September 17, 2009

  • Senator Baucus seeks democratic votes for healthcare plan
  • Congress member’s screams spark racism debate
  • ACLU settles with ICE over Los Angeles Detention
  • Obama administration shelves plans for missile defense shield
  • Haitian immigrants rally for Temporary Protective Status

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House passes student aid bill to put feds in charge of student loans
Today the US House passed new financial aid regulations that will eliminate government subsidies for private lenders that loan to students.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the bill will allow the government to invest in students instead of banks.  Shuhei Nakayama has more.

The government says it could save $80 billion over the next 10 years by eliminating the middleman, and shift student lending from banks and other private lenders to the federal government.

Democratic lawmakers say the half of the saving money will be used to aid the Pell Grant Program that supports low and moderate income students.  The rest will aid community colleges, early childhood education and college completion funds.  In addition, two billion dollars will go to institutions that primarily serve minorities.

Private lenders and Republicans have argued against the bill, saying banks can offer better service than the government.  They presented a competing bill that would have eliminated the government subsidies, but allowed banks to originate the loans – ensuring them continued income from fees.  The bill now heads to the Senate.  Shuhei Nakayama, Free Speech Radio News.

Mixed ruling for activists in Pittsburgh’s G20 protest case
A mixed result today for activists gearing up for protests at the G20 Summit next week in Pittsburgh.  Protest groups had sued the City to get greater access to the Summit area.  A district judge ruled that while the activist group CodePink would be allowed to set up in a centrally located park for an extra day, the city was justified in denying camping permits to protesters for public parks.

Organizer David Meieran of the Three Rivers Climate Convergence says he’s not happy with the result.

“There is a housing crisis, there are more people that have asked for housing than are available.  Of course its one of the other shortcomings of this decision because people all over the city are now going to have to scramble to figure out how to house additional people.”

The court also said the city did not have to grant a requested permit for a rally on a bridge overlooking downtown.  Activist groups in Pittsburgh are meeting tomorrow with city officials to hash out the final details.


AU peacekeepers targeted in suicide bombings in Somalia
At least two suicide bombers riding in vehicles marked with the UN logo today attacked the base of the African Union Mission in Somalia and a checkpoint near the Mogadishu airport.  Today’s attacks targeted Ugandan peacekeepers who have been protecting the transitional government.  The exact number of casualties is still unknown, but initial reports say at least 10 people are dead.

The militant group Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks, saying they were avenging the killing of a leading militant by US forces earlier this week.  The group’s spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Raghe claimed success.

“At the time of the attack, security officials from the puppet government and the African Union were planning attacks and mass killings against the Muslim people after Ramadan.  We have killed many of them.”

Just hours after the attack on the peacekeepers, heavy fighting between Somali government forces and Islamist militants killed nearly 20 in Mogadishu.  Nearly ten mortars hit a large market in the city center, killing mostly civilians.  This report was prepared by Shafi’i Mohyaddin Abokar in Mogadishu.


Deadly blast in Afghanistan; Obama holds off on calling for more US troops
In Afghanistan today, a suicide attack targeting NATO troops killed six soldiers and nearly a dozen civilians.  The attack on an Italian-led convoy happened in Kabul.  In other Afghanistan news, President Obama says he will delay an announcement of whether to call for a troop build-up.

“I’m going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions.”

This comes as the administration announced its goals for military operations in the country.


Environmental group unearths new evidence linking Trafigura to toxic dumping in Cote d’Ivoire
The environmental group Greenpeace says they have unearthed new evidence linking the Dutch mineral company Trafigura to the 2006 dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire – an action that killed more than a dozen people and made tens of thousands of people sick.  Trafigura has denied that the material dumped was hazardous, even though an analysis obtained by the BBC in May showed the tanker in question contained approximately two tons of the deadly chemical hydrogen sulfide.  Greenpeace says they have obtained internal e-mails that show Trafigura executives knew the material on the tanker was toxic.

Okechukwu Ibeanu, the UN Special Rapporteur on the affects of toxic dumping, says the loss of life as a result of the dumping of the toxic waste constitutes a violation of the right to life.

“It is not a coincidence that thousands of people in the immediate aftermath of this event showed consistent symptoms.  It is difficult not to conclude that there was a connection.  It is correct to say that at least prima facie evidence exists linking the human rights violation, the deaths and illnesses to the dumping of this waste in Cote d’Ivoire.”

Trafigura yesterday said it was close to settling out of court with 31-thousand Cote d’Ivoire residents who had filed a class action suit in British court.


Number of political prisoners on the rise in Myanmar

In Myanmar another 100 people were jailed for political reason over the last few months bringing the number of political prisoners to more than 2,200, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.  The group says the number of political prisoners has doubled in the past two years and is calling for their immediate release in order to give credibility to up-coming national elections.


Summer surface ocean temperatures warmest on record
The average surface temperature of the world’s oceans this summer was the warmest on record according to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit figure is just over a degree higher than the 20th century average.




Senator Baucus seeks democratic votes for healthcare plan
Democrats are continuing to push forward with healthcare reform.  President Obama attended a rally at the University of Maryland to engage young people in the debate.  Meanwhile, Senator Max Baucus, a key Democrat who released his health care reform plan yesterday, tried to persuade a much tougher audience: his Democratic colleagues. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Congress member´s screams spark racism debate
You Lie! These words yelled out by Representative Joe Wilson during President Obama´s health care speech last week, have ushered in the latest debate on race in America.

Former President Jimmy Carter and others say Wilson´s screams were motivated by racism. Others say Carter´s comments are part of a political ploy.  FSRN’s Karen Miller has more


ACLU settles with ICE over Los Angeles Detention
The ACLU of Southern California has settled a lawsuit against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement -also known as ICE- for holding detainees in squalid conditions in downtown Los Angeles. Dan Fritz reports.


Obama administration shelves plans for missile defense shield
The Obama administration has shelved plans to build a controversial missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In 2007, the Bush administration approved plans to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The goal was to intercept mid-range and long-range nuclear missiles that could be launched from Iran.

The plans angered Russian officials who saw this as a threat to their country´s national security. The missile shield was also opposed by some US policy experts who said it hindered disarmament efforts and wouldn’t be effective in stopping missile strikes.

One of those experts is Tom Collina, he´s the research director at the Arms Control Association.  The ACA monitors US security policies and international efforts to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Collina spoke to FSRN Thursday.


Haitian immigrants rally for Temporary Protective Status
Haitian immigrants and their advocates are rallying this week in California, Florida and Washington, DC. Groups say some 30,000 Haitian immigrants risk deportation back to a devastated country if they are not granted Temporary Protective Status, or TPS. Gerald Lenoir is director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. He spoke at a demonstration in Oakland Wednesday.

“We’re asking people to flood the White House with calls this week to call for TPS for Haitian immigrants. President Obama has power by executive order to grant TPS.  We know that in the past TPS status has been granted in other humanitarian crisis; in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, in Honduras.  But yet we can´t get it for Hatians, why? It makes no sense.”

The Caribbean island was hit with four major storms and hurricanes last August and September that officials say killed an estimated 800 people and injured about 500. The country’s already fragile infrastructure was also heavily damaged, as well as hundreds of thousands of homes. Wealthy countries pledged more than $700 million dollars to repair the country, but just a fraction of that has been delivered. Pierre Lebossiere with the San Francisco based Haiti Action Committee says the US has a responsibility not to send thousands of people back to a country in turmoil.

“Haiti’s been treated differently from other countries; for example in Central America there was a big storm about 10 years ago, Hurricane Mitch, that really caused a lot of destruction. And our brothers and sisters from Central America rightfully received Temporary Protective Status and that came on the heels also of the wars there. But when we look at Haiti we´ve had a series of hurricanes during that period in the late 90s and also as recently as last year and everybody knows the food riots that have come out of that terrible economic situation. And Hatians are still being denied Temporary Protective Status.”

Temporary Protective Status would give Haitians the right to stay in the US and obtain work permits until they could safely return home. But first the US needs to designate Haiti as a TPS country. Currently, the US grants TPS status to El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan. Some groups, including U.S. Catholic bishops, have been calling on the Federal government since last fall to give Haiti TPS status. Others involved in the campaign include Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, Haitian musician Wyclef Jean and M1 from the hip-hop band Dead Prez. M1 released a video calling on the Obama Administration to act now.

In Miami, Florida tomorrow a dozen local hip-hop and spoken-word artists are holding a TPS Solidarity Vigil to bring more awareness to the issue.

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