Newscast for Wednesday, March 30, 2011

  • Radiation levels in seawater off the Fukushima coast much higher than previously reported
  • President Obama’s new energy policy
  • Syria’s President tells parliament a plot against the country will be defeated
  • Critics say EU-India trade deal threatens people with HIV
  • Trial of suspects accused in murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey

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Ivory Coast administrative capital taken in armed conflict

The armed conflict in Ivory Coast has reached a new level as supporters of Alassane Ouattara have taken over the administrative capital. Ouattara is recognized by the United Nations as the winner of last November’s presidential election. His opponent, President Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to accept the results.

Rebels lose ground in Libya

Libya’s military has pushed rebel forces out of key positions in Ras Lanouf, Bin Jawad, and Brega. Rebels are also reportedly retreating from other important towns due to attacks Gaddafi’s professional, fully equipped army launched during a lull in Western air strikes. The turn of events comes as President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have stated their governments have not ruled out the possibility of arming the rebels.

Egyptian military rulers approve interim constitution

Egypt now has an interim constitution to replace what had been the law of the land during the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The military council which has ruled Egypt for the past several weeks approved the document today. Nine of the constitution’s 62 articles stem from the results of the March 19th referendum. Parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to take place before the end of the year.

Sheriff Arpaio launches new operation amid state budget crunch

In Arizona, budget problems are currently being negotiated between Governor Jan Brewer and the state legislature.  Funding for education and Medicaid are on the chopping block, but  one public institution that appears to be operating free from austerity measures is the Maricopa County sheriff’s office. David Brooksher has more from Phoenix.

“Operation Desert Sky” is the latest military-style initiative launched by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Arpaio said the operation will deploy 30 aircraft, a swat team and civilian posses to seal off the county border to drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants. Firearms used in the operation will include M-16 rifles and the sheriff’s 50 caliber machine gun.

Arpaio’s goal?

ARPAIO: “Try to put a dent into the traffic coming into Maricopa county. At least send a message to everybody — go to some other county, don’t come to Maricopa.”

The Sheriff ducked multiple questions regarding the exact cost of Operation Desert Sky:

ARPAIO: “Well you see that doesn’t matter, because I get 1.6 million from the legislature anyway.”

Arizona is currently facing a 543 million dollar budget shortfall. To raise revenues, the state government recently sold ownership of several properties in the state capitol — including the house, senate, and supreme court buildings — to private investors. Dave Brooksher, FSRN, Phoenix.

Organic growers and seed sellers file “pre-emptive” lawsuit against Monsanto

Organic farmers and seed distributors have filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in an effort to pre-empt possible legal actions FROM the bio-tech giant as a result of genetic contamination. Molly Stentz has more.

The lawsuit filed by the Public Patent Foundation aims to set a new precedent: that organic farmers cannot be sued by Monsanto if genes from lab-modified crops contaminate their fields. Monsanto has taken hundreds of farmers to court over the past decade for patent infringement, even when patented crops were the result of genetic contamination. This form of contamination occurs when seeds or pollen from patented crops blow into fields of growers who do not want bio-tech genetics in their seed stock. Organic farmers whose crops become polluted by lab-modified genes face lost income because GMO crops cannot be sold as organic.

Jim Gerritsen is an organic potato farmer from Maine and the President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, one of the plaintiffs:

GERRITSEN: “In order for us to protect our food supply, we’ve got to be able to prevent genetic contamination from transgenics.”

Many organic farmers say protecting their crops from unwanted genetic contamination is crucial to maintaining a seed stock independent from corporate control. Organic crops are also currently the only food guaranteed to be GMO-free by the US government. Molly Stentz, FSRN, Madison.

Myanmar shifts from military junta to civilian political structure

The military junta that has ruled Myanmar – or Burma – for the past 50 years handed over power today to a civilian government. But the armed forces remain the largest influence on institutional politics. A large number of the members of parliament have ties to the military and the new president is a retired general.



Radiation levels in seawater off the Fukushima coast much higher than previously reported

In Japan, officials say seawater near the Fukushima nuclear plant has levels of radioactive iodine higher than previously thought:  three thousand times the legal limit.  Earlier this week, plutonium was discovered in soil samples near the plant and officials have said this radioactive contamination outside the facility could be the result of a partial nuclear meltdown. Technicians are still struggling to control and shutdown 4 nuclear reactors at the plant and today Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials said when they do, they’ll decommission these units.  According to Kyodo news agency, the TEPCO Chairman said the firm’s efforts to bring the nuclear emergency under control will take a long time.

Meanwhile, the government has started implementing new safety measures, including back up power for nuclear plants to guard against a similar disaster occurring again.  But public frustration in Japan over the nuclear crisis is starting to erupt into protests.  According to Reuters, About 100 people gathered outside the TEPCO head office in Tokyo today calling for an end to nuclear power.

As Japan’s nuclear crisis continues, US officials are examining the safety of plants here and the future of nuclear power. At a Senate hearing today, concerns focused on the situation at 65 nuclear facilities that use similar spent fuel pools to those at the focus of the disaster at the Fukushima plant.  The chairperson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Greg Jaczko – just back from meeting with nuclear officials in Japan – expressed confidence in the safety of US nuclear facilities and said the fuel pools could safely store radioactive material for another 100 years:

“All the reactors that we have of a similar type have undergone modifications and improvements to deal with the kinds of situations that we’re seeing in Japan.  For instance, it’s been known since the late 80s and early 90s that the accumulation of hydrogen presents a significant challenge.  So the reactors of this type in particular were modified to ensure that they could better mitigate or reduce the likelihood of this type of hydrogen explosion.”

Jaczko wouldn’t say if the US has a better system of protection than Japan but he did say there are multiple layers of protection and that every US nuclear site takes into account all possible scenarios including earthquakes and tsunamis.  But not all concur that US plants are safe. According to a report released this week by Maryland Public Interest Research Group, there were 70 failures recorded in plant safety systems in 2009. The report also said nearly a quarter of all plants leaked radioactive tritium near sources of groundwater. Although some groups want a moratorium on both new plants and relicensing of aging plants, Obama administration officials continue to advocate for nuclear power. Acting Assistant Energy Secretary Pete Lyons detailed the research they’re doing for new plants:

“Our proposed small modular reactor program will explore designs that offer safety advantages through extensive use of passive systems. We’re also conducting research and development into high temperature gas reactor designs that offer inherent design safety features.  Our light water reactor sustainability program is exploring whether the lifetime of operating reactors can be extended with no compromise in safety.”

The Union of Concerned Scientist has said that nothing they’ve seen in new designs for nuclear reactors could have prevented the disaster in Japan.  The NRC is conducting two reviews of safety at US nuclear facilities, the first is due in three months.

President Obama’s new energy policy

Nuclear energy was briefly addressed today by President Barack Obama, when he laid out his new strategy for domestic energy policy at Georgetown University. Matt Laslo has the story from Washington.

Syria’s President tells parliament a plot against the country will be defeated

Today in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad gave his first address to parliament after two weeks of anti-government protests around the country.   He told parliament that Syria will defeat those behind a plot against the nation, but despite much anticipation, gave no indications of any concrete reforms.   Human Rights Watch says more than 60 people have been killed during the violent crackdown against demonstrators and today, AP, quoting witnesses, is reporting security forces opened fire in the port city of Latakia, where protests were taking place following the President’s speech.  For more we go to Mohamed Alabdallah, a Syrian dissident based in the US.  He’s been imprisoned by the Syrian regime and his father and brother remain in jail there.

Critics say EU-India trade deal threatens people with HIV

Later this year, India and the European Union are expected to come to terms on a broad free trade agreement. But it’s also a controversial one. Critics say parts of the deal will make it harder for people living with HIV in the developing world to access life-saving medicine. Reporter Irwin Loy has more from Cambodia, where people with HIV are watching developments closely.

Trial of suspects accused in murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey

In Oakland, California, a trial is underway over the 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.  He’s the first journalist killed in the United States in 25 years allegedly after investigating the finances of the business, Your Black Muslim Bakery.  Devaughndre Broussard is the prosecution’s key witness testifying against Yusef Bey the fourth, the owner of the bakery. FSRNs Tina Bachemin reports.

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