Newscast for Tuesday, July 19, 2011

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls for fast-track changes to improve US reactor safety
  • Employee and employer groups divided by proposed amendments to union representation elections
  • Legal scholars accuse the US of neglecting women and minorities in counter-terrorism policies
  • In Mexico, the increasing violence against both migrants and the advocates who help them
  • Scientists in the Pacific Northwest examine the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the oceans

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House takes up Cut, Cap and Balance

The US House of Representatives considered the so-called “cut, cap and balance” measure today. The bill would mandate more than 100 billion dollars in spending cuts in 2012, but does not define those cuts. It would also limit future federal budgets, irrespective of future needs. And it would force both chambers to amend the US constitution requiring federal spending to stay within the limits of federal income without removing income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Georgia Representative Hank Johnson spoke against the measure.

“We need jobs and economic growth. Not cut, cap and balance, which is again just slash and burn politics, Ryan budget proposal with lipstick. That’s the real deal. That’s realer than real deal Holyfield.”

The bill was put forth by tea party republicans as a prerequisite for their agreement to raise the federal debt level. But the measure has little hope of success in the Senate, and President Obama has clearly said that if it does make its way to his desk – he will veto.

Wisconsin voters at polls in more recall contests

In Wisconsin, more recall elections are taking place today. All told,  nearly a third of the entire legislative body  face recall due to voter outrage over their role in Governor Walker’s anti-union legislation. Molly Stentz reports from WORT in Madison.

Today marks round two of four days’ worth of recall elections this summer. Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay faces Republican David Vanderleest, a tea-party-backed candidate, whose record of domestic violence has become a central campaign issue. The other two races today are Republican primaries. The winners will face incumbent Democratic Senators in a general election on August 16th.Three Democratic state senators, and six Republicans, are being forced to run for their seat again mid-year – an event that has never happened before in this state. Some Republican voters are angry with their Senators for leaving the state earlier this year and say they were abandoned by their elected officials. Fourteen Democratic Senators left Wisconsin for several weeks in a strategic move to slow the vote and force debate on the fast-moving bill to strip public workers of their unions.  Molly Stentz, FSRN, Madison.

Court denies Entergy Nuclear injunctive relief to keep nuclear power plant open

A federal judge refused to grant an injunction to Vermont energy company that would have allowed an aging nuclear plant to keep operating beyond the duration of its state license – Carl Etnier reports from Peru, Vermont.

This spring, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended Vermont Yankee’s federal license for 20 years. But its state license expires in March, when the plant turns 40, and the legislature has blocked any extension. The plant’s owner, Entergy Nuclear, sued Vermont in Federal court, arguing that Federal laws pre-empt state regulation. At the same time, Entergy asked the court for a preliminary injunction. Chief nuclear officer John Herron testified that the plant might be too financially risky to operate beyond this fall if the judge denies the injunction. Judge Garvan Murtha wrote that he was unconvinced Entergy would shutter the plant early if he denied the preliminary injunction. Entergy will get the certainty it desires only from a speedy trial and a timely decision, he wrote. The trial is scheduled for September. Entergy issued a statement saying they are “assessing the company’s near-term options.” Carl Etnier, FSRN, Peru, Vermont.

Israeli commandos commandeer French flotilla vessel

The Israeli navy intercepted the last boat in the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla earlier today. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has more.

The French boat Dignite–al-Karama was boarded  by Israeli navy commandos in international waters off the coast of Gaza earlier today. The Israel Navy began trailing the Karame while it was 50 miles from Gaza and boarded the ship before it could reach its destination. There were no immediate reports of any violence. According to video footage provided by the Israeli military, Israeli navy officers communicated with the 16 international activists on-board before taking control of the vessel: “Dignite-al-Karama, what is your final destination? Our final destination is Gaza port.”

The Dignite-al-Karama was one of ten boats attempting to break the Israeli siege on Gaza as part of the international Freedom Flotilla. It was the only vessel in the aid convoy that succeeded in leaving a European port en-route to Gaza. The activists were re-routed to the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, where they are expected to be interrogated by Israeli immigration authorities and then deported. Adam Keller, a spokesperson for a coalition of Israeli peace groups, condemned the take over. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, FSRN, Jerusalem.

Israel suspends Member of Knesset for participating in last year’s  Freedom Flotilla

Yesterday, Israel banned Knesset member Hanin Zoaibi from participating in any parliamentary  activities for the next two weeks for her participation in last year’s flotilla. Last May, Israeli navy commandos killed nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to sail to Gaza.



The Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls for fast-track changes to improve US reactor safety
The nuclear disaster at Fukushima forced countries around the world to reevaluate their use of nuclear energy. Here in the US, safety concerns are mounting about the more than 100 nuclear reactors currently operating. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission debated recommendations from their task force on Tuesday that would overhaul current protocol. Alice Ollstein reports.

Employee and employer groups divided by proposed amendments to union representation elections
The National Labor Relations Board continued a second day of public hearings on proposed amendments to union representation elections. The current process starts with a petition from employees to the NLRB and ends with a secret ballot in which workers decide whether they want union representation. Critics of the process say it takes too long and is manipulated by employers. The amendments include allowing important documents, like the petition for an election, to be circulated electronically and setting fixed time frames, such as holding any pre-election hearing seven days after a hearing notice is served.

Over two days, more than 60 speakers from business, labor, academic and advocacy communities made presentations. The AFL-CIO’s Elizabeth Bunn, said the proposed amendments improve the efficiency and fairness of the election process:

“Being able to influence timing and delay, the employer is able to implement its own campaign timetable. All too often employers illegally discipline workers, hire unscrupulous consultants, force employees to attend group and one on one meetings and sometimes even threaten to close the plant. The goal is not to inform, the goal is to harass, delay, confuse and intimidate.”

By way of example, Bunn cited the case of healthcare workers at HCR Manicare in Pennsylvania who since 2007 have tried to organize an election among employees to decide whether to join a union. Employers have taken advantage of the delays possible under the current laws and no vote has yet taken place.

The NLRB says the changes will “fix flaws” that cause unnecessary delays and lead to “wasteful litigation.” But many business interests are opposed. Harold Weinrich is from the legal firm Jackson Lewis that represents employers in labor relations issues. He said the change would not give employers enough time to express their views.

“The secret ballot election process can only work better if there is an informed electorate and these rules take the time period which has been the same for decades, approximately, give or take, 40 days, and cuts that down to 10 or 14 and that abridges the rights of employees and the rights of employers.”

During the hearing, Assistant Professor Dorian Warren from Columbia University presented the results his study, that analyzed a random sample of 1000 NLRB elections, looking at the time it took for elections to take place and when employers were able to voice their opposition. It found that 47 percent of employers expressed serious opposition to possible moves by their workers to unionize before the workers had even filed a petition asking for the right to vote on unionization.

“Contrary to previous witnesses who claim that employers have little or no ability to communicate effectively with employees, the voicing of employer opposition to union representation begins from the moment employees begin talking about the union and continues day after day, week after week, leading up to the election. Our study reveals the pervasiveness, consistency and intensity of employer opposition to workers exercising their rights to union representation.”

Written submissions on the NLRB’s proposed changes to union representation elections can be submitted until August 22nd.

Legal scholars accuse the US of neglecting women and minorities in counter-terrorism policies
Legal experts at New York University have released the first study examining how US counter-terrorism policies have affected the rights of women and sexual minorities. The three year investigation, which included scores of interviews with US and foreign government officials; and non-government agencies across the world has found that these policies have failed to protect women and sexual minorities from terrorism. For more on the report, called A Decade Lost: Locating Gender in U.S. Counter-Terrorism, we were joined by co-author Lama Fakih, from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

In Mexico, the increasing violence against both migrants and the advocates who help them
In Mexico, thousands of migrants passing through the country on their way to the US are kidnapped each year. And in recent months, advocates have registered an increase in violence both against migrants and against the advocates who provide them with basic services along their route. Shannon Young reports from Oaxaca City.

Scientists in the Pacific Northwest examine the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the oceans
As oceans absorb more and more carbon dioxide, their pH levels are dropping and oceans are becoming more acidic and corrosive. Biologists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle are examining how the marine world responds to this major side effect of fossil fuel emissions. FSRN’s Martha Baskin recently joined scientists on a research vessel in Puget Sound.

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