new constitutional order will bring not liberty and democracy, as the government is trying to persuade Westerners, but a harsher new order," former Constitutional Court chief judge Yekta Gungor Ozden told Reuters.

WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT?

But the shape of a new constitution is far from clear. Burhan Kuzu, the head of the parliamentary commission looking at it, is a staunch advocate of the presidential system and argues that Turkey prospers from single-party rule and slips back when led by weak coalitions.

Not everyone in the AKP likes the idea of a presidential system: to win the parliamentary votes he needs to alter the constitution, Erdogan will have to reach out to rival parties.

Former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk told Reuters that many opposition groups will not "accept a presidential system. It could lead to a dictatorial system."

If Erdogan fails to win his changes, he will likely still run for — and win — the presidency in 2014 even if the position remains a figurehead role.

His greatest threat is an economic crisis.

Against conventional wisdom, the central bank cut its policy interest rate to an all-time low on August 4, despite growing concerns about inflation and pressure on the lira currency.

In the last few months, Erdogan said that ideally he’d like to see real interest rates at zero, a notion that makes some worry that populist priorities could hurt the economy.

If inflation rises or the flow of foreign investment dries up, Turkey could easily find itself with a current account deficit climbing beyond 10 percent of GDP, leaving it vulnerable to an economic shock that could persuade voters to desert Erdogan just as they did his predecessors.

Until then, there’s no doubting who’s boss.

(Reported and written by Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir, Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun, Ozge Ozbilgin and Pinar Aydinli; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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Thomas Jefferson’s Iftar: 1805

August 11, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

0729011_Jefferson-Quran_600
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur`an

“Ramadan,” said President Obama at a White House iftar dinner in 2010, “is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan — making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”

The dinner to which the president referred took place on December 9, 1805, and Jefferson’s guest was Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, an envoy from the bey (chieftain) of Tunis who spent six months in Washington. The context of Mellimelli’s visit to the United States was a tense dispute over piracy on American merchant vessels by the Barbary states and the capture of Tunisian vessels trying to run an American blockade of Tripoli.

Mellimelli arrived during Ramadan, and Jefferson, when he invited the envoy to the president’s house, changed the meal time from the usual hour of 3:30 p.m. to “precisely at sunset” in deference to the man’s religious obligation.

Jefferson’s knowledge of Islam likely came from his legal studies of natural law. In 1765, Jefferson purchased a two-volume English translation of the Quran for his personal library, a collection that became, in 1815, the basis of the modern Library of Congress.

This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html

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Back to 1967 Borders?

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort

By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner -

3207995924_5cdd1ac332_zPresident Barack Obama’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by starting with the 1967 borders will likely be adopted by the international group trying to find a peace agreement.

The meeting today in Washington by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.

Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,” Clinton said. “A resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.”
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents “one of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,” according to a statement released Friday.

“They want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obama’s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,” said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The chances of that are very slim,” he said in a telephone interview.

Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.

The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.

The president said Israel’s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible” and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the president’s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.S. feels that “going to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by side” and it “could be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,” Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.

Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.

As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.

“It’s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,” Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders “feel that politically they have to act,” he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.

Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets “if it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesn’t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.”

“Time is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyone’s interest,” Ibish said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something “meaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.”

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. “Netanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,” Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than they’ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, he’s not going to gain anything.”

Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasn’t likely. “The gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

13-32

Gas Pipeline to Reach Border Next Year: Iran

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Newspaper

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday that Tehran was hopeful of completing its section of the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline by the end of next year.

“Construction of the pipeline to export Iranian gas to Pakistan is under way, and we hope it will reach the frontier by the end of 2012,” he said of the multi-billion-dollar project after a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

President Zardari, who arrived in Tehran on a day-long visit, held two rounds of talks with President Ahmadinejad — first delegation-level talks and then a one-on-one meeting.

The two leaders also reviewed progress on a proposal for the transmission of electricity from Iran to Balochistan.

They expressed confidence that joint efforts would prove helpful in countering terrorism, terming the menace a common enemy for the region and the world.

Mr Ahmadinejad said his country looked forward to a new era in relations with Pakistan.

“Iran is ready to reinforce its cooperation with Pakistan in every field,” the Iranian president said.

Mr Zardari said relations between the neighbours should be strengthened, and proposed that “trade between the two countries be conducted in local currency, and not the dollar, to curb smuggling”. He also proposed a bilateral free trade agreement.

The President said Pakistan was already in negotiations with Turkey, Sri Lanka and China for the currency swap arrangement.

He denounced “efforts by our enemies who seek to show that the Pakistan government is unstable by provoking trouble,” saying that those responsible would face justice.

President Zardari praised Iran’s constructive engagement in the trilateral process, recalling last month’s Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan summit hosted by Tehran.

He urged the Iranian government to consider the creation of an integrated border management regime for tackling militancy and extremism. He said Pakistan and Iran had vital interests in stability and peace of the region.

Mr Zardari called for developing coordination between governments to curb narcotics and human trafficking in the region. He said Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan faced a common menace of drug trafficking and expressed the hope that a trilateral initiative would help counter the curse.

The President said Pakistan and Iran had the potential to undertake joint economic projects in Afghanistan to enhance connectivity, build infrastructure, rail and road links.

Mr Zardari said there was a need to raise bilateral trade to four billion dollars from one billion dollars. He called for working together to identify impediments to implementation of the Pakistan-Iran Preferential Trade Agreement, signed in 2006.

The Iranian president agreed to take full advantage of geo-strategic locations for “ushering in a new era of progress”.

About the Afghanistan issue, President Zardari said Pakistan supported the process initiated by President Hamid Karzai for reconciliation and peace. He said Pakistan supported a reconciliation process which must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, adding that Islamabad was ready to provide all possible assistance to Kabul in reconstruction efforts.

It was Mr Zardari’s second visit to Iran in less than a month. He visited Tehran last month to attend the counter-terrorism summit, on the sidelines of which the two countries and Afghanistan reached an agreement to augment cooperation in the fight against militancy.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Water and Power Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain and presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar accompanied Mr Zardari.

KHAMENEI LAMBASTS US: Later Mr Zardari called on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Fars news agency quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as telling the President: “The principal enemy of the Pakistani people and the unity of the country is the West, headed by the United States.”

Iranian officials have been vocal in their criticism of the prolonged US troop deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which are now set to be drawn down.—Agencies

13-30

Getting to Crazy

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

debtceilingThere aren’t many positive aspects to the looming possibility of a U.S. debt default. But there has been, I have to admit, an element of comic relief — of the black-humor variety — in the spectacle of so many people who have been in denial suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

And may I say to those suddenly agonizing over the mental health of one of our two major parties: People like you bear some responsibility for that party’s current state.

Let’s talk for a minute about what Republican leaders are rejecting.

President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions. As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!

Yet Republicans are saying no. Indeed, they’re threatening to force a U.S. default, and create an economic crisis, unless they get a completely one-sided deal. And this was entirely predictable.

First of all, the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency — any Democratic presidency. We saw that under Bill Clinton, and we saw it again as soon as Mr. Obama took office.

As a result, Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past. Mitt Romney’s health care plan became a tyrannical assault on American freedom when put in place by that man in the White House. And the same logic applies to the proposed debt deals.

Put it this way: If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.

Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P.

Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

And even the administration of former President George W. Bush refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic, at least in part for fear that making such claims would raise questions about the administration’s seriousness.

Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.” And it’s true: even Mr. Romney, widely regarded as the most sensible of the contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, has endorsed the view that tax cuts can actually reduce the deficit.

Which brings me to the culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.

Here’s the point: those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

But there has been no such price. Mr. Bush squandered the surplus of the late Clinton years, yet prominent pundits pretend that the two parties share equal blame for our debt problems. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a supposed deficit-reduction plan that included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, then received an award for fiscal responsibility.

So there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

13-30

American Muslims of Indian Origin Condemn Mumbai Blasts

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

FARMINGTON, MICHIGAN , USA —The American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) condemned the deadly  bomb blasts in Mumbai which have killed twenty one and injured more than one hundred people, according to latest media reports.

“We condemn this despicable and dastardly act. Our hearts and prayers go out for the victims and their families,” said Mr.Ashfaq Quraishi, president of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin.

“We urge the Indian government to take all necessary action to apprehend the perpetrators of this heinous act and bring them to justice promptly. At the same time we ask the government to not to target any specific community or indulge in any discriminatory activities.”

“We also appeal to to citizens of the great city of  Mumbai to maintain peace and calm and not to succumb to the machinations of divisive forces,” he added.
The American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin, is a North American based grassroots organization, dedicated to socio-economic and educational development of Muslims and other underprivileged masses in India.

THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF MUSLIMS OF INDIAN ORIGIN

Contact: AFMI, 29008, West Eight Mile Road, Farmington MI 48336 , USA
Tel: 248-442-2364; Fax: 248-476-8926 Email: afmi11@aol.com; / www.afmi.org.

13-29

Debt Talks Reveal Republican Apocalyptic War on Government

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harold Meyerson

As Default-on-Our-Debt Day creeps ever closer, America’s two major political parties have embarked on a round of ideological redefinition.

Republicans have subordinated even the appearance of concern for many of their historic priorities — reducing deficits and the debt, maintaining a passable system of roads, even reducing Medicare and Social Security payouts — to the single goal of blocking any tax increase on anyone ever again. Taking the adage that “that government is best that governs least” to an extreme, at least some seem to view a government shutdown as a consummation devoutly to be wished. GOP presidential candidate and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is running ads hailing the shutdown of his state’s government, the result of the same kind of political impasse that threatens to shutter the feds’ doors.

If it was possible to give libertarianism a bad name, today’s Republicans would be doing just that.

On the Democratic side, President Obama has moved so far to the right that he has picked up many of the ideals the Republicans have jettisoned and embraced them as his own. It’s Obama who’s now the deficit-and-debt hawk and who has proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Congressional Democrats oppose the president’s proposed entitlement cuts, but in fact they’ve already voted to reduce Medicare spending (though not benefits) by passing health-care reform, and, as part of the current budget negotiations, have agreed to major cuts in domestic as well as military spending.
In Obama’s defense, the Republicans he has to deal with have moved so far right that they make even the Gingrich-era GOP with which Bill Clinton grappled look like the Berkeley City Council. The fiscal constraints on his presidency far exceed those Clinton confronted, too.

But if the factors that have pushed Obama rightward are at least intelligible, those that have prompted the Republicans to winnow their agenda to one-note opposition to taxes and spending are nowhere so obvious.

For one thing, federal tax revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product is at its lowest level since 1950. The correlation between low federal taxes and job creation looks more inverse than direct. The economy generated far more net new jobs during the ’90s (approximately 22 million during Clinton’s presidency alone), before the Bush tax cuts, than it has since (approximately zero). Yet in opposing any tax increases on the rich as part of a debt-reduction deal, House Speaker John Boehner vowed Monday that “the House cannot pass a bill that raises taxes on job creators.”

Job creators? What job creators? Over the past two months, according to employment statistics, we seem to have completely run out of job creators, though American multinational corporations are having no trouble creating jobs in the cheap-labor nations of Asia. Small businesses, however, cannot expand until American consumers start buying more, and American consumers can’t start buying more until they work their way out of the debt they incurred during the recent decades of pervasive income stagnation.

The Republicans, that is, have embraced market libertarianism at the very moment that America’s market capitalism is functioning worse than at any time since the Great Depression. Their timing is so perverse that we have to seek explanations for their radicalism that go beyond those of economic philosophy.

Republicans, to be sure, have long waged a war on government, but only now has it become an apocalyptic and total war. At its root, I suspect, is the fear and loathing that rank-and-file right-wingers feel toward what their government, and their nation, is inexorably becoming:

multiracial, multicultural, cosmopolitan and now headed by a president who personifies those qualities. That America is also downwardly mobile is a challenge for us all, but for the right, the anxiety our economy understandably evokes is augmented by the politics of racial resentment and the fury that the country is no longer only theirs. That’s not a country whose government they want to pay for — and if the apocalypse befalls us, they seem to have concluded, so much the better.

Most Americans, thankfully, don’t share the right’s romance with cataclysm — something then-Senate Republican leader Bob Dole realized when he called off the shutdown of 1996, something that current Senate GOP chief Mitch McConnell realized Tuesday when he unveiled a cynical and circuitous plan to back off from the impending smash-up. Dole persuaded his fellow Republicans to stand down. It’s not clear, given the furies that possess today’s Republicans, that McConnell can do the same.

meyersonh@washpost.com

13-29

Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus Chairman Attends White House Reception for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Hakim Rahman

Chairman of the Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus, Nazmul Hassan Shahin, was invited to the White House for a reception to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage on June 22.
The social event was held for networking opportunities for 200 U.S. political representatives in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Hassan said President Obama greeted the crowd with a speech and shook hands with those in the front row and with others who were close enough to reach him. 

Hassan took the 10-15 seconds he had with the president to thank him for his work (the healthcare, Wallstreet and housing reforms). He said, “Change is not easy Mr. President. You are doing a fantastic job. Under your leadership America got back its respect in [the] outside world,” he said partly referring to an ongoing relationship with Bangladesh with the appointment of a new ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, in May.

He also handed Obama a thank-you letter on behalf of the BADC and an organizational newsletter, which the president accepted and said, “Keep doing the great work.”

It was a great once-in-a lifetime experience, said Hassan, from visiting the White House to shaking hands with the president. It was a, “Great honor as a Bangladeshi American to represent everyone [in] BADC,” he said.

BADC is an affiliate of the Michigan Democratic Caucus with 71 members in a “four-tier” organization. The executive council is comprised of members from the three entities: a task force committee; a congressional district committee with members who work closely with congress members and elected officials in those districts on issues relating to Bangladeshi Americans; and a standing committee with various branches including women, fundraising and student groups. An advisory council works with the organization.

Hassan describes the grass root organization as, “The voice of Bangladeshi Americans in mainstream politics working on issues important in our community.” The organization worked with democratic leaders in the past local state and presidential elections, fundraising and helping political candidates interact with the Bangladeshi Americans (a growing population in Michigan), such as Congressman Hansen Clarke.

States such as California, Delaware, Minnesota, and Texas, with Bangladeshi American populations are interested in replicating the organization, said Hassan. The organization may create a national board to work with all states.

Hassan has been working with BADC since 2009. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award at the Annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in April 16, 2011 by the Michigan Democratic Caucus for “an individual who works promoting the equality and inclusion of the people for every race, color, creed and gender in the Democratic Party,” said the website www.michbd.com, which reports on Bangladeshi news in Michigan.

BADC leaders and supporters motivate and energize me to do my job, said Hassan. “The Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Michigan Democratic Party is a symbol of acknowledgement of our hard work.”

Hassan said he hopes more youth will get politically involved and help bring about a change in government by building the organization and leadership to, “Carry out the momentum and take it farther than we have created.”

Upon request of Hassan, Congressman John Conyers Jr. offered internships to youth during a Muslim Ummah of North America north zone conference on June 5. Hassan encourages people to apply. He said Bangladeshi American youth have potential to rise up and become political leaders. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.

Elections for BADC will be held in November.

For more information visit www.mibadc.org, or to get involved contact Executive Vice Chair Ripa Haq at 248-520-1921.

13-28

Profile: Nina Rehman Khan, HDF President

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

ninarehman2photoFarmington–June 15–The new president of HDF spoke with TMO Tuesday about her background, her experience with HDF, and her plans for the future.

Dr. Rehman is a physician specializing in internal medicine, with a private practice, operating at St. John and Troy Beaumont Hospital.

Human Development Foundation (HDF) is a not-for-profit formed almost 15 years ago in Illinois; it focuses almost all of its development work in Pakistan.  Its annual operating budget is over $1 million, according to its verified 2009 tax return, and its coffers also hold more than $1 million.

She explains that she has been involved “on and off, as a medical student even,” with HDF for many years, and that she has been involved on a regular basis with HDF since 2003, “at many levels, secretary, board of directors, to other things.”

“I prefer HDF because it involves more women’s health and education–women are my top priority… HDF emphasized more women and their health issues, immunizations for kids–all that attracted me more.”

She speaks with admiration of the accomplishments of HDF to date, of running “over 200 schools,” of microloans (“mainly to women but also to some men”).   HDF provides help to get people “off the ground so they can be independent… raise their own family and be educated, and get skills.”  HDF provides “help with pregnancies and immunizations, free clinics in different villages, support clinics for women’s health–childbirth and preventive health.”

She explains of HDF’s focus on Pakistan and relative silence in the US that “that’s our vision.” However she explains that she has considered doing some projects to help children and women in Detroit, and that HDF did do some work to relieve the suffering after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

“I was planning on doing more during Christmas, to help the homeless and kids [in Detroit].”

HDF is an apparently very successful not-for-profit, which claims to maintain over 200 schools in Pakistan; also clinics and even entire villages.  HDF provided homes for people displaced by the floods in Pakistan, in association with APPNA. 

In her professional life Dr. Rehman emphasizes women’s preventive health, and anti-aging.  She recently completed a fellowship in anti-aging.

13-25

The Fake Outrage of the Israel Firsters

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By MJ Rosenberg

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS/NETANAYHU

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man walks past mannequins on a street in Jerusalem’s Old City May 25, 2011. Palestinians and Israelis alike saw little prospect of a fresh start to Middle East peace talks on Wednesday after Israeli PM Netanyahu’s keynote speech to Congress. 

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

There was absolutely nothing about President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech to get excited about (and even less in his statement following Friday’s meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu). The president did not even attempt to set out an action plan; he offered broad principles, ones that have been offered before by five previous presidents.

He delivered the speech in an effort to get the jump on Netanyahu who is in town to address Congress and AIPAC. Bibi’s goal is to mobilize his followers against any U.S. efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Netanyahu, who grew up in the United States, is a de facto Republican and, as in 1998 when President Clinton was in office, he wants to strengthen the GOP vis a vis the Democrats.

Delivering the speech was probably a mistake. But Obama felt that he had to deliver it — to preempt Netanyahu’s war-mongering with some good pro-Israel boilerplate and to neutralize some of the opposition to U.S. policies toward Israel that is weakening our standing with the evolving Arab democracies.

For obvious national security reasons, the United States cannot afford to have a new generation of Arab democrats in nations as significant as Egypt hating us because they view America as being in Israel’s pocket. A strong rhetorical endorsement of peace would both help neutralize Netanyahu’s demagoguery and defuse opposition to both America and Israel in the Muslim world. Meanwhile, it would please Netanyahu’s followers.

In the end, it didn’t turn out that way. As the Wall Street Journal reported in an article called “Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel,” a tiny (but incredibly well-heeled) group of donors told Obama in advance that any deviation from the line laid down by Netanyahu would cost Obama campaign contributions. The article quotes a bunch of fat cats, unknown to most Jewish Americans who essentially threatened Obama.

It’s crazy. In 2008 78% of Jews voted for Obama. According to the definitive American Jewish Committee poll, Israel ranks 7th on the list of issues on which Jews cast their votes with 3% citing it as the top concern. 54% mentioned the economy, and many more cited health care, energy and a host of other issues.

But the self-appointed fat cat representatives of the Jewish community tell the White House that our #1 concern is Israel. And, for the AIPAC directed donors, it probably is.

And that is why President Obama delivered a speech on Thursday that was utterly innocuous. There was nothing in it that has not been said before by a host of previous presidents. Virtually all his empathy was directed at Israel while he offered a little sympathy, and nothing else, to the Palestinians. He did what he thought he had to do: appease AIPAC and Netanyahu while pleasing Arab democrats too.

But he failed. Arabs saw the speech as a bunch of empty words. And the Israeli firsters went ballistic. Why? Because of one paragraph.

The president said:

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

And suddenly all hell broke loose. But not immediately. Initially, the right-wing of the “pro-Israel” claque praised Obama for not saying anything that challenged Netanyahu but then Netanyahu, said that he was outraged by the reference to the 1967 lines.

But then the robotic Israel-firsters switched their line as quickly as Red 1930s folk singers changed their lyrics when Moscow complained of deviation. (Stop bashing Nazi Germany; we just signed a pact with it).

This is beyond ridiculous. Obama did not say that Israel would have to go back to the 1967 borders; he said that the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines…”
That means that Israelis and Palestinians would sit down with a map that dated back to 1967 and decide what would be Israel and what would be Palestine. What other “lines” could a deal be based on? The border between China and Russia?

As far back as the 1967 United Nations Resolution 242, which Israel signed, it has been the stated policy of the entire world (including Israel) that Israel would return to the ‘67 borders, with alterations made, as necessary, to guard Israel’s security. Every American president has said that and every Israeli government has accepted it. Even AIPAC supports the “two-state solution,” which means a Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in 1967. Where else?

So what are these people up to when they suddenly decide to descend into faux-rage when Obama says what they have been saying all along?

The answer is simple. The Israel-first crowd has decided on two things: (1) They do not want Israeli-Palestinian peace, period. They want Israel to keep all the land. And (2) they want to see President Obama defeated in the next election, hoping against hope that they can drive the Obama Jewish vote, and especially campaign contributions, way below 2008 levels. They don’t trust him. They suspect (hopefully, rightly) that in his heart he does not believe the status quo loving nonsense Dennis Ross is feeding him.

Obama’s mistake is to think he can appease these people by going to AIPAC (as he will do next week) or to Israel (as he probably will this summer) and trying to explain himself. Unless he is prepared to tell AIPAC and right-wing Israelis that he supports both settlements and the permanent disenfranchisement of Palestinians, he will not win over these people. They are not potential friends, not of him or of U.S. interests. Or, frankly, of Israel’s. (They seem to prefer the West Bank over Israel itself).

Instead, he should mobilize Americans, pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews, like those of J Street who support the two-state solution and territorial compromise. He should reach out to Palestinians who are prepared to live in peace with Israel (including Hamas, if it will permanently end violence against Israel). And he should support moderate Israelis (still a sizable percentage of the population) who hate the occupation and are desperate to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Trying to appease Netanyahu and AIPAC empowers the right and cuts moderates off at the knees. It’s time for Obama to treat these people as what they are: enemies of everything he aspires to do. Why would the president think he can possibly find friends on the right? He can’t.

13-22

Who’s Serious Now?

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

2011-04-05T160723Z_1858491697_GM1E74600HJ01_RTRMADP_3_USA-BUDGET

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a news conference held to unveil the House Republican budget blueprint in the Capitol in Washington April 5, 2011. The plan calls for sweeping changes to government health programs as it slashes taxes for corporations and individuals. 

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounds upset.

And you can see why: President Obama, to the great relief of progressives, has called his bluff.

Last week, Mr. Ryan unveiled his budget proposal, and the initial reaction of much of the punditocracy was best summed up (sarcastically) by the blogger John Cole: “The plan is bold! It is serious! It took courage! It re-frames the debate! The ball is in Obama’s court! Very wonky! It is a game-changer! Did I mention it is serious?”

Then people who actually understand budget numbers went to work, and it became clear that the proposal wasn’t serious at all. In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.

On Wednesday, as I said, the president called Mr. Ryan’s bluff: after offering a spirited (and reassuring) defense of social insurance, he declared, “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.” Actually, the Ryan plan calls for $2.9 trillion in tax cuts, but who’s counting?

And then Mr. Obama laid out a budget plan that really is serious.

The president’s proposal isn’t perfect, by a long shot. My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare he proposed are exactly the right way to go, he’s probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we’ll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want. But the vision was right, and the numbers were far more credible than anything in the Ryan sales pitch.

And the hissy fit — I mean, criticism — the Obama plan provoked from Mr. Ryan was deeply revealing, as the man who proposes using budget deficits as an excuse to cut taxes on the rich accused the president of being “partisan.” Mr. Ryan also accused the president of being “dramatically inaccurate” — this from someone whose plan included a $200 billion error in its calculation of interest costs and appears to have made an even bigger error on Medicaid costs. He didn’t say what the inaccuracies were.

And now for something completely wonkish: Can we talk, briefly, about politicians talking about drugs?

For the contrast between Mr. Ryan last week and Mr. Obama on Wednesday wasn’t just about visions of society. There was also a difference in visions of how the world works. And nowhere was that clearer than in the issue of how Medicare should pay for drugs.

Mr. Obama declared, “We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan held up the existing Medicare drug benefit — a program run through private insurance companies, under legislation that specifically prohibits Medicare from using its bargaining power — as an example of the efficiencies that could be gained from privatizing the whole system.

Mr. Obama has it right. Medicare Part D has been less expensive than expected, at least so far, but that’s because overall prescription drug spending has fallen short of expectations, largely thanks to a dearth of new drugs and the growing use of generics. The right way to assess Part D is by comparing it with programs where the government is allowed to use its purchasing power. And such comparisons suggest that if there’s any magic in privatization, it’s the magical way it makes drug companies richer and taxpayers poorer. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays about 40 percent less for drugs than the private plans in Part D.

Did I mention that Medicare Advantage, which closely resembles the privatized system that Republicans want to impose on all seniors, currently costs taxpayers 12 percent more per recipient than traditional Medicare?

But back to the president’s speech. His plan isn’t about to become law; neither is Mr. Ryan’s. And given the hysterical Republican reaction, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll see negotiations trying to narrow the difference. That’s a good thing because Mr. Obama’s plan already relies more on spending cuts than it should, and moving it significantly in the G.O.P.’s direction would produce something unworkable and unacceptable.

What happened over the past two weeks, then, was more about staking out positions than about enacting policies. On one side you had a combination of mean-spiritedness and fantasy; on the other you had a reaffirmation of American compassion and community, coupled with fairly realistic numbers. Which would you choose?

13-17

Obama Fights ‘Otherization’

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

of Muslims, through Envoy Rashad Hussain

By Josh Gerstein, Politico

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT
 

President Barack Obama’s aggressive outreach to the Muslim American community is reducing its sense of isolation, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Muslim world told a conference in Washington Wednesday evening.

“We’ve really started to knock down that sense of otherization,” said Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer who also serves as liaison to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain defined the rather esoteric term “otherization” as a sense that many Muslims had during the Bush years that their value or danger to society was viewed solely through the prism of terrorism.

“Muslims … sometimes feel like they don’t have as much of a stake or a role in the future of the country,” Hussain told the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy conference. “That’s something that all of the engagement that the United States has done on these issues both internationally and domestically has helped to counter.”

Hussain was the keynote speaker at the session, which marked one year since Obama’s historic speech in Cairo last April, where he attempted to reset America’s relationship with Muslims around the globe.

In many ways, the most remarkable thing about Hussain’s speech was the context in which it took place: a conference that featured explicitly “Islamist” political leaders from Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as a provocative Oxford scholar whom the Bush administration effectively banned from the U.S., Tariq Ramadan. Many Republicans, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, continue to use the term “Islamist” to describe enemies of the U.S. The GOP politicians also fault Obama for failing to recognize the threat such an ideology poses to the U.S.

Giuliani’s view is pretty much 180 degrees from the prevailing sentiment at Wednesday’s conference. “There doesn’t really seem to be much of a debate about whether engagement with Islamists should happen,” Professor Peter Mandeville of George Mason University declared. “There really is no other alternative. The question now is about the nature of that engagement … rather than the question of whether this is something the United States should do.”

In his 20-minute speech and a subsequent Q & A session, Hussain generally stuck to Obama’s rhetorical formulation of using the term “violent extremism” for what the Bush folks — and just about everyone else — used to call “terrorism.” However, Hussain did use the T-word a couple of times. He touted the U.S. commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran, to avoiding religious- and nationality-based profiling in airport security screening and to freedom for Muslims around the world to wear Islamic garb.

In response to a question about the U.S. willingness to deal with Taliban members who are prepared to renounce violence, Hussain said, “The U.S. will engage those groups that are lawfully elected and are lawfully part of the political process and don’t engage in violence, and that is a commitment that is demonstrated over a set period of time.”

Pressed by a questioner urging U.S. action against Israel over its refusal to end settlement-building activity, Hussain didn’t offer much to satisfy the pro-Palestinian audience. “The best way to address that issue is to get negotiations between the parties back on track again. … It’s not something that you will see this administration walk away from,” he said.

Hussain did seem a tad exasperated by complaints that, despite the vaunted Muslim outreach campaign, Obama has failed to visit a mosque in the U.S. as president. “If there is this silver bullet people are looking for, that the president visit a religious center in the United States, I’m sure there will be an appropriate time for that as well,” Hussain said.

Shortly after his appointment as the OIC envoy earlier this year, Hussain grabbed some headlines for a flap over comments he made in 2004 describing the Bush administration’s actions against some terror suspects as “politically motivated persecutions.” He initially said he had no recollection of making the remarks, but after POLITICO obtained a recording of the presentation he conceded he’d made the comments and called them “ill-conceived or not well-formulated.”

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Obama Snubbed Netanyahu

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Telegraph UK

The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.

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File picture:  Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama

The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country’s relationship with the United States was over.

Over the previous two days, he had been feted by senior Republicans and greeted warmly by members of Congress. He had also received a standing ovation from the American Israel Public Affairs Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States.

But Mr. Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr. Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr. Obama rose from his seat declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”

As he left, Mr. Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr. Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”

For over an hour, Mr. Netanyahu and his aides closeted themselves in the Roosevelt Room on the first floor of the White House to map out a response to the president’s demands.

Although the two men then met again, at 8.20 pm, for a brief second meeting, it appeared that they failed to break the impasse. White House officials were quoted as saying that disagreements remained. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, added: “Apparently they did not reach an understanding with the United States.”

It was the second time this month that Mr Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of a US dinner-time snub.

A fortnight ago, Joe Biden the US vice president, arrived 90 minutes late for a dinner Mr. Netanyahu hosted in Jerusalem after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the city’s predominantly Arab east.

Erupting in fury, the United States described the decision to expand Ramat Shlomo as an “insult” that undermined Mr. Biden’s peace making efforts and demanded that it be reversed. Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, as their future capital and regard any Jewish building there as a barrier to a peace settlement.

Mr Obama’s mood further soured in the minutes before his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu after it emerged that approval had been given for an even more contentious Jewish building project in the heart of one of east Jerusalem’s Palestinian suburbs.

Sending a clear message of his displeasure, Mr. Obama treated his guest to a series of slights. Photographs of the meeting were forbidden and an Israeli request to issue a joint-statement once it was over were turned down.

“There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage,” Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported. “Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

It is not the first time that Mr. Netanyahu has been involved in a dinner-time snub, although he is arguably more used to delivering, rather than receiving, them.
In 1998, during his first term as Israeli prime minister, Mr. Netanyahy angrily cancelled a dinner he was due to give with the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.
Mr. Cook had earned his host’s ire after he briefly visited a new Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem with a Palestinian official and called for an end to all settlement construction in the parts of the city Israel occupied after the Six-Day war.

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US Hopes Obama Trip Will Boost Trade with Indonesia

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Doug Palmer

2010-03-16T103621Z_11355208_GM1E63G1FMP01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA

Barack Obama’s impersonator Ilham Anas of Indonesia poses in front of an image of U.S. President Barack Obama after being interviewed by Reuters TV in Obama’s former school, State Elementary School 01 Menteng, in Jakarta March 16, 2010. Obama is scheduled later this month to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he is a popular figure. Obama studied at State Elementary School 01 Menteng from 1970-1971.

REUTERS/Dadang Tri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes President Barack Obama’s visit next week to Indonesia will help spur reforms that boost trade with Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous nation.

“Economic nationalism, regulatory uncertainty and unresolved investment disputes give pause to American companies seeking to do business in Indonesia,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a speech on Wednesday.

To increase trade, “it’s incumbent upon Indonesia to make market-oriented reforms that will make it a more attractive market, not just for U.S. companies but companies all around the world,” Locke said.

“Growing trade with Indonesia is a piece of the president’s broader plan to create jobs here at home by growing market access overseas.”

Obama is returning to the country where he spent part of his youth for talks in Jakarta with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a stop in Bali to meet civil society groups and urge further progress on democracy.

Indonesia — a majority Muslim nation of 230 million people — and the United States are expected to sign a “comprehensive partnership” agreement, which Locke said would be a “blueprint for cooperation on a whole host of issues.”

Two-way trade between the United States and Indonesia was just $18 billion last year, a tiny chunk of the $788 billion in trade the United States did with all Pacific Rim countries in 2009.

“In fact, Indonesia does less trade with the United States than some of its smaller, less populous ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand,” said Locke, who will be leading a clean energy trade mission to Indonesia in May.

The United States exported $5.1 billion of goods last year to Indonesia, led by civilian aircraft and farm goods such as soybeans, animal feeds and cotton.

U.S. imports from Indonesia were just $12.9 billion last year, included clothing and textile goods, furniture, electronics, computer accessories and coffee.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Indonesia just weeks after Obama but Locke downplayed the idea that the back-to-back trips were a demonstration of Washington and Beijing vying for influence.

“I don’t think these visits in any way were set up to compete against each other,” Locke said.

But Ernie Bower, director for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did see a healthy competition between the United States and China for “hearts, minds and markets” in Southeast Asia.

China “really picked up its game” in Indonesia with help it provided during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and Obama’s trip helps set the stage for more U.S. involvement in a strategically important region, Bower said.

But Indonesia has a long way to go before it is ready to join a proposed regional free trade agreement with the United States, said Mark Orgill, manager for Indonesia at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

A much less ambitious trade deal between ASEAN and China already has raised concerns among Indonesia’s manufacturers, Orgill said.

The United States began talks this week on the proposed Transpacific Partnership pact with Australia, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam and Brunei. Two other ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Thailand, have expressed interest in joining the talks.

“Indonesia fights battles at home” over moves to open its market, Orgill said.

Editing by John O’Callaghan

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Edythe M. Abdullah Reappointed

March 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

edythe-m--abdullah2 Dr. Edythe M. Abdullah, 56, of Jacksonville, campus president of Florida State College at Jacksonville, was reappointed for a term beginning March 9, 2010, and ending January 6, 2015.

Dr. Abdullah began her career at Florida Community College as an admissions adviser in 1985. Since then she has progressed along the administrative career ladder from associate dean to dean to associate vice president and now campus president. Dr. Abdullah has served as Campus President of the Downtown Campus and Advanced Technology Center for six years. Her responsibilities include administrative oversight and instructional leadership for a campus that serves over 10,000 students from 119 countries with a wide variety of programs: adult literacy, high school completion, English for speakers of other languages, associate arts and sciences degrees, career certificates and continuing workforce education instruction. Additionally, this year she and her staff opened the first drop out retrieval charter high school in the State of Florida.

Dr. Abdullah earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Valparaiso University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida. She holds a Certificate in the Management of Lifelong Education from Harvard University and was a Kellogg Fellow with the League for Innovation in Community Colleges. Dr. Abdullah has been very committed to community, state, and national leadership in areas for which she holds great passion and insight. In 2000, she chaired the Jacksonville Community Council’s study on adult literacy and its impact on economic development. Dr. Abdullah was inducted into Florida’s Adult and Community Educators Hall of Fame in recognition of her statewide leadership and support of adult education and workforce development. She has served on numerous national education association advisory councils, including the Presidents Advisory Council for the National Council for Advanced Technology Centers.

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