Archive for ::People

Mukhtaran Mai Weds…breaking all taboos

It was nice to see a follow up and update on Mukhtaran Mai’s life in this NYT article on March 17, 2009.  I just recently wrote about her in the Nicolas Kristof post here.

mukhtarwedding

So it seems that she has married a younger police constable (she is his second wife) after he has been pursuing her hand in marriage for the past few years.  Her will and resolve as a strong woman, rooted in her belief that she will lead her life on her own terms continues to resonate as she takes this new step in her life.  Read on….

There are several news stories on her:

Here’s the full report from the New York Times:

Rape Victims’ Advocate Marries

By SALMAN MASOOD
Published: March 17, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was
gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a
symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Mukhtar, 37, said her new
husband is a police constable who was assigned to guard her in the
wake of the attack and who has been asking for her hand for several
years. She is his second wife.
She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday
in a simple ceremony in her dusty farming village, Meerwala, in the
southern part of Punjab Province.
“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Ms. Mukhtar said with a big
laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.
Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Ms. Mukhtar, who is
also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her
attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She
runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in
her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has
defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani
society.
The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions
attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit
relations with a woman from a rival clan, but later investigations
revealed that the boy had himself been molested by three of those
clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.
Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect
her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop
her from pressing charges.
Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Ms. Mukhtar to marry. He had been
calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a
half ago, she said. “But I told my parents I don’t want to get
married.”
Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping
pills. “The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents
met my parents but I still refused,” Ms. Mukhtar said.
Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.
Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, joined
forces to try to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the
status of second wife. In Pakistan, which follows Islamic law, a man
can legally have up to four wives.
It was her concern about Ms. Shumaila, Ms. Mukhtar said, that moved
her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by
another woman,” Ms. Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”
In the end, Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to
transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree
to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.
Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband
in his village, Ms. Mukhtar said no. “I have seen pain and happiness
in Meerwala. I cannot think of leaving this place.”
Her husband, she said, “can come here whenever he wants and finds it
convenient.”

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Let the people speak today…

[Updated note to this post: Amid the jubilence, it seems suicide attackers have struck again in Rawalpindi, killing at least 10 and injuring over 20.  Let Pakistanis not loose the momentum to demand en masse, their right to be safeguarded against this grave threat which looms, to demand that the powers that be, stop pandering to the religious extremists and begin to take strong action with urgency to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and its people.  I hope we are not left waiting in vain (or worse) for the people, the masses, the ruling educated elite to speak up and march (now!) against the terror and atrocities being committed by Muslims upon Muslims as the country celebrates the dawn of this new day… ]

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A historic, emotional and proud day in the history of Pakistan- March 16, 2009.

cj-marchcelebration21

Hundreds of thousands marched the “Long March” towards the capital to demand the restoration of Paksitan’s legitimate Judiciary – for two years the lawyers movement forged tirelessly, beaten down on, but they have prevailed.  Never in the history of Pakistan, have PCO Judges been reinstated.  Never did the masses feel their voice and presence would matter.   Technology, media and the will to fight for a country mired in political dysfunction have given birth to a new hope and a voice to the people.

Skeptics who felt powerless in the face of the corrupt and ruling elite, feel they may have a chance after this historic day.  The task now is for more long marches to come – to demand the rulers to stop pandering to the Islamic extremists and protect them from this abhorrent homegrown violence; to demand justice for equal access to education, health, civil services, employment and the bare necessities of life needed to sustain the poorest of the poor, as well as the vast,  middle class – many of whom comprised the lawyers movement from the start.  The long march has only just begun.

I think it is best for those voices to speak for themselves.  The following are quotes from today’s (March 16, 2009) NYT’s article on this historic event:

Javed Ali Khan: “We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties.

…….

Hassan Akhtar, a lawyer who grew up in England, gushed: “It’s really wonderful. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t even dream of this.”

…….

“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.” “Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”

Ms. Javed’s daughters both wore stickers of Mr. Chaudhry stuck to the fronts of their brightly colored dresses, with the words, “My Hero,” in English, in bold script. The family earns about $250 a month, too little to send the children to private school. Most Pakistanis consider their country’s public school system to be broken.

…….

“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”

…….

“This movement has given an awareness to the common people in Pakistan of their rights,” said Shamoon Azhar, 26, a doctoral student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, sitting on the lawn with a large group of his friends. “This is about awareness. It’s given people confidence. It’s shown people it can happen.”

…….

“The feudal system, it was in the past,” said Mazhar Iqbal, a private school manager. “There was no media then. No education. The poor were poor forever. Now is the time to wake up. It’s been 60 years and we’ve been wasting our time.”

…….

Saif Abbas, a consultant who used to work for the Asian Development Bank in Islamabad, was more clear-eyed about the meaning of the march. Pakistan is still a poor country with a vast illiterate population, and a corrupt, unresponsive ruling class, he said.

“This country has to take control of its own future, and that’s education,” he said, holding a flag. “Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.”  He continued:  “The next government is going to fear the people who pushed this one against the wall,” […] A revolution it is not, he said. “But it’s a good beginning.”

…….

Indeed it finally is.

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Celebrating the Power of One

Wishing all a celebratory International Women’s Day.

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Nicholas Kristof is an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times.  To many, he is just a man who speaks his peace via the news media – but to millions of others, he may as well be their hero and savior.

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

I first took notice of Mr. Kristof when my husband would read me his columns on occasion and comment on his keen ability to find incredible stories to report and comment on.  But he did not only just report – he changed lives.

One such life was that of a Pakistani village woman by the name of Mukhtaran Mai.  In short, she became the victim of gang rape as a form of honor revenge by the ruling tribesmen – the revenge was issued by the tribal council.  While the perpetrators, thought she would succumb to the shame and horror and commit suicide, Mukhtaran Mai instead spoke up, and took her case to court where her rapists were arrested and charged. She took settlement money provided to her by the government following the court case, and opened a center for refuge and education, the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization.

Nicholas Kristof became involved in reporting this story in September 2004 (the incident itself occured in June 2002).   He has since reported on Mukhtaran Mai’s case, its setbacks, and the fact that President Musharraf (Pakistan’s President during that time) had ordered that she not be able to leave the country to share her story in the US and the West, so as not to malign Pakistan’s image abroad.  Kristof has written over 30 op-ed and blog pieces relating to Mukhtaran Mai.  He continues to write of her progress and plight in the ongoing legal case which changed her life and many other women’s lives Mukhtaran Mai has touched – all because this one person shared her painful yet inspirational story with the world.

Here is a link to a comprehensive list: NYT Articles on Mukhtaran Mai by N. Kristof.

Kristof also was able to raise close to $133,000 from his readers for her endeavors of running a school for girls and women in her village. Mukhtar Mai began to work to educate girls, and to promote education with a view towards raising awareness to prevent future honor crimes. Out of this work grew the organization Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. The main focus of her work is to educate young girls, and to educate the community about women’s rights and gender issues. Her organization teaches young girls, and tries to make sure they stay in school, rather than work or get married. In Fall 2007, a high school was to be started by her group. The Organization also provides shelter and legal help for people, often women, who are victims of violence or injustice. [ref: Wikipedia]

His most recent piece appeared just days ago on March 2, 2009 – from his “On the Ground” Blog entry, asking us, the readers to call upon the highest of Pakistani officials to inquire if there indeed is any political interference occurring in her continuing case, and to request the government’s assurance that the judiciary will maintain their independence in the face of alleged political pressure.  [Do go to the article and act upon this request, I’m sure it will only help put some sort of pressure].

On Darfur.  Again, for years, Kristof has been the almost only resounding, continuous and unrelenting voice on the genocide in Sudan in the news media at large.  Just the other day, at a panel discussion after the showing of a documentary celebrating International Woman’s Day (entitled, “A Powerful Noise” – which also celebrate the power of 3 different women, each making their mark and voices heard) in NYC, panelist Madeleine Albright told fellow panelist Nicholas Kristof how in debt the world is to him for keeping the topic of Darfur alive and in the news media for all these years.  In fact, he has visited this war torn region over 8 times at much risk to himself.  His recent tactic has involved taking Hollywood heartthrob, George Clooney with him on the current reporting cycle, in the hopes that it will attract media attention and possibly entice the paparazzi to follow Clooney to Darfur.  Here is an excerpt from the February 19, 2009 NYT Op Ed piece: Read the rest of this entry »

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Will Cricket be the last straw to wake up Pakistanis?

With the recent attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in my birth city of Lahore, it begs the question: When will Pakistan wake up and realize that we have a problem – and actually act on it?

grief_by_firesign24_7

In response to a friend’s blog post, (Sportz Insight), I penned my thoughts here:

To the blogger:  …written from the heart – a lovely piece. Sadly, it may be too late perhaps, that we are all finally waking up to what has been building up for years and years. The madrassas sprouting everywhere in Islamabad’s backyards, and the general re-Islamization of moderate Pakistanis has been percolating for the past several years…the more violent and blatant infiltration is evident in the more recent past with hundreds of suicide bombings, kidnappings (of many ‘wealthy’ folks kids – whose ransoms fund the militants, no doubt), blowing up of hotels and the like. But it has not seemed to put any sense of trepidation or impending doom in the minds of the average (well, let me correct myself, the wealthy, educated, governing elite) until now, when it has hit home: CRICKET. Is this the wake up call, or will it be shoved behind us in our short term memories again like all the other incidents of late? Apathy is the norm. 200 schools demolished in Swat didn’t wake any of us up – none of us were up in arms about it (just a ‘sigh, this is horrible’ at most). No one protested when 500 music shops were closed and burnt down in Mingora. No mass street protests or condemnation of our politicians was made when those 5 unfortunate women were buried alive (with the Baluchi minister, Zehri, approving of it!) or when the dancer, Shabana was dragged and killed in the city square in Swat recently. Are we human? It seems like we as Pakistanis are immune to anything violent or that which does not directly inflict harm on us. There are not cries of mass protest or indignation -anywhere. (“hum kiya kar laengay?” is the mantra).  Why is this? Why do our people feel that their voice en masse cannot make a difference? Is it in our DNA? There are countless examples throughout the history of man where people’s movement, even beginning with the voice of one person have led to change, reform and restitution. I know in my heart, that ultimately Pakistanis have the will – I for the first time saw this in my lifetime when the whole nation seemed to come together in October 2005 after the massive earthquake. Where are those hearts and minds now?? We need to put forth a movement and voices – March to the President’s House/Parliament/ISI with 100,000 people like you and me, shopkeepers, teachers, CEOs, industrialists, university professors, jamadars, doctors, company presidents, drivers, and children and demand to be protected and tell them to take action and no longer feed the beast with appeasement. We may snicker and be cynical – but ultimately, that is exactly what we’re best at doing as Pakistanis. So, I agree with you – it is up to “us”. If we let the media report on how bad the situation has become (tsk, tsk), how India may be to blame and just sit sit sit, then my friend, we need to be ready to right off Pakistan as we know it.

05 March 2009 18:32

[with some minor edits]

A parting thought from our recent history:

If a skinny, black kid from the South Side of Chicago was able to organize his communities and ultimately an entire nation, why can’t we?  The whole world, including all the cynics and naysayers out there were all grandstanding and patting each other on their backs as they watched in amazement on Election night, what one person and his organized followers managed to do for the United States.  People who had never voted, never volunteered, never phone-banked, never stood up for anything in their lives – the old, young children, blind, once racists – all pitched in.  This is the message we should be sending to our children – not one which says, ‘me, what can I do??!’.

Post Script:

On Bravery: Actually, I do want to say that there are times when we CAN acutally take a lesson from a child.  Fear is another factor which most likely what keeps people from banning together to demand and protest.  But then we can gain strength from this fearless young 11 year old girl in Pakistan who has taken on the Taliban with her poetry.

On Activism (the counterproductive kind) : While there have been ‘protests’ in Pakistan, mainly ‘activists’ coming out and burning Indian flags in Lahore there have been no mass protests against the rise of the growing local terrorism – other than peaceful candlelight vigils.  The psyche of Paksitanis and an unresponsive, disfunctional government, unfortunately continue to stand in the way.

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A Must Read: Israel 1948 to Gaza 2009

Israeli Oxford Professor of International Relations, Avi Shlaim, wrote this detailed chronical of what makes Israel tick, why they are opting for land vs. peace and insight into the underlying objectives for each and every one of the wars.

Source: AP. A child injured in the Israeli bombardment of a UN school yesterday is taken to Shifa hospital in Gaza City

From UK’s January 7, 2009 Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine

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Another good piece in today’s UK’s Independent by Robert Fisk trying to answer “Why they hate the West so much”

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-do-they-hate-the-west-so-much-we-will-ask-1230046.html

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Mumbai Bombings – Some perspective

What happened in Mumbai at the tail end of November was a horrifying tale of terror for the people of Mumbai and the Indian nation. Sadly, these kinds of attacks have plagued India and Pakistan in recent history, and continues to even as recently as this September, when the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan was bombed, then burnt down to ashes within hours. Rather than pointing fingers, we need to come to understand the underpinnings of why this violence is claiming the lives of the innocent – and where this venomous and deep seeded anger culminates from. We must look back to the historical context, to even begin to understand the ‘why’ in all this madness.

Ms. Arundhati Roy (author and Booker Prize winner of “God of Small Things”) provides some of this in context.

From UK’s Guardian (December 13, 2008) : THE MONSTER IN THE MIRROR

The monster in the mirror

The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed ‘India’s 9/11’, and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war

Azam Amir Kasab filmed on CCTV inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in Mumbai

Azam Amir Kasab, the face of the Mumbai attacks. Photograph: Reuters

We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11”. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.

As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.

But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

It’s odd how in the last week of November thousands of people in Kashmir supervised by thousands of Indian troops lined up to cast their vote, while the richest quarters of India’s richest city ended up looking like war-torn Kupwara – one of Kashmir’s most ravaged districts.

The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati, Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people have been killed and wounded. If the police are right about the people they have arrested as suspects, both Hindu and Muslim, all Indian nationals, it obviously indicates that something’s going very badly wrong in this country.

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America’s 44th President!

Barack Obama: November 4th, 2008 – Grant Park, CHICAGO, IL:

“….And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article5086178.ece

obamavictoryphoto

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Defining moments of the campaigns?

Could the fact that the Obamas shop at the Gap and H&M for Michelle’s under $40 sundresses

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/22/the-obamas-discuss-dressi_n_137009.html]

 

VS.

 

Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe shopping spree at Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc….

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/22/palin-clothes-spending-ha_n_136740.html]

…Ultimately define the presidential election? 

 

 

Piper carrying a Louis Vuitton bag.

 

How would Joe Sixpack or Joe the Plumber’s wife view this?  Here’s how the numbers have been put:

it was revealed that Palin’s fashion budget for several weeks was more than four times the median salary of an American plumber ($37,514). To put it another way: Palin received more valuable clothes in one month than the average American household spends on clothes in 80 years.

Huffington Post,  October 22, 2008.

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Bush Doctrine applied to Healthcare…By-passing Roe V. Wade and more?

Just read this Op-Ed burried deep in the New York Times written by Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards (President, Planned Parenthood of America), [update: it is now #2 in the ‘Most Emailed’ List…!] published on September 18, 2008 – Those of us perusing the paper daily are the lucky ones to find this content or even know what goes on behind governments’ closed doors.  For the rest of America (not just women) being duped by the likes of ‘women for women’, aka Sarah Palin, they may not be so lucky to have access to this kind of news.

It is astonishing to me that these Regulations which have been proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on August 21, 2008 have slipped the public commentary’s radar and the completely uninterested MSM who are driven to satify their viewership, and take cues from the shrewd & savvy politicians’ press releases with topic meta tags like “pigs, lipstick, pitbulls and hockey moms’.  While the circus perfoms in town, the most important issues facing Americans during this election and their futures either go completely unreported, never even highlighted in the 24-hour news cycles or considered ‘un-juicy’ for the average American’s taste.  It seems ludicrous to hope that we’d want to ask our American nation to set its standards…higher?

With this new rule, the latest ideology push by the Bush Administration seeks to undermine your right as a patient, woman, family – and put the medical provider’s conscience and personal beliefs BEFORE yours.  The same medical physicians and providers whom we the people look to for an unbiased and best source of medical advice and information will be able to either deny you particular medical treatment or not fully disclose any option you possibly could have.

When someday ‘down home mama’s’ 16 year old daughter who had just been raped by some ‘ethnic’ man, is raced to the hospital and as she is being treated, is told that the physician tending to her daughter cannot in his ‘conscience’ administer emergency contraceptive medication to her, what could she do?

Six weeks down the road if she took her daughter to another clinic and wanted to now have her daughter get an abortion, and this doctor now said, “I’m sorry, my beliefs and conscience do not permit me to perform this procedure”, then what could she do?

A 27 year old man goes to his physician, visibly sick and asks for an HIV test.  His physician tells him, “I’m sorry, but I cannot test you for AIDs or HIV because I cannot see myself treating a homosexual patient”.  What can he do?

Your 3 year old son has a rare form of leukemia.  Your doctor cannot bear to see this child be put through rigorus trial medical treatment which she feels may not cure your child, so she says there is nothing medically she can do (it goes against her conscience).  What about you, the parent?  Wouldn’t you want to give your child every bit of hope and chance to live??  If you were told there was no chance, but medically there could be, would you not be up in arms and demanding your child’s right to live be met???  What could you do?

Get up and make your voice be heard.  Call your Congressperson.  Call the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.  Write to the President.  Write to your local Representatives. 

People, this is a glimpse of the America we are already becoming part of and headed if this political circus does not leave town.  Most Americans and those ‘at large’ not living near the metropoles, coasts and larger cities, haven’t a clue.  At the risk of sounding blunt, those of us who can read, think, write, speak, blog, opinionate and care about the U.S. Constitution, better get up and start doing more of it. 

And this plea applies to not only issues of health care or womens rights –  just look at our current state of the economy, international relations and energy challenges we’re facing as a nation.  Our Presidential elections should not be about the personas and who puts up a better performance – as some columnist recently put it aptly, “We’re not voting for the American Idol”…well, for most Americans, sadly it does seem that way.

This election means too much for all of us – not just ‘working America’. If you want to do something, call your local Office of the Registrar of Voting or go to ‘Rock the Vote’s Site and register to vote and find 10 others who haven’t registered – your colleagues, fellow moms, your child’s teacher, custodians, your local deli counter guy, the mechanic, your landscaper, the cleaning lady, your parents, aunts, friends, old college friends….Good Luck!

[NOTE: The public’s comment period ends September 25th, 2008 – so you’d have to act fast.  Here is a link to the Regulation:

The display at the Federal Register today triggers a 30-day public comment period. Administration officials will review the comments as they work to implement a final regulation. The proposed regulation is available at http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2008pres/08/20080821reg.pdf]

[For those who don’t access the NYT Online, here is the Op-Ed piece in its entirety]:

Op-Ed Contributor

Blocking Care for Women

 

Published: September 18, 2008

LAST month, the Bush administration launched the latest salvo in its eight-year campaign to undermine women’s rights and women’s health by placing ideology ahead of science: a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would govern family planning. It would require that any health care entity that receives federal financing — whether it’s a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government — certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.

Laws that have been on the books for some 30 years already allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further, ensuring that all employees and volunteers for health care entities can refuse to aid in providing any treatment they object to, which could include not only abortion and sterilization but also contraception.

Health and Human Services estimates that the rule, which would affect nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics and other health care providers, would cost $44.5 million a year to administer. Astonishingly, the department does not even address the real cost to patients who might be refused access to these critical services. Women patients, who look to their health care providers as an unbiased source of medical information, might not even know they were being deprived of advice about their options or denied access to care.

The definition of abortion in the proposed rule is left open to interpretation. An earlier draft included a medically inaccurate definition that included commonly prescribed forms of contraception like birth control pills, IUD’s and emergency contraception. That language has been removed, but because the current version includes no definition at all, individual health care providers could decide on their own that birth control is the same as abortion.

The rule would also allow providers to refuse to participate in unspecified “other medical procedures” that contradict their religious beliefs or moral convictions. This, too, could be interpreted as a free pass to deny access to contraception.

Many circumstances unrelated to reproductive health could also fall under the umbrella of “other medical procedures.” Could physicians object to helping patients whose sexual orientation they find objectionable? Could a receptionist refuse to book an appointment for an H.I.V. test? What about an emergency room doctor who wishes to deny emergency contraception to a rape victim? Or a pharmacist who prefers not to refill a birth control prescription?

The Bush administration argues that the rule is designed to protect a provider’s conscience. But where are the protections for patients?

The 30-day comment period on the proposed rule runs until Sept. 25. Everyone who believes that women should have full access to medical care should make their voices heard. Basic, quality care for millions of women is at stake.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Democratic senator from New York. Cecile Richards is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

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“Alaska…a Microcosim of the rest of the US”: Sarah Palin

These vignettes which Op-Ed Columnist, Maureen Dowd chronicles in Tuesday’s New York Times, give you a real glimpse into the hearts and minds of Americans.  Yes, they are local Alaskans, and as Palin recently declared, “you know Alaska seems to be such a microcosm of the rest of the US…” she may actually be correct on this one, as far as pinning down what ‘real’ (the polled ones) Americans have on their, umm, ‘minds’.

This one sums it up, I think:

(from the NYT)

I talked to a Wal-Mart mom, Betty Necas, 39, wearing sweatpants and tattoos on her wrists.

She said she’s never voted, and was a teenage mom “like Bristol.” She likes Sarah because she’s “down home” but said Obama “gives me the creeps. Nothing to do with the fact that he’s black. He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly.”

 

Here is the column in its entirety for those who are not registered with the NYT:

Op-Ed Columnist

‘Barbies for War!

 

Published: September 16, 2008

 

WASHINGTON

Carly Fiorina, the woman John McCain sent out to defend Sarah Palin and rip anyone who calls her a tabula rasa on foreign policy and the economy, admitted Tuesday that Palin was not capable of running Hewlett-Packard.

That’s pretty damning coming from Fiorina, who also was not capable of running Hewlett-Packard.

Carly helpfully added that McCain (not to mention Obama and Biden) couldn’t run a major corporation. He couldn’t get his immigration bill passed either, but now he’s promising to eliminate centuries of greed on Wall Street.

The Wall Street Journal reported that McCain was thinking about taking Palin to the U.N. General Assembly next week so she can shake hands with some heads of state. You can’t contract foreign policy experience like a rhinovirus. To paraphrase the sniffly Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” a poy-son could develop a cold war.

The latest news from Alaska is that the governor keeps a tanning bed in the Juneau mansion. As The Los Angeles Times pointed out, when Palin declared May 2007 Skin Cancer Awareness Month in Alaska, the press release explained that skin cancer was caused by “the sun and from tanning beds.”

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Republicans Will ‘Fight’ for our Freedoms…

With the selection of Sarah Palin by McCain as his running mate, many questions of why and how he came to his decision remain.  More vexing is what Palin touts as her All-American values, in support of ‘Country First’ and her boss who intends to fight for our rights and freedoms…

It would be best for all Americans to ask themselves what we consider to be freedoms which make America great and the envy of the world.  Is it everything the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights grant us? …freedom of expression, freedom to speak freely without censorship, freedom of choice, freedom of religion…

Perhaps asking Sarah Palin her thoughts on these topics would help Americans determine if the Palin-McCain team will be fighting for their country first or not.  There is talk that Palin plans to give her first interview to ABC News in the coming days – But lets see if she gets the questions ahead of time and if the most pressing questions are indeed directly asked of her.  In the meantime, the following article/post by Michael Seitzman in the Huffington Post can hopefully get Charlie Gibson started on some questions for his upcoming broadcast with Palin – if he chooses to not go soft on her:

8 Questions for Palin — If You Really “Work For Me,” Then Interview for the Job

By: Michael Seitzman (September 6, 2008: The Huffinton Post)

The McCain campaign has now said publicly that they don’t think Sarah Palin should have to answer any questions from the media. Since a free press is the only way the People can ask the questions we have a right to know, maybe the media should stop granting access to McCain “spokesmen” until their candidate for Vice President of The United States answers some questions. There are legitimate questions to be asked and, as one of The People, I’d like to start with the following:

1 – Did you really ban books from that library up there? Did you fire a librarian over it? Can you tell us your feelings about censorship in a democracy?

2 – Did you really tell the secessionist group in Alaska that they were doing great work? This same group whose leader said in an interview that, “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government?”

3 – Did you abuse the governor’s office by trying to get your brother-in-law fired from the state police?

4 – Exactly what is it about Alaska’s “proximity to Russia” that qualifies as “foreign policy experience?”

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So, what do the ‘feminists’ think of Sarah Palin?

Alas, the summer hiatus ends and I write once again.

I was feeling euphoric about witnessing and sharing with my young daughter and son, the historic moment at the close of the Democratic Convention. (For my husband, he was priviledged to actually be there and share in that moment.)  I had to impress upon their young and inquisitive minds, how momentus this evening was – that the first African-American had been nominated for President by a leading political party in the United Stated of America, for the very first time in history!  What this would mean to them in the context of a tumultous history from slavery, to civil rights and then to a general election with an African-American on the top of the ticket – will only be realized once they have lived a little in this world.

It was an interesting discussion explaining to my children about the defeat of a woman, for instance; ‘that while Hillary Clinton was a strong and able candidate, who lost the nomination to Barack Obama,  it was equally historic that an African-American became the Democrat’s candidate’, is how I think I phrased it.  I knew my daughter would still be inspired – by both Clinton AND Obama – telling her that anyone who has worked hard, cares about people, is smart and can stand up and speak intelligently about issues which affect our country and the world around us, can someday aspire to becoming president. 

Then came the Friday announcement of McCain’s running-mate: Sarah Palin.  My son asked me who she was as we watched the announcement/rally.  Telling him she was McCain’s Vice President, he said, “But she’s not Hillary Clinton, how can she become a Vice President”.  The same thought ran through my mind, but naturally on an entirely different level.  That McCain felt he could dupe the women out there by propping up an unknown female politician, from a sparsely populated state, who sounded aggressive, and seems to be a most anti-woman, woman candidate- was frankly, insulting.  My hope is that the disgruntled Hillary supporters are smarter than what McCain is making them out to be!  Just because she has the anatomy of the female gender, does not make her some symbolic replacement.  Women need to see through this blatant transparency.  Most people would acknowledge that were many more compelling women in the Republican party with much more broad based experience, ‘vetted-ness’ and gravitas.   This is obvious pandering to a very specific segment of Republican conservatives.  My wish is for the many articulate, media savvy, vocal and active ‘feminists’ to come out aggressively to voice their disgust at McCain and this insult to women. While I respect that there are many women who may agree with Palin’s conservative bent with regards to abortion, I’m sure they would come to reject McCain’s policies on women’s concerns. I invite the alums from women’s colleges, prominent feminists and women’s rights activitists to heed this call and flood the media with a clear message from women who know McCain is not a champion for women’s rights, is against equal pay for equal work, and even against the right to choose – and dissuade those women who are leaning towards voting for this ticket.  Let us not re-seal those 18 million cracks which have been made in that glass ceiling! In the blogosphere, I am hearing women rally behind Palin, saying, “she’s so pretty and would make a great VP”, or “she’s the mother of 5 kids, what an inspiration”.  Our young women need to be inspired by more than just a beauty pageant winner or an honorable mother – even while she may have made personal strides in achieving her political aspirations.  The creditials required to be next in line as the leader of the free world, I would hope, would be a slightly more demanding reach for higher expectations, no?  In all fairness, it would be wiser to critique Palin’s work and policies she’s set in her short gubernatorial career.  Very quickly it will be realized that most Democratic women would not agree with her platform.

 

ADDENDUM:  Thank goodness fellow Alum, Gloria Steinem said her peace: “To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, “Somebody stole my shoes, so I’ll amputate my legs!” You can read the post here.

So, here I have dug up a few voices of prominent ‘feminists’ and hope for more…

McCain Tries To Grab the History Flag From Obama:  by Tanya Melich

August 29, 2008

www.WomensMediaCenter.com

The first time I hear a woman has achieved something special, my automatic reaction is to cheer, to think  “good, another of us has won.”  

Then reality sets in and the questions start.

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Smith Grad Building Bridges

Farah Pandith is working to build bridges with Muslims overseas and to help spread the word of integration and tolerance to young people…

From the Boston Globe (Saturday, May 17, 2008)

This recent article in the Boston Globe was just shared with me.  In times of mounting misunderstandings, misperceptions and judgement, Smith Alum, Farah Pandith shares her personal and professional journey from an opportunity on one given day at Smith – to the White House and beyond.  

Article in it’s entirety:

The Messenger

Farah Pandith is working to build bridges with Muslims overseas and to help spread the word of integration and tolerance to young people

By Irene Sege

Globe Staff / May 17, 2008

NORTHAMPTON – Eighteen years after she graduated from Smith College, Farah Pandith, her hair neatly coifed in a flip, her tailored pink jacket and dark skirt accented with a string of pearls, her White House folder in hand, visits her alma mater. A flyer advertising a talk by former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin catches her attention, and, with a nod of approval, she reads aloud the title of Kunin’s book: “Pearls, Politics, and Power.”
“I’m glad to see that Smith is still bringing in good people to inspire their students,” Pandith says. “I remember when Betty Friedan came in. Gloria Steinem.”On this sunny spring Friday, it’s Pandith who’s bringing pearls, politics, and power to Smith women. Here to meet with students a day in advance of addressing a model United Nations, Pandith is senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, charged with working to counteract the radicalization percolating in some segments of Europe’s Muslim communities.

Pandith, 40, brings to the task a resume that includes stints as director for Middle East regional initiatives for the National Security Council, chief of staff for the Bureau for Asia and the Near East at the US Agency for International Development, and vice president for international business at ML Strategies in Boston. Born in Kashmir, in India, and bred since infancy in Braintree and Milton, she also draws on her personal experiences as a Muslim American.

“When you have a population in Western Europe that is 20 million strong in Muslims, how are we Americans thinking about what’s taking place in Europe?” Pandith asks. “How are we Americans thinking about what’s taking place in Europe in terms of demographics and how are we getting to know that next generation and the generation after it? Are we building bridges of dialogue?”

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Help Victims in Burma (Cyclone) and China (Earthquake)

The devastation of the now two (2) natural disasters: Cyclone in Burma and Earthquake in China are putting international aid agencies and relief organizations on call.  Not since the Asian Tsunami and the Earthquake in Pakistan (& Kashmir) has the urgency of massive aid and relief been called upon in recent years.

I urge you to help in whatever way you are able to.  You can get the latest news on your media outlets.  Below are a list of bonafide and vetted organizations which are working diligently to get the needed supplies and relief workers to their sources. 

 

Cylone in Burma (Myanmar) – May 2, 2008

As many as 1.9 million people in Myanmar are struggling to survive after the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, according to the latest UN assessment.  With the military junta slowly and reluctantly allowing aid agencies to deliver relief supplies and provide medical care, the need for funds to continue this relief effort are sorely needed.

On Monday (May 12) the official toll rose to 31,938 dead and 29,770 missing, while the UN’s humanitarian agency reported that up to 100,000 people are dead or missing.

 

Earthquake in Western China – May 12, 2008

According to Government sources, the latest death toll from the quake stands at 8,600 after a series of large earthquakes struck the Wenchuan district of Sichuan at approximately 14:30 hrs (Beijing Time) on May 12.

It is reported that cell phone networks have been substantially affected by the earthquakes. There are additional reports that approximately 5,000 have died in Beichan county alone in Sichuan, with another 10,000 wounded. Reports of additional casualties have also been received from Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

Some ‘on the ground’ agencies which are getting aid to the survivors and injured in both Burma and China:

 

Here are some good news trackers on the disasters:

Burma (Myanmar):

BBC Burma Coverage

 

China:

BBC China Coverage

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Spin and Facts…Who has more ‘popular votes’?

In today’s Daily Kos, there is a post on the current popular vote count. The Hillary supporters are jamming the airwaves with news that she is ahead in the popular vote count. However, their stats don’t seem to include the Caucus states. They ARE including the Florida and Michigan results to their tally total, where Obama was not even on the ballot in Michigan, thus negating their claims to being ahead! If these words are repeated often enough on the MSM outlets and the lead anchors and reporters don’t either know the stats or are not challenging them, they become a reality and truth by day’s end. Please urge your media pundits to analyze the facts – or at least stop by worthy blog posts like Daily Kos, for example, for some needed perspective. 

You can go to Real Clear Politics to get the complete stats first hand yourselves.  Here is a sampling:

Popular Vote Count
State Date   Obama Clinton       Spread
Popular Vote Total     14,417,134 49.2% 13,916,781 47.5%       Obama +500,353 +1.7%

 

Here’s the post from Daily Kos:

My good friend Jerome has done just that, picking up on the most ridiculous of Clinton spins today:

After last night’s decisive victory in Pennsylvania, more people have voted for Hillary than any other candidate, including Sen. Obama.

Estimates vary slightly, but according to Real Clear Politics, Hillary has received 15,095,663 votes to Sen. Obama’s 14,973,720, a margin of more than 120,000 votes. ABC News reported this morning that “Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama” in the popular vote.

Actually, that’s simply ridiculous. Go to Real Clear Politics and look at their popular vote estimates (pre-Pennsylvania):

Popular vote total: Obama +717,086
Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA: Obama +827,308

Popular Vote (w/FL): Obama +422,314
Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA: Obama +532,536

Popular Vote (w/FL *MI): Obama +94,005
Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA: Obama +204,227

So see what they have done — the Clinton campaign and Jerome have taken the roughly 215,000 net votes Clinton gained in Pennsylvania, and added them to the popular vote count that includes the unsanctioned contests in Michigan and Florida, and excludes caucuses in four states. How’s that for inclusiveness?

It gets worse. That Michigan vote estimate? Obama wasn’t on the ballot. If you count the “uncommitted” votes for Obama — all of them anti-Hillary votes, remember — that would add 237,762 votes to Obama’s total.

Which means that in Clinton and Jerome’s world, Clinton is ahead in the popular vote only IF you exclude four caucus states, IF you include two unsanctioned states, and IF you “disenfranchise” every voter in Michigan who voted against Hillary Clinton.

That takes a new and particularly audacious level of chutzpah.

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World Food Crisis, Rising Prices, Rationing in the US?

The impact of the world food shortages and price crisis are slowly beginning to hit home here in the US it seems.  After consistent reporting in the NYT Editorials (and here) news features in other papers, recent periodical features like the one in TIME Magazine and in the past few days, actual reporting of this crisis on local US news channels, seems to be bringing the reality closer to home.  Just today it was reported that the large warehouse, bulk shopping stores: Sam’s Club and Costco have put limits by rationing the number of bags of rice (imported) each customer can purchase.  Just last week where I usually bought ‘Buy one 10lb. bag of Basmati Rice, Get One Free’, no longer was giving the 2nd bag away for free.  Ouch. 

Ears of wheat growing in a field

Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty Images

I never think of rice or grain shortage as a reality anyone in the US would ever have to face.  Food doesn’t run out or get rationed here.  We’ve had our fuel shortages of course, but nothing like this.  Many of us are noticing how much more food is costing these days.  Just do a survey of your weekly grocery bill and observe. At least a 10-20% increase in certain food purchases.  Add the near $4/gallon of gas price to that and even the upper middle class is feeling the pinch.

What is happening around the world is far more brutal.  Hundreds of millions are going to bed hungry.  And millions are unable to afford to buy the scarce staples of rice or wheat priced beyond their means.  Riots and killings are widespread in countries which never had to deal with severe food shortages and exponential price increases.  In many countries like Vietnam, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Haiti, food accounts for half if not more of a family’s income spending. The lack of purchasing power coupled with food shortage related price hikes is wreaking havoc in dozens of countries around the world currently.

Why this crisis?  There are many reasons and also some very sound arguments for this question.  The high cost of oil is fueling higher production costs for farmers in grain exporting countries to produce their crops, thus raising the price of the commodities.  Due to droughts in large exporting countries like Austrailia, they have had a wheat shortage which has hiked up prices and reduced their wheat exports.  Another promoter of the current shortages and pricing crisis of wheat, rice and other staple commodities is the fact that subsidies have been given to farmers who convert their crops into biofuels like ethanol made from corn and other grains, outplacing land for grain and rice crops. 

Here is another good analysis of the current food crisis and the reasons why the world is in such a vulnerable state.

 

Tomorrow I think I may need to go and buy a couple of bags of rice…

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Redux?

President Bill Clinton on the politics of Fear vs. Hope…

 

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Soundbites and Context…Obama’s Words

Here’s a report from an actual attendee of the now infamous San Francisco Fundraiser for Obama.  Unfortunately, the soundbites and his impromptu response have droned on and on on the MSM outlets, and as the case usually goes, the context is not provided. 

I was hoping someone would come forward and tell a more complete and contextual account of the response Obama gave to a question from the audience at the April 6 Fundraiser in San Francisco.  I was fortunate to have attended an earlier event where Obama spoke – his ability to listen to and acutely understand your question and then provide a well thought out answer, full of detail, passion, compassion and pragmatism was remarkable [plus he’s a really witty guy, and very comfortable with who he is].  So, thank you to Mr. David Coleman for stepping forward and providing some needed perspective to this out of control spin on Obama’s latest ‘gaffe’.

I Was There: What Obama Really Said About Pennsylvania

By:David Coleman

Posted April 14, 2008 | 11:54 AM (EST) [From The Huffington Post]

Last Sunday evening I attended the San Francisco fundraiser that has been the center of recent political jousting. The next day, when asked about the talk Obama delivered, I too commented about his answer to a question he was asked about Pennsylvania. Over the past week, though, I have had a Rashomon-like experience concerning those remarks.

Clinton, McCain, and media pundits have parsed a blogger’s audio tape of Obama’s remarks and criticized a sentence or two characterizing some parts of Pennsylvania and the attitudes of some Pennsylvanians. In context and in person, Senator Obama‘s remarks about Pennsylvania voters left an impression diametrically opposed to that being trumpeted by his competitor’s campaigns.

At the end of Obama’s remarks standing between two rooms of guests — the fourth appearance in California after traveling earlier in the day from Montana — a questioner asked, “some of us are going to Pennsylvania to campaign for you. What should we be telling the voters we encounter?”

Obama’s response to the questioner was that there are many, many different sections in Pennsylvania comprised of a range of racial, geographic, class, and economic groupings from Appalachia to Philadelphia. So there was not one thing to say to such diverse constituencies in Pennsylvania. But having said that, Obama went on say that his campaign staff in Pennsylvania could provide the questioner (an imminent Pennsylvania volunteer) with all the talking points he needed. But Obama cautioned that such talking points were really not what should be stressed with Pennsylvania voters.

Instead he urged the volunteer to tell Pennsylvania voters he encountered that Obama’s campaign is about something more than programs and talking points. It was at this point that Obama began to talk about addressing the bitter feelings that many in some rural communities in Pennsylvania have about being brushed aside in the wake of the global economy. Senator Obama appeared to theorize, perhaps improvidently given the coverage this week, that some of the people in those communities take refuge in political concerns about guns, religion and immigration. But what has not so far been reported is that those statements preceded and were joined with additional observations that black youth in urban areas are told they are no longer “relevant” in the global economy and, feeling marginalized, they engage in destructive behavior. Unlike the week’s commentators who have seized upon the remarks about “bitter feelings” in some depressed communities in Pennsylvania, I gleaned a different meaning from the entire answer.

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Obama – Electable?

There is not one America as we all know.  The America which ‘elected’ George W. Bush, seemingly was the America who felt they could sit and have a beer with this guy – he was likeable.  Was he capable, intelligent, world wise?  I think we can safely say that we now know the answer to that, after almost 8 years of his reign.

Whether Obama is electable or not is a matter of much of the current sentiment towards his candidacy.  Both he and Hillary have more or less similar platforms and policy programs, with some divergent, yet not significant differences.  With both having recently been on the hotplate, and seem to have somehow moved on, the question of electability and what that really means becomes the central question.

Do you have to be able to not only trust your choice of candidate, but also like and be able to relate to them?  For many voting Americans, I think they feel they may be able to connect with the Obamas more so than with the Clintons.  With a grandiose political history shared by both Clintons, I’m sure a large number of the general public sees them in their own world surrounded by all that is Washington.  While Obama has been in office as a State, and now US Senator, his past seems to resonate more so with a particular subset of society – not only with the higher educated,  professional 20-somethings to 50-somethings, but also ‘working’ families, as they say.  The fact that his wife works, they are raising young children in today’s society and that they both came out with college and graduate school debts larger than their mortgage, seems to me at least, strike a chord amongst a vast group of Americans.  They have lived and are living a similar experience to which many of us can vividly relate.  He may have his flaws (dealing with the Rev. Wright issue), but he comes across as earnest, honest and really wanting to work for the best and good of the people – as his past work in organizing local communities illustrated.  His charisma, oratory talent and openness to the world around him, enables this sense of trust which exudes from his words, beliefs and work.  Again, his judgement calls (Iraq), even in the midst of his recent crisis moment, indicates to me that the man is smart, speaks his mind and doesn’t waffle or change his tune, or abandon what he believes in, just to be on the ‘right side of the fence’.   His peers are starting to realize this, as many heavy hitters continue to endorse Obama vs. Hillary.

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A View from the Religious Right on Reverend Wright

Some needed reflections on the current controversy.

Obama’s Minister Committed “Treason” But When My Father Said the Same Thing He Was a Republican Hero

Frank Schaeffer         Frank Schaeffer: Huffington Post (March 16, 2008).

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the “murder of the unborn,” has become “Sodom” by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, “under the judgment of God.” They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted “controversial” comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.

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NYT Op-Ed on the Obama – Hillary Face-Off

Well written Op-Ed piece by Frank Rich of the New York Times (February 24, 2008) weighing in on the Obama – Hillary face-off.   Puts both races in comparitive perspective.

Op-Ed Columnist

The Audacity of Hopelessness  

Published: February 24, 2008
WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.  

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

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Yes We Can!

Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am’s music video inspired by Barack Obama’s message of hope:  Yes We Can!

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Democratic Primary 101

Hopefully it’s not too late for anyone reading this – even if Feb 5 (super ‘duper’ Tuesday) has come and gone, there is still time to vote your mind in the remaining primary voting states.

Been talking to many friends – most of my female ones, at least – and they seem to be on the fence whether to vote for a first potential woman leader of the free world or the first person of color?  A seemingly tough decision, but for some and personally for myself – it has nothing to do with either of these monumental moments at history’s doorstep (though I have to say, it does make it more exciting).

Obama for President 2.25My choice, is for Mr. Barack Obama – because I feel he will make a better leader based on his values (if you have read about his life – he has humble beginnings, a personal and living understanding of the world we live in, in addition to his early life struggles – he understands first hand, where the majority of America and potentially the world is coming from), his solid stance & clarity on policy and his ability to take leadership actions.  Most importantly, he has the gift of being able to inspire hope, provide a turning point amidst apathy towards politics and the current leadership’s stand on almost any issue.  Obama has character and a deep sense of humanity which he so effortlessly displays.  He has rallied young voters and has raised funds rivaling Hillary Clinton’s – despite lacking all the pomp and celebrity his oponents have been banking on.  The single most defining character statement for me, at least, was his clarity of judgement with his opposition of the Iraq war from day one – and not pandering to what was the popular thing to do as Hilary Clinton and so many others did – and now find themselves having to wriggle out and reinvent their reasons for their ‘for war’ vote.  In our world today, it is ever more important to mend the bridges which have been burned over the past 7+ years in international relations.  Having a keen understanding and sensitivity to the world beyond our borders will only make America stonger inside and out. 

My 7 year old daughter was asking me about the candidates (after constantly reading all the campaign signs posted around town) and also piping up when mom and dad were discussing dad’s volunteering this weekend to help her school-friend’s mother (the neighborhood precinct captain for Obama’s campaign) canvass our immediate neighborhood to garner support (and a nod for a vote!) for Barack Obama.  When telling her why her dad and I were supporting Obama, I found it a little difficult – as a graduate of a woman’s college & a mother talking to her young daughter – not standing up for a candidate who could potentially be the first women U.S. president…but then thought again to tell her why I felt Obama was the better one to be a leader of America.  (I told her in her mom’s native country, Pakistan, there already had been a women leader – a prime minister – several years ago, so that absolved some of my feminist guilt!). 

So back to why Obama?  I found an interesting piece comparing the democratic candidates (an ‘Election Guide’)  in the New York Times – ironically on the big policy issues, the positions on Health Care, Abortion, Climate Change, and Immigration were resoundlingly similar.  The big differences again were: 1) on his strong stance against going to war in Iraq from the onset and a comprehensive plan to withdraw from Iraq; 2) insistence upon  engaging in direct diplomacy with open communications with all world leaders to ensure America gets it right in foreign policy issues; 3) while both candidates are for repealing the Bush Tax cuts for households over $250,000, Hillary Clinton wants to ‘jumpstart’ the economy with a $70 Billion stimulous package, Barack Obama proposes a plan for tax relief (cut $80 Billion in taxes) for the middle and working classes and the elderly who make less than $50,000.  It boils down to the nitty gritty, of course, but I feel it is very important to believe in someone who sincerely believes in bringing about the changes and having the intellectual and practical ability to take a well thought out stand.  Just think for a moment, if Clinton wins the primary….and subsequently the role of president, we would have had the Bush and Clinton dynasty running America for 24 years (potentially even 28 years!) – Is this good for America?

While the road to becoming the nominee for the Democratic party is still up for grabs, polls (!) are showing a closing of the gap between Obama and Clinton – especially in the key states of California, New Jersey and Arizona as of February 4th.  Hot off the press (2/4/08): nationally, the USA Today/ Gallup Poll is showing a fierce dead heat competition: 45% (Clinton) to 44% (Obama).  So, there is time in case you are still undecided and have yet to cast your vote.  Interestingly,  while I was writing, I received a ‘taped’ phone message from actress Scarlett Johansson, urging me to cast my vote tomorrow if I am still wavering!  I have come across people who say, “Well, there isn’t a candidate who is worth voting for – I ask them candidly if they have actually spent the time to even read or learn about the policy positions each candidate has (I’ll admit, I’ve been brushing up on this more recently since the race tightened) –  or are they going with their gut?  I urge you to use the upper domain of your body and cast your decision accordingly. Please go and be counted and heard.  It is really empowering and gives you a legitimate license to either applaud or criticize what goes on in your country – without becoming one of those Monday morning quater-backers…

Note: As many know, it is the amount of Delegates the candidates pick up by state vs. winning by more votes.  For the Democratic Primary, it is not winner takes all…(more details below from the NYT):
 

Super Tuesday: Democratic Preview

As the candidates head into Super Tuesday, one of the main factors is how delegates are awarded in each state. There are hundreds of places for candidates to pick up delegates, since in many states delegates are awarded based not on the statewide vote, but rather on the result in each Congressional district. For the Democrats, delegates are won in proportion to a candidate’s percentage of the vote, making it difficult for Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama to pull very far ahead.   Republican preview »
— Amanda Cox, Farhana Hossain and Ford Fessenden   

Oh, and if you’re registered as an Independant or Non-Partisan in California, you are able to cast a vote for your Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.  Just remember to ask for a ballot for the Democratic Primary when you check in to vote! 

–  –  –  –  :::::::: –  –  –  –

Excerpt from Obama’s speech given in Springfield, Illinois (February 10, 2007) – announcing his decision to run for President of the United States.  I remember listening to his words and feeling moved and a sense of hopefulness for this nation…

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Three Cups of Tea in Baltistan.

I had read Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin) a while ago and thought I must post an entry on this remarkable man and his promise to a people in a country far from his own.  I was happy to see that ATP (All Things Pakistan) just posted a book review on their blog as a Guest Post from Babar Bhatti.  You can read it here

Here are some thoughts of mine on this inspirational story…

A truly inspiring read, as is Mr. Mortenson. I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his readings last March when his book came out. His manner of speaking and recounting his time spent in Pakistan evoked the true and deep bond he had developed with the people there. He returned several times to the Balti region and continued to build (to date I believe almost 60 schools have been built in Pakistan & Afghanistan through his Central Asia Institute). And he returned once again to help rebuild schools after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake shattered the uncountable schools lost that day. Imagine.

His unimaginable survival against so many natural odds and then his commitment to keeping his ‘promise’ to the people who saved him,and that he returned with hope and passion to build schools is remarkable. For me personally, I felt I got a window into a world which I probably would never get to know on such a personalized and detailed level as narrated by Mortenson, even through his American eyes.

One source of his inspiration I found truly moving…was when he had his ephiphany about being able to raise money to fulfil his promise to build schools in Baltistan. The students at his mother’s elementary school had spontaneously launched a “Pennies for Pakistan” drive, upon learning about other children far away in Pakistan, who sat outside in the cold weather without teachers to come to learn/school. The elementary school children couldn’t believe such a place could exist in the world…They collected two 40 gallon trash cans – 62,345 pennies:$623.45! In Mortenson’s words: “Children had taken the first step toward building the school. And they did it with something that’s basically worthless in our society- pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains.”

This led to the development of the Pennies for Peace program by his institute:  Pennies for Peace 

I urge anyone with children living in the US or outside Pakistan to take your children on a virtual visit. There are so many ways to spread positive values and impressions to so many who think otherwise, and what better way than to have our children pave the way for their generation to better understand each other and people around the world, AND to instill in them, civic values by helping those less fortunate…one penny at a time.

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Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize

covernavedhi.gifSelfless.  Compassionate.  Love of humanity.  Unshakable principles.  There are few people in the world – or at least those we may have heard of – who can exemplify such characteristics in earnest.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilqis Edhi live and work in Pakistan, and have irrevocably changed the course of lives for hundreds of thousands of people in the close to 60 years of their selfless dedication to the poor, indigent, battered, women, children and families who have suffered unimaginable tragedies, accidents, natural disasters and abandonment. 

In a current campaign to nominate Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize, I hope that anyone reading this post who may never had heard of Edhi, learn about him, but also be moved to nominate him or find the proper protocol to do so.  At Adil’s Blog, “All Things Pakistan“, he is taking the initiative to formally submit a bonafide application for the nomination of Dr. Edhi for the Peace Prize.  If you have any personal stories or would like to share an inspiring story relating to his work, do place your comments below or preferably on All Things Pakistan’s entry on Nominating Abdul Sattar Edhi, so that it can be included in some way to support the nomination of Dr. Edhi. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 94 individuals and 19 organizations since 1901.  There are many well known and respected international and movement leaders among the praiseworthy individuals and numerous humanitarian and UN agencies have been bestowed the honor of being recognized by the Nobel Foundation.  I respect all winners like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, International Commitee of the Red Cross , UNICEF et al. – and their lifelong work and the work of the organizations to no end.  It is however, the lesser known, the obscure, who work on their cause or life’s calling with such dedication and passion in some lesser known corner of the world, which I find to be the more intriguing and inspiring Nobel Peace Prize contenders.  People like Rigoberta Menchu (1992, Guatemala. Campaigner for indigenous human rights), Wangari Maathai (2004, Kenya. For her contribution to sustainable development and democracy), and last year’s laureate, Muhammad Yunus & Grameen Bank (2006, Bangladesh. For their efforts to create eco/social benefits though microcredit) (my previous post here) have done so much without prior large scale international recognition.  This is one way we learn what goes on in parts of the world that don’t make the daily news headlines.  It seems in more recent years, the winners have been ‘hidden finds’ and not the usual heads of states or international leaders.  This trend has its merits, as it relies on people to nominate individuals/entities which are doing so much good, but the rest of the world may not know of it.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Mrs. Bilqis Edhi and their foundation are definitely one of those hidden finds which the Nobel Foundation must consider and not ignore.

There are plenty of sources (some listed above, as well as this very well researched article written in the issue of Saudi Aramco World in 2004-same link as photo above, as well as this comprehensive recent article relating to his nomination in Hong Kong’s The Standard – Weekendfrom December 16, 2006) whereby you can read about his life’s work, his philosophy and remarkable achievements in bringing comfort to people is desperate needs.  During the worst ever natural disaster in Pakistan, the October 8, 2006 earthquake in Northern Pakistan, Edhi had a fleet of 300 ambulances at work and later committed to build 10,000 one room tin apartments for those who lost everything in the quake.

As in many developing countries where the social, health and emergency services are dependant on marginally funded government budgets, Edhi has filled this gaping hole.  What is remarkable is that one person has made this difference.   With an annual budget of close to $35 million (according to the recent HK Standard article and $10 million in 2004, per Saudi Aramco’s article), makes the Edhi Foundation one of the largest welfare charities in the world.  His principles refuse him to accept contributions and donations made by governments (international or domestic) (from Saudi Aramco World):

In the 1980’s, when Pakistan’s then-President Zia ul-Haq sent him a check for 500,000 rupees (then more than $30,000), Edhi sent it back. Last year [2003], the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation. He refused. “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept,” he says, declining to give any details.

His foundation survives on the private contributions from Pakistanis living in Pakistan and abroad.   In a nation where people are doubly reluctant and wary to donate their monies to just ‘any’ charity organzation, Edhi’s foundation is not among them.  There is an unbelievable amount of trust, which is why people will donate to his organization.  They see his ambulances at work and in action.  They know that Edhi’s volunteers are usually the first at site at an accident or other catastrophe.  They see results, and it is as simple as that.   The Edhi Foundation also holds the record for having the largest volunteer ambulance fleet/service in the world (over 700).  There are over 300 Edhi centers which work around the clock and provide an unbelieveable variety of desperately needed social, medical and educational services not available to most of the country’s poorer population. 

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Hope and the power of one…Soccer, Refugees, America

After a long absence from my blog, I thought I’d usher in the new year with a story about hope and how one person has impacted the lives of so many…

Upon reading this article in the NYT this weekend, I was deeply moved and inspired by the dedication of female coach, Luma Mufleh, to her team of re’fugees’ resettled in Clarkston, Georgia.  I was also troubled, but not entirely shocked, by the xenophobic reception of the longtime residents of Clarkston, and their associated fears arisen by the large influx of ‘foreigners’ (but legal asylees) to their once quiet all-American town.  Luma Mufleh (fellow alumna!) and her achievements, her voluteerism and selfless commitment to her team comprised of young children who have suffered unimaginable hardships in their short lives is something to look up to.  

For those without access to the NYT, here is the complete (and very lengthy) article:

Hostility and Hope on the Soccer Field 

By WARREN ST. JOHN

Published: January 21, 2007

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Members of the Fugees soccer team in Clarkston, Ga.

CLARKSTON, Ga., Jan. 20 — Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

Caught in the middle is a boys soccer program called the Fugees — short for refugees, though most opponents guess the name refers to the hip-hop band.

The Fugees are indeed all refugees, from the most troubled corners — Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.

The Fugees, 9 to 17 years old, play on three teams divided by age. Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.

The Fugees’ coach exemplifies the best. A woman volunteering in a league where all the other coaches are men, some of them paid former professionals from Europe, she spends as much time helping her players’ families make new lives here as coaching soccer.

At the other extreme are some town residents, opposing players and even the parents of those players, at their worst hurling racial epithets and making it clear they resent the mostly African team. In a region where passions run high on the subject of illegal immigration, many are unaware or unconcerned that, as refugees, the Fugees are here legally.

“There are no gray areas with the Fugees,” said the coach, Luma Mufleh. “They trigger people’s reactions on class, on race. They speak with accents and don’t seem American. A lot of people get shaken up by that.”

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Grameen Bank Microcredit -> Grassroot Development = Nobel Peace Prize 2006

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (first time a financial institution awarded the Peace Prize) in Bangladesh have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006.  This is a monumental acknowledgement that working from the roots up does and has made a difference in lives of so many in the impoverished parts of the world.  In the world of economic and social development of the so called, ‘third world countries’ or less pejoratively, developing nations of the world, the best or even only way many view that progress and poverty alleviation will occur is through grassroots development and locally inspired movements where the people themselves are involved in their own plight and hence success.  Often, the imposition (a segment of the study of anthropology namely, development anthropology, rests on this tenet) of a top down or ‘their’ view of what development or progress should be, comes from the outside – a remote international agency, or even urban government agencies, which are disconnected from the indigenous culture or societal norms of the region or people they claim to be helping.  

With Yunus and the Grameen Bank, providing small loans (microcredit) without collateral to the most impoverished on terms which were relevant to the people of those villages, made the initiative sustainable and a success.   Almost 97% of the loan recepients are women, which has positive development implications.  They used the funds to purchase egg-laying hens, cows or materials which they could sell for a return.  For many, their lives have turned around, as they are now able to sustain their small enterprizes.  Without the threat of predatory lending institutions, Grameen’s track record has been equally astonishing, with very high payback rates—over 98 percent. More than half of Grameen borrowers in Bangladesh (close to 50 million) have risen out of acute poverty thanks to their loan, as measured by such standards as having all children of school age in school, all household members eating three meals a day, a sanitary toilet, a rainproof house, clean drinking water and the ability to repay a 300 taka (Bangladeshi currency)-a-week (8 USD) loan.  Read the rest of this entry »

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A day of Firsts: Iranian-born female space tourist blasts off into orbit

The first female tourist, first female Muslim and first Iranian went into orbit early Monday, from Baikonur, KHAZAKHSTAN.  Anousheh Ansari (age 40) is an Iranian-American telecom entrepreneur.  She hopes that her trip will inspire women and Iranians to pursue their dreams. 

While space tourists typically pay their way (as much as $20M!) to get a seat on space missions, it still takes courage to pursue this endeavor.  She has paved the way as far as ‘firsts’ go, and for that she deserves her day of fame.  Whether or not it is the best way to get a Muslim woman into space, is a matter for later debate! 

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc.

On another note, there are reports that a Pakistani woman, Numera Aslam/Saleem will be the sent by NASA in a space mission sometime in July 2008, when commercial operations are supposed to begin.

Article from Reuters follows.  You can also view her Blog and her Official website.

From: REUTERS, September 18, 2006 

By Shamil Zhumatov

anousheh-ansari1.jpgBAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off on Monday carrying a woman set to notch up three space records: the first female tourist, first female Muslim, and first Iranian in orbit.

Anousheh Ansari, 40, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur, joined a Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut in the cramped interior of Soyuz TMA-9 for a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soviet-designed spacecraft lifted off into a clear blue sky at 0409 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The flight is normal, the crew feel fine,” a flight controller at Mission Control near Moscow said.

Unlike American Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are starting a six-month stint in space, Ansari will return to earth in 10 days with the outgoing U.S.-Russian crew.

Ansari, a U.S. citizen based in Dallas, Texas who left Iran in 1984, has said she wants to be an example to her compatriots.

“I think my flight has become a sort of ray of hope for young Iranians living in Iran, helping them to look forward to something positive, because everything they’ve been hearing is all so very depressing and talks of war and talks of bloodshed,” Ansari told Reuters last week.

FLAG

She has been told, however, to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit and, at the insistence of the Russian and U.S. governments, promise that there will be no political messages during her trip.

Looking relaxed and smiling at a pre-launch news conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Ansari said she would still pack another Iranian flag for her trip.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. President Bush has called the Islamic Republic part of an “axis of evil”.

Ansari has not said how much her ticket cost but previous space tourists have paid the Russian space programme about $20 million.

She had originally been scheduled to join a later Soyuz mission but took the place of Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto when Russian space officials said last month he was not able to fly for unspecified medical reasons.

Several hours before the Soyuz blast off, the U.S. space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the ISS.

The Soyuz craft will dock with the space station early on Wednesday. Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a few hours later.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)

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Maid in India turns into Best Selling Author – Her Difficult Life: Documented.

Baby Halder is being hailed as a best selling writer.  Her humble and cruel life story give us a window to a world we have never imagined or want to experience.  Her courage and determination are inspiring.

Article is from the August 07, 2006 edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

(Photograph) UNLIKELY AUTHOR: Baby Halder’s employer encouraged her to write after finding her looking at his book collection.
SCOTT BALDAUF

Indian housemaid pens Dickensian memoir of poverty

By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The hardships of Baby Halder – abandoned at 4, married off at 12, a mother herself by age 13 – could fill a book.

Small surprise then that Ms. Halder’s breathtaking memoir, “A Life Less Ordinary,” is causing a stir in the Indian publishing industry. Halder’s book offers a window into a world that shocks many Indians, one in which women, and particularly poor ill-educated women, remain second-class citizens.

Still in its first printing of 3,500 books after three months, admirable for a first-time author in India, Halder’s personal memories as a poor domestic worker aspiring to a better life seems to be selling best in bookstores that cater to foreigners in India. But the book’s buzz also has the potential to stir debate about the social responsibilities of India’s wealthy as the country moves toward greater individual opportunity and fewer collective obligations.

“The semifeudal contract that existed before between rich and poor, between master and servant, has broken down. And nothing has come to replace it,” says Nandu Ram, a sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and specialist in caste issues.

Many older prejudices have waned, as citizens of lower castes are taking greater part in the political process, and as more of those of humble background prove themselves in the today’s marketplace. But the waning of caste prejudice has not meant that more Indians are suddenly doing more for those less fortunate, says Mr. Ram. “There is a generation gap of our younger people who are becoming more and more self-centered, with not much consideration for the poor, for even the older members of their own family.”

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