Sep 30 2011

Weekly Digest – 09/30/11

Our weekly edition is a nationally syndicated one-hour digest of the best of our daily coverage.

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This week on Uprising:

* Mark Levine on Tunisia: The First Revolution of the Arab Spring Faces Elections
* Black Agenda Report on the Occupy Wall Street Protests
* Report Finds Sharp Increase in Health Insurance Premiums
* Uprising EXCLUSIVE: Two Members of the Irvine 11 Share Their Story for the First Time

* * *

Mark Levine on Tunisia: The First Revolution of the Arab Spring Faces Elections

The first country to overthrow its ruler, setting off the Arab Spring revolts, is facing the first test of its revolution. Tunisia will hold elections on October 23rd, to pick an Assembly that will write a new Constitution. Tunisia’s long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown after more than two decades in power, by a broad grassroots uprising, on January 14 2011. Now, more than a 100 political parties have formed in preparation for the elections which will shape Tunisia’s post-revolution future. In an interview with Associated Press, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi called the elections “a landmark in the modern history of Tunisia.” Kefi addressed the United Nations General Assembly last week pledging to uphold the principles of the revolution and complete a transition to democracy. Since the fall of Ben Ali, there have been scattered protests and strikes, leading the country’s transitional government to revive the old emergency laws. However, in recent weeks, the unrest has quieted in preparation for the elections. Despite the US’s long standing support for the dictatorial regime that was ousted, President Barack Obama is eager to embrace the new government, with a meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid El Sebsi planned for October 7th. The White House has said Obama will discuss “America’s strong support for Tunisia’s historic transition to democracy, as well as a broad range of bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest.” A delegation of US Congressman headed by California Republican David Drier traveled to Tunisia this week, saying that the Tunisian revolution was a “defeat against Al Qaida” (AP) and announcing the presence of American observers during the elections.

GUEST: Mark Levine, weekly columnist for Al Jazeera English, Professor of History at UC Irvine, author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam; he just returned from a trip to Tunisia

Find out more about Mark Levine’s work at www.culturejamming.org.

Black Agenda Report on the Occupy Wall Street Protests

Glen Ford is a writer, radio commentator, and Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. This week’s commentary is about the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Visit www.blackagendareport.com for more information.

Report Finds Sharp Increase in Health Insurance Premiums

The annual Kaiser Family Foundation Survey on health insurance premiums has found that employers paid 9% more for family coverage in 2011 than in the previous year. Last year health insurance premiums went up only three percent. On average, family coverage costs $15, 073 a year, an increase of almost double from 2001. Employers are not shouldering the growing burden alone. Kaiser’s survey revealed employees are paying over $4,000 dollars a year for their job-based insurance, on top of out-of-pocket co-pays, deductibles, and other healthcare costs. The reasons for the spike are not clear-cut, but Kaiser attributed 1 to 2% percentage points of it to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration is on the defensive. White House Chief Deputy of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle took to the White House blog, summing up the administration’s response as, “The Kaiser report is informative, but it’s a look backwards.” The administration believes its Affordable Care Act will bring premiums down, soon. DeParle argues insurance companies overestimated the costs associated with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, so premiums went up without an equal increase in cost. She cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that for the first half of this year, the health insurance employer cost index “was the lowest it has been in over 10 years.” Also, for 13 of 14 major insurance companies, profits were 45% higher in the first quarter of 2011 than expected. However the belief that healthcare reform is driving up costs remains strong. Katy Mahoney, Executive Director for Health Policy at the US Chamber of Commerce told NPR’s All Things Considered that Obama’s regulations are to blame .

GUEST: Dr. Rachel Nardin is Chief of Neurology at Cambridge Health Alliance, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and co-chair of the Massachusetts chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Find out more at www.pnhp.org.

Uprising EXCLUSIVE: Two Members of the Irvine 11 Share Their Story for the First Time

An Orange County jury on Friday September 23rd found ten of the so-called Irvine 11 students guilty of disrupting a public meeting and conspiring to disrupt a public meeting. The misdemeanor charges were brought over their actions during a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on the campus of UC Irvine in 2010. Members of the Muslim Student Union stood up one after another during the speech, interrupting Ambassador Oren from speaking, and walked out, to be arrested. UC Irvine’s administration disciplined the Muslim Student Union by suspending its charter for one quarter and placing it on probation for 2 years even though they maintains that they, as a group, did not organize the action. However Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas picked up the case as a criminal matter, charging the individual students with conspiring to commit a crime and for disturbing a meeting. The case attracted national attention and many people, including some who disagree with the students’ tactics, say the DA and the jury violated the students’ right to freedom of speech. However, UC Irvine’s Law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who specializes in Constitutional Law and has even represented detainees held at Guantanamo, said in a recent LA Times Op-Ed, “[f]reedom of speech, on campuses and elsewhere, is rendered meaningless if speakers can be shouted down by those who disagree,” and that “those who yelled to keep the ambassador from being heard were not engaged in constitutionally protected behavior.” However, another UCI Professor, Rei Tereda, who has taught courses on the customs and practices of campus protests, said that the moderators of Oren’s speech did not have the authority to lay out ground rules for politeness and decorum at the outset of the event and that the students method of protest was a common one. The case of the Irvine 11 has been seen as a test of how far students can go in their on-campus protest actions, and also of racial and religious discrimination faced by Muslim students on campuses. The ten UC Irvine students faced up to a year in prison, but ended up being sentenced to 56 hours of community service, fines, and probation.

GUESTS: Osama Shabaik and Taher Herzallah, two of the Irvine 11

Watch a video of their interview here.

Sonali’s Subversive Thought for the Day

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” — Maya Angelou

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