Newscast for Thursday, July 25, 2013

  • Civil rights group challenges NSA spying program in court as House amendment to curb surveillance narrowly fails
  • Lawmakers, human rights experts criticize millions in US military aid to Honduras amid violence, killings
  • Detroit residents fight bankruptcy to protect public pensions, secure role in city’s future
  • In Egypt, protesters ready for rival rallies on Friday as US paves way for military aid
  • Citing lack of government action, Egyptians organize to combat sexual harassment against women

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Justice Department to take alternate tact to defend voting rights

Just weeks after the Supreme Court threw out an integral piece of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department announced today it would pursue a court order forcing Texas to get pre-clearance for changes to its voting laws.  Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to the National Urban League the government would use another provision of the Voting Rights Act that allows judges to place jurisdictions on the pre-clearance list.

“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case of Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”

Holder said this legal action against Texas will not be its only effort to seek court enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Natural gas well leak on Gulf rig closes up

A natural gas leak on a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico has stopped.  Officials say the well, about 50 miles offshore of Louisiana, closed up naturally with sediment and sand.  Despite this, flames could still be seen on the rig this afternoon.  FSRN’s Caroline Lewis has the latest.

Yesterday, there was talk of well owner Walter Oil and Gas drilling a relief well to stop the gas flow.  But today the federal agency managing the incident said the leak ceased on its own, and the fire has been reduced to a small flame fueled by the gas on deck.  The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the US Coast Guard have been monitoring from the air, but firefighters have been unable to approach due to safety concerns. Jonathan Henderson of the non-profit Gulf Restoration Network, says wells are frequently covered and abandoned, but can still threaten to re-open.

“There’s a lot of elements in the Gulf.  There’s storms and hurricanes that cause shifting of the sea floor and these can impact the integrity of wells.  So, there’s not enough watchdogging of the industry.”

There are estimated to be 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf.  Henderson adds that gas, although seen as less harmful than oil, could still potentially dissolve in the water and prove toxic to marine life.  Caroline Lewis, FSRN, New Orleans.

Wisconsin capitol protesters back after arrests

An even larger crowd of demonstrators turned up at the Wisconsin State Capitol today after police on Wednesday arrested nearly two dozen residents for singing protest songs against Governor Scott Walker.  Dozens sang and held signs in the lobby, and many were arrested.  This comes amidst an ongoing battle between the Walker administration and his critics over access to the state building.  FSRN’s Molly Stentz has the story from Madison.

Members of a group called the Solidarity Sing Along have been protesting the Republican governor’s policies for more than two years.  They gather in the State Capitol and sing protest songs each weekday at noon.  But on Wednesday, Capitol police cracked down on the singers, and said they were assembling without a permit.  Many of those arrested were elderly women, including Joan Kemble of Madison.  Kemble is eighty years old and is a regular participant in the sing along.

“The first arrests were pointed people, people who were leaders and people who spoke out very strongly and they considered real nuisances. I could tell. You could see the people they arrested first. And the rest of us kept singing.”

Earlier this month, in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge struck down the Walker Administration’s rules barring more than four people from assembling in the State Capitol without a permit.  But the judge said the Administration can require a permit for groups of more than 20.  Molly Stentz, FSRN, Madison.

Hundreds continue push to keep NY hospital open

Hundreds of New Yorkers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Wednesday afternoon in the latest protest against the closing of a State University of New York hospital.  Several union members, community activists and local politicians were arrested after sitting down to block traffic.  Protesters say the hospital is violating a court order by slowly dismantling services at Long Island College Hospital, or LICH, leaving the local community without accessible medical facilities.  Next Monday, the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a legal challenge to the hospital’s efforts to scale back services and shut down.  Hospital administration issued notices to about 650 workers yesterday morning, placing them on administrative leave.

Rights group wants investigation into police violence during Bulgarian protests

Today Human Rights Watch issued a call for investigations into police violence against anti-government protesters and journalists in Bulgaria.  On Tuesday night, more than a dozen people protesting outside the Parliament building were injured.  The human rights group says it has witness accounts stating “riot police indiscriminately beat demonstrators with truncheons.”  Five journalists were also beaten by police.  The group is calling for calm on both sides.



Civil rights group challenges NSA spying program in court as House amendment to curb surveillance narrowly fails

Today, a federal court in New York City began hearing a legal challenge to the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic data collection program. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the NSA in June after documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the government had been collecting and storing the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. As the ACLU and other privacy advocates try to end these spying powers by taking the government agency to court, lawmakers in the House of Representatives tried this week to end them by cutting funding, using an amendment to the more than $500 billion military funding bill. Michigan Democrat John Conyers co-authored the amendment.

“All this amendment is intended to do is curtain the ongoing dragnet collection and storage of the personal records of Americans. It does not ‘defund the NSA’ and it would continue to allow them to conduct surveillance as long as it’s on someone who is the subject of an actual investigation!”

The measure failed by just 12 votes, despite broad support from many Democrats and Republicans. The House also rejected, by wider margins, amendments to prohibit the expansion of the Guantanamo Bay prison and end the indefinite detention of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for release.

Lawmakers, human rights experts criticize millions in US military aid to Honduras amid violence, killings

As both chambers of Congress debate the bill that controls the billions in foreign aid the US doles out each year, lawmakers gathered Thursday to examine the human rights crisis in Honduras. Citing murders just this month of a radio reporter, a judge and an indigenous environmental activist, members of Congress and human rights experts questioned the millions in military aid the US has given Honduras since the 2009 coup, and what can be done to address the violence and impunity in that country. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

Detroit residents fight bankruptcy to protect public pensions, secure role in city’s future

In Detroit, the city’s bankruptcy case is set to move forward after a federal judge ruled Wednesday to halt legal challenges from public employees fighting to protect pensions. Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevin Orr say the bankruptcy is necessary to address some $18 billion in debt. But it could have vast implications for the city’s 700,000 residents, including the more than 20,000 city employees who are owed pensions. For more, we’re joined by WJ Rideout, senior pastor with All God’s People Church in Detroit and a civil rights activist with Good Jobs Now.

In Egypt, protesters ready for rival rallies on Friday as US paves way for military aid

As Egypt prepares for rival rallies on Friday, human rights groups are calling on security forces to protect peaceful demonstrators and avoid violence. Amnesty International said today that security forces have repeatedly failed to protect protesters, bystanders and residents from attacks by armed assailants. More than 180 have been killed since June 30, when amidst mass protests, the military removed Mohamad Morsi from the presidency. Today in Nasr City, thousands of pro-Morsi supporters marched calling for his return to office. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has also announced dozens of marches tomorrow. In a speech yesterday, General Abdel Fattah El Sisi called on Egyptians to show support for the military by demonstrating on Friday.

“I would like you to take to the streets to show you are endorsing the military and the police to put an end to violence and terrorism. We didn’t betray anybody. Don’t think I betrayed the former president.  I told him the Egyptian Army belongs to all Egyptians.”

Sound from Euronews. Tamarod, the group that led a petition campaign and sparked protests against Morsi, said it would come out Friday to support the armed forces. The Obama Administration is expected to tell lawmakers today that it does not consider the actions in Egypt a coup, which would allow it to continue sending $1.5 billion in annual military aid to the country. According to the AP, the State Department’s William Burns is meeting with members of the House and Senate today to discuss Egypt and make the case for the Administration’s view.

Citing lack of government action, Egyptians organize to combat sexual harassment against women

Ahead of the planned protests tomorrow in Egypt, concern is rising about accounts of sexual harassment of women. During the protests in Tahrir Square earlier this month, more than 150 sexual assaults took place over a five day period, including at least 80 the night the military removed Mohamed Morsi from power, according to civil rights and monitoring groups in Egypt. Even before recent protests, sexual harassment had reached epidemic proportions. Activists say because the government has failed to stem the problem, they’ve had to take matters into their own hands. FSRN’s Tanya Castle reports.

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