July 1, 2010

  • Capital Hill wrap up with DC Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell
  • Health Care changes take effect and Virginia lawsuit proceeds
  • President Obama calls for immigration reform
  • Hurricane Alex threatens to worsen BP spill, and EPA releases report on oil dispersants
  • Agriculture losses due to Gaza blockade

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First flotilla aid arrives in Gaza
The United Nations says the first shipments of flotilla aid have reached the Gaza Strip.  This after Israeli security forces violently confronted the flotilla at the end of May, killing nine activists.  Israel would not allow the ships to deliver the cargo directly to Gaza port and instead forced the ships to dock in Israel.  The UN has been charged with delivering the humanitarian aid via a land border crossing.  Since the incident, Israel has lifted some restrictions on the types of goods allowed into the territory.

European flooding leaves thousands displaced in Romania and Ukraine
In Romania and Ukraine, flooding in rural areas has swamped farmland and left thousands of residents displaced from their homes.  From Romania, FSRN’s Dana Lepadat has more.

Heavy rains caused the Prut and Siret Rivers to overflow their banks in the eastern part of Romania.  And because of the huge quantity of water, the Danube is actually being pushed back up the Siret River nearly 15 miles.  In Romania, at least 13,000 people have been displaced from their homes and 22 people have died.  The house of 83-year old Valerica Iordache was destroyed in the floods.

“Why can’t the country keep us safe from the floods?  I have just a 100-dollar pension.  I survived by climbing up a tree, but my pigs and my birds all died.  The walls of my house collapsed and now I have to leave.”

The military is adding sandbags to dikes along the rivers hoping to prevent even more homes from being lost.  Flooding has also affected communities in the north.  In Ukraine, floodwaters nearly 5 meters deep have destroyed thousands of houses.  Some villages are entirely underwater.  Meteorologists are predicting the rain will continue through tomorrow morning.  Dana Lepadat, FSRN, Romania.

New compromise leads to expanded animal welfare rights in Ohio
Animal rights activists have reached a compromise with the State of Ohio to reform animal welfare laws.  FSRN’s Sehvilla Mann reports.

Governor Ted Strickland announced a deal between the state and the Humane Society to enact eight animal-welfare policy reforms advocated by the group.  Among other things Ohio will issue a moratorium on the use of battery cages – the small wire pens used mostly in industrial egg production.  The reforms will also lead to the eventual ban on veal crates and gestation crates for hogs, as well as tightening rules for dog-breeding kennels and the penalties for cockfighting.

In exchange, the Humane Society agreed not submit the more than 450,000 signatures it gathered to place the animal welfare reforms on the November ballot.  State leaders had approached the group for a policy compromise after the petition gained traction.  At a press conference Wednesday, the Governor said it wasn’t in Ohio’s best interest to have an acrimonious issue debated.

But the deal also preserves the 13-member Livestock Care Standards Board, created last November by constitutional amendment.  The Humane Society and some family-farm groups believe the board is a power-grab by agribusiness interests meant to preempt the passage of animal welfare laws.  Sehvilla Mann, FSRN, Cleveland.

Report: US cities blocking efforts to feed homeless
The slumping economy has cost many people their jobs, and some their homes.  Rising homelessness remains a major concern, and report released today says many cities across the US are blocking those who want to help feed those in need.  WMNF Community Radio’s Joshua Holton reports from Tampa.

The report authored by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty shows that nearly two dozen communities nationwide have created ordinances and policies that put restrictions food sharing.   The organization cited seven cities in Florida alone with restrictive laws – including Sarasota, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Miami.

Mark Silverstein of Food Not Bombs Ft. Lauderdale says local authorities have tried to arrest members of his food-sharing program.

“So in 2007 the city of Ft. Lauderdale harassed us and threatened us with arrest if we continued to share in Stranahan Park.  We organized a protest, we had a media campaign and they left us alone.  But now recently the city has been threatening us again and there’s a homeless task force, created that consists mostly of developers, police officers and city officials.  Some charity groups that are trying to move the feeding location from Stranahan park to some out of the way industrial area, which the homeless people there do not want.”

Even though a federal judge upheld the right of Food Not Bombs as protected speech, several cities still have laws that restrict the distribution of food.  The report released today offers food sharing alternatives, and other ways communities can help, such as offering federal nutrition programs.  Joshua Holton, FSRN.



DC wrap up with Leigh Ann Caldwell
In Washington DC, Congress is attempting to tie the bow on months of legislative struggle. There is a lot going on in Washington today and joining us to discuss some of the developments in DC is our DC Editor, Leigh Ann Caldwell.

Health care changes take effect and Virginia lawsuit proceeds
Anthem Blue cross, which came under fire earlier this year for requesting insurance rate increases as high as 39 percent, has now announced a plan for smaller rate increases.  The new proposed premium hikes, which would go into effect September 1st, would average 14 percent, with a maximum increase of 20 percent.  Anthems parent company, Wellpoint, had profits of almost 900 million dollars in the first 3 months of 2010.

Controversy over Anthems proposed rate change was one of several factors which led to the passage of healthcare reform this past March.  The federal government’s new healthcare website went on line today.  At Healthcare-dot-gov, people can find information on plans, carriers, and prices for private plans, Medicaid, and children’s health insurance.  The website launch comes as some of the first pieces of the new health care reform law went into effect today … among them, new high risk pools, offering insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. But as states and consumers begin to sort out the details of how, and if, they can access affordable coverage, a legal challenge to the ‘Affordable Healthcare Act’ began in Virginia.  FSRN’s Jacob Fenston has more.

President Obama calls for immigration reform
President Obama outlined the problems of immigration policy in the United States, and called on elected officials to take action, at an address today at American University in Washington, DC.

“Time and again, this issue has been used to divide and inflame -– and to demonize people.  And so the understandable, the natural impulse among those who run for office is to turn away and defer this question for another day, or another year, or another administration.  Despite the courageous leadership in the past shown by many Democrats and some Republicans — including, by the way, my predecessor, President Bush -– this has been the custom.  That is why a broken and dangerous system that offends our most basic American values is still in place.”

Many are skeptical that Congress will pass immigration reform this year. Last December, Representative Luis Gutierrez introduced a bill in the House. But the Senate hasn t acted, partially due to a bi-partisan coalition that fell apart in April.  The President said this failure in Washington, DC to pass immigration reform has led to states creating a patchwork of local immigration rules – some of them ill-conceived.

”Laws like Arizona’s put huge pressures on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable.  It puts pressure on already hard-strapped state and local budgets.  It makes it difficult for people here illegally to report crimes -– driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult. And you don’t have to take my word for this.  You can speak to the police chiefs and others from law enforcement here today who will tell you the same thing.”

Obama also pointed out that laws like Arizona’s SB1070 could violate the rights of US citizens and legal residents, since it requires law enforcement to question anyone who they suspect is undocumented. Civil rights groups are warning that racial profiling is already happening, and this week, the ACLU issued travel alerts warning people traveling to Arizona, Mexico and other states in advance of the July 4th holiday.  The ACLU’s  ‘Know Your Rights’ travel card provides advice on what to do if you’re stopped for a traffic violation or questioned about immigration status. Arizona’s controversial bill is set to take effect at the end of July.

Hurricane Alex threatens to worsen BP spill, and EPA releases report on oil dispersants
After passing through the gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Alex has been down graded to a tropical storm.  The Hurricane made landfall late Wednesday in northeastern Mexico.  At least 3 people have died, and thousands of others evacuated from their villages.

US states along the gulf coast are just beginning to see the effects that Alex has had on the still growing oil spill; storm winds pushed tar balls and oil onto beaches.  The spill is now the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico, using the government’s highest estimates of how much oil is gushing from the undersea well every day.  As clean up efforts continue, the Environmental Protection Agency has released the initial results of tests on the oil dispersants being used by BP.  The EPA’s initial tests roughly correlated with the toxicity levels BP had claimed, and found that the dispersants being used were generally less toxic than oil. The EPA also stated that more testing was needed.  Joining us to discuss the EPA report and what it means is Richard Denison, a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Agriculture losses due to Gaza blockade
Israeli warplanes raided a number of targets across the Gaza Strip today.  Israel claims the bombings were in retaliation to a rocket attack on a factory, and says the targets were terrorist tunnels, and a weapons manufacturing plant.  But an irrigation well in the North of Gaza was also destroyed.  With water and food already in short supply in Gaza due to the 3 year old blockade, the loss of a well or plot of farmland adds to the dire humanitarian situation.  Agriculture and fishing have shown a steep decline since 2007, and although Israeli officials recently announced they would ease the blockade, many are still concerned that a lack of access to vital natural resources will continue. FSRN’S Rami Almeghari reports.