March 25, 2009

  • Obama talks budget with congressional leaders
  • Senate panel considers Christopher Hill’s nomination as ambassador to Iraq
  • Amnesty International slams US immigration detention policies
  • US recession hammers Mexico
  • Egyptian bloggers thrive despite repression and censorship

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UK Inquiry to Examine Legality of Iraq War
The British government says it will hold an inquiry into the legality of the Iraq war – but not until July – after the bulk of its troops have been withdrawn. Naomi Fowler reports from London:

Low Wage Worker Complaints go Un-investigated

Complaints from low-wage-workers often go un-investigated by the Labor Department. A GAO report released today says the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour division often closes cases when employers don’t return phone calls. An undercover investigation also found that the agency took longer than a year to respond to some complaints. When investigators filed a false child labor complaint it received no response after a 4-month wait. The report also found a division policy that instructs offices not to record unsuccessful consulations in its database.

Specter to Vote No on Employee Free Choice Act
The key GOP vote for a union-organizing bill is gone. Senator Arlen Specter says he’ll vote against the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would allow workers to unionize when a majority of employees in their workplace sign cards in favor.  Labor organizers hope it will boost union membership. They’ve spent millions in lobbying lawmakers, and so have the corporations that oppose the bill. Without Specter’s vote, the GOP will likely filibuster the measure.

Student Farmworker Alliance to Target Campus Food Suppliers
A group that won better pay and working conditions for workers who pick tomatoes for fast food giants and supermarkets has launched a new campaign. This one targets food service industry giants who have multi-million dollar contracts to supply food to universities. Andalusia Knoll reports:

Fare Hike Approved in New York
In New York millions of people who use public transportation face a fare hike in the middle of a recession. The transit authority voted today to raise subway, bus and suburban train fares 20 to 30 percent. Abdulai Bah has more.



Obama talks budget with congressional leaders
President Obama visited Capitol Hill today to meet with Democrats to rally support behind his 3.6 trillion dollar budget.

Top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, made major cuts to Obama’s blueprint, but downplayed the differences:

CONRAD: “We have preserved the President’s budget policies: the economy, health care, energy, and middle class tax cuts.”

But Conrad’s cuts stripped from Obama’s budget an 800 dollar tax cut for working families passed in the stimulus. Conrad also removed a controversial carbon cap-and-trade program from Obama’s budget. Overall, the cuts result in a 600 billion dollar reduction over 5 years.

At yesterday evening’s prime time press conference, Obama said he expects the budget priorities to remain the same.

OBAMA: “When it comes to the middle-class tax cut, we already had that in the recovery.  We know that that’s going to be in place for at least the next two years.  We had identified a specific way to pay for it.  If Congress has better ideas in terms of how to pay for it, then we’re happy to listen. When it comes to cap and trade, the broader principle is that we’ve got to move to a new energy era, and that means moving away from polluting energy sources towards cleaner energy sources.  That is a potential engine for economic growth.  I think cap and trade is the best way, from my perspective, to achieve some of those gains because what it does is it starts pricing the pollution that’s being sent into the atmosphere.”

Obama said he understood that changes must be made to win the necessary support of enough lawmakers for it to pass. Republicans call the budget proposals too expensive. The House and Senate budget Committees are writing the budget today and tomorrow.

Senate panel considers Christopher Hill’s nomination as ambassador to Iraq

A Senate panel heard testimony from Christopher Hill, nominated for the position of US Ambassador to Iraq. Concerns over Hill’s negotiations with North Korea during the Bush Administration are holding up his nomination. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Amnesty International slams US immigration detention policies
The US system of immigration detention is arbitrary, abusive, and needs immediate reform – according to a report released today by Amnesty International. The US government now holds more than 30,000 immigrants in detention on any given day. That’s triple the capacity of a decade ago. Amnesty’s investigation reports that asylum seekers, torture victims and immigrants who have committed no criminal offense, often languish in jails without due process alongside violent offenders. Jared Marchildon reports.


US recession hammers Mexico
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico ahead of next month’s planned visit by President Barack Obama. Topping the agenda are the issues of drug cartel violence and a trade dispute over the cancellation of a pilot program to allow Mexican truckers to operate inside the US. The sharp downturn of the Mexican economy is also a likely topic of conversation. The US recession has affected Mexico with tens of thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector and the Mexican peso has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar in the past 5 months. President Calderón put together a stimulus package to help Mexico weather the economic crisis. But critics say it won’t be enough. Tanya Snyder has the story.

Egyptian bloggers thrive despite repression and censorship
Egypt has an estimated 10,000 bloggers. Many have come under heavy scrutiny by state security and have been arrested for their online activism. Some have even reported having been tortured while in detention. Despite the risks, Egyptian bloggers have managed to break a handful of stories, forcing main stream media to pay attention to what they have to say. Aya Batrawy has more from Cairo.

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