Headlines: Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

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

Dozens Killed as Sri Lankan Military Bombs Hospital

Sri Lankan government forces have bombed the lone hospital in a northern war zone for the second time in as many days. At least fifteen people were killed and another forty wounded in today’s shelling, one day after at least forty-nine people were killed in the first attack. One of the bombs landed in a hospital ward filled with patients wounded in yesterday’s strike. Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan military is violating a pledge not to shell the tiny area controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Admin Might Not Release Torture Photos

The Obama administration is wavering on a vow to release several dozen photos depicting the torture and abuse of prisoners in CIA and military jails overseas. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has “great concern” about the photos and declined to say whether they’ll be kept under wraps.

Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Torture

Lawmakers are holding the first congressional hearing today on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear from witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former Condoleezza Rice aide Philip Zelikow. Soufan is expected to challenge Bush administration claims the torture techniques used on foreign prisoners were successful in gaining intelligence. According to ABC News, Soufan will tell lawmakers the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah went awry after the CIA ordered him to follow the torture plan devised by military psychologist and private contractor James Mitchell.

Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner

A Yemeni national has been ordered released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, a federal judge said the government has failed to prove twenty-five-year-old Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed had ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Ahmed has been jailed at Guantanamo since 2002.

Geithner: Social Security Not “Untouchable”

A new government report is warning the Social Security and Medicare programs are nearing insolvency sooner than predicted. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said the Medicare fund that covers hospital bills for senior citizens could run out of money by the year 2017. And it said the Social Security trust fund could be depleted by the year 2037, four years earlier than previous warnings. Republicans have long used the warnings of Social Security insolvency to push for its privatization. But the figures are controversial, in part because they fail to account for Treasury Department loans on Social Security’s estimated $2.5 trillion surplus. Economists have also long pointed out Social Security could remain solvent by minimal tax adjustments. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated the White House would be open to Republican attempts to undo Social Security, saying, “The President explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically.”

Afghan Commission Reports Toll of 140 in US Attack

In Afghanistan, a government commission has concluded 140 civilians were killed in last week’s US bombing of two villages in Farah province. If confirmed, it would be the worst single mass killing of Afghan civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Surviving relatives have begun accepting compensation payments, receiving $2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for the wounded.

Army Sgt. Charged for Killing of 5 Comrades

In Iraq, an Army sergeant has been charged in Monday’s killing of five other American service members at a military base near Baghdad. Sergeant John Russell faces five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. Military spokesperson Major General David Perkins said Russell had previously had his gun taken away and had opened fire at a clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins: “The commander of the suspect, that being Sergeant Russell, had taken his weapon away. He had experienced or had been referred to counseling approximately the week beforehand. And through that process, his commander had determined that it would be best for him not to have a weapon. The suspect was apprehended outside the clinic shortly after shots were heard.”

Russell is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Saberi Addresses Media Following Release from Iranian Jail

In Iran, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi has spoken out for the first time since her release. Saberi was freed on Monday after being held since January on charges of being an American spy.

Roxana Saberi: “I’m, of course, very happy to be free and to be with my parents again, and I want to thank all the people all over the world, which I’m just finding out about, really, who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period. I don’t have any specific plans for the moment; I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to relax.”

Ending Boycott, US Wins Seat on UN Human Rights Council

At the United Nations, the US has won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The vote puts an end to a boycott started by the Bush administration over the council’s criticism of the Israeli government. After the vote, UN Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the United States’ new seat but echoed Bush administration concerns.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “While we recognize that the Human Rights Council has been a flawed body that has not lived up to its potential, we are looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of member states to strengthen and reform the Human Rights Council and enable it to live up to the vision that was crafted when it was created.”

Tillman Parents Calls for Review of McChrystal’s Role in Cover-Up of Son’s Death

The parents of the slain Army Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman are calling for a review of the new US commander in Afghanistan’s role in the cover-up of their son’s death. The military initially said Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters but later conceded he died by friendly fire. Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, named this week to replace General David McKiernan, has been accused of urging top generals to ignore the evidence surrounding Tillman’s death. In a statement, Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, called for “careful scrutiny” of Lt. Gen. McChrystal at upcoming confirmation hearings.

House Weakens Emissions Bill

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have weakened a landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill in what they call a necessary move to win broader support. The measure would cap US emissions at a certain level and allow polluters to buy pollution credits that would ostensibly cancel out their emissions. On Tuesday, bill sponsor and House Energy Committee chair Henry Waxman said the bill’s emissions cap has been reduced from 20 to 17 percent, and its required percentage for drawing electricity from renewable sources dropped from 25 to 15 percent. Waxman said the reductions were necessary to win the support of Democrats backed by coal and other major industries.

NY State Assembly Backs Gay Marriage

Here in New York, the State Assembly has approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 89-to-52. The bill now goes to the State Senate, where it faces a tougher challenge.

$12B in Withdrawn Madoff Funds Could Be Retrieved

The New York Times is reporting investors withdrew some $12 billion from accounts at Bernie Madoff’s firm last year. Half of that $12 billion was taken just three months before Madoff was arrested in December on allegations of operating a Ponzi scheme. Madoff is currently in jail awaiting sentencing next month. Under federal law, the trustee handling Madoff’s bankruptcy can sue the investors to retrieve the money they withdrew.

CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld

Video has emerged showing two protesters confronting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. As Rumsfeld entered the building, Desiree Fairooz and Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK were there to greet him.

Desiree Fairooz: “War criminal! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! Arrest the war criminal! I wish I had some handcuffs right now to arrest this man! He is responsible for the death of millions of people! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! You’re protecting a man responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!”

After Desiree Fairooz was taken away by security, Medea Benjamin continued to walk alongside Rumsfeld down a staircase. She announced his arrival to a crowded room by again calling him a “war criminal.”

Medea Benjamin: “Here comes the war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld! War criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! There’s the war criminal! War criminal!”

Torture Memo Author Protested in Hawaii

In Hawaii, more than fifty people gathered outside a federal court building in Honolulu to protest the Bush administration torture memo author Jay Bybee. The demonstration was held as Bybee heard cases in his position as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The group World Can’t Wait has called for protests against Bybee in every city where he hears cases.

Israel Arrests Journalist Amira Hass

In Israel, the Israeli journalist Amira Hass was arrested Tuesday after returning from the Gaza Strip. Hass has been reporting from Gaza for several years. She was arrested on charges of residing in an enemy state and ordered to stay out of Gaza for thirty days.

Prosecutors Win Conviction on Third Try in Sears Tower Case

And in Miami, five defendants have been convicted of a plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. One of the defendants was acquitted. It was the government’s third attempt to convict the so-called “Liberty City Six” after two mistrials. The case has been criticized for lacking any physical evidence and relying on an FBI informant who reportedly devised the plot for which the defendants were convicted.

Headlines: Blackwater Sued; House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Cap

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

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

Dozens Arrested at G20 Summit

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

Obama, Medvedev Launch US-Russia Talks

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

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

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

Pentagon Seeks Additional 10,000 Troops for Afghanistan

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

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

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

Obama to Request $3B in Pakistan Aid

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

13 Killed in Afghan Attack

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

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

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

Nevada Activists Stage Vigil to Protest Pakistan Strikes

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

Foreign Minister: Israel Not Bound to Annapolis Agreements

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

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

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

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

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

Guatemalan Journalist Slain in Vehicle Shooting

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

Blackwater Sued for Iraqi Security Guard Deaths

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

House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Caps

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

742,000 Private Sector Job Losses in March

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

Audit: Workplace Safety Program Failed to Protect Workers

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

Justice Dept. to Drop Stevens Charges

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

Stimulus Package Compromise: Few Details Available

The Final Text of the House and Senate's Stimulus Compromise Still Isn't Available

We were hoping to report on the specifics of the stimulus bill agreed to by a House and Senate Conference Committee yesterday, but as it turns out, the full legislation still isn’t available and the House of Rules Committee even went so far as to waive requirements that the bill be publicly available for forty-eight hours before being put to a vote.

Instead, folks who are interested in what is contained in the stimulus have to piece it together from media reports, leaked documents, and summaries released by legislators.

Improvements over Senate Version

Overall, there seem to be some major improvements over the Senate bill. Some important changes include:

  • After food stamp funding that passed the House was slashed in the Senate version, the compromise grants $20 billion in food stamp benefits.
  • Nearly $46 billion will fund education and modernize schools, “considerably higher than the Senate’s $39 billion total but far less than the House’s $95 billion.”
  • Allocates $30 billion for smart grid technology, advanced batteries, and energy efficiency measures, along with $5 billion for home weatherization and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient — closer to the House version than the Senate’s.
  • “Drastically reduced” the Senate’s $15,000 tax credit for new home buyers, “placing income limits on who could benefit and reducing the overall cost from $35 billion to about $5 billion.”
  • “All but eliminated” a big business giveaway that would have allowed money-losing companies to claim an estimated $67.5 billion in tax refunds this year and next — a tax cut with the least stimulative impact per dollar, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Loan guarantees to the Nuclear industry were removed.

The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute cited the following positive aspects of the stimulus bill:

  • First, it provides major public investments in transportation, water resources, education, health, science, and energy that will provide employment now but also improve productivity, energy efficiency, and educational attainment in the years ahead.
  • Second, there are important social supports provided to low-income families (child tax credit, earned income tax credit, increased nutritional assistance) and to the unemployed (extended and higher benefits) that will assist these vulnerable groups. We know from experience that providing income supports to these populations will lead to increased consumption that helps boost the overall demand for goods and services and thereby generate employment.
  • Third, the package’s fiscal relief for state and local governments provides a quick boost to employment as it prevents the scaling back of programs that are needed and that employ not only public employees but also an extensive array of private sector contractors.
  • Fourth, the “Making Work Pay” tax relief in the package will provide an income boost to 95% of American workers, and because it is better targeted than earlier tax cuts (2001 and 2003), it will help boost consumer spending and create jobs.

Still Some Flaws in the Plan

Only $513 billion of the bill’s $789 billion price tag focuses on spending, with $276 billion being used for tax breaks that likely will have little effect in stimulating the economy. In particular, a staggering 9% of the bill’s dollar value is dedicated to restructuring the Alternative Minimum Tax that will have no direct effect on the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute stated:

“Unfortunately, the package contains spending that will be far less effective. The changes to the alternative minimum tax in this package will have a minimal effect on consumption or jobs. And the significant reductions in business taxes will be of little benefit. Again, this is unfortunate because businesses will increase their investments and maintain or add employment only when they can profitably sell to customers. These business tax breaks will clearly improve profits, but without more customers, these tax breaks will have a modest employment impact at best.”

Headlines: Stimulus Compromise; Bank CEOs Testify before Congress

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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.

Senate and House Agrees to $789 Billion Stimulus

Senate and House leaders have agreed on a $789 billion economic stimulus package aimed to save or create 3.6 million jobs. The bill will fund construction and infrastructure projects, provide tax relief to individuals and businesses, and extend unemployment benefits. It is the nation’s largest economic rescue program since Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the deal on Wednesday.

Sen. Harry Reid: “The bills were really quite similar and I am pleased to announce we’ve been able to bridge those agreements. Like any negotiation, this involved give and take and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement.”

The final size of the package is less than what both the House and Senate originally passed and far smaller than what many economists say is needed. The final bill includes $507 billion in spending programs and $282 billion in tax relief. A deal was struck on Wednesday after several spending provisions were stripped from earlier versions of the bill. The final bill eliminated a $16 billion line item for school construction; $30 billion in aid to state governments to prevent reductions in social services to the poor and out-of-work. Lawmakers also removed $50 billion for loan guarantees for construction of new nuclear reactors and so-called “clean coal” plants. In addition, Congress stripped whistleblower protections for federal employees from the compromise stimulus bill.

Bank CEOs Testify on Capitol Hill

Meanwhile the CEOS of Bank Of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and other major banks appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify before the House Financial Services Committee. The bank executives were repeatedly grilled over how they were spending the billions of dollars in taxpayer funded bailouts and their role in the economic crisis.

Rep. Barney Frank: “I said this the opposite of that terrible problem in warfare. Collateral damage. When innocent people are injured while trying to maintain a military objective, one of the problems we have gentlemen, is that you are the recipients of collateral benefit–that is an effort to get the credit system functioning things will have to be done that will be to the benefit of the institutions over which you preside because there is no alternative. But, you need to understand, and many of you do, how angry that makes people.”

James Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase admitted some mistakes were made.

James Dimon: “Finally, today’s economic crisis is the result of the mistakes of a lot of people, and all of us who are here today and many who are not , who have some responsibility for the current state of the markets.”

Barney Frank also questioned the bank CEOs over why banking executives needed to receive enormous bonuses.

Barney Frank: “If in good times you were told you weren’t going to get a bonus what part of your job would you not do? I mean if you weren’t getting a bonus would you leave early on Wednesday or would you take longer lunches, would you bypass a certain class of investments?”

Merrill Lynch Gave $1M Bonuses To 70 Employees in 2008 Despite $27B Loss

While the bank executives were testifying on Capitol Hill, New York Attorney General Andew Cuomo disclosed new details about how Merrill Lynch paid out over three billion dollars in bonuses last year just before the company was sold to Bank of America. 700 Merrill Lynch employees received bonuses of one million dollars or more in 2008 even though the brokerage firm lost $27 billion. The top four bonus recipients received a total of $121 million in bonuses.

Geithner Questioned About Bank & Housing Recovery Plans

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday he would inform Congress as soon as possible if more taxpayer money were needed to bail out the banking sector as part of the effort to reinvigorate the economy. Geithner testified before the Senate Budget Committee one day after he sketched out his plan to spend as much as $2.5 trillion to aid banks, unfreeze consumer credit markets and stem the soaring foreclosure rate. This is part of his exchange with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: “Will housing be fixed without any new money”

Tim Geithner: “I don’t know that..uh…”

Graham: “On a scale of 1 to 10, one you won’t need any money, ten-you are likely to need more money to fix housing…”

Geithner: “For housing? Can’t tell you that this point, but if we think that there is a good case for doing it, we are going to come and tell you how we are going to do it.”

Graham: ” Ok good, so you have no clue?”

Geithner: “No that’s not fair, Senator. What I will not do…even if you are frustrated by the absence of details…”

Graham: “See I just don’t believe that’s enough money to fix housing and banking. I just wish you would say that, because you are going to come up here and ask us for more money…I know you will. Let’s just get on with this thing. Let’s tell people some idea of what awaits them.”

US Regulator Urges Thrifts To Halt Foreclosures

In other economic news, the Office of Thrift Supervision has called for the mortgage lenders it regulates to halt foreclosures until the Obama administration unveils a program to help struggling homeowners.

Congress Probes Peanut Salmonella Outbreak

Congressional investigators have revealed that the peanut processing company at the center of a salmonella outbreak, Peanut Corporation of America, did not await the results of contamination tests before shipping products to customers. Documents made public on Wednesday also show that the company stopped using a private laboratory because too many tests done there had showed contamination. Salmonella poisoning has already killed at least eight people, sickened more than 500, half of them children. More than 1900 consumer products have been pulled from the shelves in one of the FDA’s largest recalls ever. Congressman Henry Waxman spoke at a Congressional hearing Wednesday,

Rep. Henry Waxman: “Even after the FDA began investigating in January and forced the company to recall some products, PCA’s first concerns were financial. This company cared more about its financial bottom line than about the safety of its customers.”

Stewart Parnell, president of the Peanut Corporation, appeared at the hearing but refused to answer questions.

Stewart Parnell: “Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. On the advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your question based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution.”

Pakistan Admits Mumbai Attacks Were Partly Planned in Pakistan

The Pakistani government has admitted for the first time that the Mumbai attacks in which 179 people died were partly planned in Pakistan. Pakistan’s interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said Pakistan has registered a criminal case against six men held in custody and two others still at large, formally paving the way for a police investigation into November’s attack. Malik said: “Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan and according to the available information, most of [the conspirators] are in our custody.”

Report: U.S. Failed To Track 87,000 Arms Shipped to Afghanistan

A new federal report has revealed the U.S. military has failed to properly track about 87,000 weapons that the Pentagon shipped to Afghan security forces, leaving the arms at risk of being stolen or sold to the Taliban. The arms include thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The situation is similar in Iraq where the U.S. military lost track of some 190,000 pistols and automatic rifles supplied to security forces in 2004 and 2005.

ICC To Issue Arrest Warrant For Sudanese President

The International Criminal Court has reportedly decided to issue 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 would become the first sitting head of state to be charged by the Hague-based court with war crimes. The official decision is expected to be announced within two weeks. Sudan’s U.N. ambassador said that the charges are politically motivated and that his government will never surrender Bashir for prosecution.

Tsvangirai Asks Supporters To Rebuild Zimbabwe

In other news from Africa, Zimbabwe’s newly sworn in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai addressed thousands of his Movement for Democratic Change party supporters at a rally in Harare Wednesday. He assured them that the country was embarking on a new challenging road ahead.

Morgan Tsvangirai: “My fellow Zimbabweans, I ask you to support me as your prime minister and the full cabinet of the transitional government, and the efforts of our new transitional government, I ask you to share my vision for our country, to work with me, to rebuild our nation, to walk with me on this promising phase of our journey to a true and lasting democracy.”

Senate Panel Approves DC Housing Voting Rights Bill

The District of Columbia is one step closer to getting representation in the U.S. House. On Wednesday the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted eleven to one to support the DC Housing Voting Rights bill. Senator John McCain cast the sole opposing vote. The bill would permanently expand the 435-member House by two seats. One seat would go to Washington D.C. and the other to Utah.

Senate Approves Ex-Raytheon Lobbyist To Top Pentagon Post

In other news from Capitol Hill, the Senate has confirmed William Lynn to be Deputy Defense Secretary. Lynn is a former top lobbyist for the military contractor Raytheon. In his new post Lynn will be in charge of day-to-day operations at the Pentagon. Senate committees also voted Wednesday to support the nominations of Leon Panetta to head the CIA and Congresswoman Hilda Solis to become Labor Secretary.

Obama To Name Seattle Police Chief To Be Drug Czar

President Obama is expected to soon nominate Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the nation’s new drug czar.

Latin American Commission Blasts U.S. Drug War

A commission led by three former Latin American heads of state has blasted the U.S.-led drug war for pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said: “The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war.” The Wall Street Journal reports the Commission’s report warned that the U.S.-style antidrug strategy was putting the region’s fragile democratic institutions at risk.

Venezuela Arrests Soldiers Accused Of Coup Attempt

In news from Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez says his government has arrested some active duty soldiers believed to be plotting a coup. In a television interview Chavez said. “We’ve arrested some active duty soldiers who were in contact with a soldier on the run in the United States… sending messages about a so-called “operation independence.” The alleged coup attempt comes days ahead of Sunday’s referendum on constitutional reform to lift term limits for the president and all elected officials.

NYPD Makes Record 530,000 Stop-and-Frisks

Newly released data shows New York City police officers made a record 530,000 stop-and-frisks last year. The city’s data shows over 80 percent of the people stopped-and-frisked were Black or Latino. Only about 10 percent of stops were of Whites, who comprise 44 percent of the city’s population. Last year the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the city charging that it has a policy of conducting unconstitutional stop-and-frisks and singles out ethnic minorities.

Fresno Police Officers Videotaped Beating Homeless Man

In California, the Fresno Police Department has launched an internal investigation after a video was aired showing two Fresno police officers beating a homeless man. The video shows a police officer hitting the homeless man four times in the face while he was restrained on the ground.

Hampshire College Becomes First U.S. College To Divest From Israel

The Board of Trustees at Hampshire College has agreed to divest from six companies because of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Hampshire is believed to be the first U.S. college or university to divest from companies tied to the Israeli military. The companies are Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola, and Terex. The Board agreed to the divestment following a two-year campaign by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine. 32 years ago Hampshire College became the first school to divest from apartheid South Africa.

Headlines: Iceland Government Collapses Due to Economic Crisis; House Subponeas Karl Rove

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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.

Pfizer, Caterpillar, Sprint Announce Major Layoffs

The list of major companies announcing mass layoffs grew on Monday as Pfizer, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint Nextel and at least eight other firms announced plans to cut more than 75,000 jobs. Pfizer said it would cut nearly 20,000 jobs as part of its acquisition of Wyeth. Caterpillar plans to eliminate 20,000 as well. 8,000 jobs are being cut at Sprint Nextel, 7,000 jobs at Home Depot, 3,400 jobs at Texas Instruments and 2,000 jobs at General Motors. Last week, Microsoft announced it would cut as many as 5,000 jobs in the company’s first mass layoffs.

Senate Confirms Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary

The Senate has confirmed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary by a 60-to-34 vote. Democratic Senators Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Robert Byrd and independent Bernie Sanders all voted against Geithner, as did thirty Republicans. Part of the opposition to Geithner centered on his failure to pay $34,000 in taxes from 2001 to 2004. As Treasury Secretary, Geithner will oversee the Internal Revenue Service. Less than an hour after he won Senate confirmation, President Barack Obama came to the Treasury Department to participate in a swearing-in ceremony.

President Obama: “I came here tonight, because at this moment of challenge and crisis, Tim’s work and the work of the entire Treasury Department must begin at once. We cannot lose a day, because every day the economic picture is darkening here and across the globe.”

Tim Geithner vowed to move quickly to aid the distressed US economy.

Tim Geithner: “We are at a moment of maximum challenge for our economy and for our country, and our agenda, Mr. President, is to move quickly to help you do what the country asked you to do: to launch the programs that will bring economic recovery sooner, to make our economy more productive and more just in the opportunities it provides our citizens, to restore trust in our financial system with fundamental reform, to make our tax system better at rewarding work and investment, to restore confidence in America’s economic leadership around the world.”

Iceland Government Collapses Due to Economic Crisis

Fallout from the global economic crisis continues to be felt across the world. Iceland’s coalition government collapsed Monday after weeks of protests by Icelanders upset by soaring unemployment and rising prices. Protesters hurled eggs at the car of Iceland’s Prime Minister Geir Haarde and banged cans on the car’s roof. Iceland has been in an economic crisis since September, when three of its largest banks collapsed, and the value of its currency plummeted. Meanwhile, demonstrations are threatening other European governments. Riots were seen in Latvia after the government pushed through wage and spending cuts. Major protests were also held in Lithuania. In the Spanish city of Zaragoza, tens of thousands of people took to the streets last week to protest soaring unemployment.

Israeli Soldier Killed on Gaza Border

In the Middle East, an Israeli soldier was killed earlier today in a bomb attack near Gaza. Three others were wounded in the blast. It was the first deadly attack on Israeli troops since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire ending its twenty-two-day assault on Gaza. Israel responded by sending some Israeli troops back into Gaza as helicopters hovered overhead firing machine guns. Israeli troops later killed a Palestinian farmer.

BBC Refuses to Air Appeal for Palestinian Victims in Gaza

Meanwhile, the BBC is continuing to come under criticism for refusing to broadcast an appeal by aid agencies for Palestinian victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza. The three-minute appeal aired on many British channels last night. The charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Christian Aid. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News also refused to air the appeal.

Susan Rice Vows to Engage in Direct Diplomacy with Iran

On her first day as US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice vowed to collaborate more with international partners and to step up efforts to combat global warming. Rice also said the Obama administration is deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the Middle East but pledged to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran.

Susan Rice: “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership with the P5-plus-1, and we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program.”

Obama Asks Britain to Send 4,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

The Times of London reports President Obama has asked Britain to supply up to 4,000 extra frontline troops to take part in a US-led surge of forces in Afghanistan. Obama has already endorsed a Pentagon plan to nearly double the US presence in Afghanistan.

House Panel Subpoenas Karl Rove

House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify about the Bush administration’s firing of nine US attorneys and prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Conyers said, “Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it’s time for him to talk.”

Obama Orders New Fuel Economy Standards

President Obama has begun reversing the climate policies of the Bush administration by clearing the way for new rules to force auto makers to produce more fuel-efficient and less polluting cars. On Monday, Obama issued directives requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing states to cut greenhouse gas emissions spewed by vehicles and ordered the Transportation Department to boost fuel economy standards for cars and trucks for the 2011 model year.

President Obama: “We must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America. Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world. We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011, so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.”

Clinton Names Special Envoy for Climate Change

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has tapped Todd Stern to be the administration’s special envoy for climate change. Stern will be the administration’s chief climate negotiator.

Islamist Fighters Seize Somalian Parliament After Ethiopian Troops Pull Out

In Somalia, Islamist fighters seized Somalia’s parliament building and the town of Baidoa on Monday, just hours after Ethiopian troops pulled out of the country. In the two years since US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, more than 16,000 people have died, and one million people have been displaced. But Ethiopian efforts to oust the Islamic Court Union from control failed, and Islamist militants once again control much of Somalia, including most of the capital city Mogadishu.

Blagojevich Impeachment Trial Begins Without Blagojevich

In Illinois, the impeachment trial of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich began Monday, but the governor was a no-show.

Thomas Fitzgerald, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court: “Is the Governor present? Is there anyone present on behalf of the Governor? The record will reflect that the Governor has chosen not to be present either in person or by counsel.”

Governor Blagojevich spent the day on what the Chicago Tribune described as a bizarre TV tour, making appearances on Good Morning America, The View and Larry King. In an interview on NBC on Sunday, Blagojevich compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Rod Blagojevich: “The day unfolded, and I had a whole bunch of thoughts–of course, my children and my wife. And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this.”

White House Peace Vigiler William Thomas Dies

And the anti-nuclear activist William Thomas has died in Washington, D.C. Thomas is best known for setting up a permanent peace vigil outside the White House. For twenty-seven years, Thomas held daily vigils against US militarism and nuclear weapons in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

Representative Agema Hunts in Russia while House Discusses State Budget

West Michigan area Representative Dave Agema (Republican, Grandville) is in Russia on a two-week snow sheep hunting expedition while his colleagues in the Michigan House of Representatives are debating a plan to address Michigan’s $1.75 billion budget deficit. The story was reported in the Grand Rapids Press today, and while such items are usually best ignored, it is worth noting in light of Agema’s overall extremism. Agema has repeatedly attacked immigrants, suggested that public school teachers be armed, and has dismissed the torture of detainees in Iraq. Somehow, the fact that he is skipping out on a critical budget discussion to go on a Russian snow sheep hunting expedition–which can cost upwards of $20,000 according to the Press–seems fitting.

Agema’s chief of staff said that he informed the House several months ago and that he was assured that this would be a good time to go. Nevertheless, Agema’s absence is listed as “unexcused” and there has been the usual partisan sniping over whether or not he told the House leadership of his planned absence. Fortunately, while this is the type of borderline irrelevant news that political reporters love to cover, a Press reporter did do a follow-up to Agema’s call for allowing teachers to be armed in which it reported that Agema’s plan has been largely dismissed by school administrators.

Republican Representative Vern Ehlers Debates Democratic Challenger

On Wednesday, Republican Vern Ehlers debated Democrat Jim Rinck at a candidate forum held at Grand Valley State University.

On Wednesday at Grand Valley State University, incumbent United States 3rd Congressional District Representative Vern Ehlers debated his Democratic challenger Jim Rinck. In keeping with Media Mouse’s effort to provide substantive election coverage, we have summarized the candidate forum below. We also urge people to review Vern Ehlers’ voting record.

Opening Statements

Jim Rinck (JR): He is running on four issues—the war, the environment, the economy, and corruption. He believes that the United States needs to get out of Iraq sooner not later and that the war was poor policy. He further argued that the war was “necessary” because of the American lifestyle which is making excessive demands on the environment and is wasting resources while causing the United States to consider getting oil from nuts like Hugo Chavez. The economy needs work and money from Iraq could be spent here.

Vern Ehlers (VE): He has spent 22 years in the education field teaching at Berkley and Calvin. He has worked with local schools and served in the state legislature and on the County Commission. He got into politics because of the environment and is one of the most active environmental congressmen in the House and has passed and promoted Great Lakes legislation. He works well with others because of his intelligence, honor, and integrity.

Q: At a news conference earlier today by President Bush, he used new language to describe the situation in Iraq. Is today a turning point for Iraq policy?

VE: He did not hear the news conference, but does not think it is a major turning point. The policy has to be modified as events occur. He was unhappy with how the war was handled once Saddam Hussein was deposed. The US should have used Iraqi forces better. The United States needs to get out as soon as practicable while honoring our commitment to Iraq.

JR: This might be the end of the Bush parallel universe where he thinks that things are going well in Iraq. The Bush policy was so disastrous that his own party turned on him. Afghanistan was the right war. The Bremer legacy was a disaster and caused a civic implosion and has almost brought about a civil war.

Q: Can sanctions deter Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?

JR: Alternatives are limited because the United States in bogged down in Iraq (where there aren’t enough troops). The US could put pressure on China, but is not sure the world will follow us. It might work to halt trade with North Korea.

VE: Sanctions will probably work with North Korea if applied by China, but sanctions will not work in Iran. China supplies North Korea and money flows through China into North Korea. China is currently pressuring Korea at the behest of the US. Iran is more difficult because of their location and opposition to Israel in the Middle East.

Q: Bush said this year that the US is addicted to foreign oil; how can we resolve the energy issue and address prices?

VE: He agrees, the US behaves foolishly towards oil. The war in Iraq and the war against the terrorists are funded on both sides by oil money with US funding troops for oil and terrorists using oil money to fund terrorism. It is important to create efficiency and develop alternatives.

JR: Where has everyone been? After 9/11 this could have been addressed by asking for sacrifices from the American people as was done in World War II. Bush is not doing anything about it, concrete steps are needed.

Q: Is global warming for real and should the US adopt the Kyoto Protocol?

JR: Yes, it was a mistake not to join. Money from the Iraq War could have funded costs related to Kyoto. There will not be an economy if the US keeps producing huge vehicles. Global warming is a huge crisis that could potentially destroy what makes Michigan Michigan.

VE: He talks about “global climate change” not global warming because it is a broad problem with droughts and hurricanes, not just higher temperatures. Bush has provided more money for research on the subject than other presidents. Climate change will help some areas and not others, for example Michigan may think it is good but it might hurt Florida because of the coasts.

Q: Is the current military disconnected from the new War on Terror?

VE: Every war has a new dimension in the modern era and the US military is not equipped to deal with terrorism. The US did not know what it was getting into with Iraq. Huge armies are not necessarily the best for fighting terrorism but are necessary for national defense and to deter countries from invading.

JR: We do not necessarily need aircraft carriers nowadays. Too much money is being spent on the military while Ehlers and Bush have a poor record on treating veterans whose healthcare is very expensive.

Q: Is the budget imbalance and lack of surplus due to the Iraq War and tax cuts?

JR: The US should not have gone to Iraq and cut taxes on the wealthy. Local governments and citizens are hurting from these policies.

VE: The economy is almost as complicated as physics, it is not true that if you increase taxes you get money. Bush’s tax cut helped get us out of a recession. Michigan’s economy is still in the doldrums, only state worse is Louisiana.

Q: The president has proposed changes to Social Security, how much longer is it before we need to address this issue?

VE: The president was right to call attention to this issue, but he had no success because it is not popular with the public. If it is not addressed it will hurt the economy.

JR: He works with social security in his law practice. He works with it as it relates to disability and he pointed out that it is not just a retirement system. It needs to change because it has to have long-term viability. He suggested an increase in taxes on the wealthy and the institution of means testing.

Q: Immigration reform has been a topic this year, what policies do you support – guest worker programs, fences?

JR: he would have voted for the Kennedy-McCain compromise legislation. He represents illegal aliens in his private practice and he said that sending them back would be like a second Trail of ears. He supports prosecuting employers hiring undocumented immigrants and tightening the borders.

VE: The influx over the border must be stop as it is easy for terrorists to get across. He agrees that there should be a guest worker program and that it would be good to seal the border in addition to implementing a guest worker program.

Q: With states raising the minimum wage on their own, is there still a role for congress at the federal level?

VE: Congress should set a minimum. States know their needs and it makes sense for them to set an appropriate wage.

JR: There is a federal role still as many state legislatures have to be dragged kicking and screaming on this issue. Ehlers could have supported an increase in the minimum wage but instead he tied it legislation regarding the death tax.

Q: Michigan has an un-enforced law requiring a photo ID to vote, should this be the law?

JR: It is not necessary as there has not been massive fraud. It brings back memories of poll taxes and literacy tests.

VE: He favors requiring a photo ID by 2008 and proof of citizenship by 2010. He was involved in crafting legislation to this effect that is going to the Senate. There is fraud going on and there are groups using immigrants to inflate voting totals.

Q: Stem cell research has become an issue around the country, what is your position on it?

VE: He wants to see lots and lots of research with stem cells but not on embryonic ones as adult cells are just as good for research. The argument has become so intertwined with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate that it has become distorted.

JR: He does not understand the problem with it.

Q: Give an example of an issue that you succeeded on by working with your colleagues?

JR: He worked with the school board to close buildings and chose superintendents.

VE: He has a reputation for working well with others. He does not care if he gets credit as long as the right thing is done, so his name is not attached to many of his achievements such as Great Lakes legislation and bringing fuel tax money back to Michigan.

Q: Why are we coddling the Big 3 when they are not building cars that use alternative fuel?

VE: The government cannot tell corporations what to do. He is the only congressman from Michigan voting for higher CAFÉ standards. The government can only offer incentives to encourage the Big 3 to come out with energy efficient cars.

JR: You can tell the Big 3 and corporations what to do and we have done with seatbelts and CAFÉ standards. We should tell them to make fuel efficient cars, they should not have been making SUVs.

Q: Is there a need to reinstitute the draft?

JR: He would almost like to see it come back as a volunteer system as a way of reintegrating society with respect to race and class. The military draft might be needed if there are further invasions.

VE: He is opposed to it. The military was initially opposed to the voluntary military, but they have since realized that it works well. The military is very selective and 50% of those wishing to join are rejected, the draft would make them accept those who are currently rejected.

Q: If the Democrats regain the majority, how will you address partisanship and will a change affect how congress works?

VE: It wouldn’t change, he wants to get things done and will work with anyone on them.

JR: The projections are clear that the Democrats are within four seats of taking back the House. The Bush administration has not cultivated a bipartisan spirit.

VE: Bush has not caused partisanship, it is being driven by the fact that with jet airplanes congress goes home on the weekends and as such does not socialize together.

JR: Districting is a major cause of partisanship.

Q: The schools are failing, how can we ensure that students receive a proper education?

JR: Mandate preschool to overcome the gap between rich and poor. There is a need for more special education funding. No Child Left Behind is a problem.

VE: Preschool is a good step, but disagrees that schools are failing; they just need some work (especially with math and science). No Child Left Behind is working better than any other K-12 education program as it demands accountability and increases funding.

JR: Should evolution be taught in schools?

VE: Should teach evolution and intelligent design, it is wrong that public schools cannot teach intelligent design.

Q: What can be done to stop outsourcing to China and what is the government’s role?

VE: Trade with China must be fair, not free—there can be no hidden tariffs, no currency adjustments, no patent violations, etc. There must be a better work force here, it is the lack of an educated work force that is driving jobs to China, not wages.

JR: Why subsidize China? Reform the tax code in a way that prevents companies from going overseas to incorporate.

Q: How do you feel about live fire exercises on the Great Lakes?

JR: It is a bad idea to pump lead into our lakes.

VE: He is totally against it and training could be done on the open seas.

Q: If elected how will you control healthcare costs and how would you address this issue?

VE: Almost 50% of people get healthcare from the government (military, Medicaid, etc) and universal health care is not free, taxes will go up to pay for it. The costs will be the same.

JR: The current healthcare system causes money and productivity and the US system is the worst in the industrialized world. There is an issue with people making unhealthy lifestyle choices. The Massachusetts approach offers an idea.

VE: The Romney plan in MA was developed for universal healthcare at no greater cost than what is currently spent.

JR: Something has to be done, the current system is too expensive.

Q: Do you support a law that would disallow babies of undocumented immigrants from becoming a citizen?

VE: It would be difficult to change, it is likely in the Constitution and has been tradition for 220 years.

JR: It may be a matter of international law.

Closing Statements

VE: It is essential for citizens to see these kind of debates and he never turns down the opportunity for such discussions. There was little disagreement with his opponent because he respects those with different views and is willing to work with them. He does not attack others like Rinck.

JR: We need to be stateswomen and statesmen and rise to the challenge. Bush finally realized the Iraq War was bad and its well past time to call things a mess and to take care of them.

Candidates Debate at 75th District Michigan House Candidate Forum

Democratic candidate Robert Dean and Republican candidate Tom Doyle debated last night at a candidate forum for Michigan’s 75th House District. One of the two candidates will represent northeast Grand Rapids after the November 7 election.

Last night Democratic candidate Robert Dean, a former Grand Rapids Public Schools board member and City Commissioner, debated Republican candidate and assistant prosecutor Tim Doyle at a candidate forum held at Grand Valley State University. The 75th Michigan House of Representative covers areas of Grand Rapids east of Fuller Avenue and east of Eastern Avenue. In keeping with Media Mouse’s commitment to provide substantive election coverage, we have summarized the questions and candidate responses:

Opening Statements

Tim Doyle (TD): It is important to have leadership in Lansing. He is running on three main issues that people have brought up as he has gone door to door. These issues are the economy (get back on track with a competitive economy), education (make sure Michigan has the education and skills for the jobs of tomorrow), and neighborhoods (make them safe and with a high quality of life).

Robert Dean (RD): He has experience in the community and a long history of involvement and solutions as a results-oriented leader. He has served as a pastor, school board member, and city commissioner. He places service above self, wants to go to Lansing to restore revenue sharing, and does not want to see any cuts to police and fire service.

Q: The Single Business Tax (SBT) will be eliminated in 2007, what would you replace it with and would you replace all the money?

RD: He would replace it dollar for dollar and while he is in favor of eliminating it, there must be something in place. He says that you cannot wait until after the election to say what you want to do, and as such, he advocates a broad-based tax that will not punish companies as the SBT does.

TD: Make sure the economic environment retains and attracts employers. He does not think a plan is needed for “the bad tax” before elected as the tax cost jobs and prevented companies from coming to Michigan.

Q: Do you support eliminating and replacing the personal Property Tax?

TD: You do not need to replace it dollar for dollar, but replace most of the money. It is good to give businesses tax breaks for creating jobs but there must be an overall competitive tax policy.

RD: The legislature should look at eliminating this onerous tax but it cannot be done on the backs of programs for seniors and education.

Q: With the state general fund at its current levels, cuts would need to be made if revenue sharing increased – what would you cut?

RD: He advocates growing the state out of the current budget situation by looking at how to generate revenue. He wrote the city of Grand Rapids’ business plan that helped to do this. He says it is over regulation and the perception that the tax climate is preventing business more so than taxes themselves preventing businesses from investing in Michigan. He told people to look at “Health Hill” on Michigan Street for an example of his successes.

TD: We need to get the state back on track and he agrees with Dean that revenue sharing needs to be increased.

Q: Granholm wants to double the number of four-year college graduates, do you support this and how would you fund it?

TD: It is a good goal and he supports it, but people he has conversed with going door-to-door are looking for jobs more than degrees. He thinks that it would be a better use of money to focus on 2-year programs at community colleges that provide people with the skills for the factory jobs of today.

RD: He supports the proposal and says that it can be done if the state is creative in its funding.

Q: Should charter schools be allowed to expand?

RD: No, the experiment to create competition has failed, as standards have not gone up. They are taking money from the same Michigan general fund but are not regulated by the state.

TD: He supports an increase in the cap if there is priority funding for urban schools. He says that it is important to give parents a choice and that charter schools make public schools accountable through competition.

Q: Do you support Proposal 5’s increase of state money for education based on inflation, and if it passes, how would you fund it?

TD: The Grand Rapids Public Schools oppose it, as does he because it ties the budget to inflation. Education is one of the only areas that has seen an increased budget over the past few years and it would be devastating for other programs if the legislators hands were tied by this proposal.

RD: He does not support it because people elect legislators to make budget decisions and if there is a problem with school funding legislators need to be held accountable.

Q: If Proposal 5 passes, what would be cut to pay for it?

RD: The money could be found by reforming the penal system, as rates of prisoner reentry are “crazy.” He would like to see people going to prison and being trained for when they reenter society.

TD: The penal system and Department of Human Services, but it would be difficult to fund each year. He supports programs to help prisoners adjust to society as a means of reducing prison expenses.

Q: Services have been cut for poor and low income Michigan residents over the past few years, do these cuts match your priorities and are there any such programs that you would cut increase funding for?

TD: You have to represent everyone and all programs are on the table. He would like to consolidate programs as was done with seniors and the “single point of entry” in order to make it easier for people to get signed up.

RD: He is a “compassionate conservative” and he initiated the “single point of entry” approach with Area Agency on Aging and others. He stressed that it is essential to understand that lives are being dealt with when cuts are made.

Q: Would you have voted to increase the minimum wage had you been in office?

RD: He was one of those involved in the campaign to increase it. One reason he was involved is that those taking care of seniors—as his mother did for many years—are paid low wages with 42% of senior caregivers living below the poverty line.

TD: He would have voted for it, as the alternative of tying it to inflation would have been disastrous. That proposal, according to business owners he spoke with, would have required them to eliminate jobs. He said it is more important to fund education for higher-ranking jobs as there are not that many minimum wage jobs.

Q: Michigan is a prevailing wage state for construction projects; do you support waivers for school systems to avoid this?

TD: There should be a waiver for schools, especially with schools in Grand Rapids falling apart as it makes it hard to learn. He says that the prevailing wage is up for debate but if it stifles building, he is opposed to it.

RD: He supports local control and supported in previous jobs. There must be a local decision to do prevailing wage.

Q: Most highway construction is funded with the gas tax—is the tax at the right rate and are roads in good shape?

RD: The roads are not at the right level of quality given the fact that money is there. Dean said that this is an issue where it is clear that wealthy interests are supporting his opponent and urged people to check online for a list of PACs and special interests supporting Doyle.

TD: He said that special interests have made a choice about who is a better leader. The roads are not good and the area consistently comes up short in proportional funding for roads. It is a travesty that the roads are so bad but he will not raise gas taxes.

Q: Is there a state role in public transit? Do you support changes?

TD: The state has a role and there needs to be a focus on the benefits of public transit from an economic and social perspective. It is necessary for urban revitalization and getting people to jobs. It needs to be proportionately funded.

RD: He worked on a regional transportation partnership while a City Commissioner. He thinks funding can be increased by partnering and building alliances.

Q: Imported trash has come up as an issue in other races with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saying that out of state trash cannot be treated differently. Michigan trash rates are the lowest in the region, would you do anything to make changes on this issue?

RD: He has supported increased rates since the start of his campaign. Michigan could look to the model from Pennsylvania where the raising of rates has almost eliminated the problem. He also supports a moratorium on new landfills.

TD: He is opposed to raising rates, as citizens would pay more. Michigan needs to pressure the national legislature to work on the issue. Much of Michigan’s trash goes to Wisconsin, he would like to see Canadian trash pick up Michigan trash on the way and go to Wisconsin.

Q: The diversion of the state’s waters, especially in light of a bottling plant north of Grand Rapids, has become an issue—what do you think of current regulations?

TD: They are sufficient as there is a cap in place. This environmental issue is more important that Canadian trash—Michigan needs to prevent the Southwestern United States from taking its water. However, if lake levels become affected he supports revisiting current regulations.

RD: You do not want the state to become the “great dry state” instead of the “great lakes state” and it is essential that we look at the selling of water for profit. This issue also connects with the trash issue, as landfills must have filters and protections to prevent run-off into waterways.

Q: How do you feel about live fire exercises in the Great Lakes proposed by the Coast Guard?

RD: They should not be able to do it. You have to look at the lead in the ammunition and the poisoning of the ecosystem as a result. He was also involved in the issue of lead as an environmental issue with homes in the 3rd Ward of Grand Rapids—he got a $5 million grant from the federal government to address that problem.

TD: It is a bad example to relate lead in ammunition to homes, but we do need to look at how it will effect the environment. Some scientists say it will not harm the environment. Environmental concerns must be balanced with national security concerns.

Q: Do you support the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law?

RD: He does not think it is a good idea to repeal it in light of his work as a night Chaplin at area hospitals and the head injuries that he has seen. It becomes a long term cost for society through healthcare costs for those injured.

TD: In his reviewing of traffic deaths he has seen horrific accidents and society will have to pay through healthcare costs that insurance does not cover. When personal decisions affect society, they sometimes have to be regulated.

Q: Does the content and tone of Michigan GOP literature reflect your views?

TD: He said immediately that he is opposed to the ads run by the Michigan GOP and that similar advertisements should not be allowed on either side. These independent expenditures are an issue that he wants to deal with in Lansing.

RD: It is a lack of leadership and experience that produced the ads. He has stood up and said that he would not allow it in his campaign and it has not happened. If Doyle cannot stop it now, how would he in Lansing?

TD: It is a lack of legal knowledge by Dean, nobody can control them and that is why it needs to be addressed.

RD: Doyle is hiding behind legal technicalities.

Q: Incarceration rates are growing, if the incarceration of nonviolent offenders is not the best route, what alternatives do you propose?

RD: He would remove mandatory sentencing guidelines and give judges leeway in sentencing as that goes to the heart of the problem.

TD: Dean is again showing a lack of knowledge, judges have guidelines and they exist for uniformity’s sake. You have to start with education and giving skills and opportunity; focus at the community level.

Q: Do you support limiting abortion in the case of rape and incest?

TD: He is endorsed by Right to Life and their position that it does not matter how a life was created but that we need to focus on that life. There needs to be programs for adoption and support.

RD: He was also endorsed by Right to Life.

Q: What would you do to increase participation in the political process?

RD: He would be a Democrat. In looking at the corruption, it is clear that people are voting with their feet by refusing to vote. He would bring back accountability and honesty.

TD: It has to start in schools where the importance of civics must be stressed. People do not understand the basics or that voting is important.

Q: More and more jobs are full time without benefits, how would you address the healthcare issue and do you support the approach used in Maine?

TD: The Maine approach is interesting and it should be looked at. Healthcare is the biggest long-term issue and we need to figure out how to make it more affordable. Reducing emergency room visits by offering other options would help.

RD: Pharmaceutical corporations are making massive profits while being immune from lawsuits if their drugs cause deaths. We need to look at the state’s bulk buying as a potential means of reducing the cost of drugs.

Closing Statements

RD: He served two terms on the City Commission and the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board. The election is crucial in maintaining the status quo or getting change. When on the board, he helped GRPS to get its highest MEAP scores and had success with development with the “Health Hill.” He is running because he has a deep concern for the community and city.

TD: There are three key issues—economy (create an atmosphere for jobs staying), education (workforce development), and quality of neighborhoods (faith-based community and philanthropy has helped with this). Grand Rapids needs someone that can get things done and understands the process, which he does due to working in the Senate while in law school. He reminded the audience that the Grand Rapids Press endorsed him.

Area Candidates Respond to Questionnaire on Democracy Issues

A small number of area candidates have responded to a questionnaire prepared by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) that looks at “democracy issues” in the state of Michigan including issues such as campaign finance limits and term limits.

Yesterday the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) released the results of a questionnaire distributed to the 512 primary election candidates for the Michigan legislature. The 37 questions focused broadly the health of democracy in the state with specific questions examining registration and voting, campaign finance contribution limits, soft money and “issue ads,” public financing of campaigns, campaign finance reporting, personal financial disclosure, ethics and enforcement, lobbying, term limits, and redistricting. The organizations developing the questionnaire included League of Women Voters of Michigan, Common Cause in Michigan, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan AFL-CIO, the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan Prospect for Renewed Citizenship, the Michigan chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), the Triangle Foundation, Voters’ Voice of Livingston County, and the Huron Valley Gray Panthers. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, about twenty percent of candidates responded to the questionnaire.

Very few candidates running for either the Michigan Senate or House of Representatives in West Michigan responded to the questionnaire. Of the Senate districts within this area, only Scott Harvey running in the District 28 Senate race, David LaGrand running in the District 29 race, and Scott VanderStoep in the District 30 race gave responses. In House races, no candidates in District 77, District 86, District 75, and District 76 gave responses. Only Joseph Marckini of District 73 along with several candidates for District 74 responded.

The complete questionnaire and responses are available online along with links to help voters determine their districts.

Candidates Debate at 75th District Michigan House of Representatives Forum

Last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, three candidates participated in a forum for the 75th District Michigan House of Representatives seat in advance of the August 8 primary election.

Last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, three candidates for the 75th District Michigan House of Representatives (the district covers much of Grand Rapids) seat participated in a candidate forum sponsored by the Men’s Alliance for Progress. The three candidates—Republican Sue Devries, Republican Chris Meyer, and Democrat Robert Dean—fielded a variety of questions developed by both the Men’s Alliance for Progress and the audience. Before beginning the questioning by former Grand Valley State University president Don Lubbers, a representative from the Men’s Alliance for Progress shared with the audience that the questions reflected the priorities of the organization. He identified these priorities as the environment as it relates to pollution and global warming, the war in Iraq, healthcare, and election reform. In the spirit of providing substantive coverage of elections in light of the corporate media’s failure to do so, questions and the candidates’ responses have been summarized:

Opening Statement
Sue Devries (SD): She described herself as a strong grassroots candidate and leader and cited her experience as the West Michigan Protection Manager at the Nature Conservancy where she does conservation and environmental protection work. She previously was the head of the Garfield Neighborhood Development Corporation which involved work to help people of different backgrounds in improving their lives, encouraging development and the economy, and establishing partnerships with the federal government (HUD) and Calvin College. She also served on the Grand Rapids Public Library board for 12 years and worked to protect first amendment rights and to limit how the USA PATRIOT Act affects patrons. She cited major problems facing the state as the economy (state is in a recession, the need to educate workers, improve tax policies, and diversify the economy), healthcare (there needs to be a better benefit structure and increased transparency), education (need to increasing funding for K-12 and college), and the environment (encourage green building, sustainable forest policy, protection measures). She said that there is a lack of dialog in politics and that she is willing to work together with people of a variety of political persuasions.
Robert Dean (RD): He has a background in community development and was born and raised in Grand Rapids. His entire life’s work has been focused on giving back to the community because he believes that the problems of the world are such that one simply “can’t do enough” to address them. He is concerned about the lack of affordable healthcare and said that he worked to limit these costs when serving on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board and the Grand Rapids City Commission. He said that he offers visionary and proactive leadership with a proven record as he wrote the city’s business plan that encouraged business and improved the cities relationship with the school system. He also cited work he did creating healing racism workshops in Grand Rapids and said that he is a progressive who will deviate from the “party line” when it is needed.
Chris Meyer (CM): He said that politics are how people plan the future and told the audience that he first got involved working with former Representative Paul Henry. He lived in Grand Rapids as a youth and models his political approach after the bipartisanship of Paul Henry. He cited his work on the board of The Rapid and how the Rapid has increased the number of riders while addressing the suburban/urban divide in transit as examples of his achievements. He said that he was concerned with the cost of healthcare and told the audience that he accepts no PAC money. He has been going door-to-door since April and identifies his major issues as the economy, education, healthcare, and revenue sharing. He said that incomes in the states have fallen since the 1950s and that Michigan needs to look at other states are doing and to adopt proven bipartisan solutions from other states.
Question: The environment is the number one issue of the Men’s Alliance for Progress, what role can the state play?
RD: The state has to be the first line of defense and offense when it comes to the environment. Trash dumping fees need to be increased in the state to stop the state from becoming a dumping ground and he cited the fact that by 2011 the state’s landfills will reach capacity. He also told the audience that while serving on the City Commission he worked on cleaning up the Butterworth dump and as such has experience dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). He said that his work in on the City Commission was also a reason why 99% of the wastewater entering the Grand River is pollution free.
CM: The state can participate in a regional collaboration to limit emissions. He also said that there should be a regional plan to limit sprawl and that a portion of this plan could be removing the dependency of localities on property taxes for funding as this encourages development. He also believes that the state can promote mass transit, conservation, and alternative energy sources such as nuclear power.
SD: The state needs to maintain laws protecting wetlands. She also supports setting standards that require utilities to generate a portion of their energy from renewable resources, increased standards of efficiency for high-use appliances such as walk-in freezers, development and encouragement of alternative fuel sources beyond ethanol, research and funding for Great Lakes protections, and improved growth plans and the development of walkable communities.
Question: There are numerous issues with healthcare in the state, especially with regard to access and cost, what are some state solutions?
CM: For many, healthcare premiums are equal to their family’s mortgage payments. Out of this context, he argued that it is necessary to look at a national approach to healthcare and one idea is to put information on paychecks to inform the public about how much of their wages are going to pay for healthcare. Meyer believes that this would encourage the population to ask questions about why healthcare costs in the United States are more than double what they are in other countries.
SD: She said that before addressing the issue we need to define what adequate and good care is and proceed from there. She would educated about costs and enter into a dialog about fairness and costs between business and labor. She wants to maintain care for poor people and would look for new models of care.
RD: When he was on the City Commission they did many things such as looking at the healthcare costs and then switching providers (saved $15 million), persuading the City Commission to take a 5% cut in benefits to lead by examples, and negotiating with unions in order to save taxpayers money. He said that this was also addressed while he was on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board.
Question: In the last election there were reports of voter access problems and intimidation, how can this be addressed?
SD: She would pay poll workers more for their time and get more even representation from the two parties (Republicans are currently over represented). She would also request additional election observers, improve communication about changing polling places, and would oppose identification requirements for voting.
CM: He would address this in part by increasing voter turnout that he would do by allowing “no reason” absentee voting and creating super precincts that would setup early voting centers two weeks before the election. He wants to see electronic poll books with swipable IDs for easier access, appropriate staffing at each polling place, and allowing only registered party poll challengers and keeping all others out.
RD: There were four precincts with problems in his ward and they addressed this by educating poll workers and voters, splitting and balancing precincts, and implementing an electronic voting system. He said this is another example of results as a City Commissioner.
Question: What is the state’s role in providing sustainable employment and living wages?
RD: The state has a responsibility to attract businesses but the state is not actively using that power. He wants the state to be on “the front end” of this issue by avoiding tax breaks and instead working to help corporations with ideas and product innovation. He said that an improved economy guarantees and improvement in the quality of life.
SD: She would focus on training, making cities and neighborhoods strong, creating a strong infrastructure as a way of making Michigan appealing for businesses and would due so these ways instead of using tax breaks.
CM: He described sustainable employment as having businesses to employ workers, educated employees, a strong transportation infrastructure, and a roadmap out of poverty. He would reform the tax system and eliminate the single business tax.
Question: What makes you a Democrat or a Republican?
SD: She grew up as a Republican and the party is open to working with all who have intelligent ideas and is working for the benefit of all.
RD: He is a progressive Democrat although he has now put an emphasis on partisanship while on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board or the City Commission. He looks at all issues and attempts to build consensus in his politics and is pro-business while being compassion in his work on social issues.
CM: He worked for Paul Henry who was part of the Moderate Republican Caucus and supports limited government with the belief that all citizens deserve a government of limited programs, and spending. He also explained that the Republican Party is the only one talking about “life, liberty, and property.”
Question: How will immigration reform affect Michigan’s economy?
RD: He said that the issue is not just with “illegal workers” but also the employers that employ them and he said he thinks a guest worker program for those that contribute is an appropriate solution.
CM: There are currently 11 million humans looking for better lives in the United States without being legal immigrants and that a major problem is that tough citizenship requirements for work are not being enforced. He supports the McCain or Bush approaches to immigration reform.
SD: She wants to make sure the Detroit and Port Huron borders are secure and believes that people need to be treated civilly and become citizens.
Question: Discuss your personal and political principles underlying your position on abortion?
CM: He is pro-life except for in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened. To address the issue of abortion he would look at women and their lives, not just the unborn, and would create better environments for children by addressing homelessness, hunger, and developing a roadmap out of poverty.
SD: She is a pro-choice candidate and would work to make sure there were not unwanted pregnancies by having access to contraceptives, sex education, and a good reproductive health system.
RD: He believes in the sanctity of life and has a pro-life record of counseling in his ministry. He believes people can have a position on the issue but that they need to not be judgmental and not reject people for their decisions.
Question: What is the biggest issue relating to improving education in the state? Do you have any proposals?
RD: Funding and unfunded mandates are the two biggest issues for the education system. He said that the schools are the biggest landlord in the city with substantial unused land and that they could sell this land to developers and make money for the city’s and the school system. He also said that he increased MEAP scores when he was on the board.
CM: Education must be high quality in order to provide for children and as such he would equalize funding among school districts for capital and operating costs, would allow boards more flexibility in deciding how they spend money, would encourage workable performance standards, and would fund college and technical programs.
SD: She supports funding equity, would work on truancy, would improve graduation levels, and improve healthcare for families so that there are less absences due to health.
Question: Are state problems caused by cuts in federal funding and federal mandates?
SD: Unfunded mandates are a big problem and there needs to be an examination of how money is being spent at the state level along with a process of involving citizens in deciding how the money is spent.
CM: Unfunded mandates come up most in Medicare and education and the government needs to look at changing spending if programs are not giving results.
RD: The state cannot balance its budget on the backs of local communities through revenue sharing and in response to such practices he led the City Commission to sue the state over lack of funding for special education and will continue to work to get fair funding.
Question: Do you support legalizing embryonic stem cell research?
RD: He is pro-life and says that research can be done without taking lives.
CM: Michigan has a law that allows stem cell research on existing embryos but does not allow the creation of new embryos. He says that he is unaware of arguments that this law is limiting research and says that currently stem cell research on adult lines is showing the most promise. He has not yet reached a conclusion on the issue.
SD: She supports research on in-vitro fertilized embryos but not when harvested.
Question: Is there a “Bush Factor” in the election?
CM: He does not know as he does not do polling.
SD: The only “Bush Factor” she is aware of are bushes blocking doors.
RD: He is not polling but he has encountered many people frustrated with the war and how money is being spent on that instead of infrastructure.
Question: Have you read “The Price of Government” and, if so, how can its ideas be adopted?
SD: She has read it and would work with citizens to prioritize funding of programs.
RD: He read the book while on the City Commission and incorporated some of the practices into city government.
CM: He has read it and what sticks out most in his mind is a graphic indicating how quickly healthcare costs have risen, food costs have fallen, and housing costs have stayed the same. With a tax base that has stayed roughly the same since World War II they need to look at spending and develop measurable results for programs.
Closing Statements
CM: He has the support of the Grand Rapids Press, former mayor Logie, and the Wyoming mayor. He would like to engage the state as a partner with citizens and sees his work with The Rapid as a good example of how this can be done.
RD: He has a motto of “service before self” and has demonstrated his commitment to this in his adult life and work. He would like to serve the community as he did on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board and the City Commission. He explained that each day he has to face his creator and ask if he did his best. He also said that he has demonstrated results, not just talk.
SD: She is a grassroots leader with leadership experience. She will look out for the needs of people and values diversity.