New Coalition Calls for Action Against Diesel Pollution in Michigan

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A new coalition called the Alliance for Healthy Air is calling for the Michigan legislature to pass legislation that would crack down on diesel pollution.

The coalition says that diesel pollution from vehicles can be easily reduced by as much as 90% by retrofitting existing vehicles with pollution control technology. In order to advocate this goal, the coalition is asking that Michigan legislature set an example by retrofitting all state vehicles and is also calling on the City of Detroit to make a similar commitment. In addition, the group seeks a 70% reduction in diesel pollution by 2020.

Informing their work is research that shows that diesel pollution is a threat to public health. In a press release announcing the effort, the group writes that:

In Wayne County, the lifetime cancer risk from diesel pollution is 429 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable cancer level of 1 in 1,000,000. The high particulate levels in Detroit have led to extremely high children’s asthma rates: one in five children in Detroit have asthma, and asthma hospitalizations for children are three times the statewide average. Wayne County’s risk factor is the highest in Michigan and ranks 80 out of 3,109 counties nationally.

National Call-In Day to Demand an Exit Plan for Afghanistan

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Fresh off the disappointing passage of more money for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice has declared today a national call-in day to Congress to demand an “exit plan” from Afghanistan.

The group writes:

This week, the House passed the war-funding Supplemental bill, providing $79.9 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With this vote, the House has effectively ratified the escalation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It has done this without any indication of an ‘exit plan’ from the Obama administration.

Tackling this problem is Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill HR 2404, which would require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress outlining an ‘exit plan’ for U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2009. Congressman McGovern’s bill is gaining support and now has 87 co-sponsors. And we’re urging your support now, too.

Today is National Call-In Day to Congress on the McGovern bill and UFPJ urges you to contact your members of Congress to sign-on as a co-sponsor, if they have not already done so. Once you make your calls, please report them back to us here:

http://www.unitedforpeace.org/form.php?modin=163

The Congressional Switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

United for Peace and Justice goes on to assert that while they were disappointed by the passage of the funding bill, peace activists made it extremely difficult for the White House to get the bill passed.

U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

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This week, the United States Senate passed a resolution that apologizes for slavery. It’s pretty sad that it took well over one-hundred years to get to this point, but at least it’s something. It should be noted that Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both co-sponsored the resolution.

To be sure, a Senate resolution can’t under the reality of dehumanization and oppression–or the legacy of slavery’s contemporary manifestations–a fact that the Senate recognizes:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;

The Senate resolution apologizes for both slavery and Jim Crow:

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sense of the Congress is the following:

(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

The Congress–

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

Of course, the kicker:

(2) DISCLAIMER.–Nothing in this resolution–

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

It’s disappointing that the resolution excludes the prospect of reparations, but that is likely to be an ongoing battle that needs to be waged by progressives and radicals.

“Read the Bill” Legislation Introduced in Congress

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Back in February, MediaMouse.org reported on a campaign called “Read the Bill” that was calling for the passage of legislation that would require Congress to post bills online for 72 hours before voting on them. The legislation would allow time for members of Congress, the media (including bloggers and citizen journalists), and the public to review pending legislation. All too often, legislators vote on bills without ever taking the time to read them. This is especially true of more complex bills such as trade agreements and the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

The Read the Bill coalition–which is endorsed by a number of different organizations–announced this week that legislation has been introduced in Congress that would require bills to be posted online 72 hours prior to them being voted on. The bill–H.R. 554–is co-sponsored by Reps. Baird (D-WA) and Culberson (R-TX).

The coalition cites a few examples of why this bill is needed:

  • Most citizens would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses – if only they had known.
  • The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme.
  • Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. We know how that worked out.
  • And, just about everyone benefits from mandating time to check for questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

The Read the Bill coalition has setup an online system for contacting your legislators to ask them to both support and co-sponsor the bill in order to improve its chances of passing. Additionally, it is circulating a petition and is hoping to get 15,000 signatures before Congress’s August recess–you should add yours today.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Capitol News Coverage Dying; Bill Targets Teachers Who Strike

Here are some interesting stories published elsewhere on the web in the past twenty-four hours. Feel free to discuss them in the comments or let us know if we missed anything:

  • Capitol news coverage dying – This column from the Lansing City Pulse by MIRS editor Kyle Melinn looks at the dramatic decline in news coverage at the capitol. Over the past several years, media outlets across Michigan have dramatically reduced the number of reporters covering the state capitol. With important issues before the legislature–such as the upcoming budget–Melinn says that people want to know what is going on in Lansing, but he isn’t sure if there will be reporters to satisfy their interest.
  • Health and Hope – This is an interesting article from Rapid Growth Media about a dentist who was inspired by a trip to Africa to give up his lucrative dental practice in the suburbs to provide dental care for low income patients in the Burton Heights neighborhood as part of Health Intervention Services. The clinic is part of the Free Clinics of Michigan network. To be sure, it’s going to take a lot more than individual acts of charity and selflessness to fix the health care system in the United States, but it’s great to see things like this.
  • GRIID Interviews Kathy KellyThe Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) interviews activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence. Kelly was in Grand Rapids last night to speak about her recent trip to Pakistan and what she learned from talking with refugees who have been displace by U.S. drone attacks.
  • War Funding Coverage Full of Omissions – Over the past week, MediaMouse.org has reported on the debate over war funding in the House of Representatives. In particular, we have looked how the Democratic Party has been willing to sellout its anti-war constituents. In this piece, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) looks at how the war funding bill was covered in the Grand Rapids Press. Not surprisingly, it was barely covered, but what can you really expect from a newspaper that has no national reporters?
  • White House Says, ‘Stand Tall, Michigan!’ – The Obama administration’s so-called “green jobs czar” says that Michigan has everything it needs to make it “a green energy capital of the world.” The only thing missing is the political will to adopt green policies.
  • Proposed bills tell teachers one strike, they’re out – Two proposed bills in the Michigan House of Representatives will make it easier to punish teachers who participate in strikes. The bills would enact new penalties–including loss of certification for two years–on teachers who strike. Teacher strikes were made illegal under a 1994 law.
  • Dow dioxin cleanup in mid-Michigan could take years – This article from the Detroit Free Press describes a pretty typical pollution scenario. A corporation–in this case Dow Chemical–contaminates a large swath of land with a toxic chemical–in this case dioxin. After several years of citizen complaints, the EPA finally decides to investigate the issue. First, they promise a study. Then, they decide how to clean it up, then they actually (more often, a maybe) start doing the work. It takes years before the pollution is ever cleaned up. In this case, clean up could last until 2018.

Headlines: Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing; Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing; Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding Bill

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Backs Vote Outcome

In his first public response to days of protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has defended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rightful winner of last week’s presidential election. Addressing thousands of people at Tehran University, the ayatollah appealed for calm and called for an end to the protests calling for a new election. Khamenei’s comments come after six days of massive street demonstrations organized by backers of presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. On Thursday hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters rallied in Tehran to mourn those killed over the past week. Meanwhile the Iranian human rights attorney and Nobel Peace Prizer winner Shirin Ebadi has called for new elections under the watch of international monitors.

Shirin Ebadi: “I think that if new elections are organised but if there are no international observers, no matter what the outcome of these new elections would be, it could be protested and rejected by one or the other parties.”

Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding Bill

The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly approved a $106 billion emergency spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue the war in Iraq. The vote was 91 – 5. Voting against the war-spending bill was Democrat Russ Feingold, Independent Bernie Sanders and three Republicans: Jim Demint, Mike Enzi and Tom Coburn. The spending bill also includes $420 million for the Mexican government to fight the drug war as well as increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. The House passed a similar war-spending bill earlier this week. Much of the spending bill will go toward expanding the U.S. war in Afghanistan. On Thursday Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted civilian casualties in Afghanistan have become a major strategic vulnerability in that war.

Robert Gates: “It is clear that we need to do much more to overcome what I believe is one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities. The Afghan people must be reassured that US and NATO forces are there as friends, partners and, along with Afghan security forces, their protectors as well.”

U.S. Moves Missile Defense System to Hawaii

Defense Secretary Gates has said the U.S. is moving ground-to-air missile defense systems to Hawaii as tensions escalate between Washington and North Korea Robert Gates said that the U.S. is concerned that Pyongyang might soon fire a missile toward Hawaii.

Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing

Prisoners attempting to challenge their convictions have been dealt a major setback by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled Thursday that criminals do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said it is up to the states and Congress to decide who has a right to testing that might prove innocence long after conviction. In the dissenting opinion, John Paul Stevens wrote QUOTE “there is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done.” The Innocence Project says DNA testing has exonerated 240 people nationwide, at least 17 of whom had been sentenced to die.

Court Ruling Limits Workplace Age-Discrimination Lawsuits

The Supreme Court has also issued a ruling that will make it much harder for older workers to win workplace age-discrimination claims. In another 5-4 decision, the court ruled that workers bear the full burden of proving that age was the deciding factor in their dismissal or demotion. The business community praised the decision, while the National Senior Citizens Law Center and AARP sharply criticized it.

Immigrant Rights Group Criticize Lax Sentencing in Penn. Murder Case

Immigrant rights groups are outraged over the sentencing of two white teenagers involved in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The teenagers will serve as little as six months in jail. Last month an all-white jury exonerated the two former high school football players of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating.

100 U.S-Born Children Filed Suit to Block Deportations Of Their Parents

100 U.S.-born children have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the deportations of their parents until Congress overhauls U.S. immigration laws. The Miami-based American Fraternity organization argues that the constitutional rights of these children are being violated because they will likely have to leave the country if their parents are deported.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested at West Virginia Mine

In West Virginia, 14 anti-coal protesters were arrested Thursday when then attempted to scale a 150-foot-high excavating machine at a mine owned by Massey Energy and unfurled a huge banner that read, “Stop Mountaintop Removal.” The piece of equipment, known as a dragline, can remove house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth. The protest shut down Massey’s Twilight Mine for several hours.

LA Teachers End 24-Day Hunger Strike

In Los Angeles, a group of teachers have ended their 24-day hunger strike to protest budget cuts. The teachers said they will now organize a campaign to recall some members of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. Thousands of Los Angeles teachers may soon be fired as the district faces a $700-million budget gap.

Peru’s Congress Overturns Land Laws

The Peruvian Congress has overturned two controversial land laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. The laws would have opened large areas of the Peruvian Amazon to logging, dams and oil drilling. Indigenous leader Daysi Zapata praised the decision by the Peruvian Congress.

Daysi Zapata: “Today is a very historic day for all indigenous people and the entire country of Peru. We, the indigenous peoples, are present here because we believe that the demands of the indigenous peoples were just.”

Texas Billionaire Stanford Surrenders to FBI

Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford has surrendered to FBI agents. The chairman of the Stanford Financial Group is to appear in court this morning. Earlier this year the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against Stanford and his top executives of conducting an $8 billion fraud.

Court Overturns Ban on Military Recruitment of Minors

In California a federal judge has struck down laws in two Northern California cities banning military recruitment of minors. Voters in Arcata and Eureka passed the laws last November.

Senate Apologizes For Slavery

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation of African-Americans. A disclaimer tacked on at the end of the bill said nothing in the resolution authorizes or supports reparations for slavery.

Aung San Suu Kyi Turns 64

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi turns 64 today. She remains under house arrest. Activists across the world are marking her birthday with vigils and protests.

Hortensia Bussi, 94, Widow of Salvador Allende, Dies

And Hortensia Bussi, the widow of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, has died at the age of 94.

People’s Summit and Tent City in Detroit Advocates an Economic Agenda for the Rest of Us

This week, activists from across the country gathered in Detroit for the People’s Summit and Tent City to counter the National Business Summit in Detroit.

The People’s Summit was organized to promote “active resistance, political discussion and strategizing” with the end goal of developing “people’s stimulus plans” and an “economic bill of rights.” In announcing the event, the organizers wrote:

On June 15-17, 2009, the National Business Summit, sponsored by the Detroit Economic Club, will take place at the Renaissance Center, General Motors Corporate Headquarters. Millionaire capitalists like the heads of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Chrysler, Humana Inc., Ascension Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, BNSF Railway Co., and PVS Chemicals, and well as the presidents of the National Council on Competitiveness and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will gather at this summit. President Barack Obama and cabinet members have been invited.

These wealthy businesspeople will put their greedy heads together to discuss “innovation and policy ideas in technology, energy, environment and manufacturing.” In other words, they will be strategizing on how to further increase their profits at the expense of the ever-shrinking middle class, the vast working class and the growing millions living in utter poverty.

The National Business Summit will be held in a city with record-high unemployment and poverty rates, lay-offs, budget cuts, school closings, utility cost hikes and shut-offs and massive home foreclosures. With a registration fee of $1,495, it is unlikely that any victims of foreclosures and evictions, let alone laid-off workers, will be able to attend the National Business Summit. No one at this event will be speaking in the interests of those most affected by the economic collapse.

Throughout the People’s Summit, video of the event was collected and posted on their blog. A sample of the video–from a protest outside of the National Business Summit–can be seen below:

For more video, visit their blog.

Muslim Civil Rights Group Seeks Clarification on Hijab in Michigan Courts

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is seeking clarification on a new administrative rule adopted by Michigan’s Supreme Court that could allow judges to demand that witnesses remove religious head coverings while testifying.

The Washington-based group says that the removal of religiously-mandated attire such as a hijab would violate the constitutional right to religious freedom. In a press release, Dawud Walid of Michigan’s CAIR chapter said, “Michigan residents of all faiths need clarification as to whether they will be forced to remove their religious attire in order to appear in a state court.” The group says that the rule could be used against people of other faiths who wear head coverings.

The rule was adopted by the Supreme Court via a 5-2 decision. The two opposing judges said that there should be a clear written exception fore religious attire.

As it currently stands, the rule reads:

“The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has furthered argued against the rule saying that numerous studies have shown that jurors have an easier time assessing the credibility of a witness testimony by simply listening to a witness rather than watching their facial expressions.

Meijer Tax Break Would Come At Expense Of Key Services

I’m generally skeptical of many tax breaks given to corporations for development projects. All too often, the projects come at the expense of tax revenue that could be otherwise used to provide social services. In many cases, projects fail to deliver on their promises of economic and neighborhood revitalization.

Most often, the local media acts as a cheerleader for development projects and never questions the need for tax breaks nor do they explore the basis on which the request was made. However, a recent article in The Grand Rapids Press–“Michigan rejects Brownfield tax credits for 28th Street Meijer store, but Grand Rapids may grant project local Brownfield status“–recently caught my eye because it was one of the few articles that I have seen that actually says what it will mean to give Meijer a tax break.

Meijer is asking for “brownfield” status on a project to redevelop their 28th Street and Kalamazoo store. According to Meijer, a 1 acre parcel of land that will be used in the development is contaminated. Interestingly, Meijer admits that it was the source of the contamination–its leaky gasoline storage tanks contaminated the groundwater.

However, The Grand Rapids Press reports that if the tax break is granted, it will come directly from money that could be used to provide key services:

If approved, the money will come from new property taxes generated by the store over the next 27 years. Those new taxes would otherwise fund city services, local public schools, Kent County operations, the Kent County jail, the local transit millage and Kent County’s senior millage.

So, the choice is clear–we can either fund critical social services, or we can have a redone Meijer store.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Hoesktra Says His Use of Twitter Is Just Like Iranian Protestors; Granholm Opposes Republican Plan To Cut College Tuition Assistance

Here’s some interesting stories published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours. As always, if we missed anything, leave a comment below:

  • Michigan Supreme Court gives judges control over courtroom dress – The Michigan Supreme Court decided that judges should be allowed to force witnesses to remove head scarfs and other face coverings while in the courtroom. This decision has ramifications for Muslim Michiganders–which is where the case arose from.
  • Hoekstra compares himself to Iranian protesters- Representative Pete Hoekstra is an idiot, but that fact becomes especially apparent every time he uses Twitter. His latest Twitter controversy features him comparing himself to Iranian protestors who are using Twitter to organize pro-democracy demonstrations. Sure…
  • Tensions over nation’s largest incinerator heat up as July 1 contract deadline looms – Detroit is set to decide whether or not it will continue burning its trash at a controversial incinerator that many environmentalists say has toxic effects–particularly on children living nearby.
  • Michigan jobless rate soars to highest level since 1983 – Michigan’s unemployment rate is now at 14.1%. It’s the highest since 1983 and is way above the national unemployment rate of 9.4%.
  • Granholm opposes cutting tuition aid programs – Governor Jennifer Granholm is rejecting Republican proposals to cut college tuition aid from the state budget. She argues that supporting college education is critical if Michigan is going to transform its economy.
  • Big job announcements by Farmers, Foremost Insurance, Roskam Baking, Holland businesses may take time to hire – A couple days ago, the local corporate media–including The Grand Rapids Press–went crazy about announcements of several thousand jobs coming to West Michigan. Now, after a huge front page article, The Grand Rapids Press reports that the jobs will take years to materialize. One company says that the timeframe could be as long as 17 years. Ahhh, the typical hype of corporate news…
  • Kent County school districts see another revenue source fizzle as Coca-Cola contracts expire – Collectively, Kent County’s public schools negotiated with Coca-Cola back in 1999 for a contract that brought $22.6 million to the schools. Now that contract is set to expire and there are doubts that a new contract will make that much for the schools–if one is signed. The Press cites the beverage industry who says that there has been a shift away from soda consumption. I think it’s pretty sad that education is such a low priority in our society that schools are forced to pursue these kind of contracts just to get by.
  • Ambiguity in new marijuana law is cited – Felony charges against a Madison Heights couple who’s house was raided due to their possession of medical marijuana were thrown out in yesterday by a judge. The judge said that the medical marijuana law is too ambiguous to determine if a crime was committed.