July 24, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 29


Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“I don’t ever again want to be reading another report into high death rates at a maternity unit.”

— Sir Ian Kennedy of Britain’s Healthcare Commission, on declining maternity-ward services (see “Public Health,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Car crash data must go public, court rules
Newspaper guild alleges retaliatory layoffs

*War Crimes*
On the run: Accused Balkan war criminals remain at large

*Public Health*
Europe: Birth rate down, maternity wards packed

*Water*
A grassroots water grab in California


TOP STORIES

* Car Crash Data Must go Public, Court Rules

The public will have access to previously secret government data about serious car accidents, a court ruled this week.

The decision, by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., found that the National Highway Safety Administration may not withhold so-called Early Warning data about serious accidents collected from manufacturers of automobiles, tires, child car seats and other related industries.

The companies have been required to submit the data to the government since 2003, under the TREAD Act, which was inspired by problems with Ford Explorers bearing Firestone tires that resulted in one of the largest tire recalls ever conducted.

But industry groups — notably the Rubber Manufacturers Association, a tiremaker trade organization — have fought to keep the information from the public, arguing that the data are proprietary.

The advocacy group Public Citizen sued to have the data available under the Freedom of Information Act, and the decision Tuesday ruled in its favor.

In a statement, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said, “The TREAD Act was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries, like those in the Ford/Firestone tire tragedy, by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products. Public availability of information under FOIA is critical to achieving that goal.”

The Los Angeles Times quoted a Rubber Manufacturers Association statement as saying, “With this decision, unverified information released by the government can be misinterpreted and thereby unnecessarily alarm motorists about products that are safe.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Government can’t withhold data on serious car accidents, court rules”
Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2008

“Court Upholds Public Access to Crash Data”
Commondreams.org, July 22, 2008

* Newspaper Guild Alleges Retaliatory Layoffs

Recent staff cuts at a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper are retaliatory against union organizers, critics allege.

The Northern California Media Workers Guild filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that The Contra Costa Times, part of Dean Singleton’s Bay Area News Group, targeted organizers behind the staff’s recent vote to unionize.

The Associated Press reports that the layoffs came two weeks after the vote in favor of union representation, and included several strong proponents of unionizing the Times’ 225 eligible employees.

Sara Steffens, who was voted chair of the paper’s bargaining unit, called her layoff retaliatory.

“They wanted to keep me from continuing to engage co-workers as we push for our first contract and they hoped this would send a message to scare people away from further union activity,” she told the AP.

The newspaper’s legal counsel called the charge “ridiculous.”

“The reporters laid off were in beats the papers did not believe they could continue to cover during the severe economic downturn they’ve had,” said Marshall Anstandig.

Management “took a hard look at areas where there was overlap or redundancies,” wrote Kevin Keane, editor of the Contra Costa Times, in a note to his staff.

–John Hornberg/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“Newspaper union files unfair labor practice charge”
Associated Press, July 15, 2008


WAR CRIMES

* On the Run: Accused Balkan War Criminals Remain at Large

A former Serbian leader accused of the massacre of thousands of Muslims in the mid-1990s has been apprehended, but several other accused war criminals remain at large.

Radovan Karadzic’s arrest Monday leaves Bosnian army chief Ratko Mladic and the former president of Croatia’s Krajina province, Goran Hadzic, wanted for crimes related to the Balkans’ civil wars.

Observers are saying Karadzic’s arrest will give new life to the hunt for Mladic, who is believed to have assumed a different identity and is living in Serbia, reported The Guardian.

“There have been no sightings in the past five years or more,” a Serbian official said. “But obviously there is more optimism now that Mladic will be caught. He’s a fugitive. He will not be feeling very comfortable today.”

French General Philippe Morillon, who commanded U.N. forces in Bosnia, told The Australian he expects Mladic’s arrest must come soon.

But it might not come easily.

Karadzic was seen as a comic figure in Serbia, James Lyon of the International Crisis Group told the Irish Times, while Mladic is considered a hero and a defender of Serbs.

The newspaper also noted that Hadzic is wanted for his part in a mass murder at Vukovar, Croatia, in 1991.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, both Hadzic’s and Mladic’s arrest are conditions for Serbia to enter the EU.

Karadzic wasn’t the only war criminal from the Balkans conflict to be arrested in recent weeks.

Stojan Zupljanin, a former Bosnian Serb police chief accused of war crimes during in the early 1990s, was arrested July 11 and extradited to the Hague, reports the Irish Times.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Karadzic’s arrest has prompted new interest in Dragan Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen who has also been accused of war crimes in the Balkans.

Known as “Captain Dragan,” Vasiljkovic is accused of killing Croatian civilians and ordering others to do so in the early 1990s while head of Serbian paramilitary forces.

Australia’s foreign minister, Stephen Smith, told the Morning Herald he hopes to have Vasiljkovic extradited to The Hague soon, following due legal process.

“He’s entitled to pursue his legal defenses before a relevant jurisdiction,” Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told the Morning Herald. “Australia is a relevant jurisdiction.”

Legal issues are already emerging in the arrests, with questions emerging about Karadzic’s detainment.

Sveta Vujacic, his lawyer, told Pravda that Karadzic was arrested Friday and detained in secret for three days.

“He just said that these people showed him a police badge and than he was taken to some place and kept in the room. And that is absolutely against the law what they did,” he told AP Television News. “The judge also said that he will look into this matter, who and why kept him for three days.”

According to the Irish Times, Karadzic will conduct his own defense before the international tribunal at The Hague.

Only Russia sounded a sour note about Karadzic’s arrest, the Australian reported. Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin said to Interfax news agency that Karadzic is not the only one who should stand trial for the conflict in Bosnia.

“If the Karadzic case merits being considered in The Hague, then next to him in the dock should be those who took the decision to bomb entirely innocent people, hundreds of whom died during the ‘democratization’ of the Balkans by the west,” he said.

Russia’s foreign ministry also voiced concern, accusing the U.N. war crimes tribunal of being biased.

— John Hornberg/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Karadzic arrest raises Aussie link”
Sydney Morning Herald, July 22, 2008

“World hails ‘historic’ Karadzic arrest”
The Australian, July 23, 2008

“Karadzic faces The Hague but hunt goes on for his general”
The Guardian, July 22, 2008

“Radovan Karadzic, mastermind of Europe’s worst massacre since WWII, arrested in Serbia”
Pravda, July 22, 2008

“Karadzic Arrest Hugely Improves Serbian Standing with EU”
Deutche Welle, July 22, 2008

“Still at large: Goran Hadzic”
Irish Times, July 23, 2008

“Serbian war crimes suspect extradited”
Irish Times, July 21, 2008

“Karadzic to conduct his own defence”
Irish Times, July 23, 2008

“Two war criminals still on the run”
Die Welt, July 22, 2008


PUBLIC HEALTH

* Europe: Birthrate Down, Maternity Wards Packed

While much has been made in recent years over declining birthrates in Europe and other parts of the industrialized world, some Western countries’ are having difficulty providing adequate health care for the births they do have.

Britain’s maternity services are so bad they endanger the lives of mothers and babies, according to a report released this week by the nation’s Healthcare Commission.

The Independent reports that the study was the largest of its kind ever conducted in Britain, and involved all 150 maternity hospitals in England.

“I don’t ever again want to be reading another report into high death rates at a maternity unit,” Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the commission, told the newspaper.

One of the key problems cited by the report was a lack of midwives to help busy doctors and nurses — a shortage that was noted in a separate report earlier this year.

The problem is not a lack of qualified midwives, but a lack of paying jobs for them; according to the study, less than 10 percent of midwifery students nearing graduation this spring had secured employment.

Scottish newspaper The Herald quoted one midwife student near graduation as saying, “It seems extremely unlikely that I will be able to secure a permanent post on qualifying. I will be unable to consolidate the experience I have gained during my training, which is extremely disheartening, as the demands of the course on individuals and their families are huge.”

Meanwhile Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is experiencing a small baby boom, which is creating long waiting lists and overcrowding at city hospitals.

According to the Prague Post, the 2007 birthrate was the highest in 25 years, and hospitals have been unable to cope with the increase.

Some have declared their maternity wards booked through early next year, even if that means refusing to admit expectant mothers in the late stages of pregnancy.

“We want to be able to handle all births, but (after a certain number) we’re unable to provide new mothers with quality care at the appropriate standards,” Luka Rob, chief of gynecology and obstetrics at Motol Hospital, told the Post. “This situation became quite acute in the past year … We’ve received some complaints from mothers about the system, and they were often absolutely right.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Beating the delivery line”
The Prague Post, July 16, 2008

“Mothers at risk in care crisis”
Independent (U.K.), July 10, 2008

“Student midwives face uncertainty”
BBC News, May 4, 2008

“‘Morale at an all-time low’ say student midwives”
The Herald, May 5, 2008


WATER

* A Grassroots Water Grab in California

The debate about water privatization is global, but many of the battles are local.

One such struggle ended recently, when the mountain community of Felton, on California’s central coast, won control of its water supply from California America Water, a unit of international conglomerate Rheinisch-Westfaelisches Elektrizitaetswerk.

According to the Press Banner, a local newspaper, the company settled out of court with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District to avoid an eminent trial.

Felton residents were concerned over rising water rates and potential service disruptions, and formed an advocacy group, Felton Friends of Water, in October 2002.

According to the group, their victory on June 5 has inspired them to help other municipalities struggling with similar issues.

An article on environmental advocacy Web site Naturalnews.com reported that after Britain’s water system went private, prices went up 45 percent while the quality of water and service went down.

The site claims that water is not a commodity to be traded for profit, but rather a basic human need that should be held in the public trust.

But supporters of private ownership say it can improve infrastructure and efficiency, and on a global scale it can help more people access clean water.

According to Ronald Bailey in Reason Magazine, more than a billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and privatization offers governments a way to ensure their citizens will receive clean and steady supplies.

Most water systems in the world remain publicly owned, and multiple campaigns to fight corporate ownership are being waged around the world.

In early 2007, activists from more than 40 African countries formed the African Water Network to halt privatization on the continent.

“The launch of this network should put the water privateers, governments and international financial institutions on notice that African will resist privatization,” Ghanian activist Al-hassan Adam told reporters from the World Development Movement.

A recent Newsdesk.org report noted that Paris recently decided to go public with its water for the first time in a hundred years, following the lead of developing countries like Bolivia, Mali and Uruguay.

In Nevada, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, a nonprofit, community-owned utility, acquired control of its water system in 2001, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The intent was to keep the water supply for three Nevada counties public, but a recent offer from the investment firm Goldman Sachs to lease the water authority has divided water authority’s board of directors.

Some board members see the lease as a business decision that would flood the county governments with an additional $100-160 million.

Others refuse to consider it.

“It took us a long time to get this into the hands of our citizens,” Councilman Mike Carrigan, chairman of the water board, told the Gazette.

He said rates would go up at least by 15 percent, translating into pure profit for the private company but extra cost for the public.

In the United States, the issue is up for debate at the federal level, with hearings on the Water Restoration Act of 2007 underway in Congress.

If the bipartisan bill passes, it will lead to federal control of all U.S. waters, to better control pollution.

Some, however, fear this will open the door for widespread privatization, according to Natural News, which compared the privatization of water to commercial control and patenting of food-crop seeds.

In Felton, the public vs. private value of the water system was sticking point.

California American Water priced the system as a private commodity worth roughly $23 million, while the local water district used a public utility formula to arrive at $7.6 million.

Negotiations out of court saw the final price at $10.5 million, which brought with it an additional $2.9 million in debt.

The company also included 250 acres of watershed land in the deal, which it donated to a local park.

–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Cal-Am settles over Felton water system”
Press Banner, June 6, 2008

“Pumped up for public water”
Newsdesk.org, July 2, 2008

“Water Is a Human Right”
Reason Magazine, August 17, 2005

“Water Restoration Act May Lead To Privatization of Water Supply”
Natural News, June 19, 2008

“Leasing plan costs TMWA its manager”
Reno Gazette-Journal, July 17, 2008


Editor: Josh Wilson

Interns: Julia Hengst, John Hornberg, T.J. Johnston

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