February 10, 2012

  • In Syria, humanitarian crisis in Homs as strikes on civilians continue
  • Concern rises of threats to Internet as Europe considers ACTA
  • Obama offers compromise on birth control mandate, but controversy continues
  • Conservative conference focuses on strategy to dismantle organized labor
  • Florida farmworkers secure deal from Trader Joe’s to increase pay for tomatoes

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Amid large protests, NYC pushes through school closures

In New York City thousands of protestors rallied last night at a Board of Education meeting.  They’re angry about the city’s plans to close nearly two dozen so-called “failing” schools.  FSRN’s Jaisal Noor brings the report.

A raucous crowd of more than 2,000 students, teachers, parents and elected officials attempted to block the city from voting to close 23 schools.  But their attempts failed, and the Board of Education passed the measure, which is being pushed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Audience members with the umbrella group Occupy the DOE staged Occupy Wall Street-styled mic checks, disrupting the meeting. They also organized a student and teacher general assembly to facilitate broader participation by stakeholders.  Public school Parent Noah Gaubaum helped lead the protest. “It’s time that we have community involvement in our schools.  Mayoral control has got to go. You cannot have one man overrule elected officials, parents teachers, students, community members and that’s what’s going on.” Organizers say they now plan to occupy the closings schools. Jaisal Noor, FSRN, New York.

VA makes it legal to discriminate against LGBT adoptions

Virginia’s General Assembly is continuing its assault on LGBT rights. The Senate passed a law Thursday legalizing discrimination by state-funded adoption agencies.  Opponents say this not only harms gay couples, but also LGBT youth in the foster system.  From Richmond, FSRN’s Brad Kutner reports.

In a 22 to 18 vote, the Virginia Senate joined the House in passing legislation that brings a discriminatory adoption policy one step closer to law.  The bill allows state-funded adoption agencies to deny placement of foster kids, based on the beliefs of the agency. James Parrish of Equality Virginia says passage not only makes it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt, but it also gives faith-based agencies the ability to place LGBT foster kids in homes that could put them in psychologically damaging situations. “This allows a faith based agency, who get a LGBT youth through the foster care system, to place that youth in a harmful home. In a home where they may be forced to go through ex-gay therapy, or conversion therapy.” If passed, the bill would still adhere to federal adoption policies, which limits adoption discrimination based on race, national origin, and religion, but not sexual orientation. Governor Bob McDonnell has made his support of the policy quite clear, and is expected to sign the bill into law. Brad Kutner, FSRN, Richmond.

Marine acquitted in suicide hazing case

A Marine Sergeant has been acquitted of charges related to the hazing of a Chinese-American soldier in Afghanistan who later committed suicide.  The brief military trial wrapped up yesterday in Hawaii.  FSRN’s Larry Geller reports from Honolulu.

Kaneohe Bay Marine Sergeant Benjamin Johns is the second of three Marines to face court martial in connection with the suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew.  A military jury deliberated less than an hour before returning a “not guilty” verdict.  Johns was charged with hazing and with dereliction of duty, not with Lew’s death.  He was accused of ordering Lew, who had fallen asleep on sentry duty for the fourth time, to dig a foxhole as punishment.  But commanders testified they had previously ordered that additional foxholes be dug.  As to the hazing, the defense was able to show that upon hearing what was happening, Sgt. Johns immediately had it stopped. The trial probably would not have taken place were it not for intense political pressure from Lew’s aunt, US Representative Judy Chu of California.  Defense attorney Timothy Bilecki: “Once we were inside the courtroom, we have an unbiased military judge, we have educated panel members, both officer and enlisted, and we were able to push out all the extraneous pressure from the politicians, and simply try the case.” The first Marine tried in connection with Lew’s death has already been demoted and sentenced to 30 days in jail   The final accused Marine still awaits trial.  Larry Geller, FSRN, Honolulu.

Court clears way for ski resort use of snow made of treated sewage water

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will allow a ski resort in Arizona to use treated sewage to make snow on public lands.  The plan had raised concerns from Native and environmental groups in the state.  FSRN’s Christina Aanestad has the details.

A 3-judge panel ruled against a lawsuit by environmentalists alleging the US Forest Service failed to adequately assess the environmental and health impacts of using treated sewer water to make snow.  Treated sewage often contains pharmaceutical byproducts that are known to have adverse impacts on amphibians. The judges threw out the case, saying another lawsuit on the same grounds had already been decided.  Plaintiff’s Attorney Howard Shanker says it’s an outrageous, biased ruling. “These plaintiffs are American citizens who are entitled to have their day in court.  They have no privy with any prior plaintiffs.  They filed the suit within the statue of limitations and they have a legitimate grievance.” The court said the suit was a deliberate attempt to delay the ski resort’s plans.  Shanker says the previous suit upheld the environmental challenges, but was thrown out on a technicality. “So why shouldn’t this issue be resolved on its merits?  It makes no sense.” Shanker says his clients can appeal the decision, but it’s unlikely they will see victory. Christina Aanestad, FSRN.



In Syria, humanitarian crisis in Homs as strikes on civilians continue

In Syria, two bomb blasts hit the northern city of Aleppo today, killing two dozen people and bringing the violence raging in other parts of the country to an area that has shown support for President Bashar Al Assad. Syrian State Television showed bodies lined in the street and a bulldozer clearing rubble from shattered buildings. Government officials put the death toll at 28 with 175 more wounded after the bombs went off near a military intelligence building and a security force base. A spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army said their forces were not responsible for the bombings. The opposition blamed the government for using the bombings to distract attention from attacks on civilians in other parts of the country. Activists posted videos online that show crowds gathered in several cities protesting the attacks. Many criticized Russia for its veto of a UN Security Council resolution last weekend that would have required a transition to democratic leadership and an end to Assad’s rule.  One video, which activists say was taken today in the city of Idlib, shows hundreds filling a street carrying banners and waving the flag of the resistance movement. In Homs, government forces continued a barrage of artillery for a seventh day, with reports of more killings and medical workers warning of a humanitarian crisis. Doctors Without Borders, which is barred from working in Syria, said in a statement that the Assad regime was denying urgent medical attention and using medicine “as a weapon of persecution.” Residents of Homs have also warned of scarce food and medical supplies. Hivin Kako, spokesperson with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told FSRN that the shelling continues. “The city and the area, these neighborhoods have been under bombardment are under a complete siege and they cannot get anything from outside and almost everything they had already is running out. The humanitarian situation is quite miserable.” Hivin Kako, spokesperson with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, speaking from England. A global call for action on Syria continues to grow. A coalition of progressive Jews are calling for a boycott of Russian and Chinese goods to protest the countries opposition to UN action. Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, called on the world community to intervene in what he described as a genocide. Also, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that Syrian government officials accused of crimes against humanity should be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Activists said solidarity events for Syria would take place this weekend in several US and European cities.

Concern rises of threats to Internet as Europe considers ACTA

Europe is the last place where the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – known as ACTA – could be stopped. ACTA has drawn attention for what critics say is a threat to Internet freedom. Now that the European public has become aware of the international trade pact, the reaction has been swift – and mostly negative. Hundreds of anti-ACTA demonstrations are planned for Saturday all across the continent and, after growing pressure, even some of the elected officials who voted for ACTA are backing away from it. From France, FSRN’s Liam Moriarty reports.

Obama offers compromise on birth control mandate, but controversy continues

In Washington, President Obama announced changes to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. Today’s announcement follows weeks of pressure from religious groups and conservative politicians. The President says the compromise will both protect religious liberty, and preserve the right of all women to access free contraception. But the move may not quiet the controversy – both Catholic leaders and women’s rights advocates have concerns about the new plan. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more in Washington, D.C.

Conservative conference focuses on strategy to dismantle organized labor

Protesters from Occupy DC and labor unions rallied outside a Washington DC hotel today where the Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place. Inside the conference, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum made the case for the GOP vote, touting what he called his conservative credentials and criticizing rival Mitt Romney.  The three-day conference, dubbed the “Mardi Gras for the Right,” has focused on criticizing President Barack Obama and celebrating unfettered, free-market capitalism. A recurring theme has been an attack on organized labor. From Washington, FSRN’s Elizabeth DiNovella reports.

Florida farmworkers secure deal from Trader Joe’s to increase pay for tomatoes

This weekend the first Trader Joe’s in the state of Florida is set to open its doors and ahead of a grand opening, farmworkers scored a long-sought-after victory with the grocery store chain. On Thursday, Trader Joe’s signed a landmark agreement to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked by immigrant farm workers in South Florida. The deal came a day before planned protests from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. FSRN’s Kelly Benjamin has more.

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