January 27, 2009

  • Fresh violence on Israeli-Gaza border
  • Obama envoy heads to Mid East
  • How will stimulus affect the neediest?
  • Losing jobs… and healthcare coverage
  • Children forced to beg on Pakistan’s streets

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More Ethics Talk in DC
Freshly minted Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner issued new rules today aimed at reining in the influence of lobbyists and special interests on the disbursements of bailout monies. Lobbyists will not be allowed to interfere with applications for or payments of the funds. Also – Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified before Congress today. Despite President Obama’s ethic’s mandate, Gates said that a strict application of ethics policies could result in a “cutting off of noses to spite our faces’ when vetting potential appointees.

Ethics Scandal in Britain
In Britain today, a major political scandal is erupting involving…lobbyists. Four representatives from the House of Lords are alleged to have talked money with journalists posing as lobbyists in return for influencing legislation. From London, Naomi Fowler reports.

The UK’s PR and lobbying industry is the largest in the world after the US. There’s currently no established system for the public to know which interests are lobbying Parliament. This recording of a conversation between journalists pretending to be lobbyists and Lord Taylor in a bar was released by the Sunday Times:

‘Some companies that I work with would pay me £100,000 a year…’


‘Oh yeah! And that’s cheap to what I do for them. And other companies would pay me £25,000,”

‘Well, that’s not, those fees are not impossible… they’re all fine’

‘These are the sort of fees that I get, it’s whether I want to do it or not, that’s the thing and you’ve got to whet my appetite to get me to come on board.’

An investigation is now underway into the four peers involved in the allegations. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.’

British Tribunal Orders Release of Secret Meeting Minutes
A British information tribunal today ordered the government to make public minutes from 2003 Cabinet discussions on the invasion of Iraq. The meetings were held to consider the legality if the Iraq invasion. The Tribunal said that public interest in maintaining confidentiality was outweighed by public interest in the information. The British government has 28 days to appeal.

Somali Seat Over Power Under Sharia Law
A hard-line Islamic group took control of seat of the Somali parliament and today says it will enforce Shariah law in the city. Al-Shabab took over after Ethiopian troops left the city. The takeover came as Somalia’s parliament elects a new president this week

More US Troops Arrive in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, nearly 3,000 US forces moved into two provinces south of Kabul today, where there’s been regular insurgent activity. The troops are the first installment of the 30,000 planned troop build up in the area.  There are currently about 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, more than 33,000 from the United States.

Namibia Splashes Cash on Civil Servants
The Government of Namibia plans to award its 84 000-strong civil service a 24 percent salary increase. The increase is the highest ever awarded in independent Namibia and follows a similar rise in the salaries of political office bearers. From the Namibian capital, Windhoek, Moses Magadza sent us this report.

The increase is the highest single one since Namibia’s independence in 1990.

It will be awarded on a sliding scale over two financial years, with the lowest paid civil servant getting 28 percent. Local media reports say the increase will cost the country about one billion Namibia dollars – or 100 million US dollars. Towards the end of last year Namibia’s President Hefikepunye Pohamba increased the salaries of political office bearers by 24 percent and with Namibia preparing for presidential and general elections this year, it was expected that the government would bow to demands for more pay by its civil servants. Analysts expect President Pohamba’s governing South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) to win the polls, but are not sure by what margin.

For Free Speech Radio, I am Moses Magadza in Windhoek, Namibia.

Farm Crisis in Argentina
Argentina has declared a drought emergency for thousands of farmers who are at risk of losing their crops, during the worst drought the nation has seen in decades. Marie Trigona files this report.

A summer-long drought has crippled Argentina’s grain production affecting thousands of farmers.  Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced an emergency measure late yesterday to deal with an increasing farming crisis. The government said the decree would defer tax payments for a year for thousands of farmers in the drought stricken provinces– also known as Argentina’s breadbasket. At least half of Argentina’s grain crops — including wheat, soy and corn — will be lost, valued at nearly 4 billion dollars. The nation’s farming leaders, who have had strained relations with the President over last year’s grain export tax hike, had threatened a farming lock-out if the government did not implement an emergency decree. Argentina, one of the worlds leading soy producers and grain exporters, may have to import grain to feed its population. For FSRN I’m Marie Trigona in Buenos Aires.

World Social Forum Opens

The World Social Forum started today in the City of Belem, in the Brazilian Amazon. More than 100 thousand people are expected to attend. FSRN’s Natalia Viana is at the Forum.

A huge march took over the streets of Belem to celebrate the opening of the Forum this afternoon. Just before, the shadow forums — attended by thousands — came to a close.  Those forums included grassroots and alternative media initiatives, Science and Democracy and the World Social Forums of Education and Health advocating universal access.  Some say that the Forum is more about criticism than solution. But coordinator Oded Grajew says the Forum has always brought initiatives and proposals. He spoke at a press conference:

“Por exemplo,  a gente sempre falava que e necessario estabelecr outras prioridades e outros valores. Falavamos de justica social  paz democracia. Todo mundo dizia: como faz, os recursos soa limitados…. Agora na crise financeira de repente apareceram trilhoes de dolares que pdoeriam ter sido usados para combater a pobreza, investir em energias renováveis e promover a educaco de qualidade, saude de qualidade para todos”. 40 s

“For instance, we always said it was necessary to establish new values such as social justice, peace and democracy. Everybody said it was impossible because of limited resources. Now with the crisis trillions of dollars showed up, and this money could have been used to end poverty, promote renewable energy and access to health and education for all”

This year the Social Forum will focus on the future of the Amazon and the participation of indigenous peoples. Today hundreds of them gathered at the venue and formed a human banner in defense of the Amazon. On Wednesday, events will discuss the forest, climate change, environmental conservation, indigenous rights and the impact of major infrastructure projects. Thanks to an international fund, up to 2000 indigenous men and women were able to travel to Belem to have their voices heard. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Natalia Viana in Belem, Brazil.

Zimbabwe Power Share Deal Still Uncertain
Zimbabwe’s tenuous power-sharing deal is still uncertain. The 15 nation Southern African Development Community met yesterday and announced after lengthy talks that a deal had been reached, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would be sworn in as prime minister, after parliament passes a constitutional amendment creating the position. But Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change – or MDC – quickly disagreed saying that while some progress was made – it wasn’t enough. The MDC leadership is set to meet nexts weekend.

Auschwitz Prisoners Liberated 64 Years Ago Today
And on this day 64 years ago, Soviet troops freed those imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. More than one million people – primarily Jews – were killed in the camp’s gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation. Remembrance ceremonies were held around the world today.



Fresh violence on Israeli-Gaza border
Fresh violence on the Israeli-Gaza border has threatened an already fragile ceasefire. Israeli defense forces say that one of their soldiers was killed when a bomb exploded on their side of the border – a Palestinian farmer was killed in ensuing gunfire. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak is warning vengeance. FSRN’s Rami Almagheri reports from Gaza.

Obama envoy heads to Mid East
This renewed violence at the Israeli-Gaza border is taking place as President Obama’s Middle East envoy, Senator George Mitchell, arrives in the region, tasked with consolidating the ceasefire. Mitchell begins his eight-day tour in Egypt today, with scheduled visits to Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, before heading to Europe. Mitchell was a key player in the Northern Ireland peace process and led all-party negotiations which led to the Belfast Agreement; but as Karen Miller reports, some question if Mitchell can make move forward on an accord if he doesn’t bring Hamas to the table.

How will stimulus affect the neediest?
President Obama continues to push for the $825 billion dollar economic recovery package: he met with lawmakers once again – this time, he convened with Republicans.  As the GOP continues to push for less spending and more tax cuts, Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell takes a look at what part of the proposed stimulus will directly help the nation’s poorest.

Losing jobs… and healthcare coverage
Layoffs continue for the 12th month in a row – as big employers like GM, Home Depot and Sprint-Nextel announce thousands of job cuts. New numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that all 50 states plus the District of Colombia are seeing unemployment rate growth compared to the previous month and the previous year.  The unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent in December – that’s up from 6.7 the previous month. The 7.2 percent is not all-inclusive of all workers who are truly out of a job: add up people who have giving up looking for work, those who are working part-time because they cannot find full time work, those who have left the workforce entirely, along with the so-called “total unemployed”, then the figure nearly doubles, to 13.5 percent.

And as jobs continue to disappear, so does healthcare coverage. As Kellia Ramares reports, the unemployed are finding it hard to keep up with their health insurance premiums on limited unemployment benefits.

Children forced to beg on Pakistan’s streets
Now we move to a report from Pakistan: in the city of Gujrat small-headed or micro-cephalic children are often seen begging on the streets. Many of them are orphans, and are enslaved by criminal gangs. Although Pakistan’s government has known about the abusive practice for decades, it has failed to eradicate it. FSRN’s Mussroor Hussain has more.

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