Colombo, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Doctors at state-run hospitals across Sri Lanka began a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, demanding that the government resolve what they say is a salary "injustice."
Two years ago, the government gave an unusually high salary increase to legal officers in the government sector, creating what Dr. Haritha Aluthge, secretary of the Government Medical Officers Association, called "a severe injustice to doctors and other professionals."
"For two years, we have been urging the government to rectify this anomaly, but so far no meaningful measures have been taken to resolve the injustice," he said Wednesday.
The strike caused hardships to the thousands of patients who arrived at state-run hospitals, where doctors were providing only emergency treatment. Government hospitals provide free services, making them very popular with most Sri Lankans.
Due to the strike — which began Wednesday morning and is scheduled to end Thursday morning — all routine surgeries and other medical services were not performed.
Samantha Perera, 49, who was to undergo a minor abdominal operation Wednesday at the government hospital in Ragama, on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo, said hospital authorities asked him to go home and come back later this week to get a new date for his surgery.
"It's really frustrating and now I have to come back on another day. Patients have to pay for the tussle between the government and doctors," he said.
Aluthge said the doctors' union resorted to a strike as the last option, and that the government should take responsibility for the hardships faced by the public.
The union did not conduct the strike at the country's main cancer or children's hospital, maternity hospitals and the specialized hospital that treats kidney patients.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
Aluthge urged the government to rectify the anomaly within a week by offering a solution acceptable to all concerned parties. He said if no solution is reached, "an island-wide continuous strike" would take place starting Sept. 25.
Atlanta, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Weeks shy of his 95th birthday, former President Jimmy Carter said he doesn't believe he could have managed the most powerful office in the world at 80 years old.
Carter, who earlier this year became the longest-lived chief executive in American history, didn't tie his comments to any of his fellow Democrats running for president in 2020, but two leading candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, would turn 80 during their terms if elected.
Biden is 76. Sanders is 78.
"I hope there's an age limit," Carter said with a laugh as he answered audience questions on Tuesday during his annual report at the Carter Center in Atlanta. "If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don't believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president."
Carter's observation came in response to a jovial inquiry about whether he had considered running in 2020 since he's still constitutionally allowed another term. The 39th president left office in 1981 at the age of 56 after losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, who served two terms and left office as the oldest sitting president in history, at 77.
Either Biden or Sanders would be older upon their inauguration than Reagan was on his final day in the Oval Office. At 73, President Donald Trump is a record setter, as well. He eclipsed Reagan's mark as the oldest newly elected president in history and would become the oldest president to be reelected. Age has been a flashpoint for some critics of Trump, Sanders and Biden.
Carter, who turns 95 on Oct. 1, said the Oval Office requires a president "to be very flexible with your mind," particularly on foreign affairs. He was speaking on the 41st anniversary of the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement he negotiated with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
"You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them together in a comprehensive way, like I did between Begin and Sadat with the peace agreement," Carter said.
"The things I faced in foreign affairs, I don't think I could undertake them at 80 years old," he continued, before adding with a smile: "At 95, it's out of the question. I'm having a hard time walking."
Carter said he remains undecided in the 2020 primary.
"I'm going to keep an open mind," he said, explaining that he wants to vote for a candidate who pledges to make the U.S. the world's leading champion for peace, human rights and equality. "One of the major factors I will have in my mind is who can beat Trump," he added, noting that he'll vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election regardless.
Still, Carter's assessments on age could leave him with few easy choices in the primary.
Carter repeated his previous disclosure that he voted for Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016, siding with the democratic socialist over the party establishment favorite. But Carter has since warned Democrats not to go too far left, lest they risk alienating independents and moderate Republicans who can help the party defeat Trump.
He has specifically cited proposals like a single-payer health insurance system as potential deal-breakers for some voters inclined to vote against Trump. Sanders and another leading progressive candidate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, back single-payer health insurance run by the federal government. Warren is 70 years old.
Meanwhile, Biden is leading most national and early state primary polls in part because of his strength among more moderate Democrats. Other moderates in the field trail far behind Biden, Sanders and Warren.
When Carter ran and won in 1976, he was the outsider toppling establishment favorites. But the former Georgia governor also represented the more moderate wing of a party that had been dominated by Northeastern liberals.
Since his defeat, however, Republicans have used Carter as a liberal caricature. And Carter himself, through his work at the Carter Center, has embraced the role of an outspoken human rights advocate willing to criticize the world's establishment institutions and accepted world order.
He's long blasted Israel's treatment of Palestinians, even as both major U.S. parties more carefully navigated the U.S. alliance with Israel. As Israel tallies votes from its Tuesday elections, Carter lamented that returning hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power could "end the peace process" altogether. Exit polls show that Netanyahu's party fell short of securing a parliamentary majority, potentially threatening his position.
Speaking about his post-presidency legacy, Carter said he wants the Carter Center, which has focused since 1982 on public health and election monitoring, to be more willing to criticize the U.S. government, advocate for policies to combat the climate crisis and explicitly take sides against war.
"The Carter Center has been basically mute on the subject of global warming," Carter said, putting blame on himself.
He also warned Americans against the consequences of perpetual military conflict. He noted that China, the major economic and geopolitical competitor to the U.S., has spent four decades at peace since Carter normalized relations with Beijing. In that time, China has spent trillions of dollars on infrastructure and education, Carter said, while the U.S. has spent corresponding amounts on military engagement.
"That just shows you the difference between peace and war," Carter said, later adding, "I just want to keep the world at peace."
Washington, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Six weeks after a pair of mass shootings killed more than 30 people, Congress remains "in a holding pattern" on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
While President Donald Trump has said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, McConnell said he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.
"I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he's comfortable signing," the Kentucky Republican told reporters. "If and when that happens, then we'll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress."
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said McConnell and Trump were blocking meaningful action on gun violence, adding, "This is the moment for the president to do something different and courageous."
The New York Democrat said he wonders whether Trump will "rise to the occasion, or will he squander this opportunity as he always has done in the past?"
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Trump on Sunday that any proposal on gun control must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Trump by phone and said they made it clear any proposal that does not include the House legislation "will not get the job done" because dangerous loopholes will be left open.
Schumer said Tuesday he was "not encouraged by what the president said," but remained committed to pushing for stricter gun control measures. Senate Democrats planned to speak for hours on the Senate floor Tuesday to urge passage of background checks and other measures in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last month that killed more than three dozen people.
Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun-control measures with members of Congress, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.
Trump hopes to reveal something on gun control to the American public "very soon," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. The White House expects the gun proposal later this week or early next week, according to a person familiar with the administration's thinking.
Attorney General William Barr and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland met with GOP senators Tuesday to talk about a path forward. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said background checks remained under discussion, but it was not clear whether progress was being made.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said background checks did not come up during a lunch meeting Tuesday between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cautioned against overinterpreting the relative silence by the White House. "My guess is they're still vetting ideas, proposals and kind of putting together their plan," he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has helped lead a bipartisan push to expand background checks, said he had not spoken to Trump since late last week. Manchin said he considers a proposal he is offering with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a starting point for legislative action.
"You can't water it down because that's the bedrock," Manchin said, adding that senators and the White House haven't agreed on anything yet. "We're just going to see where it goes," he said.
Washington, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — In less than three years, President Donald Trump has named more former lobbyists to Cabinet-level posts than his most recent predecessors did in eight, putting a substantial amount of oversight in the hands of people with ties to the industries they're regulating.
The Cabinet choices are another sign that Trump's populist pledge to "drain the swamp" is a catchy campaign slogan but not a serious attempt to change the way Washington works. Instead of staring down "the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests" as Trump recently declared, the influence industry has flourished during his administration.
The amount spent in 2019 on lobbying the U.S. government is on pace to match or exceed last year's total of $3.4 billion, the most since 2010, according to the political money website Open Secrets. Trump also has pulled in hefty contributions from industries with business before his administration, and his hotel near the White House has been a magnet for lobbyists and foreign interests since he was elected.
"An administration staffed by former industry lobbyists will almost certainly favor industry over the general public, because that's the outlook they're bringing to the job," said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at the think tank New America and author of the book "The Business of America is Lobbying."
Former lobbyists run the Defense and Interior departments, Environmental Protection Agency and office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The acting Labor secretary, Pat Pizzella, is a former lobbyist and Trump's pick to run the department, Eugene Scalia, also is an ex-lobbyist. Scalia's confirmation hearing before a GOP-controlled Senate committee is scheduled for Thursday and Democrats are expected to grill him on his long record of opposing federal regulations .
A seventh ex-lobbyist, Dan Coats, resigned as Trump's intelligence chief in August.
President Barack Obama had five former lobbyists in his Cabinet during two terms in office and President George W. Bush had three, also during eight years in the White House, according to lobbying and foreign agent disclosure records. The review was limited to the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations because prior to 1995 there was no central database of federal lobbying registrations and the law was hazy about who was supposed to register.
Shortly after taking office, Trump signed an executive order that revoked an Obama directive prohibiting lobbyists from being appointed to a post at a federal agency they'd lobbied within the last two years. While this "cooling off" period was cast aside, Trump's order continued to bar for two years lobbyists-turned-government-employees from participating in particular matters that they'd lobbied on during the two preceding years.
"Without the cooling off period, these Cabinet heads appear to be serving their former employers' and clients' special interests," said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump's Cabinet includes the heads of the 15 executive departments and seven other senior-level posts, such as EPA administrator and director of national intelligence. Obama's Cabinet had the same number of members and Bush's Cabinet had two fewer.
Scalia, the Labor Department nominee, has spent much of his career as a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm, where he ran up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations. Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, served for a year as the Labor Department's top lawyer during the George W. Bush administration.
His financial disclosure report lists 49 clients who paid him $5,000 or more for legal services, including e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, Facebook, Walmart and Bank of America. Disclosure records show Scalia was registered in 2010 and 2011 to lobby for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Pizzella has been the acting secretary since Alexander Acosta resigned the post in July amid renewed criticism of how, as a federal prosecutor, he handled a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pizzella lobbied for clients that ranged from Microsoft Corp. to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He also worked on several accounts with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, although Pizzella was never accused of any misconduct or wrongdoing.
Obama chose Pizzella for a GOP seat on the Federal Labor Relations Authority and he was an assistant Labor secretary during the George W. Bush administration.
Two Trump Cabinet officials, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, have been accused by congressional Democrats and public interest groups of failing to honor their ethics pledges.
Both Bernhardt and Wheeler, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have played leading roles in the administration's rollback of environmental regulations. They also both worked at the agency they now lead during prior administrations.
Interior's inspector general launched an investigation of Bernhardt earlier this year after receiving seven separate ethics allegations against him. A complaint filed by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center alleged that shortly after joining the department in August 2017 Bernhardt became involved in matters that were the focus of his lobbying for California's Westlands Water District that lasted until mid-November 2016.
Westlands has federal contracts to provide irrigation water to 700 family-owned farms in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The complaint said Bernhardt had "lobbied on discrete provisions of a law directing Interior to maximize water supplies to his clients, and to minimize Endangered Species Act protections in that region."
Then, after joining Interior, Bernhardt breached his ethics pledge by directing government officials under him "to advance the particular matters he had previously lobbied on," according to the complaint.
"It is very hard to tell where Bernhardt's lobbying career ended and where his public service begins," said Brendan Fischer, director of the Campaign Legal Center's federal reform program.
An Interior spokesman said in a statement, "Secretary Bernhardt is and always has been committed to upholding his ethical responsibilities, and he has fully complied with those obligations."
Thomas Birmingham, Westlands' general manager, said the agency is actually disadvantaged with Bernhardt as secretary because he's not been able to engage with him as he did past Interior secretaries, like Ken Salazar and Sally Jewell.
"I don't know what Mr. Bernhardt has done or has not done at Interior," Birmingham said.
Wheeler worked as a lobbyist for eight years and his more than 20 different clients included coal magnate Bob Murray, who pushed hard on the Trump administration to grant a series of breaks for the sagging domestic coal industry.
"I think he's doing a great job," Betsy Monseu, CEO of the American Coal Council, said of Wheeler. "We're pleased to see the regulatory reform agenda moving forward."
But Canter's organization, known as CREW, urged the EPA inspector general earlier this year to investigate whether Wheeler broke his ethics pledge. Among the allegations, CREW said Wheeler had participated in the easing of standards for storing coal ash in 2018 even though he had lobbied on those regulations the year before for Murray Energy.
The inspector general's office declined to say if it had open an investigation, directing a reporter to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
An EPA statement called CREW's complaint "baseless and just flat out false." It said Wheeler works closely with career EPA ethics officials and abides by all ethics requirements.
The Pentagon's top official, Mark Esper, spent seven years lobbying for defense industry juggernaut Raytheon, a company that stands to gain handsomely from Trump's push to boost military spending by billions of dollars. The company closed out 2018 by hitting a record $27.1 billion in net sales, up nearly seven percent from the $25.3 billion the year before.
Esper, who was secretary of the Army when Trump chose him to be defense secretary, faced opposition from only a handful of Democrats and he was confirmed in July by a 90-8 margin.
As Army secretary, Esper hasn't participated in Raytheon-related matters under the terms of an ethics agreement that runs through this November. After that, Esper told Pentagon ethics officials that he will continue to avoid Raytheon issues unless his participation as defense secretary is determined to be essential.
Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, lobbied primarily for steel companies between 1999 and 2003. Beginning in 2004, he represented just one company, U.S. Steel, which paid his firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, $3.2 million over a seven-year period.
Kabul, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — The Latest on developments in Afghanistan (all times local):
An Afghan official says at least 22 people including six military personnel have been killed in that suicide attack in the capital Kabul.
Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said Tuesday that 38 others were wounded in the attack that took place near the Massoud intersection.
"There are both women and children among those killed or wounded in the attack," said Faramarz.
Pakistan's foreign ministry has condemned a Taliban suicide attack on a campaign rally by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in northern Afghanistan earlier in the day that killed at least 24 people, including women and children.
Ghani was present at the venue but was unharmed in Tuesday's attack.
Pakistan denounced the attack and offered condolences to the families of the victims as well as prayers for a speedy recovery of all the wounded.
A statement by the ministry says that "Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms," adding Islamabad's support for Afghan efforts aimed at restoring peace and stability to the war-ravaged country.
Kabul often accuses Pakistan of backing the Taliban, who have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan in recent months. Pakistan denies the charge
The Taliban have claimed a deadly attack in northern Afghanistan that targeted President Ashraf Ghani's campaign rally, killing 24 people, and another attack, a Kabul explosion near the U.S. Embassy.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, says one suicide bomber targeted presidential guards who were protecting Ghani and the rally in northern Parwan province along with other members of the security forces.
Ghani was unhurt in the attack and it wasn't immediately known if any of his guards were hurt in the explosion in Parwan on Tuesday.
Mujahid claims the suicide bomber in Kabul targeted an Afghan army base. Afghan officials have not yet provided details on that attack.
Iran's foreign ministry says a delegation of the Taliban has visited Tehran to discuss prospects for peace in Afghanistan.
The semi-official Borna news agency on Tuesday quoted the ministry's spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, as saying the delegation discussed "the latest" developments with the Iranian side.
It did not elaborate. On Monday, Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said the delegation is in Iran. In December, Iran confirmed a rare visit of a similar delegation to Tehran.
The talks were not the first between the Taliban and Iranian officials. In 2018, Iran said such talks had taken place in the past and that it would continue to facilitate talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government as part of efforts to bring a negotiated end to Afghanistan's 18-year war.
An Afghan official says there has been an explosion in the capital, Kabul, near an army base and also near the U.S. Embassy.
Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, says the blast took place on Tuesday, close to the city's Massoud Square. He couldn't provide any other details and there was no immediate word on any casualties.
The explosion came shortly after a bombing targeted a campaign rally by President Ashraf Ghani in northern Parwan province, killing at least 24 people and injuring another 31, many of them women and children.
The violence comes as Afghanistan faces presidential elections on Sept. 28. The Taliban have warned that polling stations and election campaigns would be targeted.
A hospital director in northern Afghanistan says a bombing that targeted a campaign rally of President Ashraf Ghani killed 24 people. The president was at the scene but was unharmed in the blast and is safe.
Dr. Qasim Sangin at the Charakar hospital in northern Parwan province says another 31 people were wounded in the attack. He says there are women and children among those killed and wounded.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as the country heads into presidential elections later this month despite relentless violence plaguing Afghanistan.
The Taliban have warned Afghans not to vote and said they would target polling stations and election campaigns.
Afghan officials say a sticky bomb attached to a police vehicle went off near a campaign rally by President Ashraf Ghani in the country's northern Parwan province.
There was no immediate word of casualties in the explosion.
The president's campaign spokesman Hamed Aziz says that Ghani was there but that he is safe and unharmed. Aziz said he would provide more details later.
Wahida Shahkar, spokeswoman for the provincial governor in Parwan, says the explosion happened while the rally was underway on Tuesday, at the entrance to the venue.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Across Afghanistan, militant attacks have continued as the country prepares for presidential elections later this month.