May 7, 2009

  • Bank stress tests reveal some unhealthy banks will need to raise capital
  • House passes new mortgage lending act
  • Obama budget includes $1.2B for black farmers
  • South Ossetia refugees still displaced
  • Gaza residents still lack clean water as a result of Israel’s attack
  • Egypt moves to censor religious statements on television

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Maryland becomes first state to make attacks on homeless a hate crime
Maryland has become the first state in the US to make attacks targeting homeless people a hate crime.  The state’s governor, Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law today.  Michael O’Neill, director of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau, says many oppose this sort of legislation.  Their argument being, because homelessness is a choice, the addition of the group would water down current hate crimes legislation, which traditionally target people who have no control over their minority status.  But, he says, the numbers speak to the need.

“From 99 to 2007 there have been 774 documented attacks in this country and 217 deaths.  Hopefully with MD doing it, other states will follow suit.”

O’Neill says California, Ohio, Texas and Massachusetts are all considering similar legislation.  Advocacy groups are also pushing for change on the federal level.

Activist support striking ICE detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center
Activists in Brownsville, Texas today held a vigil in solidarity with detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center.  There, inmates have been on hunger strike for nearly two weeks in protest of the conditions at the facility.  Free Speech Radio News reporter Ansel Herz has an update.

Initially Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied that any detainees were on hunger strike, but family members and activists have since confirmed to FSRN up to two hundred people are participating.  Now ICE acknowledges at least one detainee is striking.   Anayanse Garza of the Southwest Workers Union says the detainees are now taking turns on hunger strike in order to maintain their health.

“It’s a federal facility but they contract out to a corporation for the guards.  So these guards and ICE officials have been participating in verbal and physical abuse of the detainees.”

Activists met with local Congressmen earlier this week to make them aware of the situation at the facility, and they say they are preparing a National Day of Action in solidarity with the detainees on hunger strike.  Ansel Herz, FSRN, Austin.

Capital Punishment appeal fails in Colorado
In the waning hours of the Colorado Legislative session, lawmakers could not muster enough votes to repeal the death penalty.  From Denver, FSRN’s Nikki Kayser reports.

Ultimately the measure to eliminate the death penalty failed by one vote in the Senate.  Capital punishment opponents were hopeful because of the unique approach taken in the legislation.  It sought to redirect funds for capital cases to the investigation of cold cases. Abe Bonowitz is with the National Coalition to Abolish The Death Penalty:

“I am not aware of another state that has taken this approach. Really what’s important is to help legislatures see that it really wasn’t a big deal; that the death penalty wasn’t used very much. When it was being used, it was more about politics and geography than the severity of the crime.”

Four Colorado Senate Democrats joined Republicans to defeat the bill.  District attorneys opposed the legislation citing a need for plea bargain material, and said life in prison is not a sufficient deterrent. Supporters of abolition, including families of murder victims, the Catholic Church, and public defenders, say they will propose the bill again next year.   Nikki Kayser.  FSRN.  Denver.

Justice Department declines to pursue Lt. Ehren Watada war resister case
The US Department of Justice has decided not to pursue a second court marshal trial for Lt. Ehren Watada, the first US military officer to refuse to serve in Iraq. FSRN’s Mark Taylor-Canfield has more from Seattle.

The Department of Justice has asked the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss their appeal of a lower court ruling, which blocked a second court marshal trial for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada.  In June 2006, Lt. Watada refused to serve in Iraq on the grounds that the US invasion was both illegal and immoral. His court marshal was declared a mistrial in February 2007.  A civilian US federal judge blocked the Army’s attempt to hold a second court marshal in October of 2007, ruling that a second trial would qualify as double jeopardy. According to the US Constitution, a person cannot be tried twice on the same charges.  Although Lt. Watada’s period of enlistment was up two years ago, he is still virtually confined to the US Army base at Ft. Lewis, Washington where he is stationed. Watada has not been allowed to leave military service, and the US Army has barred him from communicating with anti-war groups.  Despite the Department of Justice’s decision not to appeal the earlier civilian court ruling, the US Army is still considering prosecution of Lt. Watada on two charges of “behavior unbecoming an officer” because of an anti-war speech he gave to the Veterans For Peace national conference in Seattle in 2006.  This is Mark Taylor-Canfield in Seattle for Free Speech Radio News.

Trouble continues in Pakistan and Afghanistan

As President Obama continues to meet with Pakistani and Afghan leaders in Washington, the situation in both countries is rapidly deteriorating.  In southern Afghanistan today a suicide bomber targeting foreign troops killed 12 civilians and injured over 30 more.  In addition, fall-out continues from US air strikes this week, which killed nearly 100 civilians.  In response, residents have staged protests.  Today police opened fire on a group of demonstrators, injuring 6.  US and Afghan authorities are currently investigating the air strikes.

In Pakistan, the government said today it will end the peace deal with the Taliban and step up its military operations against the militant group.  The government says it currently has over 10-thousand troops in the Swat Valley.  The relief agency Doctors Without Borders said today it has halted emergency medical work in Swat because of the extreme insecurity and incidents targeting the group’s aid workers.  The organization claims hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are currently seeking refuge.

China finally releases student death toll from last May’s earthquake
China says more than 5000 school children died in last year’s major earthquake in Sichuan province.  The announcement comes almost a full year after the anniversary.  Many parents of the dead blame corruption and poor school construction for the classroom collapses that trapped and killed so many students.



Bank stress tests reveal some unhealthy banks will need to raise capital
The much-anticipated bank stress test results are in today – and after two months analyzing the 19 largest banks’ books, the government’s assessment reveals that some of those banks are not healthy enough to survive any additional economic stress. That means the government will force the banks to raise more money. Leigh Ann Caldwell reports from the Capitol.

House passes new mortgage lending act

Homeowners and borrowers have moved one step closer to getting more protection from predatory lending. The Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act passed in the House today would make it more difficult for home buyers to get pushed into applying for a loan they won’t be able to afford in the long run. But tougher regulations could mean smaller lenders may go out of business – and fewer mortgage companies could mean increased lending costs to consumers. Karen Miller has the full report.

Obama budget includes $1.2B for black farmers
President Obama unleashed the details of his budget, and is highlighting 17 billion dollars in program cuts for 2010. Half of the cuts come from the Defense Department. Republicans respond that the cuts make up just one quarter of one percent of the budget total of 3.6 trillion dollars. But at least one group is celebrating: black farmers. President Obama included 1.25 billion dollars to pay black farmers for years of discrimination at the US Department of Agriculture. The farmers won a civil rights lawsuit against the USDA and have been waiting for the remainder of their monetary payment.

South Ossetia refugees still displaced
Authorities in Georgia have released three activists accused of hooliganism after they protested outside the offices of what protestors said were pro-government journalists. The country’s interior ministry said the opposition protestors were released after the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church made an appeal to the Government. Meanwhile, a second meeting planned between Georgia, Russia and South Ossetia has been canceled. South Ossetia belongs to Georgia, but has long been under separatist control and is backed by Russia. The province South Ossetia was at the center of a short war between Georgia and Russia in August. 130,000 people fled their homes to escape the fighting; of those, about 30,000 who had lived in the province of South Ossetia are still unable to return. Many now live in hastily constructed settlements, and remain dependent on foreign aid. They make up only the latest addition to the more than 200,000 people already displaced by wars fought over Georgia’s breakaway provinces. Jacob Resneck reports.

Gaza residents still lack clean water as a result of Israel’s attack

Israel launched three air strikes on what it says are smuggling tunnels that connect Gaza with Egypt – Palestinian doctors say four people were injured from the strike. The attack came in response to five mortar shells fired by Gaza’s armed wing of the Hamas Party into Southern Israel. Meanwhile, the United Nations has hinted that it may reconsider war crimes investigations into Israel’s three-week attack on the Gaza strip. Gaza residents continue to live out the repercussions of those attacks. Rami Almeghari reports that tens of thousands of residents still lack running water.

Egypt moves to censor religious statements on television
There is a controversial proposal in the Egyptian parliament that would criminalize religious edicts issued by scholars on television if they do not have government permits.  Proponents of the draft law say this will help eliminate radical statements made on television. The fear, though, is that this could also lead to government control over religion and curb freedom of speech. Correspondent Aya Batrawy reports from Cairo.

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