December 12, 2007

  • Major Farm Bill Reform Fails, Debates Continue
  • Bali Talks Near Agreement on Forests
  • East Africa Reaches Tentative Trade Deal With E.U.
  • U.S. To Accept Bhutanese Refugees
  • Oregon Rallies Against Gas Terminals

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New Dire Predictions for the Arctic
New studies presented at the ongoing meeting of the American Geophysical Union predict that the Arctic could have ice-free summers within the next 5 to 6 years. The concentration of Arctic sea ice reached a record low this summer, as did the surface area of Greenland’s ice sheet – demonstrating that observed changes in the North Pole have outpaced computerized climate models. Scientists had previously predicted the Arctic would be without ice by the summer of 2040. Scientific consensus blames human emission of greenhouse gases as the culprit for global climate change. The Bush Administration, however, has continued to reject mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions during the ongoing climate talks in Bali, Indonesia.

Lebanon Bomb Blast Kills General
A massive car bombing in a Beirut suburb has killed a general who had been tapped to become the new head of the Lebanese Army. Jackson Allers reports.

Three other people died in the blast that killed Francois al-Hajj – Lebanon’s army chief of operations. Al-Hajj was the likely candidate to succeed army chief, Michel Suleiman, who is poised to be the consensus candidate for Lebanon’s presidency. Meanwhile, Lebanon is still without a president after a presidential vote was postponed an 8th time in two months. Parliament must amend the Constitution to make way for Suleiman’s candidacy. High ranking public servants are not allowed to run for office, and there is still much work to be done to make way for Suleiman and the formation of a new government to follow. Gen Hajj was chief of operations last summer when Lebanon’s army destroyed the Palestinian camp, Nahr al Bared, in their routing of a Sunni Islamist group, Fatah al Islam. A number of high profile political assassinations have taken place in Lebanon over the last two years, including two other assassinations of so-called anti-Syrian politicians in 2007. Reporting from Beirut, this is Jackson Allers for Free Speech Radio News.

Three Car Bombs Explode in Iraqi Shiite City
A triple car bombing in a Shiite city in Southern Iraq killed at least 40 people today and injured some 150 others. The three car bombs went off within five minutes of each other in the market district of Amarah. A provincial council spokesman told the Associated Press that the second blast came after a crowd of bystanders had gathered to look at the aftermath of the first explosion, and that the third bomb detonated shortly after the second, as people fled the area. Iraqi troops, which have been in charge of the province’s security since April, have deployed in the streets and imposed a temporary ban on vehicular traffic.

Apparent Breakthrough in Southern Sudan Deal
Former rebels from southern Sudan have announced they will rejoin the Khartoum-based national unity government. They withdrew from the central government in October, accusing the Sudanese president of not fulfilling parts of the 2005 peace agreement. The move sparked a bitter dispute between the sides and stirred fears of a return to conflict. Joshua Kyalimpa reports.

Sudanese President Omar Bashir and his first vice president Salva Kiir – who is also the president of the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan – announced today that they would order southern ministers to rejoin the national coalition government. The parties have agreed to some of the key issues that threatened the Comprehensive peace agreement that ended years of fighting between the north and the south. Around 2 million people died during more than 20 years of north-south fighting. The conflict pitted Arab Muslims in the north against the mostly Black Christian and animist southerners. At the meeting in Khartoum, the Sudanese central government agreed to provide funding for a population census in the south. The census is supposed to pave the way for national elections in 2009 and a referendum on the possible secession of the south in 2011. The parties have also agreed to a timetable to withdraw troops from either side of Sudan’s north-south border. The armies of both sides last week agreed to finalize the redeployment of troops by the end of this year. Joshua Kyalimpa, FSRN, Kampala.

Fujimori Sentenced for Abuse of Power
In Peru, former president Alberto Fujimori has been found guilty of abusing his power while in office and has been sentenced to six months in prison. Fujimori is facing 3 more trials on charges of corruption, kidnapping, and murder. If convicted on the latter charge, he can face up to 30 years in prison.

Potrero Recall Election Replaces Board Members Who Approved Blackwater Base
The Southern California town of Potrero has voted to recall 5 members of a local advisory board which approved plans for the construction of a training base for the Blackwater private security firm. Community activists campaigning against the Blackwater base point to the outcome of the recall election as a referendum on the base itself. All five of the ousted board members approved the Blackwater camp proposal. They have been replaced with five candidates who ran on an anti-Blackwater slate.



Major Farm Bill Reform Fails, Debates Continue

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate rejected one of the biggest moves against agriculture subsidies in the history of US farm policy. The so-called “Fresh Act” would have cut crop subsidies that go back 75 years, replaced them with stronger crop insurance programs conservation, and environmental programs. It went down 37 to 58, and diverted some of the savings to nutrition.

The proposed amendment was born out of a public health movement that seeks to use the massive farm bill up for renewal this year to promote healthier food and environmental conservation—reformers say U.S. farm policy has often worked against both, and enriched a small number of large farmers. Today, they tried to whittle away at subsidies in the bill with a number of smaller amendments. Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire introduced an amendment that would jettison an asparagus subsidy:

Gregg: This is a new program, it’s a new mandatory program, its $15 million dollars, not a lot of money, but i think it would be nice if the Senate would make a statement once in a while that it is going to be fiscally responsible. This asparagus program is not needed.

The farm bill reform measures are shaking up party affiliations, with Republican fiscal conservatives and democrat environmentalists lining up against members of both party whose districts are dependent on agricultural subsidies. Senator Gregg also introduced an amendment to cut a farm “stress” network.

Gregg: There are a lot of industries that have stress, we don’t create a special program for all the companies in this company that have been put under stress by foreign competition. Do we have a stress program for those? Do we have a stress program for the person who runs the local restaurant? Do we have a stress program for the person who runs the local gas station? All of these are entrepreneurial undertakings. Entrepreneurship involves stress, but we don’t need to create a stress network to address it. This is an earmark pure and simple.

Gregg faced opposition from Senators who are supporting other farm bill reform measures. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa will be supporting an amendment later that will place a $250,000 per year cap on the amount of agriculture subsidies one household can receive—but he spoke out against de-funding the stress network:

Grassley: This amendment wont save money. Rather, what this amendment will do is do away with much needed support for those who work hard everyday to put food on our plates, fiber for our clothing, and fuel for our economy. So lets not eliminate this essential program without taking into account the bad years which could lie ahead.

Both Gregg’s amendments—the effort to cut the stress network, and the agricultural subsidies, failed on the senate floor today.

Bali Talks Near Agreement on Forests

Negotiators working on a new global climate deal have made progress toward agreeing on a scheme to slow deforestation.

Officials say a new draft of the so-called Bali road map includes plans for monitoring the carbon impact of forests, and system of financial incentives to help poor nations preserve them.

The scheme could see developing nations like Brazil and Congo earn billions of dollars through carbon trading.
Rebecca Henschke reports from Bali.

East Africa Reaches Tentative Trade Deal With E.U.

The European Union is replacing trade agreements with African countries, to bring them in line with World Trade Organization rules. At the E.U. – Africa summit in Lisbon this week, most African countries essentially rejected the new proposals. But the five nations in the East African Community have signed a provisional Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, the first step toward a comprehensive trade deal.

East African leaders say their new deal paves the way for greater access to European markets. From Uganda, Emmanuel Okella reports that many in civil society and business are skeptical.

U.S. To Accept Bhutanese Refugees

In eastern Nepal, there are 108,000 refugees from neighboring Bhutan living in camps. Bhutan’s monarchist government expelled them in 1990 to contain what it perceived as a threat to the Buddhist character of Bhutan.

Now, the US government plans to accept some 5000 of the refugees by January 2008, eventually resettling a total of 60,000 in the United States. PC Dubey reports.

Oregon Rallies Against Gas Terminals

Activists in Oregon gathered again today in a rally to oppose the Liquefied Natural Gas Terminals proposed for the Oregon Coast. Jenka Soderberg reports:

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