November 5, 2009

  • Lawmakers make final push on health care bill before Saturday vote
  • Black progressives criticize Obama and speak out against war
  • Senate climate bill moves forward, despite Republican attempt to block it
  • UN General Assembly takes up war crimes report on Gaza
  • Sri Lankan government moves to resettle displaced Tamils

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not seek reelection in 2010
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said today he will not run for reelection in 2010.  Rami Almeghari reports from Gaza.

In a televised speech, Abbas outlined important steps in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, calling on the Israelis to choose peace based on a two-state solution.  He said he made his decision because of the impasse in the Middle East peace process.

“Peace is much more significant than any political gains.  And it’s much more important than any government coalition that could lead the region to fall apart or to other unknown ends.”

Israeli settlement activity is still one of the most controversial issues standing in the way of peace talks.  The US has gone back and forth on the issue of settlements and preconditions, something that Abbas criticized.  The Palestinian Authority has rejected resuming peace talks with Israel unless Israel stops all forms of settlement construction.  Rami Almeghari.  Free Speech Radio News.  Gaza.

UN pulls 600 staff out of Afghanistan citing safety concerns

In Afghanistan, hundreds of villagers gathered in the Southern Helmand province to protest what they claim is the killing of 9 civilians by NATO shelling.  NATO has denied those killed were civilians, but officials say they are conducting an investigation.

In other news, The UN is pulling 600 of its staff out Afghanistan following the attack on a guesthouse in Kabul last week that killed five employees.  Spokesperson Aleem Siddique says UN agencies will evaluate which staff is most critical.

“We will be supporting their efforts to ensure that they can continue their programmes while ensuring the safety and welfare of our all staff here.”

The UN says once security measures are in place, it hopes to be able to return the staff to their original locations.


Post-apartheid land redistribution delayed in South Africa
The world wide economic recession continues to play out in surprising ways.  In South Africa, it means those still waiting for post-apartheid justice could be waiting even longer.  FSRN’s Mimi Cherono Ng’ok reports from Cape Town.

After the end of apartheid, the New South African government promised to redistribute land.  At the time, almost 90% of the country was owned by the white population.  The Constitution stipulates the government must buy the property from its owners before redistributing.  So far only 5% of the land has been transferred, but the government still hoped to redistribute one-third of the property by 2014.

Now the program is suffering another setback.  The global recession has contributed to a lack of funds to purchase land for black farmers.  And the Department of Rural Development says the goal has been pushed back to 2025.

That year would mark the 30th anniversary of the end of apartheid – too long to wait, according to union leaders who have called for higher taxes on the rich to raise the funds necessary to move forward with redistribution. Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, FSRN, Cape Town.

US sanctions to remain on Myanmar’s Junta
The US is maintaining it’s policy of “pragmatic engagement” and a cautious stance after Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel met yesterday with Myanmar Junta leaders and detained pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.  The meeting was the first of its kind in more than 10 years.  State Department Spokesperson Ian Kelly told reporters that the US continues to call for improved human rights, the release of political prisoners and democratic reform.  At this point sanctions will remain in place.

“Our policy about sanctions is that we need to see some specific steps before we’ll consider that.”

Today, Marciel told reporters in Thailand the US is being cautious that the Junta isn’t just stringing them along, with no intention of instituting change in the country.


Unemployment benefits extension passes House and Senate
Today the US Labor Department announced that number of new unemployment claims nation-wide was down by 20,000 this week, an approximate 4% drop.  And those on the unemployment rolls will likely get a bit more relief after the Senate unanimously voted yesterday to extend unemployment benefits by 14 weeks.  States with unemployment rates over 8.5% will be eligible for a 20-week extension.


Court rules against Tyson Foods for labor violations
A federal jury in Birmingham, Alabama, has decided a Tyson poultry processing plant in the state violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  Brandon Hollingsworth, of WUAL in Tuscaloosa, reports.

Lawyers representing the U-S Department of Labor said Tyson Foods violated federal law by not keeping accurate records of time employees spent doing work-related activities outside the actual production line, including things like putting on safety gear before and after entering the production zone.  Workers were not paid for that time, which the attorneys said was a violation of federal law.  The Alabama jury agreed.

The decision will affect some 3,000 workers at the Blountsville plant, about an hour north of Birmingham.  The Labor Department began looking into Tyson’s practices nine years ago, and filed a complaint in district court two years later.  A mistrial was declared in February, but the department opted for a second trial, which began in August.  No word yet on any punishment Tyson may face.  Brandon Hollingsworth, FSRN, Tuscaloosa.

The Labor Department also announced it has increased the number of staff focusing on wage and hour disputes by one-third, adding an additional 250 field investigators.



Lawmakers make final push on health care bill before Saturday vote
The final hours before the House of Representatives votes on health care reform are upon us. The House will extend the work week and plans to bring up the legislation on Saturday. In these waning hours, conservatives have staged a last ditch effort to rally the opposition. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats are working feverishly for a vote on single payer. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Black progressives criticize Obama and speak out against war
Today in Washington DC black progressives assessed President Obama’s performance so far, and gave him an F. They also spoke out against the war in Afghanistan and the need for reparations. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.


Senate climate bill moves forward, despite Republican attempt to block it
The US Senate’s climate change bill made a leap forward today, despite efforts by Republicans to block the legislative process. By a vote of 10 to 1, democratic Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Boxer-Kerry bill without any changes. Senator Max Baucus of Montana voted against it.

At today’s mark up, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe briefly appeared to reassert Republican opposition to moving forward on the bill. Inhofe cited letters from Senate moderates who also want a more thorough EPA analysis of the economic impact of the bill.

Sen. Inhofe: “In the history of this we have not been able to find a time when a bill has not been marked up without minority participation and we are still asking for the same thing that all those in the letters are asking for and that is an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Sen. Boxer: “Senator Inhofe, I so appreciate you being here this morning, reiterating your objection and telling us why. And I only want to say that I so regret you weren’t here when the EPA was here, Senator, because I just could say on behalf of my colleagues who sat through that, they answered every question and they made the point with such clarity.”

As FSRN reported earlier this week, the seven Republicans on the committee have refused to participate in the mark-up of the bill – a requirement if lawmakers want to alter the bill through amendments. Inhofe called the Democrats vote without minority participation “unprecedented,” but committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer said he should read the rulebook:

“These are the Senate rules that have been in place for forty years and the reason they’re in place is what if every committee the minority decided not to participate and you had majority vote, you would bring the entire government to a halt. That’s why our predecessors wrote these rules and that’s why they’re there. It’s unprecedented that you would see a boycott.”

Several other committees are working on their versions of the climate change bill and all will need to pass out of committee before going before the full senate for a vote. Energy companies, faith groups and environmentalists are all urging Congress to take swift action but few expect lawmakers to have a bill approved before the December international climate change talks in Copenhagen.


UN General Assembly takes up war crimes report on Gaza
Today the UN General Assembly continues to look at a report that documents war crimes committed by both sides during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last January. The Goldstone Report found that Israel’s attacks on mosques, schools and private homes constituted “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” The report also calls Hamas attacks on Israeli towns war crimes. The UN resolution would push both Israel and Hamas to conduct their own internal investigations within six months.

The White House has been critical of the report and US Representatives passed a resolution this week calling it “biased” and “flawed.” Richard Goldstone, the lead author of the report, responded by saying the House resolution contained “serious factual inaccuracies.”

We’re joined now by Phyllis Bennis. She’s a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive DC-based think tank. She’s the author of “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.”


Sri Lankan government moves to resettle displaced Tamils
The Sri Lankan Government says it is speeding up the settlement of Tamil refugees held in state run camps. Human rights groups have criticized the government for missing deadlines to release those displaced after a military assault earlier this year. The conflict left hundreds of thousands in camps.  FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam has the story.

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