Poll Finds Michigan Residents Believe Judges are Biased by Financial Contributions

Michigan Campaign Finance Network

A new poll of voters in the last election conducted by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network has found widespread concern that judges may be biased in cases involving financial supporters.

According to the poll, 85% of those surveyed said a judge should disqualify themselves if a case involves a campaign supporter. 63% said they believe that campaign contributions effect the decisions that judges make, with 31% saying that contributions make “a lot” of difference. 86% of those surveyed that another judge should determine when a judge should be disqualified from hearing a case involving a campaign supporter.

Respondents also said that disclosure of campaign funds is essential.

Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights Act

Democracy Now Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights Act

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

Obama Lifts Stem Cell Research Ban

President Barack Obama has overturned a ban on federal funding for stem cell research, reversing the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.

President Obama: “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research, and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

Religious conservatives have generally opposed embryonic stem cell research, because it involves destruction of embryos, which they view as human life. On Monday, President Obama said the research will not be used for cloning humans.

President Obama: “I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society or any society.”

Supreme Court Limits the Reach of Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has refused to expand the protections for minorities under the federal voting rights law, a decision that may affect the redrawing of legislative boundaries after the 2010 Census. The court’s conservative majority ruled only electoral districts with majority of blacks or other minorities are to be protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups said the ruling could result in more districts with minorities constituting less than half the population, diluting their voting strength.

35,000 Jobs to Be Lost After Pharmaceutical Mergers

In business news, the pharmaceutical giant Merck has announced plans to buy one of its chief rivals, Schering-Plough Corporation for $41 billion. The move comes just weeks after Pfizer said it would buy Wyeth. The two mergers in the pharmaceutical industry are expected to result in 35,000 job losses. Questions have been raised over the link between the mergers and the taxpayer bailouts of the banking industry. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School said the mergers are only happening now because the drug companies can get the money from the banks thanks to the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Abramson said, “The TARP money is supposed to be loosening up credit and keeping Americans employed. They shouldn’t be using bailout money to get rid of people.”

Obama Administration to Review Bush Signing Statements

In other news from the White House, the Obama administration has called into question the legitimacy of all signing statements issued by President Bush. The New York Times reports Obama has ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any of them to bypass a statute. However, President Obama has refused to rule out using signing statements himself.

At Least 25 Die in Iraq Bombing

In Iraq, at least twenty-five people died today when a suicide bomber attacked a group of tribal leaders as they left the mayor’s office in the town of Abu Ghraib. Police officers, soldiers and journalists were said to among the dead.

Dalai Lama: China Has Turned Tibet into “Hell on Earth”

The Dalai Lama marked his fiftieth year in exile earlier today by demanding “meaningful autonomy” for his Tibetan homeland, where Chinese authorities have tightened security to stifle protests against their rule. The Dalai Lama slammed China for bringing “untold suffering and destruction” to Tibet and turning the region at times into a “hell on earth.” His words came on the fiftieth anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese troops, which led to his exile.

Pro-Tibetan Protesters Rally Outside White House

Protests are being held today around the world to commemorate fifty years of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. On Monday, pro-Tibet activists gathered outside the White House.

Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York and New Jersey: “Today fifty years ago, the Tibetans in Tibet have voluntarily rose up against the Chinese occupation. So that resistance still continues, and we wanted to keep this force of resistance alive and be the voice of those Tibetans inside Tibet, because they don’t have any voice outside, because they closed Tibet from the outside world. No foreigners are allowed. No journalists are allowed. The whole of Tibet has been militarized. It has become virtually–Tibet is under virtually martial law.”

Yangchen Lhamo of Students for a Free Tibet also spoke.

Yangchen Lhamo: “We’re here really with tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters around the world today to mark this anniversary by taking these fifty years of resistance, the spirit of the fifty years of resistance, to the streets of our cities and our towns and to urge–here in our nation’s capital, to urge the US government to increase the pressure on China to meet with the Dalai Lama and engage in meaningful negotiations and also just to immediately withdraw all of the troops that have been deployed in Tibet.”

China & US Trade Accusations Over US Navy Spy Ship

China and the United States are trading accusations after five Chinese ships approached a US Navy surveillance vessel off the southern Chinese island of Hainan. China accused the US of violating international and Chinese laws by conducting illegal surveying. Pentagon officials said the ship was in international waters. The US accused the Chinese of harassing the spy vessel.

Key Senate Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act

The Wall Street Journal reports key Senate Democrats are wavering in their support of the Employee Free Choice Act, dealing a potential blow to organized labor. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. The bill has been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. At least six senators who have previously supported the proposal now say they are opposed or not sure. Senators on the fence include Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and both of the Democratic senators from Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln.

Ford and UAW Agree on New Compensation Plan

In other labor news, Ford and the United Auto Workers have reached a deal where the union has agreed to cuts in their compensation package, including a freezing of wages and restructuring retirement benefits. In exchange, Ford made commitments to the UAW to seek sacrifices from its executives, salaried employees and bondholders. The new deal is expected to save Ford millions of dollars.

British Aid Convoy Arrives in Gaza

A British convoy carrying aid for Palestinians arrived in Gaza Monday. The convoy left London last month and traveled through at least seven countries in Europe and North Africa. Members of the “Viva Palestina” convoy included British parliamentarian George Galloway.

George Galloway: “We have brought with us many vehicles, much equipment, much medicine–everything we could carry. And we will hand it to Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of Palestine.”

Top US Cyber Security Chief Resigns

The top cyber security chief at the Department of Homeland Security has resigned and has accused the National Security Agency and the military of trying to take control of the government’s cyber security efforts. Up until last week, Rod Beckstrom served as head of the National Cyber Security Center. Beckstrom opposed efforts by the NSA to move the National Cyber Security Center to its base at Fort Meade in Maryland.

McClatchy Newspapers to Eliminate 1,600 Jobs

In media news, the McClatchy newspaper chain has announced plans to eliminate 1,600 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce. Newspapers affected by the layoffs include the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fresno Bee. Meanwhile, the New York Times has announced it has sold twenty-one floors in its fifty-two-story headquarters in Times Square in an effort to raise $225 million. Under the terms of the deal, the paper will lease back the floors for the next fifteen years.

Bolivia Expels Senior US Diplomat

The Bolivian government has ordered a senior US diplomat to leave the country after President Evo Morales accused him of participating in a “conspiracy” against his government. Morales said Francisco Martinez was in contact with opposition groups involved in anti-government unrest. Martinez was the second secretary of the US embassy in La Paz.

Lawmakers Urge US to Take Neutral Role in El Salvador Election

Thirty members of the US House of Representatives have sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Saturday’s presidential election in El Salvador. Polls indicate the leftist FMLN party will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has ruled for the past two decades. Historically, the ARENA party has had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.

Police Officer Shot Dead in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, tension is rising after another member of the security forces has been shot dead. A police officer was killed last night in County Armagh after he responded to a call for help. This marked the first murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland since 1998. The shooting came two days after a pair of British troops were shot dead outside a British military base in Northern Ireland. The dissident republican group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility. On Monday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams condemned the killings.

Gerry Adams: “Just make it clear, on the one hand, that the people who carried out this attack don’t have any support within the broad republican family or the broad republican constituency and that Sinn Feinn will go toe-to-toe and ensure that there is no ambiguity around the unworthiness of this action and the fact that this action should not have taken place.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Northern Ireland on Monday and said the peace process cannot be shaken.

Gordon Brown: “What I’ve seen this morning is the unity of the people of Northern Ireland and the unity of the political parties, that they stand united behind the peace and political process that they’ve been building for many, many years, that they are going to continue to work together, and they want to send out a message to the world, as I do, that the political process will not and never be shaken. In fact, the political process is now unshakable.”

Ward Churchill Trial Opens in Denver

Opening statements begin today in Denver, Colorado in Professor Ward Churchill’s trial against the University of Colorado at Boulder. Churchill sued the school after he was fired in 2007 on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views. In 2005, he described the September 11 attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9-11 as “little Eichmanns.”

Mass Transit Use at 50-Year High

And more people rode the nation’s public buses, subways and commuter trains last year than in any year since 1956. This according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association. The trade group estimates Americans took nearly 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2008.

Lawsuit Challenging U.P. Sulfide Mine Land Lease Dismissed

A Circuit Court Judge Has Ruled That The DNR Acted Appropriately When It Leased Land For A Controversial Sulfide Mine

Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield dismissed a lawsuit file by opponents of a controversial sulfide mine that Kennecott Eagle Minerals is trying to open in Michigan’s Marquette County.

According to the Associated Press, the court ruled that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acted appropriately when it decided to lease 120 acres of state land to the company:

“Manderfield said in her ruling Tuesday the DNR had not broken any laws and had acted within its authority by leasing the property to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., which wants to put the mine’s surface facilities there.”

The judge argued that she could rule only on matters of jurisdiction, not the merits of the mine.

Last month, it was announced that the mine is temporarily on hold due to the current economic situation. However, Kennecott is still moving forward with efforts to secure the permits necessary for the mine’s construction.

Additionally, a decision in a hearing over the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) issuance of permits for the mine is forthcoming.

Headlines: Court Challenge to California Gay Marriage Ban; GM Warns of Likely Collapse Without Govt. Aid

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Challenge to California Gay Marriage Ban; GM Warns of Likely Collapse Without Govt. Aid

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.

Shunning Single-Payer, Obama Hosts Health Care Summit

President Obama hosted a White House summit Thursday on reforming health care. Participants included doctors, health insurance companies, lawmakers and patients. Obama vowed to make passing health care reform a priority this year. Attendees included several lawmakers and lobbyists who successfully defeated former President Bill Clinton’s attempts to partially reform health care in the 1990s. The summit has raised controversy over the administration’s apparent attempt to initially exclude any voices for single-payer health care.

U.S. Invites Iran to Afghan Conference

The Obama administration has announced its first formal public overture to Iran. Speaking at a NATO summit in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will invite Iran to a meeting on Afghanistan set for later this month.

NATO Resumes Russia Ties

NATO meanwhile has also announced plans to resume formal contact with Russia for the first time since Russia’s conflict with Georgia last summer. Clinton said U.S. disagreements with Russia endure.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “NATO today agreed to restart the NATO-Russia Council as a mechanism for dialogue on issues both where we both disagree, such as in Georgia, as the Secretary General noted, and a platform for cooperation that is our interest,like transit into Afghanistan or non-proliferation.”

Clinton also appeared to voice support for continuing the Bush administration’s missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We happen to believe in the United States that those threats are more likely to come from regimes and terrorist networks than from nation states in the immediate vicinity. Therefore we want to help Europe prepare and that’s why what Poland and the Czech Republic have done sets the stage for what will be strategic decisions going forward.”

House OKs Mortgage Assistance Bill

The House has approved a measure that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled home mortgages. Judges would have discretion to modify interest rates, reduce the principal, and extend the terms of a mortgage. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than eleven percent of home mortgages are now in some form distress. The bill now goes to the Senate where it faces a tougher path to approval. The measure is a key part of the Obama administration’s $75 billion dollar foreclosure prevention plan officially launched this week. The White House estimates the plan will assist up to one in nine homeowners. The program offers financial incentives to mortgage-servicing companies that let troubled homeowners modify their terms. And it calls for the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance loans for those who don’t owe more than 105% of their home’s value. According to Moody’s Econony dot com, an estimated 13.6 million borrowers owed more than their home’s worth at the end of last year.

Senate Delays Omnibus Vote

Meanwhile the Senate has delayed a vote on a $410 billion dollar appropriations bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’s one vote short of closing debate and sending the bill for President Obama’s signature. The bill has come under opposition from Senators opposed to what they call unnecessary earmarks and a provision easing U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.

GM Warns of Collapse Without Further Gov. Aid

The auto giant General Motors is warning it could go under within the next month unless it’s given another taxpayer-funded rescue. The warning came after one of GM’s auditors raised major doubts about the company’s prospects for survival. GM is seeking another $15 billion dollars in government loans on top of the $15 billion it’s already received.

California Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Gay Marriage Ban

In California, the state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a case seeking the reversal of a voter approved gay marriage ban. Proposition 8 amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, overturning an earlier Court declaring the right of gays and lesbians to marry. During a three hour hearing, gay marriage advocates questioned the constitutionality of the amendment.

Attorney: “Petitioners position is that Proposition 8 took away the fundamental right to marry from same sex couples.”

Judge: “The right to marry or the right to get married?”

Attorney: “Took away the fundamental right to marry which includes the choice, the constitutionally protected choice, of whether and whom to marry and the ability to continue in that relationship.”

The former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr represented backers of the gay marriage ban. During one exchange, Starr asserted that voters have the authority to overturn constitutional rights, including free speech. We’ll have more on the Prop 8 hearing later in the broadcast.

Senate Panel to Probe Treatment of CIA Prisoners

The Senate Intelligence committee has agreed to establish a review of the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The probe will focus on the imprisonment and interrogation of one hundred prisoners in overseas jails. Most of the panel’s work will be held in secret, and it’s not expect to recommend filing any criminal charges.

U.S. Mulls Joining International Criminal Court

The Obama administration says it’s launched a review of its policy toward Sudan in light of this week’s International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. White House officials say the review will include re-considering the Bush administration’s rejection of joining the international court.

Bashir Warrant Spurs Calls for Bush Prosecution

Talk of potential U.S. admission to the Hague-based tribunal comes as the Bashir warrant is fueling talk of a similar action against former President George W. Bush. David Crane, a former prosecutor in the special tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor, says the same principles that led to Bashir’s indicment could be used against Bush on the issue of torture. Others have called for prosecuting Bush for the illegal invasion of Iraq that led to some one million deaths.

Army: Up to 18 Soldier Suicides in February

In military news, the Army says soldier suicides continue to follow a record trend. Up to 18 soldiers took their lives last month. That’s down from the twenty-four soldiers who took their lives in January, but still in line with the most number of suicides since record keeping began. As many as 143 soldiers reportedly took their own lives last year.

U.S. Officer Accused of Stealing Iraq, Afghan Aid

A US military officer has been charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for relief and reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon says Michael Dung Nguyen stole more than $690,000 dollars while stationed in Iraq between April 2007 up until last month.

Gupta Withdraws Candidacy for U.S. Surgeon General

And the CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has withdrawn his candidacy to become the next U.S. surgeon general. Gupta’s nomination had been rumored for the past two months. Gupta says he made the decision based on wanting to spend more time with his family. His potential candidacy had come under increasing opposition from groups opposed to his reporting that panned government-run health care.

Campaign Launched to Reform Michigan Public Defender System

Michigan's Public Defender System was Ranked Poorly in 10 out of 11 areas

Earlier this week, the Michigan Campaign for Justice released a report card that quantifies the failings of Michigan’s public defender system.

The report card was based on a study by the State Bar of Michigan and the National League Aid and Defender Association that examined how Michigan’s public defense system works in criminal or delinquency proceedings. The study found that Michigan’s system–one of the few in the nation that has no state funding and no statewide standards for monitoring public defender performance–found that the system fails to give defenders the resources to mount effective defenses and that defenders are generally overworked.

Report Card: Michigan’s System Failing

The Michigan campaign for Justice found that Michigan’s system is failing. In eleven areas, including criteria such as funding and competency, Michigan’s system received five “F” and five “D” ratings. The best grade was a “C” for consistency.

Ultimately, these failings are a constitutional issue as the constitution guarantees the right to competent legal representation for the accused. Moreover, the system results in wrongful convictions while the real perpetrators remain free.

Findings Trigger Reform Effort

In the wake of the findings, a broad-based nonpartisan coalition has come together to push for reforms. The coalition will push for legislation that increases funding and implements and enforces national standards.

ACLU Challenges Unlawful Voter Disenfranchisement in Michigan

The ACLU of Michigan Filed a Lawsuit over Unlawful Voter Disenfranchisement

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan filed a motion last week on behalf of a Michigan resident who was disenfranchised by Michigan’s unlawful voter purging program.

According to the ACLU, Lisa A. Blehm was disenfranchised because she obtained a driver’s license in Georgia. Blehm registered to vote in Michigan in 2006 but moved to Georgia temporarily in 2007 to join her husband who was stationed there temporarily as a Marine. Blehm obtained a driver’s license in Georgia but specifically declined to register to vote because she intended to return to Michigan. She returned to Michigan in June of 2008. When she tried to vote in November, she as told by a poll worker that she was not registered to vote and could not vote in the election. The poll worker failed to give her a provisional ballot.

Blehm was the victim of a statewide voter purging program that removes approximately 72,000 voters from Michigan’s voting rolls each year. The program removes Michigan voters who receive driver’s licenses in other states without issuing any kind of notice.

The ACLU contends that this violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.

In October of 2008, US District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled that this program did indeed violate the NVRA but the state refused to reinstate purged voters.

Headlines: Israel Shells Hospital and UN Compound, Supreme Court Loosens Rules for Illegally Obtained Evidence

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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.

Israel Shells Crowded Hospital, UN Compound

Israel continues its relentless attack on Gaza with more bombings of civilian targets, including a crowded hospital. The past hours have seen some of the most intensive Israeli bombing of the twenty-day assault. The Al-Quds hospital was hit by Israeli shells, setting it ablaze. Around 500 patients were being treated inside. The attack followed an earlier Israeli strike that hit the main United Nations aid compound in Gaza City. More than 700 Palestinians had taken shelter there.

UN: White Phosphorus Used in Attack; Fire Will Destroy Stockpile of Gaza Aid

United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesperson Christopher Gunness said the compound is burning with flames from white phosphorus shells.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness: “There have been three hits on the UNRWA headquarters, the UNRWA compound in Gaza, including, I’m told by [UNRWA head] John Ging, white phosphorus. Three of our staff members have been injured. The workshop in our compound is in flames, and nearby are loaded fuel tankers. So the situation is extremely dangerous and extremely serious. We have been on the phone to the Israeli authorities, asking them to call off their fire from around the compound of a neutral international organization. We have not had the answer we want.”

The UN says the fire will burn down an entire warehouse storing thousands of tons of food, medical supplies and other aid.

Israeli Shelling Hits Media Building

A nearby Israeli shelling hit an office building housing several media organizations. A journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel was injured. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald said the attack came despite contact with the Israeli military.

Alastair Macdonald: “We were, in fact, at that time in contact with the Israeli army, checking with them that they knew where our staff were and where they were working. We were assured that they were. Shortly after that, an explosion hit the floor just above us. Shrapnel entered the office. It also struck the offices of another media company two floors above ours. One person, at least, there was wounded, we understand. We have evacuated our office.”

Thousands Flee Homes as Toll Passes 1,000

Thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes today, as Israel escalates its assault on densely populated residential areas. Gaza resident Nasser Mohammed said his family was forced to relocate twice after coming under Israeli attack.

Nasser Mohammed: “We were inside a house with the children, and then the Israeli army started to shoot at us with bullets, so we moved to another house with the children. Then the second house came down on top of us.”

The Palestinian death toll now stands at at least 1,045–at least half of them civilian. Another 4,860 have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, including four by friendly fire.

Israeli Rights Groups Call for War Crimes Investigation

The latest attacks came after a coalition of nine Israeli human rights groups called for an investigation into whether Israel is committing war crimes. In a statement, the groups, including the Israeli sections of Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights, condemned what they call the “wanton use of lethal force” against Palestinian civilians. They continue, “This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion…of the commission of war crimes.” There are worldwide calls for prosecuting Israeli leaders. On Wednesday, hundreds gathered outside the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Sobhi Khansa of the International Coalition Against Impunity said Israeli leaders should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Sobhi Khansa: “The crimes of Israel against Gaza increase day after day. And now it’s terrorist crimes, you know? They are using terrorist weapons, murder, crimes against humanity, war crimes. So, for this, we came to the Hague to ICC Court. We want the court to go and start investigation about these crimes.”

The Guardian of London reported this week diplomats are considering asking the United Nations General Assembly to refer Israel’s actions in Gaza to the World Court. The UN’s special rapporteur to the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, has said Israel’s attack on Gaza could be in violation of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international law and international humanitarian law.

Bolivia, Venezuela Cut Israel Ties in Protest

Bolivia and Venezuela, meanwhile, have cut diplomatic ties with Israel in protest of the Gaza assault. Bolivian President Evo Morales also backed calls for investigating Israeli leaders.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “The most serious international crimes should not go unpunished. Any government can back the investigation and punishment of these crimes. Bolivia, a sovereign state that shows it is against violence and respects life, will work with other governments and humanitarian organizations to ask for an investigation in international court for the crimes committed in the Gaza Strip by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other members of the Israeli cabinet.”

Second Free Gaza Ship Abandons Aid Mission Following Israeli Threat

A ship trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza says it has aborted its mission after the Israeli navy threatened the civilian passengers on board. The Free Gaza movement boat left Cyprus on Wednesday seeking to deliver doctors and medical supplies. It was the group’s first attempt to reach Gaza since an Israeli navy vessel deliberately rammed another humanitarian boat last month, almost forcing it to sink. According to a Free Gaza statement, five Israeli gunboats surrounded the Spirit of Humanity ship in international waters 100 miles off the Gaza coast. In a radio transmission, the Israeli navy threatened to open fire on the ship unless it immediately turned around. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has intercepted an Iranian ship headed to Gaza for the second time. The ship is carrying food and medicine and had planned to arrive in Gaza this past weekend. It tried to reach Gaza again on Wednesday, but was intercepted by the Israeli navy.

Greece Refuses to Host US Weapons Shipment to Israel

Meanwhile, the US has been forced to cancel a weapons shipment to Israel after the Greek government refused to allow it to pass through its ports. The US says it will seek an alternative site.

Bin Laden Tape Calls for “Holy War” Over Gaza

Osama bin Laden has resurfaced in a new audiotape calling for a holy war over the Israeli attack on Gaza. The undated recording condemns Israel and the United States.

Osama bin Laden: “We are with you, and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom. God has bestowed us with the patience to continue the path of jihad for another seven years, and seven and seven… The question is, can America continue its war with us for several more decades to come? Reports and evidence would suggest otherwise.”

Military Plans for Earlier Iraq Withdrawal

In Iraq news, Pentagon commanders are reportedly drafting contingencies for a speedier withdrawal of US troops than currently planned. The Washington Post reports military officials ordered the new withdrawal plan in case President-elect Obama rejects current proposals as too slow.

Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoners

A federal judge has ruled the Pentagon must release a Guantanamo Bay prisoner over a lack of evidence to justify continued imprisonment. US District Judge Richard Leon says the Pentagon has failed to prove Mohammed El-Gharani is a so-called enemy combatant. A Chad national, Gharani was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He has been held at Guantanamo for more than six years.

House Backs Child Healthcare Expansion

On Capitol Hill, the House has passed a measure expanding government health insurance for low-income children. President Bush has vetoed previous votes expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP. But President-elect Obama says it will be one of the first measures he hopes to sign into law when he takes office next week. The $33 billion bill would be funded in part by a tax increase on cigarette packs. A Senate vote is expected next week.

Supreme Court Restricts Protections for Illegally Obtained Evidence

The Supreme Court has ruled evidence obtained through illegal searches or mistaken arrests can still be used to prosecute criminal cases. In a five-to-four ruling, the court voted to impose new limits on the so-called exclusionary rule, which dismisses evidence obtained from unreasonable searches or seizure. In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ruling leaves suspects in exclusionary cases with “no remedy for violations of their constitutional rights.”

Admin Claims Compliance in Email Request

The Bush administration is claiming it will meet a legal requirement to hand over millions of emails it’s long claimed to have lost. A government lawyer made the announcement at a hearing in a suit brought by civil liberties groups seeking the emails’ public release. The announcement came hours after a District Court judge ordered White House employees to search their hard drives for the missing emails, dated from 2003 to 2005. One of the plaintiffs, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the government’s claim to have recovered the emails should be verified independently. Another ruling is expected soon in a suit seeking to force Vice President Dick Cheney to hand over his personal records. Cheney says he should decide what gets publicly disclosed.

Treasury to Increase Aid to Bank of America

And the Treasury Department is reportedly finalizing a new plan to give Bank of America billions of additional dollars on top of the $25 billion infusion it’s already received in the taxpayer bailout. Bank of America says it needs the funds to complete the acquisition of the troubled firms Merrill Lynch and Countrywide. $10 billion of the $25 billion Bank of America received last year was earmarked for its purchase of Merrill Lynch.

Court Hearing for Fired Starbucks Barista

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing will take place this week to discuss the firing of a unionized barista at Starbucks.

The Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union is circulating the following announcement about an important trial regarding the firing of a Starbucks Union organizer here in Grand Rapids:

010309-starbucks_union.jpg

AFTER A CRUSHING DEFEAT IN NEW YORK WATCH STARBUCKS ATTEMPT TO DODGE CHARGES IN GRAND RAPIDS!

PACK THE COURTROOM FOR BARISTA RIGHTS!

What:

A trial against Starbucks at the National Labor Relations Board over the wrongful termination of an IWW barista. The proceedings are open to the public.

Who:

Starbucks baristas, supporters from the IWW, the community, and Starbucks management officials.

The IWW Starbucks Workers Union will be represented by attorney Rodger Webb of Webb, Englehardt, and Fernandes.

Starbucks will be represented by David Khorey and Kelly Stoppels of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt, and Howlett.

The NLRB attorney on the case is Brad Howell. Why:

Starbucks’ is preparing to fight its second trial against Unfair Labor Practices. Last week, in an 88 page decision, an administrative law judge found, among other things, that Starbucks maintained multiple policies which interfered with workers’ right to communicate about the union and about working conditions; terminated three workers in retaliation for union activity; and repeatedly discriminated against union supporters.

After an investigation triggered by charges from the IWW in Grand Rapids, the Labor Board hit Starbucks with a complaint alleging the illegal termination of an employee for union activity.The barista firing at issue in the case resulted in solidarity actions from around the world. Now Starbucks will have to answer for its illegal acts in open court, again!

Despite the fierce anti-union campaign by the world’s largest fast-food coffee outlet, baristas around the country continue to join the IWW Starbucks Workers Union to pressure the company on issues of concern including insecure work hours, poverty wages, and unaffordable health care.

Background on the complaint for which Starbucks will stand trial: “Starbucks faces another NLRB complaint”, by Lauren Shepherd for the Associated Press, available online

When: Starting Wednesday, January 7th at 10amThursday, January 8th 10am(possibly) Friday, January 9th 10am

Where: NLRB Region 7 at the Federal Building. David L. Basso Hearing Room, 82 Ionia 3rd Floor in Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

Press Conference 930am January 7th in front of 82 Ionia

The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal

The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal is an interesting book that looks at the case of one of the United States’ most well-known death penalty cases. It convincingly argues that Abu-Jamal was framed by the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office.

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

When I first got into radical politics in the late 1990s, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal was one of the first issues that I learned about. At the time, it was not uncommon to see people tabling with information about his case calling for a new trial at political events. In fact, Mumia’s case became the subject of an early Media Mouse project back in 2000–a pamphlet that used Mumia’s case as an introduction to talking about racial disparities in incarceration and the use of the death penalty.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, attention on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case seems to have waned–due perhaps to the rise of the Bush administration and the “War on Terror.” However, journalist J. Patrick O’Connor’s new book The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal provides an important reminder of why this case has gained so much attention over the years. O’Connor’s book provides a thorough account of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case, arguing that the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office framed Abu-Jamal for the killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner.

O’Connor provides a detailed and insightful primer into the case of one of the United States’ most famous death row prisoners. O’Connor’s book essentially tells the complete history of the case, examining court hearings, evidence, and the strategies used by the state. Beginning with the events of December 9, 1981 when Officer Faulkner was killed, O’Connor looks all facets of the case. He explores how the judge in the case–Judge Sabo–was biased against Mumia Abu-Jamal from the start and how the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney used that to their advantage. O’Connor discusses how problems with Abu-Jamal’s rushed trial and ineffective counsel–the prosecutor telling the jury that their decision could be reversed in a series of likely appeals, preemptory challenges that excluded black jurors, and bias on the part of Judge Sabo–have led to the likelihood of Mumia Abu-Jamal getting a new trial in upcoming years.

Aside from the bias in the case, Abu-Jamal’s conviction happened with next to no forensic evidence. The police failed to conduct routine tests generally used in murder investigations. Similarly, testimony about the way in which the bullet that shot Abu-Jamal entered his body suggest that the prosecution’s version of events–that Officer Faulkner got off one shot and hit Abu-Jamal as he was falling to the ground–was not true. At the same time, witness testimony and Mumia Abu-Jamal’s “confession” were not credible, with evidence emerging in recent years–along with clues during his 1982 trial–suggesting that the prosecutors and/or the Philadelphia Police Department solicited perjured statements and testimony from two supposed eyewitnesses (one was a prostitute and the other was a convicted felon). Some of these flaws could have been highlighted in the Abu-Jamal’s trial, but O’Connor clearly demonstrates that Abu-Jamal’s counsel was ineffective and poorly prepared to handle the case.

O’Connor also provides contextual information that makes Mumia Abu-Jamal’s framing seem more likely. He talks about the rampant corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department, Abu-Jamal’s work as a journalist defending the disenfranchised and questioning the actions of the police, and his work with the Black Panther Party as a teenager. O’Connor argues that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s sympathetic reporting on the revolutionary group MOVE and its series of confrontations with the police and the City of Philadelphia made him a “marked man.” He says that the framing was set in motion by a corruption Philadelphia Police Inspector named Alfonzo Giordano who was aware of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s political sympathies. It was Giordano who arranged for prostitute Cynthia White to testify. White provided key evidence, yet it seems likely that her testimony was false.

The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a relatively quick read that is simultaneously gripping and enraging. It draws the read into particularly egregious example of how the justice system in the United States operates while at the same time serves as a reminder that institutional racism is an all too real component of the justice system. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could read this book without coming to the conclusion that Mumia Abu-Jamal deserves a new trial at the least–and possibly to be freed.

J. Patrick O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, (Lawrence Hill Books, 2008).

Court Decision Paves Way for Release of Activist

Imprisoned community activist Edward Pinkney may be eligible for release from prison following a Court of Appeals ruling asking the Berrien County Circuit Court to set bond.

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Earlier this week, a Court of Appeals decision paved the way for the possible release of imprisoned Benton Harbor activist Rev. Edward Pinkney.

The ruling comes in a case where Pinkney is serving three to ten years in prison for criticizing a judge in a newspaper article. The Michigan ACLU–who took up Pinkney’s case last month–is calling the decision a victory. The ACLU had argued that while Pinkney’s comments were offensive to many, they were protected First Amendment speech.

Pinkney remains in prison, but the Court of Appeals has granted the ACLU’s motion and has asked the Berrien County Circuit Court to set the amount of bond. No hearing date has been scheduled yet, but the ACLU plans to ask for the earliest date possible.