January 6, 2009

  • Doctors Wait at Rafah Crossing to Deliver Aid to Gaza
  • Reporter’s Notebook: Rami Al Meghari in Gaza
  • Anti War Protesters Greet the Opening Day of the 111th Congress
  • Bush Administration to Create Vast Marine Reserves in the Pacific
  • Congress Prepares to Vet Obama’s DOJ Appointees
  • Zapatistas Celebrate 15th Anniversary in Chiapas

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111th US Congress Officially Opens
The United States Senate and the House of Representatives officially opened the 111th Congress today with the swearing in ceremony, conducted by the President of the Senate, Dick Cheney:

Cheney swearing in members.

However, some Senate seats are still unsettled. Roland Burris, appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to replace President-elect Barack Obama, arrived on Capital Hill for the first day but was not allowed to enter the Senate Chamber.

“I will now consult with my attorneys and we will determine what our next step will be.”

His next step could be the courts, or working out a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid has said he will not seat Burris because the appointment was made by the tainted Governor of Illinois. The Minnesota Senator was also not sworn in as battles continue between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.  And in the House of Representatives, members re-elected California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. She defeated Republican John Boehner.

European Gas Crunch
Alarm is growing in Europe as a dispute over prices worsens between Russian gas company Gazprom and neighboring Ukraine — whose pipeline delivers a large proportion of Europe’s gas. From London, Naomi Fowler reports.

Reporter: In the early hours of this morning Russian supplies of gas to the EU fell 70%. European countries depend on Russian gas for about a quarter of their total gas supplies, 80% of which comes through a Ukrainian pipeline. Some EU members are entirely dependent on Russian gas; Slovakia has declared a state of emergency and some countries like Greece, Romania and Bulgaria only have a few days supply in storage. So why has Russia cut supplies? Gazprom says gas middleman the Ukraine owes $600 million for gas delievered in 2008. Julian Leigh of the Centre for Global Energy Studies:

‘Gazprom says it is continuing to put gas through the pipelines across Ukraine for delivery to consumers in Europe, however it accuses Ukraine of having taken some of that gas out of the pipeline for its own use, Russia has therefore cut the pressure to correspond to the amount it says Ukraine has taken out of the pipeline.’

The Ukrainian government denies theft and its gas company web site advises European users receiving reduced volumes of natural gas to direct complaints to Gazprom. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

Automated Unemployment Systems Overloaded
Overloaded automated unemployment claims systems have crashed in two states. Both North Carolina and New York report today that both online and telephone systems have   experienced problems. In New York, more than 10,000 jobless people per hour are trying to access the system ahead of a looming filing deadline next weekend. There’s no word yet as to when New York’s system will be repaired. And in North Carolina – the internet claims site crashed twice, accompanied by phone line problems yesterday. Once the system was restored they processed a one day record number of requests – 106,000 transactions totaling 31.5 million dollars in unemployment benefits.  North Carolina’s Employment Security Commission says nearly three times more people were trying to set up or continue online benefits than usual.

Blackwater Guards Plead Not Guilty to Manslaughter
Five former security guards for Blackwater Worldwide accused of manslaughter in the 2007 deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians were arraigned and pleaded not guilty today.  Prosecutor’s claim the men were unprovoked – defense counsel says they opened fire after coming under attack. The Director of the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry Kamil Amind, says the trial should have been held in Iraq, calling it a sovereignty issue. Defense attorneys are expected to argue that the men have been charged under a law that only applies to soldiers and military contractors — not civilian contractors who work for the State Department.

Judge Says Bush Administration Hides Evidence
At a hearing today regarding the detention of a Yemeni man at Guantanamo Bay, a District Judge accused the Bush administration of what he called ‘another example of hiding evidence from the courts.” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said that Justice Department lawyers have intentionally delayed turning over government documents from the Defense Department since September. Judge Sullivan said he is therefore unable to rule on whether or not to free Aymen Saeed Batarfi until he reviews the classified material.



Doctors Wait at Rafah Crossing to Deliver Aid to Gaza
The death toll in Gaza continues to rise as Israel maintains its ground attack against the region.  Today Israeli bombs hit a UN school that was being used as a shelter, and killed more than 40 people.  The UN claims the school was clearly marked.  In Gaza City, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a family home and killed at least 12 members of the Daya family who were inside. And now Jews in Europe are feeling a backlash from the volatile situation in the Middle East.  News of anti-Semitic attacks is beginning to surface in Sweden, Denmark, France and Great Britain.  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Monday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a European Union delegation to discuss ways to reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. And reports from these talks are somewhat promising.  Israel has indicated it would consider a ceasefire if international security forces agree to intervene.  Still, a final agreement could be days or weeks off.  On the ground, the town of Rafah, which stands at the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, has been turned into a grassroots site of action.  There doctors are waiting to get through to the injured with ambulances and medical supplies. Aya Batrawy has more from Rafah.

Reporter’s Notebook: Rami Al Meghari in Gaza

Gaza City is currently a city under siege.  Gun battles and Israeli airstrikes have ravaged the city for days now.  Free Speech Radio News has been following the situation closely – and much of our coverage comes from our reporter Rami Al Meghari, who actually lives in Gaza with his family.  He’s brought us news of ground battles, civilian deaths, displaced people and the humanitarian crisis in the area – but today, he brings us a personal account of what it’s like to live in a war zone.  In this Reporter’s Notebook, Rami explores split loyalties – between his pull to “get the story” as a journalist and his constant fear for his family and children.

Anti War Protesters Greet the Opening Day of the 111th Congress
The 111th Congress convened today.  This could be a historic session for the progressive movement with democrats having a double majority in the legislature and Barack Obama soon to be taking office.  But anti-war activists were at the capitol today to give congress a grim welcome.  In Washington, DC Sam Greenspan has the story.

Bush Administration to Create Vast Marine Reserves in the Pacific
President George Bush will not likely be remembered as a champion of environmental causes.  On the contrary, he has done more than any president in recent history to weaken clean air and water laws in favor of big business.  But today, environmentalists are giving him a feather for his cap.  The Administration has announced the creation of three new marine national monuments – around remote islands in the central and western Pacific ocean.  Lisa Speer is the director of the National Resource Defense Councils’ International Oceans Program.  She says it’s important to protect pristine areas as reference points to measure degradation in other ocean regions.

“It becomes much more difficult to protect large areas once you have invested industrial operations already in place.  Once you have fishing, mining, oil and gas development, polluting activities, it becomes much more difficult to establish a protected area – not impossible, but much more difficult.  So, I think it’s very important to protect pristine areas to the extent that we can, so that the world can continue to have some areas that remain untouched.  As we move forward, we’re going to be confronting more difficult, politically difficult situations in establishing protected areas, but this gets us off to a good start.”

The reserves will massively restrict oil and gas exploration and commercial fishing.  They will cover nearly 200-thousand square miles – an area roughly the size of Spain.

Congress Prepares to Vet Obama’s DOJ Appointees
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name Leon Panetta to head the CIA. The former member of Congress, Clinton Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director is receiving a mixed reception. Some say he lacks the intelligence background necessary to run the CIA. Others say his strong management skills can put the crippled agency back in order. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold confirmation hearings for Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department. President-elect Obama has also announced more appointments to that agency.  Dawn Johnsen was nominated to head the Office of Legal Council. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the Office of Legal Council has become one of the most critical posts in entire Justice Department.

Zapatistas Celebrate 15th Anniversary in Chiapas
Fifteen years have passed since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 – and the coinciding uprising of Mexico’s indigenous rebel guerrilla organization in the state of Chiapas. The Zapatista National Liberation Army celebrated their anniversary by organizing the First Global Festival of Dignified Rage.  The festival was held in rebel territory in the city of Oventic at the University of the Earth in San Cristobal de las Casas.  Luz Ruiz and Tim Russo bring us more from Chiapas.

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