Newscast for Friday, June 24, 2011

  • US lawmakers defeat two bills on the Libya war
  • Congressmembers push to end the federal prohibition of marijuana
  • Canada’s parliament debates legislation that would force striking postal employees back to work
  • In Louisiana, rights advocates push to reform the state’s harsh sentencing laws
  • From Nineveh to Northampton, the efforts to save Iraq’s heritage from war

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Words exchanged as 5-year anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s detention approaches

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the Hamas capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.  Red Cross International is voicing concern over the fate of the soldier, calling for proof of his well-being.  Hamas says the international concern is out-of-proportion, considering all of the Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.  Stepping up pressure, Israel says it will consider depriving Palestinian prisoners access to education if Shalit is not released.  FSRN’s Rami Almeghari reports.

Families of Palestinian prisoners from Gaza protested outside the premises of the Red Cross in Gaza City Thursday.  For five years now, they say they have not been allowed to visit 950 Gaza prisoners inside Israeli jails.  The total number of Palestinians being held is disputed.  Hamas blames the inability to reach a prisoner swap deal on Israel.  Dr.  Sami Abu Zuhri is spokesperson for Hamas in Gaza.

“Hamas will release Shalit when Israel releases a list Palestinian prisoners, including those with long-term sentences, patients, and children and women prisoners.”

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will offer imprisoned Palestinian terrorists the basic treatment required under international law, but nothing more.  Rami Almeghari, FSRN, Gaza.

Chicago parents resume sit-in in push to alleviate school overcrowding

Parents and community members in Chicago are resuming a sit-in after public school officials went back on their agreements. The parents are pushing for a new library in an old field house on the grounds of their neighborhood school.  This morning they protested library construction beginning inside the main building.  FSRN’S Lisa Matuska has the story…

Last October a 43-day sit-in ended at Whittier Elementary in Chicago’s southwest side with parents stopping the demolition of an old field house on the school grounds.  Parents want to turn the building into a new library.  But Tuesday, Chicago Public Schools began construction of a library inside the already crowded school building, a move nobody discussed with the parents. Whittier Parent Araceli Gonzalez says CPS also agreed 8 months ago to use the money slated for demolition to renovate the field house.

“We did what they wanted.  We became an organization, so we want this to come true.  We want this to be a community center.”

The Whittier parent community launched another sit-in demanding that new CEO of schools, Jean-Claude Brizard, meet with parents before continuing construction.  Parents argue that the library inside the school would replace a special ed classroom.  Brizard issued a statement Thursday stating that placing the library inside the school instead of in the field house was the best option for students.  Lisa Matuska, FSRN, Chicago.

NJ & CT workers lose in state budget cuts

Public workers in two northeastern states will face cutbacks and in some cases layoffs after budget decisions were reached late this week.  FSRN’s Melinda Tuhus reports from Connecticut.

In Connecticut, a budget deal was reached in May between Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to close a $3.7 billion gap.  But the deal depended on getting concession from unions representing 45,000 public employees.  In a complicated voting process that ended today, fewer than the necessary 80% of workers supported the deal.

Malloy has called lawmakers into special session on next Thursday, the last day of the fiscal year, and will ask them to authorize him to balance the budget.  This is expected to result in 7,400 layoffs.  Jamey Bell with Connecticut Voices for Children says though the details aren’t known yet, the news is all bad.

”Cuts to health and education services, if they happen, are likely to leave CT poorly positioned, once the economic recovery begins in the state.”

Further south, despite massive opposition in heavily unionized New Jersey, the Democrat-controlled legislature Thursday pushed through cuts for 250,000 current workers and retirees.  The cuts were demanded by Republican Governor Chris Christie to balance the budget.  The legislation also limits unions’ bargaining rights.  Melinda Tuhus, FSRN, New Haven.

Locked out country club workers arrested in golf tourney protest

Dozens of union members were arrested Thursday at the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, California while protesting a labor dispute.  The country club locked out its janitorial and hospitality workers 16 months ago due to stalled negotiations over health care.  FSRN’s Christina Aanestad has more from California.

A dispute over rising health care costs is at the center of a battle between unionized workers and the Castlewood Country Club. Union organizer, Nischit Hegde with Unite Here Local 2850, says employees had received free health care for the past 30 years. But during the previous contract negotiation, Castlewood Country Club asked janitorial and hospitality workers to start contributing nearly half their pay to cover health insurance costs.

“Where you had a job where it was 12.50 an hour with free medical, they were willing to go from 0 to 200 dollars a month for medical. What the club wanted was 749 dollars a month, which was a 40% cut in wages.”

After a 16-month lock out, workers and supporters blocked off the club’s entrance during a golf tournament.  Twenty-four people were arrested, according to police. Christina Aanestad, FSRN, California.



US lawmakers defeat two bills on the Libya war

On Capitol Hill today, lawmakers in the House debated the US role in Libya defeating a bill that would have authorized US participation but also voting against a resolution to limit funding for the operation. The legislative activity comes as the U.S. faces criticism from its European allies and human rights groups who’ve called into question the Western narrative of events in Libya.  Michael Lawson reports.

Congressmembers push to end the federal prohibition of marijuana

Congressmembers Barney Frank and Ron Paul introduced a bi partisan bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, that would end marijuana prohibition by the federal authorities and allow states to take charge of regulating and taxing the drug.  Frank said he doesn’t expect the bill to pass but by proposing state’s take responsibility he says it’s the first attempt to go beyond allowing marijuana for medical purposes and progress the political debate. Democrat Steve Cohen is one of a handful of co-sponsors of the bill:

“The people in this country are as Barney said, way ahead of the legislators, it’s a cultural lag in knowing what the priorities of law enforcement ought to be and the federal government shouldn’t be spending its time on marijuana it should be spending its time on meth, on crack, on heroin and on cocaine which are drugs that we know cause people to get addicted and resort to crime to supply their habit.  And if the states want to do things like that, that’s up to the states but it ought to be regulated like alcohol, it’s a whole lot like alcohol.”

Supporters also cite the cost of the federal war on marijuana.  Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) says passing this bill would have a considerable impact on the drug war in Mexico and the profits Mexican drug cartels make selling marijuana in the US:

“So if we’re actually serious about reducing border drug trafficking and if we’re serious about reducing the number of murders in Mexico we should actually pass this bill so that we’re actually going to have a system where marijuana that’s consumed by people in the US is actually grown by people in the US, you don’t need to transfer money or drugs across the border with Mexico.”

Although the bill might not get anywhere in this congress, advocates say there is growing support for decriminalization and legalization. Earlier this month, both the US Conference of Mayors and the Global Commission on Drug Policy called the war on drugs a failure and urged reform of the drug laws.

Canada’s parliament debates legislation that would force striking postal employees back to work

In Canada, talks between the union representing postal workers and the Canada Post Corporation have broken down.  The dispute is intensifying as parliament debates a controversial piece of legislation that would force the postal employees back to work next week, after nearly a month-long strike. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story from Montreal.

In Louisiana, rights advocates push to reform the state’s harsh sentencing laws

In Louisiana, advocates are pushing to reform the state’s sentencing laws, especially those that allow juveniles to be put in prison for life.  Criminal justice advocates, family members of prisoners, and religious leaders say the state’s burgeoning prison population — one of the highest in the world — is due to these harsh sentencing laws.  From New Orleans, Zoe Sullivan has more.

From Nineveh to Northampton, the efforts to save Iraq’s heritage from war

In Northampton Massachusetts, an arts and cultural group is trying to raise awareness about the ongoing impact of the US occupation on Iraq. The Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange finishes three days of exhibitions and talks today.  One area of focus is Iraq as the cradle of civilization, what’s been lost and current efforts to restore and care for that country’s history and heritage.  We spoke to John Russell, Professor of Art History and Archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and a consultant on Iraq’s cultural heritage for the US State Department.  He was a keynote speaker in Northampton.

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