November 20, 2009

  • Senators say health care reform could address gender disparities
  • Groups push for more job creation in black and Latino communities
  • House Committee approves plan to oversee Federal Reserve
  • Survivors of torture in Argentina await historic human rights trial
  • Student protests spread across Europe

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Cal student protests continue following tuition hike
Following a controversial announcement yesterday that the California State University System would raise tuition rates by 32%, students at the Berkeley campus mobilized and are now holding a sit-in.  Former FSRN technical staffer Puck Lo is among the students holding up in a campus building.

“We’ve been here since last night in Wheeler Hall.  What we’re asking for is for the reinstating of all the workers who have been furloughed or laid off.  And we’re asking for amnesty for everyone in the building, and an end to the fee hike.  Those are the conditions that we have to leave the building.  We’re trying to hold on to the building as long as we can.”

She says that between 40 and 60 students are in the building and the crowd continues to grow outside as well.  She says police used a baton on one protester, but other than that, things have been relatively peaceful.

“People are very, very upset.  This is not an action that people take lightly.  People have spent the morning and night agonizing over the fact that they’re losing their fellowships.  They might be loosing their jobs.  I might be losing my job.  I skipped a class that I’m probably going to get dropped from.  People are not here for fun.  This is an emergency.  The measures that we’re taken are taken in that light.”

Students are also protesting on the UCLA and UC Santa Cruz Campuses.


Environmentalists try to block 12 new coal plants in Texas
While much of the country is moving towards a greener energy supply, Texas seems to be moving the other way.  The state currently has 12 new coal-fired power plants in the works.  Now environmental, religious, and medical groups are requesting intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency.  Shannon Young has more.

Texas leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and coal fired power plants.  The state accounts for more than 11 percent of the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide.  That figure is likely to increase if 12 new proposed coal-fired plants become functional.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – or TCEQ – has the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the Lone Star State.  But every member of the commission is an appointee of Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is a proponent of coal.  Advocacy group Public Citizen filed a lawsuit in October arguing that the TCEQ has not been acting in the public interest.

On Thursday, members of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Interfaith Environmental Alliance delivered more than 2000 signatures to regional EPA headquarters in Dallas.  They’re calling on the federal government to block the 12 proposed plants and to use the Clean Air Act to review the permits of the 17 facilities already in operation.  Shannon Young, FSRN.

Romanian elections preview
On Sunday, Romanians will go to the polls to try to resolve a political crisis that has left the country without a government for two months.  FSRN’s Dana Lapadat reports from Bucharest.

The situation here is a bit unusual because Parliament dissolved the government two months ago.  Now the administration is working with an interim Government that has technically expired.

This has caused problems with the economy.  The IMF has delayed a transfer of 1.5 billion Euros in loan money, saying it won’t be delivered until January or March.  Budget legislation has also been held up, and funding for the public sector could run out by the end of the year.  The economic problems, in turn, have caused a string of protests and strikes by the Romanian people.

Voter turnout has been steadily declining since 2000.  Residents are very disappointed by politicians, and don’t believe they can help.  Twenty-one million people are expected to vote in Sunday’s elections.   Dana Lepadat, FSRN, Bucharest.

Anti-Piracy law unveiled in the UK
The British Government unveiled its digital economy bill today – a plan steeped in controversy.  In one provision, the government wants to tax landline phones to fund super-fast broadband in rural areas.  It also seeks to crackdown on illegal internet file-sharing and downloads.  Like France, which has created a “three strikes and your out” law, the bill includes powers to cancel people’s internet if they don’t comply.  But will it work?  Tom Allan’s been looking for perpetrators on the streets of Edinburgh.

I’m trying to find some software pirates…but what do they look like?  Right, here we go, lots of students here…  You look like a dodgy bloke – do you ever download stuff illegally?

“I’m embarrassed to say I have.”

And what would it take to discourage or stop you doing that kind of thing – how about a strongly worded letter?

“I’m not sure if that would discourage me…the amount I use it isn’t really that despicable.  I really use downloading music like a library, it’s mostly to find out about music that I don’t normally purchase, but when there’s an artists or group that I like, I purchase their music, and I try to encourage people to buy music whenever I can.”

So it’s kind of a try before you buy thing?

“That sort of thing.”

The Government’s hoping that two warning letters will be enough to cut downloads by at least 70%.  But if that fails, it will be able to cap or cut off internet connections.

The new bill has had a mixed response.  The music industry is happy, but internet service providers are not.  The law won’t go into effect for some time, but be warned – illegal downloads are being monitored in the UK, as of today.  Tom Allan, FSRN, Edinburgh.



Senators say health care reform could address gender disparities
The health care bill’s long journey through the Senate will hit a milestone on Saturday. Senators will vote on a procedural motion that allows debate to begin. It’s being called a “test” vote, since it will give Senate leaders a sense of the support they have for the bill. Three key centrist Democrats, and Independent Joe Lieberman, have agreed to vote ‘yea’ on Saturday, leaving just one more “maybe” in Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

The healthcare discussion so far has raised many issues of concern. For some Senators, health care is a feminist issue. They hope Saturday’s vote will address gender disparities in the current system. FSRN’S Tanya Snyder reports from Washington.


Groups push for more job creation in black and Latino communities
The official unemployment rate has passed 10 percent nationwide, and if you add in other jobless people, like time workers or those who have given up actively looking for work, the rate is more than 17 percent. The numbers have sent policy experts into panic mode. But for many communities and neighborhoods, unemployment has been above 10 percent for years. The unemployment rate for African Americans nationwide is close to 16 percent. For Latinos it is 13 percent. A deeper look at numbers is even more troubling. Five urban areas nationwide have an unemployment rate around 50 percent for black males – that’s Buffalo, San Diego, Detroit, Pittsburg and Milwaukee, according to a report released in September from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Economic Development.

Federal economic stimulus dollars are trying to reverse that trend – but groups are questioning whether enough attention is going to communities of color. On Thursday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus forced a postponement of the federal regulation reform because they said not enough is being done to stimulate jobs in communities they represent.

For a closer look, we go to Richmond, Virginia where the jobless rate for black males is around 40 percent.

We’re joined by Claude Stevens, Chief Operating Officer with Boaz and Ruth, a community group that has had success in turning around a neighborhood there.


House Committee approves plan to oversee Federal Reserve
Texas Congress member Ron Paul is celebrating after a House Committee approved his “Audit the Fed” bill – a provision to more closely scrutinize the Federal Reserve. Paul, an advocate of abolishing the Federal Reserve, has been working on this issue for decades. He teamed up with Florida Democrat Alan Grayson on the provision. With a vote of 43 to 26, the House Financial Services Committee approved adding it to the financial reform package. Paul  – also author of the book End the Fed, spoke Thursday before the vote:

“This is what transparency is all about – who’s benefiting and where are the trillions of dollars going. We’re not talking about a couple hundred billion dollars.  We’re talking about a portfolio of trillions of dollars and there’s very little that’s known about it.”

The Paul-Grayson amendment would allow for the first independent audit of the Federal Reserve since it was created almost a century ago. It would give the General Accountability Office wide latitude in reviewing and auditing the Federal Reserve, including the recent bank bailouts, how it sets interest rates and relationships with foreign central banks. Critics of the reserve say it’s always operated in secret, and this provision will bring about much needed transparency. Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and other critics say it could be destructive to the financial system and insist the Fed must maintain its independence.


Student protests spread across Europe
As students in California protest against fee increases, tens of thousands of students also took to the streets in Europe this week. Thousands of others have been occupying the main lecture theatres at their universities.

In Germany students are protesting against what’s called the “Bologna Process” which aims to standardize the higher education system across Europe, so that students can move between institutions in different countries. But students say the changes are making it difficult to earn a degree. FSRN’S Cinnamon Nippard has more from Berlin.


Survivors of torture in Argentina await historic human rights trial
In Argentina, the President and a council of judges postponed a human rights trial for crimes committed during the nation’s military dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s. The trial was supposed to examine crimes committed at a Navy Mechanics School, which served as a clandestine detention center, and was used to torture and disappear thousands of people. FSRN’S Marie Trigona visited the detention center and files this report.

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