Where's Obama on the "Ground Zero mosque"?

Politico's Ben Smith raised the question yesterday that's now on many minds in Washington: Why hasn't Barack Hussein Obama weigh in on the Ground Zero Burlington Coat Factory Mosque Community Center controversy?

True, he's been busy shooting hoops with NBA all-stars, raising money for embattled congressional Democrats, and most likely spending his days staring into the economic abyss. But, as Smith writes, "This is, clearly, classic Obama turf" -- it allows him to rise about the petty politics of the moment and make a moving statement on religious freedom.

Of course,  Republicans are probably salivating at the prospect. Sadly, polls show that a large majority of Americans think the facility shouldn't be built, and it's the perfect wedge issue for the midterm elections. So it would be rational, albeit cowardly, for Obama to remain silent on what is, technically speaking, a local issue (and by the way, there are no legal grounds to prevent the Cordoba Initiative folks from building).

Time's Adam Sorensen speculates that Obama might just be "biding his time for the right moment." He'd better speak out soon. Terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann has been noting on his Twitter feed that al Qaeda sympathizers on the Internet are loving this debate, because,  according to one supporter, "More pressure on the Ummah simply means more explosions... Adding pressure undoubtedly benefits us... This is what we want." Another reads, "Actually, this benefits us... let them complicate the situation so that we see the arrival.. of a new Faisal Shahzad."

Developing... and not in a good way.

Shannon Stapleton-Pool/Getty Images


Madagascar pays a steep price for its political stagnation

Almost a year and a half since protests spurned a coup that removed democratically-elected President Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar's political crisis continues to drag along. The government remains paralyzed and isolated, and formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.

Yesterday, the interim government, led by former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital and largest city, President Andry Rajoelina, who also has the backing of the country's military, reached an agreement with nearly 100 smaller political parties for new election dates. The accord is set to be adopted tomorrow, but it looks to have little impact: The three main opposition parties are boycotting discussions. These parties say they will only take part in elections that they help orchestrate, not just one organized by Rajoelina's government.

The accord sets presidential elections for the middle of next year, with a vote on a constitutional referendum on November 17. Originally, the referendum was supposed to be held this month and presidential elections in November, but opposition parties balked at these too. Earlier power-sharing negotiations, conducted in South Africa, also failed to bring all parties to an agreement.

This news does not bode well for the Malagasy people, of whom about 70 percent live below the poverty line. The EU, World Bank, and USAID have blocked development aid.  Also in peril is the island nation's delicate and extraordinarily unique environment, famous for endemic species like lemurs and baobab trees. Instability caused by the coup has created an illegal logging crisis in Madagascar's national parks. Loggers plunder rosewood trees, while lemurs have been hunted for bushmeat. This month, UNESCO's World Heritage committee added Madagascar's tropical forests to its Danger List of threatened ecosystems.

"What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid," Conservation International head Dr. Russell Mittermeier told Mongabay. "Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people."

In a surprisingly positive twist, a World Bank report (with the cautiously optimistic title: "Why has the Malagasy economy not yet collapsed?") published last month said Madagascar had largely avoided financial disaster thanks to a strong informal economy, which has grown an estimated 13 percent since 2009, and good weather. Rice yields have hit record levels after two years without cyclones.