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."
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.
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.
Khalil Ibrahim, a leader of a former insurgent unit that turned to support U.S. troops, spoke for many Sunnis when he told Reuters, "Iran has good relations with our political parties. They run militias. If the U.S. troops complete their withdrawal, Iran will do whatever it wants in Iraq." Odierno concurred, telling reporters at Camp Victory outside Baghdad, "Iran is still supporting, funding, and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq. They have not stopped and I don't think they will stop." He also said that 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, although he declined to say how many would remain in cities as trainers and advisers.
The Obama administration has renewed funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA): $50 million in 2009. That hasn't stopped UNFPA from complaining in its annual report that funding for family planning supplies has "virtually stagnated" since 2001. Half of the UNFPA's spending last year went to promoting "reproductive health" a phrase pro-lifers contend is a euphemism for promoting abortion rights.
The report says that $165.2 million of UNFPA's resource expenditures went to reproductive health in 2008-up from $146.6 million in 2007 (although a smaller percentage of its total budget)-part of a global push to achieve "universal access to reproductive health" by 2015.
The report especially targets developing nations, emphasizing the 500,000 maternal deaths that take place each year, 97 percent in 68 poor countries. Family planning, it says, is a "key component" of maternal health. While the UN has stated that family planning does not include a right to abortion, pro-lifer groups say the phrase is used to build a case against maternal deaths caused by "unsafe" (read illegal) abortions.
UNFPA is also enlisting more faith-based organizations in its work, convening 160 faith-based leaders and launching the Interfaith Network on Population and Development last year.
Detroit city council woman Monica Conyers, wife of Democratic congressman John Conyers, has pled guilty to the felony charge of accepting a bribe in exchange for advocating that Houston-based Synagro Technologies receive a sludge contract. She will be sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutors accused Conyers of receiving two bribes in late 2007. The payments came by way of cash-stuffed envelopes handed over in the parking lot of a Detroit community center on Nov. 7 and a McDonalds on Dec. 4.
Conyers' time on the council was often bumpy as her brash personality conflicted with council president Ken Cockrel, once overflowing into a name-calling outburst when she twice referred to the bald-headed Cockrel as Shrek and challenged him to "do it baby" when he threatened to adjourn the meeting.
Texas financier R. Allen Stanford surrendered to authorities June 18 on charges he ran a $7 billion Ponzi scheme with the help of a Caribbean regulator who reportedly took more than $100,000 in bribes in exchange for keeping U.S. investigators at bay. Authorities allege that Stanford, 59, and five co-defendants falsified marketing materials for Stanford International Bank, located on the Caribbean island of Antigua, to lure 30,000 worldwide investors. But rather than making safe investments on behalf of their clients, prosecutors say Stanford officials "misused and misappropriated" the funds, including $1.6 billion that was redirected into personal loans to Stanford (see "Extreme prejudice," April 11, 2009).
Syria has been on the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring states since 1979, and the Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador in 2005 after it was implicated in the assassination by car bomb of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But in a demonstration of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "smart power" doctrine and President Barack Obama's interest in engaging rogue regimes, the White House announced June 24 that it plans to return an ambassador-and full diplomatic relations-with Syria.
According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, since Obama took office in January there have been a series of meetings with administration officials and Syrian leadership. "This strongly reflects the administration's recognition of the role Syria plays, and the hope of the role that the Syrian government can play constructively to promote peace and stability in the region," he said.
Knowing thy enemy
Watchdog groups of Islamist activity have cried foul over the FBI's apparent outreach to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). A rumor that ISNA has replaced the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) as the FBI's official point of contact with the American Muslim community gained credence June 24 when FBI Executive Assistant Director Tom Harrington met at FBI headquarters with ISNA vice president Imam Majid.
The FBI has yet to confirm or deny the present level of its relationship with ISNA, the largest stateside organization of Muslims. FBI outreach to CAIR ended last year after evidence of connections to terrorist groups emerged during a trial against the Holy Land Foundation, a stateside charity that operated as a fundraising front for Hamas.
Like CAIR, ISNA was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land trial, though far less evidence was presented to establish an ISNA-Hamas connection. ISNA claims that its inclusion in the trial was simply "a legal tactic to permit the government to seek the admission of evidence that would otherwise be excluded."
In fact, past FBI investigations have established connections between ISNA and the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egypt-born movement bent on spreading political Islam throughout the world by any means necessary, including violence. Given the FBI's knowledge of such a relationship, consternation over its present Muslim go-tos might be misplaced. The FBI knows who these groups are.