Newscast for Wednesday, March 20, 2013

  • Decade after US invasion of Iraq, residents describe legacy of sectarian violence, call for accountability for US officials
  • US lawmakers indicate shift in policy toward Syria amid reports of fighting
  • Human rights advocates push for arms trade treaty at UN, citing global violence
  • In New York, state action could clear way for more for-profit hospitals

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During visit, Obama says security of Israel is “non-negotiable”

President Obama made the first stop of his presidency in Israel today, shoring up relations by emphasizing the bond between the two countries. At a joint press conference with the President, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated his government is committed to achieving a two-state solution with Palestinians.

“Let us sit down at the negotiating table.  Let us put aside all pre-conditions.  Let us work together to achieve the historic compromise that will end our conflict once and for all.”

These pre-conditions include Palestinian demands that Israel halt settlement construction. President Obama said the security of Israel is “non-negotiable.”  Obama said Israel and the US agreed to begin discussions about extending US military aid to Israel beyond the current agreement, which ends in 2017.


Republican FCC commissioner to step down

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell announced today he will step down from his position “in a few weeks.”  The Republican issued a statement saying he wants to spend time with his family.  McDowell served on the FCC for more than six years.  He was an opponent of net neutrality and called for less government regulation of the communications industry.  McDowell is one of two Republican commissioners at the FCC.


State funding for higher education down in all but two states since 2008

State funding for higher education has been steadily falling, with some states raising tuition rates by more than 50% over the past 5 years, according to a new report out by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  California and Arizona top the list, having raised their tuition rates by more than 70% since 2008.  At the same time, all but two states have seen decreases in per-student higher education spending.  The legislatures in Arizona, New Hampshire, Oregon, Louisiana and Florida have all cut funding rates by more than 40%.  Report author Phil Oliff says that’s a big reason why increases to tuition and fees have been outpacing inflation.

“Keep in mind, this spike in college costs comes even as the recession and slow recovery have diminished students’ and their families’ financial resources.”

Michigan has cut state funding for higher ed by nearly a third.  Gilda Jacobs, who heads the Michigan League for Public Policy says lawmakers should stop thinking in terms of cuts to balance the budget.

“Maybe it’s time to start talking about reforming our tax system, so that we do have the tax revenues available to invest in things like preschool on one end, and college at the other end.”

Only Wyoming and North Dakota have increased university funding since the recession hit.


Self-immolation cases increase in Bulgaria

Today another man set himself on fire in protest of poverty and the failing economy of Bulgaria.  According to state radio, the 40-year old man self-immolated in a town stadium and was taken to the hospital with burns over 90% of his body.  Reports vary, but as many as seven people have set themselves on fire in Bulgaria in the past month.  Last month, the government collapsed after a series of mass protests.  A caretaker government took power yesterday, and elections are scheduled for mid-May.


Pakistan government sets date for historic elections

Lawmakers in Pakistan have set a date for a general election – May 11th.  This week the government of President Asif Ali Zardari became the first to finish out its five year term.  Now a caretaker government will be in charge of organizing the elections.  If successful, it will mark the first democratic transition of power since Pakistan’s founding in in 1947.


Court blocks public transit fare hike in Buenos Aires

A court in Argentina has halted a controversial subway fare hike in Buenos Aires.  The city’s mayor says the increase is needed to keep pace with inflation and keep passengers safe.  But opposition politicians say it isn’t necessary and would disproportionately affect the working class.  From Buenos Aires, FSRN’s Eilís O’Neill has the details…

The fare was supposed to increase today by about 20 cents US per ride.  But an opposition politician appealed the measure.  On Tuesday afternoon, a judge ruled that the city must suspend the increase and present a report justifying the measure.  In January 2012, officials more than doubled subway fares.  Eduardo Epszteyn is auditor general of the City of Buenos Aires.

“El último aumento tarifario generó una caída en la demanda del subtes de alrededor de entre 24 y 26 por ciento.  Y esa gente, ¿Qué hizo? ¿Dejó de viajar? No.  Esa gente fue a viajar en colectivo porque el diferencial entre el colectivo y el subte se hizo más grande.  Estamos mandando la gente hacia el medio de transporte más inseguro.”

“The last fare increase meant demand for the subway fell between 24 and 26 percent.  And those people, what did they do? Did they stop commuting? No.  They started commuting in buses because the difference between the cost of the bus and the subway increased.  So we’re sending people to a less safe form of transportation.”

Epszteyn says the 200% fare increase isn’t necessary in order to keep pace with inflation, which most analysts say is between 20 and 25% per year. The city of Buenos Aires says it will fight the judicial injunction.  Eilís O’Neill, FSRN, Buenos Aires.



Decade after US invasion of Iraq, residents describe legacy of sectarian violence, call for accountability for US officials

Streets in Baghdad were tense today after about a dozen bombs exploded in mostly Shia neighborhoods Tuesday, killing nearly 60 people. A resident of Baghdad told FSRN earlier today that the bombs hit during rush hour and emptied people from the busy streets.

“Right after the attacks, the streets were almost empty. Many, many people preferred to stay indoors. Many neighborhoods, usually you see a lot of people on the streets there, were empty, almost empty so it really affected the people and you can feel the fear in the eyes of the people yesterday.”

The resident, who requested that we use his blogger name Kassakhoon for security reasons, said it was a grim reminder of the lack of security ten years after the US invasion of Iraq began. Kassakhoon also said access to clean water and reliable power is a serious problem as some neighborhoods only get electricity for two or three hours at a time and many people have to rely on private power generators.

The war in Iraq left more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, according to Iraq Body Count, though other estimates put that number higher, including a 2006 study from the Journal Lancet which estimated that more than 600,000 people were killed. It also drove many more from their homes. There are more than a million internally displaced people in Iraq as of January this year, according to the UN refugee agency. More have fled to nearby countries.

Joining us to discuss the impacts of the US war on Iraq is Raed Jarrar, Arab-American blogger and architect and currently communications director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.


US lawmakers indicate shift in policy toward Syria amid reports of fighting

The Syrian government asked UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon today to send a team to the country to investigate reports of chemical weapons that killed and injured civilians this week near Aleppo. Both the government and opposition forces have accused each other of using a chemical weapon, but those accounts remain unconfirmed. In Washington D.C., lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled the US ambassador to Syria about these reports and many other aspects of the Syrian conflict. The Obama Administration has said it is only providing humanitarian aid and training but several members of Congress are calling for changes to that policy. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more, on Capitol Hill.


Human rights advocates push for arms trade treaty at UN, citing global violence

World leaders at the United Nations are once again negotiating a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty. Human rights advocates are pushing for an agreement to help stem the global consequences of weapons, from deaths and injuries to repression and rape. Last year, talks were suspended due to pressure from the United States, the world’s biggest arms exporter. Groups like Oxfam want to see a ban on the export of all weapons that could be used to violate human rights and international law. FSRN’s Salim Rizvi is at the UN and spoke to Carlos Sanchez De Boada, head of the Spanish delegation. Boada is appealing to UN member countries to approve and ratify the treaty to help stop killings of civilians, including women and children, across the globe.


In New York, state action could clear way for more for-profit hospitals

Thousands of patients in downtown Brooklyn may soon have to seek medical treatment elsewhere, after New York’s state university voted to close Long Island College Hospital. The decision comes as state lawmakers take steps to make it easier for for-profit hospitals to operate in New York. FSRN’s Peter Rugh has more.

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