Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Democracy Now Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush's Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

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.

Supporters of Mousavi Hold Mourning Rally in Tehran

Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir hossein Mousavi are staging a fifth day of protest today to honor persons killed during the mass demonstrations over the past week. Mousavi accuses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging last week’s election. Hundreds of opposition activists, journalists and intellectuals have been reportedly arrested in recent days, including former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Tavassali. Earlier today Iran’s most senior legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it will meet the three defeated candidates from Friday’s presidential election to discuss their complaints about the poll.

Iran Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Its Internal Affairs

The Iranian government is now accusing several foreign nations of interfering in it internal affairs. On Wednesday the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest of what it called “meddling” by the United States because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections.

U.S. State Dept Asks Twitter to Delay Shutdown Due to Iran Protests

The U.S. State Department has admitted it contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Meanwhile the video website YouTube has said it has relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.

Obama Extends Some Benefits To Same Sex Partners of Federal Workers

In Washington, President Obama has signed a memorandum to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, but the president did not offer survivor benefits or comprehensive healthcare, drawing sharp criticism from within the gay community.

President Obama: “I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality. Many of our government’s hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason; the people that they love are of the same sex.”

Obama made the policy change by issuing a memorandum not an executive order. This means the policy change will expire when Obama leaves office. Several prominent gay rights activists have criticized the president in recent days for failing to live up to campaign promises. Last week the administration filed a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. On Wednesday, however, Obama said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has also been criticized for not pushing for an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal

Attorney General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and refused to declare President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to be illegal. Holder was repeatedly questioned by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Sen. Russ Feingold: Now that you are the attorney general is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Eric Holder: Well I think that the warrantless wiretapping program as it existed at that point was certainly unwise in that it was put together without the approval of Congress…

Sen. Feingold: What I asked you Mr. Attorney General was not whether it was unwise but whether you consider it to have been illegal…

Holder: “The policy was an unwise one and that the concerns I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.

Sen. Feingold: But did you think it was illegal?

Holder: Well, I thought as a I said, it was inconsistent with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.

NSA Database Collects Millions Of Intercepted Emails

The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency is operating a secret surveillance database that contains millions of intercepted foreign and domestic e-mails. The NSA’s database – codenamed Pinwale – allows the NSA to search through millions of email messages including correspondence to and from Americans. The Times reports the NSA database even includes some intercepted personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton.

Obama Proposes New Regulations Of Financial Industry

President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reshaping U.S. financial regulation on Wednesday, aiming to tighten oversight of large firms whose excessive risk-taking triggered the global economic crisis. The proposals have been described as the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial rules since the 1930s.

President Obama: “I am proposing that the Federal Reserve be granted new authority and accountability-for regulating bank holding companies and other large firms that pose a risk to the entire economy in the event of failure. We will also raise the standards to which these kinds of firms are held. If you can pose a great risk, that means you have a great responsibility. We will require these firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements so that they are more resilient and less likely to fail.”

As part of his proposal, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama also wants to give the Federal Reserve more power to monitor “systemic risk” to the economy posed by the largest financial firms. The Wall Street Journal reports, executive compensation and hedge funds would also face more scrutiny. Bank regulation would be streamlined somewhat. Financial firms would be required to hold more capital.

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Nine in Pakistan

U.S. forces have carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan killing nine suspected militants. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a major offensive.

Suicide Bombing Kills Somalia’s National Security Minister

Meanwhile in Somalia, the nation’s security minister has been killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel injust north of the capital, Mogadishu. The blast killed at least nine other people. On Wednesday the police chief of Mogadishu was killed in a separate attack.

GOP Aide in Tennessee Distributes Racist Image of Obama

In Tennessee, Republican state Senator Diane Black is refusing to fire a staffer who sent a racist image of President Obama. The staffer, Sherri Goforth, sent out an e-mail with images of all the presidents of the United States. Barack Obama was depicted in the bottom right hand corner only as a pair of bright white eyes on a black background.

GOP Operative in SC Compares First Lady To A Gorilla

Meanwhile in South Carolina, a prominent Republican activist has apologized after making a joke on his Facebook page that an escaped gorilla from a local zoo was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Rusty DePass is the former Republican state elections director in South Carolina.

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Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

Employee Free Choice Act Still Alive

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After a lot of hope following the election of President Barack Obama, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–a measure aimed at making it easier for workers to form unions–seemed destined for failure in March. A key Republican Senator–Arlen Specter–withdrew his support for the bill and a group of CEOs offered an alternative proposal that would effectively neuter the bill by removing a key provision–“card check”–that allows workers to form a union once a simple majority of workers support it.

However, there are recent indications that the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is back on track. According to an article in Roll Call, months of negotiations in the Senate (http://www.theittlist.com/site/ittlist/ind/5456/) are starting to pay off with some sort of deal apparently being near. Senator Tom Harkin says that the bill may be ready by next month. The newspaper further reports that Specter is now looking for a way to support the legislation in order to fend off a Democratic challenger in the next election.

While negotiations are taking place in the Senate, unions are also increasing their efforts in support of the legislation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an ad campaign targeting five Senators whose votes are considered key in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads assert that the vote for the EFCA is a choice between supporting working people and the greedy CEOs that were responsible for the current economic crisis.

Hopefully grassroots pressure from labor and social justice groups can keep the Employee Free Choice Act intact, but with how recent “compromise” efforts seem to be going on things like war funding and global warming legislation, I’m not terribly optimistic.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Senate Republicans Looking to Cut College Assistance; Complaints against GRPD Increase

It has been a slow morning, but here are some interesting articles published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours:

  • Senate Republicans to Cut Michigan Promise Scholarship, Other College Tuition Aid – Republicans in the Michigan Senate are looking to cut a variety of college tuition scholarships that help low income students attend college. The need-based programs they are looking to cut include the Michigan Promise Scholarship, the Michigan Work Study Program, the Part-Time Independent Student program, and the Michigan Education Opportunity Grants. I highly doubt such a move will do anything to help the state’s economy.
  • Granholm, MEDC Announce Over 11,000 New Jobs For Michigan – The local media–and the progressive blog Blogging for Michigan–is talking up an announcement from Governor Jennifer Granholm that over 11,000 new jobs are coming to the state. Included in that number are 3,100 new jobs in West Michigan.
  • As federal case continues, developers rush to finish elite golf course on public dunes – The Michigan Messenger looks at the continued development a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Benton Harbor. The course was built on the site of a former public park and has been at the center of a controversy between developers and citizens. Now, the company has begun construction while it awaits a federal court ruling on the development. It’s hoping to circumvent a full environmental review of the project. Despite all the controversy, Governor Granholm has praised the project as the kind of development that she hopes to see across Michigan.
  • Grand Rapids area in bottom 20 of Brookings Institution report, but economist sees hope – The Kent, Barry, Ionia, and Newaygo area ranks near the bottom of a Brookings Institution report that measures metropolitan unemployment, production, and housing. However, the Grand Rapids Press talks to a local economist who says that West Michigan actually is getting better.
  • Grand Rapids Police Department sees ‘unheard of’ increase in firearms discharge by officers; citizen complaints also rise – In less than two years, the GRPD has discharged their firearms six times–a substantial increase over previous years. Still, according to the GRPD, this hasn’t meant that there has been widespread injury to officers or suspects. Additionally, complaints are up, but the GRPD attributes that to a new reporting system.

Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

Democracy Now Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

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.

House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill

The Democratic-controlled House has narrowly passed a $106 billion spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue funding the war in Iraq. 32 anti-war Democrats voted against the measure as did all but five Republicans. The Republicans opposed a part of the bill to increase funding for the International Monetary Fund. The final vote was 226 to 202. Congressman Dennis Kucinich voted against the war funding.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “We are destroying our nations moral and fiscal integrity with the War Supplemental. Instead of ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan now by appropriating only enough money to bring our troops home, Congress abdicates its Constitutional authority, defers to the President and asks for a report. That’s right. All we are asking for is a report about when the President will end the war.

Dennis Kucinich also criticized the increased funding for the International Monetary Fund.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “There is money too for the IMF, presumably to bail out European banks. Billions for the IMF so they can force low- and middle- income nations to cut jobs, wages, healthcare and retirement security, just like corporate America does to our constituents. And there is money to incentivize the purchase of more cars, but not necessarily from the US because the Buy American Mandate was not allowed. Another $106 billion and all we get is a lousy war. Pretty soon that is all that is going to be about the only thing made in America: war.”

UN: Record Of Number Internally Displaced Persons

The United Nations is reporting a record number of internally displaced persons received UN assistance in 2008. 14.4 million people were registered as living under UN care. Another 11.6 million internally displaced persons were left to fend for themselves or receive assistance from other agencies. The total number of internally displaced persons has increased even more since the end of 2008 due to fighting in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

As Protests Continue In Iran, Ebadi Calls For New Election

Anti-government protesters are filling the streets of Tehran again today calling for last week’s election results to be thrown out. Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi accuse President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging the election. On Tuesday backers of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad both held massive rallies Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has called for a new election under the watch of international observers.

Obama: U.S. Should Not Meddle In Iranian Elections

In Washington President Obama resisted calls for the United States to take a direct stance on the situation in Iran.

President Obama: “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.”

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain criticized Obama’s handling of the crisis.

Sen. John McCain: “He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election. The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime. And they should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.”

Iranian Government Cracks Down on Foreign Press & Websites

Meanwhile the Iranian government has revoked press credentials for foreign journalists and ordered journalists not to report from the streets. Much of the video footage from Iran is now coming from Iranian citizens who are posting video to YouTube and other sites.

Amateur video posted on the internet earlier today appears to show members of the Revolutionary Guard firing at a crowd of demonstrators from the roof of their building in Tehran on Monday. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps said today it will pursue legal action against websites that it claimed were inciting people to riot as well as the people who post material to the websites.

Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

President Obama is expected to sign a presidential memorandum today to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage. Obama is making the announcement at a time when he is facing growing anger among gay supporters over his administration’s recent decision to file a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. During the presidential campaign Obama called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as well as the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Report: Anti-Gay Killings Jump 28 Percent in 2008

Meanwhile a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people killed in bias-motivated attacks increased by 28 percent last year. The group documented 29 killings in 2008, the highest number recorded since 1999.

Obama To Outline Major Financial Regulatory Changes

In economic news, President Obama is expected to propose today the creation of an independent and powerful Consumer Financial Product Safety Commission to regulate financial products such as mortgages and credit cards. The McClatchy Newspapers reports that as part of the proposal, the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators would lose their oversight over mortgages, credit cards and other financial products that are sold to consumers. At the same time Obama is proposing expanding the Feds role as the regulator of the nation’s largest banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to include other giant financial firms, such as the insurance companies AIG and MetLife.

Report: Unemployment Crisis To Continue Until 2014

Meanwhile a leading economic forecaster is projecting that much of the country will not return to peak employment until at least 2012 and many cities won’t return to recent peaks until 2014 or later. Six million jobs have been lost since the recession began 18 months ago.

Carter: Gaza Residents Are Treated “More Like Animals Than Human Beings”

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians in Gaza were being treated “more like animals than human beings.” Carter made the comment after touring the Gaza Strip for the first time since the Israeli attack.

Jimmy Carter: “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Jimmy Carter also called for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.

Jimmy Carter: “There is no explanation. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, in Cairo, in Washington and in the capitals of Europe, throughout the international community. This abuse must cease. The crimes committed against you must be investigated. The walls must be brought down and the basic right of freedom must come to you.”

1979 State Dep’t Ruling: Israel Settlements “Inconsistent With International Law”

Meanwhile new attention is being paid to a State Department opinion issued during Jimmy Carter’s administration regarding Israeli settlements. In 1979 a State Department legal adviser issued an opinion that stated the establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is “inconsistent with international law.” The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The legal opinion has never been revoked or revised. On Tuesday Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington Michael Oren claimed that Israel does not have the ability to halt all settlement building.

Michael Oren: “This is a country of law, and citizens of the state of Israel have rights under that law and if a person has purchased a house, if a person has taken out a contract for building a house, if a corporation is involved in a construction activity, the Israeli government does not have the right under Israeli law to stop them. If it tries to, they will appeal to the (Israeli) supreme court and, my guess is, the supreme court will view in favor of those appellants.”

The future of the Israeli settlements is expected to be discussed at today’s meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

New Gov’t Report: Global Warming Is Unequivocal

A new report by the Obama administration says global warming is “unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” The Washington Post reports the study details how climate change will affect certain parts of the United States. In the Northeast, the heaviest rainstorms have become 67 percent heavier since 1958, as warmer weather evaporates more water vapor into the atmosphere to feed storm clouds. Around the Great Lakes, snowstorms could get heavier as ice recedes and exposes more open water. By 2100 parts of the South could experience 150 days a year with temperatures higher than 90 degrees.

Peruvian Prime Minister To Resign

Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon has announced plans to resign following the bloody clashes between indigenous activists and the police. Simon has led negotiations with indigenous groups protesting decrees to foreign oil and gas development in the Amazon jungle. Meanwhile the Peruvian Foreign Ministry has announced that it has granted safe passage to indigenous leader Alberto Pizango to leave Peru for Nicaragua, which has granted him political asylum. On Tuesday Bolivian President Evo Morales accused Peruvian President Alan Garcia of committing genocide.

Evo Morales: “I’m convinced that what happened in Peru is genocide caused the free trade agreement. Privatization hands South America and Latin America’s Amazon forests over to multinationals. Now the free trade agreement is causing genocide not just in Latin America, but all over the world.”

In other news from Peru, protesters have blocked access to one of the country’s largest gold mines. Peru is the world’s sixth-largest gold producer.

Mogadishu Police Chief Killed

In Somalia the police chief of the capital Mogadishu has been killed in a day of heaving fighting between government forces and Islamic milittants. More than 250 people have been killed in Somalia over the past month.

Republican Senator John Ensign Admits To Affair

On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada has admitted he had an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer. Ensign was seen as a potential candidate for president in 2012. Ensign is a born-again Christian who was a member of the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group that promotes marital fidelity. Ensign had once claimed he never met behind closed doors with women staff members and would not travel alone in a car with a woman who was not his wife. In 2007 Ensign urged Idaho Senator Larry Craig to resign after his arrest in a men’s bathroom for alleged lewd conduct.

Trial of Former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson Begins

The federal trial of former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana has begun. On Tuesday federal prosecutors told jurors Jefferson had squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from people who sought his help. Jefferson has been charged with 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. In 2005 the FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 wrapped in foil and stuffed in food containers in a freezer.

Pioneering Doctor Leo Orris, 93, Dies

Ad doctor Leo Orris has died at the age of 93. He was a pioneer in environmental medicine, and discovered the causative link between tobacco and cancer in 1958.

White House Pressures Anti-War Democrats to Support War Funding Bill

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Over the past few weeks–and really years–we’ve harped on the Democrats unwillingness to mount a serious challenge to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s critical that someone do that, because for all the talk of them being “Bush’s wars,” the simple fact is that they wouldn’t have been possible without the Democrats’ complicity. Most often, this has meant the Democrats’ willingness to come through with continued funding for the war.

Last week, we reported that the Democrats have drafted a “compromise” on the current war funding bill that they hope will get anti-war Democrats on board. Rather than add measures that would appeal to those anti-war legislators, the leadership has instead added unrelated measures such as cash incentives for consumers that purchase fuel efficient cars.

Over the weekend, it also came out that the White House is using Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to pressure progressive legislators to support the bill. According to media reports, the administration is targeting freshman members of Congress–many who were elected in part on their anti-war platform–to pressure them to change their votes. The White House is allegedly threatening to pull support from those legislators come reelection time. Emanuel has also reportedly offered to cut deals with Republicans who are willing to support the legislation, saying that the Democrats will go easy on them in the 2010 elections. Obama has also reportedly entered the fray and is calling members of the House to secure their vote.

I think it’s pretty telling that the so-called “attack dog” Rahm Emanuel–who many liberals defended as being necessary to push legislation through Congress against obstructionist Republicans–is being used by the Obama administration to target progressive lawmakers. It says a lot about where they are at on foreign policy, although it really isn’t much of a surprise. He has been consistently in support of the wars since 2007, but most of his supporters ignored it and hoped that he would somehow change his mind once in office. Clearly, that didn’t–and obviously wouldn’t–work, but now we’re seeing the results of that mistake with the continued support for the war in Iraq and the escalation of the Afghanistan War.

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

Local and Michigan Headlines: How Much Power Does Consumers Need; High Speed Railways in Michigan

Here’s links to a few worthwhile articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that have been published elsewhere on the web. As always, if we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

  • How Much Power Does Consumers Need? – Consumers Energy is under fire both for high fees it is charging for its renewable energy as well as its estimate of the state’s energy needs. A coalition of environmental and citizens groups is saying that the utility company has greatly over estimated how much energy Michigan needs and that it is using flawed numbers.
  • Hoekstra tweets response to court ruling – Earlier this year, Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is running for governor of Michigan–was at the center of a controversy for his use of Twitter and the disclosure of classified information. Now, he’s at it again on Twitter, dismissing Court ruling as “crazy.”
  • EPA downplays dredging risk to Bay City water supply – After citizens raised concerns about the possibility of dioxin-contaminated sediments moving downstream as part of a dredging project in the Saginaw River, the EPA has responded by saying that they won’t test for dioxin downstream.
  • Standing Up Against the Establishment – This post over at West Michigan Rising is from a person interested in running for Michigan’s 20th District Senate seat. However, he says that he was met with opposition from the Democratic Party establishment which is seeking a less progressive candidate. It’s a predictable response from the party, as is the first comment in response to the post in which the commenter attacks the author for deciding to go to the Green Party.
  • Call Conyers to Support His Opposition to Bigger Wars – Michigan Representative John Conyers has consistently voiced his opposition to an upcoming spending bill that would continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging people to thank Conyers for his stand.
  • When workers lead the way – A retired autoworker looks at how the UAW’s leadership and their role in accepting concessions that will harm workers.
  • High speed railways discussed before task force – A summary of a legislative task force’s hearing on a proposed high speed rail system between Detroit/Ann Arbor and Chicago.

Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Torture Truth Commission

Democracy Now Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

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.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Iran; Seven Killed

In Iran, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tehran Monday to protest last week’s disputed presidential election. Defying an official ban on protests, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi joined the massive crowd, which has been described as the largest anti-government demonstration in Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The protests turned bloody last night when seven people were reportedly killed. Meanwhile, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council says it will order a recount of votes in contested areas of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in Friday’s poll with 63 percent, compared with 34 percent for Mousavi. On Monday, President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence but would continue to pursue “tough direct diplomacy” with Iran. Supporters of Mousavi have also been holding protests in Paris, New York, Washington and other cities. Babak Talebi took part in a demonstration Monday in Washington.

Babak Talebi: “We are here to show our solidarity with the people inside Iran who are out on the streets demanding that their voice be heard. And they’re demanding a new election, and we’re demanding that the previous one on Friday not be legitimized through recognition in the mainstream media and international entities. We want to make sure that we all stand with the people in Iran and what their demands are.”

Report: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured

A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that Senator Edward Kennedy’s plan to expand healthcare coverage would cost about $1 trillion over the next ten years and fall far short of providing universal healthcare coverage. According to the CBO, the plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million people, but even if the bill became law, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017.

Supreme Court Won’t Review Cuban Five Case

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by five jailed Cuban nationals known as the Cuban Five. The five men were convicted in 2001 for spying on the US military and Cuban exiles in southern Florida. All five are serving time in federal prisons across the country. The men say they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission. Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s Parliament, criticized the Supreme Court for refusing to hear the appeal.

Ricardo Alarcon: “Today is a day of shame and of anger. It is a day of shame for those who believe in justice in the North American system. It is a day of anger for many people in all the world that have called upon the US Supreme Court to do something very simple, which is to review the case of the Cuban Five.”

Attorneys for the Cuban Five have argued their trial should have been moved from Miami, the heart of the Cuban American community, because of a biased jury pool.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Border Wall Case

The Supreme Court has also refused to accept a case seeking to stop construction of a wall along the the US-Mexico border. Several Texas border communities had sued the federal government after former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff waived thirty-six federal laws protecting water, air quality, endangered animals and Native American sites in order to build the border wall.

Pelosi Pressures Antiwar Democrats to Back War Funding Bill

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic House leadership is pressuring antiwar Democrats to support a $106 billion supplemental war funding bill. In May, fifty-one antiwar Democrats opposed an earlier version of the bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pressure some of those Democrats to switch their votes to help pass a new version of the bill that also includes increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey says the White House has threatened to pull support from freshman antiwar Democrats who vote no on the bill. In order to block passage, thirty-nine House Democrats need to join with Republicans opposing the bill.

Pakistan to Expand Offensive Against Taliban

Pakistan is preparing to expand its war against the Taliban by launching a new offensive in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader. This will mark the second front in Pakistan’s war against militants. Over the past six weeks, Pakistan, with US backing, has waged a major attack on the Swat Valley. The fighting has displaced more than two million civilians.

Al Jazeera Employees Detained in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, two Al Jazeera employees have been detained after being told by officials to report to the country’s intelligence headquarters. Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal has taken over as the top US commander in Afghanistan.

UK to Conduct Private Inquiry into Iraq War

The British government has announced it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the country’s role in the Iraq war. But antiwar campaigners are criticizing the government’s decision to conduct the inquiry in private.

Report: CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed he initially supported the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Panetta told The New Yorker magazine, quote, “I could see that it would make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O’Connor, Lee Hamilton–people like that.” Panetta dropped his support for the Truth Commission after President Obama essentially vetoed the idea in late April.

CIA Officer in El-Masri Rendition Promoted Twice

The New Yorker magazine has also revealed that the CIA has twice promoted an officer responsible for the rendition and detention of an innocent German citizen named Khaled El-Masri. CIA agents kidnapped El-Masri in Macedonia and flew him to Afghanistan, where he was held in a dungeon and tortured. He was jailed for 149 days without charge. The CIA officer refused to release El-Masri even after it was clear that he was not a terror suspect. The officer was never reprimanded.

KSM Says He Gave False Info After Being Tortured

Newly declassified documents reveal that the CIA’s use of torture may have produced false information. Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told US military officials that he made up stories about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after being tortured.

Carter: Netanyahu Blocking Peace With Palestinians

Former President Jimmy Carter has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of setting up new obstacles to peace with the Palestinians. On Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution, but only if the new Palestinian state had no army and no control of its airspace and borders. Jimmy Carter spoke during a stop in Jerusalem.

Jimmy Carter: “My opinion is he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers. He still apparently insists on expansion of existing settlements, he demands that the Palestinians and the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state although 20 percent of the citizens here are not Jews. This is a new demand, President Obama in his speech called for two states and am glad Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted that concept.”

Earlier today Jimmy Carter visited Gaza for the first time since the Israeli invasion.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s very distressing to me, I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been racked against your people. I come here to the American school which was educating your children, supported by my own country and I see that this been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16 made in my country and delivered to the Israelis.”

Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Ismail Haniya later today.

Campaigners Urge Caterpillar To Halt Bulldozer Sales to Israel

Shareholders of the company Caterpillar have rejected an effort by human rights activists to stop the firm from selling bulldozers to Israel to be used to demolish homes in Gaza and the West Bank. At the company’s annual meeting last week dissident shareholders submitted a resolution calling for a review of Caterpillar sales to militaries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The Israeli activist Matan Cohen of the group Anarchists Against the Wall attended the shareholders meeting.

Matan Cohen: “Caterpillar has been arguing for years that they are not responsible for what their clients are doing with their products and we made a very simple case. As a recent ruling in the United States court, in the state of New York said, if you are willfully blind to what your clients are doing with your products, you are as legally culpable as they are, hence we demanded Caterpillar stopped providing Israel its services, and stop giving them D-9 bull dozers with which Israel has been demolishing, homes constructing the seperation wall, and uprooting olive groves on a day-to-day basis.”

Environmental Justice Attorney Luke Cole, 46, Dies

And the pioneering environmental justice attorney Luke Cole has died at the age of 46. He was the co-founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Over the years Cole battled toxic waste facilities, mega-dairies, mining companies and other pollution threats in poor and minority communities in California and Alaska. Cole died last week after a car accident in Uganda.

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: