February 12, 2008

  • Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Goes Missing
  • Senate Votes to Grant Telecom Immunity
  • Voters Head to Primaries in Three States
  • Save Darfur Coalition Puts Pressure on China
  • Violence Continues in Sri Lanka
  • Chinook Salmon Population at All Time Low

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GM Offers to Buyout Workers
General Motors has reached an agreement with the United Auto Workers on a plan to buy out all GM hourly wage earners working in the US in an attempt to curb losses. The auto giant is offering up to $140,000 to unionized workers to leave their jobs and renounce pension claims to make way for newer employees at a reduced pay rate. Those who opt for earlier retirement with benefits are eligible for a bonus of over $62,000. The buyout offer applies to all 74,000 hourly wage earners in GM’s American workforce.

“Project Lifeline” Puts Temporary Freeze on Some Foreclosures

Homeowners facing foreclosures will have 30 days to try to to catch up on their mortgage payments under a new federal program dubbed “Project Lifeline”. Six of the country’s top mortage lenders have agreed to temporarily freeze foreclosures and work out new payment plans with borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments. But not everyone is impressed with the measure. In response to the Treasury Department’s creation of the program, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said (quote) “Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are floating 50 feet from shore while Project Lifeline throws them a 30 foot rope.” The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that the collapse of the subprime mortgage market has put 2.2 million homeowners at risk of losing their homes.

Skepticism Over Burmese Junta’s Referendum

On the anniversary of Burma’s Union Day, the country’s top military leader urged the public to back the junta’s so-called “roadmap to democracy” in a referendum on a new constitution in May. Ronald Aung Naing has more.

Opposition leaders reject the planned referendum, saying that the Junta is using it to side step international calls for a national reconciliation dialogue with the opposition. Nyo Ohn Myint is the spokesperson for the National League for Democracy- Liberated Area, the exiled wing of the party led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. “We are very suprised that the regime decided to have a referendum in May (without) any collaboration with any other political entities such as ethnic and National League for Democracy in Burma.” The “88 generation students” as well as the “All Burma Monks Alliance”, who played a role in last September’s uprising, have rejected the announcement in statements released from underground. But the indigenous opposition alliance in exile, Ethnic National Council, said there is little choice aside from going along with the regime’s process. The Burmese junta held a constitutional referendum in 1974 and used the results to legitimize ruling the country by a one party system. For FSRN, I’m Ronald Aung Naing.

Connecticut Library Cancels Talks on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A library in Greenwich, Connecticut has canceled two talks scheduled for later this week by an expert in media analysis of coverage of the Israeli-Palestinan conflict. FSRN’s Melinda Tuhus reports.

Allison Weir is head of “If Americans Knew,” an organization that aims to provide information to the U.S. public about the Middle East that is not covered by the corporate media. Specifically Weir addresses what she calls “pervasive, disturbing distortion” in the undercoverage of Palestinians living – and dying – under Israeli control. Weir said she had not been notified of the cancellation, but the local organizer was called by the library’s public relations staffer. (clip1) “She said they had been getting some phone call and email complaints about the program — she wouldn’t say how many — and they had therefore determined that the program would somehow ‘violate public sensititivities,’ and they were cancelling the program.” Calls to the library for comment were not returned by deadline. Weir says she already has her plane ticket to fly in from the West Coast, and (clip2) “I’m going in the hope and expectation that it will still happen”. Connecticut residents who want to hear what Weir has to say are calling the library and demanding that the programs be reinstated. For FSRN, I’m Melinda Tuhus in New Haven, CT.

Activists Walk from Suchitoto to San Salvador to Demand Government Drop Charges Against Organizers
Hundreds of Salvadoran activists are walking from Suchitoto to San Salvador to demand that the government respect the rights to free expression and peaceable assembly and drop pending charges against 13 community organizers arrested last year on their way to a protest against water privatization. Meredith de Francesco has more.

Activists say the Salvadoran government is attempting to criminalize dissent in their country. Federal prosecutors charged 13 community organizers arrested last year at a protest against water privatization under El Salvador’s vague new Anti-Terrorism law. The constitutionality of the law, it’s application in this case, and the circumstances of the arrests of the anti-privatization organizers have all been criticized by national and international human rights groups and other organizations. Upwards of 1000 activists and members of organized rural communities began a 3 day march yesterday demanding that prosecutor drop all charges. The march began in Suchitoto – the scene of the arrests on July 2nd of last year – and will end in the San Salvador tomorrow. Participating in the march is Pedro Juan Hernandez from the MPR-12 social movement network: (clip) “As we’ve said from the beginning on the second of July, there was an attempt by the government to criminalize dissent, criminalize social organizations from expressing themselves freely, from organizing and from mobilizing.” The Salvadoran Attorney General changed the charges from terrorism to public disorder on Friday, but has otherwise kept the case intact. For FSRN, I’m Meredith de Francesco in San Salvador.



Senate Votes to Grant Telecom Immunity

The Senate voted 67-to-31 to preserve immunity for telephone companies from lawsuits for handing over customer’s records to the government. Immunity has become the heart of the debate on government electronic surveillance, and Congress has until Friday to decide – that’s when the deadline to pass legislation before the current, highly criticized substitute, the Protect American Act, expires. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports from the Capital.

Voters Head to Primaries in Three States

Maryland, Virginia, and DC voters head to the polls in the Potomac primary. Voters will allocate 178 delegates to the Democrats, a number that does not include the 60 super delegates, 119 delegates to the Republicans, and 16 delegates to the Green party Tuesday. Lines were long at several DC polling places throughout the day as voter turn out is expected to be higher than previous years — the area usually boasts higher than average voter participation. Barack Obama is expected to do well there, coming off a win in 4 states and the Virgin Islands over the weekend. Hillary Clinton has admitted she is not expecting a win on Tuesday, but is looking forward to March, which hosts Ohio’s and Texas’ primary.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Goes Missing

Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin has gone missing, shortly after Pakistani forces captured a top Taliban commander near the Afghan border yesterday. Azizuddin, his bodyguard, and driver went missing in the tribal region while en route to Kabul. Pakistani government officials tell FSRN they believe the ambassador was kidnapped by a pro-Taliban militant commanding Lashkr-e-Islam, or the Army of Islam. From Pakistan, Zack Baddorf reports.

Save Darfur Coalition Puts Pressure on China

As the humanitarian crisis in Darfur heads into its fifth year, activists are finding new ways of applying pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the violence. Members of the Save Darfur Coalition will deliver a lead medal to the doorstep of the Chinese embassy today for what they say is the Chinese government’s complicity in the genocide in Darfur. Tanya Snyder reports from DC.

Violence Continues in Sri Lanka

Violence continues between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. The rebels are fighting for a separate state for their ethnic minority, to put an end to what they say is discrimination at the hands of the majority government in power. The government withdrew from a truce, and insists any solution will have to occur under a unitary state in the island nation. FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam reports on the latest situation.

Chinook Salmon Population at All Time Low

The Sacramento San Joaquin Delta is the source of drinking water for an estimated 22 million people in California, and it serves as the main water source for the Central Valley’s agricultural fields. It is also home to the West Coast’s largest salmon run. A memo from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council leaked to the Associated Press last week stated the Chinook Salmon population from the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta is at an all time low. Christina Aanestad reports from Fort Bragg.

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