August 14, 2009

  • The history of the US health insurance industry
  • Government data tracking to expand under Obama
  • Veterans demand expansion of VA mental heath care programs
  • Iraqi journalists protest proposed restrictions on freedom of expression
  • Pakistani military offensive strains Buner’s only operational hospital

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Islamist group clash leaves 6 dead in Gaza
Violence today erupted in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah.  FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has the story.

At least 6 people have been killed, and 40 others injured, in clashes in the Southern Gaza city of Rafah… between personnel of the Hamas-led interior ministry and a Salafi Islamist group whose aim is implement Shari’a law.  The fighting broke out after a Salafi Imam gave a sermon criticizing Hamas and pledging his and his supporters’ allegiance to al-Qaeda.  The clashes came just hours after the Hamas Prime Minister proclaimed that no fundamentalist Salafi groups were operating in Gaza.   Rami Almeghari, FSRN, Gaza.

Week-long climate talks in Germany accomplish little
The international Climate Change meeting in Bonn, Germany ended today without much progress.  International leaders are scrambling to come up with treaty language ahead of the major climate change summit being held in Copenhagen in December.  There, world leaders hope to ratify a treaty that will replace the Kyoto treaty.   Secretary Yvo de Boer voiced disappointment in the lack of progress.

“As Copenhagen approaches, I keep hearing those who say that we can delay action on Climate change.  That we can survive a rise of over two degrees temperature increase, that we can safely cut costs and safely cut corners, and that there are other priorities that we need to be focusing on.  And I believe that this is the way to a global disaster.  A climate change deal in Copenhagen this year is simply an unequivocal requirement to stop climate change from slipping out of control.”

Negotiators have 15 more bargaining days left.  The next meetings are scheduled next month in New York.

Death toll following Tawain typhoon topps 500
The President of Taiwan said today, the death toll following Typhoon Morakot is at 500 and will eventually be higher.  The storm hit the island earlier this week.  102 inches of rain caused flash flooding and massive mudslides.  Video footage from the AP show rescuers helping survivors cross rivers of rushing, muddy water and villagers in harnesses being eased on rip lines across washed out bridges, hundreds of feet over a stream bed.  Despite the rescue efforts, President Ma Ying-jeou is undergoing increasing criticism for not doing enough.

US Senator travels to Myanmar to meet with military junta
Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia touched down in Myanmar today, with the intention of meeting with the leader of the country’s military junta, Senior Genral Than Shwe.  Webb is not officially representing the White House, but is expected to discuss the recent sentencing of Pro-Democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Early this week, Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest for violating the terms of her previous house arrest.  Critics say the government issued the sentence to keep Suu Kyi out of the picture in the coming elections.

The UN Security Council has issued a statement, renewing its call on Myanmar to release all political prisoners and allow for truly free and fair elections.  But the Council’s statement comes without any real teeth.  Security Council President John Sawers.

“No one is setting a timetable on this, but the Government of Myanmar have their objectives which is the process that they have set out.  The international community has some reservations about that process.  We set some of them out in the statement today and if the Government of Myanmar want their process to have international credibility, they know what they have to do.”

Overall, the international community seems a bit stymied about how to handle the unpopular verdict and how to respond to the government of Myanmar.  The first group to take concrete actions against the country’s leadership was the European Union.  It says it will level sanctions against the judiciary and state-run press of Myanmar.

Report: Right wing militia groups on rise in US

Extreme right-wing anti-government militia movements are now seeing a reemergence – that according to a new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  FSRN’s Shuhei Nakayama has more.

Groups of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and so-called “sovereign citizens” that initially emerged in the 1990s are now experiencing a second wave of activity. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that videos of militia training are being posted on the internet, militant camps are emerging all over the nation, and around 50 new militia training group have emerged in less than two years.

SPLC expressed concern that racial undertones are becoming evident in the right-wing rhetoric and have radicalized the movement. This, in response to the US now having an African-American president and the rise of non-white immigration. Conservative groups say the report’s evidence is anecdotal. And a spokesperson for Americans for Limited Government told FoxNews that racism is not a factor.

But the report warns the US government of the potential danger of overlooking the growing movement, citing the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building as a prime example of home-grown anti-government extremism. Shuhei Nakayama, Free Speech Radio News.



The history of the US health insurance industry
The conversation around health care has heated up in recent weeks, especially at town hall meetings. Lawmakers have faced heckling, booing and constituents fighting with each other. Today, President Obama held the second of his forums. He spoke from an airplane hangar in Belgrade, Montana.

(Audio of Obama speaking at Town Hall meeting.)

Obama’s town hall meeting earlier this week in Portsmouth, N.H drew attention due to a protester wearing a gun. He was also carrying a sign that included part of the Thomas Jefferson quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Some of the rhetoric being used by conservative radio hosts includes references to nazism – which is being repeated in blogs and on-line forums and by people at town halls. And, as FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the current discourse echoes that of the past.

(Special thanks to the Pacifica Radio Archives and the Library of Congress for providing archival tape for this story.)

Government data tracking to expand under Obama
The Obama Administration wants to start collecting more information on everyone from Web surfers to airline passengers. As FSRN’s Tanya Snyder reports, this has some privacy groups worried.


Veterans demand expansion of VA mental heath care programs
Veterans’ groups met in San Francisco this week as part of an ongoing battle to fix the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The groups claim that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health issues do not receive timely or adequate treatment. Last year, a judge agreed with them but said the court didn’t have authority over the VA. The groups have taken their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that recent moves by the VA haven’t gone far enough to address suicides and other mental health issues. Africa Jones reports.


Iraqi journalists protest proposed restrictions on freedom of expression
Iraqi writers and media workers demonstrated in Baghdad today against proposed legislation they say would allow the government to censor the media and ban certain websites. Proponents of the legislation say it establishes a number of specific protections for media workers, but press freedom groups argue the rules could allow the government to silence outlets that publish or broadcast controversial material.

FSRN spoke to an Iraqi reporter by cell phone today for some on-the-ground perspective about press freedoms. In order to speak freely, the journalist asked to only be identified as Mohammed. He has worked with foreign media since 2003. Mohammed says intimidation and insecurity are part of the job.

“Intimidation has always been part of the process…and working for foreign media can easily get me death by many armed groups, either for political or simply for money reasons, financial reasons.”

Since the 2003 invasion, Iraq has been by far the world’s deadliest country for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the deaths of 190 journalists and media workers since March 2003. While the level of violence has decreased in the past couple of years, Mohammed says the level of overall security is still less than what it was before the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“We have a saying in Iraq that people who’ve experienced death will be happy to only have a fever. It’s much easier than death. So right now, we’re happy with the fever we have.”

Mohammad began working in media as a translator for reporters in 2003. He says that even though Iraqi reporters are often careful not to cross certain lines on sensitive issues of sectarianism and corruption, that the press is able to be far more critical of government now than under Saddam.

“We’ve suffered a lot due to the invasion. We managed to gain only one thing; which is freedom of expression…and I don’t know if it’s worth it or not at all. However, it’s very sad to see this unique gain being lost gradually as our freedom of expression is decreased or gets oppressed gradually.”

Mohammed is a reporter working with Western media in Iraq. He spoke to FSRN by cell phone and under condition of anonymity.


Pakistani military offensive strains Buner’s only operational hospital
Pakistan marks the anniversary of its independence from British rule today, but the usually jubilant celebrations have been somewhat muted this year as Pakistan contends with internal fighting in tribal districts. Buner is one of the areas worst affected by the military operation against Taliban. It borders Swat and is around a 4 hour drive from Islamabad. The nighttime shelling and fighting has created widespread psychological trauma among the civilians who have had to flee their homes…but the area lacks psychological personnel. The District Headquarters Hospital Daggar is the only facility in Buner providing care since the start of the military operation in the district. Gabe Matthews visited the area and filed this report.

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