Newscast for Thursday, July 7, 2011

  • Chinese officials admit to a massive oil spill, one month after the first leak started
  • In Washington, progressives push for cuts in military spending
  • Ice Melt Series Part 1: Greenland’s ice sheet melts at record rate
  • India’s AIDS prevention agency officially recognizes the country’s transgender community

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Court throws out FCC rules allowing media consolidation

The US Court of Appeals today overturned an FCC ruling allowing one company to own a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same market. The court ruled the FCC failed to consider the impact of broader media ownership rules on minorities and women. In a release, the plaintiff in the case, Prometheus Radio Project, calls this ruling a victory on almost every point.

“Aerial Flotilla” meeting resistance from airlines, Israeli security

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists are expected to land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport tomorrow.  In response, Israeli authorities have mobilized security forces and have asked foreign airlines to ban the activists from their flights.  FSRN’s Jillian Kestler-D’Amours reports from Israel.

Hundreds of activists from across Europe, Africa and the US plan to fly into Tel Aviv airport within the next 24 hours. The activists are part of the “Welcome to Palestine” initiative, which has been planning the action since March.

The Israeli media reported Thursday that 600 Israeli police officers will be deployed at the airport.  The Israeli Ministry of Interior also reportedly sent letters to airlines asking them to bar activists from flying into Israel.

The Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem has been working with the protesters.  It released an email sent from a Swiss airline to one of the activists reading, “The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has refused your entry into their territory.  For this reason your reservation has been cancelled.”  AIC Co-Director Connie Hackbarth:

“I’m horrified that Israel is outsourcing its occupation and that countries like Canada, Greece, Switzerland, are agreeing to take part in continuing the Israeli occupation, in this case by not allowing peace activists to come.  I hope that peace activists will turn to their own governments and protest this complicity in the Israeli occupation.”

The first of approximately 50 flights carrying the activists are expected to land early Friday morning.  Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, FSRN, Jerusalem.

ATF implicates FBI in botched cross-border gun sting

New information has emerged from investigations into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s “Fast and Furious” program.  The program was intended to track US-sold weapons along the Mexico border in order to secure arrests, but many of the weapons were lost along the way.  FSRN’s Shannon Young has more.

The pretense of the “Fast and Furious” program was to allow straw purchases of weapons, track the guns and identify the higher-ups supplying them to crime syndicates in Mexico.  Whistle-blowing field agents have come forward saying they were ordered not to intervene at moments they thought were critical in preventing future crimes.  Since then, several guns traced to the program have been linked to crimes in both the United States and Mexico.

The controversy has sparked calls for the resignation of ATF Director Kenneth Melson.  But – according to testimony given by Melson in private to Congressional investigators – the inquiries should look beyond the ATF.

A letter sent this week to Attorney General Eric Holder by congress members Darrel Issa and Charles Grassley, outlined some of the key points of the meeting with the ATF director.  The congress members wrote they have (quote) “very real indications from several sources that some of the gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants.”

The agencies named in the letter are the FBI and the DEA.  Both are agencies that – like ATF – fall under the umbrella of the Department of Justice.  Shannon Young, FSRN.

Low-income homeowners settle post-Katrina housing lawsuit

Many residents of New Orleans and the surround Parishes are still struggling to rebuild their homes, more than 5 years after Hurricane Katrina and faulty levies devastated the city.  The challenge of rebuilding has been particularly difficult for some lower-income minority homeowners – who were often given far less federal help than residents from wealthy neighborhoods.  A discrimination lawsuit, settled Wednesday with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, aimed to address the issue.  FSRN’s Zoe Sullivan has more from New Orleans.

The case alleged that Louisiana’s Road Home program, which aimed to help homeowners rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, used a discriminatory formula to calculate awards.  Grants were based either on a home’s pre-storm value or the cost of rebuilding – whichever was lower.  Because of this, homeowners from low-income neighborhoods often didn’t receive sufficient money to rebuild.  In the wake of the storm, largely African-American neighborhoods like the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East have struggled.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center says that under the settlement, more than 13,000 homeowners will now receive full compensation.  More than $60 million in additional grants will be allocated to help the rebuilding process. Additionally, the agreement grants homeowners more time to rebuild without the threat of foreclosure. Zoe Sullivan, FSRN, New Orleans

Court orders Military to stop enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says the US Military must stop enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Last November, a federal judge ruled that the policy was unconstitutional and ordered it stopped.  Upon appeal, the court stayed the ruling, but yesterday lifted that stay, meaning the ban on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would once again be in effect.

In its ruling, the court cited the recent opinion of the Justice Department saying laws targeting gays and lesbians must be held to “heightened scrutiny.”   In the order, the court said the arguments to keep the discriminatory policy in place do not hold up to the new higher standard.  The case will be heard by the court in late-August.



Chinese officials admit to a massive oil spill, one month after the first leak started

In China’s Bohai Sea, one of the busiest waterways in world, the full details of a major oil spill are slowly coming to light.  The China National Offshore Oil Corporation and US oil giant, ConocoPhillips have finally admitted that two leaks occurred last month from their Penglai operation, one of the country’s largest offshore oilfields.  The Director of China’s State Oceanic Administration said yesterday that the spills polluted an area of more than 300 square miles and that there are still small leaks.   He said there will be a long-term impact on the marine environment but gave few details.  This public admission comes more than a month after the first leak on June 4th. At a news conference yesterday ConocoPhillips said authorities were immediately notified when the accidents occurred.  Carlon Robertson, executive vice president of ConocoPhillips China operations described how the second leak happened:

“On July 17th, there was an incident on platform C during the drilling of the well. The incident occurred when the pressure was high. The leak of oil and gas was observed during this time. A decision was made to pump cement in. The operation was safely performed and the well was secure within approximately 48 hours.”

The company said the exact role of ConocoPhillips in causing the leak is still being investigated. Environmental groups have slammed the government for its lack of transparency and are demanding information about how much oil leaked, and its impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, on the Yellowstone River in Montana, another oil spill cleanup continues after an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured on Friday near the town of Laurel dumping about 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of crude oil into the river.

Gary Pruessing, president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, spoke to reporters at a conference call earlier this week:

“The ExxonMobil Pipeline Company truly regrets the incident that has occurred here in the Yellowstone River.  We certainly take out responsibilities for safety and integrity and operating our systems very seriously and we, again, I want to apologize to everyone in the state of Montana for the issues that we’ve created here.  We are certainly committed to be here and to respond to the event and be here until all of the cleanup is complete.”

An unconfirmed number of people were taken to local hospitals with dizziness and breathing problems from toxic fumes and local municipal water supplies were temporarily stopped as a safety precaution during the hours following the accident. Miles of shoreline have been polluted and wildlife officials are searching for affected animals. Farmer Alexis Bonogofsky told the Billing’s Gazette that oil from the spill seeped into one of their pastures:

“It was concentrating around trees, around vegetation; there was sheen of it on top of the water.  And so when I was walking, we have video of it, when I was walking we were just walking through brown…brown sheets of oil.”

The EPA is overseeing the cleanup and conducting air and water tests, and says more than 400 responders are on the scene.

In Washington, progressives push for cuts in military spending

As the president and congressional leaders try to hammer out a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, the U-S House is currently debating whether to spend another half a trillion dollars on the military. Matt Laslo reports that the Progressive Caucus wants military spending to be cut as a part of any deal.

Ice Melt Series Part 1: Greenland’s ice sheet melts at record rate

Today we began the first of a two-part series on the world’s melting ice formations, and we started by listening to the sound of glacial ice melt:

London-based artist Katie Paterson recorded three melting glaciers in Iceland. She then took meltwater from each of the glaciers, combined that with silicon and pressed them into records, which she played on turntables until they completely melted, a process that took nearly two hours.

Scientists are also raising concern about the rapid pace of ice melt.  A recent study of Greenland’s ice sheet found that it’s melting at the fastest rate since records began in 1979.  A team of scientists using remote sensing data, surface observations and models found that melting in some areas last year continued for more than a month longer than average.   We spoke to Doctor Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at City College of New York.  He co-authored the study.

Tomorrow in the second part of our series on the world’s melting ice formations we’ll look at how stronger ocean currents are speeding the melting beneath Antarctica’s Glacier Ice Shelf.

India’s AIDS prevention agency officially recognizes the country’s transgender community

India’s National AIDS Control Program, the NACP, has officially recognized the country’s transgender community and is now preparing to incorporate them into its program.   The transgender community in India has long been considered a high risk group by the NACP due to the high percentage of their members involved in sex work and it took the country’s AIDS prevention body over 10 years to recognize the sexual minority as a separate group.  From Mumbai, Gayatri Lakshmibai reports.

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