August 29, 2012

  • Isaac causes flooding, power outages across Gulf Coast; New Orleans officials say levees holding
  • As outside money flows in election, funds both criticized and accepted as new norm by parties
  • At Tampa gathering, rights of homeless highlighted in push for alternative market model
  • Aggressive use of personal data by political campaigns prompts alarm for privacy advocates

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Indian court convicts 32 for 2002 religious violence against Muslims

A special court in India’s Western state of Gujarat today convicted 32 people for killing Muslims during religious riots in the state a decade ago. FSRN’s Bismillah Geelani reports.

A senior politician in the Gujarat state government is among the 32 people convicted today. Former Minister Maya Kodnani is part of the group accused of massacring 97 Muslims in 2002. This is the first time that a leader of the ruling party in the state has been convicted in connection with the riots, which many say took place under the patronage of the state government. The Gujarat government however always denied any involvement.

Estimates of the number dead range widely, but most put the toll at more than 2000 people, mostly Muslims. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in in Friday’s sentencing. Bismillah Geelani, FSRN, New Delhi.


France opens investigation into Yasser Arafat’s death

Since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in a military hospital near Paris in 2004, suspicions have swirled about the cause of his death. Now a French court has opened an inquiry into whether Arafat was poisoned. From France, FSRN’s Liam Moriarty has more.

Many Palestinians have long believed there was foul play involved after Arafat’s doctors were never able to pinpoint the cause of his death. In the course of a recent investigative documentary by Al Jazeera, tests at a forensic pathology lab at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found highly radioactive polonium 2-10 on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush. Last month, Arafat’s widow Suha asked a French court to launch a legal inquiry. Al Jazeera reporter Clayton Swisher says the credibility of the Swiss laboratory was a major factor in his documentary.

“To learn that a French judge was also compelled by their discovery of polonium in Yassir Arafat’s last personal effects is a testament to the seriousness of this case.”

The Palestinian Authority has agreed to exhume Arafat’s body from its mausoleum in Ramallah for testing. In the past, Palestinian officials have accused Israel of involvement in their former leader’s death, a charge the Israeli government firmly denies. Liam Moriarty, F-S-R-N, Normandy, France


Russian opposition accuses Putin of corruption

Leaders of the Russian opposition movement have published a new report detailing what they say is evidence of President Vladimir Putin’s ill-gotten gains. It comes ahead of an effort to build a national opposition movement against Putin’s administration. FSRN’s Ekaterina Danilova reports.

The report links Putin with 43 airplanes, 15 helicopters, a set of expensive watches, automobiles, 4 yachts and 20 palaces – 9 of which were built during his 12 years in office. Given that Putin’s official income is just above one-hundred-thousand dollars per year, the authors of the report say such possessions show the president is involved in corruption. The president’s press-secretary responded that the property connected with the president is state property, not his own. Boris Nemtsov is a co-author of the report.

“A collection of watches for seven-hundred-thousand dollars, or Putin’s income for six years, is his private property. The question – how a person can buy this collection with a declared the income of one-hundred-and-twelve thousand dollars – is not an idle question. We have a certain understanding of this. We consider that this is corruption.”

Activists are using the report in an effort to attract more people to the opposition movement. They are distributing copies throughout Russia during a car rally that is currently moving through 50 Russian cities. Groups are building support for a national protest on September 15th. Ekaterina Danilova, FSRN, Russia.


Judge says Texas redistricting plan racially discriminates

In a rebuke of Texas lawmakers, a federal court in Washington DC ruled Tuesday that the state’s redistricting process does not meet the standards of the Voting Rights Act. Texas had sought pre-clearance under the 1965 law that requires states with a history of voter suppression to have changes to electoral maps federally approved. FSRN’s Andrew Oxford has more from San Antonio.

In their unanimous decision, the three judge panel found that the Texas legislature had racially discriminated when redrawing certain congressional districts in 2011. The judges also concluded that the proposed maps for state and federal legislative seats would marginalize minority voters.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who defended the state’s redistricting plans, pledged to take the case to the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, civil rights organizations cheered the verdict. In a statement, the Latino legal group MALDEF said the decision was “another nail in the coffin” of the state’s redistricting plans.

The circuit court decision will likely not change electoral maps for November’s ballot. Instead, an interim map drawn by another panel of judges will be used. Andrew Oxford, FSRN, San Antonio.


California House bans gay “conversion therapy” for youth

And finally, the California House of Representatives has passed legislation barring adults from enrolling LGBT youth in programs designed to convert them into heterosexuals. So-called “conversion therapy” is widely seen as ineffective and potentially psychologically damaging. The California Senate has already passed similar legislation. If the governor signs, the state will be the first in the US to outlaw the practice.



Isaac causes flooding, power outages across Gulf Coast; New Orleans officials say levees holding

Hurricane Isaac continued its slow path across the Gulf Coast causing flooding in Mississippi, power outages in Alabama and damage along the south coast of Louisiana.In Plaquemines Parish, water overtopped a levee near Braithwaite, stranding residents and submerging homes. In some photos posted to social media, swirling water reached the eaves of rooftops.One resident from Braithwaite spoke to WWLTV news as she stepped off a rescue boat into the driving wind, saying the water had risen over 20 feet.

“It is horrible. Everybody house is gone. Nobody has a house in Braithwaite. Nobody.”

“How high is the water?”

“The water is almost over my head. [Down there] it’s over 20 feet.”

Authorities and private residents rescued about 120 people from the area as the parish ordered more evacuations. Search and rescue continues.

In New Orleans, officials speaking to press this afternoon said levees appeared to be holding in most parts of the city, though they warned that the water was rising and flooding on streets and damage from debris was still a risk to residents.Mayor Mitch Landrieu said nearly 75 percent of residents in Orleans Parish are without power.  He said the levee system had been upgraded to category three strength, but the longer the storm lasted the more strain would hit city services, such as the sewage system, which is running on backup power.

“Our levee system is 300 miles and is very robust at this point in time. We are not expecting as a consequence of that a Katrina-like event. That is not to say, however, that we will not have flooding in the city of New Orleans. For anybody who has lived here a long time, if there’s a large amount of water that falls in a short period of time, parts of this city are going to flood and parts of all south Louisiana as well, so we are not out of the woods on a water event or an electrical event.”

Landrieu said announced a curfew from dusk to dawn and said 1000 national guard troops are on the ground in the city. The Sheriff Dept confirmed that some 1,000 inmates from Louisiana Dept. of Public Safety and Correction faciliites had been transferred “out of harms way.” Residents can get updated information by calling 311.This afternoon the National Hurricane Center downgraded Isaac to a tropical storm and said heavy rains and coastal surge threats are expected through the night. We spoke to FSRN reporter Zoe Sullivan about conditions in New Orleans earlier today.

As outside money flows in election, funds both criticized and accepted as new norm by parties

In Tampa, Florida, Republicans continue their political convention this evening, with speeches from Senator Rand Paul and Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is scheduled to make his acceptance speech.

Protests also continue, including actions focusing on the environment and economic policies. Some people are also lashing out at the record levels of campaign spending made possible by the 2010 Citizens United decision. As FSRN’s Janelle Irwin reports, some Republicans argue it’s necessary in a system that requires millions of dollars to compete.

At Tampa gathering, rights of homeless highlighted in push for alternative market model

While attendees of the Republican National Convention discuss the GOP economic platform and the benefits of the free market, another group is proposing a much more radical idea – it’s what they call a Really Really Free Market. As part of the Food Not Bombs World Gathering, activists organized a bartering and sharing event where no money was needed. FSRN’s Josh Holton has more.

Aggressive use of personal data by political campaigns prompts alarm for privacy advocates

Since the 2008 elections, technology has rapidly changed and many more people are getting information through social media, smartphones and other technological fronts. This year, campaigns are aggressively using this technology, allowing them to tailor their message for specific groups, and reach the millions of voters who are always an arm’s-length away from a mobile device. But some of these innovations have privacy advocates concerned, including an app from the Obama campaign that reveals the exact location of nearby Democrats, and the Romney campaign’s reliance on companies who track user behavior on- and off-line. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

FSRN’s media policy reporting is made possible in part by a grant from The Media Consortium.

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