January 24, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 4

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

THIS WEEK:

Afghans fight back for schools, the swastika again divides Europe, Los Angeles grapples with gangland “ethnic cleansing,” Sunnis make a new push for peace in Iraq, a Pentagon official bashes Guantanamo lawyers, Feinstein says key federal prosecutors have been fired, and bankruptcy may fell the Headwaters redwoods … or not.

QUOTED:

“The Lebanese people are poor, and the taxes are already too high. We can’t afford to pay them. I’ve got four sons and only one of them is working. I came all the way from Hermel hoping that Siniora would hear my voice.”

— Souad, a Lebanese mother who came to Beirut to protest a new tax aimed at privatizing industry and reining in debt (see “Middle East: Democracy,” below).


TOP STORIES

Citizens Secure Schools in Afghanistan

The Taliban denies responsibility for arson attacks that have destroyed more than 100 Afghan schools, a huge setback in a nation where only half of all children attend classes. Some communities are even closing new schools in fear of vengeful militants, but a new government program has citizens banding together and sometimes arming themselves to successfully fend off attacks.

U.S. Weapons Disappear in Iraq

Corruption infests Iraq’s Ministry of Defense like “termites,” reports The Times of London. As many as 14,000 U.S. guns have been diverted to insurgents, Iraqi Army officials steal the salaries of “ghost” soldiers who appear on the roster but are absent from the ranks, and efforts to audit the total number of troops have proven futile.

A Digital Revolution for India Farmers, With Risks

Illiterate Indian farmers will now be able to access government subsidies through a fingerprint-scan ATM without sacrificing a percentage to corrupt middlemen. But some fear the new technology will provoke criminals to chop off fingers to access accounts.

Sources:

“Neighborhood watch for Afghan schools”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, January 19, 2007

“How ghost soldiers are bleeding the Iraqi army of guns and money”
Times Online (U.K), January 19, 2007

“Thumb-print banking takes India”
Wired.com, January 19, 2007


FREE SPEECH: THE SWASTIKA

Hindus, the Holocaust and the Limits of Hate Speech

Germany hopes to use its E.U. presidency to push through a controversial law criminalizing Holocaust denial and incitement to hate crimes in all 27 European member states, many of which oppose the measure on free speech grounds. Hate-based crime is on the rise in Germany.

Religious groups in five countries also oppose the law, saying its ban on swastika displays will affect 2.5 million European Hindus who still regard it as a sacred symbol.

Sources:

“Germany pushes for E.U.-wide law on Holocaust denial”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Germany), January 19, 2007

“Hindus oppose swastika ban in E.U.”
Press Trust of India, January 18, 2007


RACISM

L.A. Targets Gangs for Hate Crimes

The Southern Poverty Law Center says a powerful Latino gang based in the California prison system has widened its feud with a rival African American gang, and is now engaged in an “ethnic cleansing” campaign that targets blacks indiscriminately.

The latest victim, 14-year-old Cheryl Green, was fatally shot after straying too close to the “forbidden line” that divided her neighborhood down the middle, NBC4 in Los Angeles reports. Race-based attacks there have spiked in the past few years, and state and federal agencies are teaming up for a crackdown.

Sources:

“L.A. blackout”
Intelligence Report (Southern Poverty Law Center), Winter 2007

“Injunction to be filed against 204th street gang”
NBC4.TV (Los Angeles), January 19, 2007

“No age of innocence in gangland’s turf war”
New York Times, January 21, 2007


MIDDLE EAST: DEMOCRACY

The Loyal Opposition in Iraq, Lebanon

A new organization of 500 Sunni scholars and clerics have vowed to stand with Iraqi officials and Shiites to “close the gaps and divisions among the Sunni authorities,” according to United Press International.

The move puts them in potential conflict with the Sunni Islamic Scholars Association, Iraq’s highest Sunni authority and a dedicated opponent of the government and the political process.

In Lebanon, a tax to privatize key industries and secure new loans for debt relief drew opposition from a coalition of Hizbollah, Christian, Druze, Sunni and leftist partisans. They say the tax will harm already-impoverished Lebanese, and neglects development and agricultural needs.

Sources:

“New religious Sunni group declared in Iraq”
United Press International, January 19, 2007

“Lebanon’s new battleground”
Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), January 18-24, 2007

“Donors promise generosity in Paris despite turmoil in Beirut”
The Daily Star (Lebanon), January 25, 2006


NATION

Redwood Protections Run Deep

Protections woven into the deeds on 200,000 acres of old-growth redwood trees in Northern California may come in handy now that their owner, Pacific Lumber, has filed for bankruptcy. Taxpayers put up $480 million in 1999 to protect the smaller Headwaters Grove, but the deal came with extensive habitat protections covering the rest of the property.

U.S. Attorneys “Fired” by White House

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the federal attorneys who prosecuted the BALCO steroids case and the bribery trial of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham have been forced to resign. She blames a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the president to replace U.S. attorneys at any time, and seeks its repeal.

Christians-Only Health Plan Stands

A cost-sharing medical program that covers 19,000 churchgoers, and collected $42.8 million in monthly premiums in 2005, can continue to operate in Kentucky. A court rule that the plan is not health insurance, does not guarantee payment of medical bills, and is not subject to regulation. Critics say this may be confusing to some customers, the Associated Press reports.

Sources:

“Redwood protections expected to stand”
San Jose Mercury News, January 21, 2007

“U.S. attorney was forced out, Feinstein says”
San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2007

“Judge says Christian health plan OK in Ky.”
Associated Press, January 19, 2007


COMMENTARY

Lawyers Bashed for Representing Guantanamo Detainees

A Pentagon official apologized for what two Atlanta law firms called a “crass attempt at economic blackmail.” But a columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution says Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Charles Stimson should be fired for suggesting that the firms, which provide pro bono representation to Guantanamo inmates, were taking money from terrorists.

Source:

“U.S. official terrorizes Atlanta firms”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 18, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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