Local and Michigan Headlines: Agema Ranked Least Effective Legislator in Michigan House; U of M Study Says Smoking Ban Won’t Hurt Businesses

Here are some recent headlines published elsewhere covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

  • Goodbye, GM – Michael Moore–writing from the Flint birthplace of General Motors–looks at the company’s bankruptcy.
  • Congratulations to Rep. Dave Agema – Representative David Agema of Grandville was ranked the least effective legislator in the House of Representatives according to a survey conducted by the Lansing based MIRS news service. Apparently Agema’s attacks on immigrants, LGBT people, and Native Americans aren’t working in his favor.
  • E-Verify is Verifiably Bad – The ACLU of Michigan is criticizing a proposal by an Oakland County Commissioner to require that contractors and vendors doing business with the county participate in the “E-Verify” program. E-Verify is a flawed federal database that is supposed to determine if people are legally able to work in the United States. The ACLU says that 17.8 million of the database’s files have incorrect information and that the program is an invasion of privacy.
  • Convicted Detroit reporter faces sentencing – A Detroit-based reported will be sentencing this week after being convicted of felony police obstruction. Many see her conviction as retaliation for her work in illuminating police brutality in Detroit.
  • Detroit: Farm city – Urban gardening in Detroit has received a lot of attention in recent years and now a Detroit businessman is touting a plan to create the largest urban farm in the world in Detroit. It’s an interesting idea.
  • U of M study concludes a workplace smoking ban will not hurt business – A University of Michigan study has concluded that a ban on smoking in the state’s bars and restaurants would not negatively affect revenues.
  • Kent County Board members propose ‘local first’ policies – Three Democratic Kent County Commissioners are proposing a subcommittee to develop a “local first” policy for the county that would emphasize using local companies. The rationale is that it would keep more jobs and money in the county.
  • Union agreement with GM not enough to revive Wyoming stamping plant after Friday’s closing – Local workers hoped that the GM plant in Wyoming might reopen after GM declared bankruptcy, but the plant was not listed among GM’s stand-by plants.
  • Proposed budget for Grand Rapids school district cuts 95 teaching jobs, almost $9 million in spending – The Grand Rapids Public Schools is proposing eliminating 95 teaching jobs and $9 million in spending. The Board will discuss the plan tonight at its meeting.
  • Stupak: Move Gitmo to UP Mackinac meeting – U.S. Representative Bart Stupak–who represents residents in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–is advocating that the Obama administration consider moving the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a detention facility in the U.P. Representative Pete Hoekstra of Holland said that he has been to Guantanamo and that the people held there are “evil people” and that they would “become magnets for homegrown terror” if they were moved to Michigan.

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

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Local and Michigan Headlines: Traverse City Pursues Renewable Energy; Smoking Ban in the State House

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past 24 hours:

  • Bicyclist’s death in crash with city dump truck serves as solemn reminder for those gathered at ‘Ride of Silence’ event – On the day of the annual “Ride of Silence” to commemorate cyclists killed by motorists, a 55-year old man was killed while biking after he was hit by a City of Grand Rapids dump truck.
  • Family at risk of losing home fights fallout from questionable mortgage practices – Michigan Messenger has an interesting look at Bretlin Home Mortgage and its role in the current foreclosure crisis.
  • Traverse City’s Utility Goes Greener – “As three Michigan utilities await decisions on their applications to build new coal-fired power plants, this Up North town’s municipally owned utility is earning high praise for heading in the opposite direction.” Traverse City Light & Power is aiming to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Let’s Eliminate the MBT – The Chamber of Commerce is advocating the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax and Blogging For Michigan asks how they would plan to make up for the revenue. Moreover, they point out that the groups like the Chamber had a major role in shaping the tax, so if they have a problem with it, it is largely their own fault.
  • Closing the Digital Divide – This article from Rapid Growth Media looks at a new Grand Rapids non-profit called ellohay! West Michigan that plans to give away 100 gently-used laptops to individuals who otherwise would not have access to them.
  • Partial smoking ban clears 1st hurdle – A proposed ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, and other work sites is once again being revived in the Michigan House. The bill that is being looked at this year includes exemptions for Detroit’s casinos and cigar and smoke shops across the state.
  • Profiles in Cowardice – the Debbie Stabenow Story – This post from Michigan Liberal points out that Senator Debbie Stabenow recently voted to remove funding aimed at closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. It’s the latest in a series of weak positions from the Senator.
  • Engler wants Guantanamo detainees brought to Michigan – I missed this a few weeks ago (thanks to Michigan Liberal for the reminder), but apparently former Republican Governor of Michigan John Engler wants hold Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the Upper Peninsula. He says Michigan could make up to $1 billion per year on such a deal.

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

Local and Michigan Headlines: Local Abstinence-only Programs Face Cuts; GRCC Raises Tuition

Here is a round-up of some important stories published in the last 24 hours that cover Grand Rapids and Michigan:

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

Elevated Cancer Risk for those in Michigan Living near Unlined Coal Ash Dumps

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A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice finds that Michigan residents living near unlined coal ash dumps have a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from their drinking water.

Unlined ash dumps can be found in Ingham, Marquette, Monroe, and Ottawa counties. Of the seven sites in Michigan, only three have groundwater monitoring. The plants are operated by major energy producers in Michigan, including Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.

The problem can be traced to the United States reliance on coal-fired power plants. Each year, such plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic ash in more than 200 landfills and wet ponds. The practice gained national attention in December of 2008 when one such disposal site burst in Kingston, Tennessee. Coal ash can be responsible for pollutants including arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium, and cobalt.

The analysis is based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data collected by the government. Under the Bush administration, the data was largely kept from public release as the administration dragged its feet. The report cautions that the actual number of polluted sites may be significantly greater than what the EPA is reporting.

In the time of swine flu you can still die of an opiate overdose

Clean Works

by Stephen Alsum

According to data from the Kent County Medical Examiner, drug overdoses are the second leading cause of accidental death of all people under the age of sixty-five in Kent County, Michigan. The only thing that causes more accidental deaths of people under the age of sixty-five than drug overdoses in Kent County is automobile accidents.

This data is confirmed by the Center for Disease Control. In 2005, almost five times as many people died from narcotic (opiate) overdoses in Kent County as died by drowning or submersion in water. More than fifteen times as many people died from narcotic overdose than by exposure to smoke, fire and/or flames. More people died from narcotic overdose than from all different types of assault combined. Kent County has a problem. It is not a problem we hear about very often, but it is a problem nonetheless. Kent County has a problem with people overdosing and dying from drugs, specifically opiates.

So what can we do about this? In order to reduce fatality from automobile accidents, these things called seat belts were invented. When we get in the car hopefully we wear them, thereby reducing potential harm that may befall us. When we swim there is often a lifeguard present; someone to help us if we begin to falter. To protect against fatality by fire or smoke inhalation, we have the fire department and they do a good job of putting out fires once they’ve started. So what about fatality from opiate overdoses, how can we reduce that?

One way to reduce fatality from opiate overdoses, if you are going to use opiates, is much like wearing a seat belt if you are going to drive in a car. It is a preventative measure: know what it is that you are using, and if you don’t, test it out first. Be careful though, lots of people die from illegal opiates in Kent County, but lots of people overdose on prescription opiates such as methadone too. Another way to prevent fatality from overdose is to always make sure someone else is present when you use. It is safer to swim with a lifeguard present; it is safer to use drugs when another person is there. If no one is present when you use, there will be no one there to call 911, and there will be no one to intervene if you should happen to overdose. Finally, much like the fire department puts out fires once they’ve started, get trained in how to recognize and intervene in opiate overdoses.

The Clean Works Harm Reduction Program in downtown Grand Rapids has recently started training people who actively use drugs in preventing, recognizing and intervening in opiate overdoses. Overdose is the second leading cause of accidental death of all people aged zero to sixty-five in Kent County; obviously training solely in the hands of paramedics and emergency room personnel has not worked. Sometimes the paramedics do not arrive in time, and sometimes they are never called. Clean Works is training the true first responders, people who use drugs, in how to prevent, recognize and intervene in opiate overdoses. Come to Clean Works and we can train you. If you have friends who could take advantage of one of the many services we offer, send them in. Besides for overdose prevention and intervention trainings, in the interest of public health we offer free confidential syringe exchange and a variety of safer sex supplies to help prevent the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis-C and other blood borne viruses.

For more information, contact Clean Works:

Clean Works

54 S. Division

Monday & Thursday, 6-8pm

(616) 456-9063

Headlines: Britain Ends “Combat Operations” in Iraq; Group: Don’t Scapegoat Mexicans in Swine Flu Coverage

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.

Justice Souter to Retire from Supreme Court

Justice David Souter is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June. Souter’s departure would grant President Obama his first opportunity to appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court bench. Souter was appointed by President George H.W. Bush but ended up regularly voting with the court’s liberal members.

3 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, three U.S. troops have been killed in clashes near Baghdad. At least eighteen U.S. soldiers died in April, making it the deadliest month for the U.S. military this year.

Britain Ends Combat Operations in Iraq

In other Iraq news, British troops have formally ended combat operations after a more than six-year occupation. On Thursday, British forces handed control of Basra province to the U.S. military. Britain says it will withdraw most of its 3,700 troops by July, leaving about 400 behind to train Iraqi forces.

Marri Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge

The only so-called “enemy combatant” jailed in the U.S. has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaeda. Ali al-Marri has been held in isolation without trial at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. The Obama administration charged him in February to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. On Thursday, al-Marri pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge carrying a maximum fifteen-year sentence. He could serve half that if he’s given credit for his seven and a half year imprisonment. As part of the agreement, al-Marri admitted to attending militant training camps and traveling to the U.S. under the direction of Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Gates Hints at Continued Indefinite Jailing of Gitmo Prisoners

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated up to 100 foreign prisoners could end up jailed without trial in the U.S. once the Guantanamo Bay prison is closed. Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates: “What do we do with the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?” Gates said he’s requested some $50 million in supplemental funding in case the Obama administration decides to quickly build a new jail.

61 Arrested Protesting Torture Outside White House

Gates’ comments came as sixty-one protesters were arrested outside the White House Thursday to call for the closure of Guantanamo and the prosecution of Bush administration officials who authorized torture there. The arrests followed a march of more than 150 people. Dozens wore black hoods and orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by Guantanamo prisoners. The protest was organized by Witness Against Torture and Amnesty International.

Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy Protection

The auto giant Chrysler has filed for federal bankruptcy protection under a government-brokered deal. Chrysler hopes to form a new company that would be owned by the US government, the Italian auto giant Fiat, and the company’s workers. On Thursday, President Obama said the bankruptcy filing would ensure Chrysler’s continued operation.

President Obama: “No one should be confused about what a bankruptcy process means. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather one more step on a clearly charted path to Chrysler’s revival. Because of the fact that the UAW and many of the banks, the biggest stakeholders in this whole process have already aligned, have already agreed, this process will be quick.”

Obama also criticized the role of some hedge funds who he said pushed Chrysler into bankruptcy.

Senate Defeats Measure to Aid Homeowners

On Capital Hill, the Senate has defeated a proposal that would have rescued hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure. A dozen Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure, which would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners. President Obama had publicly supported the proposal but refused to actively lobby for its approval.

House Backs Credit Card Regulation

Meanwhile the House has approved a measure that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry. The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights would limit practices including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and charging interest on paid-off debt.

House Broadens Hate Crime Laws

The House has also passed a measure expanding the scope of federal hate crime laws. The bill would broaden the definition of a hate crime to include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity and mental or physical disability. It now goes to the Senate.

Maine, New Hampshire Senates Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

In Maine, the state Senate has voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now goes to the Maine House, where it’s expected to pass next week. Democratic Governor John Baldacci formerly opposed gay marriage but isn’t expected to issue a veto. Meanwhile New Hampshire’s state Senate has also voted to legalize gay marriage. The measure now returns to the House, which has already approved a slightly different bill. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, has opposed same-sex marriage but hasn’t indicated whether he’ll veto the measure.

U.S. Rules Out Closing Border With Mexico in Flu Crisis

Mexican health officials have raised their count of confirmed swine flu cases but say the number appears to be stabilizing. Three-hundred people have contracted swine flu in Mexico while another twelve people have died. The Obama administration is meanwhile rejecting calls to close the U.S. border with Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed the issue Thursday in Washington.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “Closing the entire borders would have no benefit at this point because the virus is already present in the United States. The comparison is clear- it’s like closing the barn door well after the horse has left.”

There are more than 100 confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S., with one death so far. The White House has also announced a federal agent who recently traveled with President Obama contracted swine flu last month. The agent has since recovered and is back at work. The White House says he did not come within sufficient range of President Obama to expose him to possible infection.

Group: Don’t Scapegoat Mexicans in Swine Flu Coverage

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists meanwhile is urging media outlets not to scapegoat Mexican immigrants in coverage of the swine flu crisis. In a statement, the group said: “The temptation… will be to link Mexican immigrants with the spread of the disease to the United States. The consequence… will be even more anger – and perhaps even more violence – against a community no more responsible for the spread of this ailment than U.S. tourists returning from vacations.”

Iraq War Resister Jailed for 1 Year

A U.S. army soldier has been sentenced to a year in prison for fleeing to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq. Cliff Cornell spent four years living on a British Columbia island before the Canadian government denied his asylum request. He was jailed after re-entering the U.S. in February despite announcing plans to voluntarily return to his unit.

Informant: FBI Spied on Muslim Gym Members

In California, a former informant has revealed FBI agents routinely monitored local Orange County gyms to gather intelligence on members of local mosques. Craig Monteilh said he posed as a Muslim convert to lure mosque members to work out with him at the gyms. FBI agents would then press him to obtain information on his workout partners in the hopes of one day pressuring them to become informants. The disclosure is the latest in a series of exposed government surveillance efforts on California’s Muslim communities.

UN: International Pledges Yet to Reach Gaza

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a top UN relief official says the Gaza Strip has yet to receive any of the $4.5 billion dollars in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors. John Ging, the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, says Israeli restrictions on goods and the U.S.-led boycott of Hamas have prevented basic goods from reaching Gaza. Ging said: “Today the money is out there in pledges and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel.”

Report Finds Scores of Abuses by Mexican Military

In Mexico, the Mexican military is being accused of enjoying virtual impunity to commit human rights abuses in the fight against the country’s drug cartels. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the Mexican armed forces have committed rape, murder, torture, and other abuses against indigenous women, environmentalists, and other victims with no link to the drug war. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the crimes have routinely gone unpunished.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth: “The legal door is open, it is now import for the politicians to walk trough and to end impunity that has been so disastrous for efforts to prevent the military from committing abuse. And the rise in abuses, the rise in complaints of abuse, that we’ve seen over last two years is in part a function of military involvement in law enforcement.”

May Day Protests Held Worldwide

And today is May Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights. Rallies are being held across the United States and around the world. As in years past, dozens of U.S. demonstrations will also focus on immigration rights. At least seven marches have been organized in Los Angeles, while thousands are expected to converge on New York’s Union Square.

Headlines: Deadliest Month in Iraq since March ’08; Swine Flu Outbreak Nears Pandemic Levels

Democracy Now Headlines: Deadliest Month in Iraq since March '08; Swine Flu Outbreak Nears Pandemic Levels

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.

Raising Alert Level, WHO Says Swine Flu Outbreak Nears Pandemic

The World Health Organization is warning the swine flu outbreak is at the imminent stages of becoming a global pandemic. On Tuesday, the WHO raised its alert level to five–the agency’s second-highest position. There are now at least 91 known cases in the United States, including six new states: Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana and Nevada. In Texas, where a toddler became the first U.S. resident to die from swine flu, Governor Rick Perry has declared a statewide disaster and closed several schools, including here in Fort Worth. Testifying on Capital Hill, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration is handling the outbreak as if it’s a full pandemic.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “There is a lot about this virus that we do not know about this outbreak, but we have been preparing as if we are facing a true pandemic, even though we don’t know the ultimate scope of what will occur. We also have been preparing with the understanding that this will be a marathon and not a

sprint. We are going to be at this for a while.”

58 Iraqis Killed in Baghdad Attacks; April Deadliest Month Since March ’08

In Iraq, at least 58 people died Wednesday in a series of attacks around Baghdad. The deadliest came in Sadr City, where fifty-one people were killed and more than sixty wounded in successive car bombings. A witness criticized the Iraqi government, saying it’s failed to protect Iraqis.

Baghdad resident: “Is that what we deserve on top of the bombs-that they shoot at people! Is this Maliki’s government? Instead of helping us evacuate the wounded they start shooting at us. This is Maliki’s government. Can you hear the shooting, they’re shooting at people. People are lying underneath cars.”

April has been Baghdad’s deadliest month in more than a year, dating back to March 2008. The McClatchy news service reports more than 200 people have been killed in Baghdad, doubling last month’s toll.

Trial Begins for Alleged Ringleader in Iraq Rape, Murder Case

The trial of a former soldier accused in the 2006 rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family has been begun. Steven Green is accused of being the ringleader in raping and killing fourteen-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi and killing her parents and five-year-old sister. Green is being tried in a Kentucky civilian court. Three soldiers have already been sentenced to life in prison in the case.

Spanish Judge Opens Gitmo Probe

A Spanish judge has launched an investigation of “systematic” torture at the Guantanamo Bay prison. On Wednesday, Judge Baltasar Garzon said he would probe the “perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices” to the torture of Guantanamo prisoners. Spanish law allows it to claim jurisdiction because five citizens or residents say they were tortured while imprisoned at Guantanamo. Garzon’s probe is unrelated to a separate investigation of six Bush administation lawyers who authorized the torture carried out at Guantanamo.

Leahy Invites Bybee to Testify on Torture Memos

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy meanwhile has invited federal Judge Jay Bybee to testify about his role in authoring two Bush administration memos that authorized the torture of foreign prisoners. As head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Bybee approved torture methods including waterboarding and slamming prisoners against a wall. The invite comes one day after Bybee spoke out on the memos for the first time since their release earlier this month. In a statement to the New York Times, Bybee said he believes the memos represent a “good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee is one of three Bush administration lawyers currently under Justice Department investigation.

Lawyer Urges Release of Canadian Gitmo Prisoner

Meanwhile at Guantanamo, lawyers for the Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr are calling on the Obama administration to drop charges ahead of a looming deadline. Khadr’s military judge says he’ll resume court proceedings June 1st unless the Obama White House extends its freeze on Guantanamo cases or drops the charges. Khadr’s military attorney, Eric Montalvo, called for his immediate release.

Eric Montalvo: “He’s been incarcerated since he was approximately 16 years old. 16 years old he was taken off the streets of Afghanistan and thrown into cages and held there up until now and he’s still not adjudicated. So we want to get him out of a cage and put him back into a society with his family and rehabilitate him. That’s our effort at this point.”

Last week a Canadian court ordered Canada’s government to seek Khadr’s immediate return.

Report: Plea Deal Discussed in Marri Case

Meanwhile the Washington Post is reporting prosecutors and defense attorneys are negotiating a guilty plea for Ali al-Marri, who has been the only so-called ‘enemy combatant’ jailed in the United States. Marri has been held in isolation without trial at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. The Obama administration charged him earlier this year to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing.

Under the proposed deal, Marri would plead guilty to a single conspiracy charge carrying a fifteen-year sentence.

Obama Hosts 100th Day News Conference

President Obama marked his 100th day in office Wednesday with a prime-time news conference from the White House. Obama said the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding is torture and that he is gravely concerned about internal unrest in Pakistan. Obama also said he has been confronted with a series of atypical challenges.

President Obama: “I didn’t anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and so you know the typical president has two or three big problems, we’ve got seven or eight big problems.”

Sebelius Sworn-in as Health Secretary

Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has been sworn-in as the new secretary of health and human services following her Senate confirmation. Sebelius will head the Obama administration’s response to the swine flu outbreak and guide its plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. Republicans had managed to delay Sebelius’ confirmation vote over opposition to her support for abortion rights.

Economy Contracted 6.1% in 1st Quarter

New figures show the U.S. economy has suffered its largest contraction in fifty years. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported gross domestic product saw a first quarter drop of six point one percent. It was the first time GDP has fallen three straight quarters since 1975.

Obama Backs Lowering Mandatory Minimums in Crack Sentences

The Obama administration is backing calls to lower the mandatory minimum prison sentence for dealing crack cocaine to match the punishment for dealing powder cocaine. Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine triggers the same mandatory minimum sentence as possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The disparity has disproportionately punished African American drug offenders, who account for more than 80 percent of crack cocaine cases. Wednesday’s announcement marked the first time the White House has backed calls to lower minimum drug sentences.

Baltimore Sun Fires 60 Newsroom Staffers

And in media news, the Baltimore Sun has announced nearly sixty newsroom layoffs. The Sun’s owner, Tribune Corporation, is currently operating under bankruptcy protection.

Report: 2.5 Million Michigan Residents Uninsured in 2007-2008

2.5 Million Uninsured in Michigan

A new report from the health care advocacy group Families USA found that 2.5 million Michigan residents were uninsured at some point in 2007-2008. Of those 2.5 million, 1.7 million were uninsured for six months or more.

The report provides the following statistics about those without insurance in Michigan:

  • Three-quarters of Michigan’s uninsured, or 76 percent, were in working families, working full- or part-time.
  • Almost half, or 47.6 percent, of those individuals and families in Michigan with incomes below twice the poverty level–$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008–went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.
  • In addition, one out of five, or 21.2 percent, of those individuals and families in Michigan with incomes at or above twice the poverty level–$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008–went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.
  • While whites accounted for the largest number of uninsured in Michigan, Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans were much more likely to be uninsured than whites: 50.7 percent of Hispanics/Latinos and 39.7 percent of African Americans went without health insurance in 2007-2008, compared to 25.4 percent of whites.

Nationwide, 86.7 million Americans–or one out of three people–were uninsured at some point in 2007-2008.

There really isn’t much else to say. This adds even more weight to the argument for a national single payer health care system that provides universal coverage for everyone living in the United States.

Headlines: UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza; Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

Democracy Now Headlines: UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza; Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

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.

Senate Dems Delay Vote to Tax Bank Bonuses

The Washington Post is reporting the Democratic-led Senate is likely to delay until late next month legislation to punitively tax bonuses at banks and investment firms that receive federal aid. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision comes after the White House and Wall Street expressed concern over plans to heavily tax corporate bonuses. Last week, the House voted to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid since January 1 by companies that owe the government at least $5 billion in bailout loans. On Sunday President Barack Obama said the tax code shouldn’t be used to punish people.

AIG Executives to Return $50 Million in Bonuses

The House vote came just days after it was revealed the failed insurance giant AIG was paying out more than $165 million in bonuses. On Monday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced AIG employees have voluntarily agreed to give back more than $50 million in bonuses. Eighteen of the twenty-five AIG Financial Products employees who received the biggest retention payments had agreed to return them. Meanwhile, the Dutch banking and insurance giant ING has asked 1,200 senior employees to give up their 2008 bonuses after the firm received state aid. The company gave out $410 million in bonuses last year.

Report: Geithner Changed Plan After Pressure from Hedge Funds

The Dow Jones Index jumped nearly seven percent Monday after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner introduced a plan for hedge funds and other private investors to receive government financing to purchase as much as $1 trillion of so-called toxic assets. The Washington Post reports the Treasury made the program more attractive to private investors after listening to the concerns of hedge funds and private equity funds. The Treasury increased private investors’ share of potential profits from 20 percent to 50 percent. Critics say the plan is written to favor hedge funds and other private investors, instead of taxpayers. If the assets go up in value, the hedge funds stand to benefit greatly, but if the assets fall, taxpayers bear most of the risk. President Obama said said the plan was a key part to rebuilding the nation’s financial system.

President Obama: “As all of you know, we have been busy on a whole host of fronts over the last several weeks, with the primary purpose of stabilizing the financial system, so banks are lending again, so that the secondary markets are working again, in order to make sure that families can get basic consumer loans, auto loans, student loans, that small businesses are able to finance themselves, and we can start getting this economy moving again.”

President Obama will be holding a prime time news conference tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST.

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Pose Danger

The Obama administration appears to be moving toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that climate-warming gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to human health and welfare. Frank O’Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch said, “I think it’s historic news. It is going to set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution.”

Ehud Barak to Join Netanyahu’s Coalition Government

In news from Israel, Labor chair Ehud Barak has reportedly agreed to join Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government despite opposition from many within the Labor Party. Members of the Labor Party’s executive committee are expected to vote on the deal today. Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In last month’s election, Labor only won thirteen seats.

UN Official Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza

Meanwhile, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, accused Israel Monday of committing war crimes in Gaza. Falk called for an independent inquiry to examine possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas.

Richard Falk: “The overall ratio of deaths–1,434 on the Palestinian side, thirteen on the Israeli side–is suggestive of the one-sidedness of the military encounter and provides a basis for challenging the legality of initiating a military assault with modern weaponry against an essentially defenseless society.”

Richard Falk also accused Israel of preventing Palestinian civilians from fleeing the military assault.

Richard Falk: “This indictment of Israeli tactics is strongly reinforced by a feature of the military operations that is unique in contemporary warfare: namely, coercively confining the Gazan civilian population to the combat zone during the Israeli military operations. This effectively denied to all Palestinians in Gaza the option of becoming refugees. Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity and should be formally recognized as such and explicitly prohibited.”

Israel dismissed Falk’s report, saying it was part of a pattern of demonizing Israel by the United Nations. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, also criticized Israel’s attack on Gaza and suggested Israeli officials could be tried outside of Israel if Israel does not investigate possible war crimes.

Olivier de Schutter: “We would like to emphasize that the primary responsibility of ensuring the respect of international humanitarian law lies with the national justice system. Should the Israeli military or civilian justice system adequately and transparently investigate allegations of violations of the laws of war and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible, the IDF has no reason to fear that its officers will face indictments in foreign jurisdictions.”

On Monday, Israeli Army spokesperson Major Avital Leibovich defended Israel’s actions and disputed a report that Israeli troops targeted Palestinian medical facilities.

Major Avital Leibovich: “The IDF has decided to open a thorough investigation. Investigation was not complete yet, and when it will be complete, we will be more than happy to share the details with the public. We know and we can say today for a fact that the IDF soldiers were instructed to take very good care of the different medical facilities and medical vehicles in the area in Gaza.”

Parents of Tristan Anderson Call for Israel to Take Responsibility for Shooting

In other news from the region, the parents of the American peace activist Tristan Anderson flew to Israel yesterday to see their son, who remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma. Israeli troops shot Anderson in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister. Tristan’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said, “We are scared and really still in shock. To shoot peaceful demonstrators is really horrifying to us. What we want to ask is that the Israeli government publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son.” The words of Nancy Anderson.

PLO Official Assassinated in Lebanon

In Lebanon, a high-ranking member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was assassinated Monday in a roadside bombing in Lebanon that killed a total of five people. Kamal Medhat was the deputy head of the PLO in Lebanon

37 Die in Iraq Bombings

In Iraq, a series of bombings Monday killed at least thirty-seven people and wounded five dozen. The deadliest attack occurred when a suicide bomber attacked mourners at a Kurdish funeral in a town north of Baghdad, killing at least twenty-five.

UN: Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi Violates International Law

The United Nations has ruled the continued detention of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates Burma’s own laws as well as those of the international community. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest.

US Tried to Silence Binyam Mohamed with Plea Bargain

Newly released documents reveal US government lawyers tried to get a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay to sign a deal saying he had never been tortured and that he would not speak to the media as a condition of his release. US lawyers also wanted Binyam Mohamed to plead guilty to secure his freedom, even though he was never charged with a crime. Mohamed was released last month but did not sign such an agreement.

South Africa Bars Dalai Lama from Peace Conference

South Africa has barred the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference. Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused the South African government of caving in to China, one of South Africa’s largest trading partners. Earlier this month, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that foreign countries should stay away from any involvement in the Tibet issue. Desmond Tutu said, “We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed.”

Sen. Sanders Attempts to Block Obama Nominee

In news from Capitol Hill, independent Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to block President Obama’s nominee to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs employee. Sanders said Gensler had worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in US history. He also worked to deregulate electronic energy trading, which led to the downfall of Enron. Sanders said, “We need an independent leader who will help create a new culture in the financial marketplace and move us away from the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior which has caused so much harm to our economy.”

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced to do so by the courts. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports several other New England states are moving forward with similar bills. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is set to vote on the issue later this week. Next month a legislative panel in Maine will hold a hearing on a bill to allow gay couples to marry, just as lawmakers did last month in Rhode Island. Same-sex marriage is already legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Obama Nominates Three to Top Treasury Posts

President Barack Obama has nominated Neal Wolin to be Deputy Treasury Secretary, Lael Brainard to be the Treasury Department’s top official for international affairs, and Stuart Levey, who will stay on as the top counterterrorism official at the department.

Labor Union UNITE-HERE Splits

In labor news, the union UNITE-HERE has split in two. On Monday, 150,000 workers left the union to form a new labor group called Workers United, which will be affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. UNITE-HERE was formed in 2004 when UNITE, representing apparel and laundry workers, merged with the larger Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE.

Newhouse to Close Ann Arbor News

In media news, the Newhouse family has announced plans to lay off the entire staff at the Ann Arbor News in July and then replace the daily paper with two new companies: a website called AnnArbor.com and a newspaper that will come out only two days a week. The Ann Arbor News has been a daily newspaper for the past 174 years. In addition, three daily Michigan newspapers –the Flint Journal, the Saginaw News and the Bay City Times–will soon be published only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Canadian Seal Hunt Faces Criticism

In Canada, the annual seal hunt has begun despite increasing criticism from animal rights organizations. The Canadian government has announced that hunters will be allowed to kill 280,000 young harp seals this year, a slight increase over last year. Although most animals are shot, some are killed by blows from large spiked clubs. International pressure is growing to stop the seal hunt. Last week, Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a “bloody industry.” Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources called sealing “one of the most inhumane types of hunting in the world.”

Study: Lots of Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

And a major new study from the National Cancer Institute has found people who eat the most red meat and the most processed meat have the highest overall risk of death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the eating habits of more than 500,000 people between the ages of fifty and seventy-one. The researchers said thousands of deaths could be prevented if people simply ate less meat.

Empowered Women’s Health Workshop Explores Alternatives to Traditional Healthcare

An Empowered Women's Health Workshop Hosted by The Bloom Collective Provided Alternatives to Corporate Dominated Healthcare

On Saturday, about 25 people of various ages gathered at the Tanglefoot building for the Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, hosted by The Bloom Collective.

The workshops were varied in topic and in style:

Birthing and Pregnancy

The first workshop, about a woman-sense approaching to birthing and pregnancy, was facilitated by Yolanda Visser, a local lay midwife who has been practicing for 20 years. Visser talked about how giving birth has become “medicalized,” but that there are other aspects to the process. For example, Visser focuses on a spiritual component as well, noting that birth is inherently spiritual as the miracle of life. She also makes sure to care for the mother as well as the child during the birthing process.

Some of the challenges of home birthing were also discussed. For example, in Michigan home births are legal, but in nearby states they are not.

Media and Marketing – “Pink” Products

Following this was a workshop about media and marketing targeting women for profit, facilitated by Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU and Mindy Holohan, a member of Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Mason began the discussion by talking about recent campaigns for breast cancer awareness. She stated her opinion that the issue of breast cancer needs to be focused on as a societal issue, rather than individual. On the subject of “pink” consumer products, she noted that it is important to be educated on whether or not the company you buy from will actually do anything concrete with the profits – Mason recommended www.thinkbeforeyoupink.com as a resource to educate yourself on which products are legitimate. She pointed out the contradiction of many of these “pink ribbon” products, noting that many women’s pharmaceuticals contain cancer causing chemicals, but then convince consumers to buy their products in order to fight cancer. The discussion was then led to the problems of a consumerism viewed as a fix for societal problems – most people present were critical of the current cultures which dictates that we all need more stuff to be happy.

Marketing Toward Young Children

Mindy Holohan focused on marketing toward young children – she read off some disturbing statistics (the average male sees his first pornographic image at age 11.5, a life size Barbie would have a 16 inch waist), saying “we are a culture in crisis.” To further illustrate her point, she passed around disturbing advertising images of dolls distributed in Happy Meals dressed provocatively and caked with make up, of 4 year old human models dressed in the same manner, and advertising for young males which shows unrealistically muscular men and promotes stereotypes. Holohan called on society’s fathers to step up and learn to be supportive for their young daughters as they navigate through this sea of advertising – “There is no time a girl needs her Dad more than early adolescence, but that’s when they’re pulling away.”

Menstrual Health

The next workshop, “De-Sanitizing Our Menstrual Health,” facilitated by GVSU student Rachel Hamilton and Lori Day, utilized a more hands-on approach. Materials and instructions for everyone present (whether or not they themselves menstruate) were shared to sew their own reusable menstrual pad. While everyone sewed, the facilitators talked about how our culture has made menstruation a taboo topic, and they encouraged everyone to get rid of that stigma and share their own experiences.

During discussion, it came up that many young women are confused when their first cycle occurs, because so little information about menstruation was given to them prior. Discussion continued to the problems of the most commonly used products – disposable pads and tampons. As with any disposable product, these are harmful to the environment, both in their manufacturing process and after being thrown out. They also contain toxins which are harmful to the body, most of which are added during the bleaching process (contradictorily, the only reason these products are bleached is give the illusion of cleanliness.)

Many alternatives were shared: reusable pads, menstrual cups (the Diva Cup and the Keeper were two brands mentioned), sponges and disposable cups, all of which are better for women’s bodies and the environment.

Meditation

The final workshop of the day, facilitated by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services, began with an explanation of the benefits of meditation: meditation gives one’s body the chance to everything down, and helps the body heal more quickly. Meditation connects you to the fullness of who you are, allowing you to have better relationships. Reider said, “being grounded is your natural state. Thinking is not.” The group was then led through a meditation technique, which some found beneficial, and others struggled to relax.

For the final twenty minutes, everyone participated in a go-around in which we shared what we do for our own health. Exercise, a healthy diet, using a menstrual cup, and many other ideas were mentioned.

Overall, the workshops represented a variety of opinions and encouraged productive discussion among everyone present.