Headlines: Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant; Private Sector Lost 697,000 Jobs Last Month

Democracy Now Headlines: Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant; Private Sector Lost 697,000 Jobs Last Month

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 Holds Health Care Summit, Agrees to Invite Single-Payer Backer Conyers

President Obama is convening a White House summit today on reforming the nation’s health care system. The Obama administration has asked some 120 lawmakers, insurers and doctors to attend. Obama finally gave a last minute invite to the House’s leading advocate for single-payer universal health care, Democratic Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan. Obama had reportedly refused to invite Conyers but relented after public outcry. Conyers is expected to be the lone single-payer advocate in attendance.

U.S. to Overhaul Government Contract Procurements

On Wednesday, President Obama announced a plan to overhaul contracting policies in all government departments. Singling out military contracts in Iraq, Obama said the new rule changes would save taxpayers $40 billion dollars a year.

President Obama: “And this wasteful spending has many sources. It comes from investments in unproven technologies. It comes from a lack of oversight. It comes from influence-peddling and indefensible no-bid contracts that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Geithner: Admin Could Scrap Repeal of Tax Deductions for Wealthy

Obama meanwhile is facing opposition from members of his own party on a plan to reduce tax deductions for wealthy Americans. The plan would save around $318 billion dollars over 10 years. Under questioning from Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration would consider dropping the proposal.

Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant for Bashir

The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “The government of Sudan is obliged by international law to execute the warrant of arrest on its territory. We are not calling for someone else to do it. If the government of Sudan does not execute the warrant of arrest, the UN security council will need to ensure compliance.”

Sudan has dismissed the warrant as a Western ploy. At the UN, Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem said his government rejects the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.

Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “We condemn strongly this verdict, and for us ICC doesn’t exist. We are not bound by its decisions, and we are in no way going to cooperate with it.”

Abdelhaleem meanwhile said the mass killings in Darfur are largely the result of a local conflict over scarce resources.

Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “Regarding our conflict, we have a conflict. We recognize the existence of the conflict, but it has been blown out of proportion. It is a conflict–traditional conflict–over meager resources, water, land, like many thousands of conflicts in the various corners of the world, so we are not an exception. It has been blown out of proportion to serve the agenda and interest of certain countries.”

Western human rights groups praised the arrest warrant for Bashir. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said Bashir is guilty of war crimes.

Richard Dicker: “Certainly, it’s a momentous day for the International Criminal Court and more broadly the cause of justice and ending impunity for the most serious crimes under law: the mass murder of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of intimidation or war. the forcible displacement of whole populations on the basis of their ethnicity. So this is a significant momentous day, and I would say the decision of the judges of the ICC that we heard this morning is really of seismic proportions.”

The Sudanese government has meanwhile carried through on warnings that an arrest warrant would further imperil Sudanese refugees. Within hours of the warrant’s announcement, Sudan expelled at least ten groups that provided aid to more than a million displaced people in western Darfur. The groups–including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and CARE International–account for 60 percent of humanitarian assistance in Darfur.

Clinton: Israeli House Demolitions “Unhelpful”

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made some mild criticism of Israeli occupation policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton called Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes “unhelpful.” She also called for a partial lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected, but the ramifications go far beyond the individuals and the families that had received the notices you referenced. So yes, this will be taken up with the Israeli government. We have obviously expressed concerns about the border crossings. We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to be able to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza.”

3 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Attack

Earlier today at least three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Israel says it targeted militants who fired at occupying Israeli troops across the Gaza border.

10 Killed in Iraq Bombing

In Iraq, at least ten people have been killed and more than forty wounded in a bombing near the city of Hilla. The attack targeted a busy cattle market.

UN General Assembly President Calls for Iraq Human Rights Probe

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann is calling for an independent probe into human rights violations as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On Tuesday, D’Escoto appeared before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: “Independent experts estimate that over one million Iraqis have lost their lives as a direct result of the illegal invasion of their country. The various UN human rights monitors have prepared report after report documenting the unending litany of violations from crimes of war, rights of children and women, social rights, collective punishment and treatment of prisoners of war and illegal detention of civilians. These must be addressed to bring an end to the scandalous present impunity.”

3 Canadian Troops Killed in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, three Canadian troops have been killed in a roadside bombing near Kandahar. The attack came as three civilian contractors for a U.S. company were injured in a car bombing at Bagram, the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan.

Afghan Election Commission Rebuffs Karzai on Vote Date

In other Afghan news, an independent election commission has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s attempt to move up national elections to April. The commission has set August 20th as election day. Opposition leaders have accused Karzai of trying to rush the vote to help secure his re-election.

Murtha: 600,000 Troops Needed in Afghanistan

Meanwhile Democratic Congressmember John Murtha of Pennsylvania is predicting it will take some 600,000 troops to defeat Afghan insurgents. Murtha is the influential chair of the House Armed Services Committee. The 600,000 figure is more than seven times the peak number of NATO troops expected in Afghanistan this summer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Brussels today for talks on the Afghan occupation with NATO allies.

Miers, Rove to Testify in Attorney Probe

Former Bush administration aides Harriet Miers and Karl Rove have agreed to testify on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys three years ago. The agreement ends a long-running dispute over the reach of executive power to shield administration officials from testifying. Attorneys for former President George W. Bush, the House of Representatives and the Obama administration brokered the deal. Rove and Miers will provide depositions and sworn public testimony. But they won’t be asked about their discussions with President Bush or other Bush administration officials. Despite the conditions, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers declared victory, saying: “We have finally broken through the Bush administration’s claims of absolute immunity. This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight.”

Chavez Seizes U.S. Subsidary in Rice Dispute

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has seized a local subsidiary of the American food giant Cargill in a dispute over the market cost of rice. Chavez says Cargill and other companies are evading price controls and selling rice at inflated costs. Chavez is also threatening to nationalize Venezuela’s largest private company, Polar, in the rice dispute.

U.S. Private Sector Shed 697,000 Jobs in Feb.

New figures show the U.S. private sector lost 697,000 jobs last month. The services sector was the hardest hit, shedding 359,000 workers.

Study: Illegal Firings Linked to Union Votes

A new study has found an increased rate of illegal firings when workplaces vote on joining unions. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says more than one-fourth of union-representation elections held this decade have been marred with an illegal firing of a pro-union worker. Pro-union workers were fired in 26 percent of union election campaigns, up from 16 percent in the last half of the 1990s. Labor unions are currently seeking passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions. President Obama said this week he supports the measure.

Merrill Lynch Execs Subpoenaed in Bonuses Probe

Here in New York, state attorney general Andrew Cuomo has subpoenaed several top Merrill Lynch executives who were each paid more than $10 million in cash and stock last year. Overall, Merrill Lynch handed out over $3 billion in bonuses just before the company sold to Bank of America in a government-backed deal. The bonuses were handed out despite a $27.6 billion dollar company loss on the year. Cuomo is investigating whether the payments violated securities laws.

New York Assembly Scales Back Rockefeller Drug Laws

In other New York news, the state assembly has approved a measure to partially reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws and give judges more discretion in sentencing. The bill would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison. Prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses would also be eligible to have their sentences reduced or commuted. Critics fear that because it’s only a partial reform most prisoners won’t see any reprieve. Wednesday’s vote was approved by a margin of 96 to 46. The bill now goes to the New York state Senate.

California Supreme Court Takes Up Gay Marriage Ban

And in California, the state Supreme Court will take up a case today seeking to overturn the voter-approved gay marriage ban. Gay marriage advocates want the court to declare Proposition Eight unconstitutional. The proceedings will be broadcast on giant television screens around San Francisco. Thousands of protesters marched around San Francisco on Wednesday ahead of today’s hearing.

Film and Panel Discussion address Native American Genocide

On Wednesday, the GVSU School of Social Work and the Native American Student Association hosted a film and panel discussion looking at Native American genocide and how it has continued to and continues to shape the Native experience.

The Grand Valley State University (GVSU) School of Social Work and the Native American Student Association hosted a screening of the newly released documentary, The Canary Effect last night in Grand Rapids. This documentary, produced by Bastard Fairy films, is a powerful critique of the genocidal policies that Euro-Americans have committed against Native North Americans. The documentary deals with the various the various forms of genocide as have been defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention, policies like outright extermination policies, forced removal from Native land, government boarding schools, and the ongoing consequences of these policies – alcoholism, poverty, and suicide. The film features several scholars, such as Charles Abourezk, Troy Johnson, and Ward Churchill, the last of whom was mentioned by one of the panelists as being a controversial figure even in the Native community.

Following the documentary, there was a panel of several area Native Americans, including Dr. Simone Jonaitis with GVSU, Shannon Martin, Lee Sprague, Roger Williams and Ben Williams. Levi Rickert moderated the panel and posed several questions. The first question asked the panelist for general reactions to the film. Several of the panelists said it was very painful to watch, but that it provided important information on the history of what has been done to Native people. Lee Sprague said that it speaks to the fact that we are still an occupied people. “I always tell people that I reside from the territories currently occupied by the state of Michigan.” Shannon Martin said she knew “what was coming next in terms of the conquest, forced relocation, to boarding schools to substance abuse, or what we call weapons of mass destruction.” She also said, “It is important that these truths are taught and that we unlearned what we have been taught.” Dr. Jonaitis said, “for me what was so painful was to be able to put names and faces of people that I know that are in my family that these policies have affected.” All of the panelists agreed that showing this kind of film is necessary for all people if any real healing is to take place.

The next question asked was “are we victims?” Ben Williams said, “we are not playing victims, we are suffering from the post traumatic effects of the history of what has been done to us. Every day we are being exposed to what the US has done to us.” Shannon Martin said, “what we are doing is truth telling to promote what really happened to us. In many ways looking at this history is another way of acknowledging what happened to our ancestors. I have family who were subjected to the Mt. Pleasant boarding school. For my grandmother to not be able to share her language with her daughter…. we are not victims, we are survivors.” Lee Sprague says that when he was younger he had a great deal of anger directed at white people. “I had to make a choice of what to do with my anger. I don’t know that we are the biggest victims, we have to get there together. We all have a responsibility of being human.”

Levi Rickert then asked, “What are the strengths of Native communities?” Shannon Martin responded first by saying, “it’s our resiliency and adaptability. Our people adapted when they were forcibly removed. We used whatever we can to adapt and that is one of our strengths. We use the materials around us to survive. Also, our humor is our strength. Our humor is not well known since there is this stereotype of natives being a stoic people.” Ben Williams said, “despite hundreds of years in attempting to assimilate us, we still have our teachings, our ceremonies and that many of us still practice the belief in the seventh generation.” Roger Williams added that “another strength is the land, what we call mother…we actually look upon you all as renters.”

The fourth question posed to the panel was “What does the future hold for our people?” Lee Sprague responded that it is “something we need to figure out together. I think we are seeing the beginning. Our people are starting to come back home. How are we going receive them? These are generational stories that are playing out and we need to continue that.” Ben Williams thinks, “it depends on what new fights are ahead of us. You look at the Grand Rapids Public School closing of our charter school or the state taking away funding. These are the fights that will probably determine our future.” Shannon Martin felt that “there needs to be quite a bit of healing in our own communities first. Until we do that our people are going to be slaves to neo-colonial thought and systems that enslave us. We need to talk about our clan practices. We don’t need to promote a nuclear family model. My family goes all the way to the tip of South America. Our language will play a big role in this, so we need to save our languages.” Dr. Jonaitis emphasized the importance of language as well, “it will help us to understand ourselves better. This land is also important and particularly in Michigan the preservation of water is critical.” Roger Williams stated, “when White people realize that the government policies are destroying the earth that will be a turning point. Our prophecy says that White people will look to us for teachings on how to live with the earth.” Lee Sprague also mentioned the importance of water for the future. “It is so screwed up when you have 20% of the world’s fresh water and our economy is bankrupt, as is our culture. We have holidays devoted to consumerism. It is all a symptom of the sickness of our society.”

The last question from the moderator asked, “What can non-Indians do to support the Indian community?” Roger Williams emphasized “something as simple as getting our curriculum to tell the truth. Look at what is still being taught about our history in schools and get that changed.” Dr. Jonaitis continued on that theme by saying “we all have been educated in a euro-centric way. How do we want our children to see the world? We have to tell our stories through a variety of lenses. We are all responsible to listen to each other and our stories.” Shannon Martin felt that “we need to find alliances. We need to have Native people in different capacities, as teachers, academics, writers, etc. We need Native people in all these fields. Ben Williams said, “re-educate yourselves. Make sure your kids are not being taught these same lies. We need to work against celebrating things like Columbus Day. I hope to have a rally next year against Columbus Day. We need to take on other issues like the use of Native mascots.” Lee Sprague concluded by making the observation, “Native people are not in the science fiction literature, meaning we are not part of the future of this country. So, we need to make sure that we are part of the future of this country in whatever way we can.”

Andrea Smith: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide

In this lecture, author, scholar, and activist Andrea Smith of INCITE! Women of Color against Violence discussed sexual violence in American Indian communities and the role of sexual violence in genocide. Smith argues hat sexual violence is an inherent part of the colonial project. She also asserts that sexual violence–as a weapon of both patriarchy and colonialism–must be approached from an anti-colonial perspective. Finally, she shares her thoughts on organizing against sexual violence and argues for a “mass movement” against sexual violence that exists outside of current non-profit structures.