courts

Benton Harbor Activist Will Remain Under House Arrest

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Benton Harbor community activist will remain under house arrest while he is waiting the outcome of his appeal. You can read more about Pinkney’s case online. For more on the ruling, see the AP article below:

(AP) — LANSING, Mich. – A Benton Harbor minister will remain on house arrest while he appeals a prison sentence for writing that God could punish a judge who presided over his election fraud conviction.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Edward Pinkney’s appeal of his house arrest in an unanimous order dated Wednesday.

Pinkney was sentenced to five years of probation in 2007 after being convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election. He later wrote an article saying the judge who handled his case could be punished by God with curses unless he changed his ways.

Another judge ruled that Pinkney’s column violated his probation and sentenced him to prison. The state appeals court has released Pinkney on bond while considering an appeal of his sentence.

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.

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.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Applauds Court Decision, Warns of Possible Loophole in Michigan

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A statement from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Caperton v. Massey Coal Company establishes that extraordinary campaign spending to support the election of a judge can create an unconstitutional probability of bias that requires the judge to disqualify himself from a case involving his campaign’s financial supporter.

The U.S. Supreme Court noted that the Caperton case was extreme, but “because the States may have codes with more rigorous recusal standards than due process requires, most recusal disputes will be resolved without resort to the Constitution, making the constitutional standard’s application rare.”

This decision underscores the wisdom of the Michigan Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to establish workable recusal standards for itself that will consider extreme campaign spending of the sort that has become a regular feature of contemporary Michigan Supreme Court election campaigns.

However, rigorous recusal standards for the Michigan Supreme Court will be undermined by the failure of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act to require disclosure of contributors to organizations such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the state’s political parties that sponsor candidate-focused “issue” advertisements that seek to define judicial candidates’ records, qualifications and suitability for office without explicitly exhorting a vote for or against a candidate. Without knowing who contributes to the committees that sponsor candidate-focused issue ads, it will not be clear when a motion for recusal rightfully should be filed.

The decision in the Caperton case provides an important buttress for citizens’ due process rights to an impartial judicial hearing. However, Michigan legislators must address the shortcomings in our campaign finance disclosure regulations if this protection is to have its full effect.

Headlines: Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'; Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

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.

CIA: Keep Documents from Bush Era Sealed

The Obama administration is urging a federal judge to block the release of certain Bush-era documents that detail the videotaped interrogations of CIA prisoners at secret prisons. The Washington Post reports CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an affidavit that releasing the documents would benefit al-Qaeda’s recruitment efforts. Panetta said the forced disclosure of such material to the American Civil Liberties Union could be “expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed.” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said he found it “troubling” for the Obama administration to say that information about purported abuses should be withheld because it might fuel anti-American propaganda. Jaffer said that amounts to an assertion that “the greater the abuse, the more important it is that it should remain secret.”

Shell Pays $15.5 Million in Niger Delta Case

The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay a $15.5 million settlement to avoid a trial over its alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta. The case was brought on behalf of ten plaintiffs who accused Shell of complicity in the 1995 executions of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. We’ll have more on the story after headlines.

Peruvian Indigenous Leader Seeks Asylum

In Peru, indigenous leader Alberto Pizango has sought refuge in Nicaragua’s Embassy and is seeking asylum. Pizango is wanted in Peru on sedition charges after leading protests opposing laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the Amazon rainforest. Over the weekend, sixty people died after police tried to break up a blockade. Indigenous activists are vowing to continue to fight for their land.

Indigenous Protester Atilio Pisango: “We have carried on this fight for more than fifty-seven days. The government has killed our indigenous brothers in Bagua. If the government repeals the law, we will lift the strike. Our leader, Alberto Pizango, did not send armed men; it was the army.”

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The Supreme Court has decided not to hear a challenge to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The court refused to hear an appeal from a former Army captain who was dismissed under the policy. The Obama administration had urged the court to throw the case out. In a brief, the Obama administration had said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.” While running for president, Senator Obama campaigned to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January.

Supreme Court Justices Delay Sale of Chrysler

In other Supreme Court news, the court has issued a stay of the sale of Chrysler to the Italian automaker Fiat, delaying Chrysler’s exit from bankruptcy. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced the court would consider whether to hear the objections to the deal by three Indiana state pension funds and consumer groups. Some analysts say Chrysler could be at risk of going out of business if the court decides to hear an appeal in the case.

Court: Judges Must Avoid Appearance of Bias

In another closely watched case, the Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself from an appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy because the coal mining company’s CEO had been a major campaign donor. By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge should have removed himself from deciding the case, because Massey chief executive Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help him get elected to the court.

Court Declines to Hear Case to Save Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from a coalition of Native American and environmental groups to protect the San Francisco Peaks located near Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountains are considered sacred by thirteen Native American tribes. A lawsuit was filed by the coalition to block a private developer from expanding a ski resort on the mountain and from using recycled sewer water to make fake snow.

Clinton Criticizes N. Korea for Secretly Trying US Journalists

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the Obama administration is concerned about the two American journalists being held in North Korea and that they should be freed. The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. They have been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp.

Hillary Clinton: “Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the length of the sentences and the fact that this trial was conducted totally in secret with no observers. And we’re engaged in all possible ways, through every possible channel, to secure their release, and we once again urge North Korea to grant their immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”

US Continues to Hold Iraq Journalist Without Charge

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized North Korea for trying the journalists by secret trial, the Obama administration continues to hold at least one foreign journalist without charge. Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, has been held in Iraq since September despite objections from the Iraqi government, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Reuters.

Former Guantanamo Prisoner Describes Being Abused

Another former prisoner at Guantanamo has come forward to describe being abused inside the jail. Lakhdar Boumediene, who now lives in France, told ABC News he was kept awake for sixteen days straight, and guards inappropriately used hypodermic needles and IV tubes intended for forced feeding during hunger strikes. Boumediene, who was held for nearly eight years without charge, was interviewed on ABC News last night.

ABC News: “Do you think that you were tortured?”

Lakhdar Boumediene: “I don’t think. I am sure. You think that’s not torture? What’s this? What you can call this?”

NY Times Criticized over Report “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad”

The New York Times is coming under intense scrutiny over its recent coverage of what former Guantanamo prisoners have done after their release. On May 21, the Times ran a front-page story titled “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds.” Since publication, the Times has had to backtrack from the article’s most serious claims. On Sunday, the paper’s public editor wrote that the article was “seriously flawed and greatly overplayed.” The public editor said the article failed to distinguish between former prisoners suspected of new acts of terrorism–more than half the cases–and those supposedly confirmed to have rejoined jihad against the West. Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in twenty.

First Guantanamo Inmate Transferred to US for Trial

US authorities have brought the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to the United States, flying him into New York to face trial for his alleged role in bombing the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Ahmed Ghailani arrived early today and was brought to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He is scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court later today.

FBI Defends Use of Informants Inside Mosques

FBI Director Robert Mueller has defended the agency’s use of informants inside mosques, despite complaints from Muslim organizations that worshippers and clerics are being targeted instead of possible terrorists. Mueller said, “We don’t investigate places, we investigate individuals.” Several Muslim organizations have publicly complained that the FBI has planted spies in their mosques. Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California accused the FBI of “trying to incite and entrap” law-abiding people.

Cuba Rejects Offer to Rejoin Organization of American States

Cuba has formally rejected an offer to return to the Organization of American States after members of the group agreed to lift the Cold War-era ban on its membership six days ago. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has said repeatedly that Cuba had no desire to rejoin the OAS, which he has described as an instrument of neoliberal economic policies and US intervention in Latin America. The official announcement was made on Cuban television.

Cuban Television Announcer Raul Isidron: “Cuba] has values at odds with the neoliberal capitalism and egoism promoted by the OAS and feels that it has the right and the authority to say no to the idea of incorporating itself in an organization over which the United States still holds an oppressive control.”

Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

In environmental news, a top UN official is urging a global ban on plastic bags, in part because plastic is the most pervasive form of ocean litter. Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said, “Single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” The campaign to ban plastic bags is gaining steam internationally. China banned plastic bags last year, saving the country an estimated 40 billion plastic bags. Here in this country, San Francisco is the only large city to have banned plastic bags.

Charges Dropped in Dragging Death of Black Man in Texas

In the Texas town of Paris, protesters gathered outside the local courthouse Monday condemning the recent dismissal of murder charges against two white men in the dragging death of a black man. Twenty-four-year-old Brandon McClelland died last year after he was dragged from beneath a truck until his body was nearly dismembered. The two men originally charged in the crime were both friends of McClelland. They were released last week after being held for eight months in jail awaiting trial. Officials said the case had been unraveling in recent months because of a lack of eyewitnesses and physical evidence. Last month, a gravel truck driver gave a sworn statement acknowledging he might have accidentally run over McClelland, who authorities say got out of the car to walk home.

Rally Tomorrow in Support of Benton Harbor Civil Rights Leader

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Tomorrow, a federal appeals court in Grand Rapids will begin hearing an appeal by the ACLU on behalf of the Benton Harbor activist Reverend Ed Pinkney who has been targeted by the government for his civil rights work in Benton Harbor.

Outside of the hearing, a coalition of supports will be staging a demonstration. An announcement of the demonstration was sent to MediaMouse.org:

ACLU Defends Persecuted Benton Harbor Civil Rights Leader in Grand Rapids Appeals Trial

Concerned Citizens Rally in Defense of a “Voice for the Voiceless”

Who: The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR), the Grand Rapids IWW, and people from throughout Michigan who support social justice.

Why: Rev. Pinkney has been fighting for social justice in Benton Harbor as leader of the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO). He was convicted by an all-white jury on trumped-up charges related to false allegations of voter fraud. The ACLU was successful in winning his release from prison, on bond, pending the outcome of his appeal.

What: Picket in Support of Rev. Pinkney’s Civil Rights

When: June 9, 8 am. Trial begins at 9 am.

Where:

Court Of Appeals Building

350 Ottawa

Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Torture Abroad, Coercive Tactics at Home: Looking at Toture and a Recent Supreme Court Ruling

By Kate Wheeler

On Wednesday, May 27, two events occurred that may, at first, seem unconnected. News hit the Internet that the Supreme Court had overturned Michigan v Jackson, the case that established that those arrested for crimes have the right to an attorney present during all questioning by the police. And Darius Rejali, an internationally recognized expert on torture and a professor at Reed College gave an interview on ABC in Australia.

In his Supreme Court decision, Justice Scalia wrote that Michigan v Jackson was “costly” because it delayed justice. Police could not use the methods they knew were effective to extract confessions and wrap up cases quickly enough. The money quote from the opinion was this: “….the principal cost of applying Jackson’s rule is that crimes can go unsolved and criminals unpunished when uncoerced confessions are excluded and when officers are deterred from even trying to obtain confessions.”

Although the opinion is laid out to emphasize that the states have the right to set questioning limits on their own, this last statement is chilling. Scalia seems to be giving a tacit green light to confessions that are extracted by the police using coercion. Coercion as in “to force, threaten, intimidate, and/or seriously harm, to deprive a person of the act of free will.” And Scalia’s opinion ensures it can be done without an attorney present as a witness and an advisor to the arrested party. If that doesn’t start creating some dark images in your mind, it should.

“A police torture crisis sometime in the next 10 to 20 years”

And now we segue to Professor Rejali in Australia, speaking to ABC on the issue of torture used during the so-called “war on terror.” Rejali did an incredible job in his interview of setting this current situation within a historical context. He explains why all the historical evidence shows “there is nothing that predicts future torture as much as past impunity,” adding, “…there’s always somebody who thinks the other guy’s got away with it; why not me, and that’s a dangerous prospect.”

But the part of the interview that really hit home, given the news that day in the US, was Rejali’s discussion of how torture becomes a culture of its own. He described how every time torture had been authorized in war, soldiers would return to their countries and enter into police work or private security work, “…and they bring to it the skills they learned out in the military.”

Rejali stated he believed the torture done in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and other sites would lead to the crisis in the US of “police torture” that would culminate “sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.” And when that happens, the groundwork will have been laid by Supreme Court decisions like the overturning of Michigan v Jackson. Can anyone say “perfect storm”?

Lying with labels

Here at home, the torture issue, triggered by the April 17 release of four memos from the Justice Department that approved CIA torture, is already disappearing from the news cycles. And when it does come up, it’s just as likely to as commentary by right-wingers like Pete Hoekstra, who refer to torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and explain to the American public why it was and is necessary and “legal.”

The word “enhanced” is a clever choice; it has been used relentlessly in marketing, always with a positive spin. Its original meaning was “to add to or make greater, as in value, beauty; to augment.” A more recent definition, grown out of its use in advertising, is “to provide with improved, more effective, or more sophisticated features.”

So we’re used to hearing about enhanced software, enhanced podcasts, enhanced cruise-line packages, enhanced facial cleansers.

And now, suddenly, there’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That phrase makes torture sound almost appealing, doesn’t it? It’s the type of spin that has marked and marred political discussion in this country. Think of the titles that have come out of Washington in the past decade. The Clear Skies Initiative, which weakened air pollution protections. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was never fully funded, leaving teachers scrambling and children in the dust. The Coalition of the Willing, which always made me think of a group of Boy Scouts, shiny-faced and enthusiastic, trooping off for some jamboree. The Patriot Act, which undermines the civil rights of every person in this country. And now, “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe sadistic torture which a UN expert has stated as being far worse under the Americans than under Saddam Hussein. Mission accomplished.

“Looking forward” and what that means

Unfortunately, there’s another new catch-phrase that has popped up since April 17–President Obama’s assertion that now is “a time to look forward,” not back. He means he is not willing to initiate an investigation of those who deliberately contravened the Geneva Convention and illegally authorized torture as a questioning technique.

Well, I’d like to look forward, too–to a time when Americans examine and indict prisoners without violating the law; when the Constitution and our international commitments are upheld, and when the police are reined in from brutal misconduct. For that matter, I’d like to look forward to a time when we are no longer involved in a war of aggression that was spun in a web of lies to enhance our oil interests.

But if there’s no looking backward, there is no one held accountable. Without accountability, there’s only the kind of oncoming crisis that Professor Rejali described so eloquently in his ABC interview–our country hardening into a torture culture.

Looking forward is hard when the air is so murky with lies and cover-ups. And sometimes it seems to me that the very air is also polluted with these euphemisms created to drug us into inaction. The air needs clearing, and the bright lights brought in.

What can you do?

Amnesty International is providing several excellent resources. Educate yourself with their online training on torture. Then, use the web page they have set up to send letters to President Obama and your senators and representative. (In my case, the hopeless Vern Ehlers). The web page provides a sample text you can send automatically or you can edit it as you wish. Find it at http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/index.aspx?c=jhKPIXPCIoE&b=2590179&template=x.ascx&action=12193

Amnesty International has also set up a special fund to campaign for an independent commission to examine the torture memos and those who conspired in this criminal action. So if you are able, a donation will also help.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Supreme Court Overturns Major Michigan Case; Utility Bills to Increase for Wind Power

Recent Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Headlines: Pro-Ethanol Dems Threaten Climate Bill; California Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

Democracy Now Headlines: Pro-Ethanol Dems Threaten Climate Bill; California Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

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.

Obama Nominates Sotomayor for Supreme Court

President Obama has nominated federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the nation’s first Hispanic justice. Speaking at the White House Tuesday, Obama hailed her experience and background.

President Obama: “After completing this exhaustive process, I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice: Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the great state of New York. Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice.”

The 54-year old Sotomayor is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who raised her in a public housing project in the Bronx. If confirmed she would become the nation’s 111th justice and the third woman to hold a seat on the court.

Sotomayor is Obama’s first appointment of a new Justice since taking office. The vacancy opened up with Justice David Souter’s pending retirement at the end of the Supreme Court’s term next month.

GOP Sen.: Nominee Could Be Influenced by “Race, Gender”

At least two Republican lawmakers have already cited Sotomayor’s race and gender in questioning her nomination. Congressmember Lamar Smith of Texas said he’s concerned Sotomayor has already displayed “personal bias based on ethnicity and gender.” Meanwhile, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said: “It will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.”

California Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

California’s Supreme Court has upheld a ballot measure banning gay marriage. Last November, a slight majority of California voters approved Proposition Eight, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. On Tuesday, the court rejected lawsuits arguing Proposition 8 was not simply a constitutional amendment, but a constitutional revision requiring legislative approval. In San Francisco, around 175 people were arrested after blockading traffic to protest the decision.

Protester: “I am more determined than ever now that the court has said that Stuart and I have a fully legal marriage in the state of California after twenty two years together that I am more determined than ever to make that a reality for every loving, committed couple in our state.”

The court did rule to preserve the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place while gay marriage was legal in California.

Army Chief: U.S. Could Remain in Iraq for 10 Years

The top U.S. Army officer says the U.S. is prepared to remain in Iraq for a decade despite an agreement to withdraw all forces by 2012. Speaking in Washington, Army chief of staff General George Casey suggested the U.S. could remain in Iraq longer than pledged because of global events. Casey said: “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction. They fundamentally will change how the Army works.”

Group: Gitmo Prisoner Was Likely 12 When Jailed

In Afghanistan, a human rights group is claiming an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo Bay was only twelve years old when he was jailed–not 17 or 18 as the Pentagon claims. Mohammed Jawad has been jailed at Guantanamo for more than six years. Many poor Afghans don’t know their exact ages because of a lack of accurate records. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says interviews with his family show Jawad likely wasn’t even a teenager when he was captured. The group also says Jawad suffered repeated torture in both Afghan and U.S. custody.

Montana Town Offers to Jail Gitmo Prisoners

A small town in Montana is offering to hold Guantanamo Bay prisoners should President Obama go ahead with his vow to close the military jail. City officials in Hardin have offered up a recently-built prison that has yet to house a single prisoner. Hardin is in Montana’s poorest county and had built the prison in the hopes of reviving its economy.

Around 30 Killed in Pakistan Bombing

In Pakistan, about 30 people were killed and another 250 wounded in an attack earlier today. Armed gunmen opened fire on police and intelligence offices in the city of Lahore and then set off a car bomb when government forces returned fire. It was one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan this year and the third to hit Lahore in several months. Government officials say it could be retaliation for the U.S.-backed offensive that has displaced hundreds of thousands in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

168 Killed as Cyclone Hits India, Bangladesh

At least 168 people have been killed in a deadly cyclone in eastern India and Bangladesh. The toll is expected to rise as rescue workers reach areas cut off by deadly mudslides. Thousands of people have been displaced following heavy storms that destroyed their homes.

UN Officials Calls for Sri Lanka War Crimes Probe

A top UN official is calling for a war crimes probe in Sri Lanka’s internal conflict between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says both sides “grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians.” Last week, the Sri Lankan government declared victory after a twenty-six-year war and a recent spike in fighting that displaced some 300,000 people.

Bolivia, Venezuela Dismiss Uranium Accusations

The Bolivian and Venezuelan governments are dismissing Israeli accusations they’ve supplied uraninum for Iran’s nuclear program. On Monday, a leaked Israeli intelligence document said both Bolivia and Venezuela have aided Iran’s nuclear development. Bolivian Presidential Minister Juan Roman Quintana ridiculed the charge.

Juan Roman Quintana: “Really, it forms part of the anthology of stupidity. If there’s something that characterizes our policy as a government, it’s the policy of peace.”

Bolivia says it hasn’t produced uranium in more than twenty-five years.

Trial over Shell Allegations in Niger Delta Delayed

Back in the United States, a landmark trial against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta has been delayed until next week. Shell is accused of several abuses including complicity in the torture and execution of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists.

Pro-Ethanol Dems Threaten Climate Bill

On Capital Hill, a group of Democrats are threatening to derail a landmark climate and emissions bill to address concerns by the nation’s Ethanol producers. The bill would cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. House Agricultural Committee Chair Collin Peterson says he’s gathered 40 Democrats to oppose the measure unless it counters a recent EPA finding that “indirect land use” must be taken into account when calculating ethanol’s carbon footprint.

Burris Pledged to Donate Money While Seeking Senate Appointment

A newly-released FBI recording shows Senator Roland Burris promised to donate money to then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich at the same time as he was seeking a Senate appointment. Blagojevich appointed Burris to President Obama’s vacated Senate seat just weeks after Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges. Burris has previously claimed he never discussed the Senate seat with Blagojevich or anyone acting on his behalf.

Report: Paul Farmer in Talks for Top Aid Post

And the activist medical anthropologist Paul Farmer is reportedly in talks for an appointment by the Obama administration to run U.S. health projects overseas. The Boston Globe reports Farmer told colleagues of the potential appointment earlier this month. Farmer is founder of the charity Partners in Health, which provides healthcare for people with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other conditions in Haiti, as well more than eight other countries around the world. He has vocally criticized U.S. de-stabilization efforts in Haiti as well as major U.S. corporations that have pursued profit at the expense of global health.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Lawmakers Consider Ban on Life for Juveniles; Mamals Moving North

Here is our round-up of headlines covering Grand Rapids and Michigan over the past few days. We’re slowly getting back into the swing of things after a full weekend of gardening, so if we missed anything, let us know in the comments: