October 25, 2012

  • Corporate funding on rise in US judicial races
  • Billboards in Ohio, Wisconsin taken down after pressure from voting rights groups
  • Advocates work to ensure access to polls for transgender voters
  • In Argentina, activists say government surveillance targets political protesters

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Hundreds of Rohingya homes burned in Myanmar

Ethnic violence has flared once again in Myanmar. Activists report a group of Buddhists burned down more than 1000 Rohingya homes. Rohingya are a Muslim minority living in the Rakhine region of the country, also known as Burma. Media reports that more than 50 people have been killed in the past few days, but the Burmese Rohingya Organisation of the UK says more than 100 people have died. In addition, the group says 26 Rohingya girls were raped Sunday by local security forces in one village alone. The group calls what’s happening in the region “state organized and state sanctioned ethnic cleansing.”  It also says authorities are confiscating cell phones so news of the violence doesn’t get out.

Brazilian indigenous group responds to eviction with controversial letter

A Brazilian indigenous group appears to be threatening to commit collective suicide after receiving an eviction order from a local court. The group has been living on ranch land near the border with Paraguay, which they say is the traditional territory of their people. Controversy has arisen over the true intent of group’s words. For FSRN, Debora Pill reports from São Paulo.

The announcement came in a letter signed by Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous leaders from Mato Grosso do Sul and circulated through local press. It was widely interpreted to be announcing the collective suicide of 170 men, women and children if the government doesn’t reverse last week’s decision to evict them from the farm where they have been camping and protesting for a year. The letter asks the government – quote – “not to proclaim an eviction order, but to proclaim our collective death and bury us all here.” But the Catholic Church affiliated Missionary Indigenous Council says the group isn’t actually threatening mass suicide. In a statement, the group argued “collective death” is different from “collective suicide” in this context – and what the letter intended to convey is that the group is ready to die for their ancestral land. The confusion between the concepts of death and suicide could be linked to the fact that indigenous people suffer the highest rate of suicide in Brazil. The Guarani-Kaiowá letter says two their members have killed themselves since they began their encampment.  And the Brazilian Health Ministry reports that nearly 900 members of the group have committed suicide since 1986. The protesting Guarani-Kaiowá have also been surrounded by gunmen hired by local farmers. Several Guarani-Kaiowa have killed during the stand-off and related struggle. Debora Pill, FSRN, São Paulo.

DOJ announces $1 billion suit against Bank of America

The US government has sued Bank of America, accusing it of mortgage fraud. The more than $1 billion dollar suit, announced Wednesday, targets the lending practices of Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America acquired four years ago. The US Attorney in Manhattan alleges Countrywide operated a fraudulent mortgage origination program designed to sell defective loans to federally-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In a statement, the US Attorney says Countrywide “cast aside underwriters, eliminated quality controls, incentivized unqualified personnel to cut corners, and concealed the resulting defects.”

Sensata employees file complaint with NLRB, claiming retaliation

Protests continue at the Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois. Yesterday, a small group of workers marched on the plant, where 170 jobs are being outsourced to China. Bain Capital owns a majority share in Sensata. Bain is the investment company co-founded by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who still has a financial stake. Workers received support from Reverend Jessie Jackson, who was arrested for trespassing during the action. Jackson spoke on the Current network earlier this week. “We must escalate the protest even to the point of civil disobedience. I think this is a showdown for trade policy, in fact, foreign policy.” Workers are scheduled to lose their jobs the day before Election Day. They have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming retaliation by the company. Workers said they were told by city police that the company would close down earlier than planned if the protests continued. Many have been occupying a space across the street from the plant – a camp protesters call Bainport.

Occupy Oakland marks anniversary of violent eviction with march against police brutality

Today Occupy Oakland is holding a march against police brutality to mark the one year anniversary of the police attempt to evict activists from a square near City Hall. Protesters have announced their intention to re-establish their encampment. The protest has been enshrouded in controversy. An unknown person or group recently distributed fliers around Oakland calling for people to commit violence against the Occupy activists. Local press also reports the DA’s office has announced charges against three people who participated in the original protest last year.



Corporate funding on rise in US judicial race

In the final two weeks before the US election, outside money continues to pour into races at record rates. So far, according to the Sunlight Foundation, nearly $500 million has been spent by SuperPACs. In addition to the presidential race and congressional seats, that money is also increasingly going to influence judicial races across the country. This year, 46 judicial seats are being contested in 20 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Twenty-five more judges in 13 states are facing retention elections. The amount of outside money that is going to these races is still being tabulated, but contributions have been rising. In the first decade after 2000, state Supreme Court candidates raised over $200 million for elections. That’s more than double the amount raised in the previous ten years. After the Citizens United decision, much of the funding comes from sources that can’t be traced. Corporate parties regularly come before judges, raising the question of influence on key decisions in cases on consumer issues, public health, the environment and property rights. For more, we’re joined by Billy Corriher, Associate Director of Research for Legal Progress, at the Center for American Progress.

Billboards in Ohio, Wisconsin taken down after pressure from voting rights groups

More than 100 controversial “voter fraud” billboards, which critics called part of a multi-state campaign of voter suppression, are coming down this week from largely-minority neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin.  Norton Outdoor Advertising agreed Tuesday to follow Clear Channel’s lead and take down the billboards after protests from voting rights groups. But the anonymous funder of the billboards still has not been disclosed. FSRN’s JoAnne Powers reports.

Advocates work to ensure access to polls for transgender voters

With the election less than two weeks away, voting rights groups are ramping up their education and outreach campaigns to ensure that no eligible voter is turned away from the polls. As voting rights advocates organize to ensure access to the polls, they’re educating voters about state voter ID laws in order to dispel confusion over recent court decisions. One of the eligible voter groups at risk is transgender people–whose preferred name and gender may not match the ones on their ID. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein sat down in Washington D.C. with Harper Jean Tobin, the policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, to discuss how some people may be disenfranchised, and how they can respond and reclaim their voting rights. Tobin began by describing the barriers that transgender voters face.

For more information on the voting rights of transgender people, visit votingwhiletrans.org.

In Argentina, activists say government surveillance targets political protesters

Next week, the US Supreme Court is set to decide on whether plaintiffs have a right to challenge the federal government’s warrentless wiretapping program. In Amnesty versus Clapper, human rights, labor and media groups represented by the ACLU are seeking to challenge the NSA program that started under President George W. Bush and has been upheld by the Obama Administration. But the United States isn’t the only country confronting questions about the right balance between state intelligence and individual privacy rights. In Argentina, federal judges are investigating the state’s use of wiretapping and the police’s infiltration of social movements. Some activists say the government policies have targeted political protesters. From Buenos Aires, FSRN’s Eilís O’Neill has more.

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