environment

Grand Rapids Press Advocates for More Ethanol Production

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In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention placed on global warming. From the focus on “green jobs,” to “sustainability,” and “clean energy” there has been a lot of talk about what to do to address the problem. Much of this talk has centered around finding ways to “address” the problem while maintaining the current levels of production and industrialization, something which I just can’t see happening. If the underlying system is inherently destructive, it’s hard to image that giving it a new “green” coating–say with wind power instead of coal power–is really going to make that much of a difference if we maintain the ideology of unlimited growth.

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press published an editorial that advocated the passage of a bill that would allow small-scale ethanol plants in Michigan. Ethanol–one of the great false solutions to global warming–requires growing plants to provide fuel. According to the Grand Rapids Press, not only would this help Michigan’s farmers remain economically sound, but it would also be an important step towards a renewable energy future:

Ethanol is the most common biofuel. An efficient, renewable fuel source that proves less expensive is good for Michigan’s economy and the national effort to break our foreign-oil dependency. There are not many farmers currently engaged in small-scale production, but fluctuating energy prices and better technology could lead to more interest.

Unfortunately, biofuels really aren’t anywhere near sustainable. To run every vehicle in the United States on biofuels, you would have to dedicate the entire country’s agriculture output to fuel. Moreover, growing such crops relies on–and would likely expand–the destructive industrial agricultural system. That agriculture system–as well as ethanol production–is powered by fossil fuels.

Greenpeace writes:

Other ‘innovative’ solutions, like biofuels (which are mentioned in the ‘Clean Energy Dialogue’), have a terrible human cost. In 2007, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food called biofuels, which are made from food crops like wheat and corn, a ‘crime against humanity.’ According to the Earth Policy Institute, the grain needed to fill the gas tank of an SUV could feed one person for a year. Biofuels are already taking food out of the mouths of people. In 2008, approximately one-third of the US corn crop went to biofuel. Last year the United Nations World Food Programme also warned that it lacked the resources to keep up with rising food prices which it attributed, in part, to biofuels.

New Coalition Calls for Action Against Diesel Pollution in Michigan

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

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

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

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

Call Ehlers to Oppose Legislation that will make it Easier to Build a New Coal Power Plant in Holland

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I’ve never been a big fan of MoveOn–they are generally way too close to the Democratic Party and are largely unwilling to challenge U.S. imperialism–but they did send out a nice action alert to the people on their West Michigan mailing list asking them to call Representative Vern Ehlers about a measure in Congress that would repeal sections of the Clean Air Act and make it easier to remove roadblocks to the plant.

In the past, MediaMouse.org has highlighted local opposition to the plant and highlighted how the technology being promoted for it is unproven. Aside from being a good way to help stop the coal rush in Michigan, it’s also a good test to see how Ehlers–who has the reputation of being an environmentalist–responds.

Please take the time to call Representative Ehlers today:

For years, Holland Board of Public Works has been trying to build a dirty, coal-fired power plant in Holland, not far from you. If built, the James DeYoung Power Plant would spew out smog and soot pollution, and you’d be in the high-risk zone for health effects. (1)

Until now, local activists with groups like the Sierra Club have been able to stop this and other plants. Relying on the Clean Air Act and other protections, activists have heroically battled Holland Board of Public Works to keep this giant new polluter out of Holland. (2)

But now, coal industry lobbyists have forced a terrible provision into the new energy bill–it would repeal crucial sections of the Clean Air Act and remove some key remaining roadblocks to Holland Board of Public Works’s plant. (3)

Congress is voting next week. Can you call Rep. Ehlers right away?

You can say something like this: “I don’t want a new dirty coal plant in Holland. Please oppose the repeal of the Clean Air Act provisions in the energy bill.”

Representative Vernon Ehlers

Phone: 202-225-3831

Grand Rapids District Office: 616-451-8383

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

http://pol.moveon.org/call/index.html?cp_id=956&tg=FHMI_03&id=&t=14

What does this mean in your area? If the coal industry wins, local groups may be unable to stop the James DeYoung Power Plant in Holland. The Clean Air Act provision at stake here requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for global warming pollution for coal plants. Every local coal plant fight is different, but in general it’ll be much easier for coal companies and utilities to get funding to build new plants if there’s no chance the EPA will force those plants to cut their global warming pollution.

How did this happen? For years, George W. Bush refused to use the Clean Air Act to cut global warming pollution. But the Obama administration has taken the first steps toward changing that, so the coal industry is desperate to take away Obama’s authority to limit global warming pollution.

We got Congress’s attention in the last two weeks with a powerful grassroots drive to fix this and other problems in the energy bill. We made thousands of phone calls, wrote letters to local newspapers, and delivered petition signatures in person to hundreds of congressional offices. But we’re not there yet.

The clock is ticking down to the big vote next week, and we need to stop the repeal of this key provision in the Clean Air Act. Can you call Rep. Ehlers today?

Sources:

1. “Surry coal plant: Just say no,” The (Newport News) Daily Press, June 7, 2009 and “Estimating the Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power Plants Receiving International Financing,” Environmental Defense Fund, 2009

2. “Stopping the Coal Rush,” Sierra Club and “Taking on King Coal,” Time, November 5, 2008

3. “EPA urged to act on climate, not wait for Congress,” Associated Press, May 18, 2009

Grand Rapids Water Festival Saturday

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On Saturday, the annual Grand Rapids Water Festival will take place in Riverside Park from 12:00pm to 9:00pm. The event will feature tables from environmental organizations, speakers, and a number of performances by folk and bluegrass bands. Among those slated to speak are representatives from the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. You can view the full schedule online.

Here’s a video featuring Michigan residents sharing their reflections on the importance of water to Michigan:

Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Mining Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

Democracy Now Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out 'Public' Health Care

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.

Admin Rules Out U.S. Re-settlement for Gitmo Prisoners

The Obama administration says its scrapping plans to let foreign prisoners cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay live in the United States. The White House had already announced its opposition to admitting a group of seventeen Chinese Uyghur prisoners even though they were no longer designated ‘enemy combatants’ and ordered immediately freed. Administration officials cited Congressional opposition to the Uyghurs’ release in arguing they stood no chance in convincing lawmakers to accept other freed prisoners.

6 Gitmo Prisoners Freed

The news comes as four of the Uyghur prisoners have been released to Bermuda, where they will live as foreign guest workers. The U.S. is still in talks to send the remaining thirteen to the Pacific archipelago of Palau. Two other Guantanamo prisoners were also released Thursday and sent to their home countries of Iraq and Chad. The Chadian, Mohammed El Gharani, was the youngest Guantanamo Bay prisoner on record, having been arrested in Pakistan at the age of fourteen.

Dems Resolve Gitmo, Photo Differences in War Funding Bill

Congressional Democrats meanwhile have reached an agreement on a war funding bill that would authorize the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to stand trial in the United States. The measure does not include language allowing indefinite detention as President Obama has inititally proposed. The White House also dropped a request for a provision imposing a Congressional ban on the release of photos showing the abuse of prisoners at U.S. jails in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama said he will continue to seek the photos’ censorship through an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Anti-War Lawmakers Urge Rejection of War Funding

The war funding bill includes more than $90 billion dollars for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and is expected be voted on next week. In a letter to other House members who have previously opposed war funding, Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey of California and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio urged them to retain “steadfast opposition” to the new bill. Speaking on the House floor, Kucinich said the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is based on “aggression and lies.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “A new administration and the same old war, with an expansion of the war in Afghanistan. We cannot afford these wars. We cannot afford these wars spiritually. They are wars of aggression and they are based on lies. We cannot afford these wars financially. They add trillions to our national debt and destroy our domestic agenda. We cannot afford the human cost of these wars, the loss of lives of our beloved troops and the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq , Afghanistan , and Pakistan.”

Senate Backs Sweeping Tobacco Regulation

The Senate has approved a measure that would strengthen government regulation over the tobacco industry. On Thursday, Senators voted 79 to 17 to give the Food and Drug Administration new authority in overseeing the manufacture and marketing of tobacco. The FDA would be able to ban the most harmful of the thousands of chemicals used in cigarettes and reduce the amount of nicotine. Tobacco companies would also be forced to disclose the ingredients in their products. The House passed a similar measure last month. A longtime cigarette smoker himself, President Obama has vowed to sign the legislation into law.

Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

President Obama was in Green Bay, Wisconsin Thursday to promote his push for health care reform. Speaking at a town-hall style event, Obama rejected criticism of his calls for creating a government-run public insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

President Obama: “To those who criticize our efforts, I ask them, ‘What’s the alternative?’ What else do we say to all the families who spend more on health care than on housing or on food? What do we tell those businesses that are choosing between closing their doors and letting their workers go?”

Obama’s comments were aimed at critics who have opposed any type of public health plan. Private insurers have opposed a government-run program out of fear they’d be unable to compete with its cheaper costs. Obama did not however address his progressive critics who advocate the creation of a single-payer system that would eliminate for-profit insurance companies entirely. As Obama promoted his version of a public insurance program, a key Senate Democrat said he would oppose any form of public health care. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair leading Congressional efforts on health care reform, said he would propose a plan based on creating member-based insurance cooperatives not run by the government. Bacus explicitly ruled out using the word “public”, saying: “It’s not going to be public, we won’t call it public, but it will be tough enough to keep insurance companies’ feet to the fire.”

Von Brunn Charged With Murder in Holocaust Museum Shooting

The white supremacist James von Brunn has been charged with murder for Wednesday’s shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. On Thursday, Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, spoke of her son’s life.

Jacqueline Carter: “He’s just a beautiful person. He liked his job and he worked a lot. It would be just like him to try and protect people from harm.”

Von Brunn remains in critical condition from wounds sustained when other security guards returned fire. Meanwhile Thursday, the FBI acknowledged it had been “aware” of Von Brunn’s hateful writings about religious and ethnic minorities but that it never launched a criminal probe.

WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of the swine flu a global pandemic. On Thursday, the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to six, its highest level. Health officials say the alert level means the swine flu has spread to two world regions and doesn’t signify a likely increase in deaths or serious cases.

General: Afghan Violence Worse Since 2001

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. General David Petraeus said the attacks hit a more than seven-year high last week. Addressing the public outrage in Afghanistan over scores of deadly U.S. attacks, Petraeus said*: “This is the graveyard of empires. . . . It is a place that has never taken kindly to would-be conquerors.”

Iran Holds Presidential Elections

In Iran, a record turnout is expected today for a presidential election between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and three opposition candidates. Ahmadinejad is facing a stiff challenge from Mir Hossein Mousavi, an architect and artist who served as Prime Minister of Iran between 1981 and 1989.

Carter: Hamas Key to Future Peace Deal

Former President Jimmy Carter is renewing criticism of the U.S.-led boycott of the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Speaking on a visit to Syria, Carter said the U.S. and Israel should drop their refusal to deal with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. Carter also called for a prisoner exchange that would see the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza for some of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Jimmy Carter: “I don’t believe there is any possibility to have peace between Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved directly in harmony with Fatah. My hope is that we could see some agreement between Hamas and Israel with the release of Shalit and an equivalent, the release of prisoners that Israel is holding, Palestinians.”

Aid Groups to Return to Darfur

In Sudan, the Sudanese government has authorized several aid groups to return to Darfur. Sudan expelled the groups in March after the International Criminal Court charged President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with committing war crimes in Darfur. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the groups have been readmitted on the condition they change their names and logos. Holmes also said the aid groups will return to humanitarian crisis that worsened during their absence.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “However effective the efforts of the government, United Nations, the remaining NGOs have been in preventing a further immediate crisis, they have not yet replaced and can not easily or rapidly replace the capacity and skills lost. Current levels of assistance in some areas remain well below the necessary standards to which we subscribe, and as we enter the hunger gap and rainy season, the needs and gaps will only be further exacerbated.”

Thousands of Peruvians Rally Against Indigenous Crackdown

In Peru, thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations Thursday to support an indigenous protest against oil and natural gas exploration in the Amazon rainforest. Police used tear gas on a crowd of at least 20,000 protesters near the national Congress in Lima. Tensions have flared after last week’s police killings of an estimated 30 civilians at an indigenous roadblock. On a visit to Cuba, Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced support for the indigenous protests.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It’s not possible that the most oppressed people in Latin America’s history be humiliated like we have seen in recent days in some regions. We hope these problems are a lesson in understanding the demands, the demands of defending life, the environment, the planet earth and humanity, as Fidel said.”

The unrest in Peru has ties to U.S. trade policy. The land laws that sparked the uprising were passed under “fast track” authority granted to Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government to implement the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Activists Protest Schumer for Backing Peru Trade Deal

On Thursday, three activists were released from jail following their arrest for blockading the New York offices of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The activists say they confronted Schumer for his refusal to address human rights concerns in voting for the U.S.-Peru trade deal in 2007.

New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective

Environmental groups and Appalachian activists are criticizing new Obama administration rules on mountaintop removal as too lax on the coal industry. On Thursday, the White House unveiled new regulations governing mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits, imposing more extensive environmental reviews, and asserting federal authority over state-level regulators. But critics say the rules offer few specifics and will have little effect if any. Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice said: “The administration is proposing… to essentially [rearrange] the bureaucratic deck chairs on the disastrous ship that is mountaintop removal. They announced… no substantive policies to actually stop the destruction [it's] caused.’

Interior Report Criticizes Bush Sale of Utah Land

A new Department of Interior report has faulted the Bush administration for its rush to sell off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah last year. The report says the Bush administration did not follow longstanding procedures in trying to sell off 22 parcels of land. The sale was later cancelled by Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The report’s findings could bolster the defense of a college student who disrupted the auction by posing as a bidder. The student, Tim DeChristopher, is currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction.

Iraq War Vet Commits Suicide

In California, a 24-year old Iraq war veteran has committed suicide. Former Army Specialist Trevor Hogue was found dead in his childhood home last week. He had hung himself to death. His mother says he was left seriously emotionally scarred after witnessing a bombing attack on other members of his unit.

Owner of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Sentenced to 1-Year Term

An owner of a California dispensary for medical marijuana has been sentenced to one year in prison. The owner, Charles Lynch, was given the jail term despite the Obama administration’s vow not to prosecute medical dispensers who comply with state law. But federal judge George Wu said the new federal policy would not affect his ruling.

Survey: 2.8M Homes Unprepared for Switch to Digital TV

And analog television signals will shut off tonight as the U.S. completes the transition to digital TV. The survey group Nielson says around 2.8 million homes remain unprepared for the switch. Most of the unprepared households fall in the low-income, elderly and rural demographics.

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.

Local and Michigan Headlines: West Michigan Ready for Wind Power Development; Recycling Improvements Proposed for Kent County

We missed yesterday, but here’s some recent Michigan headlines:

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

Wake Up Weekend Videos Now Online

Calvin College has posted the videos from this winter’s “Wake Up Weekend”–an annual celebration of animal advocacy–online. They are very much worth watching for anyone wanting to learn more about animal rights, animal advocacy, veganism, and factory farming.

The following video–just one of many–is of Nekeisha Alexis-Baker’s talk on “Speciesim, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions.” We wrote about her talk over the winter and were quite impressed by it:

Watered Down Global Warming Bill Advances in Congress

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Last week, the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a 930-page climate bill to the full Congress. The bill establishes a cap-and-trade system to regulate global warming causing emissions, requires an increase in renewable energy, and sets many new energy efficiency standards. It calls for an overall reduction in emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.

While the bill is historic in the sense that the Congress is finally trying to do something to address global warming, the bill is inadequate in several key areas.

The emission reductions have been criticized by Greenpeace, who says that substantially larger emissions reductions are needed, saying that at least 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050 are the kind of cuts science demands.

Of the bill as a whole, a coalition of environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said:

As passed through the Energy & Commerce Committee, the American Clean Energy and Security Act sets targets for reducing pollution that are far weaker than science says is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. The targets are far less ambitious than what is achievable with already existing technology. They are further undermined by massive loopholes that could allow the most polluting industries to avoid real emission reductions until 2027. Rather than provide relief and support to consumers, the bill showers polluting industries with hundreds of billions of dollars in free allowances and direct subsidies that will slow renewable energy development and lock in a new generation of dirty coal-fired power plants. At the same time, the bill would remove the President’s authority to address global warming pollution using laws already on the books.

The public advocacy group Public Citizen further criticized the bill saying that it was influenced by backroom dealing and industry lobbyists at the expense of the citizenry. The result? A bill where polluting industries are left off the hook while working people are expected to pay increased energy rates.

Environmental journalist Jeffrey St. Clair and fellow journalist Joshua Frank wrote of the bill:

Not surprisingly, Obama refuses to consider strict regulation let alone a carbon tax to address the country’s big CO2 emitters. Instead, after intense pressure from the pollution lobby, Obama’s approach to attacking with climate change has been whittled down to nothing more than weak market-driven economics that can too easily be manipulated politically. Polluters will be let off the hook as they can simply relocate or build new infrastructure in places where there are few or no carbon regulations.

Moreover, the bill gives away many of the pollution credits which undermines the very market approach they are trying to use, according to Public Citizen:

Europe’s experience shows that when the right to pollute is given free to energy companies, nations fail to meet their emissions caps and price signals in the carbon trading markets are undermined. While we can understand providing some allowances to energy-intensive domestic manufacturing industries that are subject to fierce international competition, the same cannot be said for oil refiners or coal utilities. The bottom line is that this thwarts the very goal of curbing global warming.

The big problem with the bill before Congress is that it accepts the logic that the very “free markets” that caused global warming, can put a stop to the problem by altering their behavior through market-based incentives. According to the “cap-and-trade” plan, companies will have a double incentive to reduce pollution because they will have a limited amount of pollution credits and can sell what they don’t use on a “carbon market.”

These “cap and trade” plans have bee criticized by environmental radicals () who charge that they have not worked in Europe and that they are not strict enough. Along with the “cap and trade” system, the bill also includes funding for carbon capture sequestration (CCS)–an unproven technology that the polluting coal industry clings to as its last lifeline.

Instead of market-based approaches and unproven technologies, real change in our lifestyles and our economy are needed–not just token gestures.

Unfortunately, while that may be true, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in going that route at this point. All too many progressives and liberals are willing to accept a watered down climate bill because they think it is “the best we can get” rather than going the more difficult route of building a strong movement for climate justice.

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.