NBC’s Today Show Repeats Anti-EFCA Falsehoods, Relies on Anti-Union Wal-Mart CEO for Analysis

Wal-Mart Opposes the EFCA

NBC’s Today show is the latest media outlet to include reporting that distorts the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by relying on falsehoods touted by the bill’s opponents.

The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) issued a media alert on Tuesday about a segment in which Today show host Matt Lauer repeated falsehoods about the EFCA:

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would make it easier for workers to form unions by increasing penalties for employers who violate workers’ right to organize, and by giving workers the right to form a union if a majority signs cards declaring they want one–the so-called “card check” provision.

NBC’s Lauer declared that EFCA “would do away with secret ballots.” This is inaccurate; under the proposed law, workers would still have the right to vote in a National Labor Review Board (NLRB) “secret ballot” election if 30 percent of the workforce signs cards, just as they do now. Under current law, employers rather than workers get to decide whether unionization requires a card check or a vote. The false claim that EFCA would eliminate secret ballots has been a major talking point of anti-EFCA campaigners.

After this, Lauer asked the Wal-Mart CEO what he thought about the EFCA. Not surprisingly, the Wal-Mart CEO said it is “really one of those bills that would be damaging to the American economy long-term.”

Back in 2008, Wal-Mart–anticipating the likely election of a Democratic president–began forcing its employees to attend meetings that argued against the EFCA

Wal-Mart acknowledges that it summoned employees around the country to warn them about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize companies if more than half the workers signed cards agreeing to join, dispensing with the need for a secret ballot.

Wal-Mart is an incredibly anti-union company and has violated labor laws numerous times in recent years. Wal-Mart has even gone so far as to close stores rather than see them unionized. It’s no surprise that they would actively campaign against the act. Nor is it a surprise that NBC–which is owned by General Electric–would give them a platform to promote these views, as media coverage of the Employee Free Choice Act has repeatedly emphasized business voices over labor voices.

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Average CEO Earned $10.4 Million in 2008

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The AFL-CIO has launched its annual “PayWatch” website which reports that the average CEO received $10.4 million in total compensation in 2008.

According to the AFL-CIO:

Even as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, the median salary for CEOs of 200 large corporations increased by 4.5 percent to $1.08 million. On top of that, these corporations keep plying executives with generous freebies, despite the public outcry over private jets and other executive perks.

…the perks for executives rose on average by 12.5 percent in 2008 to $336,248–or nine times the median salary of a full-time worker. Even more appalling is the practice of rewarding executives who drive their companies into the ground.

For example, the site reports that in 2007–the year the financial crisis began to unfold–the top 10 recipients of the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) collectively paid their CEOs a combined $242 million in total annual compensation. That averages nearly $25 million per CEO to run companies that might have gone bankrupt if not for billions of dollars in taxpayer assistance.

While CEO pay is down from 2007, it still dramatically outpaces earnings by workers. CEO pay has grown at an astronomical rate since 1980 when the average CEO earned 42 times what the average worker earned. In 2007, that had grown to 344 times.

The AFL-CIO also highlights a number of practices from stock options to retention bonuses that are keeping CEO pay high even as public outrage of CEO pay grows.

All of this is another reminder of why we need reforms like the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) to level the playing field between workers and CEOs. Strong unions and a revitalized labor movement are essential to reversing this dynamic.

Headlines: Blackwater Sued; House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Cap

Democracy Now Headlines: Blackwater Sued; House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Cap

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.

Dozens Arrested at G20 Summit

The G20 summit has begun in London following a day of protest from thousands of people. On Wednesday, dozens were arrested at demonstrations throughout London’s financial district. A number of protesters broke into the Royal Bank of Scotland and wrote “thieves” on the bank’s walls. One man involved with the protests died after collapsing in the street.

Obama, Medvedev Launch US-Russia Talks

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, President Obama joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce a new round of talks on lowering nuclear arsenals.

President Obama: “I believe [what] we’ve begun today is a very constructive dialog that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties, our mutual interests in dealing with terrorism and extremism that threatens both countries, our mutual interests in economic stability and restoring growth around the world, our mutual interests in promoting peace and stability in areas like the Middle East.”

Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow for a summit in July.

Pentagon Seeks Additional 10,000 Troops for Afghanistan

US military commanders have asked the Obama administration for an additional 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan next year. The request comes on top of the additional 21,000 troops President Obama has authorized since taking office. General David Petraeus made the disclosure in testimony Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. David Petraeus: “There will be nothing easy about the way ahead in Afghanistan or Pakistan or in many of the other tasks in the Central Command area. Much hard work lies before us, but it is clear that achieving the objectives of these missions is vital. And it is equally clear that these endeavors will require sustained, substantial commitment and unity of effort among all involved.”

If Obama approves the request this fall, the US occupation of Afghanistan would increase to some 70,000 troops.

Obama to Request $3B in Pakistan Aid

Meanwhile, the Obama administration also said Wednesday it’s preparing to ask Congress for $3 billion in military aid for the Pakistani government over the next five years.

13 Killed in Afghan Attack

In Afghanistan, at least thirteen people were killed and another fourteen wounded in an attack on a government office in Kandahar. A Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistani Taliban Leader Threatens to Attack US in Response to Drone Strikes

Meanwhile, the leader of the Taliban’s Pakistan wing is threatening to attack areas in the United States in response to American drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people. Baitullah Mehsud made the threat as he took responsibility for an attack on a police academy in Lahore.

Nevada Activists Stage Vigil to Protest Pakistan Strikes

Meanwhile, here in this country, a group of Nevada peace activists has launched a daily vigil to protest US attacks in Pakistan. The group “Ground the Drones” is gathering daily outside the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada.

Foreign Minister: Israel Not Bound to Annapolis Agreements

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the new Israeli Foreign Minister says his government is not bound to respect US-brokered agreements reached since the Annapolis summit in late 2007. Avigdor Lieberman made the assertion in his inaugural Foreign Ministry address.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “Annapolis, the government of Israel has never ratified, not the government of Israel and not the Knesset (parliament) of Israel. Annapolis was never ratified. So, whoever wants to have fun can continue to have fun. I have seen all the generous offers made by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.”

Lieberman also signaled a readiness to launch new attacks on Palestinian land, saying “those who wish for peace should prepare for war.” In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian cabinet member Samir Abdullah called on the Obama administration to pressure Israel to respect prior agreements.

Samir Abdullah: “We are awaiting difficult times with this government, and we hope that the international community and all parties which invested in the peace process and the United States, that initiated the Annapolis process and hosted it, should deal with Israel as it dealt with other countries which turned its back to the international legitimacy and to the will of the international community.”

The Obama administration has yet to respond publicly to Lieberman’s remarks.

Guatemalan Journalist Slain in Vehicle Shooting

In Guatemala, a television reporter has been killed and a camera operator seriously wounded in an apparent targeted shooting. Rolando Santis of Telecentro 13 was on his way to an interview when a group of assailants fired on his vehicle. The unnamed camera operator is in critical condition.

Blackwater Sued for Iraqi Security Guard Deaths

The private military company Blackwater is being sued for allegedly killing three security guards working for state-owned Iraqi media. A new lawsuit filed on behalf of surviving relatives says the guards were shot on February 7th, 2007 at a traffic circle in Baghdad. Some twenty Blackwater employees who witnessed the shooting allegedly refused to cooperate with Iraqi police and destroyed key evidence. The suit names Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe, along with several other companies controlled by Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Caps

On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a weaker version of a bill to cap executive payments at bailed-out firms. The measure follows moves by Senate Democrats to quash last month’s much trumpeted House measure that would have imposed a 90 percent tax on bonuses. The new House measure limits the scope of bonuses that can be considered “excessive” and gives the Treasury greater leeway in oversight.

742,000 Private Sector Job Losses in March

In economic news, a new report says the US private sector lost more jobs last month than previously thought. The survey company ADP Employer Services says private firms cut 742,000 jobs in March, up from the previous estimate of 706,000.

Audit: Workplace Safety Program Failed to Protect Workers

A new internal audit has found a government program to improve worker safety has failed to do its job. Labor Department investigators say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to collect data, carried out incomplete inspections and missed out on identifying hazardous workplaces because it misspelled company names or didn’t realize two subsidiaries had the same owner. The report also criticizes the Bush administration’s move to restrict the number of companies subject to special attention, saying better oversight might have improved workplaces where fifty-eight workers lost their lives.

Justice Dept. to Drop Stevens Charges

And the Obama administration has announced it will drop all charges against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Stevens lost his seat in November just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges. But on Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers said they’ve uncovered new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that called the case into question. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will not seek a new trial.

Is Grand Rapids Becoming Green: Part II

Grand Rapids Greenwashing

“Industrial civilization is incompatible with life. It is systematically destroying life on this planet, undercutting its very basis. This culture is, to put it bluntly, murdering the earth. Unless it’s stopped – whether we intentionally stop it or the natural world does, through ecological collapse or other means – it will kill every living being. We need to stop it.”

– From What We Leave Behind, by Derrick Jensen & Aric McBay

So, last year in my Earth Day-edition of this monthly column I raised some questions about whether or not Grand Rapids was really becoming a “Green City.” I discussed the notion of corporate green-washing and how the current fashion of calling something green was mostly a PR scam to get us to either buy more stuff we don’t need or to lull us into thinking that all we needed to do to avoid ecological catastrophe was to make some minor adjustments to the system.

I mentioned how in 2006 there was a Step It Up Campaign with the goal of reducing our levels of carbon humanity produces 80% by 2050. If we don’t reduce it that might much 2050 we might not be able to reverse the disastrous consequences of climate catastrophe. Well, it is a year later and I want to again raise questions about whether or not there are any serious efforts to structurally change how we live in West Michigan that would truly promote sustainability.

First, it seems like we simply have to stop consuming more and significantly reduce our levels of consumption. I have been to hearings in recent months in Holland over the proposed coal power plant and I rarely heard anyone talking about reducing the community’s electricity needs. There was some discussion of creating alternative and renewable energy, but not much was said about the need to reduce how much energy was being consumed and how much our system is built around “growth.”

The idea that you can have sustainability with growth generally seems to be accepted even though I have yet to come across any solid arguments on how this is possible. But it’s as if that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we call whatever we do green and all is well.

I read a story in the Grand Rapids Press in late February with the headline, “Green cell phones.” I thought this was probably going to be a PR created article touting some new solar powered cell phones, which are problematic in and of themselves. What the story was really about was that one company was now offering a new program on the cell phone, which would allow you to track your own carbon footprint. So, while you are stuck in traffic you can figure out how much of an impact you are personally having on the planet. How nice.

What is troubling about this green marketing scheme is that it not only doesn’t do anything to address the severity of the current ecological crisis we face, it takes our attention away from the corporations that produce this stuff and what these systems of communication are doing to us and the planet. It means you don’t have to discuss how the minerals are extracted from the earth that are used to make the phones, how far these materials are transported, and what pollution is produced in the process. It means you don’t have to think about the amount of water and chemicals that are used in the process of treating the electronic components used manufacturing the phones. It means you don’t have to think about the millions of cell phone towers that are erected all over the planet so that you can talk to people anytime you want. Cell phone towers mean that trees will come down and we don’t fully know what the consequences will be on our health from the electronic waves that cell phone towers and cell phone emit. This is what is dangerous about the production of “green products.”

In March, there was an announcement in the Grand Rapids Press about a joint business venture with a company from Spain and Rockford Construction Company to manufacture wind turbines for electricity production. Again, the story is presented as a wonderful thing, because after all don’t we need viable alternative energy sources? We do, but the problem with this uncritical approach is that it again avoids any discussion on how energy is currently being consumed and how it would be distributed.

Part of the problem of energy consumption is not just that the current system uses too much, but the production and distribution of energy is not done democratically. The power companies are private entities so you and I have no say in how energy is produced, distributed, nor what they charge for it. If energy sources in West Michigan were public utilities, then the public could have a say in how energy is produced and distributed. We could also have a say in creating community standards so that the current big consumers of energy, industry, could not continue to pollute at the current levels. It means that we would all have to become invested in the process, but it also means that there is some mechanism for accountability.

These are not the kind of questions that are being raised about our future, even from the organizations that claim to be leaders on issues of sustainability. In March, Congressman Ehlers and Hoekstra responded negatively to the Obama administration’s energy proposal, which in part promotes the idea of carbon trading. The Press interviewed the director of a local environmental organization who supported the idea of carbon trading. The story is framed to make you believe that the Republican Congressmen are not environmentally down with the government plan, but the eco-organization is. What are omitted are any third voices that might be critical of the idea of carbon credits because they don’t believe that the market should play a role in averting climate catastrophe. This is the basic critique of Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva’s latest book, Soil, Not Oil: Environmental Justice in the Age of Climate Crisis.

At the end of April, the Grand Rapids-based group Local First is hosting a conference called “Designing Sustainable Communities Through Business.” In looking at the website I can’t find anything about what Local First means by sustainability other than the green business mantra of the “Triple Bottom Line,” which means economic growth, social responsibility and sustainable environmental practices. However, there are no standards or guidelines for the triple bottom line.

The lack of clear standards about being a sustainable business is reflected in which businesses are members of Local First. With a quick look at some of the names I was confused as to how a company that sells RVs, a Lincoln car dealership, the Whitecaps Baseball Team Corporation, an asphalt company, Monte’s Bar, advertising agencies, The Grand Rapids Business Journal, real estate companies, and a fur company in East Grand Rapids practice sustainability.

These are questions that need to be asked and we just can’t give organizations and businesses a free pass because they put a green or local label on themselves. And since we can’t rely on the corporate media to ask these kinds of questions, we are going to have to figure out ways to ask them so that there is a more honest forum for confronting the challenges that we face in creating a more sustainable world.

Jeff Smith does media education work with the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy. jsmith AT mediamouse.org

Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

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.<

Spanish Court Launches Probe of Bush Administration Officials

A Spanish court has launched a criminal investigation into whether six Bush administration lawyers, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the Bush administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo. Spain’s law allows it to claim jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay say they were tortured there. The case was sent to the Spanish prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. The other former Bush administration officials facing investigation are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights praised the Spanish court’s decision and said arrest warrants might have already been issued.

Michael Ratner, author of The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: “If you’re any of those six at this point, you don’t want to go to the twenty-five countries that make up the European Union, because you may be subject to immediate arrest. What will happen next is this investigation will most likely continue in a very vigorous form. It will look at those six, and it also has the possibility of going up the chain of command, not just to Rumsfeld, but all the way up to Cheney and Bush. So it’s a serious investigation. It’s one that the Obama administration has to take very seriously. And it means, for them, that the pressure is increasing really in this country to open its own criminal investigation.”

Waterboarding, Torture of Abu Zubaydah Produced False Leads

Meanwhile, former senior government officials have told the Washington Post that the CIA’s decision to waterboard and torture their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaydah, produced little intelligence. The officials said not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s tortured confessions. Most of the useful information gained from him was obtained before waterboarding was introduced.

Dozens Killed in Pakistan as Militants Seize Police Academy

In Pakistan, gunmen seized a police training academy in Lahore and killed as many as forty police officers before Pakistani officials were able to retake the building after an eight-hour siege. As many as eighty officers were injured. The Pakistani newspaper Daw said militants attacked the police academy with machine guns and grenades. 850 young cadets were inside the building when the assault began.

President Obama Outlines Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan

The attack came two days after President Obama defended his decision to send 21,000 more US troops to Afghanistan and to increase aid to Pakistan. Obama said his one goal is to wipe out al-Qaeda militants whom he said were plotting new attacks on the United States.

President Obama: “The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al-Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act, not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security; it’s the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security.”

The New York Times reports the Obama administration was divided over what to do in Afghanistan. The commanders in the field wanted a larger surge of troops but Vice President Joseph Biden reportedly warned against getting into a political and military quagmire.

White House Forces Out GM CEO Wagoner

In business news, General Motors Chair and CEO Rick Wagoner has stepped down after he was asked to resign by the Obama administration as part of the government’s demand for GM and Chrysler to restructure before receiving more federal aid. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his full plan for the auto industry today. The McClatchy Newspapers reports Obama will reject requests for almost $22 billion in new taxpayer bailout money for GM and Chrysler, saying the car makers have failed to take steps to ensure their viability. The government sought the departure of the GM chief and said the company needed to be widely restructured if it had any hope of survival. The government is expected to provide the company with sixty days’ operating capital to give it time to undertake reforms. The government will also grant Chrysler thirty days’ operating funds, but said it must merge with the Italian car maker Fiat in order to remain viable. So far, GM and Chrysler have received $17.4 billion in government rescue money, a fraction of what the government has given to help revive the banking industry.

Unemployment Rate Over 10% in Seven States

New employment figures show Michigan still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent. In February, the unemployment rate jumped into double figures in Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon. The jobless rate is also above ten percent in California, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

35,000 Protest in London Ahead of G20 Summit

At least 35,000 protesters marched in London Saturday to kick off a series of demonstrations leading up to the G20 summit. Protest organizers said the turnout was three times larger than expected. Protest organizer Chris Knight with the group G20 Meltdown said the demonstrations will focus on the bankers who wrecked the economy.

Chris Knight: “The main message to them, really, is you are–you are financial fools. You are the architects of this catastrophe, with the exception of Barack Obama, of course, who has to make a choice which side he’s on still. But those fools, what makes them feel that they are the people qualified to sort out the mess? And if you ask me what do we want from them, I would say it’s quite a lot, actually. It’s–we want the earth. Give us back our planet. We want it; you’ve got it. We’re gonna take it, and you should be good-humored about it. You are incompetent idiots who have messed everything up, and you should step aside and let the people take over.”

The protest against the G20 is expected to be the largest anti-capitalist demonstration in London in years.

Terry Pierce, protester: “We say that unless the leaders of the world break from capitalism, unless there’s a change in the whole attitude towards climate change and towards poverty, towards the problem in the world, then there’s no chance resolving these problems. We need a socialist alternative.”

Large demonstrations are also expected this week in France and Germany during the NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg.

Gates: US Has No Plans to Shoot Down N. Korean Missile Test

In news from Asia, North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite as early as Saturday, but Japan and other nations have accused North Korea of secretly testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US has no plans to shoot down the missile.

Robert Gates: “I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.”

Vast Electronic Spy Network Unveiled; Targeted Dalai Lama

A team of Canadian researchers have uncovered a vast electronic spy network that infiltrated the offices of the Dalai Lama, the Asian Development Bank, the Associated Press and many foreign embassies. Researchers linked the spy operation to servers in China but cautioned that there is no direct evidence implicating the Chinese government. Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information. The spy network known as GhostNet infiltrated nearly 1,300 computers in 100 countries. Once a computer is infected, the spies gain the ability to turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of the computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The spy network also gained control of mail servers for the Dalai Lama’s offices, allowing the spies to intercept all correspondence.

Israeli Troops Shoot at West Bank Protesters

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday at a crowd of Palestinians protesting the construction of the separation wall in the town of Bilin. Reuters video showed an Israeli soldier shooting a Palestinian demonstrator with a rubber-coated bullet at point-blank range, injuring his leg. Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti attended the demonstration and said the new Israeli government will further damage the lives of the Palestinians.

Mustafa Barghouti: “The only thing that the new Israeli government is bringing is more settlement, more land confiscation, more discrimination, more apartheid and more building of this wall that is killing the lives of the Palestinians and destroying the option of peace based on two-state solution.”

Campaign to Boycott Motorola Launched in New York

The company Motorola is a target of a new boycott campaign organized by the group New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. Organizer Ryvka Bar Zohar accused Motorola of supporting Israel’s military occupation.

Ryvka Bar Zohar: “Motorola produces bomb fuses, communications devices, surveillance technology, that’s used directly by the Israeli military in its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people.”

Eight Die in NC Nursing Home Shooting

In North Carolina, eight people died Sunday after a gunman opened fire at a nursing home in the town of Carthage. Seven elderly patients died as well as a nurse. The Raleigh News and Observer reported the gunman’s estranged wife was working at the nursing home at the time of the attack but was not listed as a victim.

Union Activist & Folklorist Archie Green, 91, Dies

And the union activist and folklorist Archie Green has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times said Green single-handedly persuaded Congress to create the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For decades, he studied what he called laborlore: the work songs, slang, craft techniques and tales that helped to define the trade unions. Two years ago, he published The Big Red Songbook (Charles H. Kerr), a collection of lyrics to more than 250 songs written by the Industrial Workers of the World, best known as the Wobblies.

Michigan to be Lead Plaintiff in Lawsuit against AIG

Michigan AIG Lawsuit

Late last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that the State of Michigan will be the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against AIG. The company–which is now largely owned by the government–lost considerable value after it was revealed that it was conducting risky financial transactions whose true value was disguised.

Michigan’s pension system was invested in AIG and the Attorney General is hoping to recover lost value.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the Michigan Attorney General’s office wrote:

“AIG is one of the world’s largest insurance and financial service companies. The class action suit alleges that between November 10, 2006 and June 6, 2008, AIG mislead investors of the true value of Credit Default Swaps, which were securities tied to sub-prime mortgages. When the true value was revealed in 2008, AIG’s stock plummeted from more than $70 per share in 2007 to about $1 per share today.

As lead plaintiff, Michigan will manage the litigation on behalf of a class of AIG stock and bond holders, negotiate potential settlement terms, and seek to maximize the recovery for the class. If the case goes to trial, the lead plaintiff will lead all strategy decisions.”

Michigan is also the lead plaintiff in a similar lawsuit against Bear Stearns.

MI-OSHA Starbucks Trial Postponed

Starbucks Workers Union Michigan

From the Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union:

Starbucks has been granted a postponement for the trial that was to begin today [Monday].

This latest announcement comes a couple months after Starbucks settled charges with the National Labor Relations Board over a wrongful termination of an IWW Starbucks Workers Union member in Grand Rapids. In that settlement, the Board allowed Starbucks to forgo a trial by agreeing to rescind the write-ups and termination of Cole Dorsey, the IWW member.

Starbucks offered $3500 to withdraw all charges from the beginning.

The Union has always maintained the only solution is full and immediate reinstatement of Dorsey to his former position.

Although the NLRB agreed Starbucks violated the law they did not require reinstatement.

That marked the third time, in two years, Starbucks signed a settlement with the NLRB claiming they would end “anti-union intimidation in Grand Rapids.

After an independent investigation the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration also found that Dorsey was wrongfully terminated for filing a safety complaint.

That trial is slated to begin April 29, 2009 9 am.

In related news, the Starbucks Workers Union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after a pro-union barista in Chicago was laid-off following his attempt to speak with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

False Solutions to Climate Change: From “Cap and Trade” to Plastic Coating the Desert

False Solutions to Climate Change

Over the past few years, “global warming” and “climate change” have become buzzwords in mainstream political discussion. Everywhere we turn, politicians, corporations, and even some environmental groups are offering “solutions” to these very serious problems.

However, in many cases, the solutions are false ones. Many of them require no fundamental change in our lifestyles and no real sacrifice, instead allowing those of us to who live in the global north to county our living our lives as we always have through an economic model that promotes inequality and the destruction of the natural earth. We’re told not to worry and that new technology will save us. As such, these new technologies dominate the policy debate.

To counter this, Rising Tide North America–a direct action group working on climate change and climate justice-has released a new pamphlet titled “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change” that provides a critical and highly readable look at the “false solutions” that the group says are “merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.”

An Array of False Solutions

In the pamphlet, Rising Tide North America critiques a number of “false solutions” including “clean coal,” carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and biofuels. Along with these sections, it also criticizes a number of other technological solutions that have been proposed in recent years ranging from plastic coating deserts to genetically engineering trees.

A particularly useful section in light of the current global warming debate is its examination of so-called “cap and trade” systems. Under these systems:

“governments create a market commodity out of carbon pollution by issuing a finite amount of tradable pollution permits each year. As the theory goes, the amount of permits issued would decrease year to year and carbon emissions would be reduced. Because the permits are tradable, and emissions cuts are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will cut overall lowest possible cost to the economy.”

However, Rising Tide argues that this approach has not worked in Europe, calling the “European Emissions Trading Scheme” an “unmitigated failure, beset by fraud and market manipulation.” They point out that companies have over-estimated their emissions, received permits for free, and raised prices-all leading to windfall profits while doing little to address carbon emissions.

A worldwide system would allow the wealthy countries to purchase credits from the Global South to delay action, while offering no incentive to move towards a post-carbon society. At the same time, it would setup yet another poorly understood, experimental market-much like the complex trading schemes that led to the current financial crisis.

Real Solutions to Climate Change

The group argues that there needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. policy that has for centuries degraded and exploited the natural world:

“Our Southern allies believe we should respond to climate change through commitments to reduced consumption and by payment of the ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South owed from decades of resource extraction. Investment in community-led renewable energy initiatives and sustainable, small-scale agriculture infrastructure geared to meeting the right of all people to healthy food are supported, corporate development is rejected.

The climate crisis demands that we, as residents of the Global North, ask what kind of world we want to live in, and recognize that the answer is as much a social issue as it is an environmental one. Climate Justice is more than a theoretical goal–it is a practice in the movement against climate chaos. No effort to create a livable climate future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities. No justice will be found without an end to policies long-pursued by the wealthy countries which treat communities–from Iraq’s oil fields to Indonesia’s palm oil plantations to Appalachia’s coal fields–merely as resource colonies.”

To that end, the group argues that we must replace the concept of unlimited “growth” with one that prioritizes meeting human needs and sustainability.

Headlines: Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes; Obama Treasury Dept. Sought Bonus Protections in Stimulus Bill

Democracy Now Headlines:  Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes; Obama Treasury Dept. Sought Bonus Protections in Stimulus Bill

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

Seeking Return of AIG Payouts, House OKs Tax on Bonuses

The House has overwhelmingly approved a measure to recoup taxpayer money by imposing a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to employees at the insurance giant AIG. The tax would also apply to any company receiving more than five billion dollars in bailout funds. A Senate version would impose a lower rate than the House’s 90 percent. The vote came hours after AIG complied with a New York state subpoena and disclosed the names of employees who received bonuses.

Protesters Rally Outside AIG Offices

Public outrage over the AIG bonuses fueled the Congressional response. On Thursday, demonstrators gathered outside AIG’s offices in Washington, DC to decry the bonus payouts.

Amy Swanson: “It’s not fair to all the working people here who struggle daily for our health care, income, pay their rent, pay their bills.”

Joan Nemeth: “Being paid 15 thousand dollars an hour compared to your workers’ hours at eight dollars or 10 dollars or even 15 dollars, where’s the justice in that? There is no justice in being paid that much more.”

Francisco Cuison: “This bailout money is from the government, it’s taxpayers’ money, and it should be spread out to the people who need it.”

Geithner Admits Requesting Bonus Protection Provision

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner meanwhile has admitted his staff asked Senator Christopher Dodd to insert a provision in the economic stimulus bill that allowed AIG to hand out the $165 million dollars in bonuses. Geithner made the admission in an interview with CNN.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We expressed concern about this specific version. We wanted to make sure it was strong enough to survive legal challenge. But we also worked with him to strengthen the overall framework and his bill has this very important provision we’re relying on now to go back and see if we can recoup payments that were made that there was no legal ability to block.”

The New York Times reports Senator Dodd is drawing outrage from constituents in his home state of Connecticut for his role in the AIG bonuses controversy. Dodd has come under scrutiny for admitting he was asked by the treasury to include the bonus protection provision in the stimulus bill after initially claiming he didn’t know how it got inserted.

AIG Sues for Return of $300M in Taxes

As AIG faces the loss of its bonuses, it’s quietly filed a lawsuit to recoup more than $300 million dollars in what it says are overpaid taxes. The company says it overpaid the government in charges for using off-shore tax havens. The suit effectively means AIG is using U.S. taxpayer money to sue its majority owner, the U.S. taxpayer. The government owns an 80 percent stake in AIG following its $170 billion dollar bailout.

Holbrooke Served on AIG Board

Meanwhile a top Obama administration official is coming under scrutiny for his ties to AIG. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, served on AIG’s board from 2001 until early last year. Holbrooke is believed to have collected up to $800,000 during his AIG stint.

Probe: Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes

In other bailout news, a Congressional probe has found the top thirteen firms to receive bailout money owe more than $220 million dollars in unpaid federal taxes. Congressmember John Lewis of Georgia, the chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, says two of the companies owe more than $100 million dollars apiece. The review only looked at the top twenty-three bailout recipients, leaving open the possibility of further owed taxes from nearly 450 remaining companies. The inspector general overseeing the federal bailout says he will investigate whether recipient companies misled Congress on their tax obligations.

Citigroup to Spend $10M on Exec Offices

The bailed-out financial giant Citigroup meanwhile is coming under scrutiny for a ten million dollar plan to build new offices for top executives. Citigroup has received $45 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

Auto Parts Suppliers to Receive $5B in Aid

The Treasury Department is set to provide up to five billion dollars in financing to auto parts suppliers. The money will come through the government’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. Auto parts suppliers have asked for up to $25 billion dollars amidst the auto industry decline.

Obama Apologizes for “Special Olympics” Gaffe

President Obama continued his criticism of AIG Thursday on the second day of his trip to California. Appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama said the AIG case exemplified Wall Street excess.

President Obama: “The immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem but the larger problem we’ve got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody and if we can get back to those values that built America then I think we are going to be okay.”

Obama’s appearance marked the first ever by a sitting U.S. president on a late-night talk show. He was later forced to backtrack after appearing to make fun of the disabled in joking about his bowling abilities. After Leno complemented him for a low bowling score, Obama said: “It’s like the Special Olympics or something.” In a statement, the White House said Obama didn’t “intend to disparage” the Special Olympics.

Obama Releases Videotaped Overture to Iran

President Obama meanwhile has released a videotaped appeal to the people of Iran. In a message timed to coincide with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, Obama said he is prepared to meet with Iranian leaders.

President Obama: “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

Iranian officials reacted to the tape by renewing calls for the U.S. to address Iranian grievances, including the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s nationalist government.

Obama Admin Seeks to Double Afghan Forces

The Obama administration is drafting a plan to double Afghanistan’s national security forces. According to the New York Times, senior administration officials say the U.S. is seeking a force of about 400,000 Afghan troops and police officers.

Israeli Soldiers Recount Killings of Unarmed Palestinians

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, several Israeli soldiers have provided new accounts of human rights violations during Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published testimony from soldiers recounting the firing on unarmed Palestinian civilians and the intentional destruction of their property. The Israeli military says it will investigate.

UN Human Rights Investigator Accuses Israel of War Crimes

The allegations come as a top UN human rights investigator has accused Israel of committing war crimes during the Gaza attack. In an annual report, Richard Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Israel appeared to violate the Geneva Conventions code requiring forces to distinguish between civilians and armed combatants. Falk is calling on the Security Council to establish an ad hoc criminal tribunal to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Israel Arrests 10 Hamas Officials in West Bank

Meanwhile Israel has arrested ten Hamas officials in the occupied West Bank. Hamas is calling the move a blackmail attempt to pressure it for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Talks on a prisoner exchange broke down this week in part over an Israeli demand that hundreds of the freed prisoners be arrested or deported upon their release. Israel has seized and jailed some forty elected Hamas lawmakers since Shalit’s capture in June 2006.

Bush Admin Aide: U.S. Knowingly Jailed Innocents Seized in Afghanistan

A former Bush administration official says the U.S. has continued to jail many Guantanamo Bay prisoners seized in Afghanistan despite knowing of their innocence. In an interview with the Associated Press, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to then then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the U.S. held on to the innocent prisoners in the hopes they could one day provide helpful intelligence. Describing the Bush administration mentality, Wilkerson said: “It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance.” Wilkerson continued: “We need to put those people in a high-security prison like the one in Colorado, forget them and throw away the key. We can’t try them because we tortured them and didn’t keep an evidence trail.” Wilkerson says former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to improve vetting of Afghan prisoners.

Judge Rejects Dismissal of CACI Torture Suit

The Pentagon contractor CACI has lost a bid to dismiss a torture lawsuit brought by four former Abu Ghraib prisoners. On Thursday, a federal judge made public a ruling rejecting CACI’s claim to be immune from prosecution. The case also names the company L-3 Services as well three individual contractors. One of the plaintiffs, an Iraqi farmer, alleges he was caged, beaten, threatened with dogs and given electric shocks during more than four years in U.S. detention.

El Salvador, Costa Rica Renew Cuba Ties

El Salvador’s new president-elect is vowing to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. Mauricio Funes says he will reverse a policy that has not recognized Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

El Salvadorian President-elect Mauricio Funes: “I said during my speech announcing running for the Presidency, I would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba because, up to this date, we would be the only Latin American country who does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba and that’s what I plan on doing.”

Funes’ FMLN party won El Salvador’s election on Sunday, ending twenty years of governance by the U.S.-backed, right-wing ARENA party. His announcement comes as Costa Rica also reopened diplomatic ties with Cuba after nearly fifty years.

Documents: Reagan Officials Knew of Guatemalan Abuses

Newly de-classified material has provided further evidence the Reagan administration knowingly supported the Guatemalan government’s human rights abuses in its crackdown on guerrillas and leftist dissidents. The National Security Archive has released documents showing State Department officials directly reported that Guatemalan forces targeted anyone suspected of involvement with guerrillas or dissident groups. In 1984, then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin also reported labor activists were being “rounded up” for interrogation. More than 200,000 thousand people died under the U.S.-backed Guatemalan military between 1960 and 1996.

2012 GOP Hopefuls Reject Stimulus Aid

Back in the United States, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has announced she’ll reject nearly half the federal stimulus funds allocated for her state. Palin cited her opposition to increasing the deficit and her desire to remain free of Washington control. The rejected spending includes $160 million dollars for education and $9 million dollars for public health. Palin becomes the third potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate to turn down stimulus funds, following governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. This week Texas Governor Rick Perry also rejected stimulus aid.

Decrying Homeless Policies, New York Housing Activists Occupy Vacant Building

Here in New York, dozens of people gathered at a vacant building in East Harlem Thursday to call for more affordable housing and better treatment of the homeless.

Protester: “We need housing now. I’m homeless. I’m tired of being homeless. When its $1,500 a month for a closet in NYC alone, in the Bronx they’re charging people $1,500. Section 8 is not there anymore. These housing programs that they give us are only 2 years. What happens after 2 years? We have to tell people today that we are tired of it. This is what we’re going to do: If there’s a homeless building we’re there, if there’s a shelter they’re not opening up to the homeless, we’re there. We need to change now.”

The event was organized by Picture the Homeless. The group says New York has up to 24,000 vacant apartments that could house every homeless family in the city.

Protests Mark 6th Anniversary of Iraq Invasion

And protests are underway in this country and around the world to mark the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On Thursday, more than two dozen protesters were arrested at parallel events in San Francisco. Five of the arrested said they were Iraq veterans. Here in New York, hundreds gathered at Union Square and later outside the military recruiting station in Times Square. In Washington, D.C. a U.S. army veteran was arrested hanging up a sign near the White House that read “Veterans say NO to War and Occupation.” Protests are expected to continue in several major cities through the weekend.

Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

Democracy Now Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

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.

Fed to Buy Up $1.2T in Bonds, Securities

The Federal Reserve has announced a massive new government intervention in the U.S. economy. The Fed says it will buy up $1.2 trillion dollars in government bonds and mortgage-linked securities to free up the frozen credit market. The purchases will increase the Fed’s holdings in financial markets to $3 trillion dollars–an increase of fifty percent. The new mortgage securities purchase will account for more than half of the new spending, at $750 billion dollars. That’s on top of the $500 billion in securities previously bought. According to analysts at Wachovia bank, the federal government could end up funding up to seventy percent of mortgages issued this year.

Uncertainty Grows on When Admin Knew of AIG Bonuses

The Obama administration is facing questions on when it knew of AIG’s plans to hand out $165 million dollars in bonuses after receiving its $170 billion taxpayer bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says he didn’t know until last week, and only told White House officials two days after finding out. But testifying on Capital Hill Wednesday, AIG CEO Edward Liddy said government officials were informed three months ago. The Washington Post reports the Treasury was told at least one month ago.

AIG Exec: Employees to Give Back Half of Bonuses

Liddy meanwhile also defended the bonuses, saying they were essential to retaining top employees.

AIG CEO Edward Liddy: “Make no mistake. Had I been CEO at the time, I would never have approved the retention contracts that were put in place over a year ago. It was distasteful to have to make these payments. But we concluded that the risks to the company, and therefore the financial system and the economy, were unacceptably high.”

Liddy says he’s asked a few hundred AIG executives and employees to give back at least half of the extra pay but refused to give details on who is keeping their bonuses. AIG is also facing questions on the billions of dollars in taxpayer money it used to repay other financial firms.

Dodd: Bonus Protections Added to Stimulus Bill at Admin’s Request

Questions meanwhile are also surrounding treasury officials and lawmakers for political maneuvering that effectively authorized the executive bonuses with the passage of the stimulus bill last month. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says he introduced a provision that would have forced bailout recipients to cap bonuses at $100,000 and tax those exceeding it at thirty-five percent. The measure passed through the Senate but was inexplicably removed during talks with the House. Meanwhile the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Christopher Dodd, is claiming he inserted a provision protecting contractually-promised bonuses at the request of the Obama administration. Dodd didn’t name the administration officials who told him to insert the provision. He says he wouldn’t have done so had he known it would have allowed the bonuses at AIG.

Fannie Mae to Hand Million Dollar Bonuses

As the controversy over payments grows, the government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae has announced plans to give four top executives at least one million dollars in what it calls “retention bonuses.” The bonuses are being handed out amidst Fannie’s request for some $15 billion dollars in government aid.

Judge Orders Disclosure of Merrill Lynch Bonuses

Meanwhile a New York judge has ordered the disclosure of employee bonuses paid out at Merrill Lynch just before Bank of America bought out the firm in a government-backed deal. The ruling came in New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to subpoena several top Merrill Lynch executives who were each paid more than $10 million dollars in cash and stock. Overall, Merrill Lynch handed out over $3 billion dollars in bonuses just before the Bank of America deal. For its part Bank of America has received $45 billion dollars in government aid.

Obama: No More “Business As Usual” for Wall Street

Meanwhile at the White House, President Obama invoked the controversy surrounding AIG to call for changes to the financial system.

President Obama: “As we get out of this crisis, as we work towards getting ourselves out of recession, I hope that Wall Street and the marketplace don’t think that we can return to business as usual. The business models that created a lot of paper wealth but not real wealth in the country and have now resulted in crisis can’t be the model for economic growth going forward.”

Obama later traveled to California for a tour to promote his economic stimulus plan. Speaking at a town hall-style event in Costa Mesa, Obama said he takes responsibility for the AIG controversy.

President Obama: “I know Washington is all in a tizzy pointing fingers at each other and saying its the democrat’s fault and the republican’s fault. Listen, I will take responsibility, ‘I’m the President.'”

Military to Phase Out Forced Extensions by 2011

The Pentagon has announced it will all but end the controversial “stop loss” policy forcing soldiers to serve extended tours of duty. More than 13,000 troops are currently involuntarily serving in the military under a policy imposed in 2004. Some have described the ‘stop-loss’ practice as a backdoor draft. On Wednesday, Gates admitted the military has forced soldiers to serve “against their will.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “As of the end of January there were 13,200 soldiers in stop loss. I am pleased to announce that I have approved a plan to eliminate the use of stop loss for deploying soldiers… When somebody’s end date of service comes up, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do.”

Gates says the Pentagon intends to end “stop/loss” across the entire armed forces by March of 2011. But he left open the right to continue it under what he called “extraordinary circumstances.” Soldiers under “stop loss” will also now be paid an additional $500 per month, retroactive to last October.

Czech Government Forced to Drop Vote on U.S. Missile System

In the Czech Republic, overwhelming opposition has forced the Czech government to drop attempts for parliamentary approval of a U.S. missile radar site. The Czech government had agreed with the Bush administration on hosting part of the so-called “missile defense” system along with a missile site in Poland. But on Wednesday, the government withdrew a planned vote fearing it would be defeated. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek vowed to seek another vote.

Czech Prime Minister: “The government decided in tonight’s negotiations that it will take back the treaty instruments, both of the treaties from the United States about the placement of radar units in the territory of the Czech Republic. That doesn’t mean that we’ve entirely resigned from the process of missile defence because we can return this back to parliament at any time.”

According to the anti-radar group Campaign for Peace and Democracy, two thirds of Czechs have consistently opposed the radar plans. Czech peace activists have led calls for a national referendum and have been credited with pressuring lawmakers to oppose the U.S. missile program.

Minister: Iraq Considers Increased Stake for Oil Companies

The Iraqi government has hinted at further concessions for international oil corporations operating in Iraq. On Wednesday, Iraq’s oil minister told an OPEC gathering in Vienna that Iraq will consider granting foreign companies a share in oil production profits, rather than the current system of receiving fixed fees. Earlier this year Iraq raised the amount foreign companies can recoup from oil projects from 49 percent to 75 percent.

Judge Orders Continued Marri Jailing

A federal judge has ordered the continued imprisonment of Ali al-Marri, who has been the only so-called ‘enemy combatant’ jailed in the United States. Marri has been held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. The Obama administration charged him last month to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. Marri will be transferred to Peoria, Illinois for an arraignment hearing on Monday.

Senators Back Increased IMF Aid

Back on Capital Hill, a bi-partisan group of Senators is voicing support for an Obama administration plan to increase U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund. Obama has asked Congress to grant the IMF $100 billion dollars to aid struggling nations hurt by the economic crisis. Senator John Kerry backed the proposal after meeting IMF and World Bank officials.

Senator John Kerry: “We are convinced that the IMF needs to have additional funding. Secretary Geithner has made a proposal for additional funding. I speak for myself and say that I support that. I think it is an essential ingredient of our ability to send a message regarding stability and regarding our preparedness to help countries face the banking challenges and the consumer and food challenges that we face across the globe.”

It’s unclear what kind of conditions recipient nations would face for accepting the new IMF aid.

African Leaders: Economic Crisis Could Reignite Regional Conflicts

African leaders are warning of renewed conflict on their continent if they’re not aided during the global economic meltdown. Meeting ahead of next month’s G20 summit, several African officials issued stark warnings on the consequences of price drops in African goods, loss of tourists and a sharp reduction in foreign remittances. The head of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, said the potential fallout from the global economic crisis is an “emergency” in Africa.

U.S. to End Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Justice Department has confirmed plans to end the Bush administration’s policy of raiding distributors of medical marijuana. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said drug law enforcement would be restricted to traffickers falsely posing as medical dispensaries. Under Bush, medical dispensaries accused of violating federal law were raided even if they complied with state law.

Rep. Waters Introduces Bill to End Minimum Drug Sentencing

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters has introduced a bill to end mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related cases. The Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act would repeal mandatory minimum sentences and grant judges discretion to determine sentences.

New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

New Mexico has become the fifteenth state to outlaw the death penalty. On Wednesday, Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill barring capital punishment following its approval in the state legislature. New Mexico is the second state to end the death penalty since the Supreme Court restored it in 1976.

Study: Latinos Largest Ethnic Group in U.S. Prisons

A new study says Latinos now constitute the largest ethnic group in federal prisons. Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos account for forty percent of prisoners nationwide.

Hugo Lopez: “Between 1981 and 2007, the share of all federal offenders who are Hispanic has risen from about 24 percent in 1991 to 40 percent in 2007. So they have really almost doubled their share of all sentenced federal offenders. Also, Hispanics represent the single largest group of sentenced federal offenders. The 40 percent share Hispanic is larger than the white share at 27 percent and the black share at 23 percent in 2007.”

Nearly half of the Latin prison population has been jailed on immigration charges, followed closely by drug charges.

Reparations, Israel Dropped from UN Racism Text

Negotiators drafting the declaration for next month’s UN Conference Against Racism have acceded to U.S. and European Union demands and dropped references to Israel and reparations for slavery. The Obama administration has vowed to boycott the conference unless the two issues are dropped from conference text.

Actress Natasha Richardson Dies at 45

And the Tony-award winning stage and film actor Natasha Richardson has died at the age of forty-five. She suffered a brain injury in a ski accident in Canada and was taken off life support yesterday. Richardson was the daughter of the British actor and activist Vanessa Redgrave. The two were said to be in talks to appear together in a stage production of “A Little Night Music.” Our condolences to Vanessa, as well as Natasha Richardson’s husband, the actor Liam Neeson, her aunt and uncle Corin and Lynn Redgrave, her sister Jolie Richardson and her two sons.