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Wall Street demonstrators occupy Halloween

March 3, 2012

New York City’s 39th annual Halloween parade witnesses an occupation

By Arushi Sharma

Demonstrators dress up for Halloween as the "blood-thirsty" 1 percent.

Every year the Greenwich Village Halloween parade hosts its fair share of skeletons and serial killers; this year it featured Occupy Wall Street protestors dressed as blood thirsty investment bankers and the omnipresent Guy Fawkes mask, which became extremely popular after Alan Moore’s graphic novel “V For Vendetta.”

Almost 200 wall street demonstrators joined the 39th annual New York City Halloween parade adorning costumes that reflected their ongoing protests against economic inequality. They even carried signs such as, “Eat the Poor,” “Repeal the Capital Brains Tax,” and “I’ll give you my money when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

Mahayana Landowne, a 20-year New York resident  is a theater director and an activist.

“I’ve been coming every week, whenever I can,” she said. “I heard people are organizing a fake protestor-police charade. I’m not sure about that because I’d much rather have it be about the message. But it’s still fun.”

Protestors singing and drumming in an effort to spread their message.

Landowne was also one of the 700 protestors arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge almost a month ago.

“Nobody was reporting it at all, but then that first girl got pepper sprayed and the media started to pick up on it,” she said.

This weekend was also one of the coldest Halloweens the city had seen. On Saturday, there was heavy snowfall and by Monday night, the temperature was in the high 30s.

“It started snowing heavily during the weekend,” Landowne said. “It’s crazy! I don’t remember any Halloween in the past being so cold.”

But the weather didn’t stop the protestors. Spirits were high as demonstrators mixed with the parade.

“I think my favorite were the Keystone Kops,” Landowne said. “I’m glad people could loosen up and have some fun.”

12 Days of Merriment in Georgetown!

December 12, 2011

D.C. celebrated its kick-off event for 12 Days of Merriment in Georgetown! It’s the start of  12 days of holiday shopping specials and events, $2 flat rate parking, dining specials, yuletide movie screening and more festive fun in DC’s best shopping neighborhood!

Events included the holiday-style “Don’t Forget the Lyrics”, fruitcake eating contests, gourmet hot cocoa tastings from some of Georgetown’s premier restaurants and sweetest shops, plus holiday karaoke and pet adoptions!

For more information, click here!

Religious intolerance on the rise, according to new Pew report

November 16, 2011

The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a panel of speakers to discuss how to best engage religious leaders in efforts to advance conflict management and peacebuilding.

By Arushi Sharma

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) held a panel discussion to reflect on the relationship between religion and peacekeeping after a new Pew Research Center report stated that almost one-third of the world’s population lives in countries where governments are methodically limiting freedom of religion.

The data in the study spans from 2006-2009, and uses criteria such as “government crackdowns on religion and social hostility”, including religious-motivated prejudice and any form of violence, to determine which countries were the least tolerant to religion.

In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently designated eight countries of particular concern because of their “dismal” religious freedom records: Iran, China, Burma, Eritrea, Uganda, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

“We’ve taken important steps to convince a wide-range of federal bureaucracies that religious engagement around the world is important,” said Joshua Dubois, executive director of the office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. “The United States institute of peace has a key role to play in continuing that process.”

According to the Pew report, Christians in 130 countries (66 percent) have experienced some form of harassment based on religion. Muslims also faced religious intolerance in only slightly fewer countries. The report also stated that religious prejudice was highest in Europe and the Middle East. Even though the Middle East primarily consists of Muslim, the report said that Muslims were the most harassed group, followed by Christians and Jews.

“The protection of religious freedom is a fundamental concern of the United States dated back to the earliest days of our republic and it remains so today,” said Suzan Cook, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. “And so we are actively promoting freedom of religion because it is a fundamental human right and because religious freedom is important to peaceful political development, strong democratic institutions and flourishing societies.”

The panel also discussed the importance of good leadership in a time when revolution is widespread, especially in the case of the Arab Spring. For instance, the Pew report identified Egypt as the nation with the largest increase in both government crackdowns and social hostilities based on religion.

“It is our core conviction that religious freedom and respect for religious diversity is an essential element of a peaceful society and it’s an element of a successful democracy,” said Cook. “The democratic transitions underway now in the Middle East do not guarantee that religious freedom will follow. And leadership matters, because society often takes its cues from government.”

Virginia elections raise critical issues for 2012

November 9, 2011

Clarendon United Methodist Church was one of numerous polling places in Arlington, Va.

Voters weighed issues such as job creation and restructuring the education system before casting their ballots in Virginia on Tuesday.

Virginia held state elections for the Senate and House of Delegates Tuesday, and issues rather than partisan politics largely determined voting patterns.

A number of voters claimed that politicians or, to an extent, political parties were less importance when compared to the officials who they believed could “get the job done.”

“I’ve voted democrat since the ’60s, but at this point I think I’d rather vote for someone who has their priorities straight,” said Rease Walsh, a resident of Maryland.

With the 2012 presidential election almost here and critical issues such as a healthcare, education reform and general discontent that has led to movements like Occupy Wall Street, citizens are looking for candidates that can produce results.

“Locally, I’m concerned about education and [public] services, especially sustaining services instead of cutting them further,” said Ann Sullivan, a voter at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Ashton Heights in Arlington County.

However, one of the biggest problems with elections that could hinder candidates is low voter turnout. A week before the Virginia elections, the Washington Post predicted only one-third of the state’s population would vote, in accordance with the 2010 turnout of 44 percent when several congressional races were in play.

A number of citizens, such a Walsh, question the weight of their vote, which in turn can lead to low voter turnout. Another reason is people think the presidential election is more significant in terms of the impact it has on their lives.

“Voter turnout seemed low, but that’s to be expected especially since this isn’t a federal election,” said Richard Muffley, chief election officer of Precinct 2 in Ashton Heights, Arlington, Va.

But Virginia’s 2011 election results Tuesday demonstrate one thing: the state is set to be a swing state in the 2012 presidential race. To read a more in-depth analysis, click here.

Congress discusses probability of Iranian terrorism attack on U.S. soil

October 26, 2011

Relations between President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, left, are strengthening with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo Courtesy of Prensa Miraflores, Creative Commons.

by Arushi Sharma

Members of Congress heard tales of terrorism and assassination attempts today during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security held a joint subcommittee meeting to discuss the increasing capability and intent of the Iranian government to conduct terrorist attacks on the United States.

Members of Congress heard from an expert panel of witnesses after recent allegations against senior officials in the Iranian government for conspiring to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

“In my view, this represents the crossing of a ‘red line’ by the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism against the United States and Israel,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan, (R-Pa.) chairman of the subcommittee on counter-terrorism and intelligence.

The charges, announced two weeks ago by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., claimed that officials in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had conspired to kill the Saudi ambassador by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million.

“In light of Iran’s reckless provocation revealed in recent weeks, we must do everything we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in the U.S. homeland,” Meehan said.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the main suspects were identified as Mansour J. Arbabsiar, a naturalized American citizen of Iranian descent from Corpus Christi, Texas, who has been taken into custody, and Gholam Shakuri, described by the department as a member of the Quds Force, who is at large and believed to be in Iran.

“The Iranian government needs to understand there will be consequences for their actions. In the past we have attempted to use economic sanctions.  It is obvious these sanctions are not working because the Iranian Government continues to believe it can do whatever it wants without consequences,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). “ But enough is enough.”

‘Iran’s recklessness is escalating’

The hearing also discussed America’s response to Iran’s increasing recklessness, and the nation’s funding of terrorist groups such a Hezbollah and Hamas.

“What the U.S. can do is first treat Iran as a strategic enemy and create a strategic framework about all their activities,” said former Gen. Jack Keane. “We need to get international support, seize their financial assets and limit transactions from their central banks. We need to also use the CIA to gather information about their every movement.”

The panelists also expressed concerns about Iran’s strengthening relations with Venezuela and Mexico; Venezuela and Iran recently agreed to jointly produce nearly a dozen products, including crude oil and medicines. In addition, recently they have had a more unified voice against Israel and the United States.

“The Iranian government is a threat to the international community; they are building weapons of mass destruction. They’re a threat attempting to dominate the Middle East through intimidation,” McCaul said.

An unchecked Iran

Officials at the hearing stressed the increasing threat Iran has to the international community, especially with their continuing persistence to create nuclear weapons of their own.

“Our message to Iran is simple—continue your attempts at threatening the national security of the United States and have no doubt there will be a punitive response. If the allegations are confirmed, military action shouldn’t be taken off the table,” McCaul said.

“Unless we do this, we have our next nightmare around the corner: an unchecked Iran,” he said.

Where I’ve been…

August 11, 2011

A map of where American University’s graduate school bootcamp has taken me.

D.C. Secrets: Ben’s Chilli Bowl

August 10, 2011

Ben’s Chilli Bowl is one of Washington D.C.’s best kept secrets. Get a behind the scenes look at the people responsible for every bowl of delicious chilli, and what keeps them going.