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29 minutes | Apr 28, 2017
FSRN Weekly Edition – April 28, 2017
Lawmakers go through the motions of appropriations showdown ritual Texas House passes most hardline immigration bill since Arizona’s SB 1070 Turkish officials carry out fresh purges; opposition contests referendum results Snake charmers in India lament loss of culture following outlawing of their practice Whistleblowers play a key role in Nigerian anti-corruption push…at their own risk FSRN signs off the air after 17 years of grassroots radio journalism Download Audio Lawmakers go through the motions of appropriations showdown ritual In what’s become a ritual on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House and Senate faced off in a government shutdown showdown this week. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more. Texas House passes most hardline immigration bill since Arizona’s SB 1070 In the wee hours Thursday morning, the state’s lower house passed a bill immigration policy observers say is the most radical state legislation since Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. It comes on the heels of a 9th Circuit Court ruling against the Trump administration’s attempts to deny federal funding to cities where local police do not take on federal immigration enforcement duties. The Texas bill, SB 4 passed the state Senate in February. Lawmakers from both chambers must reconcile final language before the bill heads to the desk of the governor who openly supports the measure. Shannon Young has more. Turkish officials carry out fresh purges as opposition continues to contest referendum results In Turkey, the government carried out a fresh series of raids this week, arresting another 1000 people and purging the police force of more than 9000 officers allegedly connected to the US-based cleric who President Recip Tayyip Erdogan blames for last summer’s attempted coup. The country remains under a state of emergency, extended after protesters took to the streets decrying what they say was fraud in the recent referendum. The plank of constitutional reforms that would grant President Erdogan much of the powers previously held by Parliament and the Judiciary officially passed with 51 percent of the vote, but opposition parties are contesting the results. Umar Farooq reports from Istanbul. Snake charmers in India lament loss of culture following outlawing of their practice Since ancient times in India, snake charming has been a popular form of entertainment. It’s also been the only source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of snake charmers. But several years ago the practice was declared illegal, leaving practitioners in dire economic straits. Bismillah Geelani, brings us the story of a community struggling for survival. Whistleblowers play a key role in Nigerian anti-corruption push…at their own risk In Nigeria, millions of dollars of stolen public funds have been recovered in recent months, as President Muhammadu Buhari wages a war against corruption. Whistleblowers are playing a major role, but exposing corruption can come at great cost in Nigeria, a country where graft is deeply entrenched and impunity has long been the norm. Whistleblowers, like journalists and anti-corruption activists face threats, including the risk of assassination. FSRN’s Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos. FSRN signs off the air after 17 years of grassroots radio journalism Since 2000, Free Speech Radio News’ mission has been to provide factual reports on important international and domestic news stories often missing in the corporate press — and to amplify the voices of the ignored and unheard. Those voices have been broadcast on radio stations across the U.S. in tens of thousands of news stories spanning 17 years. Today FSRN itself is in the news because of the stories we can no longer tell. The very first story reporter Lena Nozizwe produced for FSRN was about a transgender college student. Today her last report for us is about the beginnings, and the end of FSRN. Music in today’s program is by Sway via Jamendo.com
2 minutes | Apr 28, 2017
Lawmakers go through the motions of budget request showdown ritual
In what’s become a ritual on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House and Senate faced off in a government shutdown showdown this week. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more. Download Audio Friday morning, the House authorized a one-week extension to keep the lights on while they try to reach an agreement on funding for the balance of the current fiscal year. Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee called the continuing resolution a can-kicker, saying lawmakers still need to grapple with a budget proposal that undermines the governance of the nation. “My Houston Housing Authority has now stopped vouchers for families in Section 8 Housing for fear of not having the money,” the Texas Democrat told her colleagues on Friday. “They had breaking news two days ago saying those families ‘Don’t don’t show up, because we have no money to house you — similar to no money and no room at the inn.” The Senate followed suit hours later. The continuing resolution came a day after the GOP once again pulled a proposal for rewriting the nation’s health care law, failing a second time to rally enough votes within their own party. Moderate Republicans were concerned that insurers would be able charge consumers with pre-existing conditions exorbitant premiums. President Trump also capitulated on a trade-off: leaving subsidies to offset health insurance premiums for the poor in place while backtracking on a demand for a $1.4 billion “down payment” on the southern border wall he has repeatedly boasted Mexico would pay for. But plans to ramp up an immigration clampdown appear to be on track, with funding to expand immigration detention capacity by at least 21,000 beds and hire thousands of new Border Patrol and ICE agents still in the budget request.
6 minutes | Apr 28, 2017
Turkish officials carry out fresh purges as opposition continues to contest referendum results
The government of Turkey carried out a fresh series of raids this week, arresting another 1000 people and purging the police force of more than 9000 officers allegedly connected to the US-based cleric who President Recip Tayyip Erdogan blames for last summer’s attempted coup. The country remains under a state of emergency, extended after protesters took to the streets decrying what they say was fraud in the recent referendum. The plank of constitutional reforms that would grant President Erdogan much of the powers previously held by Parliament and the Judiciary officially passed with 51 percent of the vote, but opposition parties are contesting the results. Umar Farooq reports from Istanbul. Download Audio Every day since the referendum, thousands of people have taken part in protests like this one in Istanbul. “We are protesting here today because there were some frauds,” explains an anonymous protester. “We noticed the – I don’t know how to translate it – election committee, let’s say, changed the rules while the voting was still going on, and we think these changes were just for the government – Erdogan’s government’s – profit.” Scores of protesters have been detained, leaving some, like this man, too frightened to give their names. But they keep coming out each night because they are angry at Turkey’s Supreme Election Commission, which has refused to entertain allegations of fraud. The Commission’s decisions are final and cannot be appealed to any court. Gürkan Özturan is part of Dokuz 8, one of several civil society groups that monitored the voting and collected evidence of electoral irregularities like ballot stuffing and the presence of armed men inside polling stations. “Mostly these kinds of stories but also reports regarding unstamped ballots, the invalid ballots. They have been reporting throughout the day, starting from morning until evening, that people have been saying that on the envelopes, on the ballots, there were no official stamps making it a valid ballot,” says Özturan. “So this we have started seeing throughout the day, from very early hours.” Opposition parties, as well as a team of monitors from the European Union, say both the campaigning and the vote itself were not free and fair. With the results, so close and the stakes so high, they are calling for a revote. But Harun Armagan, a member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, says the opposition is unhappy with the results and is trying to sidestep what was a historic moment for Turkey’s democracy: “When the result is very close – in terms of percentage, not in terms of numbers, because the numbers say 1.4 million difference between two votes – they just want to create an atmosphere to create a question for national and international bodies, that this result is not trustable [sic].” Armagan says Turkish voters approved the constitutional reforms that consolidate power in the president’s office, so their demands can be more efficiently met by the government. “This is about taking the country to a more democratic system and taking the country to a more efficient system, a more progressive system. Because we have seen the system that Turkey currently has was set up to dysfunction. It’s a very slow process, it’s taking a lot of time to make even simple decisions, and there are a lot of coalitions that don’t last long,” says Armagan. “And the president and prime minister usually are from different political opinions, which creates problems for Turkey. And we have seen that how Turkey can actually progress a lot when these are not the problems. We have experienced this personally, during AK Party time.” The referendum ended up being not so much about the balance of powers in the country, but about the track record of Erdogan’s party. Since it came to power in 2002, Turkey’s GDP per capita has tripled, and many legal restrictions on overt religious practices, for instance wearing the headscarf in public schools, have been repealed. There was even a period where the government engaged in a peace process to end a three-decade old separatist Kurdish insurgency. For many of Turkey’s conservatives, Erdogan is the man who can ensure those policies continue, even if that means he must be handed broad powers. As long as Erdogan keeps winning elections, Armagan says, he cannot be called a dictator. But for activists like Özturan, the referendum, and Turkey’s struggle to become a true democracy holds an important lesson for the rest of the world. “When democratic process is considered as a tool of the few, or a certain kind of ideology this, in time, tends to create an antithesis, an anti-system party decides to become more radical, and over time can become more popular among the society depending on the number of people who feel excluded from the system from the society and from the legal procedure,” Özturan explains. “If people feel their vote does not count, their rights cannot be sought through the legal procedure, then populist waves can come, and if the people feel the discomfort they will eventually slide towards more populist authoritarian figures which promise them leadership and comfort.” Opposition parties have announced they will appeal the referendum results to the European Court of Human Rights. But there is little indication the government will reconsider the raft of constitutional amendments, which it says now has the public’s support.
5 minutes | Apr 27, 2017
Snake charmers in India lament loss of culture following outlawing of their practice
In India, snake charming has been a popular form of entertainment since ancient times. It has also been the only source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of snake charmers. But several years ago, the practice was declared illegal, leaving snake charmers in dire straits. Bismillah Geelani reports on how the community is now struggling for survival. Download Audio At the Surajkund Craft Fair on the outskirts of Delhi, a group of local folk musicians is entertaining the visitors. Wearing orange dresses with matching turbans, they play melodious tunes of popular Hindi songs on the gourd flute – or Been. Their performances enthrall the audience and many break into dance. But the musicians themselves don’t look very enthusiastic. “This is not what we want to do; it’s been thrust upon us,” says 75-year-old Badri Nath, who heads the troupe. “But since our original work has been banned, this is the all we can do. Whether we are happy or not doesn’t matter.” Badri and his companions are all snake charmers. For generations, they made their living street performing with snakes in villages and towns across India. But snake charming in no longer legal, and Badri says that leaves them unable to make ends meet. “Snakes and snake charmers have been together from time immemorial. This is the only thing we and our ancestors have known and lived on for centuries. Now it has been taken away from us. We have not only lost our livelihood we have been cut off from our roots,” says Badri. “These performances here can sustain a few us for a few days, but what after that? And what about the rest of the community?” Snake charming was banned under the Wildlife Protection Act in the late 1990s. The law prohibits catching, owning and performing with snakes. Initially, the government didn’t enforce the ban, and snake charmers carried on with their work. But a few years later, animal rights activists pressured authorities to clampdown on snake charmers. “They basically dehydrate them; they stick them in a box and forget about them, use them whenever they want to make a performance or beg some money from people,” explains Kartik Satyanarayan, from the conservation group Wildlife SOS, who says the charmers abuse the snakes, and there’s been a noticeable decline in their numbers. “Once the job is done they just throw the snake away, because they don’t care, and snake then sometimes dies, it takes some weeks of starvation to die because the fangs have been removed, the venom glands have been removed, they can’t really hunt and fend for themselves any more.” But nnake charmers strongly deny the charges of animal cruelty. The ban affected an estimated 800,000 snake charmers living in India. Many switched to other occupations, like rickshaw pulling, street vending and working as construction and agricultural laborers. But an overwhelming majority remain jobless. Some, however, refuse to give up the tradition. Like this snake charmer performing on a Delhi street. He opens his baskets, and three cobras rise up, flaring their hoods in a menacing stance and appearing to dance to the music from his Been. He then moves closer to the audience, showing them the reptiles and explaining differences between the species. But soon a policeman arrives and the snake charmer quickly flees the scene. His brother, Birju Nath, says they are used to playing this game of hide and seek with the both the police and forest officials. “They arrest us and take away our snakes. But if we stop doing this, what else is there for us?” Nath asks. “We have no business or land to fall back on. Without this we will simply starve to death.” But the younger generation shows no interest in continuing the legacy. Youth, like 21-year-old Shankar, want to do something more attune to modern times. Back at the craft fair, the snake charmers are playing a Sufi song – or Qawwali. The audience is swaying and whirling to its tunes. With their baskets empty, the snake charmers are pinning all their hopes on the Been. Another member of the music troupe Vikrambir Nath, explains: “There are so many musical instruments out there but the Been stands out. It belongs exclusively to us and it is completely homemade. We make it with gourd and bamboo. It represents us as a community and our unique way of life and it is part of India’s cultural heritage. It needs to be preserved and that would require state patronage and promotion.” Vikrambir Nath says unless the government invests in preserving the history and music of the snake charmers, within a few decades the centuries long practice will disappear without a trace. And without cultural preservation, the very instrument with which they’ve plied their trade – the Been – could become extinct.
5 minutes | Apr 26, 2017
Whistleblowers play a key role in Nigerian anti-corruption push…at their own risk
In Nigeria, millions of dollars of stolen public funds have been recovered in recent months, as President Muhammadu Buhari wages a war against corruption. Whistleblowers are playing a major role in the government’s anti-corruption drive. But exposing corruption can be at great cost in Nigeria, a country where corruption is deeply entrenched and impunity has been the norm. Whistleblowers, like journalists and anti-corruption activists, face threats including the risk of being assassinated for exposing corruption. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos. Download Audio Street protests to call on the Nigerian government to combat corruption and provide basic public services like water infrastructure, electricity, roads and healthcare have become commonplace. Infrastructure is often either lacking in Nigeria or poorly maintained due to widespread corruption like looting of the public coffers or cutting corners in the construction of public works projects. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been trying to make good on campaign promises to root out corruption and has thus far been successful in a number of high profile cases. Some of them involve billions of public dollars. In these investigations whistleblowers have played a key role, and some have paid a high price. Olu Ibirogba said he was fired from his job as a school financial administrator and harassed after he brought forward allegations of corruption at his workplace. “My office was sealed off; my official residence where I was staying was locked up. And I am being persecuted and I was remanded in prison custody for two weeks. Even the psychological trauma is there,” Ibirogba recalls. “I am suffering here in silence. Those who have done the right thing should not be made to look as if they have done the wrong thing.” A crowd in Nigeria welcomed a former state governor after he served a jail term in Britain. This is the Nigerian irony. Many of those who steal public funds give part of the loot to people who become their loyal supporters. These supporters always stand by them, especially when they get into trouble with looted funds. Most of those involved in high profile corruption cases are senior government officials. They’ve been known to use their positions to hunt down those who exposed them. Key witnesses in corruption cases have been harassed or even assassinated. The same silencing tactics have also been deployed against journalists uncovering corruption. Stella Nwofia is with the International Press Center in Lagos. “Most times journalists who are involved in whistleblowing are arrested, detained and nothing comes out of it,” explains Nwofia. “For example one journalist was beaten to a point of stupor and nothing was done about it. So, most times journalists are at risk for doing their job, bringing information to the people.” Even members of parliament are not immune to intimidation tactics. Abdulmumin Jibrin, a parliamentarian who accused some of his colleagues of corruption, was shouted down on the floor of the house mid last year. He was subsequently suspended from parliament and he had to flee Nigeria following death threats. Many who were victimized on account of exposing corruption are not as powerful and have fewer recourses to fight back against retaliation. Bamidele Ajinde, who lost his job after exposing corruption, says he is going through difficult times: “So, I have been jobless, my last son is at home now. I can’t send him to school. Even to eat now is extremely difficult. Even, I can’t perform my minimum responsibility as a father and a husband at home.” There are now calls for a law to protect whistleblowers giving the risks they face. Rashidat Okoduwa is of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC. The commission prosecutes people involved in corrupt practices. She says she looks forward to the enactment of a law to protect whistleblowers. “We do hope it will be enacted very soon because it is a major obstacle to our work. People are afraid that when they blow the whistle on corrupt acts, they will be victimized, their lives might be in danger. You will find that when you protect them, they know that they are protected, their families are protected they will come out more,” Okoduwa points out. “We still have people reporting now, but they are doing it under a lot of fear. We have people working in organizations, they report some people in that organization they are afraid for their lives, so we want that law to be enacted.” The irony perhaps is that, while on the one hand, the government is fighting corruption, majority of the attacks on whistleblowers are being instigated or perpetrated by government officials who still want to remain corrupt in spite of the anti-corruption drive. Which hand wins will come down to the force of political will.
2 minutes | Apr 26, 2017
Indigenous Brazilians protest stalled process for legal protections
An Indigenous protest in Brazil’s capital Brasilia erupted in violence Tuesday, with police firing gas and rubber bullets to push back the protesters from the seat of Congress. The demonstration is part of a four day, mass mobilization of Indigenous leaders from across Brazil who gathered in the capital, calling for land rights and against the weakening of indigenous institutions and anti-Indigenous legislation. From Brasilia, Sam Cowie reports. Download Audio Organizers in Brasilia estimate more than 3,000 Indigenous people protested outside of the nation’s congress Tuesday before police dispersed them using tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Kleber Karipuna, an indigenous leader from the Amazon state of Amapa, said that it was a peaceful protest that turned violent because of the police. “What happened today was a demonstration of how this illegitimate government treats its people, in our case, indigenous people: with total disrespect, not fulfilling their duties, being confrontational and attacking indigenous people like they have always been attacked,” Karipuna says. Indigenous groups from across the country are camped near the seat of Congress as part of a four-day mobilization of indigenous people in Brazil called Free Land Encampment, an annual event now in its 14th year, organized by the Articulation of Brazil Indigenous People. This year’s event is focusing on indigenous demarcations, which give indigenous people land tenure and legal mechanisms to defend their territory against encroachment by invading groups, like illegal loggers or miners. The process of enshrining demarcation in law has stalled and no new territorial demarcations have been decreed in more than a year. Participants in the Free Land Encampment also say the post-impeachment government [of current President Michel Temer] is weakening indigenous institutions like Brazil’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) by funding cuts and advancing legislation like congressional amendment PEC215 which would transfer demarcation power to Brazil’s Congress. The event comes as indigenous leaders say their communities’ rights are under increasing threat from a government heavily aligned with agribusiness and resource extraction interests in the midst of economic recession.
4 minutes | Apr 24, 2017
Earth Day 2017: When support for science and evidence-based research became motives for a march
On Saturday – Earth Day 2017 – hundreds of thousands of people in more than 600 locations around the world demonstrated in support of empirical evidence and scientific research. In the U.S. recent executive actions and threats of defunding the EPA and NIH have alarmed scientists and citizens, and statements and tweets by the president have not only underestimated science, but expertise of all kinds. So professionals in scientific fields are doing something they never imagined would be part of their job: getting active and vocal. FSRN’s Larry Buhl has more from a rally in Los Angeles. Download Audio Tens of thousands people gathered in downtown Los Angeles Saturday, carrying signs evoking anger and irony, and heavy on science puns. The march brought out scientists and average citizens worried that statements and policy out of Washington not only ignore scientific conclusions, but undermine science itself. “There is a force coming out of Washington, D.C. called the Trump administration that is out to deny truth and bury science,” said Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate. “They’re doing this because they’re putting corporate profits ahead of clean air, clean water and the safety of the planet. “ “Our job is to try to understand reality, not to make decisions for society. When I worked with Mayor Garcetti at city hall, I didn’t tell him what to do. I came in to make sure he understood the implications of his decisions,” seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones recalled. “That’s what science is about – making sure we understand what’s real.” “My years on the house science committee taught me that policy should be guided by scientific consensus,” said U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman. They were among dozens of speakers who scolded the administration for dismissing scientific research. They say the proposed six billion dollar cut to the National Institute of Health, the slashing of earth science research at NASA, whacking the EPA’s budget by 30 percent, and policies like the rollback of fuel economy standards, amount to a war on science by a president who’s cabinet includes climate change deniers. And when one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses backtracks on international climate agreements, the results are global. Protesters say the Trump administration is only the most immediate threat in a longer-term war on evidence-based research. They say the march was a grassroots response to disciplines that should never be politicized. “Scientific research has reached certain conclusions, and those are irrespective of politics,” explains Philip Wheeler is a former chemist and co-organizer of the Los Angeles rally. “However, when politicians decide to ignore scientific research, or, more important, scientific findings, evidence, data that goes against their ideology, they’re the ones bringing politics into it.” What started off as a march of literal scientists in Washington, D.C. quickly morphed into a worldwide phenomenon, a grassroots outpouring aided by social media and modeled on the Women’s March in January. Professionals in science disciplines are not accustomed to promoting their work; they assume it speaks for itself. But the American public doesn’t always agree. A 2014 Pew poll showed significant gaps between the views of scientists and the general public. Eighty-six percent of scientist polled said childhood vaccines should be required, but only 68 percent of the general public thought so. Eighty-seven percent of scientists said climate change was caused by human activity, versus only 50 percent of the public. Saturday’s marches are partly an acknowledgement that professionals in scientific fields need to do a better job of communicating the difference between scientific conclusions and opinion. “As scientists, we need to stand up for the fact that what we do is important and has real world implications for what’s happening today and what’s going to happen in the future,” oceanographer Adam Savosh said. “We realize that we have to preserve science as an institution because it’s under attack right now at the federal level,” said Eddie Isaacs of 314 Action. “And we want to recruit scientists, engineers, doctors to get involved in public life and eventually run for public office.” “If it’s not all of us making this change, then it will be just a few lawmakers who profit from the oil and gas industry making decisions that affect all of us living beings,” educator Leah Garland explained. Organizers admit that one day of protest won’t be enough to turn around years of political attacks on science-related fields. They say in coming weeks they’ll be brainstorming on how to harness the energy of these rallies and push back on those who try to marginalize science. Or as one banner put it: “What do we want? Science-based policy. When do we want it? After peer review.”
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