Newscast for Friday, March 1, 2013

  • Spending cuts go into effect as lawmakers fail to reach sequester deal
  • New Orleans still recovering from oil disaster as BP officials defend response in court
  • As Pope steps down, activist nun Megan Rice reflects on future of Catholic Church
  • Diminishing Lake Chad poses risk to farmers, fisher folk in Cameroon

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State Department issue draft environmental report on Keystone XL

Today the State Department released a draft environmental impact statement responding to TransCanada’s application to construct the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands in northern Alberta to Nebraska. The assessment looked at construction impacts, the impacts from potential spills and climate change, as well as economic impacts. The State Department will open a 45-day public comment period before preparing the final Environmental Impact Statement.  FSRN will continue coverage of the Keystone Pipeline next week.

Honduran campesinos violently evicted from palm plantation

Nearly 200 campesino families in Honduras were forcibly evicted from their lands in Bajo Aguan yesterday. The evictions come amid new reports claiming the Central American country as the most violent in the world.  FSRN’s Tim Russo reports.

Six children remained hospitalized this morning in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras after a heavily armed military operation attempted to evict as many as 200 families. The farmers were living on Finca La Palma, an African palm plantation owned by land baron Miguel Facusse. The campesinos began occupying the plantation d after a local leader was allegedly murdered by Facusse security forces.  Haydee Saravia is with the Coordination of Popular Organizations in the Aguan, which was called in to assist the residents during the eviction. “We went to help to the people but the military had a bulldozer that they were using to tear down the base and houses.  When we got there they stopped the bulldozer.  We feel that our presence helped to push the military out of the community and to stop shooting tear gas into the houses.” Saravia says Thursday´s military operation is the latest in a line of attacks that have claimed nearly 100 lives since 2009.  Twelve people have been killed this year alone, including a lawyer just last week. According a new report by the National Observatory on Violence, Bajo Aguan is one of Honduras’ most violent rural areas. The report shows a constant rise in violent deaths in Honduras to more than 85 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012 – a rate 20% higher than the next highest country in the world. This roughly echoes United Nations homicide counts. Both assessments show an approximate 230% rise in violence in Honduras in the past decade and constant increases since the 2009 coup d´etat.  Tim Russo, FSRN.

Israel-Hamas ceasefire stressed once again

Israeli tanks opened fire on eastern Gaza today.  Small-scale Israeli army attacks have been increasing in recent weeks.  And on Tuesday, Gaza militants fired a rocket into Israel.  Tensions appear to be escalating, testing a fragile ceasefire forged last November.  FSRN’s Rami Almeghari reports.

Medics in Gaza say rescue teams evacuated three injured people from eastern Alburaij refugee camp in central Gaza Strip. According to the medics, the injuries are light to moderate.  Since last November’s Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the ruling Hamas party, Israeli armed forces have frequently attacked border areas.  According to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Israel has opened fire more than 70 times and carried out 10 small-scale invasions. Four Palestinians have been killed in these attacks and 90 have been wounded. On Tuesday, an off-shot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party in Gaza claimed responsibility for the first reported rocket fire into Israel since last November. The group said they launched the rocket in response to the torture and death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli detention.  Rami Almeghari, FSRN, Gaza.

This week two other Palestinians prisoners ended their months-long hunger strikes after being promised release by Israel. Another Palestinian hunger-striking prisoner, Samer al Issawi, was hospitalized earlier this week after his health deteriorated.

Outrage in streets as seven-year-old raped in New Delhi

Violent clashes between police and protesters broke out today in India.  Residents of the capital expressed outrage after another sexual assault came to light.  In this latest incident, a second grader was allegedly raped at a government-run school in New Delhi.  FSRN’s Bismillah Geelani reports.

The seven-year-old girl was assaulted Thursday afternoon. Her parents filed a police complaint today after she refused to go back to the school where the alleged attack happened. As news spread, hundreds of people took to the streets shouting slogans against school authorities and the police. The demonstrators attacked government buses and police vehicles after security forces launched a baton charge to disperse them. The incident has renewed demands for harsher punishment for sexual crimes. Mamta Sharma is Chair of the National Commission for Women. “These incidents will continue to happen unless we seriously introduce and implement severe punishments.  That’s the only way the mindset of the rapists can be changed.” The incident comes just a day after the government announced a special fund for women’s safety.  The government pledged this and several other measures to battle sexual assault in the capital following last years’ gang rape of a 23-year old woman. But if the latest assault is any indication, the initiatives do not appear to be making a significant difference on the ground. Bismillah Geelani, FSRN, New Delhi.



Spending cuts go into effect as lawmakers fail to reach sequester deal

Tens of billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts begin to go into effect today as part of the so-called sequester triggered by last year’s Budget Control Act. Most government programs will be affected, from education to bridge repair to food assistance to the military. Following a Friday morning meeting at the White House with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders that produced no results, President Obama told reporters he would keep pushing for a bill to undo the cuts over the coming weeks.

OBAMA: We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, as some have said. It’s just dumb, and it’s going to hurt individual people and the economy overall. But if Congress comes to its senses a week from now, a month from now, three months from now, then there’s a lot of running room for us to grow our economy much more quickly.

Two last-minute Senate bills to alter the sequester failed yesterday. The Democratic-backed bill would have raised revenue through the so-called Buffett Rule, which raises taxes on people making more than a million dollars per year. It also cut back on direct cash subsidies to farmers. The Republican bill, which also failed, would have given the military, but not domestic agencies, more flexibility in where to cut spending. In a press conference, House Republicans listed additional proposals to replace the sequester, including delaying the implementation of health care reform for two years, and reducing the federal workforce. But House Democrats have opposed these measures, highlighting that they would hit women the hardest, because women currently are charged more for healthcare, and depend most on government assistance programs. Speaking after the White House meeting today, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she’ll be pushing for a deal that instead repeals tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

PELOSI: My hope springs from the fact that we should be able to focus on tax expenditures. Big money there! And we cannot have a situation where one party is saying we have to protect tax giveaways to special interests, but we’re going to stop Meals on Wheels for seniors. The American people won’t tolerate that.

Senate Democrats also introduced a bill this week to levy a point-zero-three percent tax on Wall Street transactions, which could raise hundreds of billions of dollars within a decade. Yet even as party leaders scramble to address the sequester, potentially bigger budget woes are on the horizon. If Congress can’t pass a budget or a continuation of last year’s budget by the end of the month, the government will run out of funding.

New Orleans still recovering from oil disaster as BP officials defend response in court

The civil trial for the BP oil disaster continued this week at a New Orleans court with testimony from BP officials. Mark Bly, BP’s executive vice president for safety and operational risk, led the internal investigation after the explosion. Bly said Thursday that the investigation did not weigh concerns that the well was over-budget and behind schedule and his team did not interview workers with Transocean or Halliburton, according to the Times Picayune. That testimony could be used to determine which companies involved in the accident are responsible and how much blame goes to BP. The 2010 accident and explosion at the oil rig killed 11 workers and led to an environmental disaster in the Gulf Coast that is still ongoing. For more, we’re joined by Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish in New Orleans, residents there were at the front lines of the spill’s impact on the coast.

As Pope steps down, activist nun Megan Rice reflects on future of Catholic Church

Benedict the 16th stepped down this week, the first time a pope has done so in  nearly 600 years. As Cardinals gather in Rome in the coming weeks to select a new leader for the Vatican, a broader conversation is taking place across the globe on the future of the Catholic Church. Sister Megan Rice is an 82-year old nun who has spent most of her life teaching in West Africa, and joined the protest movement against US militarism in the 1980s. She’s been arrested dozens of times, and is currently on trial for breaking into the Oak Ridge uranium enrichment facility in protest of the large nuclear weapons stockpile. Sister Rice sat down with FSRN’s Alice Ollstein to share thoughts on the Church’s treatment of activist nuns, LGBT Catholics and celibate priests, and why she thinks change will come from the grassroots, not the Vatican.

Diminishing Lake Chad poses risk to farmers, fisher folk in Cameroon

One of the largest freshwater lakes in Africa, Lake Chad, is at risk of disappearing in the coming decades. Scientists have tracked its diminishing size, finding it shrunk by 95 percent over 35 years. Regional leaders say they have a new solution — diverting water from the Obangui River in the Congo to Lake Chad. But the project will be costly and some environmentalists say it could bring new consequences for river and lake communities. FSRN’s Ngala Killian Chimtom reports from Yaounde, Cameroon.

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