Friday morning roundup

Culture

Gallic heartthrob Vincent Cassel makes a splash in movie theaters for a second week in a row with the premiere of “Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1,” the second film in Jean-Francois Richet’s gangster epic based on the true story of one of Europe’s most infamous criminals. Read All »

Thursday morning roundup

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell. Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Security

Here we go again. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the State Department this morning for the formal commencement of direct peace negotiations. While the resumption of talks is seen as a diplomatic win for the Obama administration, the expectations for a breakthrough remain low.

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Wednesday morning roundup

Security

President Obama formally declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq on Tuesday night. Thanking the troops for “a job well done,” the president was careful not to declare a victory in the seven-and-a-half-year conflict, and stressed the importance of “turning the page” to focus on rebuilding the U.S. economy. The New York Times editorial board offered some sobering figures regarding the war’s casualties this morning, “including one number that American politicians are loath to mention: at least 100,000 Iraqis dead.”

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Tuesday morning roundup

Culture

Cinephiles and celebrities converge in Italy for the 67th Venice Film Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday. The shortlist of films in the running for top prizes includes Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and Julian Schnabel’s “Miral.” Coincidentally, Schnabel’s movie about a Palestinian orphan in war-torn Jerusalem is set to premiere on Sept. 2, the same day that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to resume in Washington, D.C.

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Friday morning round-up

Security

It’s been a busy and mystifying few days in North Korea. First, ex-president Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang to secure the release of an American jailed there for trespassing. Then, during the visit, North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, secreted in his bullet-proof train to China, where he presumably sought the support of Chinese officials for his son and chosen successor. Now, Carter has not only secured the release of the American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, but also a commitment from North Korea to resume multilateral talks over its nuclear program.

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Thursday morning round-up

Photo: AquaBounty

Security

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly traveled on his secret, bullet-proof train to China, even as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visits the country to secure the release of a jailed American. The visit stoked speculation in the South Korean media that Kim may have been seeking the support of his country’s closest and most powerful ally for his heir-apparent son, Kim Jong-un.

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Wednesday morning round-up

Security

Former President Jimmy Carter will fly to North Korea in the next several days to seek the release of an American imprisoned there for illegally entering the country, South Korean media and Foreign Policy magazine reported on Tuesday. The State Department would neither confirm nor deny the reports, but hinted that such a mission would be a “humanitarian” one, and that Carter would go as a private citizen. The U.S. has already sent a secret team of negotiators to Pyongyang to secure the release of the American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, but made little progress.

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Tuesday morning round-up

Security

Gunmen stormed a hotel near the presidential palace in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Tuesday, killing as many as 33 people, including six members of parliament. The attackers were dressed as Somali government soldiers and, upon approaching the building, began firing on the guards. One blew himself up inside the hotel. The Al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The group had already waged a first wave of attacks against Somali targets on Monday, bringing the two-day death toll to at least 70. As Need to Know has reported, Al Shabab has also claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Uganda in July that killed at least 64, and the group proudly boasts of its ties to Al Qaeda.

Culture

The complicated legal case involving the street artist Shepard Fairey and the photograph of then-Sen. Barack Obama that he transformed into his famous “Hope” poster got a little less complicated on Tuesday. The photographer who took the shot, Mannie Garcia, dropped a lawsuit against the Associated Press, who he said had improperly claimed copyright over the photo. Garcia contended that he was not working for the AP when he took the photo, and that the copyright was actually his. Despite Garcia’s decision, the legal battle over the poster itself drags on. Fairey and AP are set to go to court in March 2010 over the rights to the photo. Fairey sued the AP in 2008, and the news agency then countersued.

Environment

The massive egg recall that has flummoxed federal regulators and sickened thousands with salmonella has apparently had at least one positive outcome: More consumers seem to be getting their produce from farmers markets. Sales of eggs at co-ops and roadside stands rose over the weekend after news of the outbreak spread. More than 550 million eggs have been recalled, and the head of the Food and Drug administration has said that she would like more regulatory authority to prevent future incidents, including the power to mandate recalls. Members of Congress are also questioning the spotty track record of the Iowa egg producers at the center of the recall, and the FDA’s role in policing them.

Health

A federal judge has issued an injunction temporarily blocking an Obama administration policy that would expand the use of human embryos in stem cell research. Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court said the plaintiffs, two adult embryonic stem cell researchers, had standing to proceed with their case. The researchers had argued that the new rules would increase competition for already-scarce federal funding. They were joined by a Christian organization that argued that the new law violated federal prohibitions against the destruction of human embryos in federally funded research.

Economy

American International Group, the massive insurer that nearly went under during the financial crisis, has repaid nearly $4 billion of the more than $180 the federal government committed to prop up the company as part of its effort to stabilize troubled investment houses. The $4 billion repayment brings AIG’s overall debt to the taxpayers down to just below $100 billion, though analysts say the company is on track to return as much as half of that sum. The news of AIG’s bailout repayment came on the same day that the Federal Reserve cut its line of credit to the insurer by $3.6 — which may sound bad, but actually signifies the government’s confidence in AIG.

Monday late edition

Tainted eggs. Photo: AP/Reed Saxon

Chilean miners trapped for months

Relief workers in Chile continued their dramatic effort to rescue 33 miners trapped more than 2,300 feet below the surface, in a collapsed mine just north of the mineral-rich city of Copiapó. The miners were trapped there on August 5th after the roof of the shaft partially collapsed. Officials say it will take at least four months to drill a new hole large enough to lift the 33 miners to safety — but the miners themselves have not been told of their fates. Aid workers, meanwhile, have been lowering capsules of supplies and liquid nutrients to the miners through an 8 centimeter-wide tube. Experts warn that the psychological toll of living in isolation for four months could be extreme.

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