October 17th, 2008

  • New Voting Systems Worry Watchdogs
  • California’s Prop 6 Would Try Some 14-Year-Olds as Adults
  • White House and Iraq’s PM Strike Draft Agreement for Withdrawal
  • New Film Highlights Voices of Dissent against the War
  • Food and the Financial Crisis
  • Mining Law Controversy in Ecuador

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US Supreme Court Sides with Ohio Secretary of State in Voter Registration Case
In a surprising turn-around in the legal battle over Ohio’s voter registrations, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today on an appeal from Ohio’s Secretary of State. Evan Davis files this report.
In a rare 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme court ruled on an appeal filed Wednesday by Ohio secretary of state Jennifer Brunner. She sought to overturn a lower court ruling from earlier this week that had affirmed a Republican Party challenge to how the state handles voter registrations that do not precisely match DMV or social security records. The Republicans alleged that Brunner was required under the Help America Vote Act to provide local precincts with lists of all voter registration mismatches, even if the mismatches were the result of simple typographical errors. Those mismatches could provide the basis for challenging an individual’s right to vote or require the voter to cast a provisional ballot, which would then have to be verified after election day. Brunner estimated that more than 200,000 of the nearly 700,000 new voter registrations in Ohio IN 2008 contain some kind of error. In the wake of today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Secretary Brunner called for an end to legal wrangling over the state’s voting procedures, so that Ohio can prepare for what she expects will be an unprecedented voter turn out on November 4. For FSRN, I’m Evan Davis in Columbus, OH.

Food Convoys to Refugees in Sri Lanka Delayed by Artillery Fire
UN officials said a convoy of trucks carrying food to refugees trapped in Sri Lanka’s war zone has entered rebel territory; a day after artillery fire forced it to turn back. FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam reports from Sri Lanka.
The 50-truck convoy is only the second to enter the war zone. Last month, the government ordered aid agencies out of the AREA, saying it could not guarantee their safety. The army and Tamil Tiger rebels blamed each other for the weapons fire that stopped the food convoy on Thursday. Today’s convoy of trucks left Vavuniya, the northern most border town, carrying 750 metric tonnes of essential food stuff for more than 230,000 refugees in the war zone. The refugees fled their homes as the military intensified operations against the rebels. Government officials today said the aid trucks arrived safely. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Ponniah Manikavasagam, in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.

Canadian Natural Gas Pipeline Bombed
Two Pipe bombs have exploded in the past week along Natural Gas Lines in Canada. Both explosions occurred near pipelines owned by EnCana in remote areas of British Colombia. The second blast reportedly caused a minor leak. No group has directly claimed responsibility for the bombings, but anonymous letters were sent to several Canadian media outlets warning of the attacks. The letters called for oil and gas companies to halt operations in the region and accused EnCana of – quote – “endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our home lands.”

Tunnels Offer Dangerous Cross-Border Trade Routes in Gaza
The Israeli blockade of Gaza has continued for over a year now. And the flow of goods in and out of the region has been slow, difficult and limited. A new United Nations report says as a result, Palestinians in Gaza have become more dependent on smuggling tunnels. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.
More than 40 people smuggling goods and basic food items from Egypt into Gaza have died over the past several months as tunnels leading under the broder has collapsed. According to the United Nations, Gaza’s population currently uses hundreds of underground tunnels to import food and commodities. These goods are scarce because Israel has closed key border crossings such as Karni, Kissufim and Sufa. Despite the deadly consequences, unofficial estimates suggest that thousands of Gaza youth work in what many here call ‘ the death trade’. Mousa Abu Jarbou’a is a 19-year-old digger from the southern Rafah city.
“The reason I work at digging tunnels is the fact that last year I completed my high school but I don’t have money to resume my education, so I had to work in tunnels.”
Israel claims the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons for Palestinian armed factions.  It blames the Egyptian authorities for what it terms, inaction in shutting down the passages. Because of the Israeli closure of Gaza, poverty and unemployment rates have hit an eight-year high.  For Free Speech Radio News, I am Rami Almeghari in southern Gaza.

EPA Issues New Lead Restrictions – First in Thirty Years
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new restrictions on lead levels in the air for the first time in 30 years. FSRN’s Karen Miller has the story.
The EPA is cutting levels of lead allowed in the air by 90 percent. The agency was forced to make the changes by a federal court after a lawsuit by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment charged that EPA had failed to review the lead standard every five years, as law requires. Frank O’Donnell President of environmental watchdog group Clean Air Watch.org.
“After being sued, the EPA did agree to review the science at the new standard if needed.  The science was overwhelming that the old standards were not adequate to protect children. The EPA has made a step in a more positive direction although what they have done is weaker than what had been recommended by the EPA’s own Children’s Health Advisory Panel, a group consisting of medical doctors and pediatricians.”
Lead particles released from smelters, mines and waste incinerators are the primary source of airborne lead poisoning. Children are the most. The last time the EPA updated the standard was back in 1978 when it phased out lead in gasoline.



New Voting Systems Worry Watchdogs

The election is just 18 days away – and with higher than average turn
out expected, new data shows that 40 percent of voters will mark their
ballots on a new voting system. As Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell
reports, this raises concerns for some election watchdog groups.

California’s Prop 6 Would Try Some 14-Year-Olds as Adults

A controversial proposition on California’s ballot would expand
penalties for gang-related offences and require some children as young
as 14 years of age to be tried as adults. Proponents say the bill is
crucial to combating gang activity in the state – but critics say it
will grab money away from vital social programs. Africa Jones reports.

White House and Iraq’s PM Strike Draft Agreement for Withdrawal

The White House and the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister appear to
be closer than ever to reaching an agreement on a bilateral security
deal. The agreement would allow the US military and private contractors
to maintain a presence in Iraq after the United Nations-backed mandate
expires at the end of the year. A draft agreement calls for the
withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities by mid-2009, with a full
withdrawal mandated by the end of 2011, but the full details of the
draft agreement have not yet been made public.

New Film Highlights Voices of Dissent against the War

A new award-winning film that documents the voices of dissent against
the War has just been released – “Finding Our Voices” captures the
motivations behind eight people who have taken a stand to challenge the
so-called War on Terror. Filmmaker Vicki Hughes recently dropped by our
Washington Bureau office and talked about her new film. For more
information, go to www.findingourvoices.com

Food and the Financial Crisis

The global economic meltdown, high unemployment levels, inflation and
rising fuel costs are making it difficult for low income households to
meet basic nutritional needs. The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables,
dairy products and meat has lept over the past year, far outpacing the
moderate raise in the federal minimum wage. During a forum at Cooper
Union in New York last night, a panel of independent farmers, labor
activists and scholars presented ideas on how to address hunger through
community empowerment, worker organizing and sustainable development.
FSRN’s Ari Paul has more.

Mining Law Controversy in Ecuador

Ecuador’s left-leaning President Rafael Correa, has been enjoying a
major victory since the country’s new constitution passed by a margin
of 64% in late September. The charter expands access for Ecuadorians to
social services and grants them the right to water; it also promotes
environmental initiatives. But indigenous, environmental and rural
organizations worry that the new constitutional gains may be
compromised by Correa’s plan to pay for new social benefits through
controversial mining projects. As his government installs an interim
legislative commission, with an anticipated new mining law near the top
of its agenda, the conflict is shaping up to be one of the toughest
challenges in coming months. Jen Moore reports from Cuenca, Ecuador.

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