June 24, 2010

  • SCOTUS rules on campaign disclosure
  • The Gulf oil disaster and the US Social Forum
  • Court sides with Boys Scouts in discrimination case
  • Mexican activist comes out of hiding to seek asylum in Venezuela
  • Proposed tourist center could demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem

Download Audio



Hundreds of thousands displaced in Brazilian floods
Floodwaters in northeastern Brazil have subsided, but in thier wake: more than 40 dead, at least 600 missing and thousands of people displaced.  Photos of the ravaged towns show purple-brown silt mixed with debris covering the streets, twisted railroad tracks, overturned vehicles and razed buildings.  Estimates of the number left homeless by the floods range between 100 and 400-thousand.  The flooding began last weekend, but persistent rain has kept the risk high in the largely impoverished states of Alagoas and Pernambuco.


In rapid power shift, Australia gets first female Prime Minister
In a rapid series of political maneuvers, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has stepped down, and rising unopposed to fill his place… Julia Gillard, the country’s first female Prime Minister.  For FSRN, Jessie Boylan reports from Australia.

Over the past months, voters had lost faith in Prime Minister Rudd after he made a series of unpopular decisions, including shelving an emissions trading scheme and his harsh policies towards asylum seekers.  As the Labor party’s confidence in the PM drooped even further, Julia Gillard, agreed make a bid for the leadership.

Political analysts say Gillard is a self-confident and highly competent politician.  Born in a Welsh town in the United Kingdom before migrating to Australia at a young age, Gillard was first elected to Parliament in 1998.  She has been scrutinized for her private life – being childless, unmarried and an atheist.

Although Gillard is from the left faction of the Labor party, it is unlikely there will be any radical shifts in public policy because she is already a key member of Kevin Rudd’s Cabinet.

Rudd has now fallen to the history books as Australia’s shortest serving Prime Minister in almost four decades.  Jessie Boylan, FSRN, Australia.

Bhopal victims protest lack of compensation
Last week FSRN reported that an Indian government panel was meeting to review an unpopular court settlement in the Bhopal Gas Disaster.  But the panel’s recommendations have also proven unpopular.  Hundreds of survivors rallied in New Delhi today, saying the government is not going far enough to compensate the victims and families of the 1984 gas leak.  Bismillah Geelani reports from India.

More than 500 survivors marched in New Delhi to protest a government panel’s report on the Bhopal Disaster.  The panel submitted their work earlier this week recommending, among other things, increased compensation for the victims of the tragedy.  But the protesters say the panel recommendations benefit only a handful of the victims.

Satinath Sarngi is member of the Bhopal Group of Information and Action.

“What has happened is a very faulty assessment has been done which says that 42 percent people who were directly exposed to the Union Carbide’s gases have not suffered any injuries at all and 52 percent have suffered only temporary injuries.  So according to this categorization only 6 percent have suffered permanent injuries.  Whereas the fact is there are hundreds of thousands of people who are battling exposure related diseases even now, so they have been all left out.”

Members of the government cabinet are meeting to consider the recommendations.  They are expected to announce a decision Friday.  Until then, the protesters say they will camp near the Parliament building.  The Bhopal Gas leak is widely considered the world’s most devastating industrial accident.  Thousands died in the tragedy.  Bismillah Geelani, FSRN, New Delhi.

Kenyan prisoners win right to vote in Constitutional referendum
A dispute resolution court in Kenya has ruled that the country’s prisoners have the right to vote in an upcoming Constitutional referendum.  This is the first time Kenya has recognized the voting rights of inmates.  FSRN’s Abdulkarim Jimale reports from Nairobi.

On August 4th, Kenyan voters will decide whether to replace their Constitution with a version that decreases the power of the President.  And now the number of citizens eligible to vote has increased by about 53-thousand.  A Kenyan court ruled Wednesday     that prisoners over the age of 18 and mentally able to vote will be able to cast ballots.

The court ordered the Electoral Commission to register the prisoners to vote within 21 days and make plans to turn each prison into a polling station.  The Commission argued this may cause a delay in voting.  But in reading the judgment, Justice Samuel Mukunya dismissed the Electoral Commission’s warning

“We do not think that registration of 53,000 inmates or less, in 90 institutions, nearly all in urban centers, can pose such a challenge that can send the electoral process into a fatal spin.”

The court ruling applies only to voting in August’s referendum.  Abdulkarim Jimale, FSRN, Nairobi.

Use of drones on Texas border approved
The US Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of an unmanned drone to patrol the US/Mexico border in Texas.  The aircraft have already been put to use in Arizona.  The Department of Homeland security announced the decision yesterday, but the Brownsville Herald reported earlier this month that drone flights in Texas began on June 1st.  The Herald also reported the first drone mission suffered from a communication loss that – quote – “resulted in pilot deviation.”  The Customs and Border Patrol has ordered a temporary halt in missions until further pilot training could occur.


People with disabilities camp out in Berkeley to protest State service cuts
People with disabilities in the San Francisco Bay area are camping out this week to protest proposed cuts to senior and disability services.  About a dozen protesters have pitched tents on a median in Berkeley and nearly 100 more have been joining the core group during the day.

The state is considering reducing funding once again to California’s In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, and other programs that serve at-risk populations.  Organizers say ever year, the state chips away at social services funding.

“Living in San Francisco on a fixed income.  Last year, I got $100 cut out of my salary and after I finished paying PG&E, my rent, I got $200 a month to spend on food.”

Bruce Allison is one of the full-time protesters at the “Arnie-ville Camp-out” who would be affected if the cuts go through.

“Affect me a lot… I may have to move out of the state, the city that I was born in, San Francisco… Find a cheaper place to live.”

Allison says he will be camping out until the end of the week.  Protesters argue innovative programs like In-Home Supportive Services are working and help maintain a high quality of life and independence for seniors and people with disabilities in California.



SCOTUS rules on campaign disclosure
The Supreme Court handed down a number of rulings this week as it near the end of its session. One case, Doe v. Reed, addresses the withholding of information during political campaigns. In a nearly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld disclosure. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the decision comes on the same day Congress voted on a bill to expand transparency during elections.

OUTRO: The House of Representatives passed the Disclose Act. It includes carve-outs for special interest groups including the National Rifle Association, which would not have to comply with transparency requirements during campaign season.


The Gulf oil disaster and the US Social Forum
Oil spill workers have re-installed the containment cap that malfunctioned yesterday, but the mechanism is only catching a portion of the oil spewing into the ocean. The country’s worst environmental disaster is unfolding as activists and organizers are gathered in Detroit this week for the US Social Forum. Among them is Debra Sweet, a member of the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster, an ad-hoc group of national activists and local residents. She spoke to Shannon Young via cell phone from the US Social Forum.


Court sides with Boys Scouts in discrimination case
A Philadelphia jury ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts yesterday, deciding that the city cannot kick the Boy Scouts out of their Philadelphia headquarters. Attorneys representing the city argued the Boy Scouts’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay members violated the city’s anti-discrimination laws.  From federal civil court in Philadelphia, FSRN’s Matthew Petrillo reports.


Mexican activist comes out of hiding to seek asylum in Venezuela
A prominent Mexican activist has emerged from more than four years in hiding to seek asylum. América del Valle arrived at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico City Wednesday to ask the South American nation to take her in as a political refugee. Del Valle – along with other members of her family – gained national recognition for leading a fight against land expropriation for the construction of an international airport in the town of San Salvador Atenco. The battle played out in both the streets and in the courts and became a symbolic victory for the power of popular organization in Mexico. But in May of 2006, federal, state, and local police cracked down on the town and its land defense activists – arresting more than 200 people and killing 2 others.

América del Valle was the only leader of Atenco’s land defense movement to evade capture and has been living underground ever since, facing the same “kidnapping” charges that resulted in a 112 year prison sentence for her father, Ignacio del Valle. While she has not made any public appearance, América del Valle has periodically sent letters and audio recordings like this one recently played at a rally to demand a favorable Supreme Court ruling for the 12 Atenco activists who remain in prison.

“The freedom for Atenco and all social movements and fighters is in a decisive moment. Finally, after 4 years on a torturous judicial path, the case of our twelve brothers is before the Supreme Court who can rule on their upcoming release. And what comes out of this case will affect other political prisoners and other social fighters also accused of kidnapping for being in the crosshairs of the oppressors.”

América del Valle’s mother, Trinidad Ramírez went to see her daughter yesterday in the Venezuelan Embassy and described the experience in this morning’s edition of the Mexican newscast, “Hoy por Hoy”.

“She told me she was no longer willing to continue living in the situation she’s been living in for more than 4 years – in hiding and with the uncertainty of knowing that she could be detained at any moment. And she told me ‘I’ve made this decision, mama and the only thing I’m asking right now’ – and she said this with tears in her eyes – ‘is that you support me and that you support this decision because otherwise, I won’t feel good about it’. She went on to explain her situation to me and of course, of course I support my daughter. And well, I was finally able to hug her and I was so happy in that moment. We were able to cry together and to speak a little about the many things that we haven’t been able to say to each other in more than 4 years.”

In a letter released yesterday, América del Valle said that while she’s leaving, she not giving up. She also thanked the people who protected and hid her over the years, saying “I don’t have anything to pay you with except my struggle and my strength”. The government of Venezuela is expected to need some time to decide on her petition for asylum.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s Supreme Court is due to issue a ruling on the fate of the 12 Atenco prisoners by the end of the month.


Proposed tourist center could demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem
The mayor of Jerusalem this week approved a plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in a neighborhood near the old city to make way for a tourist center.  Part of the plan would also legalize dozens of buildings constructed without Israeli permission. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has the Story.