January 24, 2008

  • Skyrocketing Price of Soy Creates Unrest Among Indonesia’s Poor
  • Economy Tops the List of Issues for Democratic Candidates in South Carolina
  • Telecommunication Company Immunity within FISA Debated on the Senate Floor
  • Progress Made on US Economic Stimulus Package
  • India Works to Strengthen its Child Labor Laws; Child Advocates Skeptical

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Italian Government Collapses
Italy’s prime minister Romano Prodi will resign tonight after his defeat in a confidence vote before the Senate. Diletta Varlese has more.

The Italian government collapsed today when the Senate voted 161 to 156 against Prime Minster Prodi remaining in office. Prodi will resign this evening and hand his mandate over to President Giorgio Napolitano. Prodi’s government began to collapse a week ago when it lost its majority in Parliament due to the resignation of the Minster of Justice. The minister’s resignation led his political party to withdraw from the coalition government. Now it’s up to the Republic President to decide to either call a snap election or appoint someone to lead a caretaker government. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the right-wing opposition coalition, is expected to try to run for re-election. For FSRN I’m Diletta Varlese in Brescia, Italy.

Brazilian Amazon Deforestation at Record Pace

New satellite data shows the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has reached an unprecedented pace. Brazilian president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva held an emergency cabinet meeting on the matter today announcing afterwards that federal police and environmental agents will be deployed to areas identified as deforestation hot spots. Government scientists who monitor the rain forest and analyze satellite data estimate as many as 2700sq miles – were clear cut in the months from August to December of 2007. Approximately half of the deforestation occurred in the state of Mato Grosso. Most of that land was apparently cleared for soya plantations or cattle pasture. Soya is one of the few farm commodities whose price has increased on the world market and Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of soya after the United States. More than 20 percent of the Brazil’s Amazon rain forest – also known as the lungs of the world for it’s capacity to produce oxygen – has been lost since the 1970s.

EPA Opposition to State Emissions Caps Came from the Top
Newly released documents show that Environmental Protection Agency staff members believed that California would win a lawsuit against the agency over its denial of the state’s request for a federal Clean Air act waiver. The waiver would allow the state to set vehicle emissions standards stricter than those of the federal government. Kellia Ramares has more.

The documents obtained by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, show that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson overruled EPA staffers by denying California the waiver it needed to proceed with a measure to cap vehicle emissions in the state at a level higher than federal law requires. Johnson denied the waiver saying California had no compelling or extraordinary conditions to justify the waiver. This is the first time in 40 years California has been denied. Sixteen other states want to follow California law. Speaking at today’s hearing on the waiver denial, Senator Boxer: <Boxer audio> The Senator introduced a bill today to grant California the waiver. For FSRN, I’m Kellia Ramares.

Ohio Energy Bill Calls for Increased Nuclear Energy Production
The Ohio legislature is considering an energy bill promoted by the state’s governor which may increase Ohio’s dependence on nuclear energy. Evan Davis has more.

Proponents of Ohio’s Senate Bill 221 which is currently under review by the state’s House of Representatives say the legislation will make Ohio a leader in state-mandated conservation and support for renewable energy. The bill would require 25% of the state’s energy to come from so-called “advanced tecnologies” by the year 2025. Half of that 25% would come from renewable resources like wind and solar energy while the remaining 12.5% would come from coal liquification and from nuclear power plants. Ohio currently gets about 3-5% of its energy from nuclear power with the remaining 90% coming from coal. The governor’s energy adviser, Mark Shannahan, says that it is unlikely that any new nuclear power plants would be built in Ohio, but that one way to satisfy the proposed mandate would be to make improvements in the state’s existing nuclear facilities. Veteran anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, whose recent book Solartopia, advocates moving to an all-renewable energy infrastructure by 2030 disagrees <Wassernman clip 7 sec> Wasserman and fellow environmentalists will now appeal to individual legislators to make changes to the bill before it passes. For FSRN, this is Evan Davis in Columbus, Ohio.

Kenyan President and Opposition Leader Meet for Mediation
After two days of shuttling from talks with Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga the opposition leader, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan finally managed to bring the two leaders together. John Bwakali reports from Nairobi, Kenya.

There was a palpable relief in Kenya when President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met in face-to-face mediation talks for the first time since the disputed presidential election. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – who is acting as a mediator – was the only other person present in the one and a half hour meeting between Kibaki and Raila. The two political rivals shook hands with each other for the media afterwards as they both pledged to spare no effort in their search for peace. Although no concrete results have come out of the meeting, the very fact that the two met and later spoke of their commitment to peace is seen here as a major breakthrough in itself. Although the next steps are unclear, Kofi Annan and his team are staying on to continue the mediation efforts. For Free Speech Radio News, I am John Bwakali reporting from Nairobi.

Thailand’s Former PM to Face Corruption Charges on Return from Exile
Thailand’s ousted prime minister will return to the country to face corruption charges after living more than a year in exile. Thaksin Shinawatra was removed from power by a military coup 16 months ago. Zack Baddorf reports from Bangkok.

Democracy returned to Thailand yesterday with the opening of the country’s parliament, bringing Thaksin’s party back to power. The People Power Party won a majority in general elections last month, a public critique of the military coup. Meanwhile, Thaksin’s wife, Pojamarn, plead not guilty to corruption charges of her own yesterday at the Thai Supreme Court and announced that her husband would join her in Thailand to proclaim their innocence. The former prime minister has been living in exile, mostly in London, since the bloodless coup in September 2006. Pojamarn has been accused of buying land from a Thai government agency at a third its market price. She’s asked the court for 90 days to prepare for her case. A Thai university political scientist told Reuters the military and royalist establishment will likely “wipe the target clean,” allowing both Thaksin and Pojamarn to avoid punishment. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Zack Baddorf in Bangkok.


Economy Tops the List of Issues for Democratic Candidates in South Carolina

As Hillary and Bill Clinton are sparring with Barack Obama in the media, Democratic presidential candidates have been sticking to message on the campaign trail. That message Thursday was the economy. It’s a top issues for South Carolina voters. The decline of the textile industry, which has moved abroad, has depressed the economy there. Democratic candidates have made this issue central to their campaign. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports from Greenville, SC.

Telecommunication Company Immunity within FISA Debated on the Senate Floor

Many Senate Democrats are holding firm to their objections to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA The legislation went to the Senate floor for debate this morning. The most contentious issue is a Bush Administration-backed push to grant telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits for participating in the warrantless wiretapping program after 9-11. Currently there are dozens of civil cases filed.

Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Republicans that if they are interested in keeping Democratic changes to FISA – such as eliminating immunity protections – from going to a simple majority vote, they would have to live up to their threats, and filibuster.

But not all Democrats are against giving immunity to the telecommunications firms. West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller spoke out in their defense.

(Rockefeller quote) – they were doing what they were told to do and should be protected.

A version of FISA from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which did not include the immunity clause, was defeated this afternoon.

(Sound Clip) – announcing vote count

Following the vote, Senator Rockefeller introduced a bi-partisan amendment to FISA that would offer further protections for Americans living outside the United States. Senator Chris Dodd is expected to introduce amendment that would once again make telecommunications companies legally responsible for sharing private information.

The US’s current surveillance law expires on February 1st, and the Bush Administration is pushing to have its replacement in place before then. Bush has even, after months of denying requests, granted access to secret document about the warrantless wiretapping program to members of the House in an effort to win support for keeping telecommunications immunity in the bill.

Progress Made on US Economic Stimulus Package

Today Democrats struck a deal with the President on an economic stimulus package, which could mean tax rebate checks for millions of Americans. It’s the latest effort from Congress to try to avert a recession. But as FSRN’s Karen Miller reports, in certain sectors of the US economy, what has been a bust for some has been a boom for others.

Skyrocketing Price of Soy Creates Unrest Among Indonesia’s Poor

Indonesia has been forced to take emergency action to calm unrest over record Soya Bean prices. The commodity hit an all-time global high of 13 dollars a bushel last week, an increase of almost 90 per cent on last year’s level. Indonesian prices have risen even higher.

The rise is a partly a result of US farmers reducing the soy crop to grow more corn for bio-fuel. The Indonesian government is now looking at subsidizing the product and giving incentives to local farmers. As Rebecca Henschke reports from Jakarta, the rising prices have had a dramatic impact on the country’s poor.

India Works to Strengthen its Child Labor Laws; Child Advocates Skeptical

India has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of working children in the world. But the Central Government is considering amendments to the country’s 20-year old child labor law, prohibiting employment of children in hazardous occupations. The proposed amendments are intended to give more teeth to officials to enforce the law. But child rights activists have little hope that the changes will make any significant difference. FSRN’s Bismillah Geelani reports.

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