July 23, 2008

  • US Lawmakers Encourage More Domestic Surveillance
  • Obama Visits Israelis on the Gaza Border
  • Border Patrol to Check Immigration Status During Disaster Evacuations
  • Tensions Between Russia and Georgia Continue to Escalate
  • Indigenous Leaders Meet to Strategize Against Bitumen Extraction on Their Lands

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Oil Spill on the Mississippi River at New Orleans
The US Coast Guard has closed off 29 miles of the Mississippi River at New Orleans after a collision between a barge and a tanker spilled more than 400,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the river. The force of the crash caused the barge to break in half and lose its cargo. The tanker, laden with millions of gallons of biodeisel and just over a million gallons of vinyl benzene, sustained only minor damage. At airtime, the oil spill had extended more than 12 miles down the Mississippi River and residents of the West Bank of New Orleans had been advised to conserve water. The city depends on the Mississippi River for its municipal water supply and the intake valves for the section below the spill have been closed.

Possible Changes to Workplace Toxin Rules

The Washington Post is reporting that political appointees at the Department of Labor are seeking to push through changes to rules regarding workplace exposure to toxins and chemicals. The Department of Labor allegedly failed to comply with its own standard procedure of making the proposed rule change public information in its last semi-annual report. The timing of the proposed rule change has made some government watchdogs suspicious. The Department of Labor has only made one major rule change regarding workplace chemical exposure in the time that George W/ Bush has occupied the White House…and that change came as the result of a court order.

NYC Transit Riders Call For Federal Support
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has proposed a fare hike for the city’s five million transit riders, sparking labor and environmental groups to renew their call for the US Senate to sponsor a mass transit aid bill. Ari Paul has more from New York.

News of another transit fare hike in New York bolstered a labor-environmental coalition’s argument that Federal aide is needed for mass transit. The House of Representatives has already approved a bill for $1.7 billion in aid for mass transit systems around the country, but still lacks a Senate sponsor. Gene Russianoff is with the Straphangers’ Campaign, a commuter advocacy group in New York, and says fuel costs are inspiring more Americans to use public transportation systems. (clip) “The last thing you want to do when all these new riders show up is greet them with higher fares and more crowding and long waits. You want them to realize that transit is a good solution for them, keep down their bills and a good way of getting around the cities they live in.” One transit union leader who called on New York’s Senators to introduce the bill noted that the bill would help wean the nation’s dependency on foreign oil. In New York, this Ari Paul, for FSRN.

Some Rosenberg Grand Jury Testimony Will Remain Secret – For Now
A federal judge in New York City has refused to make key documents of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury proceedings part of the public record – at least for now. The National Security Archive at *George Washington* University had petitioned for the release of all of the documents related to the case under the argument that the trial itself shaped early domestic Cold War policies. Judge Alvin Hellerstein refused, noting that about 10 witnesses who gave secret testimonies are still alive or the government is unable to confirm their whereabouts. Included in the grand jury documents that will remain sealed for now is the testimony of the key witness, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass. The Rosenbergs were convicted in 1951 of conspiracy to commit espionage. Greenglass, who used to work with the top-secret Manhattan Project testified that his sister typed out atomic secrets that were later passed on to Soviet agents. Greenglass recanted his testimony years after the Rosenbergs’ executions, saying that he had testified to shield his wife from prosecution.

(CORRECTION: The original script stated that the National Security Archive is located Georgetown University. The archive is housed at George Washington University.) 

People’s Tribunal in Bogota

Colombian social movements are meeting in Bogota to hold public hearings about crimes and abuses allegedly committed by multinational corporations. Manuel Rueda has more from Bogota.

The international people´s tribunal is a forum that seeks to defend human rights by exposing those who profit from abuse. Thousands of people all over the world, have joined its sessions to denounce governments and multinational corporations. The Colombia session, is investigating dozens of companies, including Chiquita Brands International, British Petroleum, and the Alabama-based Drummond Coal. These corporations have been accused of several crimes, like forcing people off their land and hiring private armies in their effort to secure natural resources. Edgar Paez is one of the tribunal organizers. He also works for the local food workers union. (clip) “The levels of impunity in Colombia are immense. And we’re not only talking about assassinations, or disappearances of political leaders. There are also ecological and cultural crimes. Indigenous people are being exterminated in order to extract natural resources.” The “tribunal” lacks legal powers, and there are no lawyers to defend the accused. But Paez says that after all the evidence has been presented, the tribunal will issue a verdict. Social movements will take actions, like boycotts, and advocacy campaigns that will help to enforce, the tribunal´s decision. Manuel Rueda, FSRN, Bogota.



US Lawmakers Encourage More Domestic Surveillance

The government’s expansion of data collecting and sharing of information about US citizens lacks proper oversight and privacy protections – that’s according to a new report by a federal watchdog agency.  A Senate panel held a hearing on the report today.  And instead of critiquing local and federal law enforcement agencies for collecting the data without proper checks, lawmakers encouraged a continuation of more.  FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Obama Visits Israelis on the Gaza Border

US Senator Barack Obama continued his Middle Eastern tour today though areas vital to US interests – including Israel and the West Bank.  Obama packed meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a tightly scheduled 36 hours.  The presidential candidate also went down to Israel’s border with Gaza to see Israeli residents who live under rocket fire from Palestinian militants.  From Jerusalem, Irris Makler reports.

Border Patrol to Check Immigration Status During Disaster Evacuations

Hurricane Dolly, a category 2 storm in the Gulf, made landfall in South Texas and Northern Mexico today, forcing Brownsville and surrounding areas to evacuate.  But immigrant communities in the region have something else to fear besides the 100 mile-per-hour winds – during a mock evacuation drill earlier this year, border patrol practiced checking the immigration status of would be evacuees.   This sparked trepidation and outrage by Immigrant Rights Groups, who filed a petition in federal court asking border patrol to clarify their policy.  Jim Harrington, the Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, talks about the suit and how immigrant communities are faring during the current evacuation. The organization is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit asking border patrol to clarify their policy on checking immigration status during disaster evacuations.  They expect a ruling by early next week.

Tensions Between Russia and Georgia Continue to Escalate

Tensions are escalating between Georgia and Russia over Georgia’s breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia where Russian peacekeepers are stationed. Recently, Georgia recalled its Moscow Ambassador after Russian military jets entered Georgian airspace.  French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged the European Union to mediate.  FSRN’s Deborah Wild traveled to upper Kodori, the frontline of the standoff between Georgia and Russia and files this report.

Indigenous Leaders Meet to Strategize Against Bitumen Extraction on Their Lands

The market may be in recession, but the United States is still the world’s most oil-hungry economy. And its corporations are busy tapping new energy sources like tar sands, a mixture of sand and an extremely dense form of petroleum called bitumen. The world’s largest deposits of tar sands are in North America and companies use it to produce more than a million barrels of oil per day. But the explosive growth of such projects has huge environmental costs.  They damage land, air, water, forests, and the climate. FSRN’s Christina Aanestad traveled to Lee, Nevada for the 15th annual indigenous environmental network conference where she talked to people who live in areas environmentally impacted by bitumen production.

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