November 12, 2009

  • New program offers federal education grants to states
  • Clinton visits Philippines under questions of US military aid
  • Iraqis face an uncertain future after being refused entry to their home country
  • Changes to PATRIOT Act threaten refugees and asylum seekers
  • Fight intensifies in New York over natural gas drilling

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Top US diplomat opposes troop increase
President Obama’s Ambassador to Afghanistan advises against increasing troops in the country until President Hamid Karzai can tackle corruption and stem the rise of the Taliban. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has written the President twice in recent days. Eikenberry is a former US military commander in Afghanistan. His dissent comes as President Obama is wrestling with the decision to satisfy General Stanley’s McChrystal’s request to send up to 40,000 more troops, which could cost an additional 50 billion dollars. The New York Times and other media outlets are reporting that President Obama is dissatisfied with all proposals for a troop increase presented and he has asked for alternative plans, including an exit strategy.


FHA reserve fund at an all time low

The Federal Housing Administration announced Thursday that its reserves are at an all time low – largely a result of the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent increase in defaults. The government-backed FHA is the largest insurer of mortgages and is instrumental in keeping the housing market afloat during the housing crisis. Tanya Snyder reports.

By Congressional mandate, the FHA is supposed to keep in reserve funds equaling two percent of its outstanding loans. Right now, it’s down to just half a percent. This is the first time the reserves have fallen below the mandated two percent mark since the fund was created in 1992.

The FHA was one of the only lenders left when credit froze following the economic downturn. As the economic collapse caused more and more homeowners to default on their FHA loans, reserves went dry.

The FHA’s budget problems reveals how broken the US housing market remains as foreclosures continue to rise and people are unable to pay loans.

The agency has made some reforms recently, but years of competing with private lenders – and imitating some of their risky behavior – took a toll on the agency’s reserves

The agency can tap into its own resources stored at the U-S Treasury, due to a unique arrangement. Even if the FHA drains its fund completely, the Treasury will use taxpayer dollars temporarily to keep the housing agency afloat.

Tanya Snyder, FSRN.


Obama to hold jobs summit
Before he left for Asia, President Obama announced a renewed focus on unemployment. He has scheduled a roundtable focusing on job creation for early December.

This announcement comes as the weekly unemployment report says 502,000 unemployment claims were filed. That’s lower than expected and the lowest number since the first week of January.

“Even though we’ve slowed the loss of jobs, and today’s report on the continued decline in unemployment claims is a hopeful sign, the economic growth we’ve seen has not yet led to the job growth we desperately need.”

Obama will gather labor leaders, small business leaders, corporate executives, and others to discuss lagging job creation in a recovering economy. A second stimulus is not currently on the table.


Medvedev Encourages New Russian Economy
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for a major shift in the Russian economy. In a televised speech that lasted nearly 2 hours, he rebuked the state-run corporations and said they should move toward privatization. In what appears to be a slight to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Medvedev said Russia’s economy must break its dependence on imported raw materials and start encouraging independent thinking and innovation to better compete in a global economy.


Sri Lanka military commander resigns, expected to challenge president
Sri Lankan officials say the country’s top general resigned his post, fueling speculation he will challenge the President in next year’s election.  FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam reports from Sri Lanka.

In an apparent battle for power in Sri Lanka, general Sarath Fonseka’s resignation comes six months after his army crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Although the general and the president Mahinda Rajapakse worked side by side to defeat the Tamil Tigers, speculation of a rift has been brewing in recent months.

Despite allegations of serious human rights abuses, general Fonseka was appointed to the ceremonial post of the Chief of Defense.

He told reporters today that his resignation is effective December 1st.

“I have been working beyond my retirement age. Now I have decided to retire. What I will do after that yet, I have to decide. I never made any comments up until now, I will not make comments until I remove the uniform.”

In an effort to stave off military challenges, the government has recently warned that serving officers will be prosecuted if they enter politics in uniform.


German man sentenced to life for hate crime

An outcome has been reached in a high profile hate crime in Germany that has penetrated deep into the Muslim world. Russian-born German, Alex Wiens was given a life sentence yesterday for the brutal murder of an Egyptian woman in July in a Dresden courtroom. The verdict was welcomed across the Muslim world, and Egypt’s ambassador to Germany said he was satisfied because Wiens received the harshest penalty possible. Cinnamon Nippard reports from Berlin

In 2008, Marwa al-Sherbini, asked 28 year old Russian-born German, Alex Wiens, to let her child use a swing he was sitting on in a playground. Mr Wiens responded by calling her a “terrorist”, an “Islamist” and a slut. Al-Sherbini called the police and Wiens was issued a fine. Wiens refused to pay the fine and when the case went to court, he became enraged and lunged across the courtroom stabbing the pregnant, al-Sherbini, and also her husband who tried to defend her.

Presiding judge, Birgit Wiegand, stipulated that Wiens not be eligible for parole for 20 or 25 years. She also strongly reprimanded him for his actions and behavior in the courtroom. Wiens wore a black balaclava, black sunglasses and a hood over his head.

Nadeem Elyas from the Central Council of Muslims in Germany said the verdict recognized the existence of Islamophobia in the country and hopes that far-right political groups will take notice of the ruling.


Fort Hood shooter charged with pre-meditated murder
Major Nidal M. Hasan has been charged with pre-meditated murder for killing 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas. A military spokesperson said he could be charged with additional crimes. He will be tried in a military court.



New program offers federal education grants to states
Today, states can start applying for some four billion dollars in federal education money. The grants are from President Obama’s Race to the Top Program and would allow states to fund programs that boost academic performance. Now states are in a scramble to get their applications in on time. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.

Clinton visits Philippines under questions of US military aid
You’ve probably heard of the Philippines recently because of one reason: typhoons. A series of storms hit the country in September and October. At one point 80 percent of Manila, a city of 11.5 million people, was under water. Nearly one thousand people were killed in the worst storms in forty years.

Well, today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting the country. It’s part of a tour of Asia – she heads to Singapore tomorrow and joins Barack Obama on his first visit as President to China. Clinton met briefly with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The visit is intended to focus on humanitarian aid and recovery.

“I was saddened, as so many were in my country, over the loss of life in the recent storms and the flooding, and I want again to convey the sympathies of President Obama, of the Obama Administration and of the United States to the people of the Philippines. You have shown great resolve and resilience in the face of these calamities. I am proud that the United States has been your partner. As the Secretary said, we were very pleased that we could respond quickly with our military assets.”

However, Clinton also renewed US commitment to military aid in the country. Right now, there are an estimated 600 US troops in the Philippines and the Obama administration has requested more than $650 million in military aid for 2010. The US Government calls the country an important ally in the fight against terrorism.

We’re joined now by Liza Maza. She is a representative for the Gabriela Party in the Philippine Congress. She’s joining us by cell phone from Manila.


Iraqis face an uncertain future after being refused entry to their home country
Iraqis in British immigration prisons face an uncertain future after the Iraqi government announced it would not accept people who were returned to the country against their will. FSRN’S George Lavender reports.


Changes to PATRIOT Act threaten refugees and asylum seekers
The lives of thousands of refugees in the US are also in limbo. Human rights observers say changes to US immigration law within the PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act have created an overly broad definition of terrorist – and now thousands of people fleeing repression and war-torn countries are being denied their applications for asylum, permanent residence, and family reunification.

Anwen Hughes is a researcher with Human Rights First.

“These include, for example, people who engaged in ordinary military activity against an opposing army, people who fought for the independence of countries that have now been independent for a long time, like Eritrea or Bangladesh, people who were fighting really awful regimes in their countries, people who had fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, people who had fought to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In some cases people were doing these things with the support of the United States or at the behest of the United States.”

Hughes is the author of a new report on this issue. The data she collected shows some 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers affected by the broad definition of terrorism used by US immigration officials. Hughes said the statutory definition of this “Tier III terrorist organization” is any group of two or more people who have used a weapon for any unlawful purpose other than personal monetary gain. Hughes says Congress needs to act on this issue now.

“One of the small fixes would be to eliminate the immigration law concept of a non-designated, or Tier 3 as we’ve been calling it, terrorist organization because that has broadened the scope of this problem more than, basically, anything else. We also believe that the definition of terrorist activity under the immigration law is overwhelmingly broad and needs to be focused more so that it’s actually targeting the activities that the government means to target instead of targeting everybody else as well.”

Some 7500 refugees and asylum seekers’ have their cases currently on hold with the Department of Homeland Security. For those the US does deny or deport, Hughes says there’s another indirect impact — these people will have a much harder time getting refugee status in another country, after being labeled a “terrorist” by the United States. To read the full Human Rights First report click on the link to open the PDF document at:

Fight intensifies in New York over natural gas drilling
A fight is well underway in New York State over whether to allow drilling permits for natural gas in the Marcellus shale, a horizontal bedrock strip that runs from West Virginia to New York. Gas companies say a rich source of natural gas exists in the shale, which could benefit New Yorkers, whom consume more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.  But many are opposed to the drilling, which has caused environmental problems in other states.  FSRN’S Rebecca Myles has more.

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