Newscast for Wednesday, June 15, 2011

  • In Greece, tens of thousands of people strike against budget cuts
  • Guns purchased via a law enforcement program in the US reaches Mexican criminals
  • Immigrant rights activist to appear in court after FBI raided his home
  • Scientists forecast the largest-ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico

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US forces kill 15 in Pakistan
US missile attacks have killed 15 people in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan. The area near the border with Afghanistan has been targeted by US drone attacks for months, the US government says they target, and often kill, militants. But many Pakistanis are upset about the unauthorized attacks by a foreign military and say civilians are often among the dead. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Intelligence Agency has reportedly arrested five people believed to have served as CIA informants helping supply information on Osama Bin Laden.

Arab League and UN call on Syrian government to stop attacks
The Syrian government has reportedly sent tanks into two more villages, in their continuing crackdown on anti-government protests. The United Nations human rights body has called for a probe into allegations of human rights abuses by Syrian authorities against their own people. The office released a report detailing the executions, torture, the targeting of activists and journalists, and the arbitrary detentions of more than ten thousand people since protests began in mid-march. Despite not being allowed inside the country to investigate, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says they believe more than 1,100 people have been killed.

“I am gravely concerned about the human rights and humanitarian crisis that the country is facing. Scores of frightened people from the town of Jisr al-Shughour and surrounding areas in the north-west of the country are crossing the Syrian-Turkish border to join thousands of others who have already fled in the past week fearing reprisals by security forces.”

For the first time, the Arab League has spoken out against the Syrian governments actions; league Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the league was “angry and actively monitoring” the situation and warned against “continuation of the status quo.”

In response, the Syrian envoy to the Arab league called Moussa a traitor. Wednesday also saw   thousands of people participate in a pro-government rally in Damascus, organized by the government to counteract the movement that continues to threaten the current regime.

Wisconsin Judge rules anti-union law is legal
The controversial law stripping Wisconsin workers of their collective bargaining rights can now take effect, according to a new state Supreme Court ruling. Molly Stentz of WORT-FM has more from Madison.

In a 4 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court issued the last word on the intensely controversial legislation that has sharply divided the state since February. The ruling overturns a circuit judge’s decision to block the law from taking effect. The Republican-led legislature passed the law in March, but a lawsuit alleged they violated open meeting laws, by holding a vote without enough advance notice to the public. Republicans expressed relief over the Court’s decision. They had planned to pass the law again  this week by attaching it to the State Budget, but such a move was sure to draw public scrutiny. Six Republican Senators are facing recall elections later this summer for their previous votes on the bill. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald:

“From Day One, we felt that we followed the procedures that we do, that this obviously was a separation of powers issue. The Court ruled in our favor. We feel great about the decision.”

Democratic leaders expressed shock that the Court would allow the legislature to violate their own rules. Representative Peter Barca.

“Essentially what the Supreme Court has now vested as part of Wisconsin is that the legislature is above the law.”

The law will take effect within 10 days, though it’s unclear when workers will begin to pay more for their benefits and pensions. Additionally, two other lawsuits are making their way through the courts, but are not expected to block implementation of the law this month. Molly Stentz, FSRN, Madison.

Trial begins of KBR/Halliburton contractor who claims she was raped
Opening statements began yesterday in Houston in a federal civil trial for a Texas woman who claims she was gang-raped while working in Iraq for the US defense contractor KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton. Jackson Allers has more from Houston.

Jamie Leigh Jones’ lawyers argued in Federal court Tuesday that military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root, Inc. allowed a “hostile working environment” for women, and had a history of failing to protect workers who were sexually assaulted or harassed. Jones alleges she was gang-raped at a KBR contractor facility in 2005, and is suing KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton for defrauding her. Jones’ contract included a mandatory arbitration clause that said she would not be allowed to take “employment related” complaints to open court.

Jones’s testimony before Congress in 2009 over the alleged incident led to a change in federal law – barring companies from receiving government contracts if they require employees to sign an arbitration clause to resolve a range of complaints privately, including sexual assault and harassment complaints. KBR Inc. denies Jones’ rape allegations in a case that has taken six years to come to trial. KBR appealed to the US Supreme Court to block Jones’ lawsuit, but withdrew the appeal in March 2010 after Congress passed the new law.  Legal sources say the trial is expected to last up to four weeks. Jackson Allers, FSRN, Houston.

Anti-logging activist killed in Brazil
An anti-logging activist has been found dead in the Brazilian Amazon, the fifth murder in the past month believed to be related to disputes over land and logging in the rainforest. Obede Loyla Souza was occupying unused farmland, waiting for the government to award him land in a redistribution program. Souza’s body was found over the weekend with a gunshot to the head. Witnesses say he got into an argument with a logging representative in January, and recently, people saw four men in a pickup truck looking for him. The watchdog group Catholic Land Pastoral says there are more then 125 activists in the region whose lives are in danger.

Libyan Forces shell rebels outside of Tripoli
In Libya, government forces shelled rebel groups in the mountains west of Tripoli, as the rebels are reportedly moving closer to the capital. The rebels have seized two new towns in the last few days, and NATO has resumed dropping bombs from aircraft in the east of the city.

South African president Jacob Zuma accused NATO of veering from the UN mandate of protecting civilians. Speaking to the South African Parliament, Zuma, who has visited Libya twice during the 4-month-old rebellion, accused the international mission of pursuing political assassinations, military occupation, and regime change.

President Obama is under pressure to end or extend military operations in Libya. A bi-partisan group of ten lawmakers led by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich signed onto a lawsuit filed Tuesday calling for an end to the military intervention and the spending of related funds. In a separate effort, House Speaker John Boehner gave the White House until Sunday to request Congressional authorization to extend the operation in Libya. The White House is reportedly already preparing documentation to deliver to Congress.


In Greece, tens of thousands of people strike against budget cuts
Today across Greece, tens of thousands of people took part in a general strike protesting the government’s plan to implement new austerity measures. The country is struggling with the ongoing effects of the international financial crisis. Unemployment is high – especially among the youth and the national debt is about one and half times the gross domestic product. Amateur video posted online shows protesters and police clashing at a demonstration in the capital, Athens.

Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou has proposed a unity government as lawmakers debated whether to support the austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. It’s the second round of cuts by the government, these ones worth more than 40 billion US dollars would see more deep cuts to public sector jobs and salaries, additional taxes and privatizations. The government says they’re necessary to ensure a bailout package from the European Union worth a total of more than one hundred fifty billion dollars and to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debts. Leo Panitch is a Professor in Comparative Political Economy at York University in Toronto. He told The Real News Network’s Paul Jay that the current crisis in Greece is direct result of draconian austerity measures implemented by the government to deal with the financial crisis that started in the United States:

“There is a problem in terms of Greece’s finances but that problem existed before the crisis. It was aggravated considerably by the fact that Germany is the big exporter in Europe’s free trade zone, that’s what the European Union is, a free trade zone, and Greece got the money through transfers from the EU, from the European Commission for a while, but mostly from the borrowing from German banks to buy German goods.”

Professor Panitch says Germany’s Deutsch Bank, which was heavily invested in the US mortgage market, was bailed out by the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve and is among a number of European banks concerned that Greece may not pay back its debts – something which may be unavoidable. European finance ministers are meeting on Monday to discuss the crisis.

Guns purchased via a law enforcement program in the US reaches Mexican criminals
In Washington today, US House lawmakers heard testimony about a law enforcement program that allowed guns purchased in the US to flow into the hands of criminals in Mexico. Matt Laslo reports.

Immigrant rights activist to appear in court after FBI raided his home
Immigrant rights activist, Carlos Montes is due to appear in a Los Angeles court Thursday on charges relating to a firearms violation. The charges came after a May 17th FBI raid of his home. Civil rights group, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression says Montes is being targeted by the FBI for his anti-war and immigrant rights activism. The group is calling for a National Day of Action tomorrow to coincide with Montes’ court appearance. This comes as the New York Times reports the FBI plans to expand the powers of agents targeting US citizens in surveillance operations. For more on his situation, we spoke with Carlos Montes.

Scientists forecast the largest-ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico
An annual forecast released Tuesday predicts the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic or dead zone will be the largest ever recorded as a result of the flooding of the Mississippi River this spring. Scientists supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say the zone could measure several thousand square miles – roughly the size of New Hampshire. The dead zone is an annual summer phenomenon in which a huge area of gulf loses the oxygen levels necessary to support marine life. As Zoe Sullivan reports from New Orleans, evidence shows the phenomenon’s impact goes beyond the ocean floor.

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