July 27, 2010

  • House of Representatives debates war spending bill, US military role in Pakistan
  • Afghan war documents reveal “death squads,” extensive use of drones
  • Senate rejects bill to disclose corporate financing of political campaigns
  • Tribe fights for survival as BP oil spill ravages Gulf Coast

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Study says BPA coats cash register receipts
The Environmental Working Group released a study today that finds high levels of BPA – or bisphenol A on paper receipts found at many retail outlets, including some of the nation’s largest chains – like Walmart and Whole Foods – as well as the US Postal Service. BPA is a synthetic estrogen commonly found in plastics, food packaging and thermal paper. The chemical is linked to major health disorders including reproductive cancers and heart problems. A study by Swiss scientists released earlier this month found that BPA rubs off thermal receipt paper onto skin, soaks in and cannot be washed off. The EWG study discovered BPA in 40 percent of the paper receipts they tested, sometimes at levels up to 1000 times higher than that which can leach from plastic baby bottles. The group calls on retailers to switch from thermal paper to BPA free paper or email receipts when possible.

Department of Defense has no paper trail for $9 billion of Iraq’s money 
The Defense Department can’t account for billions of dollars used in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. That’s according to an audit out today by the Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction. FSRN’s Jacob Fenston has more.

The Defense Department took control of some 9 billion dollars of Iraqi money from 2004 to 2007. It was to be used for reconstruction projects, but according to the audit released by a special investigator, most of the money – 8 point 7 billion – was not properly accounted for. Of that, there are no records at all of what happened to 2.6 billion.  Ronald Neumann is President of the American Academy of Diplomacy – a Washington think-tank. He says in the early years of the Iraq war, often, the military was just handing out money to get things done.

“People would say, you know if you don’t put people to work, we’re gonna have more fighting. So they would rush around and do things to put people to work. They didn’t always keep careful account of the money.”

Neumann says civilians at the State Department and U-S-A-I-D need more staff to keep track of reconstruction money.

“So if you’re gonna have billions of dollars in contracts as we had in Iraq, and you deploy tiny numbers of people to manage those contracts, you will not manage them properly, and you will have these problems again.”

The report also found the US military still controls some 35 million dollars of Iraqi funds, despite being required to return that money to Iraq’s government. Jacob Fenston, FSRN, Washington.

International donors earmark $1.1 billion in aid for Kyrgyzstan
High level international donors met in Kyrgyzstan today and promised 1.1 billion dollars in aid to be delivered over the next two and a half years. Violent protests in April of this year resulted in the forced ouster of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Violent unrest between major ethnic groups followed and further damaged the nation’s stability – 75,000 people are still displaced and as many as 2,000 were killed. Sixty million dollars of the aid is to arrive before the end of this year. Current President Roza Otunbayeva assured the group that the nation’s new constitution is sufficient to protect their investments from corruption.

Indigenous Brazilians still occupying power plant
A group of indigenous Brazilians continue their power plant protest today – FSRN’s Bryan Gibel reports from Sao Paulo.

Protesters representing eight native Brazilian tribes say an Amazon hydroelectric plant is being built on an ancient burial ground. The protest, which did not turn violent, began on Sunday when about 300 Indians armed with bows and arrows occupied the construction site, blocking transit and taking about 100 workers hostage.  After negotiating with the plant’s management, the protestors exchanged the workers for five engineers who were later released. But they did not leave the site or allow construction to restart. Instead, they presented a list of demands to the company building the plant including more than 5 million dollars in compensation.  The construction site, located in the state of Matto Grosso, is about 20 miles outside the Indians’ reserve. They claim the hydroelectric plant will diminish their ability to fish and access clean water once it begins to operate. The plant is schedule to be completed by the end of the year. Bryan Gibel, FSRN, Sao Paulo.

Israel razes entire Bedouin village – 200 homeless
Two hundred people are homeless in the Israeli desert today after police forces demolished their entire village. The village, Al-Araqeeb, is in the Negev Desert. The Bedouin villagers say they have original deeds to what they claim as their ancestral land – the Israeli government says the residents settled there illegally. According to the Negev Coexistence Forum, some 75,000 Bedouin people live in unrecognized villages in the region.

ACLU: FBI data collection on ethnic communities constitutes racial profiling
The ACLU says that the FBI’s collection of race-based data in ethnic communities invites profiling – Brad Kutner has more from Richmond.

ACLU affiliates across the country are asking for FBI records on ethnic communities. According to the ACLU, this information is gathered to document and map racial and ethnic behaviors and constitutes racial profiling. Further, the group says the data collection is therefore unconstitutional. This mapping is sanctioned in the FBI operations guide.  Ii specifically allows “the FBI to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities in the Field Office’s domain.”  Virginia ACLU Director Kent Willis said the FBI profiling program is similar to one created by former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, where in Kaine told law enforcement officials that areas with high concentration of minorities were a threat to national security. Brad Kutner,  FSRN, Richmond.



House of Representatives debates war spending bill, US military role in Pakistan
On Capitol Hill today, the House of Representatives debated the war in Afghanistan, and for the first time, the US military role in Pakistan. Congress is expected to approve $33 billion for emergency war spending. It would then go to the President’s desk with out funding for education and other domestic priorities originally included. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Afghan war documents reveal ‘death squads,’ extensive use of drones
Reaction continues following the release of classified documents on the Afghan war. On Sunday, Wikileaks published more than 90 thousand documents covering day to day reports from Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009. Some of the raw field reports add details to the number and frequency of civilian deaths, drone strikes and the use of special forces for targeted assassinations.

On Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the information, telling reporters that much of it is not new.

“What is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed – either by you all or by representatives of the US government – for quite some time. We have certainly known about save havens in Pakistan. We have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time and on both of those aspects we’ve taken steps to make improvements.”

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley gave reporters a similar response.

“These documents highlight issues that we’ve long known about, in fact, that we’ve incorporated into our revised strategy, so are we concerned about the impact the military operations are having on the ground in Afghanistan? Absolutely. And we’ve adapted our approach to military operations as a result.”

The Pentagon announced today it is leading a criminal investigation into the source of the documents. Gibbs said today they would prosecute those responsible.

“You make a commitment when handling this type of information to live up to the responsibilities invested in federal law in how one handles this information and if you’re not willing to live up to those responsibilities then you face those consequences.”

The reports, which at times paint a different picture from official accounts, have increased pressure on the Obama Admin and the debate over ending the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For more, we’re joined by Conn Hallinan, foreign policy analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank that is part of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Senate rejects bill to disclose corporate financing of political campaigns
Democrats in the Senate failed to pass the Disclose Act today. The bill would have forced corporations, unions, and non-profits to disclose more information about their political donations.  The legislation was a response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which overturned a century-long precedent to allow corporations to advocate and fundraise freely for political candidates. The Court said the right was protected under the First Amendment.  Now, with the bill’s failure, corporations will be able to anonymously spend in campaigns for the upcoming elections in November.  FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.

Tribe fights for survival as BP oil spill ravages Gulf Coast
Today, BP reported a $17 billion loss for the last fiscal period, due in part to putting $32 billion aside to pay for the oil disaster. This loss, according to outgoing CEO Tony Hayward, allows the company to take a $10 billion corporate tax credit. The company also announced a replacement for Hayward – US board member Robert Dudley, the first American to serve in this position.

Meanwhile, the BP oil disaster continues to devastate many on the Gulf Coast, including the Houma Nation. With 17,000 members, the tribe is the largest on the Louisiana coast. Although they have lived there since pre-colonial times, the nation isn’t recognized by the federal government. First hard-hit by Katrina, the tribe is now contending with the largest environmental disaster in US history. Zoe Sullivan reports.