February 19, 2010

  • Israeli troops use tear gas to suppress 5th anniversary protest of wall
  • Frustration grows in Haiti as some communities wait weeks for aid and shelter
  • Health insurance companies raise rates, Democrats respond
  • Civil rights leaders call on Congress to address disparities in economic recovery
  • North Carolina youth use art to draw attention to immigration reform

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Marjah offensive continues in Afghanistan
NATO forces continue to push ahead with the major offensive in the Afghan city of Marjah, despite what a British commander calls “stiff resistance” . The operation began seven days ago and involves 15 thousand NATO troops and Afghan policemen. Eleven NATO soldiers and three Afghan police have died. The number of Taliban and civilian causalities is uncertain. The offensive is expected to last another month.

Military coup creates uncertainty in Niger

The West African state of Niger is once again facing an uncertain political future in the wake of Thursday’s military-backed coup. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The military ousted President Mamadou Tandja on Thursday after months of political instability. Tandja sparked a political crisis last year when he suddenly assumed emergency powers and changed the constitution in an effort to extend his term by three years.

His action caused outrage in the country and drew international sanctions. There are no details of Tandja’s whereabouts. Also, the military has not said anything about his fate or those of his cabinet members.

Even though the new military rulers are pledging to return Niger to democracy and good governance, the uranium-rich country has a long history of instability.

The military-backed coup has drawn criticism from the African Union, former colonial power France, and neighboring Nigeria. The coup in Niger is the fifth in Africa in the last 18 months. Sam Olukoya FSRN, Lagos.

Sharp increase in childhood leukemia rates in Basra
Childhood leukemia rates in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have more than doubled in 15 years. That’s according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers used a Basra hospital registry to chart the number of childhood leukemia patients from 1993 to 2007. The leukemia rate in the early years of the study was comparable to those of other countries in the region, but had sharply increased by 2004. The study did not investigate the causes behind the jump in leukemia cases. Basra was widely exposed to depleted uranium during US military actions in 1991 and 2003.

Indian Maoists on the offensive in Bihar state
Suspected Maoists carried out two strikes in India this week, most recently on a village in the state of Bihar. Jasvinder Sehgal reports from India.

The Maoists attacked the village because they suspect the residents were helping police. The rebels burned thatched houses and fired a hail of bullets during the raid, leaving 12 residents dead and eight others injured.

Indian police patrolling just a half-mile away were not able to stop the raid. Bihar Police Director General U.S. Dutt says the Maoists planted land  mines on the road to the village.

“The Maoists knew that the police is there and will rush to the scene of crime. To delay their arrival they laid down land mines and they opened fire on the police party.”

The villagers are questioning why they weren’t given more police protection, even though they have previously been target by the Maoists for helping Indian security forces. Jasvinder Sehgal, FSRN, India.

Black farmers settlement

The US Department of Agriculture has agreed to pay 1.25 billion dollars to settle a long-standing class-action lawsuit brought by black farmers who say the department systematically denied them access to programs and loans that were made available to their white counterparts. The number of black owned and operated farms has fallen by half in the past 20 years. The payment of the settlement will require a congressional appropriation of funds.

PA school district accused of spying via webcams

A class action lawsuit filed against a Pennsylvania school district alleges the district spied on students by remotely activating webcams embedded in school-issued laptops. FSRN’s Andalusia Knoll has more.

When Blake Robbins was called into the Assistant Principal’s office at his high school in suburban Philadelphia for engaging in “inappropriate behavior” at home, he became suspicious. His “behavior” had been documented through a webcam embedded in his computer that had been remotely activated by the school district.

In a public statement, the Lower Merion School District claimed that the remote webcam activation feature serves to locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen and identify its user. The lawsuit claims the school district failed to inform students and parents that the laptops were equipped with this capability. Robbins’ parents are suing the school district, the school board and superintendent for violating numerous privacy and communications laws as well as a section of the Civil Rights Act and Fourth Amendment.

The class action suit could include 1800 other students and their families. The school district says it has de-activated the remote tracking-security feature in student laptops and will not use it again without written notification to students and families. Andalusia Knoll, FSRN, Philadelphia.

Activist accused in Brad Will murder released

In Mexico, the activist accused of killing Indymedia reporter Brad Will has been released from prison for lack of evidence. Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno was active in a political opposition movement in the municipality where Brad Will was fatally shot in October of 2006. Martinez Moreno spent 16 months in a state penitentiary without bail as part of his pre-trial detention.





Israeli troops use tear gas to suppress 5th anniversary protest of wall
All over the West Bank Israeli troops use tear gas and sound bombs to suppress non-violent anti wall protests. Today people of Bil’in, a small Palestinian village in central West Bank marked the 5th year anniversary of their weekly struggle against the Israeli built wall on their lands. And once again, protesters were met with tear gas. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura reports:

NOTE: While covering today’s protests, Israeli troops shot Ghassan in the head with a tear gas canister. He had to seek treatment at a local clinic. He has a minor concussion, but says he is doing fine.

FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura, after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Photo credit: Imad Burnat

The Israeli Army shoots liquid tear gas at people protesting the Israeli separation wall on Palestinian land in the village of Bil’in. Photo credit: Ghassan Bannoura, IMEMC

Frustration grows in Haiti as some communities wait weeks for aid and shelter
More than a month after the Haitian earthquake communities outside of Port Au Prince are only now receiving aid. And with heavy rains this week, shelter is more urgent than ever. One of those communities is in the Boutilier Mountain, south of Port Au Prince. The first delivery since the earthquake arrived today, and witnesses said an estimated 2,000 people gathered.

FSRN spoke with Glenna Stinson, with Trees for Life International, a group that focuses on community development in Haiti. She’s been living and working in Haiti for 20 years. And has been in Boutilier Mountain since before the earthquake. She said that the trucks came with thirty armed guards. And she began by describing her repeated efforts to request aid from relief organizations over the past four weeks.

Health insurance companies raise rates, Democrats respond
Health care reform may be stalled in Congress, but health care costs are moving full steam ahead. The Obama Administration has sharply criticized WellPoint insurance for jacking up their rates – but they’re not the only ones charging more for premiums. Consumer outrage at the rate increases may be just what the Democrats need to get reform moving again. Tanya Snyder reports.

Civil rights leaders call on Congress to address disparities in economic recovery
A coalition of civil rights leaders and economists is criticizing the Obama Administration’s job creation strategy and calling on congressional leaders to focus on the needs of poor people and people of color in the economic recovery. The NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Center for Community Change and the Economic Policy Institute are some of the groups that sent a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They highlighted recommendations that they say focus on the needs of local communities, such as extending unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits through the end of the year and increasing investment in the infrastructure of schools and public transit. The letter also calls for immediate action to stop foreclosures.

Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, said that black communities have been feeling the effects of the recession for years now.

“Black folks in this country are hurting now, but the reality is we were hurting two years ago, we were hurting three years ago, we were in a recession in many parts of this country like Detroit and Harlem that had been going on for forty years and now it has deepened. And so as we come out of it, we want to make sure that the tide lifts all boats and that and that those boats that were sinking a bit lower are restored fully.”

The civil rights leaders spoke to reporters today on a teleconference. Also involved is Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza. She pointed to figures that demonstrate the dire need of Latino communities. She said more than one million Latino families will lose homes to foreclosure before 2011 and 2 million Latinos and Blacks have lost jobs since the recession began.

“One year after President Obama signed the Recovery Act the unemployment rate for Latinos is 12.6 percent, nearly three points higher than for the nation overall. In some industries with a large Latino presence, like construction, one in five workers is unemployed. The majority of Latinos live in states where the budget gaps exceed twenty percent of the general fund.”

Last week Obama met with the NAACP’s Jealous, Al Sharpton and the National Urban League’s Marc Morial to discuss chronic unemployment in the black community. And earlier this week, leaders spoke out against the Recovery Act neglecting people of color and women.

Today, Wade Henderson, President of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called their new recommendations “big, bold” action. He pointed to President Obama’s announcement today of increased aid for homeowners. Henderson said he welcomed the move, but it didn’t go far enough for the needs of homeowners facing imminent foreclosure.

North Carolina youth use art to draw attention to immigration reform
Lawmakers are in their home districts this week and immigrant rights advocates are using the chance to bring attention to immigration reform. Rallies were planned in San Francisco, Colorado and Cincinnati, Ohio. Many advocates support the bill of Congressmember Luis Gutierrez, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act. The bill

includes the DREAM Act, which would allow young immigrants who meet certain requirements the opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college. It could also provide a path to citizenship.

Many young immigrants have been trying to raise awareness of the DREAM Act, including a group In Siler City, North Carolina, a small town where the Latino population makes up nearly 40-percent of the community. Here high school students organized an art show with the local chapter of Reform Immigration for America. Called the “Dream Walk,”the exhibit depicts the students’ dreams for higher education through their use of photography.

FSRN’s Lynda-Marie Taurasi spoke to students and advocates at the event for this edition of Street Beat.