AWOL Newswire


Last spring, we printed a page of “Forgotten Current Events.” We’ve decided to make it a regular feature—each issue highlighting a group of ongoing current events that haven’t gotten the media attention they deserve, and adding neglected context to public discourse on important issues.

Coup in Honduras

On June 28, armed Honduran soldiers entered the bedroom of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, stirring the president from his sleep and forcing him onto a plane to Costa Rica. The military then installed a new leader — the first Central American coup in 25 years. Since then, the coup regime has imposed curfews, made hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, shut down TV stations, cracked down on protests, and carried out several extrajudicial executions. Despite tepid pressure on the coup government from the Obama administration, the status quo has quickly normalized. Roberto Michelleti, leader of the coup government, is usually given the neutral term “interim president” or “de facto president” in the press. The media has also provided unquestioning coverage of negotiations between Zelaya and the coup regime, as if an elected president and the parties who violently forced him from his office can engage on a level playing field. -Chris Lewis


This year, drought has again struck East Africa, making millions dependent on food aid. The situation is most dire in Somalia, where half the population relies on international aid for basic sustenance, one in five children face acute malnutrition, and over a million people have been displaced by conflict in the country. The United Nations received less than half the money it asked for in its latest appeal, leading many aid workers to predict that food aid will run out in November, which would leave many of the hungry with no recourse. Aid workers are also at risk of being kidnapped while operating in the country, with over a dozen in captivity. Lacking a central government since 1991, Somalia is mired in a civil conflict between rival Islamic groups, clan militias, and the internationally backed government. The food shortage will likely worsen the course of the conflict in the coming months, causing many to dub this Somalia’s worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years. -Mike Lally

Water Found on Moon, Mars

In July, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed the presence of water in a soil sample, a breakthrough that came after months of probing and testing the Martian soil. In September, mere months later, NASA made another incredible discovery when water was found to exist all over the surface of the moon, not only in polar craters as was previously thought. These discoveries have the possibility to completely reshape our understandings of both the moon and Mars. In the words of Jack Burns, chair of the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee, “In my mind this is possibly the most significant discovery about the moon since the Apollo era.” In an era that has seen NASA’s budget increasingly constrained, perhaps these two discoveries might reopen the nation’s treasury to scientific pursuit. –Peter Harrison

Obama and Civil Liberties

President Obama announced to much fanfare last January that he would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a dramatic about-face from the policy of George W. Bush. But when it comes to civil liberties-related cases currently in the federal court system, the Obama Administration has barely diverted from the legal strategy promulgated by the Bush Administration. The Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder has discouraged the Supreme Court from considering the case of the Uighers penned up at Gitmo, and has claimed the “state secrets” privilege in cases related to extraordinary rendition and illegal surveillance and wiretapping. Additionally, the White House has consistently opposed investigating past abuses by the C.I.A. and N.S.A., and now appears ready to support reauthorization of significant portions of the Patriot Act. Obama’s forceful stance against torture is something to be commended, but we are a long way away from restoring the rule of law in this country. -Steve Spires

The New Colonists

Last month’s massacre of over 150 people in Conakry, Guinea elicited a surprisingly rapid response from the Obama administration. The massacre, conducted by the troops of Guinea’s iron-fisted military dictator, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, gave the world an abhorrent display of human baseness. Soldiers raped woman in public and, in some cases, used their rifles as tools of penetration; the scene was especially revolting for a Muslim country such as this one. But behind the scenes of the administration’s human rights PR campaign across the continent, the U.S. has failed to speak out against new colonists: China. In an effort to strengthen its economic foothold throughout Africa, China made a seven billion dollar deal with Camara’s government to mine bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminum. Guinea currently remains one of the most under-developed countries in Africa. In deals with countries like Sudan and Congo, the Chinese economic presence has provided minimal support for local infrastructure, which these countries desperately need. -Alex Burchfield

The Real Poverty Rate?

The U.S. census bureau reported in October that the nation’s poverty rate rose to 13.2% in 2008, the highest level in 11 years. The New York Times writes that economists say the poverty rate “portends even larger increases this year.” There are currently 39.8 million Americans living below the poverty line of $22,025 a year for a family of four. However, the federal poverty line is a misleading standard of economic well-being. According to Katie Beran in Z Magazine, “a family in Madison [Wisconsin] consisting of two adults and two children needed an annual income of $47,667 in 2004, just to meet the basic threshold of economic self-sufficiency.” For families in Manhattan, the necessary baseline income was $78,741. Beran writes that according to the Economic Policy Institute, “42 percent of families living in cities and 30 percent of families residing in rural areas fall short of basic family self-sufficiency thresholds.” While the increasing poverty rate certainly signifies hard times for more Americans, tracking the number of families earning less than $22,025 is no way to provide a complete picture of hardship. -Chris Lewis