April 30, 2010

  • Democrat plan for immigration reform focuses on border security
  • Health care reform fixes for pre-existing conditions, high premiums to go into effect
  • On 35th anniversary of end to Vietnam War, toxic legacy continues
  • Surge of participants in immigrant marches after Arizona legislation
  • Women in rural India take larger role in agriculture

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Gulf oil spill reaches shore
Clean up efforts continue in the Gulf of Mexico as thousands of gallons of oil continue to leak into the ocean from a damaged BP oil platform.  As expected, the oil began to reach shore today.  Tom Mackenzie of the US Fish and Wildlife Service told CNN it’s impossible to protect the entire coast.

“The main effort we’ve been trying to do is get the booms out in front of key wildlife areas to include the nesting areas at Breton National Wildlife Refuge which has a number of brown pelicans that are on site right now literally hatching their eggs.”

This morning President Obama reaffirmed his position that domestic oil production was a necessary piece of the US energy puzzle, but also said oil companies would be held to higher safety standards moving forward.


Another energy company in trouble for environmental violations
Offshore rigs aren’t the only energy production facilities whose environmental safety records are being called into question.  Colorado has slapped energy company OxyUSA with a record fine after the state found the company polluted water near its natural gas wells.  FSRN’s Conrad Wilson has the details.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved $650,000 in fines against OxyUSA on Thursday.  The state says the company was operating waste ponds that polluted spring water.  OxyUSA was operating the two waste ponds without permits.  One of the ponds had been operating for a decade.  Holding ponds are suppose to include liners, but in this case they were either torn or completely absent.  Regulators discovered high levels of benzene in nearby waters in 2008, and traced the pollution back to OxyUSA.  Conrad Wilson, FSRN, Carbondale, Colorado.


Arts funding slashed in GA, nationwide
The recession continues to hit Georgia’s state budget hard, and funding for the arts has been at the top of the list for cuts.  Last week, the state House voted to completely cut funding for the Georgia Council for the Arts, and if the Senate had not stepped in, the state would have been the only in the country without a state arts agency.  But the arts still took a big hit.  In a $17.9 billion budget approved on the final day of session yesterday, lawmakers voted to cut near 2/3s of the Council’s budget.  Sacajawea Hall reports from Atlanta.

Last week, hundreds of arts supporters marched to the Georgia state capital, protesting cuts to the Georgia Council for the Arts, the state agency that awards grants to encourage arts programming throughout the state.  Subsequent negotiations between the House and Senate versions of the budget resulted in restoring a little over $790,000.  Just last year the council’s budget was over 2 million and double that in 2008.  Chris Appleton, Executive Director of WonderRoots, a community art organization, says he has mixed feelings about the restored funding.

“It’s a great show of support by large and small art organizations and institutions rallying together to try to save Georgia Council of the Arts the art.  We need better support from the state as far as arts funding goes.”

According to the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, legislative appropriations to the arts have declined nationally in the last two years.  Last year, the organizations say arts funding fell by 10%, with Michigan, Florida and Illinois experiencing the biggest cuts.

Back in Georgia, the arts weren’t the only area to see declines – education lost 600 million dollars.  But lawmakers were able to find $10 million to purchase land for a new College Football Hall of Fame for Atlanta.  Sacajawea Hall, FSRN, Atlanta.

Journalist found alive after paramilitary ambush in Mexico
Reporters who survived a deadly ambush on an international aid caravan in Oaxaca, Mexico were located alive last night and are receiving medical treatment.  Shannon Young has the latest.

The two reporters from Contralinea magazine, David Cilia and Erika Ramirez, were the last missing members of the caravan to be accounted for alive.  They had run into a canyon and hid with other Oaxacan activists David Venegas and Noe Bautista.  The two activists emerged yesterday afternoon with videotaped evidence that the reporters had not been killed in the hail of bullets that riddled both sides of their car.

An official search and rescue operation found the reporters not far from the crime scene.  Both reporters are receiving treatment for dehydration.  David Cilia also has two gunshot wounds.  Human rights organizations and pro-autonomy activists are marching this afternoon in Oaxaca City to call world attention to the situation in San Juan Copala, the town where the aid caravan was headed.

The indigenous town has been harassed by paramilitary forces since it declared autonomy more than 3 years ago.  Shannon Young, FSRN, Oaxaca.

Japan issues arrest warrant for anti-whaling activist
The government of Japan has issued an arrest warrant for the head of the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  Paul Watson has been leading the group’s five-year effort to disrupt Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.  In a statement released today, Watson says this will not deter the organization from its mission.



Democrat plan for immigration reform focuses on border security
In Washington, Senate Democrats officially released their proposal to overhaul the immigration system. It’s become a priority for Democrats since Arizona passed its harsh immigration law. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the plan has a prominent focus on border security.


Health care reform fixes for pre-existing conditions, high premiums to go into effect
In health care reform news, today is the deadline for states to tell Health and Human Services whether they want to run their own high-risk insurance pools or let the federal government establish a program in the state. There’s $5 billion in federal funding for the programs, which would help people with pre-existing conditions get coverage.

At a teleconference today, lawmakers and healthcare advocates looked at other aspects of the law that will soon take effect, including what’s called medical loss ratio, or how much insurance companies spend on services.

Under the law, companies must bring medical loss ratio up to 85 percent or rebate the difference to enrollees. Democratic Senator Al Franken says that’s a big jump from the previous low of 30 percent.

“Medical loss ratio is a strong way of limiting insurers profits, putting the brakes on skyrocketing premiums and reinforcing the idea that a health insurer should focus on, guess what, health care.”

Meanwhile, Represenative Jan Schakowsky introduced a bill along with Senator Diane Feinstein, that would give authority to HHS to stop or change insurance rate increases that are considered unreasonable.

“Now premium increases are going to be exposed by having to post them online and requires justification for rate increases before they go into effect.”

Schakowsky pointed to the giant insurance company Wellpoint, which just posted first quarter profits of $877 million dollars, an increase over the same period last year.

Wellpoint said earlier this week that customers will no longer risk losing their coverage if they become sick, a pratice known as “rescissions.” The industry-wide ban will go into effect in May.


On 35th anniversary of end to Vietnam War, toxic legacy continues
Today marks the 35 anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War but the toxic legacy of that war continues. From 1961 to 1971, the US dropped tens of thousands of liters of dioxin chemicals, known as Agent Orange, on the mountains and fields of Vietnam. This week, Activists are stepping up efforts to bring attention to the millions of people – both in the US and in Vietnam – still suffering from exposure.

Azadeh Shahshahani is co-chair of the International Committee with the National Lawyers Guild and she’s part of the delegation that visited lawmakers this week to push for legislation.


Surge of participants in immigrant marches after Arizona legislation
Tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies will attend May Day events across the country tomorrow. An estimated 80 marches and rallies are taking place across in the United States, but the biggest may be in Los Angeles. Event coordinators expect to see a surge of people marching this year due to the immigrant legislation that was passed in Arizona. Dolores M. Bernal brings us this report.


Women in rural India take larger role in agriculture
May Day, or International Workers Day, will also be celebrated internationally to recognize the achievements of the labor movement and the ongoing struggle for workers rights. In honor of May Day, today we’re going to India to look at a growing women’s movement in the countryside. Nearly 60 percent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood. But government investment and young workers have flowed to more lucrative industries in the country’s expanding urban centers. The result is that women are stepping in to take larger roles in villages that have been traditionally dominated by men. From Uttar Pradesh, reporter Alissa Figueroa has the story.