April 28, 2010

  • Authorities struggle to contain massive oil spill in Gulf Coast
  • Lobbyists target consumer protection in financial reform bill
  • Calls for boycott of Arizona follow harsh immigration law
  • Legal experts question unmanned drone attacks at congressional hearing
  • Mobile clinic to offer free health care to uninsured in Los Angeles

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First offshore wind farm in US approved
A giant 130-turbine wind farm five miles off the coast of Cape Cod finally got the green light from the Obama Administration today, a year-and a half after completion of a favorable environmental review.  FSRN’s Hamilton Kahn reports from the Cape.

At a press conference in Boston, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the “difficult decision” to go ahead with the wind project was made after he received a letter from the governors of six eastern states.  They argued that delaying the project based on claims by Indian Tribes and others would set a prohibitive precedent.

“We believe that there is a huge potential for offshore wind along the Atlantic, and the same kinds of arguments that have been made against the Cape Wind Application in the Nantucket Sound could be made with respect to many of the other projects that are being proposed up and down the Atlantic.”

The announcement follows an epic 10-year battle between clean energy advocates and well-financed opponents on Cape Cod.  The offshore wind farm would be the first of its kind in the US.  Salazar claimed the decision has solid legal footing, but further appeals are expected.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick predicts that the 2 billion dollar construction project could begin in about a year.  Hamilton Kahn, FSRN, Massachusetts.

A coalition of stakeholders has announced plans to challenge the off shore wind farm decision.  In a statement released this afternoon, Native American Tribes, commercial fishermen, environmental groups and several local towns say the decision tramples the rights of the people of Cape Cod.


SCOTUS allows Mojave Cross to remain, hears WA signature case
The US Supreme Court today is hearing closing arguments in a case about the anonymity of people who sign petitions to refer a state ballot measure.  The case comes out of Washington State, where signers of a public petition to overturn domestic partnerships said they were afraid they would be targeted by gay and other groups if their names were made public.  State transparency law requires the release of the names, and the 9th Circuit Court upheld state law.  But the Supreme Court blocked the release until it could hear the case.

In other Supreme Court news, the court ruled today the Latin cross erected by the VFW decades ago in the Mojave National Preserve could remain pending further lower court review.  Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion that the Latin cross has significance beyond Christian interpretations and does not evoke state-sanctioned support of one religion.  The long-standing cross was only questioned in Salazar v.  Buono when the Park Service denied a request by Buddhists to build a shrine in the Preserve.


Temple University Hospital nurses reach contract deal, wait on strike vote
Nearly a month ago, more than a thousand members of the nurse’s union at Temple University Hospital walked off the job.  But now, after four days of negotiating, the nurses will likely return to work later this week.  From Philadelphia, Matthew Petrillo reports.

About 1,500 members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals went on strike in March after working 6 months without a contract.  The nurses argued the hospital should provide full tuition reimbursement for nurses’ children and pay increases.  Hospital administrators contended its nurses are the region’s best paid.

To replace the striking worker, the hospital hired an additional 850 temporary nurses.  They worked mostly 12-hour shifts, which included lots of costly overtime hours.  The Nurses’ union argued that money could have been used for their pay increases.

The Union and the hospital reached a provisional agreement last night, and today the union will vote on that contract.  The new contract increases wages and offers partial tuition reimbursement for dependents.  Matthew Petrillo, FSRN, Philadelphia.

Oklahoma legislature overrides abortion law veto
The Oklahoma legislature has over ridden the governor’s veto on two laws that place further restrictions on abortion providers in the state.  The law drawing the most attention is a measure that requires women seeking abortions, even victims of rape and incest, to undergo invasive vaginal ultrasounds and listen to a detailed description of the fetus.  Yesterday’s vote was immediately followed by a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights, who say requiring the ultrasound is constitutional violation of privacy.


UK ruling grants equal pay for men and women
In the UK, nearly 5,000 female workers have won the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues.  From Birmingham, FSRN’s Naomi Fowler reports.

This is a case that has highlighted the inequalities in pay between men and women that still exist in the 21st century: lawyers believe the pay-out could be as much as $300 million dollars.  And there could be a further 20,000 women who may be entitled to come forward and lodge a claim.

All of the women in the suit were employed by the local government in traditionally female-dominated fields such as cleaning and catering.  The employment tribunal heard how some men doing the same pay-graded jobs as women earned four times more under arbitrary bonus payment schemes.  The starkest example was one instance where a garbage collector had taken home $75,000 a year while women on the same pay level received less than $18,000.

The local authority says it faces financial ruin and will appeal.  Naomi Fowler, FSRN, Birmingham.



Authorities struggle to contain massive oil spill in Gulf Coast
Today, the US Coast Guard said it would set fire to part of the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. The control burn is aimed at stopping the spread of the crude oil, which has reached as close as 20 miles to the coast of Louisiana.

The US Coast Guard has said that the spill could become one of “the most significant oil spills in US history” if it is not stopped soon. So far, attempts to shut off the flow of oil deep in the ocean have failed and 42-thousand gallons of crude oil are gushing into the waters each day. The spill spans a 600-mile circumference and strong currents have pushed the oil closer to the coasts of Louisiana and Alabama. The spill is the result of an explosion last week at an oil rig owned by British Petroleum. The explosion is presumed to have killed 11 workers and the cause is still under investigation.

Conditions are rapidly changing and joining us now is Aaron Viles, campaign director from the Gulf Restoration Network in New Orleans. He’s been monitoring the situation both on and off the coast.

Updates on the situation from the Gulf Restoration Network: http://www.healthygulf.org/blog/


Lobbyists target consumer protection in financial reform bill
In Washington, for the third time in as many days Republicans blocked the financial reform bill from being debated in the Senate. Democrats charge that Republicans are stalling as a tactic to kill reform. Republicans say the Democrats are prematurely trying to debate a bill that’s not yet ready. Meanwhile, lobbyists are fanned out across Capitol Hill to influence the legislation. At the heart of the lobbyists’ interests is the part of the bill that would protect consumers. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Calls for boycott of Arizona follow harsh immigration law
The call to boycott Arizona is growing after the governor signed into law a controversial immigration bill. In Los Angeles, seven city council members signed a proposal calling for the city to stop doing business in the state. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom prohibited city employees from most official travel to Arizona and city Supervisor David Campos introduced a non-binding resolution that calls on residents to avoid the state. At the state level, California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg called on Governor Schwarzenegger to tear up the state’s contracts with Arizona’s public and private entities.

“One of the great lessons from the civil rights struggle is that economic might matters.  Desegregation ended when the business owners in Montgomery, Alabama and other cities of the south recognized that they were going to lose patronage if the laws of segregation did not change.”

Across the coast in Washington, DC, the city council also plans to take up a boycott proposal. Meanwhile, dozens of truck drivers pledged to stop driving to Arizona. And boycott proponents are calling on sports fans and tourists to stay out of the state, where many visitors flock each summer to see the Grand Canyon.

The anti-immigrant bill requires police to question and check the paperwork of anyone they think might be undocumented, including possibly victims and witnesses to a crime. Opponents say this is racial profiling and discrimination, and question the constitutionality of the law. The Obama administration is also speaking out about the new law. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is exploring legal challenges. President Obama, spoke about it Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Iowa.

“This law that just passed in Arizona, which I think is a poorly conceived law, [applause] you can try to make it really tough on people who look like they, quote on quote, ‘might’ might be illegal immigrants.  One of the things that the law says is local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be an illegal immigrant but you can imagine that if you are a Hispanic in Arizona your great grandparents might have been there before Arizona was even a state, but now suddenly if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream you’re gonna be harassed, that’s something that could potentially happen, I – that’s not the right way to go.”

The new law also makes it a state crime to be undocumented and it prohibits people from hiring day laborers off the street. Supporters, including Republican Governor Jan Brewer, say it’s necessary to fight crime from drug cartels. Despite the controversy, other states could follow. A state representative in Texas, Debbie Riddle, said she’ll introduce similar legislation.


Legal experts question unmanned drone attacks at congressional hearing
On Capitol Hill today, top legal experts questioned the Obama administration’s rationale for using unmanned drones to carry out killings of alleged terrorists. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.


Mobile clinic to offer free health care to uninsured in Los Angeles
More than 6,000 uninsured and underinsured people in Los Angeles are expected to receive free medical care – at least temporarily – at a large mobile clinic run by the non-profit, RAM — or Remote Area Medical. The clinic will operate at the site in L.A. for 7 days. With California’s $20 billion deficit and deep cuts to healthcare in the state, the needfor medical care has grown urgent for many. Dolores M. Bernal reports from Los Angeles.