March 27, 2007

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Headlines (5:28)
The Senate today resumed it’s debate on a 122 billion dollar war funding bill.  The measure includes a suggested timeline for troop withdrawal by next March. The timeline is the Democrat’s way of bringing the troops home, but this evening they will vote on a crucial amendment offered by Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi that would strip the timeline from the bill. The spending bill also includes money for the war in Afghanistan, hurricane Katrina recovery, farming assistance, and an increase to the minimum wage.

(ambient sound) Vehicular traffic in Mexico City’s main thoroughfares screeched to a halt today as thousands of public sector employees blockaded roads and marched in protest of proposed reforms to Mexico’s social security system for state workers. Public school teachers from all levels of education are on strike today as Mexico’s Senate debates the reforms. The Chamber of Deputies passed the controversial legislation last week. Among other major changes, the legislation proposes requiring public sector employees to work five years more to qualify for pensions. If the reforms become law, retirees already on pension will see their checks reduced by almost half. Congressional representatives from the center-left PRD party have already announced plans to challenge the reforms in the Supreme Court.

The Egyptian government announced today that voters in a countrywide referendum overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional reforms…but groups opposed to the reforms say the results have more to do with widespread voter apathy and abstention than support for the measure. Joseph Krauss reports from Cairo.

Official results indicate that 75.9 percent of Egyptian voters approve of the constitutional reforms proposed by President Hosni Mubarak …but the near-empty polling stations call into serious question just how much support the measure really has among the Egyptian citizenry. The government claimed that 27 percent of eligible voters participated, despite an opposition-wide boycott of the vote and widespread voter apathy. Human rights groups estimate that turnout was no more than five percent. The package of amendments would give security services sweeping powers of search and seizure and prevent the local judiciary from monitoring the country’s notoriously corrupt elections. The amendments would ban religious parties and essentially deprive the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition bloc with a fifth of parliamentary seats, from any participation in future elections. Many Egyptians interviewed outside polling stations expressed confusion or complete ignorance about the changes themselves, which were only approved by parliament a little over a week ago. Banners throughout the city called on voters to “Vote yes for Mubarak” leading many to believe it was a presidential election. For FSRN, I’m Joseph Krauss in Cairo.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today agreed to meet every two weeks to discuss what US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls initial steps that could lead to the recognition of a Palestinian state. Ghassan Bannoura reports from Bethlehem.

Prime Minister Olmert had previously ruled out talks on Palestinian statehood after President Abbas of Fatah formed a unity government with Hamas. Secretary Rice said at a news conference in Jerusalem that the bi-weekly talks between Abbas and Olmert would initially focus on security issues. The current route of the West Bank wall and the Israeli annexation of major settlement blocs pose serious challenges to the US-backed Road Map. The Road Map suggests territorial contiguity in the Palestinian areas is necessary to make a Palestinian state viable. Another threat to peace is the almost daily invasions of West Bank areas by Israeli soldiers. Today the Israeli army invaded the old city of Nablus and killed 2 local operatives of the Al Aqsa Brigades – the armed wing of Fatah. Eyewitnesses reported that the two bled for several hours as medical crews could not reach them due to the heavy clashes in the area and the extensive military presence. For FSRN, I’m Ghassan Bannoura.

Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee  David Hicks entered a guilty plea at his military tribunal hearing yesterday. Hicks is the first person tried under the Military Commissions Act. He is charged with providing support for a terrorist organization. Terry Hicks says his son pled guilty in order to leave Guantanamo as soon as possible. Military authorities have indicated that Hicks can serve out his sentence in Australia.

A civil rights group in California revealed today that businesses are checking the names of customers against a Treasury Department list of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers. From San Francisco, Aaron Glantz reports.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area says  that in at least a dozen cases, private businesses like car dealers and mortgage companies denied or delayed their services because their customer’s name was a partial match to a suspected drug trafficker or terrorist. Many listed names on the Treasury Department list are common Muslim or Latino names – such as “Mohammed Ali” or “Carlos Sanchez” – and because of this, people in this country with similar names are increasingly getting snagged. Even a shared first or middle name, including some of the most common names in the world, can lead to consumer transactions being denied or delayed.  The Lawyer’s Committee charges the system is part of a larger pattern of government-sanctioned racial profiling against Muslims, Arabs, and immigrants. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Aaron Glantz in San Francisco.

Scandal Continues in Washington: Mueller Quizzed on National Security Letters (3:15)
The House of Representatives removed the President’s power to appoint US attorneys bypassing the Senate confirmation process last night. The House followed the Senate’s lead in quickly limiting the President’s authority. Although Congress has reeled in the law, Senate and House panels will continue to investigate the White House and the Department of Justice’s role and intent in firing 8 US attorneys. Department of Justice Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson will testify Thursday, but former Gonzales aid, Monica Goodling refused. Her attorney said she will exercise her Fifth Amendment right, and remain silent.

Also in Washington, a Senate panel quizzed FBI director Robert Mueller on the abuse of National Security Letters. Both Republicans and Democratic members of Congress were skeptical of the honesty behind his testimony. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Senate Consider Employee Free Choice Act (3:03)
The Employee Free Choice Act, which seeks to strengthen the rights of workers who participate in unions, recently passed in the House is now moving to the Senate – where the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the Act, that some say would provide much needed changes among those currently in unions or those who want to be. FSRN’S Karen Miller has more.

Iranian Goods in Iraq (3:20)
A series of coordinated truck bombs, mortar attacks and a suicide car bomber left at least 70 people dead in Iraq today. Two of several attacks throughout the country hit Tal Afar, after a statement made by President Bush that the city was an example of improved security in Iraq. While US officials have countered the influence of Iran through tighter border controls, Iranian goods flow almost unchecked into an Iraqi economy that is increasingly dependent on imports. Hiba Dawood files this report.

Italy Debates Re-Financing the Country’s Military Mission to Afghanistan (3:13)
Italy’s Parliament is debating whether to re-finance the country’s military mission in Afghanistan. The country is already phasing its troops out of Iraq – today’s debate will determine how long Italy’s 2,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan. FSRN’s Diletta Varlese reports.

Congress Holds Hearing on REAL ID Act (3:49)
The Senate Homeland Security Committee heard debates about the Real ID Act yesterday, which demands states issue driver’s licenses with nationally-standardized security features. Privacy advocates and state officials say the Real ID is insecure and unrealistic. It was the first time Congress held a hearing on the legislation, although it was passed two years ago. Yanmei Xie has the story from Capitol Hill.

Mumia Abu-Jamal Commentary: Wargames (2:20)

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