Sunday, January 29, 2017

President Trump’s Executive Orders and their Fallout

January 27, 2017

By Saeed Qureshi

In order to fulfil his agenda of reforms outlined during electioneering campaign, President Trump has issued several executive orders. The president and his colleagues are busy in building up a structural and governance framework being undertaken and executed by a Transition Team led by the vice-president Mike Pence. The transition team has an executive committee with experienced individuals in their line of skills and expertise.

The Transition Team in dealing with a host of issues. These issues have been categorized as Defense & National Security, Immigration Reform, Building the Wall between Mexico and USA, Energy Independence, Tax Reform, Education, Transportation & Infrastructure, Financial Services Reform, Healthcare Reform, Veterans Administration Reform, Protecting Americans' Constitutional Rights.

The first executive order signed by president Trump on January 21 is about Affordable Care Act or the so-called Obama Healthcare Plan. This order calls for either complete replacement of the Obamacare or drastically scaling it down.

On 23 January, which was his first full workday in the office, President Trump signed three executive orders. The first one was related  to the withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership( TPP). The second order was aimed at reinstating the Mexico City Policy (MCP) and dealing with NGOs ( non-governmental organizations) and abortion access.
The third order  freezes federal workforce hiring.On the same day, he held meetings with CEOs of twelve major US companies. 

On January 24, Trump inked five executive orders. Two orders reverse the Obama administration's halt on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. President Trump has pleaded that these projects will recover 28,000 jobs. Another bill that he signed makes it obligatory for the pipelines companies to use domestic steel. Two more executive orders also bind the companies to use domestic steel for similar future infrastructure projects.

On January 25 President Trump issued another executive order in that he directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction of a wall on the Mexico–United States border.

He has signed an executive order banning immigration from seven major Muslim countries which are Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia Sudan, Syria and Yemen. He is expected to sign an order limiting legal immigration for refugees fleeing persecution and visa holders from several majority Muslim countries.

But these executive orders, to be ratified by House and Senate don’t seem to make any headway. For instance, the issue of building the wall between Mexico and America has become a nonstarter. Mexico may never agree to pay for the huge cost over building 2000 miles long wall at a staggering cost of 15 billion dollars. Mexico is not prepared for a double jeopardy of building the wall and then paying its cost as well.

If America builds that wall, then the cost would be met by imposing 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico while the American exports would go to Mexico duty free. In the face of these harsh and one sided conditions, the Mexican president Pena Nieto has declined to attend his working meeting with president Trump. This should be patently seen as a foreign policy failure all the more with a neighbor whose work force is enormously, for ages, has been useful for the agricultural and building sectors in the United States.With regard to ban on immigration a list of Muslim countries has already been made public.

In the foreign policy domain, there is a visible indication that Donlad Trump would promote India in comparison to China and beef up its economy and military potential to become a powerful contender of China. It would be a major foreign policy shift in several decades.  The distancing from China would be an onerous undertaking and its fallout may not be as desirable as Trump administration believes to be.

Donald administration could reverse wholly or partially the policy and detente worked out by Obama with Iran. About the European Union the views of president Trump are not as cordial as has been the policy of his predecessors. He is going to maintain friendly relations with Egypt and Israel. He is not in favor of the Palestinians’ cause for a settlement. That could be a rerun of the G.W. Bush polices.

But it seems that implementation of his agenda of reforms may not be a smooth sailing. For instance, many mayors across the nation have vowed to defy an executive order signed by president Donlad Trump about the expulsion of undocumented immigrants. They intend to take the white house to court if federal funding is withheld. The Sanctuaries cities with large concentrations of undocumented immigrants are promising to fight Trump’s immigration order. Cities. The governors of many states are also in rebellious frame of mind about the undocumented workers’ expulsion and withholding of funds

Temperamentally president Trump is a hard liner and resorts to knee-jerk reaction to criticism .and views of the political opponents. This attitude would keep him embedded in a perpetual rigmarole of controversy and friction with his political counterparts within America and even abroad. His likes and dislikes are extreme and not moderate. He doesn’t shy of using derogatory remarks against his victims like the one he called Hillary as the nasty woman during one of electoral debates.

He is in favor of using extreme torture methods against the suspected terrorists one of which is water boarding. President Obama had rejected these inhuman techniques to which the inmates at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp were subjected.

President Trump is susceptible to many lawsuits from his opponents both in politics and out of it. The hacking issue may resurface that involves Russia to facilitate his victory and defeat of Hillary Clinton. The incoming flow of money from his overseas business is already being taken up by a team of legal experts.

It might be pretty hard for him to come clean despite his transfer of all business to him two sons. The issue of income tax returns is also lingering against him for quite some time. As the president, he looks more vulnerable and in the eye of the gathering storm that if not legally or constitutionally justified might turn out to be like the proverbial “Sword of Damocles” falling on him any time if not.

His claim of voters’ fraud is another issue that needs scrutiny. However, he is certain that it happened and 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cost him depriving him the overall higher tally of the popular vote. 

In the meantime, top civil servants in the US State Department have resigned before they could start working with Secretary of State, and former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson. The State Department's undersecretary for management Patrick Kennedy The Assistant Secretary of State for Administration, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, and the director of the Office of Foreign Missions, have all left the State Department.

The speech delivered by president Trump at the GOP Retreat in Philadelphia on January 26 was a repetition of what President Trump has been saying earlier. He reaffirmed his stance about the immigration ban, eliminating the radical islamic terrorism and building of the wall between Mexico and USA.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

President Trump’s Inauguration and the Day After!

January 22, 2017

By Saeed Qureshi

Within 24 hours of the oath-taking by the newly elected president Donlad Trump of Republican Party at the Capitol Hill, the first executive order that he signed on Friday January 21 was to direct the government agencies “”to scale back as many aspects as possible of the Affordable Care Act or the so-called Obama Healthcare Plan.

The backlash to the first presidential executive order about the Obama Healthcare Plan has been stunning and colossal. Not only within the United States but hundreds of such protests have been observed and planned in the coming days.  President Trump should have taken some time before striking down a healthcare plan that benefitted millions under-privileged and poor sections and individuals of the society.

Incidentally, the “Women March” a representative organization striving for women and children’s rights all over the world held a huge gathering in the vicinity of the White House and Washington Monument to raise voice for women and children rights that would be curtailed by replacing or abolishing Obamacare. It was participated by about over half a million people. That crowd looked much larger than the one that assembled on the previous day to greet president Trump.

It may be worth mentioning that such Women’s Marches occurred all around the world, with 408 marches reported alone in the US, and 168 in other countries. “The march drew hundreds of thousands to Washington D.C. alone and anywhere from 2.9 to 4.2 million in cities throughout the U.S., thus becoming the largest single-day protest in American history”.

During his visit to the CIA headquarters on January 21, he spent a good part of his speech in lambasting the media dubbing them as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” accusing them for minimizing the size of the welcome crowd on his inauguration day.

Simultaneously at his first news conference, Sean Spicer the new White House press secretary, severely admonished the journalists for what he described as wrongly and maliciously diminishing the number of the welcoming and pro-Trump crowds on the inauguration day. He threatened to take the action against such newspapers and even journalists. The television showed that the welcome crowd at Obamas’ inauguration in 2009 was much larger than that of Donlad Trump in 2017.

This can be construed as curbing the freedom of expression by intimidation and by threats of using the state machinery against those news channels, newspapers and individuals who write or report such matter that is distasteful to the president and his cohorts. Would, for that matter the Republican Party join hands with him in snubbing the media?

What difference then can be drawn between the controlled and oppressed media of the authoritarian regimes and that of the United States. USA is a true democracy with shining hallmarks of freedom of expression, liberty, religion and pursuit of happiness.

If the new administration intends to curb the freedom of speech and fundamental rights ingrained in the American constitution and which have been in place and respected for almost two hundred years, then it would be the most ignoble disservice to this great country which leads the entire world in matters relating to the respect of its citizens and galore of liberties and a firmly entrenched democratic culture.

It appears that the very start of the term of the 45th president of the United states has been on the thorny grounds and with a mindset of belligerency and bitter relations against whosever criticizes and opposes his government and himself. It is to be seen that in coming days and weeks would the media corps be tamed by strong arms tactics and threats of fixing the detractors.

Interestingly Mr. Trump sent a Tweet rejoinder over the huge Women’s protest gathering on January 21 in Washington and on other rallies in United States and abroad. The message said “Celebs hurt cause badly”.

In another tweet, he boasted that 31 million people watched his inauguration on television that was 11 million more than the ratings from 4 years ago, on Obama’s inauguration. As a matter of fact, president’s Obama’s inauguration was viewed by 38 million people.

President Trump and his team is going to start their governance in the backdrop of a massive show of anger and hatred against the former president and even the media. As such there are grounds to believe that the newly installed administration with president Trump may not last long and may not be able to complete its constitutional term.

It also evident that the president of the mightiest country in the world has engaged himself in a frivolous tit-for-tat tweeting and name calling over such non-issues as to whose crowd was larger and whose was not and whether press reported in his favor or against him. It is unbecoming of a president who should not stoop so low as to engage in a blame game like the children in the streets.

President Trump nurtures a temperament that is shorn of tolerance and compassion. He is in the habit of using filthy expletives and unparliamentary language to discredit or demean his detractors and political adversaries. Among his target of repugnance and diatribe are also the media and individual journalists whom he unabashedly declares as “dishonest media”.

Already the elections under which Donlad Trump won the presidency are shadowed by question marks and controversy. The hacking of 2016 elections has not been entirely ruled out and it is still a big question mark. Until and unless a high-powered inquiry authority finds a conclusive outcome either in affirmative or in negative this issue would remain burning and open to be settled for the satisfaction of the other contender Hillary Clinton and her Democratic Party. The hacking apprehension and issue cannot be swept under the rug.

It would also be pertinent as to how president Trump would deal with South America specifically Mexico and Cuba. If the past bitterness is revived, then it would be a big setback to the policy of reconciliation enunciated by president Obama. At the same time president Trump displays his intense hatred towards the Islamic countries most of whom are the friends of the United States all along. If under the guise of destroying Islamic radicals, the societies in the respective countries are destabilized, then such a strategy or outlook would turn the billions of Muslims against the United States. Why president Donald perceives Islamic countries as enemies?

The best he can do is to help the Islamic countries under threat from internal religious zealots and radical outfits by giving aid, both financial and military, to help them and deal themselves with the indigenous threat of militants. That would be a wiser strategy. If he wants to pursue an unwise course of military intervention, then it would destroy the harmony that exists between most of the Islamic states and the United States thus far.

Instead the hostility between the Islamic states and the United States would pop up. The radicals would rebound and retaliate with a new vigor by pleading that islam was in danger at the hands pf the heathen and Christian societies. This looks like the clash of civilizations or a confrontation between islam and Christianity

The United States is mostly out of the political and military adventures and blocs for a few decades now, notwithstanding the military aid to Syria and Iraq. But such a kind of international crusade is pregnant with extremely frightening consequences and would revive the era of military conflicts; this time against the Islamic world.

Simultaneously president Trump should not frighten the world at large with scary tactics and threats. It is not going to work. He cannot force the American entrepreneurs and industrialists to close their industries and business networks overseas and in countries like China. It is a Herculean task that might take decades to become fruitful and productive. In a period of four years it would be impossible for the entrepreneurs to wind up the huge business conglomerations on the call and in conformity with the wish of the newly elected president.

As such president, Trump’s agenda to expel the undocumented immigrants out of America, browbeat China, destroy the Islamic societies, abolish Obamacare just in opposition to a democratic black president, are non-issues and can blow back in the most negative manner against the incumbent Trump administration. The proposed Wall between Mexico and United States cannot be built in four years’ mandate of the incumbent administration.

In the meantime, one has to ponder why president Trump has a soft corner for the Russian president Vladimir Putin and as to why he abhors Europe, China and most of the Islamic States whose majority is having cordial bilateral relationship with the USA in diverse fields and domains.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Interfaith Activist Sikh Dr. Harbans Lal Receives 2016 International Lifetime Achievements Award

January 14, 2017
By Saeed Qureshi

In recognition of his splendid achievements, Dr. Harbans Lal, was given the Distinguished “Neuroscientist Scientist Award” at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Neuroscience.  The “International Medal of Honor” Banquet was held on November 12, 2016 to recognize 28 Honorees. Dr. Harbans Lal was among the Faith leaders receiving the International Award for his lifelong commitment to promote interfaith engagement among the adherents of the world’s religions.   
This award was presented by the Grace International Seminary founded and led by President Dr. Karen Hollie-Thibodeaux, also the Senior Minister of The Lifeway Church of Dallas, which is the only seminary for women in the USA with chapters spread in other cities. 
 Grace International Seminary recognized and honored various leaders of the Dallas Inter-Faith Community whose actions support Grace International's Vision and Mission through their bridge-building between diverse faiths.  The award recipients’ efforts promoted people of different faiths to learn how to work together to make our world a peaceful and better place. The honorees were recognized for providing opportunities for diverse faith groups to learn from each other and share common experiences. 
Dr. Lal is a distinguished neuroscientist and scholar who has been actively engaged in interfaith dialogue and engagement since his student days in Pakistan and India, and since 1956 in the United States. As a high school student (1940-46) in his native Pakistan, he promoted joint Sikh-Muslim-Hindu interfaith dialogues at the town library which he managed.  During this time, he was also inducted into the Executive Committee of the All India Sikh Students Federation; in 1954 he became its national president.  
 Soon after entering the University of Kansas (1956), Dr. Lal led Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and Jewish students into debates and dialogues, and in a celebration of Guru Nanak’s Birthday, the first such celebration ever at an American University campus.  While continuing his education at the University of Chicago (1958-64), Dr. Lal continued his interfaith activities, organizing fire place discussions on interfaith topics at the UC International House, so that appreciation of faith traditions was promoted.  
 While still at University Dr. Lal was a sought-after speaker on the interfaith message of Guru Nanak at local churches, clubs and organizations. In Chicago, he actively promoted and participated in the Conference of World Religions presided by Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s top diplomat at the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice.
  Dr. Harbans Lal was invited to join the Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas in 1983.  This Council is a group of individuals representing the major religious traditions of the world.  They plan seminars and workshops; they respond to religious issues and needs through the prism of thanksgiving – i.e., an appreciation of the positive qualities to be found in all our cultures and religious traditions.  The group has been recognized as a strongly positive force locally and internationally, and inducted as NGO in consultative capacity. 
 Dr. Lal has represented at many of the Interfaith Council’s events:  the annual National Day of Prayer, the 1999 Millennium Thanksgiving Conference, the 2000 Thanksgiving Symposium at the United Nations, etc.  He has also represented the Sikh thought at the Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town, in Barcelona, in Australia, and at the United Nations Summit of World Religious Leaders at the United Nations’ campus in New York.
He co-organized 2001 International Conference at Amritsar and in Lahore, scholars representing Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism dialogued on interfaith engagement. 
 Commenting on the Lahore Conference, Judge Ali Nawaz Chowhan of United Nations and 
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said the following. It is a rare occasion in an Islamic country like Pakistan that Muslim scholars along with scholars of non-Islamic faiths speak from one public platform. From the press coverage, it was evident that this symposium changed the tone of many leaders in public life. This symposium was followed by an interfaith conference organized by Muslim league in Islamabad and President Musharraf starting using terms as interfaith understanding in his speeches.
 The interfaith conferences initiated by Dr. Lal were so successful that they promoted many follow-up conferences throughout the world.  Indeed, Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal is known and admired by scientists, faith organizations and his own Sikh community around the world. 
  As an academic, Dr. Lal retired in 2000 as Emeritus Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, TX.  He was known for his research in behavioral medicine, substance abuse, and the prolongation of a healthy life span through nutritional enhancement.  He has served on the advisory boards of the National Institute of health, the National Science Foundation, and the Food and Drug Administration.
  Dr. Harbans Lal holds many distinguished positions in Sikh institutions, which have honored him with their highest recognitions and awards. Those honors included the title of Bhai Sahib and Nishan-e-Khalsa, the highest recognitions ever bestowed upon any Sikh scholar and the person of distinction. Further, he can also claim the distinction in that he was honored also by religious organizations other than Sikh institutions.
Dr. Lal was honored with Life-Time Achievement Award on Unity Day USA. This award is to recognize those who promoted unity in USA after Nine- Eleven Terrorist Attack on USA. In 2010, Masjid Imam W. Deen Mohammed honored Dr. Harbans Lal at its 2ND ANNUAL UMMAH AWARDS APPRECIATION DINNER. Ummah means “Community” in Arabic and the annual award honors those who work towards furthering community development by bridging the gap among people of faith, races and cultures building community and understanding. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tribute to President Obama for his Glorious Legacy

January 9, 2017

By Saeed Qureshi
The incumbent president of United States, Barack Hussein Obama II would relinquish the mantle of presidency on January 20 this year after remaining for 8 years on this most prestigious office of the most powerful country. He was 48 years of age when he took over as the president for the first term. He is now 56 years old.
President Obama’s first term as the 44th president of USA started on January 20, 2009 and the second on January 20 2013. His immense popularity can be judged from the brightening fact that President Obama was elected twice. One can have no doubt in believing that had there been a third term in the constitution, he would have still returned victorious in the elections.
President Obama leaves behind him a glorious legacy of far-reaching achievements and landmark attainments in diverse fields both domestically and internationally. Those brilliant hallmarks might not be outshined by the future presidents of the United States for a long time to come. In the backdrop of the sharp ethnic divided between the white and the so called African American communities, his reelection in 2013 speaks for his immense popularity and love among the diversity of the American people.
His American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA}” saved and created jobs after an unpresented economic meltdown. This Act provided immediate investment and relief to those projects those were most affected by the recession. It helped sustained investment in infrastructure, education, health, renewable energy, industries mostly notably in automobile manufacturing industries such as General Motors and Chrysler.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare was enacted was in March 2010. This act brought about many fruitful changes in the then prevailing medical and insurance malpractices. For instance, it facilitated “expansion of health insurance coverage to the uninsured, to cap premium increases, and to allow people to retain their coverage when they leave or change jobs.
Also, known as the public option, to compete with the corporate insurance sector as a main component to lowering costs and improving quality of health care. It also made it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, it require every American to carry health coverage. The plan also includes medical spending cuts and taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive plans”.
The first priority of the president elect Donald Trump and the Republican party now in majority in both houses of congress, is to undo this act which in fact is going to restore the previous system benefitting huge health conglomerates at the cost of those Americans who cannot pay huge premiums.
In another landmark development initiated by president Obama in the domain of foreign relations was the normalization of relations between United States and Cuba. As a result of that the interest sections in both countries were upgraded to the level of full embassies in July 2015.
The negotiations spawned over a period of two years Between Iran and United States during the Obama tenure as the president resulted in signing of the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” that prevented Iran from manufacturing Nuclear weapons or material. In return the stifling sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted. 
There might be a difference of opinion in assessing the Libyan civil war in which the American embassy was attacked resulting in the death of the ambassador along with two other members. But the fact is that the attack on the embassy was an offshoot of the chaos and no one could have stopped it. Even Muammar Qaddafi the besieged ruler was also killed. But the American military action did end the civil war speedily. It was a kind of timely help by the Obama administration that saved further bloodshed. 
A "surgical raid" authorized by Obama administration conducted by United States Navy Seals on May 1, 2011, resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden and the seizure of important information from his compound. He was the most wanted target of the United States for many years.
President Obama terminated the American combat operations in Iraq and recalled the American soldiers stationed in Iraq by August 2010.  In Afghanistan although there is American military presence, but it is not engaged in active fighting but to sustain the democratic system that is now in place against the Taliban and other radical militants.  
From the foregoing, it is evident that president Obama has been focused on reducing the international conflicts either political or military in which United States has been either directly or indirectly involved.  
As a person, he is a decent family man with two young daughters and a loving wife. Interestingly his name contains two words that are purely Islamic. Those were derived from his father whose name was Barack Hussein Obama Sr. Barack in Arabic means the blessed one. Hussain is the most coveted and sacred name for the Muslims especially for Shia sect in Islam. Hussain was the grandson of prophet Muhammad and was martyred by one of the Ommyad caliphs in the desert of Karbala near Baghdad.
Obama is a recipient of   the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. In a poll conducted by “Harris Interactive” in May 2009, president Obama was rated as the most popular world leader. President Obama is among the top ten most popular and successful presidents of the United States.
The two latest decisions made by president Obama have been very crucial and which demonstrate his trait of fearless decision making. Lately in a clear departure from the past blind support for Israel, United States abstained from vetoing a resolution against its ally Israel. That facilitated passing of the Un Security council resolution on December 22 by 14-0 condemning the construction of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and West bank. This was for the first time that America with Obama as president has adopted a just and legitimate stance.
The second decision taken on December 30 is the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from America in retaliation to the hacking of the 2016 American presidential elections. President Obama has also imposed sanctions on nine Russian entities and individuals involved in cyber hacking to manipulate the results in favor of president elect Donald Trump and against the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
His popularity among all sections of the populace was strident and perhaps can be rated among the leading presidential luminaries. He has been consistent and endowed with a level of confidence and courage that enabled him to take momentous decisions at a time when the USA was steeped in one of the deepest economic chaos fomented by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
A Gallup poll declared Barack Obama as the 7th great president after Ronald Reagan (19%),
Abraham Lincoln (14%), Bill Clinton (13%), John F. Kennedy (11%), George Washington (10%), Franklin Roosevelt (8%), Barack Obama (5%)
A Quinnipiac University poll showed Barack Obama as the fourth best president since World War II, after Ronald Reagan (35%), Bill Clinton (18%), John F. Kennedy (15%), Barack Obama (8%), Dwight Eisenhower (5%).