August 6, 2010

  • Google-Verizon talks spark debate over net neutrality
  • Obama Administration’s action on CAFTA draws mixed reviews
  • Simulated border crossing shows risks of migration
  • Senate increases funding for aerial drones along US-Mexico border
  • Northern California schools turn to farming to bridge funding gap

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Russia peat bog fires continue to burn
Record high temperatures and drought have has fueled scores of forest and peat fires across Russia this week. At least 30 people are reported dead — and the fires are having a major impact on human health and the environment. FSRN’s Jenny Johnson reports from Russia.

Hundreds of fires are raging in the Moscow region, creating a thick, toxic mix in the air that is choking residents. The stew has penetrated into the heart of Moscow’s downtown, blanketing the interior of Metro train tunnels and apartment buildings.

Officials say 50 wild fires start in the region each day, and about one-third of those are peat fires. These fires burn from several feet underground, and smolder even through winter, becoming larger at heat grows and moisture evaporates. Environmentalists are criticizing the government for not taking the preventative measure of flooding at-risk areas prior to fire season. Government officials are blaming the financial crisis for cuts to fire fighting budgets. Efforts to extinguish the fires have not been successful.

The peat fires are of global significance as well, because they contain vast stores of carbon that have accumulated over a thousand years. Analysts liken the amount the carbon stored in Russia’s peat lands to the amount of carbon stored in the Amazon rainforest. In addition, recent studies have confirmed that smoke from the fires is a direct contributor to the melting of the Arctic. Black carbon moves north, where it lands on ice and snow, allowing for the increased absorption of the heat. Jenny Johnson, FSRN, Russia.

Mexico Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage
The Supreme Court of Mexico has upheld a Mexico City law allowing same-sex marriage. The country’s conservative ruling party brought the challenge to the ordinance. Mexico City began offering same-sex marriage last December. On Monday, the court will rule on a challenge to the law allowing gay couples to adopt.


Violence and press suppression in lead-up to Rwandan elections
South Africa recalled its ambassador to Rwanda today amid concerns over the political climate of the Central African country. In June, gunmen attempted to assassinate an exiled Rwandan general in Johannesburg. This is just one in a string of instances of violence, oppression of opposition voices and the press leading into Monday’s national election. FSRN’s Zack Baddorf has more from Kigali, Rwanda.

The attack on the general is part of what Amnesty International calls a “climate of repression” in Rwanda in the run-up to presidential elections next week. The government has banned most opposition parties from participating and consequently, the ruling party’s candidate and current President, Paul Kagame, is expected to win by a broad margin.

In the past month, Rwanda’s Media High Council suspended more than two dozen newspapers. The country’s foreign minister said in London today that Rwanda will not be held hostage by –quote- “hate media.” In addition, a Rwandan journalist who attempted to report on the assassination attempt in South Africa was recently murdered. The vice-president of an opposition party was also beheaded.

More than five million Rwandans – half the country’s population – are registered to vote. Zack Baddorf, FSRN, Kigali.

Sick Vets bring suit against military contractor KBR
Former US military personnel and civilians are suing Texas contractor Kellogg Brown & Root, saying their cancer and respiratory problems can be traced back to the company’s open air burning of trash on US bases. According to the Washington Post, the contractor, commonly known as KBR, burned plastic, biological waste, paint and other items in large open-air pits at bases in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The case, which was brought by nearly 250 people allegedly affected by the burning, faces an uphill battle and the difficult challenge of establishing causality for their illnesses.


Japanese mark 65th anniversary of bombing of Hiroshima
Sixty-five years ago today, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the western Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. The annual ceremony marking the event was held today, where approximately 55,000 people attended. As FSRN’s Shuhei Nakayama reports, among them was an official representative of the US, the first to ever attend the ceremony.

That’s the sound of the Hiroshima Bell of Peace, which is tolled ever August 6th at 8:15am, marking the moment when the atomic bomb fell onto the city.

For the first time, a US ambassador commemorated the bombing with the representatives from 74 other countries. President Obama has stated a goal of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons. The mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, said at the ceremony he wanted the same thing.

“The elimination of nuclear armament is becoming urgent in the world. The voices of citizens can change international society. We need to give the voice to the world.”

Audio courtesy of NHK. Japan has invited the US to attend the commemoration each year, but the US had previously declined. Delegates from the UK and France also attended this year’s ceremony for the first time.

More than 200,000 died in August 1945 between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered days later, effectively ending World War II. Shuhei Nakayama, FSRN.



Google-Verizon talks spark debate over net neutrality
The Federal Communications Commission has called off closed-door talks with telecommunications industry giants over how the Internet should be regulated. The announcement comes after Google and Verizon issued denials of media reports this week that the companies had negotiated a deal that would enable them to charge different rates for content carried over wireless broadband services. A tiered system of Internet quality and speed goes against the principals of net neutrality – a concept that says internet service providers must treat all content as equal and deliver standardized service to customers.

Senator Al Franken warned of pending merger deals and the need for more public say in Internet regulation at last month’s Netroots Nation conference.

“The government has a role to play here. The government can pass rules to protect net neutrality. The government can stop mergers like NBC/Comcast or at least put strict, rigorous conditions on them. But first, the government has to be made to act. And I can tell you first-hand that the government, the White House, the FCC, my fellow members of Congress, is hearing plenty from the corporations on the other side of these issues and not nearly enough from you.”

Thursday’s news of a rumored deal reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post provoked a swift response among net neutrality advocates.

Andrew Schwartzman is the senior vice president from Media Access Project, a public interest law firm and advocacy group based in Washington DC.


Obama Administration’s action on CAFTA draws mixed reviews
The Obama Administration has moved to enforce labor rights in Guatemala through the Central America Free Trade Agreement. Labor advocates cheer the effort but say the concept of protecting labor through free trade is a contradiction in terms. Meanwhile, they’re giving the administration the thumbs down for using taxpayer funds to train workers in other countries to take outsourced American jobs. Tanya Snyder reports.


Simulated border crossing shows risks of migration
The free trade agreements of NAFTA and CAFTA have also been blamed for increasing the rate of economic migration from Mexico and Central America to the United States. An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the US. Many have arrived via a clandestine border crossing. The actual feat of crossing the border requires steady nerves and physical exertion. Many first-time crossers are not fully aware of what to expect. But would-be migrants and the curious can get a taste of what it’s like at an ecotourism park in Central Mexico. Shannon Young has more.


Senate increases funding for aerial drones along US-Mexico border
US/Mexico border crossers can also soon encounter unmanned aerial drones and newly deployed National Guard troops. Yesterday – just before the summer recess – the Senate approved an additional $600 million in funding for border security. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Clarie MacCaskill of Missouri. They say it will add 10 percent to spending on border security over the 2010 level. Along with an increase in Border Patrol agents and establishing four forward operating bases along the border, the measure puts aside $32 million for drone aircrafts to gather surveillance images and search for illegal activity.

For a look at the increase in drones along the border, we’re joined by Melissa del Bosque. She’s an investigative reporter with the Texas Observer Magazine and writes the regular blog, La Linea.

To read more from Melissa del Bosque’s blog, La Linea:


Northern California schools turn to farming to bridge funding gap
California schools are facing massive budget cuts from the state. The weak economy is forcing some school districts to look at creative ways to bring in revenue and keep classes going. In northern California’s Mendocino County one school district has turned to farming to raise funds and feed the community. From Ukiah, Christina Aanestad has more.