September 2, 2009

  • Financial regulation laws sidelined by health care reform, energy bill
  • Green job coalitions develop weatherization industry
  • Colombian bill facilitates Uribe re-election
  • Colombia’s Awa Indians threatened by army, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups
  • Montana reviews right to die with dignity
  • Listener letters; In defense of the right to bear arms

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DOJ announces largest pharmaceutical settlement in history
A big announcement today by the US Department of Justice:

“In a combination civil and criminal settlement, Pfizer has agreed to pay $2.3 billion – the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice.”

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said the case involved the alleged illegal marketing of the anti-inflammatory drug Bextra.  He said Pfizer advertised the drug for so-called off-label uses specifically not approved by the FDA for safety reasons.  As part of the settlement, Pfizer subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  Another part of the settlement is a 1.2 billion dollar criminal fine, and according to the DOJ, this is the largest criminal fine every imposed in the US for any matter.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says nearly $1 billion will be distributed to Medicare, Medicaid, and other government insurance programs.

Afghan voter fraud investigated
In eastern Afghanistan today, a suicide bomb attack outside a mosque killed 22, including the country’s second-highest ranking intelligence official.

Despite this blow to security forces in the country, the UN says there has been progress on one front – the fight against a major source of Taliban funding: opium production.  Antonio Maria Costa of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says poppy production is down nearly 22 percent, while opium production is down 10 percent.  He says this is good news, but more work needs to be done.

“I wish, and I strongly wish, actually, that the next administration – whatever shape or form it will have – will be strongly committed to fight not only the narcotic, but the enabling factor, which is corruption.”

But the question of what that new government will look like remains unanswered.  The Independent Elections Commission is struggling to finish tallying the votes amid numerous allegations of fraud. Asma Nemati reports from Kabul.

With almost 60 percent of the ballots counted so far, incumbent President Hamid Karzai is leading with 46 percent of the votes.  His main challenger Abdullah Abdullah has 33 percent of the votes. Preliminary results are set to be released on September 17th and it appears as if a run-off is likely.

However, according to the Afghan constitution, counts cannot be finalized until the 652 Priority-A complaints are investigated by the Electoral Complaint Commissions. Scott Worden is with the Commission:

“Many of them are on polling irregularities, and that includes ballot box stuffing or proxy voting.  They also have to do with conduct of the elections; there are lots of complaints about ink; there are complaints about polling stations closing early or people not having access to them.  We’re considering all of these in the course of our investigations.”

As allegations of fraud surface by the day, many people here question the validity of the August 20th elections. So far, the total number of complaints tops 2000.  Asma Nemati, FSRN, Kabul.

Commonwealth of Nations suspends Fiji’s membership
The international community has issued further sanctions against the Pacific island nation of Fiji.  The Commonwealth of Nations – a confederation of countries with British colonial ties – has suspended Fiji’s membership, criticizing the country’s unwillingness to hold elections by next year.  FSRN’s Shuhei Nakayama has more.

Fiji’s military government says suspension from the Commonwealth is unfortunate, but stands by its claims that holding off democratic elections until 2014 is a necessary step to reform the political system.  With the suspension, Fiji will be cut off from aid and not allowed to participate in the Olympic-style commonwealth games.

Fiji’s democratically-elected government was overthrown by the military in a 2006 coup d’état.  Since then, fears of political instability have hurt the country’s tourism-based economy, according to an analyst quoted in the New Zealand Herald. And some say suspension of Commonwealth aid will end up hurting the general population.  Shuhei Nakayama, Free Speech Radio News.

Pittsburgh activists threaten to sue city over G20 protest permits
Pittsburgh residents testified at a special City Council hearing today to express their opposition to the City’s security budget and the passage of special ordinances in preparation for the G20 summit taking place later this month.  FSRN’s Andalusia Knoll has more.

The city of Pittsburgh just approved 20 million dollars for security for the G20 summit scheduled to take place on September 24th and 25th.  Today the City Council is examining a number of special ordinances for the summit, which would prohibit gas masks and PVC pipe in the designated summit zone, “if they are used to evade police.”

Naomi Archer, a community organizer with Save Our Civil Liberties says these actions raise real concerns for protestors.

“We are coming to raise objections to the militarization of Pittsburgh and the repression of dissent that that causes.  Because what we have seen in the past is that these ordinances are actually used to shut down peoples free speech.”

G20 dissenters are also troubled that the City of Pittsburgh has yet to approve several requested protest permits – and have threatened to sue the city to speed up the process.

Non-activist residents have voiced concern that because of security, public parks will be off-limits, many public transit routes will be shut down and schools and businesses are being forced to close, causing many people to sacrifice two days pay.  FSRN Andalusia Knoll.



Financial regulation laws sidelined by health care reform, energy bill
President Obama asked Congress to pass new regulations to overhaul the financial system by the end of this year. But with a busy fall schedule looking at healthcare reform and energy legislation, financial regulation could be one issue too many. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Green job coalitions develop weatherization industry
Across the country, new coalitions are forming around the “green” economy.  Today residents of Washington, DC´s Trinidad neighborhood met with environmental groups, trade-workers, politicians and union members to weatherize a townhouse.   FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports on how these groups are working together to create more green jobs.


Colombian bill facilitates Uribe re-election
In Colombia, lawmakers passed a bill that that might lead to President Uribe running for an unprecented third term. The Colombian constitution currently bans presidents from serving more than two four-year terms. But last night Colombia´s Congress approved a referendum through which citizens will decide if their president can run for a third term.

Opposition leaders are outraged by the decision. Presidential candidate Carlos Gaviria says this is the second time Colombian laws would be changed to extend Uribe´s stay in power.  He accused the government of granting Congress members special favors to get their votes.

“This is shameful. People must realize that this is a simulation of democracy, a simulation that is greater and greater.  We are getting farther away from the decent rule of law.”

Uribe has not yet said if he will run for re-election although he admits its an issue that “torments his soul.”  Uribe´s one of several Latin American leaders who have recently extended term limits during their tenure.  Colmbia´s Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio justified his government´s efforts to change term limits.

“This is not about the government getting its way. This is about the Colombian people using congress to get their way.  Congress has been able to interpret how most people feel in this country.”

Uribe is widely popular in Colombia, where many citizens praise him for improving security conditions and decreasing attacks by FARC guerrillas. His approval ratings are consistently around 70 percent and pollsters say he could easily win presidential elections next May.


Colombia´s Awa Indians threatened by army, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups
Not everyone in Colombia is happy with the Uribe administration or how the president has handled the war against drug traffickers and the FARC. Indigenous groups widely oppose the President, saying that his efforts to destroy the FARC guerillas, have harmed many rural communities, forcing people off their lands and fueling violence against local indigenous leaders.

One of these groups is the Awa people of southwestern Colombia.  They say they´re caught in the crossfire between the army, the guerrillas and paramilitary groups.  FSRN´s Natalia Viana has their story.


Montana reviews right to die with dignity
The right to dignity and privacy was center stage Wednesday at a Montana Supreme Court hearing about physician-assisted suicide.  Last year, Montana district-court judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in favor of Robert Baxter, a 76 year old with terminal cancer who sought physician-assisted suicide. McCarter ruled that denying Baxter´s request would have violated Montana´s constitution.

Mr. Baxter died before he could implement this right. But McCarter´s ruling encouraged other Montana residents to seek physician-assisted suicide. The state of Montana is now appealing Judge McCarters decision at the Montana Supreme Court.

FSRN contacted University of Montana law professor Jeff Renz, to learn more about the legal arguments on both sides of this case.


Listener letters; In defense of the right to bear arms
FSRN listener Joshua Ogden Johnson from Pittsburgh PA, recently wrote to FSRN to protest an August 18th interview with Mark Potoc of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Johnson said he couldn’t disagree more with Potok´s arguments against gun wielding protesters at Obama events. Johnson encouraged FSRN to take another look at issues related to the first amendment, arguing that Potok mistakenly described people who demonstrated their right to bear arms, as racists and extremists.

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