December 23, 2009

  • Senate to vote on health care despite rush of Republican opposition
  • Partisan politics changes in Washington over time
  • Wall between Egypt and Gaza draws criticism from Palestinians
  • Federal government urges use of coal byproducts in farming

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US libraries fight to maintain funding, stay open
As the US unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, library patronage across the country has increased sixty-five-percent from 2008 to 2009.  But with reduced government funding, libraries are struggling to stay open.  FSRN’s Matthew Petrillo files from Philadelphia, where libraries all over the city are facing daily closures.

Today, five branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia did not have enough staff to open.  But this is nothing new to local citizens: the library has been posting “unscheduled closures” every day for months.  The city and state have cut the library system’s budget by 20%.

Temporary closures have become a national trend as communities try to avoid closing libraries permanently.  In Maine, Bangor Public Library has been closed the entire week and Hawaii’s State Library has furloughed its staff for fifteen days next year.

“Libraries are very much a part of the education system in the country, as well as part job readiness: librarians have become the new career-counselors.”

That was Amy Dougherty, the executive director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  She warns by not fully funding libraries, America’s knowledge-based economy will corrode.  She also speculates that at a time when libraries are needed more than ever, patronage may recede as service hours are trimmed.  Matthew Petrillo, FSRN, Philadelphia.

HUD announces homeless funding
The Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced $1.4 billion dollars in funding for over 6000 local programs aimed at helping homeless Americans.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan says half of the funds will go to aid homeless families, as rates of rural and suburban homelessness has recently been on the rise.  In addition…

“Near $740 million is being awarded to projects that provide permanent housing solutions for those that are chronically homeless and disabled by mental illness, chronic substance abuse, or HIV/AIDS.”

Donovan says HUD is combating the problem on several fronts and is also increasing Section 8 assistance to help prevent homelessness before it happens.  HUD says on any given night more than 650-thousand people are homeless.


Appropriations difficulties means Gitmo could remain open until 2011
The recently passed Defense appropriations bill did not include funding for buying a rural Illinois prison slated to receive detainee transfers from Guantanamo.  Because of this and other difficulties, the closure of the detention center at the US base in Cuba could be delayed at least a year, and likely longer, according to the New York Times.  Before upgrades to the Illinois facility can proceed, in itself a multi-month project, Congress must appropriate funds for the federal government to purchase the facility from the State.  The earliest that could happen, says the Times, is later this spring.


EPA to require companies to disclose all pesticide ingredients
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a rule reversal that would require chemical companies to reveal all ingredients contained in pesticides.  Rachael McDonald has more from Oregon.

Currently only the active ingredients in pesticides have to be disclosed to the public.  But the inactive list could include chemicals that are considered hazardous as well.  Now, the EPA intends to change the rule, and says requiring disclosure is one way to discourage the use of potentially hazardous materials.

The Eugene, Oregon-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has been pushing for full disclosure of pesticide ingredients for over a decade now, and petitioned the EPA in 1998 to change the labeling requirements.  The EPA says the rule change is in response to their request and petitions by several state attorneys general.

The EPA is currently seeking public comment on the proposed rule change.   Rachael McDonald, FSRN.

Seattle could become the next venue for the gun control battle
Seattle has been reeling from a recent spate of gun violence.  In the past few months, five police officers have been killed and three wounded.  Seattle has been one of the safest large cities in the country for years.  But through October, city crime stats show there had been an increase of 15% in violent crimes in one year alone   Now, three Washington State lawmakers – two Democrats and a Republican – have announced they will introduce a bill into the state legislature to ban the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons in the state.  Washington could become the next major battle ground in the gun control debate.  Mark Taylor-Canfield has more from Seattle.

Supporters of the “Aaron Sullivan Public Safety and Police Protection Bill” include the
United African Political Action Committee, the Jewish Federation of Seattle, and the International Association of Police Chiefs.  The Seattle Police Department is also in support of the bill, which is named after Aaron Sullivan, a young murder victim who was shot in Seattle last July.

The legislation is the result of recent violent shootings of both members of the community and police officers in recent weeks.

The non-profit group Washington Ceasefire maintains that a ban on military-style assault weapons in the state would not violate the US Constitution.  Last year the US Supreme Court ruled that bans on the sale of assault weapons and background checks did not violate the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right of the people to “bear arms”.

Currently Washington is the only state on the west coast of the US to allow the sale of assault weapons.  Mark Taylor-Canfield, Free Speech Radio News, Seattle.

Follow-up: Colombian governor found murdered by suspected FARC guerillas
Following up on a story FSRN covered yesterday… The body of a regional politician in Colombia has been found dead.  FARC rebels kidnapped Governor Luis Francisco Cuellar from his home on Monday.  The rebels likely kidnapped the politician to use as a bargaining tool.


Prominent Chinese dissident tried for subversion
One of China’s most well-known dissidents went on trial today, on charges of subversion.  Liu Xiaobo [loo Chow-boe] has been in jail for a year, after writing and circulating a document called Charter 08.  The Charter called for sweeping governmental reforms and to allow other political parties besides the Communists to have a say in government.  Liu’s supporters gathered at the courthouse to show their support.  Among them was US diplomat Gregory May, who spoke to reporters.

“We call on the government of China to release him immediately.  And to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views in favor of universally recognized fundamental freedoms, including the right to petition one’s government.”

The Chinese court says they will issue their sentence on Friday.  Liu could be jailed for as many as 15 years.



Senate to vote on health care despite rush of Republican opposition
The final vote on the Senate’s health care bill is scheduled for Thursday morning. And with fewer than 24 hours to go, Republicans are fighting to the very end. Meanwhile, progressives are planning their next steps. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.


Partisan politics changes in Washington over time
The process of moving health care legislation forward may pass a critical stage tomorrow, but the debate over the issue has been one of the most acrimonious in recent memory. Republicans spread rumors about “death panels” – to which Democrat Alan Grayson responded that Republicans want sick people to “die quickly.”  Washington has long been known for partisan bickering, but there used to be more civility – and friendship – between Democratic and Republican lawmakers. FSRN’s Tanya Snyder explores why.


Federal government urges use of coal byproducts in farming
Despite a growing push for renewable energy sources, much of the nation’s electricity still comes from coal-fired plants. And these plants create a large amount of waste. One of the byproducts of coal fired plants is synthetic gypsum or FGD gypsum. It’s a calcium-rich material that some farmers have had success using on their fields. Finding “beneficial uses” for coal plant waste started under the Bush Administration and now, both the EPA and USDA are encouraging farmers to use the chalky waste.

In a statement provided to FSRN, the Environmental Protection Agency said that it “believes that the use of FGD gypsum in agriculture is safe in appropriate soil and hydrogeologic conditions.” But the agency adds that it is important to first assess soil conditions to determine “compatibility and appropriate application rates.” The news comes while the EPA also considers regulating coal waste for the first time.

Here to discuss the idea is Paula Dinerstein, an attorney with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a service organization for local state and federal resource and environmental professionals.


Wall between Egypt and Gaza draws criticism from Palestinians
Earlier this week, we brought you a story from Egypt about the 100 foot deep steel wall that Egyptian authorities have begun constructing along the border with Gaza. Tunnels in the region have been used to smuggle weapons, but since the embargo enforced by Israel these tunnels are the main way that basic goods are transferred across the border. One smuggler told our reporter that he could get more money for diapers than guns.Today, we take a look at the wall from Gaza, where the construction has created widespread resentment among the Palestinian people. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

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