Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

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.

Enlisted

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.

Sludge fund

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.

Swindler surrenders

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).

Smart?

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.

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