March 17, 2010

  • Support for health reform grows ahead of possible vote this week
  • Officials cut funding for virtual border fence, citing failure
  • Lawsuit questions legality of CIA drone program
  • Secretary of Education outlines reform to nation’s school system
  • New York schools face closures and cuts in programs

Download Audio



Senate passes jobs bill
The US Senate has passed a jobs bill that will give companies an incentive for hiring unemployed workers.  Those that do will be eligible for a payroll tax holiday and tax credits.  The $17 billion bill passed 68-29 with full Democratic and 11 Republican votes.  This is a much smaller bill than originally pushed by Democrats, but Senator Charles Schumer defended its modesty, saying it will show the American people…

“That Congress is focused on what they what us to focus on.  And that we will continue to work on our jobs agenda till jobs start growing, till people are being paid decent wages, till the economy roars back on a long and stable trajectory, which can only be done if employment goes up and unemployment goes down.”

Democrats are trying to push through several jobs bills.  The legislation also includes $20 billion dollars for highway and transit infrastructure improvements.  The legislation now goes to the president, who says he will sign it into law.


Reported sexual assault in US Military on the rise
Reported incidents of sexual assault in the US military rose 11% in 2009, according to new figures released by the Defense Department.  There were more than 3200 cases in all, averaging 2 cases per thousand service members.  Reported cases in the Army were much higher than in the other branches.  The Pentagon said the 11% increase in cases is partly due to recent efforts to increase reporting.  Its efforts include a confidential option called “restricted reporting,” which doesn’t lead to an investigation.  About 1/3 of those reporting opted to use the confidential option.  Approximately 80% of the non-confidential reports involved men sexually assaulting women.


Sectarian violence erupts again in north-central Nigeria
More than ten people have been killed during another attack on a Christian settlement in Northern Nigeria.  This, despite an increased police presence in the region after an attack last week left nearly 500 people dead.  Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

Like the previous attack, the latest took place at dawn in a settlement just outside Jos.  The attackers, who are suspected to be Muslims disguised as soldiers, used knives to brutally murder residents of a mostly-Christian village.

Nigeria has come under international pressure to stop the killings in the area.  The government has deployed troops and policemen and imposed a curfew.  Many see the continuation of the attacks in spite of these measures as a sign of the government’s inability to control the situation.

The north-central region of Nigeria has seen serious conflicts between Christians and Muslims escalate over the past few years.  The groups are in competition for economic and political power.  Some human rights organizations have referred to the situation as ethnic cleansing.  Sam Olukoya, FSRN, Lagos.

Election tampering claims emerge in Iraq
As the vote count from Iraq’s parliamentary elections near completion, the ruling political block is going on the offensive – today making claims of vote tampering.  Yesterday, the election’s commission released the latest counts, now at 80%, showing the ruling coalition government had fallen out of the lead.  The two leading blocks – one led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki and the other by former-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi – are separated by less than 10,000 votes.  According to Al-Jazeera, Malaki’s spokesperson said today that the ballots had been manipulated at the polling stations, before being submitted for counting.


Afghanistan establishes government unit to combat violence against women
The Attorney General’s office of Afghanistan today inaugurated a department dedicated to protecting women’s rights.  The new Violence against Women Unit is being considered a step forward in protecting women.  Asma Nemati reports from Kabul.

Already, the Violence Against Women Unit has received 21 cases from four provinces, including Kabul.  Reported crimes include beatings, domestic violence, rape, and trafficking.  The Unit will work with victim service organizations and advocates, and coordinate case referrals with health, educational, and other governmental entities.

Abdul Wakil Amini is a Deputy Administrator with the Attorney General’s Office.

“We will do our utmost to investigate these cases in a quick and efficient manner.”

Amini says women have suffered from illogical traditions in Afghanistan, and even though other organizations offer help to victims of violence, the police often turn women away – especially outside of Kabul.

The Violence Against Women Unit is funded by the Italian government and supervised by the International Development Law Organization.  Asma Nemati, FSRN, Kabul.

Turkey threatens to expel 100,000 undocumented Armenian immigrants

Turkey is threatening to deport nearly 100-thousand undocumented Armenians in reaction to international pressure on it to acknowledge the post-World War I killing of Armenians was genocide.  The US and Sweden have both voted in some capacity to call the murders genocide.  The US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution early this month, but it’s not expected to go any further in Washington.



Support for health reform grows ahead of possible vote this week
President Obama’s health care reform just got one vote closer to passing.  Liberal Representative Dennis Kucinich announced his support for health care reform.  As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, some progressive advocates are disappointed in Kucinich’s decision.


Officials cut funding for virtual border fence, citing failure
Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano says she will cut funding for the virtual border fence, a troubled pilot program on the US-Mexico border. The announcement came yesterday. The multi-billion dollar program has been under scrutiny from lawmakers, who have criticized the feasibility of its technology, under development by the Boeing Corporation. FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.


Lawsuit questions legality of CIA drone program
Today, US drone attacks killed six people and injured three others in Pakistan. The attacks took place near a village in North Waziristan. According to a local resident quoted in Pakistani media, residents are now scared to help in recovery after an attack takes place because recent attacks have killed people engaged in rescue work. The US government has used the highly controversial drones attacks mostly in Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan and Yemen. And the number of attacks have increased under President Obama. The New America Foundation estimates that as many as 1,000 people have been killed in over 80 attacks since 2006. But very little is known about the program. This week the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit requesting that the government agencies – the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Defense Department – outline the legal basis for the drone program and provide more details.

Here to discuss the suit is Jonathan Manes. He’s a legal fellow with the ACLU.

To read a copy of the ACLU lawsuit:


Secretary of Education outlines reform to nation’s school system
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before congress today on President Obama’s education budget for 2011.

Details of the plan, called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, were released last Saturday. The Act requires states to verify that all students are on a path toward “college and career readiness” by the year 2020. It also seeks to make a break from the No Child Left Behind Act, by adopting individualized, rather than broad, measures of student performance. But some teacher unions criticized the plan, saying that it placed too much of a burden on educators without giving them authority.

Today Duncan addressed teacher performance by saying that the plan includes an increase of money for training and incentives for educators. And that teachers would be evaluated on a variety of factors.

“I’m a big believer in peer review and having teachers look at other teachers and how they are doing. No teacher wants to work next door to a teacher that’s not pulling their weight. And so there are multiple ways to get at it, through goals through leadership, again if a teacher is volunteering on the yearbook team or the debate team or academic decathlon and there are a series of districts who have put in place very robust, comprehensive evaluation systems that look at many many things beyond just a student’s test score. And that’s the way it should be. No one should be evaluated by one test, it doesn’t make sense.”

Duncan also said that the government has previously underinvested in principals and that the plan would recognize the administrators’ contributions to the quality of schools.


New York schools face closures and cuts in programs
Across the country, the recession is having an impact on students. Recently, we reported on Kansas City, where the district voted to close nearly half of the schools. Now Detroit officials have announced that one-quarter of schools will be shuttered in June. And in New York, many city schools are facing closures while those still open are being subjected to budget reductions and cuts in programs. Some schools are being forced to share space with privately–owned charter schools. In the latest installment of our series on the impact of the recession on Education, FSRN’s Salim Rizvi files this report.