economy

September 24-25: Resist the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh

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Coming off the protests against the Republican National Convention (RNC), I’m not sure entirely how I feel personally about organizing in response to the G20 in Pittsburgh, but I’m really heartened to see that some solid people are putting work into giving the G20 a rowdy midwestern welcome. After seeing folks take to the streets to oppose the G20 in April in London, hopefully those of us in the U.S. can take a similar approach.

September 24-25: Resist the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh

Join Thousands at a Convergence of Action, Resistance and Hope

Pittburghers didn’t ask the G20 to come here, but it is our intention that the worldview the summit represents will die here.

This September 24-25 Pittsburgh will host the next summit of the G20, a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from the world’s largest economies who meet twice yearly to discuss and coordinate the international financial system. Around 1,500 delegates, including heads of state, will be here along with more than 2,000 members of the media, and thousands of police and security agents tasked with squelching dissent.

This summit, and the predecessor meetings this past April in London, occurs on the heels of the worldwide financial meltdown that has been severely impacting hundreds of millions around the world. Since its inception, the G20 has been a tool used to promote a world vision based on the ability of capital to move as it pleases, at the expense of labor, human rights and the environment.

Now that the system these leaders have forced on the world is in crisis they continue to operate as if they have the answer. We know that they do not. To save countries, they propose we turn to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an entity that has historically imposed murderous structural adjustment programs on the world’s poor.

G20 summits, alongside other meetings of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an entity that has historically imposed murderous structural adjustment programs on the world’s poor.

G20 summits, alongside other meetings of institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization, have rightfully been targeted by hundreds of thousands of people around the world because they represent a global vision based on war-making, social and economic injustice, and corporate greed. Pittsburgh will take its place alongside people around the world who have protested and resisted such gatherings in their hometowns.

Pittsburgh was chosen as the host city because of its history, and because the President is looking to buttress his working class credentials. It is true that our city has much to offer the world in terms of progress, we just happen to disagree with the politicians on what these words mean or what others should take from our experience. Pittsburgh has experienced 50 years of population loss and industrial decline as well as more than 150 years of industrial class conflict. We have gained an instinctual knowledge that you get what you are willing to fight for. We celebrate that worker and community self-organization has often succeeded where government, bosses and the supposedly enlightened have failed.

What has carried us through the tough times has been our relationships, the tight knit nature of our mostly non-corporate dominated neighborhoods, a do-it-yourself ethic, the unpretentious manner in which people treat each other, and a sense of local pride that isn’t based on salary or one’s place in some hierarchy. Pittsburgh never died, and the currently-in-vogue talk of “rebirth” measures success, growth, and progress in terms of the number of corporations based here, the multi-national profits, or the success of our politicians at going from Mayors to County Executives to Governors.

For our measuring stick, we look to whether or not all have the resources needed to lead and pursue rewarding lives, and if we are meeting community needs without the involvement of the state. We look to the health of our environment and the treatment of other living things, the equality of educational opportunities, the degree to which we lessen our participation in the exploitation of others, and how successful we are in moving towards a new kind of society in which you don’t have to fuck people over to survive.

And in these respects, our city is making progress. We find inspiration and common cause in the efforts of the multitude of other projects and initiatives that are transforming Pittsburgh into a more just and sustainable place to live, efforts that are in a conflictual relationship with state power, and will be joining resistance to the G20. And truly, if the G20 were about anything besides state power and money it would be these efforts that other countries would be coming here to discuss and look at, because there is much that we have to offer in creating a better world.

Pittsburgh is not without its problems, and there is much that needs to be addressed. During the summit and its lead-up little will be said about the troubling grip the UPMC medical industrial complex and others hold over the region, the chronic illnesses caused by the extremely high levels of particulate matter in our air, the troubling ethical questions posed by the warfare robotics that are being pioneered here, the police violence and acts of unaccountable brutality against the public, a stacked deck against labor organizing, a depressingly inadequate public transit system, and a political process marked by a lack of ethical accountability and transparency.

We should be clear then, we love our city, and in so far as we see the G20 as a threat to our collective health and well-being we intend to be an obstacle to its ability to function. This is an unavoidable decision given what the summit is, and what it represents. The presence of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh will be a major – if short-lived – disruption to the city and the people who work and live here, with or without protests. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has acknowledged as much, stating the summit will result in “chaos” due to security cordons, increased traffic, etc.

The government has already staked out its position: the needs of 20 politicians justify whatever disruption and cost to our city, and the responsibility felt by thousands to participate in resistance to the G20 and to articulate an alternate vision for society is more than unimportant, it’s a threat.

Based on past summits the media will play the state game by focusing on whether protesters will be able to disrupt the ability of the summit to meet, using ominous and sensationalist stories with unsubstantiated claims of evil outsiders come to wreck havoc on the good people, because these stories, even if refuted and later disproved, serve to justify attacks on the public’s liberties and dignity. This must not, and will not, deter resistance. The stakes are too high.

The real value of this summit, to its participants and those resisting it, is not in the substance of the “leaders'” discussions. Our power is not in whether or not we have the ability to prevent a bunch of finance ministers and heads of state from talking. The real importance is in the way an undisrupted ceremony reinforces the dominant worldview. If that view is flawed, it must be rejected, and the spotlight such a gathering creates must be one in which people will manifest liberating social conflict.

We therefore believe that the necessary attempts of thousands to interfere with the summit are not an ends in and of themselves, they are a critical part of the means we can use to achieve the victory we are collectively organizing for in September: to heighten existing social resistance, and to present an alternative narrative of why our world is the way it is. We must make it clear that the world need not be this way, and talk about our vision for a movement towards a new society based not on profit and coercion but rooted in meeting collective needs for both material comfort and the freedom to pursue fulfilling lives of opportunity and dignity.

In this effort we invite and encourage your participation!

In Struggle,

Pittsburgh Organizing Group

http://www.organizepittsburgh.org

If your group would like to endorse this call, let us know at pog@mutualaid.org

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.

New Year-Round Downtown Market Being Studied

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In Saturday’s Grand Rapids Press, there was an interesting article about a study being undertaken by Grand Action to look at the feasibility of constructing and operating a downtown market that would feature fresh produce, meats, and other local goods. The market would be designed to compliment existing farmers markets in the city.

According to the article:

Frey, Spitzer and Mayor George Heartwell said leaders of the often-bustling but seasonal Fulton Street Farmers Market have supported their efforts.

A year-round market would be designed to provide space for a wider array of products than the typical seasonal market, Frey said.

Frey and Spitzer envision a place where local produce is sold alongside freshly butchered meats, seafood, breads, cookies and other items.

Artists also may have space in the facility.

“One of the goals we’ve enunciated throughout the project is to be supportive of the Grand Rapids local foods system, to develop more interest in local foods,” Spitzer said. “It is very important for us that the development of this project not harm Fulton Street or other markets. It’s really intended to expand interest in local foods.”

It’s a pretty good idea. Purchasing locally grown food is more sustainable than transporting food for hundreds of miles. Moreover, the more money that is spent locally, the more money stays in the community.

Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation's Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

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.

Two U.S. Journalists Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korea

A North Korean court has sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”

Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

U.S.-Backed Coalition Wins in Lebanon

A U.S.-backed coalition led by Saad al-Hariri appears to have won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections defeating Hezbollah. The outcome is seen as a blow to Syria and Iran and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the so-called “March 14″ coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

Center-Right Parties Retain Control Of European Parliament

In another closely watched election, center-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout.

Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

The nation’s unemployment rate has surged to 9.4 percent – the highest it has been since 1983. 345,000 jobs were lost during the month of May. The current unemployment rate would jump to 16.8 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. The latest government statistics also reveal the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is at the highest its been since the government began keeping records in 1948. 4.5 percent of the work force has been out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “I would say to you the number, in terms of the unemployment rate, is still very, very high, not acceptable. We know that we have to do much, much more to put American workers back to work. We have seen some leveling off in comparison to the last few months. We do see jobs that are not being lost as quickly, but I think that’s going to happen between now and the next few months.”

Anti-Abortion Activist Warns of More Violent Acts

The anti-abortion activist accused of killing Dr. George Tilller has warned that more violent acts are planned against abortion providers. In a phone interview from jail, Scott Roeder told the Associated Press “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Roeder called the AP on Sunday, one day after one thousand people gathered in Wichita, Kansas for the funeral of Doctor Tiller. On Friday the Justice Department announced it had launched a federal investigation into Tiller’s death.

Dozens Killed in Clashes Between Peruvian Police and Indigenous Groups

In Peru dozens of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. For weeks indigenous activists in Peru have been protesting a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. We’ll have more on Peru after headlines.

More Than 100 Killed in Somalia; Radio Journalist Assassinated

In Somalia, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between rival armed groups in some of the heaviest fighting this year. Meanwhile the director of a prominent Somalia radio station was assassinated on Sunday. Mukhtar Mohammad Hirabe died after being shot in the head five times. Hirabe is the fifth journalist killed in Somalia this year.

Panel Finds Lax Oversight of Wartime Contracting

An independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending, has found the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found U.S. reliance on private sector employees has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do or how much they’re paid.

Iraqi Government Arrests Five U.S. Contractors

This comes as the Iraqi government has arrested five U.S. contractors in connection with the killing of another U.S. contractor. If the case proceeds to an Iraqi court, the five men will be the first Americans to be tried under Iraqi law. The men are accused of murdering 60-year-old James Owen Kitterman, president of Peregrine, a contracting company based in Kuwait. Four of the five detained contractors work for North Carolina-based Corporate Training Unlimited–a security firm headed by Donald Feeney, who, along with his son, Donald Feeney III, has been detained.

Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008

A new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found global military spending rose four percent last year to a record $1.46 trillion dollars despite the global financial crisis. Overall military spending has increased by 45 percent since 1999. The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58% of the total global spending increase during the past decade.

Obama Visits Site of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

On Friday President Barack Obama paid tribute to the six million victims of the Holocaust during a somber visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

He laid a white rose on the “living memorial” on the site where survivors erected a temporary monument for Buchenwald’s liberation in April 1945.

President Obama: “To this day we know there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, a denial of a fact or truth that is baseless, ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history. Also to this day there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and more. Hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.”

Couple Accused of Spying for Cuba

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been arrested on accusations they spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the charges ridiculous and questioned the timing of the arrests. Walter Kendall Myers, and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested just days after the Organization of American States lifted its forty-seven-year suspension of Cuba.

Nominee Linked to CIA Torture Declines Position

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has withdrawn from consideration amid questions about his links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd had been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents.

Palestinian Protester Shot Dead by Israeli Troops

In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man Friday in the village of Nilin during the weekly protest against the construction of Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Medics said the 35-year-old Aqel Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet and another protester was wounded when soldiers fired at the protesters. On Saturday close to 200 Israelis and Palestinians gathered near the West Bank city of Hebon to show their objection to the ongoing building of illegal Jewish settlements. An attempt to erect their own outpost named ‘Obama 2′ near the Jewish settlement of Sussiya was foiled by Israeli security forces, who tore the makeshift construction down. Meanwhile in Gaza, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza border earlier today. Israel claimed the men were militants trying to cross into Israel.

Gay Rights Activist Cleve Jones Calls For March On Washington

Prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones has called for a national march on Washington in October to demand that Congress establish equal rights for the lesbian, gay and transgender community. Jones conceived NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Civil Rights and AIDS Activist Dr. Alan Berkman Dies

And the longtime civil rights and AIDS activist Dr. Alan Berkman has died. Berkman was a founder of Health GAP which campaigns to eliminate barriers to global access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s Berkman provided medical care to Native American activists at Wounded Knee as well as inmates injured during the Attica prison uprising. In the 1980s Dr. Berkman was sentenced to eight years in jail for treating activists tied to the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground following a shoot-out with police in Nyack, New York.

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

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.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Agema Ranked Least Effective Legislator in Michigan House; U of M Study Says Smoking Ban Won’t Hurt Businesses

Here are some recent headlines published elsewhere covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

  • Goodbye, GM – Michael Moore–writing from the Flint birthplace of General Motors–looks at the company’s bankruptcy.
  • Congratulations to Rep. Dave Agema – Representative David Agema of Grandville was ranked the least effective legislator in the House of Representatives according to a survey conducted by the Lansing based MIRS news service. Apparently Agema’s attacks on immigrants, LGBT people, and Native Americans aren’t working in his favor.
  • E-Verify is Verifiably Bad – The ACLU of Michigan is criticizing a proposal by an Oakland County Commissioner to require that contractors and vendors doing business with the county participate in the “E-Verify” program. E-Verify is a flawed federal database that is supposed to determine if people are legally able to work in the United States. The ACLU says that 17.8 million of the database’s files have incorrect information and that the program is an invasion of privacy.
  • Convicted Detroit reporter faces sentencing – A Detroit-based reported will be sentencing this week after being convicted of felony police obstruction. Many see her conviction as retaliation for her work in illuminating police brutality in Detroit.
  • Detroit: Farm city – Urban gardening in Detroit has received a lot of attention in recent years and now a Detroit businessman is touting a plan to create the largest urban farm in the world in Detroit. It’s an interesting idea.
  • U of M study concludes a workplace smoking ban will not hurt business – A University of Michigan study has concluded that a ban on smoking in the state’s bars and restaurants would not negatively affect revenues.
  • Kent County Board members propose ‘local first’ policies – Three Democratic Kent County Commissioners are proposing a subcommittee to develop a “local first” policy for the county that would emphasize using local companies. The rationale is that it would keep more jobs and money in the county.
  • Union agreement with GM not enough to revive Wyoming stamping plant after Friday’s closing – Local workers hoped that the GM plant in Wyoming might reopen after GM declared bankruptcy, but the plant was not listed among GM’s stand-by plants.
  • Proposed budget for Grand Rapids school district cuts 95 teaching jobs, almost $9 million in spending – The Grand Rapids Public Schools is proposing eliminating 95 teaching jobs and $9 million in spending. The Board will discuss the plan tonight at its meeting.
  • Stupak: Move Gitmo to UP Mackinac meeting – U.S. Representative Bart Stupak–who represents residents in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–is advocating that the Obama administration consider moving the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a detention facility in the U.P. Representative Pete Hoekstra of Holland said that he has been to Guantanamo and that the people held there are “evil people” and that they would “become magnets for homegrown terror” if they were moved to Michigan.

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

Headlines: Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions; General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

Democracy Now Headlines: Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions; General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

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.

General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

General Motors is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today in what is expected to be one of the largest and most complex bankruptcy cases ever. The bankruptcy filing caps a remarkable fall for the 100-year-old company which was once the world’s largest car manufacturer. Under the proposed restructuring plan, the U.S. government will invest another $30 billion in GM and take ownership of 60 percent of the company. The Canadian government, a union health trust and current bondholders would own the rest. The restructuring will result in the lost of 21,000 more jobs, the shuttering of at least 12 factories, and the closing of 2,600 car dealers. President Obama is expected to outline the proposed restructuring in a speech today. Administration officials said the government will remove itself from day-to-day operations of GM once a new management team is in place. Congressman Denis Kucinich of Ohio urged the White House not to subsidize GM’s overseas growth at the expense of U.S. workers. In a statement Kucinich said: “We must not allow GM to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to close plants in America in order to open markets for products made in China and other countries.” Residents of Detroit said they were saddened and anxious by the bankruptcy of GM.

Mary Ann Bielaczyc, Detroit area resident: “They are all scared. Their day to day existence is depending on this. I have a brother who is a contract worker for GM and he never knows from one day to the next if he is going to have a job. My next door neighbor’s son works for GM, or used to, found out his job was eliminated. It’s scary.”

In other auto news, a federal judge has cleared a path for Chrysler to get out of bankruptcy by approving a sale of most of the company’s assets to a new entity to be run by the Italian company Fiat.

Anti-Abortion Activist Arrested in Killing of Kansas Doctor

In Kansas, police have arrested a 51-year-old anti-abortion activist in connection to the murder of Doctor George Tiller. Tiller was shot dead Sunday as he attended services at his church in Wichita. The National Abortion Federation says Dr. Tiller is the eighth abortion provider to be assassinated in the United States since 1977. President Obama said he is “shocked and outraged” by Tiller”s killing. US Marshals are now being deployed to protect women’s health clinics and doctors across the nation. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.

Report: Global Warming Causes 300,000 Deaths Each Year

A new report by the Global Humanitarian Forum estimates global warming is causing more than 300,000 deaths each year. The report is considered to be the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming. The Global Humanitarian Forum is a think tank headed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general. If emissions are not brought under control, within 25 years, the organization estimates 310 million more people will suffer adverse health consequences related to temperature increases, 20 million more people will fall into poverty and 75 million extra people will be displaced by climate change.

White House To Create “Cyber Czar” Position

President Obama has announced plans to create a White House-level position of “cyber czar” to coordinate and oversee federal efforts to improve network security and response to cyber attacks.

President Obama: “It’s now clear this cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. It’s also clear that we’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country.”

Obama also said that his administration would not dictate cybersecurity standards for private companies and that he was committed to protecting the privacy of Americans.

President Obama: “Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not–I repeat, will not include–monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be–open and free.”

Military Contractors Hired To Wage Cyberwarfare

Meanwhile the New York Times reports the military is now spending billions of dollars hiring defense contractors or so-called hacker soldiers to help wage cyberwarfare. Nearly all of the largest military companies ? including Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon ? have received major cyber contracts with the military and intelligence agencies.

Pakistan Forces Retake City of Mingora in Swat Valley

Pakistani forces have retaken the city of Mingora after a bloody clash with Taliban fighters. Mingora is the main city in the Swat Valley. Red Cross officials said Pakistani civilians in the region are in dire need of aid. Houses have no running water, no power and food is scarce. The fighting has forced 3 million people to flee their homes.

Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions

The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, admitted in TV interview that the United States has violated the Geneva Conventions. Petraeus made the comment while expressing support for President Obama’s decision to ban certain extreme interrogation techniques, but he did not specifically say which parts of the Geneva Conventions had been violated.

General David Petraeus: “When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it’s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.”

Obama Urges Court Not To Release Uighurs Into U.S.

The Obama administration has urged the Supreme Court to reject a petition filed by 14 Chinese Uighurs held at Guantánamo seeking their release into the United States. The Uighurs are still being held at Guantanamo even though they are no longer consider enemy combatants. In a brief filed on Friday the Obama White House backed the Bush administration’s claim that the court does not have the power to order the Uighurs released into the United States.

White House Sides With Saudi Royal Family in 9/11 Lawsuit

The Obama administration is also urging the Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit filed against the Saudi royal family brought by families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The lawsuit accuses Saudi Arabia of helping to finance Al Qaeda prior to the attacks that were carried out by 19 men, including 15 Saudis. The Justice Department filed the brief on Friday, less than a week before President Obama is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah.

Obama Defends Sotomayor Nomination In Response to GOP Attacks

In his weekly radio address, President Obama defended his decision Saturday to nominate federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court after days of attacks by Republican lawmakers and activists. If confirmed Sotomayor would become the first Latina to serve on the high court.

President Obama: “There are, of course, some in Washington who are attempting to draw old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor’s record. But I am confident that these efforts will fail; because Judge Sotomayor’s seventeen-year record on the bench-hundreds of judicial decisions that every American can read for him or herself-speak far louder than any attack; her record makes clear that she is fair, unbiased, and dedicated to the rule of law.”

Limbaugh and Tancredo Accused Sotomayor Of Being Racist

Over the past five days several high-profile Republicans have attacked a 2001 speech by Sonia Sotomayor in which she asserted that as a Latina woman, she would offer wiser judgments than a white male judge in some cases. Last week talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused Sotomayor of being a racist.

Rush Limbaugh: “She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court… How can a president nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.”

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo compared Sotomayor’s past membership in the Latino advocacy group La Raza to being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Tom Tancredo: If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino — it’s a counterpart — a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that’s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it’s got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is “All for the race. Nothing for the rest.”

In response, La Raza accused Tancredo of defaming the organization and for making up the organization’s motto.

U.S. and Cuba To Hold Talks

In news from Latin America, the United States and Cuba have agreed to resume direct talks on migration and open discussions on reestablishing direct mail service between the two countries.. Official talks between the two countries were last held in 2003.

7,000 Indigenous Activists Gather in Peru

Some 7,000 indigenous activists gathered in Peru Friday to show support for Amazon tribes who are protesting against a package of laws they say will threaten their native lands. Thousands of Amazon Indians have been on strike for more than a month over a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. Miguel Palacin helped organize the fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous People.

Miguel Palacin: “The government of Peru is really going against the rights of native people. The indigenous territories are being handed over to mining companies, oil companies and loggers, and today, after a 49-day protest by the indigenous people, there is still no answer. We have an unstable government and from here we will send a message to the world to say that this government disregards the indigenous people.”

Six Killed After Abbas-Backed Forces Raid Hamas Hideout

In the West Bank, six people were killed on Sunday when forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raided a Hamas hideout just days after Abbas met with President Obama. It was the bloodiest internal Palestinian clash in the West Bank since 2007. After the raid, Hamas threatened to call off Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks with Fatah that had been scheduled to resume in Cairo in July.

President Of Ohio State Resigns From Board of Massey Energy

The president of Ohio State University has resigned resigned from the board of directors of Massey Energy after coming under pressure from opponents of mountaintop removal coal mining. Gordon Gee had served on the board of Massey since 2000. Massey Energy is one of the biggest companies using mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Los Angeles School District Cancels Summer School Programs

In education news, the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced it is canceling most of its summer school programs due to the district’s budget crisis. Almost all summer school classes as well as playground and pool programs are being canceled at the district’s elementary and middle schools. Meanwhile dozens of Los Angeles school teachers are staging a hunger strike to protest budget cuts.

Air France Plane Carrying 288 Missing Off Coast of Brazil

And an Air France plane carrying 228 people from Brazil to France has gone missing over the Atlantic. A search and rescue mission is under way off the coast of Brazil.

Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery

Last weekend, The Nation magazine held an event in Detroit titled “Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery” that explored the economic crisis and how Detroit and the rest of the country can move on from the crisis.

The event featured a panel discussion with many prominent activists including Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Pollin, Elena Herrada, Grace Lee Boggs, JoAnn Watson, and Diane Feely. Videos of the panelists are published below.

Robert Pollin, Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author/Activist

Elena Herrada, Detroit Union Organizer/Activist

Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit Activist

JoAnn Watson, Detroit City Council Member

Diane Feely, Union Organizer/Activist

Economic disaster is no match for people’s spirit and self-organizing

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This article is reprinted from an anarchist newspaper published out of Berkley, California called Slingshot. I think it does a good job of discussing current popular responses to the global economic crisis while also looking at the challenges for leftists and progressives. How can we respond to the current crisis in a way that is both relevant and challenges the underlying system/logic that brought about the current crisis? As a whole, I think “the left”–especially in the U.S.–has done a pretty bad job of responding to the current crisis.

Economic dislocation and pain has always given rise to creative forms of protest, direct action and rebellion. Right now, the French are showing the way with a wave of “boss-nappings” — when the boss tries to close a factory or layoff workers, the workers lock managers inside and won’t let them leave until demands for better severance pay are met. But outrage has been overflowing all over from unrest in Bolivia to Greek farmers blocking roads to riots in Vladivostok, Russia, and clashes with police in Reykjavik, Iceland. At the recent G20 protest in London, hundreds of people smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The US has a powerful history of action during hard economic times — from general strikes to bread riots to widespread squatting that occurred during the depression in the 1930s. And while protest in the US often lags behind the rest of the world these days, things haven’t been totally boring in the USA. There have been marches on Wall Street and in Chicago, 300 members of the United Electrical workers seized their factory in December to protest its closing.

Given that recessions are part of capitalism’s normal functioning, it isn’t always clear whether popular uprisings inspired by economic pain can go beyond purely reformist and limited goals. While it is encouraging to see more people in the streets and less respect for bosses, corporations, and authority, it makes no sense to demand “jobs,” “more economic activity” or “more money” out of precisely the same system that has let us down. The recession is causing pain for people precisely because the economy has so much power over people’s lives — demanding that the system start working “better” so it can even further dominate our lives makes no sense.

Protests related to an economic downturn risk being myopic — addressing symptoms, but not causes, and seeking crumbs, not the whole pie. But popular eruptions don’t have to be so short-sighted.

How can we seize on capitalism’s current self-inflicted wounds — widening tiny cracks into huge breaches in its rotten facade? In the last issue of Slingshot, I suggested that the recession creates opportunities for people to build alternative economic structures outside the capitalist system that can enable us to live more sustainably during the recession and after it is over. These alternative structures can replace competition, consumption, and privatization with cooperation, sharing, and a broad re-evaluation of what we really need to make us happy and free.

The other opportunities opened by the economic collapse are exciting chances to mount direct attacks on the structures of capitalism, industrialization, and hierarchy that create and sustain material inequality and misery, and that — in the process — are wreaking devastation on the environment. Right now millions of people see banks, the stock market, and the dog-eat-dog economy as the problem, not the solution.

A boss-napping in France that forces a company to pay an extra three months severance is ultimately not very threatening to capitalism. The workers are still accepting their status as workers and the bosses’ right to own the factory and close it if they like. The extra wages can be factored in as a cost of doing business. The manager taken hostage is usually just another paid employee of a big corporation — not all that close to the people who are really in charge. Such an action fails to question the flaws in the system that run deeper than a periodic downturn leading to some layoffs, business failures and foreclosures. How can such actions be put in a broader context and make wider demands?

Even when the capitalist economy is booming and consumption is growing, all the hours spent at work, new products to buy, and technological improvements leave us poorer in the things that really matter. When the economy is healthy, we are robbed of our time to invest in relationships and community. A world in which all our needs are increasingly met through the market — rather than voluntarily by other people around us — replaces meaning, depth and intimacy with distraction, superficial interactions, and loneliness.

The gross domestic product grows as more and more people eat highly processed food transported over great distances, and fewer and fewer people have the time to grow their own food in a garden and sit with friends cooking a slow supper. The mainstream assumption that more money, consumption and higher production improves the “standard of living” or human happiness is absurd — based on manufactured misunderstandings about what really matters.

This recession is perhaps the first major economic collapse since society has become fully aware of the environmental consequences of capitalism’s model of limitless economic growth. During the Great Depression, it was clear that capitalism led to economic inequality, arbitrary displacement and misery. Capitalism meant millions would live alienated, meaningless lives based on mechanistic consumption and production, rather than humanistic pursuits of freedom, joy and beauty. In the 1930s, the scale of world capitalism and the state of environmental awareness made it difficult to understand capitalism’s even more dramatic flaw: a model that requires limitless growth cannot coexist with a finite planet.

The subprime mortgage recession of 2008 — or whatever future generations may eventually call these times — is occurring within a far different context. Now, perhaps the chief indictment against the system is on environmental grounds. The idea of restoring the economy to “normal” becomes even more sinister when one considers the health of the world’s ecosystems.

Will the failures of the capitalist economy beyond temporary layoffs be on trial during this long, hot summer of discontent? Can a factory occupation demand not just severance pay, but that the factory be turned over to its workers rather than closed? And once we own the factory, will we redirect its function away from producing limitlessly for profit and consumerism, and towards manufacturing things we actually need in a way that doesn’t undermine our ability to live on a fragile planet? Or will we decide we don’t need factories and the stuff they make at all?

Militant tactics like wildcat strikes, bread riots and neighborhood eviction defense contain within them very important seeds for a different world. Each of these actions represents people alone or in groups stepping outside the dream world of the system — a world of consumers and spectators powerless to control their own lives. To the contrary, when you’re in the streets, you are a full participant in history, not a passive observer. You’re helping to determine what will happen next and how social institutions shall be organized or transformed.

Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Democracy Now Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

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.

US, South Korea Raise Military Alert Level

The United States and South Korea have raised their military alert level after North Korea said it would abandon the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War. North Korea’s move follows its nuclear test and several missile launches earlier this week. The US-South Korea Combined Forces Command says it’s raised the alert level to three, the highest since North Korea’s only other nuclear test in 2006.

Ex-Officer: Blocked Photos Showed Rape, Sexual Abuse at Abu Ghraib

The former Army officer in charge of investigating the Abu Graib scandal says the photos recently blocked by President Obama include images of rape and sexual abuse. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Major General Antonio Taguba said at least one picture shows a US soldier raping a female prisoner while another shows a male translator raping a male prisoner. Taguba says other photographs show sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. The Obama administration recently drew criticism when it reversed a pledge to allow the photographs’ release.

US Military Toll Highest in Iraq Since September ’08

In Iraq, four Iraqi civilians and a US soldier were killed Wednesday in a Baghdad car bombing. At least twenty US troops have died in Iraq this month, the most since September 2008.

Israel Vows Continued Settlement Building as Obama, Abbas Meet

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House today for his first meeting with President Obama since Obama’s inauguration. Ahead of Abbas’s arrival, the Obama administration renewed calls for Israel to stop settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. But Israeli officials, meanwhile, said they’ll continue expanding settlements to accommodate so-called “natural growth” amongst settler communities.

Israeli Figures Attribute Settlement Growth to Migration

Israel says it needs to keep building to meet the housing needs of growing settler families. But recent Israeli government statistics show a large percentage of settlement growth was caused by settlers moving in from outside the territories. Despite its call for a settlement freeze, the Obama administration has still refused to demand Israel dismantle any of the large settlements that carve up the West Bank and that the World Court has deemed illegal. In Ramallah, independent Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti called on the US to exert meaningful pressure on the Israeli government.

Mustafa Barghouti: “I believe that the Palestinian president should demand American immediate, clear-cut pressure on Israel. Without American pressure on Israel, there can be no progress for peace and there can be great threat to the idea of peace based on two-state solution.”

Report: Israel Taking Vast Majority of West Bank Water

A new World Bank study says Israel is now drawing four times as much water as Palestinians from a critical shared aquifer in the Occupied West Bank. Palestinians are taking just one-fifth of the water supply amidst a fifth-consecutive drought this year.

Amnesty: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression

The human rights group Amnesty International says the worldwide economic decline is leading to greater repression across the globe. In its annual global report, Amnesty warns, “We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode.” The report says abuses are increasing as marginalized communities demand basic rights amidst worsening economic security. It also says incidents of racism and xenophobia are on the rise in addition to new restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers. Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said the United States needs to address growing inequality at home.

Irene Khan: “We saw in the Americas in the last year still the issue of inequality very much on the agenda. The economic crisis has made it even more prominent now, where poor people are being ignored, indigenous peoples’ rights are being trampled upon, business and the economy taking precedence over livelihoods and lives of people. That is a major problem in the Americas.”

The full Amnesty International report comes out today.

Lengthy Sentences Handed Down in Holy Land Case

Five founders of a defunct Muslim charity have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in a controversial case that critics have called a political witch-hunt. The Holy Land Foundation founders were convicted last year on charges of funneling money to the Palestinian group Hamas. Holy Land was the nation’s largest Muslim charity until the Bush administration shuttered it in 2001. The case relied on Israeli intelligence as well as disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by the FBI over a span of fifteen years. It was the second trial against the defendants after the first ended in a mistrial. Defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker were sentenced to 65 years apiece. At his sentencing hearing, Elashi said: “Nothing was more rewarding than … turning the charitable contributions of American Muslims into life assistance for the Palestinians. We gave the essentials of life – oil rice flour. The [Israeli] occupation was providing them with death and destruction.” Another defendant, Mohammad El-Mezain, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Hamas but acquitted on 31 other charges. Volunteer fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader was sentenced to 20 years in prison. And the fifth defendant, Abdulrahman Odeh, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Army Halts Training at Base over Record Suicides

The U.S. Army has temporarily suspended regular operations at a Kentucky base that leads the military in suicides. At least eleven soldiers have taken their lives at Fort Campbell this year. The Pentagon says it will halt regular training for three days so commanders can identify and help soldiers at risk of suicide.

Admin Mulls Single Agency for Regulating Banks

The Obama administration is reportedly considering establishing a single agency to regulate the banking industry. The new bureau would replace the several bodies that failed to prevent or foresee the nation’s economic collapse. The White House is expected to unveil a formal proposal in the coming weeks.

Obama Orders Secrecy Review

In other White House news President Obama has ordered a review of government secrecy and whether too many documents are being kept from the public. Obama has asked national security adviser James Jones to vet Cabinet officials on their disclosure process and appointed Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to head a task force on government secrecy.

Torture-Linked Firm Vacates Spokane Headquarters

The torture-linked military contractor Mitchell, Jessen and Associates has moved out of its Spokane, Washington office to an undisclosed location. Named for its founders, the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the firm played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s torture methods used on foreign prisoners. The investigative website ProPublica reports Mitchell-Jessen has disconnected its phone number and hasn’t left a forwarding address at its now vacated offices.

Activists Raise Environmental Concerns at Chevron Meeting

Activists gathered in and outside a shareholders meeting for the oil giant Chevron Wednesday in an attempt to call attention to the company’s environmental practices. Activist shareholders were able to address the meeting and propose a motion calling for a report evaluating Chevron’s environmental record. Hundreds of people also gathered outside for a protest against Chevron’s practices in several countries. Chevron is facing a $27 billion dollar damage claim over jungle pollution in Ecuador.

Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Meanwhile dozens gathered outside a New York courthouse where a landmark civil trial against the oil giant Shell had been set to begin. The case accuses Shell of supporting human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, including complicity in the torture and execution of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists. The trial has been delayed until next week. Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International said he hopes the trial will bring attention to problems facing the Niger Delta.

Steve Kretzmann: “What we really hope as a result of the trial is the underlying issues that Ken and the other Niger Delta peoples were trying to address, the constant gas flaring, the pollution of their homeland, the complete abject poverty, we hope these issues are addressed in Nigeria because that is ultimately what Ken and the Ogoni were struggling for and what communities in Nigeria are still struggling for today.”

The case was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-citizens to file suits for human rights abuses overseas.

Illinois Senate Backs Medical Marijuana

In Illinois, the state Senate has passed a measure to legalize medical marijuana. The measure now goes to the state House, where it’s already passed in a committee vote.

U.S. Plans Massive Embassy in Pakistan

The U.S. is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan similar to its current embassy in Iraq. In a recent funding request, the Obama administration asked Congress for $736 million dollars to build a new U.S. embassy as well permanent housing for U.S. officials in Islamabad. The request falls just below the $740 million dollar cost of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Burmese Court Bars Suu Kyi Witnesses

In Burma, the court overseeing the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected three of four witnesses that would have testified on her behalf. Suii Kyi is accused of violating her house arrest over an unwanted visit from an American citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The American, John Yettaw, testified Wednesday he was prompted by a ‘vision’ of Suii Kyi’s assassination. Yettaw is believed to be mentally unstable. Wednesday marked both the 19th anniversary of Suu Kyi’s victory in national elections that Burma’s military junta has refused to acknowledge and the sixth anniversary of the last time she was free from house arrest.

Ex-Chilean Soldier Indicted in Jara Killing

In Chile, a former soldier has been indicted on charges of involvement in the 1973 killing of the Chilean protest singer Victor Jara. Chilean military forces tortured and killed Jara days after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected President Salvador Allende. Jara’s hands were smashed so he could no longer play guitar before he was shot 44 times. The former soldier, Adolfo Paredes Marquez, has admitted to involvement but denies pulling the trigger. Chilean human rights attorney Nelson Caucoto said he hopes the commanding officers can be located and prosecuted.

Nelson Caucoto: “I hope we get to the bosses, the ones who gave the orders. Because I imagine that in this chain of command an 18-year-old didn’t have much of a chance to resist orders.”

Ethnic Studies Pioneer Ronald Takaki Dies at 70

Back in the United States, the ethnic studies professor and author Ronald Takaki has died at the age of 70. Takaki taught at University of California Berkeley for more than three decades. He is widely considered a founding figure in the field of multicultural studies.

Haitian Priest, Activist Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste Dies at 62

And the Haitian spiritual and political leader, the Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste, has died. He was sixty-two years old. Doctors say he suffered a stroke unrelated to the leukemia he battled three years ago. Jean-Juste was well-known as an advocate for Haitian refugees and later an outspoken supporter of the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after his overthrow in the 2004 U.S.-backed coup. The U.S.-appointed provisional government jailed Jean-Juste two times during its rule. The latest came in 2005, right before he was expected to register as a favored candidate in Haiti’s national elections. In 2004, I interviewed Father Jean-Juste right after his release from his first prison term.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste: “Look what they have done to Haiti, it is broken into pieces. Now we have to collect the pieces, and allow the people to come together, and I don’t see any way now unless President Aristide is restored to power and democracy has been corrected. The same way we do it in 1994.”