Newscast for Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • US Senate rejects two separate partisan budgets
  • The political battle over the Defense of Marriage Act
  • Think tank says millions of tax payer dollars are spent spreading anti-Muslim myths
  • On the eve of King hearing, Muslim Americans promote cultural and religious understanding
  • Thailand attempts to better manage water resources after worst flooding in decades

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Illinois governor abolishes death penalty
Today in Illinois, an announcement from Governor Pat Quinn:

“It is impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free from all mistakes.  Free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstances or geography.  To have a consistent, perfect death penalty system…  I have concluded after looking at everything I’ve been given, I’ve concluded that that’s impossible in our state.”

Quinn said he would abolish the death penalty, making Illinois the 16th state in the nation to outlaw the practice.  FSRN’s Chris Geovanis reports.

Anti-death penalty groups marshaled thousands of phone calls to Governor Quinn asking him to support the ban passed by the state legislature.  Quinn’s decision came in spite of aggressive support for the death penalty from several groups, including the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association.

The death penalty in Illinois has drawn harsh criticism in recent years.  More than a dozen inmates were found to have been wrongfully convicted, including several who said their confessions were extracted under police torture.

In 2000, then-Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. Three years later he commuted the sentences of all 157 death row inmates to life in prison, calling the use of the death penalty in Illinois “arbitrary and capricious.” Chris Geovanis, FSRN, Chicago.

Education advocates rally across Florida
Thousands of labor union workers, state employees, and teachers marched in more than 30 rallies in major cities from Miami to Tallahassee yesterday to protest the largest annual budget cuts to education in Florida’s history.  WMNF Community Radio’s Joshua Holton reports from the largest of the “Awake the State” protests in Tampa.

Governor Rick Scott ran on an election platform of job creation that insisted, “Let’s get to work.”  But at Tuesday’s rally in Tampa, Lynn Webb, President of the local Central Labor Council, joined a crowd of more than 1,000 protesters asking “Where’s the jobs?”

“Governor Scott wants to cut 8,000 public service union jobs.  His proposed budget will lay off 40 thousand teachers and school employees.”

President of the Hillsborough County PTA, Melissa Erickson, said added that Governor Scott is required by the Florida Constitution to properly fund high quality education.

“And then he proceeded to propose 3.3 billion dollars in cuts. That is unacceptable.”

Yesterday’s rallies coincided with the opening of the Florida legislative session, aiming to stop the proposed cuts, and also to show solidarity with teachers and union advocates in Wisconsin. Joshua Holton, FSRN, Tampa.

Idaho eliminates some collective bargaining rights for teachers
Pro-worker rallies were also held in six other US states yesterday, including Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, and Tennessee.

In Idaho, the legislature succeeded in pushing through an anti-union bill that stripped many collective bargaining rights from the state’s teachers.  The Republican governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

Libyans under siege call for international aid
Fighting continued today in Libya, where military forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi maintained a strike on opposition forces in the cities of Zawiyah and Bin Jawwad. A Zawiya resident told the Washington Post that humanitarian aid is needed in the city.

After four years, Israel reopens Gaza commercial crossing
On Monday, Israeli authorities closed off one of the final two commercial border crossings into Gaza.  But today, they reopened another crossing that’s been closed for four years, and began to allow some building supplies to enter the coastal territory. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more:

Palestinian sources in Gaza are downplaying the reopening of the Sufa commercial crossing in southeastern Gaza as inadequate.  Today Israeli authorities allowed only ten truckloads of concrete to pass, all destined for UN-sponsored construction projects.

Nahed Shaibar is spokesperson for the courier companies association in Gaza.  He was supervising the movement of trucks at Sufa earlier today.

“Up to this moment, the Sufa crossing has not gotten back to normal. For the past five years, we have been waiting entry of at least 72-thousand tons of concrete that’s been held up on the Israeli side of the border.”

The Sufa reopening comes just two days after Israel sealed off a major commercial crossing in southeastern Gaza.  Since then, truck drivers have been on strike at the borders and displaced Palestinians who need the concrete to rebuild their homes have been protesting. Rami Almeghari, FSRN, Gaza.



US Senate rejects two separate partisan budgets
After weeks of gridlock in the nation’s Capitol, the Senate finally debated and then soundly rejected two separate partisan budgets today. Matt Laslo reports on the lingering budget battle from Washington.


The political battle over the Defense of Marriage Act
Last month, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, in court.  The administration said there has been a “documented history of discrimination” against people based on their sexual orientation.  Because of this, it believes any laws dealing with sexual orientation should be held to a heightened standard of scrutiny.  Using this rationale, the Administration concluded that DOMA was unconstitutional.

But now, House Speaker John Boehner is launching the process for the House of Representatives to defend the law itself.  He says he will convene a congressional advisory group that will decide whether to hire lawyers.  To get some perspective on the Obama Administration’s recent announcement, FSRN’s Jes Burns sat down with the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendall.  She asked Kendall about the options available to Congress.


Think tank says millions of tax payer dollars are spent spreading anti-Muslim myths
On the eve of controversial congressional hearings on “Radicalization in the American Muslim Community,” an increasing number of advocacy groups are warning about the rise in Islamophobia and discrimination against US Muslims. And some of the people espousing these sentiments could be supported by taxpayer dollars. According to a nine-month-long investigation by the progressive think tank Political Research Associates, millions of dollars in counterterrorism funding is being spent disseminating anti-Islamic myths.

In a teleconference today, author of the 80-page report Thomas Cincotta described some of the material used in law enforcement trainings:

“When participants in a course are required to read a book that says, ‘Terrorist acts may increase or decrease over time but Islam remains permanently hostile,’ training crosses a line when Islamic law texts are used to argue that violent Jihad is a core tenet of the religion and an obligation of every practicing Muslim.”

The report highlights a case in Henderson, Nevada, where police arrested a group of Muslim men who were simply praying in a gas station parking lot. One officer involved suggested his response was based on classes he had gone to.

The investigation looked at three major companies providing counterterrorism training, the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association, the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and Security Solutions International, and the people involved in teaching law enforcement. One of them is Walid Phares, who appears frequently on Fox, CNN and NBC. In his book Future Jihad, Phares writes “Almost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands. After pressure from rights groups, Congress member King removed Phares from the witness list for Thursday’s hearing, but said he might call him to testify in the future and vowed to continue consulting him for advice.


On the eve of King hearing, Muslim Americans promote cultural and religious understanding
Congress member Peter King’s hearing has been widely criticized by civil rights and Muslim groups as an unfair attack on Muslim Americans that encourages prejudice, and some have compared it to McCarthy-era hearings and the attack on Japanese Americans following World War II.  One group trying to counter the anti-Muslim assault   is My Faith My Voice. They have curated videos of ordinary Muslims to help promote understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans:

“Hi America, I’m Rabiah Ahmed and I’m the proudest Detroiter you’ll ever meet. In recent weeks a lot of people have been telling you what to think about Muslims, they say you should fear me, but the truth is I don’t want to impose my religion on you. Islam teaches me to respect all religions.”

FSRN spoke with Rabiah Ahmed, who’s also a co-founder of My Faith My Voice.


Thailand attempts to better manage water resources after worst flooding in decades
In Thailand, Air Force fleet has been dispatched on a mission to create artificial rain to ease drought problems across the country. The technique involves seeding clouds with rainfall inducing chemicals. But Thailand suffers from both droughts and floods – and recently emerged from the most severe flood season in 50 years. Some say the country could counter the effects of dry seasons if the government better managed flood waters. FSRN’s Ron Corben reports.

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