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College fires professor; views on Israel blamed

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© Salon/iStockphoto
CUNY graduate student Kristofer Petersen-Overton.
Pro-Palestinian adjunct professor preemptively fired by Brooklyn College, which struggles to explain why

An adjunct political science professor was fired Wednesday by Brooklyn College following complaints by a student and a local politician about his pro-Palestinian political views.

The college maintains the instructor, graduate student Kristofer Petersen-Overton, was let go because he did not have proper credentials to teach a master's level course on Middle East politics. But there's evidence that other graduate students with the same level of experience as Petersen-Overton have had no trouble teaching advanced courses in the department both in the past and the present.

And now a group of Brooklyn College professors are blasting the administration for undermining academic freedom.

Here is what happened:

Petersen-Overton, a political science student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, was looking for a course to teach in the spring, and he heard about an opening at Brooklyn College, which is part of the CUNY [City University of New York] system. Petersen-Overton had a B.A. in political science from San Diego State and a masters in development from a university in Denmark. He has published several articles about Israel and the Palestinians in academic journals and books. He also previously worked at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza NGO, in 2007-08. He started his studies at CUNY in 2009.

He got the part-time adjunct professor's job at Brooklyn College to teach Middle East politics, a master's level course that is regularly offered in the political science department. That was in late December. The acting chair of the department, who had hired him, asked Petersen-Overton to send him a syllabus to circulate to prospective students.

That's when the trouble began.

Brick Wall

Arab governments in the region are wary of demonstrations spreading to their countries: Saudi Arabia Slammed Protesters in Egypt as "Infiltrators"

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates -- Saudi Arabia slammed protesters in Egypt as "infiltrators" who seek to destabilize their country, and a top Palestinian official affirmed "solidarity" with Egypt on Saturday, while an Iranian official called on Egypt to "abide by the rightful demands of the nation" and avoid violent reactions.

Saudi King Abdullah called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and "was reassured" about the situation in Egypt, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.
Saudi Obama
© CNN
The President of the United States Barack Obama bows to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the 2009 G20 summit.
"During the call, the king said, 'Egypt is a country of Arabism and Islam. No Arab and Muslim human being can bear that some infiltrators, in the name of freedom of expression, have infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilize its security and stability and they have been exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction, intimidation, burning, looting and inciting a malicious sedition,'" the news agency said.

Saudi Arabia "strongly condemns" the protest, it said.

Health

Flu Epidemic Shuts all Moscow Schools

nurse/schoolchildren
© AFP
Moscow and two other cities shut their schools for a week Saturday and urged children not to play in groups in a bid to stamp out the worst flu outbreak to hit central Russia in more than a decade.

The Moscow education department's order covered more than 1,500 public and private elementary schools.

Education officials said this meant that nearly 500,000 children would get an unscheduled week-long vacation in the first such shutdown to strike the Russian capital since 1998.

"Even today, some classes are already missing half their students," an official with Moscow's health control service told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

"The situation in Moscow is relatively favourable compared to what it is in the other regions" of central Russia, Alexander Gavrilov said.

Moscow's kindergartens would remain open and older children would not be affected. But officials have issued instruction for parents to take extra care with younger children and avoid spending too much time with them in public places.

Alarm Clock

UK consumer confidence suffers 'astonishing collapse'

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© PHOTOLIBRARY
The survey found that people were keener to save and create a safety net if harder times arrive.
Britons' confidence in the economy and their finances has suffered its biggest drop in close to 20 years, raising fears that the Government's austerity onslaught will set off a self-feeding downward spiral.

The most closely-watched barometer of consumer confidence revealed an "astonishing collapse" in January as the VAT rise took effect, according to market research group GfK NOP.

The first taste of the fiscal tightening to have a widespread impact on consumers appeared to have hit sentiment hard, researchers said, even before the full impact of the public spending cuts is felt.

"In the 35 years since the index began, confidence has only slumped this much on six occasions, the last being in the midst of the 1992 recession," said Nick Moon, managing director at GfK NOP Social Research. "Today's figures, when combined with the bleak economic forecast, will make talk of a double-dip recession unavoidable."

The eight-point plunge in optimism took the barometer's headline reading to -29, the lowest since March 2009, when the UK was mired deep in the last recession.

Their findings will prompt more questions as to whether the Coalition risks tipping the economy back into recession through its programme of tax rises and spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit.

Family

Dramatic Rise in Church Foreclosures Nationwide

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Last spring Calvary Baptist Church in Paterson, N.J., faced foreclosure after it was unable to pay its $30,000 per month mortgage.

The strain of possible financial ruin and even shutting the church after 125 years, tested the faith of its congregants and the senior minister, Rev. Dr. Albert Rowe.

"[The bank] filed the papers," Rowe said. "There was a date set for us to have a hearing but I did not think that we would lose the church ... I always had faith that, you want to call it a miracle, or something would happen. I always believed that."

Calvary isn't alone in its financial predicament.

Vader

New York Times: Democracy is Bad for US Foreign Policy

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© Latuff

Here's New York Times reporter Mark Landler on Washington's reaction to the popular uprising in Egypt against the anti-liberal democratic, human rights-abusing Hosni Mubarak, a "staunch ally."

Washington is "proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests."

In other words, democracy and human rights are fine, but not when strategic and commercial interests are at stake.

Landler goes on to say that Washington's cold-eyed commitment to realpolitik and profits "sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments - which has turned many of those young people against the United States."

Well, there's nothing amiss in Landler's observation except his downplaying of the frequency with which Washington supports autocratic and unpopular governments - often rather than sometimes.

Dollar

Hawaii bill would charge $100 for Obama birth info

obama,hawaii
© Unknown

Honolulu - Hawaii's government would charge $100 for a copy of President Barack Obama's birth records under a bill introduced in the state Legislature by five Democrats. The bill would change a privacy law barring the release of birth records unless the requester is someone with a tangible interest, such as a close family member or a court.

The measure hasn't been scheduled for a public hearing, a required step before it can move forward. A decision on considering the bill will be made by the House's Democratic leadership and committee chairmen.

The idea behind the measure is to end skepticism over Obama's birthplace while raising a little money for a government with a projected budget deficit exceeding $800 million over the next two years.

"If it passes, it will calm the birthers down," said the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Rida Cabanilla. "All these people are still doubting it because they don't want the birth certificate from Obama. They want it from our state office."

So-called "birthers" claim there's no proof Obama was born in the United States, and he is therefore ineligible to be president. Many of the skeptics question whether he was actually born in Kenya, his father's home country.

The Obama campaign issued a certification of live birth in 2008, an official document from the state showing the president's Aug. 4, 1961, birth date, his birth city and name, and his parents' names and races.

Cell Phone

Stephen Glover: How Rupert Murdoch Lost Control of His Own Story

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© Richard Clement/Reuters
Rupert Murdoch has extended his stay in London to deal with the phone-hacking crisis.
He doesn't need to prove that Brooks knew about phone hacking to conclude that she's not the person to sort out the mess

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal is spinning out of control. The damage it will cause seems likely to spread far wider than News International, the newspaper's parent company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, though obviously it lies at the centre of the storm.

David Cameron's political reputation is at risk for having hired as his spin doctor Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World when phone hacking took place. If Mr Coulson should be implicated - seemingly an increasingly likely outcome now that its former news editor Ian Edmondson is helping police with their inquiries - the Prime Minister's judgement and good sense will be seriously questioned.

Sherlock

Sundance Film Shows Corporate Influence on Justice

Susan Saladoff
© unknown
Susan Saladoff
A former lawyer has thrown a spotlight on the cash-fueled influence which big business has on America's judicial system, in a revealing film unveiled at the Sundance film festival.

Hot Coffee is named after the infamous case where fast-food giant McDonalds was forced to pay 2.8 million dollars to a woman who burnt herself with one of its drinks.

In the documentary Susan Saladoff, a lawyer of 25 years' standing, explains how America's corporate giants got their act together after the 1994 McDonald's case, pushing for laws to restrict consumers' right to sue them.

On the pretext of limiting so-called "justice jackpot" or "legal lottery" payouts, corporate bosses want consumers "to give up their rights to the court system, voluntarily, so the corporations can make more money," said Saladoff.

With multi-million dollar campaigns, major business groups have managed to get ceilings fixed in several states on the level of damages if a company is convicted, taking away juries' traditional right to set compensation.

Light Saber

Middle East: the Undoing of America's Mendacious Foreign Policy

masses of people
© Unknown

There may be plumes of acrid smoke rising from burning tyres in cities across the Middle East, but there is the discernible whiff of something else - fear. And it is not so much fear among the tens of thousands of people who are taking to the streets facing down paramilitary police forces in Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere to protest against their governments. It is rather more the fear among the rulers of these unwieldy regimes - a fear, or at least grave concern, that must also be seeping into the corridors of power in Washington and other Western capitals.

Dozens of protesters have been killed or injured by police firing on civilians inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, which has seen the president of that country fleeing to neigbouring Saudi Arabia. Egypt - the most populous of the 22 League of Arab countries and a crucial pillar of US foreign policy architecture in the Middle East - is now the focal point for the wave of street demonstrations sweeping the region. At least four people have been killed in that country and over 700 arrested in the past few days as thousands of citizens pour on to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other major Egyptian cities in defiance of a government ban on such demonstrations. Like their counterparts in Tunisia and other Arab countries, the protesters in Egypt are demanding the overthrow of the government - and not just the figureheads like Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, but the entire ruling elite.

Despite the vicious repression of these regimes and the evident ease of deploying lethal force, the people are refusing to be intimidated off the streets. There is a palpable sense of momentum for long-overdue radical change in the region ­ - driven by decades of frustration and anger with the rulers of these countries over a raft of social and political issues. There could hardly be a more comprehensive checklist of causes for revolutionary upheaval: massive poverty, unemployment and lack of housing, education, health, free speech, labour rights, voting rights - a veritable tinderbox of grievances all compressed beneath an egregiously wealthy elite who continue to sit on this incendiary mass only by the use of brutal state security apparatus. Notably, most informed sources agree that it is not Islamic fundamentalism fuelling the widespread popular unrest, but rather it is simple economic and social injustice and desire for basic democratic rights.