November 7, 2007

  • Farm Bill Debate Hits a Wall on the Senate Floor
  • Election Day Marks a Significant Change of the Political Winds in Virginia
  • Cheney Impeachment Resolution Grasps for Life in the Judiciary Committee
  • Whistleblower Speaks on AT&T/NSA Information Sharing
  • In Lead-Up to Palestinian-Israeli Talks, Peace Appears Unlikely
  • Rescue Workers Search for Bodies after a Massive Landslide in Chiapas

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State of Emergency Declared in Georgian Capital
The Prime Minister of Georgia declared a state of emergency today for the capital city of Tbilisi. The measure comes after Georgian police and special forces used water canons, tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent opposition protests in the downtown area. Deborah Wild reports from Tbilisi.

The latest round of mass demonstrations began on Friday with about 30,000 people rallying in front of parliament. Growing discontent over social problems such as unemployment and rising living expenses fuel these protests, but the trigger was the arrest of former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili after he accused the government of corruption, extorsion and abuse of power last month. A coalition of ten opposition parties is demanding early parliamentary elections for the spring, instead of fall, of 2008. The government has refused any compromise on the matter. The ongoing unrest represents the biggest domestic crisis since peaceful protests, known as Rose revolution, brought the pro-Western Michael Saakashvili to power four years ago. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Deborah Wild in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Bhutto Calls for Opposition Rally in Pakistan
In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today called on her supporters to rally in a military town outside of Islamabad on Friday in violation of the state-of-emergency. President-General Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule on Saturday, suspending the constitution, censoring the media, and arresting opposition supporters. Bhutto leads the largest opposition party in Pakistan and her statements today seem to have set the tone for a major showdown between the country’s most influential political forces.

Burmese Junta Rejects Proposal for 3-Way Talks
Burma’s military junta has rejected an offer by the United Nations to mediate talks between the government and detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta cited national sovereignty as a central reason for refusing to participate in 3-party talks. UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari has been unable to meet with the junta’s top leader during his current visit, but is due to meet with Suu Kyi before his departure tomorrow.

Lawsuit Filed in Canada over Treatment of Afghan Detainees

Human rights organizations in Canada have filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government over allegations that prisoners captured by Canadian forces were facing torture in Afghan prisons. Stefan Cristoff reports from Montreal.

Canada’s Federal Court this week ruled the lawsuit has grounds on which to move forward, despite major legal maneuvers from the government to have the challenge dismissed. Earlier this year, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper published a series of interviews with former Afghan detainees who gave gripping testimonies of torture after their capture by Canadian forces. Alex Neve is the Secretary General of Amnesty Canada: (audio) “It’s very likely that a good number of those who are transferred from Canadian custody into the Afghan prison system end up being tortured. If the risk of torture is a real one, and we believe it is, it’s incumbent upon Canada and we would say actually is a matter of international legal obligation not to hand the prisoners over.” Canada currently maintains over 2500 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern province of Kandahar. Recent opinion polls indicate that a majority of Canadians do not support the military mission. For Free Speech Radio news, I am Stefan Christoff in Montreal.

Los Angeles Jury Rules in Favor of Nicaraguan Farmworkers
A Los Angeles jury has ruled in favor of 6 Nicaraguan farmworkers who became sterile after exposure to a dangerous pesticide while working on Dole banana plantations. Yasmin Madadi reports from Los Angeles.

The Superior Court jury awarded a total of 3.3 million dollars in damages to six of twelve Nicaraguans who worked on Dole’s Banana plantations until the early 90s. The workers said they became sterile because of exposure to pesticides containing DBCP. Dole requested that Dow Chemical continue to provide the pesticide even after it was banned in the US in 1977. Exposure to DBCP has been found to cause birth defects, damage to the liver and kidneys, and sterility. The jury panel may award additional money to the workers in the second phase of the trial as they determine whether Dole’s executives had malicious intent when they chose not to provide handling instructions for the chemical. The case is the first of five lawsuits involving 5,000 Central American farm workers, all of whom say they became sterile because of DBCP exposure. For FSRN this is Yasmin Madadi reporting from Los Angeles.

CT Utility Wants to Hike Rates to Pay for Executive Bonuses
An electric company that serves most of the ratepayers in the state of Connecticut has been accused of providing poor service at ever higher prices. Yet, it wants to tack millions of dollars in bonuses for its top executives onto customers’ bills. Melinda Tuhus reports from New Haven.

Connecticut Light & Power has raised rates 90 percent in the past seven years. Most of the increase was due to a rise in wholesale electricity prices over which CL&P has no control, but ratepayers are also up in arms over what they say is poor customer service. So they have not taken kindly to the company’s request to state regulators that it be allowed to charge *them* for the bonuses the company says it must pay to attract and retain the best executives. Paula Panzarella helps lead Fight the Hike, a group that has opposed the drastic price hikes from CL&P and the other utility company in the state. (audio) “It’s totally obscene to put an item on your utility bill to pay for CEOs’ bonuses. They don’t even deserve bonuses. Two, this is not something that should be coming from the customers.” She says her group hopes to get a bill passed in the upcoming state legislative session that will bar utility companies from tacking on such additional surcharges. The consumer group hopes to have in legislation this coming session that the utility companies will not have this option to tack on additional surcharges. For FSRN, I’m Melinda Tuhus in New Haven.



Farm Bill Debate Hits a Wall on the Senate Floor (3:40)

US farm policy and budget is brought up for renewal every five years. A version of the so-called Farm Bill has already passed the House of Representatives, but now the Senate is attempting to debate the 280 billion dollar piece of legislation. “Attempting” is the pivotal word here. Disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on the Bill’s content have brought discussion to a stand-still.

Because debate is expected to go on for up to a month, the inactivity on the legislation could mean the bill will not pass the Senate before Winter Recess. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of the year.

FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell has more on the Bill, and how environmental groups, fiscal conservatives, and religious organizations are all pushing for an alternative piece of legislation.

Election Day Marks a Significant Change of the Political Winds in Virginia (3:08)

Most elections talk lately focuses on votes that are still a year away, but state polls were open across the country yesterday with governorships, state legislatures and ballot initiatives in the balance. Election day was marked by two unsurprising gubernatorial outcomes. Republican Governor Haley Barbour won reelection in Mississippi – despite running against a socially-conservative born-again Christian. And Democrat Steve Beshear defeated GOP incumbent Ernie Fletcher in Kentucky. Fletcher’s tenure in office had been plagued by scandal – and he had even been indicted on three misdemeanor charges related to a state hiring case.

But the biggest surprise came in Virginia, a Republican strong-hold. Democrats have reportedly won control of the state senate for the first time in over a decade. The victories cemented the idea that the Old Dominion state is changing political colors.

As Darby Hickey reports, traditional local issues of schools and taxes have been overshadowed by rhetoric about unauthorized immigrants, especially in the bellwether region of Northern Virginia.

Cheney Impeachment Resolution Grasps for Life in the Judiciary Committee (2:00)

Will they or won’t they? That’s the question for the Judiciary Committee on whether they will pick up the impeachment debate. Yesterday, Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich introduced a resolution that would bring articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney.

The House then decided to send the resolution to the Judiciary Committee for debate. Now that impeachment may be on the table, there’s a mêlée brewing between progressive Democrats and the Democratic leadership to see if it will stay there. Karen Miller reports.

Whistleblower Speaks on AT&T/NSA Information Sharing(1:59)

A whistleblower has come forward to denounce the telecommunications industry collaboration with the White House domestic wiretapping program. Mark Klein exposed the telecommunication industry’s use of “splitters” to divert internet-based communications to the National Security Agency. Klein worked as a technician at AT&T for 22 years. He personally maintained systems to copy and feed billions of emails, internet phone calls, web searches, and other data communications to the NSA as part of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping program.

Klein Cut:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation brought Klein to Washington to lobby Congress, as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to mark up a bill that would provide amnesty to telecommunications companies like AT&T that cooperated with the illegal domestic wiretapping program.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T last year on behalf of millions of AT&T customers, charging the company with violations of the law and the privacy of their customers. A federal judge dismissed AT&T’s immunity claims in July.

Klein Cut:

Newsweek reported in September that the telecommunications industry, in close coordination with the White House, has mounted a massive campaign to lobby for immunity from lawsuits that derive from their cooperation with the domestic wiretapping program.

In Lead-Up to Palestinian-Israeli Talks, Peace Appears Unlikely (3:56)

During Monday’s joint press briefing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, US Secretary of States, Condoleezza Rice, said the up-coming Annapolis peace summit will be a spring-board for productive Palestinian-Israeli talks.

But as Rami Al-Meghari reports from Gaza, Rice’s optimism over the willingness of the two sides to negotiate may be short-sighted – especially considering the Israeli government’s actions on the ground.

Rescue Workers Search for Bodies after a Massive Landslide in Chiapas (3:04)

After weeks of heavy rains and flooding, both the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas have declared a State of Emergency, and are requesting federal disaster funds. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has already promised more than 650 million dollars worth of relief money, but the Governor of Tabasco has said it will take more than 7 times that amount to pay for the disaster.

Even though the rains have subsided, Southern Mexico is still feeling the effects of the flooding. In Chiapas on Tuesday, the rains caused the saturated ground on a hillside to collapse. Over a dozen people were buried in the mudslide. In addition, when the earth fell into the river below the hill, it created a huge wave, being called a mini-tsunami, that washed over dozens of homes. Scuba divers are still searching the river for the bodies of villagers caught in the slide. FSRN’s Ricardo Martinez has more from Southern Mexico.

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