Dispatches > News

Gangs of Jamaica

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

Jamaica remained under a state of emergency after three days of clashes between drug lords and local authorities in the infamous West Kingston slum killed 73 civilians and three security officers in May. Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the government would launch an assault on other gangs controlling poor communities in the Caribbean nation with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

The West Kingston clashes began with a search for accused drug lord Christopher Coke after U.S. authorities requested the notorious criminal's extradition. The prime minister had resisted that request for months, and many leaders in the opposition party accused Golding of sheltering the drug lord because he enjoyed political support from Coke's allies. Golding admitted he hired a Miami-based law firm to lobby against Coke's extradition in the United States. Golding apologized, and parliament voted not to censure him. Coke remains at large.

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Oil and water

By The Editors

In the battle to preserve imperiled Gulf Coast waters and shorelines, a low-key conservative has emerged as a relentless crusader: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The mild-mannered Republican has spent weeks slogging through the state's marshes and flying over the site of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, decrying the response from both BP and the federal government.

Jindal says the two entities poorly coordinated clean-up efforts while the busted well continued to spew at least a half million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Jindal is trying to fill in the gaps, organizing additional coastal patrols and ordering state workers to build shore barriers.

By early June, federal officials had closed more than 31 percent of federal waters in the region to fishing while BP stumbled through a series of failed efforts to stop the gushing oil. The closures have paralyzed some fishermen in the region dependent on the seafood industry: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported nearly 5.7 million recreational fishermen led some 25 million fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico in 2008. Commercial fishermen in the region harvested 1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish during the same year.

No good option

By The Editors

The UN Human Rights Council, with a membership including China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, was one of many international groups early in June that condemned Israel for preventing a flotilla from breaking the small country's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Flotilla leaders had announced beforehand their intentions to test the blockade, which is designed to keep Hamas from accumulating more missiles and other weapons.

Nine activists died in the battle that broke out when Israel maintained the blockade. Muslim nations including once-sympathetic Turkey denounced the country that many Muslims say has no right to exist. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Hamas continues to arm. Iran continues to send weapons to Gaza. Iran's rockets are intended to hit Israeli communities. . . . If the blockade had been broken, hundreds of ships would have followed."

The Israelis once again have no good option. Netanyahu is right to say that an end to the blockade would mean "an Iranian port in Gaza, only a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv." But Egypt has now threatened the entire blockade by opening up its own border with Gaza, and anti-Israel militants are seizing on perceptions of the incident to bolster recruiting and fundraising.

Out of Islam

By The Editors

A controversial bus ad asks ex-Muslims if they're in danger: "Leaving Islam? Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you?" The ads-from an organization called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA)-appear in Miami and New York City buses. The ad mimics the pastoral background of a pro-Islam ad that appeared on Miami buses, even asking the same question the pro-Islam ad does: "Got questions? Get answers." The Council for American-Islamic Relations has decried the ads. Detroit and Miami transit authorities both refused to run the ads, although Miami reinstated them after SIOA threatened a lawsuit.

Fred Farrokh, former Muslim and executive director of the Jesus for Muslims Network in New York City, said that the Quran does preach that faithful Muslims should kill apostates. It's important, he said, to ask Muslim leaders "to either validate or deny this law of apostasy in Islam." Jesus for Muslims owns a safe house where endangered ex-Muslims can take refuge. Most of the time, it shelters people who are victims of persecution in Muslim countries, but occasionally it houses converts whose families have threatened to kill them.

Informed consent?

By The Editors

With the June 28 start date for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing just weeks away, Senate lawmakers are on a paper chase. Kagan, 50, has never been a judge. Her lack of rulings translates into a thin paper trail that has both sides of the political divide grasping at what kind of justice Kagan could become. Republicans are pressing for the quick release of more than 160,000 pages of documents from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library that may offer clues to Kagan's tenure as a lawyer in the Clinton White House.

But is three weeks enough? Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, already is warning that, given Kagan's thin record, a "train wreck" may occur if hearings are conducted before lawmakers have time to review the documents: "Since this is by far the most significant public record that the nominee has . . . I believe that the hearings should not be conducted until we've had an opportunity to examine the documents in advance." But Clinton library officials are warning that it will be difficult to produce all the material before June 28.

Ticket trough

By The Editors

The summer movie season began with a thud, as Hollywood registered its worst Memorial Day weekend in terms of movie attendance in 17 years. Overall, movie theaters sold 24.2 million tickets, the lowest figure for the four-day Memorial Day weekend since 1993. A weaker-than-expected showing for Sex and the City 2 was part of the problem. Box-office analysts had thought the film would debut at No. 1, but instead it finished third at the box office with a $36.8 million take. Shrek Forever After, in its second week, led at the box office, with Prince of Persia finishing second.

Analyst Paul Dergarabedian told the Associated Press that the entire selection of films was weak: "When you have a Memorial Day weekend down this much, it just tells me the movies in the marketplace are just not grabbing people the way they have in past years." Last year, theaters sold 30.1 million tickets during the holiday weekend. Memorial Day weekend ticket sales hit a high of 39.6 million in 2004.

Control freaks

By The Editors

If officials at Planned Parenthood have their way, the federal government would mandate free birth control in many healthcare plans under the new healthcare law passed this year. The group is launching a campaign to add birth control to the list of free "preventative services" included in some insurance plans under the Affordable Health Care Act. Other groups-like the Center for Reproductive Rights-are considering whether to press for free coverage of so-called "emergency contraception," according to Politico. Officials with the federal Health Resources and Services Administration are still deciding what services to include on the list.

Box battle

By The Editors

Black boxes in the cockpit have long been the norm, but are you ready for a black box in your car'? A House committee on May 26 voted to mandate such crash recording devices on all cars. Rep. Harry Waxman, D-Calif., said the requirement, if it becomes law, would "push the auto industry to make safer cars." But some Republicans countered that the mandate would violate the privacy of drivers and drive up costs, as manufacturers would pass on the expense to buyers.


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