January 19, 2010

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FBI illegally gathers phone info, fabricates documentation
The FBI illegally gathered telephone phone records of more than 2000 calls placed between 2002 and 2006, according to a report in today’s Washington Post. When controversy about the practice erupted within the FBI, senior bureau managers responded by issuing blanket retroactive authorizations. The call records were illegally collected even after the Patriot Act increased access to the information by making it easier for the FBI to get national security letters. The letters work like a subpoena, however they do require investigators tie the letter to an open terrorism case. To get around that provision, the FBI created a category of ‘exigent searches’ which allowed them quick access to the information – and to provide back up after the fact. But t hat back UP was often never provided. When employees within the Bureau expressed concern about the illegal practice, they were told to issue blanket, or umbrella, authorizations to cover call records obtained under false pretenses. A report on the matter is due from the Department of Justice later this month.


UN says 60,000 Somalis displaced since first of the year
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says that more than 60,000 Somalis have been displaced since the beginning of the year as fighting rages on in central areas of Somalia.UN Radio’s Jocelyn Sambira reports.

UNHCR says the number of casualties and displaced civilians continues to grow as a result of fighting in the capital Mogadishu between government forces and Al Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam militia. According to the agency, at least ten people including children died in street battles on 13 January. Over the past two weeks alone, some 14,000 people were displaced from Mogadishu. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming says there has also been new fighting between militia groups in the central Somali region of Belet Weyne, reportedly killing at least 30 and injuring another 50 people.

“This in turn has caused thousands of people to flee from their homes to save their lives and to date an estimated 11,900 have temporarily settled around the Belet Weyne area in appalling conditions. Meanwhile, in the e central region of Galgaduud, the reported number of people displaced following renewed clashes between Alu Sunna Wal Jamma and Al-Shabaab early this year has also risen.”

UNHCR says Somalia continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with some 1.5 million internally displaced people. More than half a million others are living as refugees in neighboring countries, mainly Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia. Jocelyne Sambira, UN Radio.

High Court tosses ruling that overturned Mumia Abu Jamal death sentence
The Supreme Court today tossed out a lower court decision that had set aside his death sentence – Matt Petrillo reports from Philly.

The High Court returned the question of a new sentencing hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals, tossing out the lower courts ruling that set aside his death sentence.  Abu-Jamal’s most recent appeal centered on what was flawed jury instructions during his 1982 capital sentencing. At the time, jurors did not have to agree unanimously on mitigating circumstance during the sentencing phase. If they had, Abu Jamal may have avoided death row. But the Supreme Court reversed a similar ruling last week from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Now, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will further review the case. If the state is unsuccessful in re-imposing the death penalty Abu-Jamal will be granted a new penalty hearing. Activists have supported Abu-Jamal’s and claim he is the victim of a racist justice system, partly because a mostly white jury had convicted him.  The former Black Panther has continued his work as an outspoken activist, even from behind bars. Matthew Petrillo, FSRN, Philadelphia.

Religious violence continues in northern Nigeria 
Sectarian violence continued in northern Nigeria today where residents are under a 24 hour curfew — Sam Olukoya has more.

About a hundred and fifty people have died in the sectarian clashes which started on Sunday in the Northern city of Jos. More than six hundred people are injured while more than 5000 have been displaced by the violence. The clashes have continued in spite of a night time curfew and the deployment of hundreds of security FORCES in the city.   The fighting is between the indigenous Christians and Muslim settlers. While the Muslims want greater political power in the city, the Christians accuse them of being too domineering. The crisis in Jos reflects the animosity between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. More than 12000 people have died in religious violence in the last twelve years. Sam Olukoya, FSRN, Lagos.

Google delays Android roll out in China
Google has pushed back a debut of two new mobile phone systems in China. The internet company was scheduled to roll out the new phone service tomorrow – but they are locked in a battle with the government over open access. Last week the cyber search company said it had been the subject of a high level hacking attempt that targeted, among other sites, the email accounts of human rights activists. In response, the company announced they would not comply with censorship restriction in China – even if that meant they had to close up shop there.  They later indicated that they would negotiate with the Chinese government – but today a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that Google must adhere to China’s laws and regulations.


One week later, relief efforts struggle to reach earthquake victims in Haiti – 1:45 minutes (1.61 MB)
Aid continues to arrive into Haiti, one week after the earthquake that has left hundreds of thousands homeless with little food, water or basic medical services. Today the US 82nd airborne used helicopters to drop supplies and troops to Haiti.

There are an estimated 5,000 US military personnel in the country with thousands more on the way. Today the UN Security Council approved sending an additional 3,500 troops to add to the 9,000 already on the ground.

Meanwhile, thousands of residents continued to flee Port Au Prince.

As reports came in from outside the capital, the crisis conditions became more apparent. Videos shot by film students in Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast show fields filled with families taking refuge under flimsy tents, many people with injuries. Women holding young children stood in long lines waiting for water and food.

One woman said that she had no money and without the ration of rice, she would have nothing to feed her children.

The UN said that it plans to establish a large temporary settlement for those left homeless, and is considering a location a few miles north of the capital.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon spoke today, saying that relief efforts continue to grow:

“Water supplies are increasing. Tents and temporary shelters are arriving in growing numbers. Badly damaged hospitals are beginning to function again, aided by international medical teams. Meanwhile, we distributed daily food rations yesterday for nearly 200,000 people. We expect to be reaching approximately 1 million people within a week.”

Medical workers strain to treat patients at hospitals in Port Au Prince – 4:48 minutes (4.4 MB)
Much of the most critical work is being done at the area’s hospitals and makeshift clinics. We go now to Port Au Prince, where medical workers are racing to treat patients. FSRN’s Ansel Herz reports.

Groups call for debt relief in aftermath of Haiti earthquake – 4:37 minutes (4.23 MB)
As millions of dollars in aid goes to organizations and agencies working for relief in Haiti, some groups are calling for an end to the national debt that Haiti owes private banks and other countries. They say this is a critical step in long-term recovery for the country’s economy and infrastructure. Today, a group of investors from industrialized nations, the Paris Group, called on other countries to cancel Haiti’s debt. Also today, Taiwan’s president said that the country is looking into ways to forgive the debt owed to its country. Although a significant portion of Haiti’s external debt was canceled earlier in 2009, the country still owes nearly $900 million and with recovery ahead, there are concerns over what kind of aid Haiti will receive.

We’re joined by Haley Hathaway, Communications and Development Coordinator with Jubilee USA. Jubilee is an alliance of groups that aim to fight poverty by canceling debt in developing countries. The group is based in Washington, DC.

Special election in Massachusetts could have national consequences – 3:18 minutes (3.02 MB)
Massachusetts voters go to the polls today to pick a new Senator among Democrat Martha Coakley, Republican Scott Brown and a third party candidate with a very familiar name. A Republican win would upset the narrow 60 seat Democratic majority in the Senate and could affect key legislation, including the health care bill. FSRN’S Hamilton Kahn reports from Massachusetts.

Supporters mobilize to keep federal consumer protection agency from being scrapped – 3:57 minutes (3.61 MB)
Another piece of legislation that could be influenced by today’s Senate race in Massachusetts is financial reform. Central to Democrats’ efforts to reform the financial industry is the creation of a consumer protection agency. It is intended to watch out for consumers making financial transactions. But if Democrats lose a seat, it could add another obstacle to its chances of passing Congress. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, consumer advocates say the agency is at risk, but supporters have launched a last chance effort to keep it in the bill.

Obama seeks more funding for educational reform as states race to meet program deadline – 3:05 minutes (2.82 MB)
Today President Obama announced his intention to seek a more than 1 billion dollar expansion to the Race to The Top program. That’s the education reform plan that the administration says would improve the nation’s schools by assessing teachers, emphasizing test scores and fostering innovation. A deadline for application today has states scrambling to get their applications in. FSRN’s Karen Miller reports.