New York’s transit strike is over. Service is returning to normal after a three-day walkout that shut down the largest public transportation system in the country. On Thursday afternoon, leaders of the 33,000-member Transport Workers Union voted 36 to 5 to return to work and resume negotiations. According to several news accounts, transportation authority officials indicated they would remove a deal-breaking, last-minute demand news workers pay 6 percent of their earnings towards their pensions, up from 2 percent. Negotiations will continue towards reaching a final agreement.
In other news, Bill Rodgers, an Arizona environmentalist and bookstore owner has died in his prison cell just two weeks after his arrest. Rodgers was one of six activists picked up by the FBI on December 7. They were all accused of setting a series of arsons in the Pacific Northwest that had been linked to the Earth Liberation Front. Prison officials are calling Rodger’s death a suicide. A medical examiner say Rodgers died of asphyxiation after he placed a plastic bag over his head. Rodgers was 40 years old. He was best known in Prescott, Arizona for running the Catalyst infoshop.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting Stanislas Meyerhoff — one of the six arrested environmental activists — has agreed to testify against the others. The development was revealed in court papers filed by the defense team of Chelsea Gerlach, who is being held without bail in Eugene, Oregon. Gerlach’s attorneys said the credibility of Meyerhoff and another informant, Jacob Ferguson, has already been undermined. Meyerhoff faces life in prison without parole if convicted on charges of being in possession of a firebomb.
The disclosure comes as the Justice Department has admitted that the President’s eavesdropping program does not comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Along with another wiretapping statute, FISA defines itself as: "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted." The admission came in a letter to Congress Thursday.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the House has rejected a Senate-approved six-month extension of the USA Patriot Act — granting it only a one-month extension instead. The Senate measure had been seen as a face-saving measure for the Bush administration, which had pushed to make most of the Patriot Act permanent. The move will force the White House and Senate leaders back into negotiations that had stalled over concerns the proposed legislation lacked adequate safeguards for civil liberties.
In other Washington news, indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is reportedly close to a plea agreement that would see him provide testimony against former political and business associates. A source told the New York Times the deal could come as early as next week. Abramoff has been the focus of a wide-ranging corruption probe that has widened to implicate several Republican legislators and aides on Capitol Hill. Abramoff faces charges in Miami stemming from his purchase of several casino boats in the year 2000.
This news on Guantanamo Bay: the Washington Post is reporting a federal judge has ruled the detention of two ethnic Uighurs at the U.S. prison is "unlawful", but says he does not have the authority to release them. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the government has taken too long to release Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu Hakim — who have been jailed for four years. The two have been cleared for release, but not returned to China where they would likely face torture or execution.. The two men are among nine detainees that remain at Guantanamo despite having been declared "no longer enemy combatants." In his ruling, Judge Robertson wrote: "The government’s use of the Kafka-esque term 'no longer enemy combatants' deliberately begs the question of whether these petitioners ever were enemy combatants."
And in California, a jury has awarded $172 million dollars to over 110,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees who said they were illegally denied lunch breaks. The jury found that Wal-Mart violated a state law that guarantees an unpaid half-hour lunch break to workers who work at least six hours, and grants them an extra hour’s pay if they are denied this break. Wal-Mart says it will appeal the ruling. The case is one of around 40 across the country where Wal-Mart stands accused of workplace violations.
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