Articles of Interest, June 17, 2008

Israel carries out regular raids into Gaza to counter Hamas rocket fire

Israel and Hamas ‘agree truce’

Israel and militant group Hamas have agreed on a truce starting this Thursday, a senior Hamas official has told the BBC.

The official said he was confident all militant groups in Gaza would abide by the agreement, brokered by Egypt.

There has been no confirmation of the deal from Israel.

Earlier at least six Palestinians were reportedly killed in Israeli air strikes in southern Gaza. Israel said it had targeted “terror operatives”.

Islamic Jihad said a missile struck a car carrying five of its members near Khan Younis. A sixth man died in a separate strike nearby.

The first stage of the deal reportedly reached between Hamas and Israel envisages a halt to hostilities and a partial reopening Gaza’s borders.

A second stage of the plan would focus on the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and on a deal to reopen the main Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Hamas official Ahmed Yousef told the BBC he hoped that the ceasefire would lead to a further opening of the crossing points from Israel into Gaza, and an increase in the number of supplies.

He said that the aim now was to push ahead talks on a prisoner exchange, as well as a new round of talks in Cairo between the rival Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas.

Al Gore backs Obama for president

Story Highlights

  • In front of thousands of cheering supporters, Gore made his ’08 election debut
  • Gore: America cannot withstand another four years like the previous eight
  • The Nobel Prize winner drew a connection between JFK and Obama
  • Gore’s support carries significant weight, analysts say

(CNN) — Former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday, urging Americans to reject what he called the Bush administration’s legacy of “incompetence, negligence and failure.”

In Detroit on Monday, Al Gore endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president.

“Americans simply cannot afford to continue the policies of the last eight years for another four,” Gore, the party’s 2000 presidential nominee, told Obama supporters at a rally in Detroit, Michigan.

Perceived as a senior statesman in the Democratic party, Gore brings a certain force to Obama’s campaign, political analysts have said.

Monday marked Gore’s debut in the 2008 election; he had not weighed in while Obama was still battling Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Amid thousands of cheering supporters, Gore began by addressing head-on the criticism that Obama doesn’t have enough experience to lead the nation.

The former vice president turned Nobel Prize winner playfully said he recalled one Republican nominee wondering out loud whether his Democratic rival for president was “naive and inexperienced.”

“And yet another said the United States cannot afford to risk the future of the free world with inexperience and immaturity in the White House,” said Gore. “Who were they talking about? Every single one of those quotes came from the campaign of 1960, when the the Republicans attacked John Fitzgerald Kennedy for allegedly lacking the age and experience necessary to be president.”

Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee in 1960.

Police: Father believed to have beaten tot

Story Highlights

  • Man beat child behind pickup truck on dark, rural California road
  • Passing motorists tried to stopped beating, called police
  • Police shot and killed Sergio Aguilar, 27
  • Firefighter thought child was dead animal in road

TURLOCK, California (AP) — Police on Monday identified a man who was fatally shot by an officer for allegedly refusing to stop beating a toddler to death along a remote road.


Sergio Casian Aguilar, 27, was killed by a police officer while he beat a toddler on a California road.

Sergio Casian Aguilar, 27, parked his truck on an unlit road Saturday night, removed a 2-year-old boy from his car seat and proceeded to stomp, kick and punch the boy to death, authorities said. The boy was unrecognizable when he was pronounced dead at Emanuel Medical Center, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said.

Authorities have not released the boy’s name but say they believe he was Aguilar’s son. The Stanislaus County coroner and the California Department of Justice are testing DNA to confirm the relationship.

Several motorists called 911 and tried to stop the beating, authorities said.

Dan Robinson, a local volunteer fire department chief, told The Modesto Bee that at first glance, he thought the child was a dead animal in the road. He said when he realized it was a child, he tried to stop Aguilar. Video Watch why beating stunned police »

He said Aguilar had a “total hollowness in his eyes” and talked calmly of the boy being filled with “demons.”

Witness Lisa Mota told the San Francisco Chronicle that Aguilar told people who tried to stop him that the boy was “trash.”

Newly-found planets make case for ‘crowded universe’

Story Highlights

  • It’s the first time three planets close to Earth’s size are found orbiting a single star
  • Mass of the smallest of the planets is about four times the size of Earth
  • They are much too hot to support life
  • Astronomer: “Planets are out there. They’re all over the place”

WASHINGTON (AP) — European astronomers have found a trio of “super-Earths” closely circling a star that astronomers once figured had nothing orbiting it.

The discovery may mean the universe is teeming with far more planets than previously thought.

The discovery demonstrates that planets keep popping up in unexpected places around the universe.

The announcement is the first time three planets close to Earth’s size were found orbiting a single star, said Swiss astronomer Didier Queloz.

He was part of the Swiss-French team using the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in the desert in Chile.

The mass of the smallest of the super-Earths is about four times the size of Earth.

That may seem like a lot, but they are quite a bit closer in size and likely composition to Earth than the giants in Earth’s solar system — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

They are much too hot to support life, Queloz said.

Obama calls absent black fathers to task

Story Highlights

  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee spoke at Chicago church
  • Obama: Some fathers “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys”
  • Spoke of personal experience growing up without a father
  • Obama urged black parents to demand the best from themselves, their children

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — Barack Obama celebrated Father’s Day by calling on black fathers, who he said are “missing from too many lives and too many homes,” to become active in raising their children.


Black fathers are “missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Barack Obama said Sunday.

“They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it,” the Democratic presidential candidate said Sunday at a largely black church in his hometown.

Reminding the congregation of his firsthand experience growing up without a father, Obama said he was lucky to have loving grandparents who helped his mother. He got support, second chances and scholarships that helped him get an education. Obama’s father left when he was 2.

“A lot of children don’t get those chances. There is no margin for error in their lives,” said Obama, an Illinois senator.

“I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle — that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls,” added Obama, whose daughters, Sasha and Malia, and his wife, Michelle, watched from the audience.

Obama’s appearance at the Apostolic Church of God was his first address to a church since he ended his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, where he had worshipped for 20 years, following inflammatory remarks there by his former longtime pastor and others.

Obama frequently emphasized the importance of God in his life and ended the speech by asking the congregation to “Pray for me. Pray for Michelle.”

Obama often speaks about the importance of parental involvement. In Washington, he sponsored legislation to get more child support money to children by offering a tax credit for fathers who pay support, more efficient collection and penalties for fathers who don’t meet their obligations. Is Obama right?

The issue adds to his family values credentials and lets voters see him delivering a stern message to black voters.

“We can’t simply write these problems off to past injustices,” Obama said Sunday. “Those injustices are real. There’s a reason our families are in disrepair … but we can’t keep using that as an excuse.”

Obama urged black parents to demand the best from themselves and their children.

Civic Involvement: An Islamic Imperative

Muslims have to build social and political networks in order to improve the condition of society, argue two leading American scholars


Improving the world in which we live is an Islamic imperative. God says in the Qur’an, “You are the best of communities brought forth for mankind.” (3:110) Abu Su’ud describes this verse in his commentary: This means the best people for others. This is an unambiguous expression which states that the good [mentioned here] lies in benefit provided to the people. This is also understood from the expression, “brought forth for mankind” -namely, brought forth to benefit them and advance their best interests.[1]

Our Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said, “God will continue to assist the servant, as long as the servant is assisting his brother.”[2] We can thereby understand that divine aid and succor will accrue to this community as long as we are providing the same to fellow members of the human family.

Historical basis for involvement

In today’s socio-political environment, concern and benefit can be understood as civic involvement. The word “civic” is derived from the word “city.” Hence, civic involvement refers to the meaningful ways in which a private citizen is best involved in the life of his or her city. Despite its appearance in a largely agrarian context, if we consider the nature of the dominant means of economic production at the time of its emergence, Islam is best associated with the city. Our Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, is identified with the city. God mentions in the Qur’an, “I swear by this city, and you are a free man of this city.” (90:1-2)

The Prophet’s migration was from Mecca to Medina, from one city to another. Islamic learning and culture is associated with great cities -Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Isfahan, Samarqand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Qayrawan, Fez, Cordova, Seville, Granada, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Zabid, Timbuktu, Delhi, and many others.

It was the involvement of Muslims in the lives of these cities, many of which were established before the arrival of Islam, which defined them in their historical contexts. As Muslims, our involvement in the life of our cities should similarly leave a lasting and positive mark on them. Surely we have much to offer in that regard. It is not without purpose that God has placed us in significant numbers in and around the great metropolises of America. Now is the time for our constructive involvement in the lives of these cities to commence.

Such involvement is especially critical in these times of political transformation and the redefinition of both the role and scope of government here in America. As the two major political parties become increasingly responsive to special interest groups, particularly those associated with big business, large unions, and wealthy individuals, their role as facilitators of democratic and civic involvement is being eroded. This shift in responsiveness is leading to what is referred to as a dealignment of those parties. This dealignment causes private citizens to search for new institutions to serve as their primary means of political involvement, which consequently results in the proliferation of smaller, grassroots civic organizations. The collective weight of these organizations and their facilitation of direct citizen involvement in local politics is viewed by some as the reinventing of American democracy.[3]

Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol

Silicon Valley is experimenting with bacteria that have been genetically altered to provide ‘renewable petroleum’

Some diesel fuel produced by genetically modified bugs

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

Ending the mess with Motown

Written By: Paul Porter 12 Jun 2008

Ashanti and Motown Records “Gotcha Gram” is another prime example on what is wrong with the music industry. Once again Ashanti and black America has fallen for the black music trick. Just like poor schools, food stamps, incarceration, police brutality and BET, black America has been sucked in to it’s perception. If you watch your local news or get a look at America’s only black network BET you’ll understand the media perception.

After selling millions of records and singing every hook for Ja Rule and a cast of rappers, Ashanti’s star might be fading. A summer single release falls on deaf ears. Then panic sets in and it’s time for another shock and awe gimmick. In comes a Motown marketing exec with a concept that is different from everything Ashanti has done with a promise her sales will flourish. Another big budget video that has no connection to the songs lyrics. You see promoting a series of wrong songs with hellacious videos is the norm not the exception.
That’s the story hip hop has been selling for well over a decade. If it’s not violent, misogynistic or materialistic the industry is not going for it or BET won’t play it and most of all the 70% white audience of hip hop won’t buy it.

Ashanti’s publicist and Motown tried the disclaimers of it being a parody, or comparisons to SNL or some Oxygen shows. That doesn’t fly in this case, Ashanti’s fan base is young black girls and boys that can’t grasp the logic of a parody or watch SNL or Oprah’s Oxygen. They simply logged on and picked there weapon of choice.

The same old moans for parental guidance, free speech and artistic creativity are missing my point of corporate responsibility. If Imus says something fowl, black, white and of course the mainstream press are quick to react. If BET has a three hour marathon called “Slapping My Hoe’s” nobody say’s a word. It seems like the perception is a reality regarding hip hop’s lower standards.

The thing we don’t see or read about is the systematic machine that profits from hip hop. Television will make you believe that Russell Simmons is the authority, when in fact Simmons has not had a record deal in over ten years.

On Tuesday, CNN’s American Morning jumped at a segment on Ashanti’s “Gotcha Gram” that featured a black reporter commenting on Ashanti’s project. Black artist, black reporter and another black problem.

Anyone in the music business knows the names Cohen, Bronfman, Iovine or Morris. Have you ever witnessed a story regarding hip hop that had one white executive?

It’s time black America stops making excuses because you’re being pimped. The “Gotcha Gram” is shut down after a threat of a NBA Finals protest. The shame is Motown and Ashanti still don’t get it. Negative imagery and foul content in hip hop is king , unless your singing the National Anthem Sunday before the Celtics and Lakers tip off.

Boondocks vs. BET, Round II

The battle between “The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder and Black Entertainment Television is about to get a lot more animated.

Two second-season episodes of the biting cartoon series that attack the black-themed network but were never aired, possibly because of corporate pressure, are slated for DVD release today. The pair of shows take aim at BET’s top executives and lampoon what it views as the cable network’s harmful negative imagery and stereotypes that work as a “destructive” force within African-American culture.

The episodes amplify a familiar chord struck by McGruder, who has regularly targeted BET, first in his politically and culturally charged comic strip and subsequently in the TV adaptation on Cartoon Network’s edgy late-night programming block, Adult Swim.

But these particular installments, which like many in the animated series feature violence, foul language and frequent use of the N-word, apparently went too far in mocking BET’s top brass. In “The Hunger Strike,” a main character refuses to eat until BET is off the air and its executives commit hara-kiri.

And in “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show,” a foul-mouthed black man who hates African-Americans gets a show on BET. When BET executives learned of the shows, they complained to Turner-owned Cartoon Network and Sony Pictures Television, which produces “The Boondocks,” and urged that they be blocked from broadcast, according to sources close to the program who requested anonymity for fear of network reprisal.

At first Cartoon Network resisted, but when legal action was threatened, the episodes, written by McGruder and co-executive producer Rodney Barnes, were yanked, according to sources. Both McGruder and Barnes declined to comment.

Executives at Turner and Viacom-owned BET, however, deny there were any discussions about removing the programs between the two companies. Still, Turner officials would not explain why the two installments were eventually withheld.

Both episodes are highlighted by fierce satirical attacks on two top BET executives, portrayed in thinly disguised caricatures.

Chairman and chief executive Debra L. Lee, who succeeded the network’s founder, Robert Johnson, is shown as Debra Leevil, patterned after “Dr. Evil” in the “Austin Powers” films. Leevil declares in a staff meeting: “Our leader Bob Johnson had a dream, a dream that would accomplish what hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow and malt liquor could not accomplish — the destruction of black people.”

And BET president of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin is depicted as Wedgie Rudlin, a culturally insensitive buffoon coasting on his Ivy League education. The DVD release features stinging commentary from McGruder and Barnes about the episodes, which are uncut. In the introduction, McGruder said he went after BET because network executives, in his view, failed to elevate the network’s standards, something Hudlin had pointedly promised to do when joining the network three years ago.

Barnes added: “You expect white television to present black people in a particular way. The anger comes from black television portraying us in a particular way. That brings out a different sense of frustration, and at the heart of these episodes is that frustration.”

Mentoring a child can make the difference of a lifetime

I grew up in a healthy, wholesome, two-parent household. My parents were the consummate role models. They provided for all my needs.

Too many children, especially black ones, are growing up today without the love and nurturing of a single parent, much less two. The closest thing to a role model they have are the athletes and entertainers they see on television and music videos.

Without guidance and support, they are fighting a losing battle against drug abuse, teen violence and unwed pregnancy.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Each of us can do something to make these children’s lives better. We need more black people, especially black men, to take the time to mentor black youths. In many cases, it only takes an hour a week.

The lack of able and willing black mentors is not limited to Pensacola. It is a nationwide problem that can be easily solved if adults are willing to make the sacrifice.

There is a statewide movement to get every able black person to take children under their wing and help them rise to the heights of fulfillment and success.

Outrage mingled with fear

Community responds after children, 2 and 3, are shot

Talayha and her parents

At the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Tyria Reid and Tim Mable comfort daughter Talayha Mable, one of two toddlers shot in West Baltimore during a gang clash. (Sun photo by Monica Lopossay / June 10, 2008 )

The little girl in the hospital bed put on a brave face.

She said “cheese” when a photographer asked to take her picture yesterday. She tucked into a slice of pizza delivered by a nurse. When asked how she felt, she said, “Fine,” in that guarded, sing-song voice small children use with adults they don’t know.

But whenever Talayha Mable, who will be 4 years old on July 4, moved her right leg, she twisted her face and cried out as pain seared the spot where a bullet had torn through her calf in a drive-by shooting Monday. Close to tears, her mother kissed her forehead and told her to breathe deeply.

“She has a big gash – you can see the bone,” a sleepless Tyria Reid said after stepping outside the hospital room at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “But she was very brave. She kept telling me after it happened, ‘Mommy, you have to be brave – I’m not crying so you don’t cry.'”

Talayha’s 2-year-old neighbor Steven Cole Jr., who was also injured in the shooting in West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, was in the same ward, suffering from a bullet wound in the torso. Both children were listed in serious condition but described as stable.

The shootings of a pair of toddlers on a sweltering night in what Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said was a “cowardly” and “indiscriminate” gang-related act brought bursts of anger from residents of the rundown Warwick Apartments complex where the kids live, as well as from neighbors nearby.

The shootings, they said, illustrated the callousness of young criminals who fire randomly on civilians, regardless of their age.

Philadelphia owns up to more of its history of slavery

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Thousands of tourists watched last summer as archaeologists, working in the shadow of Independence Hall, unearthed remnants of the home where George Washington lived with his wife and several slaves.

Now, the city’s best-known Colonial-era church is dramatically bringing to light how slaves worshipped alongside parishioners like Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross.

Historians have long known that slaves attended Christ Church — and were baptized, married and buried there. But it has not been publicized much in Philadelphia, where all men were declared to be created equal.

“I think it’s the right time in our city’s history, it’s the right time in our nation’s history,” said Neil Ronk, a church historian and senior guide. “Maybe it can spark a discussion.”

Or continue one.

The city’s ties to slavery emerged in 2007 as an estimated 250,000 people witnessed the excavation of a slave passageway in the President’s House, where Washington lived while Philadelphia was the nation’s capital.

Then in March, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama gave a stirring speech on race relations at the National Constitution Center, just blocks from Independence Hall and the Christ Church burial ground.

The recent decision by church officials to spotlight the congregation’s slave past was spurred in part by the Episcopal Church’s 2006 Conference, which mandated “a full, faithful and informed” accounting of its history, Ronk said.

Founded in 1695, Christ Church was the first parish of the Church of England in Pennsylvania and the birthplace of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Tours are given daily, but special presentations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons offer slavery-related narratives.

Actress Diane Johnson portrays “Sarah,” a fictional slave who puts a human face on the grim statistics: In 1760, Philadelphia’s population was 11,000; about 1,100 were black, and nearly 900 of them were slaves.

Black Mormons straddle two worlds on 30th anniversary

Black mormon worship
Marshall, left, and Daniel Sleet keep their place in the hymnal Sunday during sacrament meeting at the Pagedale Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

For the past seven months, Richard Alexander and three other young Mormon missionaries have dressed up in white shirts and dark ties and knocked on doors in the neighborhoods where they live. In Alexander’s mission field — which includes University City, Vinita Park, Hanley Hills, Pagedale and Wellston — the face that greets the white 21-year-old is, more often than not, black. A welcome reception is not unusual. Many of the people he meets, Alexander says, are “open to listening.”

The presence of Mormon missionaries in black neighborhoods is a relatively new development for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a reason for the growing number of African-American Mormons.

The 13-million-member church does not keep statistics according to ethnicity, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is gradually recovering from a self-inflicted wound that many even within the church call racism. That evidence includes congregations popping up in urban areas, more black church leaders, a Grammy-winning Mormon gospel choir led by convert Gladys Knight and a booming presence in Ghana and Nigeria.

On Sunday, the church will celebrate the 30th anniversary of what Mormons believe was a revelation from God that allowed blacks to become fully participating members. It will be the first time the church leadership sponsors a commemoration of the revelation in Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle.

Utah itself — along with Donny and Marie Osmond and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — contributes to a common American perception that “Mormon” is a synonym for “white.”

For that reason, some blacks who are baptized Mormons struggle both inside and outside the church’s walls.

Inside the church, black Mormons say, they often sit in pews next to well-meaning white members who are ignorant of their own church’s racial history. Outside the church, black Mormons say, they are sometimes confronted by family and friends who want to know why they joined “a white church.”

“People think of it almost as a betrayal,” Ron Strawbridge said.

The 36-year-old computer programmer said about five other African-Americans are in the Webster Groves ward, or congregation, where he’s a member. When he first began investigating the church, friends and family told him the church “equals racism,” Strawbridge said. “They think by joining, you’re saying you’re better than them, that they’re not good enough for you.”

Nekisha Rhodes, a 26-year-old single mom and gospel singer from St. Louis, became a member of the church’s Lindell ward just over a year ago.

“Lots of my black friends came to me and said, ‘You know that church says blacks are cursed,'” Rhodes said.

She converted from her Baptist faith after missionaries visited her house and began talking to her about Mormonism. She prayed that she might comprehend her new church’s history and theology.

“I don’t understand it all, but I believe it all,” she said. “I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.”


One Comment

  1. There is an incredibly important article in the NYT today, 6/24, entitled “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama.”
    I think it’s absolutely vital that Bark Obama’s campaign take this issue very very seriously. Here Obama’s message of “hope, change and unity” will receive its most significant and potentially controversial test of authenticity. The Obama who’s been put out there would stand up, denounce generalizations that make all Muslims extremists, and bring this immense group (American, non-violent) (estimates between 2.56 – 6 million people) into the movement toward unity. If, as this article suggests, the Muslim community continues to feel snubbed by Obama, it will mean divisive, fear-based, ‘business-as-usual’ politics.

    As a Jewish person, I’m used to generalizations about my “peeps” affecting the way I am perceived. We know Muslim Americans are suffering because of the actions of some of their “peeps” in far-away places. We MUST bring American Muslims into our cause if we truly want the America Obama is fighting to create.


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