March 24, 2010

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START treaty approaching completion
US and Russian negotiators have reached a tentative deal on the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, according to several media sources.  The new START treaty would reduce the nuclear arsenal of both countries by about 25%.  At the White House Press Briefing today, Robert Gibbs said the agreement is very close…

“But won’t have one until President Obama and his counterpart, Mr. Medvedev, have a chance to speak again.”

Gibbs said that meeting would likely take place within the next few days and that he believes both sides have negotiated in good faith.  Stalled negotiations failed to produce an agreement before the previous treaty expired in December.  There is tentative talk of a signing ceremony in Prague in early April.


Black farmers fear Congress won’t authorize settlement
Representatives from the National Black Farmers Association were at the Capitol today calling for Congress to act on a settlement agreement reached in February.  Black Farmers won a settlement from the US government for being excluded from USDA assistance programs because of racism.  But even though the money has been promised, nothing can happen until Congress allocates the funds.  The farmers are worried that Congress won’t act before the next break, which begins April 1st.  John Boyd Jr., the head of the National Black Farmers Association says he is worried that another planting season will pass before the issue is finally resolved.


New US/Mexico counter-narcotics strategy vague on social promises
The US and Mexican governments have announced a strategy shift in the Drug War on the heels of a high-level bi-national meeting.  FSRN’s Shannon Young has more from Mexico.

Headlines from the summit emphasize the announcement of a more social approach to the issues at the root of Mexico’s Drug violence.  That may sound like good news to a public that has grown weary of the military strategy that has claimed 18,000 Mexican lives in the past 3 years.

But the announcement was short on specifics on just how this new social strategy will be carried out.  Also without concrete details was the US promise to try to curb demand at home – the world’s most lucrative drug market.

Other new bi-national initiatives will include the sharing of information on convicted criminals deported to Mexico, tougher penalties for people traveling with forged documents, and a joint security program for the violent border metropolis of Ciudad Juarez.  Both countries also agreed to tackle the flow of arms and laundered money from the US into Mexico.

Financing for the plan comes from the 1.4 billion dollar Merida Initiative – a military spending program similar to Plan Colombia.  Shannon Young, FSRN, Mexico.

USPS takes steps toward eliminating Saturday delivery
The US Postal Service is moving towards a five-day delivery plan, hoping to cut out Saturday’s mail service in order to cut back on costs.  The USPS has been experiencing severe budget shortages and revenue losses over the past decade.  Today the Post Office Board voted to take the first step in the process, which is to ask the Postal Regulatory Commission for an opinion on the proposal.  Congress would have to approve the final change.  This is part of a larger cost-saving plan that includes restructuring retiree health plan and postage rate increases.


UN: Afghanistan has highest number of asylum seekers in the world
The UN Refugee Agency says in 2009, Afghanistan overtook Iraq to be the country with the highest number of asylum seekers.  Nearly 27,000 Afghans sought asylum status last year.  Iraq still had the second most with 24,000 people.  And nearly 23,000 people from Somalia sought asylum last year.


Uruguay sentences former dictator for human rights violations
Uruguay’s former dictator Juan Bordaberry has received a 30-year jail sentence for crimes committed during his three-year dictatorship in the early 1970s.  FSRN’s Manuela Aldalbe attended yesterday’s sentencing in Montevideo and files this story.

Juan Bordaberry dissolved the government in 1973, beginning 12 years of military dictatorship in Uruguay.  A judge ruled that during Bordaberry’s time in office, he violated the Constitution, disappeared nine people and assassinated four others.  Bordaberry, who is now 81 years old, has been under house arrest because of poor health.  He traveled to the Justice Palace in an Ambulance, using wheel chair and oxygen tank.

Despite his sentence, Bordaberry may not serve any time in jail.  Last week, in an attempt to ease prison overcrowding, President Jose Mejica, declared that people older than 70 should be held under house arrest.  This decision has caused controversy in the government and among the families of victims because most of the guilty government officials are currently over that age.  Manuela Aldalbe, FSRN, Montevideo.



Republicans make final attempt to alter health care reform
In Washington, the Senate is debating the revisions package to the health care bill that President Obama signed into law yesterday.  Republicans are attempting to derail the package by offering highly politicized measures. Meanwhile, Democrats are coming together to complete health care, even if it means letting go of the public option. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Lawmakers call for targeted job creation for minority communities
The House of Representatives passed another jobs bill today. It aims to provide tax relief for small businesses and create bonds to help local governments fund infrastructure projects. It is one in a string of jobs bills passed by Congress to bring down historically high unemployment rates, including the HIRE act, which was signed into law by the President last week. But despite these bills, black leaders say Congress and the President need to do more to stimulate job growth in minority communities.  FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.


Federal court lifts ban to allow media consolidation
This week a federal court lifted a ban that prohibits companies from owning multiple media platforms – such as a television station and a newspaper – within the same market. The federal Court of Appeals for the Third District issued the temporary removal of the ban in a decision on Tuesday. The case dates back to former FCC Chair Michael Powell and his efforts to remove the ban on cross-ownership in large media markets. Media watchdog groups have said that removing the ban could lead to further consolidation in a media system increasingly controlled by large companies. Supporters say it’s a necessary step to encourage competition.

Jonathan Lawson is executive director for Reclaim the Media, a grassroots media justice organization based in Seattle.


More Jerusalem construction as Netanyahu wraps up tense US visit
White House officials are mostly staying silent after President Obama met privately with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday evening. The two leaders meet at a tense moment in US-Israel relations, following a second announcement of more settlement construction in east Jerusalem. The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 20 more units for Jewish settlers in an area near the Shepherd Hotel, in occupied East Jerusalem. From Bethlehem, FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura Reports.


Health experts in India focus on connection between tobacco and tuberculosis
Today is World Tuberculosis day. Health workers across the globe are making new pledges to curb the epidemic, which affects 10-13 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. India has the highest rate of infection in the world and health experts are drawing attention to the connection between smoking tobacco and the disease. From Jiapuur, Rajasthan, FSRN’s Jasvinder Sehgal reports.