Newscast for Wednesday, January 9, 2013

  • Supreme Court weighs constitutionality of warrantless blood samples for DWIs
  • Texas schools RFID tracking suit sparks concerns about student privacy
  • Fleeing violence in Syria, refugees face more challenges in Kurdistan
  • Mexican farmers, environmentalists call on government to block large scale production of GMO corn

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Environmentalists push climate action in US as scientists report 2012 hottest recorded year ever

There’s speculation today the White House is considering hosting a climate summit during Obama’s second term. An Oregon environmental group told the Guardian it has had encouraging discussions with White House staff on the issue. The speculation comes on the heels of EPA Head Lisa Jackson’s resignation in late December and a new report out yesterday by NOAA. The National Climatic Data Center says 2012 was the warmest year on record in the contiguous 48 states. The data also indicates extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts are becoming more common. FSRN’s James Moore reports from KRUU-FM in Iowa, one of several Midwest states where temperatures were far above normal.

Last year was Iowa’s warmest since 1931, the dawn of the Dust Bowl era. And as during the Dust Bowl, much of the Midwest experienced severe rain shortages.  Here, the worst drought in 50 years killed trees in cities across the state, and corn yields are expected to be down for the 4th straight year. Low water levels on the Mississippi and other Midwest rivers are creating significant challenges for barges trying to move grain to the Gulf.

Iowa State University climatologist Elwynn Taylor, who has studied agricultural climates for decades, has cautioned farmers and river shippers to get used to more volatile weather.  Taylor believes night-time temperatures are the key climate threat for farm economies. According to research, when overnight temperatures rise 4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, grain crop yields are reduced by 15 to 20 percent.  In 2012, nineteen states experienced their warmest years since data began being collected in 1895. James Moore, FSRN, Fairfield, Iowa.


Illinois to issue undocumented immigrants drivers licenses

A new legislative session begins today in Illinois, and LGBT rights supporters say they intend to re-introduce same-sex marriage legislation before day’s end.  Lawmakers were unable to garner enough support for the measure during the previous session, which ended yesterday. But before the turn-over, the General Assembly was able to pass a law allowing undocumented immigrants to get state driver’s licenses. Governor Pat Quinn has praised lawmakers for saving lives on Illinois roads by mandating driver training, eye tests and insurance for some 250,000 immigrant motorists. But as FSRN’s Jay Sapir reports, there’s concern about what this will actually mean for undocumented drivers.

This bill – touted as a common sense traffic safety measure – was met with passionate pushback. Opponents blasted it for “condoning illegal entry” and inviting fraud. There are also divisions within the ranks of immigration rights groups and nervous immigrants. Claudia Henriquez, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, opposed the legislation based on the experiences of immigrants in other states.

“There were a number of instances where the card became identified with being undocumented, and there was profiling and discrimination as a result”

Supporters say the Illinois law has built-in protections to keep this kind of situation from occurring. The new licenses will not serve as official identification for boarding planes, buying guns or voting. Jay Sapir, FSRN, Chicago.


Federal judge strikes down NYPD ‘stop and frisk’ provision

A judge has struck down part of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy.  Yesterday, for the first time, a federal court ordered the NYPD to halt certain practices within the controversial program.  From New York, FSRN’s Matthew Petrillo has more.

The part of the NYPD’s stop and frisk program in question is called  “Operation Clean Halls.”  It aims to prevent trespassing in and around privately owned apartment buildings in high crime areas. Landlords must enroll to take part. US District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Tuesday to end the practice. She said, in these trespassing cases, it’s difficult to pinpoint the line where police encounters become unconstitutional, but – quote – “such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it.”

Udi Ofer of the New York ACLU says police often arrested friends and family of tenants, and even some tenants themselves, who didn’t have ID on them.

“Meaning the vast majority there wasn’t even suspicion of a crime.  And that’s a problem and that needs to stop.”

Stop and frisk technically requires suspicion of a crime, but only 12 percent of the 685,000 stops last year led to arrests.  Ofer called the judge’s ruling a big step towards eventually ending the stop and frisk program.  Matthew Petrillo, FSRN, New York.


Flag protests continue in Northern Ireland

The flag of the United Kingdom, the Union Jack, is flying at Belfast City Hall today for the first time since lawmakers decided not to display it permanently.  Intense protests have been ongoing since that decision, recalling historic tensions between loyalists and nationalists in Northern Ireland  FSRN’s Gloria Khamkar reports from the UK.

The flag is being flown to mark the birthday of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. But the occasion has not quelled the anger of British loyalists in Northern Ireland. In Belfast, hundreds of demonstrators have been protesting daily since early December, when the council decided to limit the number of days the Union flag flies at City Hall to 17 per year. The flag will be taken down again this evening.  Further demonstrations are planned, including a rally outside the Irish parliament in Dublin on Saturday. The protests, at times violent, have resulted in more than 1000 arrests and dozens of police officers being injured. Gloria Khamkar, FSRN, Southampton.



Supreme Court weighs constitutionality of warrantless blood samples for DWIs

The state of Missouri argued before the US Supreme Court today that it shouldn’t have to get a warrant in order to take a blood sample from someone suspected of driving drunk. But some states and civil liberties groups disagree, saying a possible DUI conviction shouldn’t allow a violation of privacy rights. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein attended this morning’s hearing and files this report.


Texas schools RFID tracking suit sparks concerns about student privacy

In Texas, a public school district has been allowed to continue to require students to carry locator chips, according to a ruling by a federal judge Tuesday. US District Judge Orlando Garcia dismissed a request by a 15-year-old sophomore to block San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District from requiring her to carry a student badge. The student’s family had cited religious and privacy reasons. Officials at John Jay Science and Engineering Academy say the use of the electronic devices, called Radio Frequency Identification or RFID, is part of a pilot program to ensure safety and increase school attendance. Privacy advocates raise concern about the use of the technology and possible violations of civil liberties. For more we’re joined by Khaliah Barnes administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.


Fleeing violence in Syria, refugees face more challenges in Kurdistan

Photos from Damascus today showed thick snow falling from the sky as local residents described dipping temperatures and aid organizations warned of difficulty reaching those in need. The World Food Programme said it’s having a hard time bringing aid to more than one million people displaced by the fighting in the country. As the civil war in Syria thunders on, refugees are fleeing the country on a daily basis. Many Syrian Kurds head for the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq just across the border and while many of them choose to stay in the United Nations camp of Domiz, others are coming to the cities in the hope of better living conditions and a chance to find work. But life for these urban refugees is an uphill battle, as FSRN’s Hermione Gee reports from the Kurdistan Region’s capital, Erbil.


Mexican farmers, environmentalists call on government to block large scale production of GMO corn

In Mexico, groups of small farmers and environmentalists are calling on the government to reject permit applications which would open up large swathes of productive agricultural land to commercial production of genetically modified corn. They cite cultural and scientific concerns. FSRN’s Shannon Young reports from Oaxaca.

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