July 21, 2010

  • US announces sanctions on North Korea ahead of military exercises in region
  • Firing of black USDA official reassessed after right wing attacks
  • BP considers new method to repair damaged well in Gulf
  • Disability advocates push for funding ahead of anniversary of key law
  • Black employees of Southern California Edison claim racial discrimination

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Obama signs financial reform into law
Today, President Obama signed historic financial reform legislation into law.

“This is the central lesson of not only this crisis, but of our history.  Ultimately there’s no dividing law between Main Street and Wall Street.  We rise or fall together as one nation.  So these reforms will help lift our economy an lead all of us to a stronger, more prosperous future.”

The bill is considered the largest overhaul of the financial system since the Great Depression.  It creates a consumer protection agency, gives government more control over failing financial firms, and limits the types of risks firms can take.

“Our financial system only works, our market is only free when there are clear rules and basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excess, that insure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system.”

Another provision requires US companies to ensure they are not using raw mineral materials sourced in the Congo, where sexual violence is an epidemic.

The Obama administration has also announced intentions to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by federal agencies by 13% in the next decade.  The reduction covers indirect sources of pollution like commuting and other travel.  This expands on an executive order issued in October 2009 that requires the government to be a leader in creating a green economy.  The federal government is the largest single consumer of energy in the country.


Oakland approves large-scale factory pot production
The Oakland City Council has voted to permit four industrial scale marijuana farms, to sell cannabis to medical marijuana dispensaries.  It’s a move some say will make Oakland the “Silicon Valley of Marijuana” while others say it will corporatize a grassroots industry built by the counterculture.  FSRN’s Kellia Ramares has the story.

The city will begin issuing permits in January for 4 industrial farms that would have no size limit.  Among other things, the regulations will require applicants to pay a $211,000 annual permit fee that will be used to hire a regulatory staff to oversee compliance.  Proponents of taxing and regulating marijuana see industrial farming as creating jobs and tax revenues for the cash strapped city.

But Elizabeth Frantes, a longtime medical marijuana patient and activist calls the Oakland decision an abomination.

“No other medication in the state of California is allowed to be taxed.  So if these people are truly in favor of medical marijuana why do they support this huge tax? It’s certainly without precedent.”

Small and medium sized growers, including patient collectives, say this measure will push them out of an industry they risked arrest to build.  California will vote this November on Proposition 19, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  Federal law still makes all use of marijuana illegal.  Kellia Ramares, FSRN, Oakland.

Chinese oil spill spreads
China’s official estimates of the scope of an oil spill caused by a pipeline explosion last weekend have increased significantly.  Now authorities say the oil has spread to cover 170 square miles of ocean near the port city of Dalian on the Yellow Sea.  The Guardian reports 800 fishing vessels are assisting in the clean up and one person has drowned.


Former Mexican state utility workers approach day 90 of hunger strike
A long-running hunger strike in Mexico City protesting the closing of a state utility has taken a dramatic turn, as two strike participants have developed medical complications.  FSRN’s Shannon Young has more.

Cayetano Cabrera and Miguel Ángel Ibarra have been on hunger strike since late April in protest of a presidential decree, which dissolved the state-owned electrical company that served Mexico City and the surrounding area.  A doctor who has been monitoring the health of the group of 15 hunger strikers warns the two men are currently at risk of heart failure.  Cabrera has lost 46 pounds and Ibarra has lost 55 pounds.

The protesters are calling on the federal government to re-instate the 44-thousand workers who lost their jobs overnight when President Felipe Calderon dissolved the public utility and sent police to occupy the company’s facilities.  The government has not officially responded.

Unions across Mexico criticized the move, and some saw it as a decisive test case for public sector labor rights.  The closure of the utility effectively signaled the end of the country’s oldest labor organization, the Mexican Electricians Union, which had a long history of supporting leftist causes.  Mexico’s Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of the presidential decree that dissolved the power company – and by extension, ended official recognition of the union.  Shannon Young, FSRN, Mexico.

Israel still denies it violated international law during Gaza War, but says it will restrict use of white phosphorous weapons
Israel will restrict the use of white phosphorus weapons, according to a report the country’s foreign ministry sent to the UN.  The report is the result of an internal investigation into allegations of illegal tactics used during the war in Gaza.  It states the Israeli Defense Forces are working on a “clear doctrine” and “permanent restrictions” on the use of the weapons, which is banned from being used near civilians by international law.  Israel says it has opened 47 criminal investigations and is currently prosecuting 4 military personnel related to incidents during the war.  But officials maintain that it did not violate international laws of engagement.



US announces sanctions on North Korea ahead of military exercises in region
Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced new sanctions against North Korea. The news came during a visit to the border between South and North Korea.

“Today I’m announcing a series of measures to increase our ability to prevent North Korea’s proliferation, to halt their illicit activities that help fund their weapons programs and to discourage further provocative actions.”

Clinton made the visit with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. This also comes ahead of an increase in military exercises, set to begin this weekend. Tensions in the region have been high since the torpedo sinking of a South Korean ship called the Cheonan, that killed 46 sailors in March.

For more, we’re joined by Christine Ahn. She’s a policy analyst with the Los Angeles-based Korea Policy Institute. She’s addressed the United Nations, U.S. Congress, and the South Korean National Human Rights Commission on US-Korea relations, trade and militarization. She’s part of the National Campaign to End the Korean War.


Firing of black USDA official reassessed after right wing attacks
The conservative news media’s sharp criticism of a black agricultural department employee leads to a quick firing. If you feel like you’ve heard a similar story before, you have: it happened to Green Jobs Advisor Van Jones last fall. And this week, it happened to the USDA’s Shirley Sherrod. But now more has come out in the case – causing some to question the Administration’s rapid action. Tanya Snyder reports.


Disability advocates push for funding ahead of anniversary of key law
Next Monday is the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – and today activists gathered outside the US Capitol to mark this significant milestone. While they are celebrating achievements, the activists are also urging Congress to pass stalled funding for states.  FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


BP considers new method to repair damaged well in Gulf
The federal government’s oil disaster leader says BP can go ahead with a new method to try to permanently seal the damaged well. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the static kill would force mud into the well and push the oil back down into the reservoir. Allen said officials are continuing to monitor pressure within the well – to determine if such a procedure is possible.

Leaks have been discovered – even as far away as nearly two miles at another production site, but Allen said that authorities did not consider them “consequential.” Allen also said a weather system over the Caribbean could threaten work if it worsens in the next few days.

Meanwhile in Washington,  the House passed two bills in response to the BP oil disaster, one that would invest in technologies to ensure gas and oil drilling safety, the other – sponsored by California Representative Lynne Woolsey – would fund research and development to prevent and clean up oil spills.

Woolsey said California’s experiences with an oil spill four decades ago is evidence more money is needed for drilling safety research.

“Madame speaker, if we learned anything from the COSCO Busan spill it’s that we need to strengthen coordination and leadership of oil spill response leadership and development and everything we learned from the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster magnifies my concerns.”

Also on Capitol Hill today, Kenneth Feinberg testified for the second time this week about the claims process for those affected by the BP oil disaster. Before the House Judiciary committee, he emphasized the independent nature of his position:

“Under the arrangement entered into between the Administration and BP I am designing and administrating an independent facility, I am beholden to neither the Administration nor BP, I’m really beholden to the people who live in the Gulf and who are in desperate straits and seek financial assistance from this facility.”

Feinberg said the transition of claims from BP to this independent facility will go through in August. He credited BP with paying out some $200 million in claims – but said the independent facility will be better, quicker and more efficient.


Black employees of Southern California Edison claim racial discrimination
A group of African American employees of Southern California Edison have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming racial discrimination in pay, advancement and harassment.

The suit alleges Edison has refused to incorporate previous federal consent decrees in 1974 and 1994 in order to change a racist management culture. FSRN’s Dan Fritz has the story.