November 3, 2009

  • Small business owners weigh in on the health care reform bill
  • Climate change bill hits roadblock as Republicans refuse to work on legislation
  • Middle East peace process stalls over settlements dispute
  • Afghans respond to Karzai’s appointment as President

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Off-year elections –what’s at stake and will voters turn out?
Voters around the country can cast ballots today in a number of important races – but it remains to be seen if they will. The off year elections feature two gubernatorial races: in Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds trails Republican Bob McDonald – despite McDonald’s history of blatant sexism and homophobia. In New Jersey the race looks close with incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine largely funding his own campaign to the tune of 23 million dollars and campaigning with President Obama. The Republican challenger, Chris Christie is running close in the polls and Independent Chris Daggett stands to garner support from disaffected voted from both parties. In New York, the contest for the 23rd Congressional District pits conservative Republicans against their moderate comrades – centrist Republicans may well support Democratic candidate Bill Owens after moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava withdrew over the weekend leaving conservative Doug Hoffman as the only GOP option. Mayoral races are on the ballot in a number of cities including New York, Boston and Atlanta – and ballot initiatives appear in six states including same sex marriage and medical marijuana in Maine, land preservation in New Jersey and casino gambling in Ohio.


Five Muslim men detained post 9-11 settle lawsuit against US for $1.26 million
Lawyers for five Muslim men who were detained for months after the September 11th attacks announced today that they have reached a 1.26 million dollar settlement with the US government. Two of the five plaintiffs were held for months even after the FBI cleared them of any ties to terrorism. The Center for Constitutional Rights – who represented the men – says this is the largest settlement thus far for claims of post 9-11 abuse. While substantial – the awards average only about 250 K per victim.


Another journalist slain in Mexico
Mexico continues to rank as the hemisphere’s deadliest country for journalists. The body of a Mexican crime reporter was found last night near the spot where he was kidnapped 10 hours earlier. Shannon Young has the story.

The body of Bladimir Antuna García was found dumped behind a clinic with signs of strangulation. Mexican newspapers report that a a written message was left with the body, something police have denied when speaking on the record. Mexico City’s La Jornada writes that a witness relayed the message as (quote) “This happened to me for giving information to the military and for writing what I shouldn’t have. Be careful with your texts before making news”. Antuna García worked as a crime reporter for a newspaper in the northern state of Durango. He’s the 4th press worker murdered this year in Durango and the eleventh in Mexico. Homicides in Durango have skyrocketed since 2008 after two formerly allied cartels became rivals. Part of the state lies in the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an area along the shared borders of Chihuahua and Sinaloa known for plantation-scale marijuana and poppy cultivation. Organized crime is the primary suspect in most Mexican reporter murders and the crimes usually go unpunished. Shannon Young, FSRN.

H1N1 around the world: schools close, borders tighten and officials quit
Governments around the world continue to react to H1N1 – yesterday Afghanistan declared a state of emergency and closed all schools for three weeks, as did Ukraine. Today both Russia and Slovakia increased scrutiny at their respective borders with Ukraine – Slovakia closed two of five crossings and Russia is screening all who enter from Ukraine. And in Romania today, a top health ministry official resigned after announcing on national TV that 20,000 people could die from swine flu in that one nation alone. Miles Ashdown has more.

A Romanian presidential adviser said the Health Ministry Secretary of State caused a ‘futile sense of panic” and should ‘no longer appear in public.” Dr. Adrian Streniu Cercel said the 20,000 deaths would be the minimum. Citing personal reasons, the doctor resigned today — just a month after being appointed.  Before leaving his post, Streinu announced the health ministry would quarantine all Romanian hospitals from visitors and create separate emergency wards for people with flu symptoms. Additionally, hospitals will start vaccinations later this month of 1.3 million medical staff, and high school and university students in the capital Bucharest and the northeastern city of Iasi. Romania is one of eight countries in the world that can produce the vaccine. The Romanian president called today for the public and media to remain calm and to act responsibility. Last week, Romania’s interim health minister said the ministry is considering banning public gatherings. According to the Romanian health ministry, the country has 555 registered cases of swine flu. 174 were reported over the past week. Miles Ashdown, FSRN, Romania.

Philly democrats ask that polls stay open late due to transit strike
The Philadelphia Democratic Committee has asked that polls remain open an extra hour tonight after a public transit strike took effect in the early morning hours today. Commuters were stranded this morning and may well face challenges getting to their voting precincts after work.  The Transport Union Workers Local 234 went on strike at 3 AM today – they walked out after failing to reach an agreement on wages and employee contributions for their pensions and health care. Some 5,000 train operators, bus drivers and mechanics originally planned to strike Friday night – but agreed to stay at the negotiating table until the World Series games in Philadelphia were finished. No further negotiations are yet scheduled.



Small business owners weigh in on the health care reform bill
On Capitol Hill, House Democratic leadership is attempting to iron out the final details of health care reform. Sticking points include abortion and immigration. Many conservative Democrats are demanding that no federal dollars fund abortions and that lawmakers exclude undocumented immigrants from a government health plan. Despite some progress, health care reform is far from the finish line. Today, small business owners descended on Washington to urge its passage. But as FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the small business community is split on reform efforts.


Climate change bill hits roadblock as Republicans refuse to work on legislation
When a senate committee met in Washington today to mark up the climate change bill, a surprise came when no Republican senators came to participate in the process.  As FSRN’s Sam Greenspan reports, a continuing wave of bipartisan politics could stall the bill’s progress.


Middle East peace process stalls over settlements dispute
In East Jerusalem today, a riot broke out between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents as settlers forced a Palestinian family from their home. A district court denied the residents’ appeal to stay on the property.

For nearly thirty years, both sides have been locked in a legal battle over the ownership of 28houses in the neighborhood.

Amar Arrori is a human rights researcher who witnessed the event.

“The police arrived ten minutes after the settlers took over the house. Settlers told them they had a court order to occupy the home. Officers took a representative of the settlers and the resident owner’s son to the police station, where the settlers were told to leave the house for ten days and the owners were instructed to file an appeal. The settlers left the house, but also left two armed guards at the entrance to the home.”

The incident follows an especially tense few days in the Middle East peace process. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew sharp criticism from Arab leaders when she seemed to back away from the Obama Administration’s demand of a freeze on settlements in the West Bank. The incident came when Clinton praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to temporarily suspend new settlements, rather than stop them completely.

Today, Clinton re-asserted the call for a freeze on settlements.

“The position of the Obama Administration has not changed. We do not believe that settlements are legitimate. We said that repeatedly. And we have made that clear to the Israelis, the Arabs, the Palestinians and the world.”

But the peace process in the Middle East – a month after Obama called for a renewed focus – has yet to make real progress.

We’re joined by Stephen Zunes. He’s a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the program in Middle Eastern Studies.


Afghans respond to Karzai’s appointment as President
In Afghanistan today, Hamid Karzai promised to form an inclusive government and tackle corruption. The speech comes one day after Karzai was declared the de-facto winner of the run-off election, after his challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the race.

“We are aware of the difficulties of our governance, and the environment in which we live. We will keep trying our best to address the question that we have, facing Afghanistan, and to make sure that the wished of Afghan people come true towards an effective, clean government, legally bound and also the same time to make sure that the tax paid money coming to us from your countries is spent wisely and rightly by us the Afghan government also by the donors themselves.”

President Karzai also called on the Taliban to leave the militancy and prepare for peace talks. But in a statement, the Taliban called Karzai a “puppet president” installed with the help of Washington and London.

Yesterday’s announcement handing Karzai a second five-year term is raising questions, as a candidate needs 50 percent of the vote to win under Afghan Election Law. After investigations into extensive fraud during the first round of voting, election officials threw out nearly one million illegitimate votes for Karzai, and his percentage dropped to 48 percent. For this edition of Street Beat, FSRN’s Kabul-based reporter Mujahid Jawad talked to some MPs, residents and political experts about the legitimacy of this decision.

You just heard Ahmad Shah Rasheed an NGO worker; Wais Kakar a law student; Mullah Tarakhail Kochi and Doud Sultanzoe, members of the lower house of Afghanistan’s Parliament; Matiulllah Khurotai, an Afghan political expert; Ajmal Suhail, leader of the liberal party and Najeeb Mohammoud, an official of the Afghanistan Research and Study center — all commenting on the decision to give Karzai a second term as president after his challenger withdrew from the run-off election.

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