November 16, 2005

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Headlines (6:06)
A White House document obtained by the Washington Post shows that executives from big oil companies met with the Vice President’s energy task force in 2001 — a claim denied by industry officials testifying last week before Congress. Anastasia Gnezditskaia reports from Washington DC.

President Bush appointed Vice President Dick Cheney to lead the Energy Task Force created for the purpose of crafting a national energy policy. In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the task force. The task force’s activities drew allegations by environmentalists, who said they were shut out of the task force discussions while corporate interests were present. The meetings were held in secret, and the White House would not release a list of participants. Dave Willitt, National Press Secretary of the Sierra Club: [SOUND Willitt 00:25] “The actual operations and the writing of the document were done by the lower level staff. These oil company executives didn’t actually meet with the official task force, but they definitely met with the staff. So they clearly had an impact on the policies that the energy task force ended up putting out. What is clear is that the oil companies and the White House went to great lengths to try to cover up this information.” The executives were not under oath when they testified before Congress last week and are, therefore, not vulnerable to charges of perjury. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress. For Free Speech Radio News, I am Anastasia Gnezditskaia in Washington, DC

The Iraqi and British governments are expected to publish a joint statement this week describing plans for an exit strategy for British troops in Iraq. From London, Naomi Fowler reports.

Speculation about dates for troop withdrawal grew after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani publicly stated last week that foreign troops could withdraw from Iraqi territory by the end of next year. An Iraqi/British statement is expected to say that preparations for a phased withdrawal are at an advanced stage. However, British ministers have made it clear that Britain will not be withdrawing their 8,500 troops from Iraq without US agreement. British military personnel have confirmed today that May next year is the date being discussed for withdrawal. Britain’s ongoing military commitments mean May’s also the month when 4,000 British troops are due to be deployed to Afghanistan to take over from US troops. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

Liberian presidential contender George Weah submitted a formal complaint to Liberia’s National Electoral Commission today. The former soccer star is alleging that widespread fraud occurred in the recent run-off that pitted him against ex-World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Although official results are still pending, all of the votes have been counted and indicate that Johnson-Sirleaf will be Liberia’s next president. The potential for unrest stemming from the allegations of fraud prompted the government of Liberia to ban all street demonstrations as of last night.

In New York families with loved ones in State prisons are staging a boycott of MCI for the cost of prison-based phone services. They say the average phone call is marked up by 630%. Rebecca Myles has more.

At a rally in New York today, families and advocates marched to the third avenue office of New York Governor, George Pataki to protest the high cost of phone calls from state prisons. Families, lawyers, and religious counselors are for one day boycotting MCI. They say outgoing calls from prisons must be made collect and that MCI is the only available service. MCI charges $3 to initiate a call and 16c per minute. The average prison phone call is billed at 19 minutes, costing just over $6 – a mark up of 630% over consumer rates. The Department of Correction Services reportedly receives a 57.5 percent kickback on MCI’s profits; estimated at $20 million a year. Although DCS uses the funds for prisoner’s health care, families feel they are being extorted. A family members’ phone bill frequently runs to $400 a month and many of these families are low-income. This isn’t the first time MCI has been criticized for how it operates its prison phone business. In Florida, the company was fined $10,000 in 1997 and ordered to pay more than $190,000 into a prisoners’ rights fund when authorities caught the company overcharging inmate families. And complaints from inmate families in Virginia led to renegotiation of the state’s contract with MCI to lower its surcharge. New York prison families warn they will continue to publicly pressure Governor George Pataki on the issue. For FSRN I am Rebecca Myles.

The FBI has agreed to settle with a falsely accused environmental activist for $100,000 and a letter of apology. Kelly Barnes reports from KPFK.

Environmental activist Josh Connole was placed on surveillance after a neighbor placed an anonymous phone call to the FBI in the wake of a highly publicized crime spree. Connole spent four days in jail, often chained to the floor, and was repeatedly urged by FBI agents to confess to the multi-million dollar vandalism and arson spree on SUVs at four Los Angeles-area car dealerships in August 2003. Connole’s attorney, Bill Paparian, characterized those leading the investigation as rogue FBI agents. The U.S. prosecutor on the case repeatedly argued that the agents did not have probable cause to arrest Connole. The anonymous caller who originally reported Connole said that young people living in the environmental co-op in Pomona did not appear to have jobs, and their cars had environmental bumper stickers. The prosecuting attorney, Beverly Reed O’Connell, later became the star witness for the defense. The FBI has agreed to pay Connole a $100,000 settlement. In Los Angeles, I’m Kelly Barnes for FSRN and the People without Borders Collective.

World Summit on the Information Society Kicks of In Tunis (1:25)
The World Summit on the Information Society kicked off in Tunis today, after negotiators from over 100 countries agreed to leave the US in charge of the internet’s addressing system. Both Iran and China are demanding the UN form a group that would oversee the internet, but the US is arguing against it, saying such a move would increase censorship and suppress creativity. The EU, meanwhile, is asking for an international forum to discuss not who, exactly, runs the internet- but how it should be run. While the UN-sponsored conference on the future of digital technology continues, human rights activists are is using the opportunity to bring attention to the country’s intolerance of political dissent. Elizabeth Robinson has more.

Low Tech Solutions for Rural Communities (2:04)
The first phase of the 2003 Information Summit created a Declaration of Principle and a Plan of Action. At the second phase, scheduled to end on Friday, the goal is to set implementation targets, and to agree on unfinished business of the issues of Internet governance and financing mechanisms. But while debate and criticism over world standards on Internet governance take center stage, people in poor and rural areas are focusing on more immediately accessible forms of media and communication. Grace Owali is the coordinator of development support communication for rural women in Zambia. The former agriculturalist now works with Zambian government radio to get information to and from rural women. According to Owali, low-tech solutions serve the immediate needs of women living in areas without high-tech infrastructure.

Political Aftershock of Growing Demand for an Independent Kashmir (4:08)
To the anger of Pakistan’s military establishment hardliners, the country’s President, General Pervez Musharraf, is dropping hints about the emergence of an independent Kashmir. Musharraf has proposed to open the ceasefire border with India, also known as the line of control, and to pull back military forces from the Pakistani side of Kashmir as a result of strong political will in Islamabad. Meanwhile, US involvement in the reconstruction of earthquake-hit Kashmiri areas is viewed by many as the preparation for the colonization of the strategically-located Kashmiri region. FSRN’s Masror Hussain reports from Islamabad.

Youth Used as Human Shields by Indian Army Killed in Search Operation (3:18)
Four people were killed and about 50 injured in a powerful car bomb blast in Srinagar in Indian administered Kashmir Wednesday. The attack was aimed at the vehicle of a former state minister Usman Majid, who was also injured in the blast. The blast came a day after suspected guerillas lobbed a grenade at a political rally in another town killing 3 people. Violence and human rights violations continue in the state, despite the devastation the killer quake left behind last month, and the Indo-Pak peace process. In another incident, residents of a village in Indian administered Kashmir allege two youth from the area were killed while being used as human shields by the Indian army during a search operation. FSRN’s Shahnawaz Khan reports.

Indigenous People Occupy Land in Southwestern Colombia (3:42)
Hundreds of Indigenous people occupying a hacienda in southwestern Colombia have been surrounded by police sent to forcibly evict them from the land. Eviction attempts thus far have resulted in 100 injuries and one death. FSRN’s Vladimir Flores spoke with some members of the land occupation.

The Aftermath of the Amman Bombings (2:59)
King Abdullah of Jordan has dismissed his royal court chief and named a new national security adviser following last week’s suicide bombings in Amman. New Security Chief Maaruf Bakhit was formerly Jordan’s ambassador to Israel. Nine of the king’s advisers have also resigned. And, as Oula Farawati reports from Amman, although officials said the shake-up was planned and not linked to the blasts that left more than 60 dead, many link it to the bombings that shocked the social and political scene.

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