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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

Contra Iran

A June 28 military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras took place one week before the head of state had scheduled a referendum to lengthen his four-year term of office. Soldiers pulled the president from his home in the night and flew him to Costa Rica where they left him, still in his pajamas.

While Zelaya has a mixed record as president, including allegations of corruption and alliances with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the UN General Assembly called for the Honduran government to reinstate Zelaya. President Barack Obama, too, immediately called the coup "not legal," saying that Zelaya "is the democratically elected president." Reporters questioned why the president gave a swift response to the coup while his response to the Iranian election was more measured and slow in coming. "I don't think anybody disputes, or at least disputed a week ago that [Zelaya] was the president," explained White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "In terms of elections in Iran, that's who won an election."

Rubber rooms

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Where can a person get paid $70,000 or more per year to play Scrabble, write a novel, or surf the internet? How about New York City's public schools where 700 suspended teachers have waited as long as six years for disciplinary hearings. Thanks to tough union laws, these suspended teachers-accused of such acts as insubordination, lying, or cheating-receive full pay and holidays while barred from classrooms at an annual cost of $65 million, according to a recent Associated Press investigation. As cases are reviewed by arbitrators working just five days a month, teachers spend eight-hour days in designated "rubber rooms" reading, sleeping, doing yoga, painting, or generally passing the time.

North Africa

Al-Jazeera TV reported last month that it received an audio statement from al-Qaeda's North African branch claiming responsibility for the June 23 shooting death of an American aid worker in Nouakchott, Mauritania. According to the message-the authenticity of which has not been verified-the Islamic Maghreb said group members murdered Christopher Leggett, 39, for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. Leggett had lived with his wife and four children for six years in the moderate Muslim nation where he taught at a computer science and language school in a poor neighborhood of Nouakchott.

Madoff not alone

Days after a judge sentenced the notorious swindler Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison, federal investigators told the Associated Press that they would ultimately charge at least 10 more people in connection with Madoff's multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Madoff claims he pulled off the massive $65 billion fraud by himself, and he specifically said that his brother, two sons, and 200 employees were not involved. But investigators and many of those who lost money to Madoff don't believe that he acted alone. "I would like to see everybody else who was involved in this evil scheme to be brought to justice," said Phyllis Feiner of Great Neck, N.Y., one of Madoff's bilked clients. "There's absolutely no way he could have done this all by himself."

No church home

President Barack Obama and his family are still searching for a D.C. church home. Recent media reports had announced that Obama would attend private worship meetings at the Evergreen Chapel inside nearby presidential retreat Camp David. But the White House quickly denied the claims, saying "the president and first family . . . have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family." In January, soon after settling in Washington, the Obamas visited Nineteenth Street Baptist Church-the oldest black church in the city. On Easter, the family attended St. John's Episcopal Church, which is just across the street from the White House and is known as the "Church of the Presidents." That Sunday all St. John's attendees had to pass through metal detectors before entering the sanctuary. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is worried about the public scene that often accompanies a president in public. The president, Gibbs said, "shares the strong belief that there's a very personal nature to one's spirituality. For his presence to be disruptive . . . he believes that takes away from the experience that others might get.

Boots off the ground

Iraqis called it "Sovereignty Day" and celebrated as U.S. combat forces met a June 30 deadline for pullout from Iraq's cities-the beginning of an expected formal withdrawal of troops from the country set to culminate in 2011. Almost immediately violence marred festivities as a car bomb exploded in a crowded outdoor market in Kirkuk, killing at least 24 Iraqis and underscoring unease as U.S. combat forces turn over urban duties to Iraqi forces. "We will be here, we are not leaving," said Gen. Ray Odierno.

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