Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

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.

Iran Supreme Leader Calls For Probe Into Disputed Election

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud in Friday’s presidential vote. Khamenei made the announcement following three days of street protests by supporters of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election. Khamenei’s decision to call for a probe has shocked many in Iran. On Saturday Khamenei had urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a “divine assessment.” According to the official election results, Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote but Moussavi claims the vote was rigged. Moussavi was planning to hold a major rally in Tehran today but Iranian officials ordered a ban on protests. Opposition websites report that over a 100 prominent opposition members were detained and then released over the weekend. At a rally on Sunday Ahmadinejad spoke before tens of thousands of his supporters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “In our beloved Iran, democracy is a fundamental principle. First of all, it’s the nation which determines everything. It’s the people who decide. It’s the nation’s will that governs. It’s the nation which selects the rulers in every decision making level of the political system”

UN Approves New North Korean Sanctions

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a new round of sanctions against North Korea. North Korea responded by vowing to step up its nuclear bomb-making program by producing more plutonium and uranium. North Korea also threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is headed to Washington for summit talks Tuesday with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu Backs Demilitarized Palestinian State

Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. During the speech on Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution but only if the new Palestinian state had no army, no control of its airspace and borders, and would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Binyamin Netanyahu: “If we receive this guarantee for demilitarization and the security arrangements required by Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, we will be prepared for a true peace agreement (and) to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.”

During the speech Netanyahu also said Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and that israel would not concede to US demands for a complete halt to all settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “He is not with the two state solution, he is not going to stop settlements including natural growth so we have attempts to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region, now Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back. It’s really up to President Obama tonight, he has the choice. He can treat Israel like a country above the laws of men, apply double standards and this will be a costly road, or he can have the Israeli government oblige with it’s commitments eminating from the road map. The two state solution with ’67 borders and stopping settlement activities including natural growth. Tonight what Netanyahu told us-there will not be permanent status negotiations.”

Top Sunni Lawmaker Assassinated in Iraq

In Iraq, a top Sunni lawmaker was assassinated on Friday shortly after giving a sermon calling on authorities to investigate the widespread reports of torture in Iraqi prisons. Harith al-Obaidi is the third Iraqi lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005.

Report: 30 Lawmakers Have Financial Holdings in Health Care Industry

The Washington Post has revealed almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a health-care index. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major health-care companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year. On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss health care reform. On that 22-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the health-care industry. The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd whose wife serves on the boards of four health-care companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit

The Obama administration is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing subsidiary to be sued over its roles in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is urging the court to throw out the case citing the State Secrets Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said: “This is a watershed moment. There’s no mistake any longer … the Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions.”

Judge Rules Jose Padilla Can Sue John Yoo Over Torture

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled Jose Padilla can sue former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo for coming up with the legal theories that justified his detention and torture. Padilla says he was repeatedly tortured while being held as an enemy combatant. Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, was held for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said QUOTE “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”

CIA Fires Mitchell, Jessen & Associates

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed the agency has fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and other contractors connected to interrogations. Mitchell, Jessen & Associates was run by two former military psychologists who helped design the CIA’s torture program. Panetta made the disclosure in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine.

CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing U.S. Be Attacked Again

In the same interview CIA Director Leon Panetta harshly criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for questioning the Obama administration’s national security policies. Panetta said of Cheney “it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Peruvian President Alan Garcia Accused of Ethnic Genocide

Peruvian President Alan Garcia is warning that police may have to use a ‘heavier hand’ on indigenous protesters in the Amazon following the recent clashes that left over 60 people dead. Indigenous tribes fear losing control of natural resources after recent presidential decrees opened up investment on extending mining and oil drilling in the jungle. Indigenous activists in Peru are calling for investigations into the violence and the resignations of government officials, including Garcia. On Friday the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher spoke in Lima on behalf of the indigenous protesters.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: “And I hear that Garcia has publicly declared my brothers and sisters of the Amazon to be ‘not first-class citizens.’ I have to say, ‘Shame on you, Alan Garcia because we are all first-class citizens. We are all Peruvians. And I hear that you are criminalizing indigenous protesters by calling them terrorists and savages. Who gave orders to commit ethnic genocide?”

Obama Admin To Spend $350 Million On New National Educational Standards

In education news, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend up to $350 million to help develop national standards for reading and math. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the government’s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Two top officials of the anti-immigrant group Minutemen American Defense have been arrested on murder charges in Arizona. Shawna Forde, the group’s executive director, and Jason Bush, the group’s operations director were both charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A third person was also charged. Police say the three broke into a home and a killed a man and his 8-year-old daughter. The Minutemen American Defense organization has sent teams of armed vigilantes to the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canada border in an attempt to stop undocumented workers. It is a separate organization from Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Domestic Workers Rally in New York

And here in New York, over 200 domestic workers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall Sunday to urge state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Speakers included Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

Nisha Varia: “It’s an issue of having equal legal protections. It’s about having domestic work recognized as work. And the same sort of issues about not being paid for your work, not having time off, and not being respected-we really need to see the government and employers respond to that.”

Advertisements

Headlines: New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage; Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

Democracy Now Headlines: New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage; Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

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

Obama Addresses Muslims Worldwide in Cairo Speech

President Obama spoke in Cairo earlier today in a much-anticipated speech aimed at Muslims across the world. Obama defended his decision to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan and refused to apologize for the invasion of Iraq that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama refused to call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories but said settlement building should stop.

President Obama: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Israelis Protest Obama in Jerusalem

On the eve of his visit to Cairo, dozens of right-wing Israeli protesters demonstrated outside the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. The protesters criticized Obama’s push for a freeze to Israeli settlements.

Protester: “Yes, it’s important to have good relations with America, but not at the expense of our survival. And today, we are once again-we are going to repeat this over and over again-Barack Hussein Obama-No you can’t. No You can’t.”

Israeli Defense Minister Threatens Iran Attack

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is again threatening an Israeli attack on Iran over its alleged nuclear activities. Barak spoke Wednesday after meetings in Washington.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “I’ve already given my opinion and it hasn’t changed even after meeting with the foreign secretary. I repeat what I have always said, Israel still thinks it’s time for engagement and sanctions but Israel isn’t taking any options off the table. But there needs to be a timeframe to how much time we give to these negotiations and if this doesn’t work, Israel will have to look at other options.”

China Increases Censorship Ahead of Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on student and pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government has increased censorship ahead of the anniversary. Authorities have blocked access to social networking and email websites including Twitter and Hotmail. Foreign journalist have been barred from the Tianamnen square and many activists have been forced to leave Beijng or confined to their homes. Zeng Jinyan, the wife of the jailed AIDS activist Hu Jia, told reporters she’s been barred from leaving her residential community.

Zeng Jinyan: “Many people they don’t care about June 4th. But June 4th is really important for the whole country, for all the Chinese people. So if I have freedom, and I have the ability, I will just do the society education, through human rights education to the public.”

OAS Votes Lift Cuba Suspension

The Organization of American States has lifted its 47-year suspension of Cuba.

The surprise vote came Wednesday after the U.S. won conditions granting Cuba a path to membership if it carries out democratic reforms in line with the OAS’ founding principles. Cuba has rejected re-entry because it no longer considers the OAS a viable grouping.

UN Rapporteur Calls for Probe of U.S. Killings Abroad

A top UN official is calling for a probe into the killings of innocent civilians by U.S. forces and private contractors. Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions said many U.S. military strikes, shootings and drone attacks have killed scores of people without any accountability.

Philip Alston: “The government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranking soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible under the doctrine of command responsibility. Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian intelligence agents by only rarely investigating and prosecuting them.”

Altson says the U.S. should establish a national commission of inquiry and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the killings of innocents abroad.

Judge Dismisses Spying Suits Against Telecom Companies

A federal judge has dismissed more than three dozen lawsuits against telecommunications corporations that aided the Bush administration’s warrantless spying. On Wednesday, Northern California U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the companies including Verizon and AT&T are protected under the retroactive immunity granted in last year’s Democratic-backed surveillance act. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union say they plan to appeal on the grounds the retroactive immunity is unconstitutional. In a related ruling, Judge Walker rejected Obama administration efforts to dismiss a case from a defunct Oregon-based Islamic charity that says it was the target of illegal spying.

Justice Dept. Restores Legal Rights for Deportees

The Justice Department has reversed a Bush administration ruling that immigrants don’t have a constitutional right to proper legal counsel during deportation proceedings. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder restored the right of immigrants to appeal deportations on the grounds of attorney incompetence. But Holder also said he would leave intact existing government cases based on the rescinded Bush administration principle.

Katrina Victims to Remain in Trailer Homes

The Obama administration has announced it will let thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims remain in trailers they had been told to leave by the end of last month. The White House says the Gulf Coast residents will be allowed to purchase their trailers for nominal fees of $5 dollars or less. And it says it will give the more than 3,400 families living in trailers priority for $50 million dollars in housing vouchers. The eviction plans had come under wide criticism because almost none of the housing destroyed by Katrina has been rebuilt or replaced.

New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage

New Hampshire has become the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Governor John Lynch signed legislation okaying same-sex marriages after winning exemptions for churches who choose not to officiate.

Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

In Arizona, a human rights activist from the group No More Deaths has been convicted for leaving plastic jugs for undocumented immigrants crossing near the US-Mexico border. The activist, Walt Staton, says the water jugs were left to prevent migrants from dying of dehydration. On Wednesday, Staton was found guilty of ‘knowingly littering’ in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. In a move criticized by defense attorneys, the jury was ordered to reach a verdict after initial deliberations ended in a deadlock. Staton is a member of No More Deaths, which has worked for years to provide migrants with humanitarian aid. Over the past decade, nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died while trying to cross the border into Arizona. In a statement, No More Deaths said: “By penalizing life-saving work, the United States is showing callous disregard for the lives of our neighbors to the south, whose only crime is to seek a better life.”

Lawsuit Reinstated Against Shell Subsidiary in Nigeria Killings

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the Nigerian subsidiary of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell over the 1995 killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Nigerian activists. The case against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria was initially dismissed in March 2008. The suit is separate from another case brought directly against Shell over the Nigeria killings. On Wednesday, that case was again adjourned indefinitely after its initial delay last month.

Baucus Meets Single-Payer Advocates

On Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus met with backers of single-payer health care Wednesday after excluding them from last month’s hearings on health care reform. Baucus reportedly expressed regret for refusing to hear their voices and said he would seek the dismissal of charges against thirteen single-payer advocates he had thrown out of the hearings after they protested their exclusion. But the advocates say Baucus expressed no willingess to reverse his principled opposition to single-payer. Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, said activists will need to continue protesting Baucus and other lawmakers who support for-profit health care.

Obama Signals Support for Mandatory Health Care Program

In other health care news, the Obama administration has indicated it could support establishing a health care system that would require Americans to purchase health insurance. President Obama opposed a similar plan from Hillary Clinton during their race for the Democratic nomination. But on Wednesday, Obama said he would consider the plan if it includes a waiver for low-income Americans.

Inspector: Aviation Officials Ignored Warnings on Plane Model in Buffalo Crash

And a federal inspector has revealed aviation officials ignored his warnings about a twin-engine aircraft model more than a year before one flown by Colgan Air crashed near Buffalo in February. The inspector, Christopher Monteleon, told the New York Times he found pilots had flown the plane faster than manufacturer specifications allowed. Monteleon says Colgan Air refused to report the breaches and have the plane inspected for damage. He says he was then suspended overseeing sections of Colgan Air’s operations after he reported his concerns to Federation Aviation Administration superiors. Fifty people were killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12th. The victims included Alison Des Forges, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rwanda, and Beverly Eckert, who had become an advocate for 9-11 families after losing her husband in the attacks on the Twin Towers.

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.

Protests Force Former Congressman to Cancel Lecture at UNC

Protest Forces Tancredo Off Stage

Back in 2006, protestors at Michigan State University (MSU) confronted racist Congressman Tom Tancredo and disrupted his speech by chanting. In the aftermath, conservatives took to the airwaves claiming that Tancredo was the victim of violence.

Tancredo received a similar welcome earlier this week at the University of North Carolina (UNC):

Before the event, campus security removed two women who delayed Tancredo’s speech by stretching a 12-foot banner across the front of the classroom. It read, “No dialogue with hate.”

Police escorted the women into the hallway, amid more than 30 protesters who clashed with the officers trying to keep them out of the overcrowded classroom. After police released pepper spray and threatened the crowd with a Taser, the protesters gathered outside Bingham Hall.

The protesters relented, and Tancredo began to speak, describing failed state and federal legislation aimed at providing in-state tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants.

Two women stretched out another banner, first along one of the aisles and then right in front of Tancredo. Tancredo grabbed the middle of the banner and tried to pull it away from one of the girls. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say because you don’t agree with me,” he said.

The sound of breaking glass from behind a window shade interrupted the tug-of-war.

Tancredo was escorted from the room by campus police.

Event Follows Similar Script Tancredo’s Michigan State University Appearence

The event was surprisingly similar to Tancredo’s appearance at MSU in 2006. Like that event, the speech was organized by a student group that endorses racism and white supremacy under the guise of opposing “multiculturalism.” In this case, it was a group called “Youth for Western Civilization” a nationwide group that opposes undocumented immigration, multiculturalism, and affirmative action.

Of the group, its president said:

“This is an organization that seeks to promote Western civilization,” Matheson said at the event. “We believe that our civilization is under attack from liberal forces.”

Matheson said his organization supports people from every race participating in Western civilization, but that they must be properly assimilated to American culture first.

At Michigan State University, it was Young Americans for Freedom who organized Tancredo’s speech.

Tactically, the appearances were similar: the rightwing student group brought a controversial speaker to campus to provoke “violence” from leftist student groups, put members of their group in the crowd with video cameras to capture images of the “violence,” and then went on the news to denounce the left.

Those who have been following this blog for the past few years will remember that Young Americans for Freedom at MSU brought in a string of racist speakers–Chris Simcox, Nick Griffin, and Jared Taylor. The organization was later dubbed “a hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. However, every time we saw the same thing–invite a speaker with the hopes of provoking a confrontation and then use that in an attempt to gain more support for their cause.

“Hire Michigan First” Passes House, but at What Cost?

Hire Michigan First

A packaged of bills collectively dubbed “Hire Michigan First” has passed the Michigan House of Representatives. Backers of the bills say they will help address Michigan’s rising unemployment by rewarding businesses that hire Michigan workers.

At the core of the bills are provisions that would award tax breaks and other incentives to companies that hire Michigan workers. Government programs such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Growth Authority, and the Renaissance Zone Act would give incentives to companies hiring 100% of their employees from Michigan. In turn, these companies would have to report on who they hire.

Currently, the state government gives away $1 billion in tax breaks to draw businesses to Michigan in hopes of creating jobs.

Initiative Pushed Using Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

However, while the legislation may be forward-thinking in some respects and has been promoted by progressive groups, it has been promoted in some quarters using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

One of the sponsors–Marc Corriveau of Northville–has talked up portions of the legislation that would increase penalties for companies that hired undocumented workers, stating:

“We must reward businesses that hire Michigan workers rather than businesses that choose to hire illegal workers.”

Corriveau also touted the idea that the bill “cracks down” on companies hiring undocumented workers by making them pay back state incentives and banning them from future contracts if they are found to use undocumented labor.

The rhetoric around undocumented immigrants promotes a common reactionary myth that it is undocumented immigrants–and not neoliberal trade and economic policies–that are responsible for job losses in the United States. While it is certainly true that some businesses hire undocumented workers, the rhetoric surrounding this issue rarely addresses what causes immigrants to move to the United States in the first place.

IGE Talks: How Foreigners See Us

Here is the latest IGE Talks a monthly cable access show hosted by the Institute for Global Education (IGE) and aired on Grand Rapids’ public access television. As part of our ongoing efforts to support independent and do-it-yourself media here in West Michigan, we will be posting these shows each month.

In this episode, IGE Talks focuses on how foreigners view the United States:

The topic for the next show is “Employment & Environment.” It will be taped on March 5th at 7:00pm at Brick Road Pizza Company, 1017 Wealthy St SE. The public is welcome to participate in the discussion.

Event Looks at the State of Radical Grassroots Social Movements in Michigan, Chicago

Solidarity & Defense Hosted an Event that Looked at Radical Grassroots Movements in Michigan and Chicago

On February 7, a group called Solidarity & Defense “a small but growing alliance of anti-authoritarian militants active in both the workplace and the community,” hosted an evening of speakers and discussion at the International Institute in Detroit. The theme was “Renewing the New Years Promise” and it featured regional organizers speaking on their organization’s vision of social change. A variety of topics were covered, from gentrification to police repression.

The night began with a panel of six organizers. The first panelist, Robert, is a member of the Railway Work Unit of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Chicago Four Star Anarchist Group, and was involved with the Republic Windows occupation in December. He talked about the importance of pre-figurative organizing – counter institutions, citizens councils, and Cop Watch — in order to put pressure on formal institutions. Robert spoke of the importance of focusing on specific issues at hand in communities, rather than broad ideas. One way to do this is through the IWW, pinpointing which industries are suffering (such as the auto industry) before people are laid off, and making decisions “horizontally,” then bringing them up “vertically” by workers placing pressure on executives.

Lacey, who is currently based in Detroit but organized in Lansing for several years and is involved with Solidarity & Defense, spoke of the importance of solidarity within communities and defending communities when they are attacked by legislation or policies. She noted that we are currently in a unique political situation of new found enthusiasm – the last election drew a lot of people into the idea of change and motivated them. According to Lacey, the job of community organizers is to find a place for people to plug in. She addressed the police repression at the RNC, emphasizing that “you have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and stressing direct action as a strategy for change.

Bill and Robert spoke on their involvement with Y.O.U.T.H. Inc (Youth Organizing to Uplift Tomorrow’s Humanity), which provides programs for youth, tutoring within schools, a gym space and food to emphasize health, and provide training for specific trades. They also talked about the need for goals, and the importance of connecting different projects and working together.

Carmen, who is involved in the Detroit public school system, spoke of the needs of the Latino community in Detroit: legal clinics, health and safety classes, and immigrant support. She spoke about groups organizing in Detroit for border support, posting bail for undocumented workers, and translating Spanish classes by ESL students.

Brie, who is from Chicago and involved with the Four Star Anarchist Group talked about the importance of art in the movement. In the past it has been used to pacify us through the entertainment industry, but art is a strategy activists can use to empower people. Brie also talked about veterans’ issues, saying that anarchist groups can be used a means for support, to combat the common feeling of always being on the defense. Activists can being to take a more pro-active stance on these issues, which Brie cited as a goal of the Solidarity & Defense group.

Melissa, the final panelist of the evening, is involved with NorthStar, the collective/infoshop based in Lansing. She spoke of the need for activists to build connections amongst ourselves, and the importance of being engaged in the community. Melissa also discussed facilitating empowerment – we can build a radical capacity for people who are generally disempowered, so they can take control of their own lives and situations.

Following the panel was a discussion with the audience. One critique is that some thought the discussion dominated by older white males, despite the fact the audience was made up of many women, Latino/as, and African Americans.

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

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

It has been a few years since Rep. Sensenbrenner proposed draconian legislation known as HR 4437. His proposed legislation, which would have made being undocumented in the US a felony, was a major catalyst for mobilizing a new wave of immigrant justice activists in 2005-2006.

However, immigration rights and reform was a non-issue during the 2008 presidential election. Candidates steered clear of taking a position on what many saw as a “controversial” issue. Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, is an excellent book that reminds us of the importance of immigration as a justice issue.

Veteran writer and photo journalist David Bacon has spent years observing and writing about the harsh realities that face people who are part of the migrant stream coming from Central America and Mexico into the United States. Bacon combines the best of analysis with how US immigration policy impacts individuals and their families.

Illegal People is not so much a methodical look at how globalization creates migrants, rather it is a collection of essays and stories about people who have come from countries like Guatemala and Mexico after economic hardship as a result of trade policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA.

Bacon weaves throughout the book examples from US history of migrants who have been victims of racist immigration policy to those who have organized against this repression. The author draws the links between how the US treated Chinese immigrants in the later part of the 19th century to how US policy treats Mexicans today. The book also provides excellent examples of how migrants have organized themselves in response to immigration policy. Bacon provides a window into the campaigns by Chicano and Filipino activists in the 1960 that led to the creation of the United Farm Workers and the organizing behind the current immigrant rights movement.

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants is not only a great resource for understanding what drives much of the immigration to the US, it provides a framework for responding to the racist and xenophobic movements that want to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.

David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, (Beacon Press, 2008).

Immigration Failed as Wedge Issue in 2008 Campaigns

A new study of election advertising pertaining to immigration has found that the issue largely failed as a so-called “wedge issue” this election. While some Republicans ran harsh anti-immigration ads to attack their Democratic rivals, most of them lost.

121808-immigration_ad.jpg

A new study by the group America’s Voice has found that politicians who relied on harsh immigration ads as a campaign strategy lost to candidates who either advocated comprehensive immigration reform or who did not talk about the issue.

The study–titled “Anti-Immigration Ads Don’t Add Up in 2008“–found that the use of immigration as a wedge issue in the 2008 campaign was a failure. The study found that $27.2 million was spent on ads pertaining by immigration in 79 federal races and campaigns in 35 states, including Michigan. This money produced 234 immigration-related ads, of which 84% either advocated “enforcement-only” or harsh anti-immigration positions. Only 5% of ads advocated comprehensive immigration reform.

The report finds that Republicans were largely responsible for the harshest ads–running 85% of them–yet only 21% of those ads were placed by winning Republicans and their allies. The study also finds that Republican infighting over immigration often led to depleted resources for general election campaigns.

9/11 to Pottsville: A New Detour in “the War on Terror”

On Thursday, GVSU’s Latin American Studies department hosted professor Erik Camayd-Freixas who talked about immigration, law enforcement, and criminalization. Camayd-Freixas’ talk gave a good overview of current immigration policy.

111408-immigration.jpg

On Thursday, Grand Valley State University’s Latin American Studies department hosted a speaker on the topic of immigration. Erik Camayd-Freixas, a Professor of Interpretation at the University of Florida International addressed an audience of about 100 on his experiences of being an interpreter in one of the largest government raids on immigrants in the US.

On May 12, 2008, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa and arrested 389 undocumented immigrants from Guatemala who were charged with false identity. Those arrested were jailed for 5 months, which had a tremendous impact on their families in the US and Guatemala, according to the speaker. The cost of the raid and legal proceedings was an estimated $10 million, but the economic cost for the town of Postville has been much worse, since the raid has caused the meat packing plant to close in bankruptcy.

The raid, according to Camayd-Freixas, also has far reaching impacts on the immigration crisis in the US and could be another catalyst in the movement for immigration justice.

He compares the immigration crisis today with the abolition movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, stating, “the current immigrant rights movement could be the next great movement in this country.” The speaker said that he did not have a history of working with the movement, but his involvement as a certified interpreter gave him access to all aspects of this case. This access radicalized the professor and caused him to re-evaluate his own role in the legal system. After the initial arrests and legal proceedings he wrote a report on the abuses–both legal and physical–that the detainees suffered at the hands of US officials. His report has received wide distribution and even resulted in him being asked to testify before Congress on this issue.

Since June, Professor Camayd-Freixas has continued to conduct research and investigations by talking with hundreds of people on immigration policy which included interviews with many of those arrested at Postville.

The speaker then gave an overview of US Immigration policy, which he says has always been racially motivated to limit minority rights and to provide cheap labor for capital. More recently, the neoliberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s has caused even more migration from around the world, particularly from Latin America. He points out the strange contradiction of “the criminalization of immigration with an increase in the need for migrant workers.” Pottsville, according to Camayd-Freixas, is an example of the neoliberal trends, since the Swift & Company moved its meat packing plants to rural areas where organized labor was almost non-existent and they could utilize cheap migrant labor.

Once migrant workers exceeded the number needed for labor there became a shift in attitudes on immigration. However, NAFTA and neoliberalism have weakened the Mexican economy and forced some people to migrate. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has had a similar impact. All those he interviewed in Postville were Guatemalan agricultural workers and small farmers who could no longer make a living since CAFTA was adopted.

Professor Camayd-Freixas then went on to say, “9/11 drastically changed US government policies on immigration.” The policies put in place after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security were draconian. In 2006 the shift was directed at immigration. With the INS being folded into Homeland Security, it centralized government policies that are manifested in ICE–Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The War on Terror” provided the justification for the war on immigration, according to the speaker. Operation Endgame became the blueprint for ICE. Endgame is a ten-year master plan (2003-2013) to remove all undocumented immigrants:

“Operation Endgame sets the standard for immigration policy where humanitarian concerns become secondary if not meaningless. Operation Endgame, along with the Patriot Act, has significantly limited Constitutional Rights and gave the government nearly unlimited power with little accountability. Postville is an example of this authoritarian power. However, beyond Postville, there are these kinds of arrests going on daily, with little media attention.”

Camayd-Freixas said that ICE has an annual budget of $6 billion. Additionally, they have agreements with local law enforcement to give local police the ability to carry out immigration enforcement.

“What the police are doing is engaging in racial profiling by stopping motorists who looks Mexican.”

He cited an example of a woman who was 9 months pregnant. She was chained to a bed and gave birth. The baby was then taken away and she was sent to prison.

In 2007, another example of how local law enforcement engages in what the speaker called “racial profiling,” was of a young man picked up who couldn’t prove his status. He was mentally retarded and deported to Mexico. He eventually made his way back after surviving off of food from the trash. The young man was born a US citizen, but because he looked like he was from Mexico and didn’t carry an ID with him, he was deported.

The speaker said that there have been about 10,000 cases of US citizens being picked up and falsely deported. The arrests sometimes happen when police follow kids home from school. Hospitals are also now turning over information to police and the use of warrantless raids and breaking into people’s homes has become common practice.

“The people in Postville were absolutely terrified,” said Camayd-Freixas, with people not knowing how they were going to survive. “To see them as criminals in chains was profoundly terrifying, since most of them were confused about what they were being charged with.” The speaker said that many of the detainees were shifted around the country from various jails. “Those who were brutalized during the raid were deported immediately so that the courts would not see them. Those who remained were shackled for up to 14 hours a day, even to eat.”

Camayd-Freixas said that those who had social security numbers that belonged to other people had the worse sentences. The immigration judges might see 4,000 cases a year, since there are not enough judges to deal with all the cases. “If you are arrested for immigration violations you can stay in jail waiting for a hearing for an unlimited amount of time.” Some still have not received a court date and others will not go before a judge until March or May of 2009.

Immigration detention has 32,000 beds across the country, but those beds are always occupied, so now they are putting electrical collars or tethers on people. The speaker said “they were threatening the detainees with identity theft, which has a minimum 2 years in jail. If they plead guilty to social security fraud they accepted 5 months in jail and deportation. So the case was really a political decision, not a legal one.”

Camayd-Freixas said that many more immigrants are arrested for criminal charges by Homeland Security under the guise of preventing terrorism. “The pretext is identity theft in order to say they are terrorists. Thus, in the name of national security, human rights can be violated, particularly against people of color and migrants.” The speaker also cited AETA (the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) as an unprecedented policy, which could make terrorists of those who oppose the state in any form. “We now have a growing anti-immigrant paramilitary movement and a privatized prison system as a response to the immigration crisis. KBR has been the recipient of no-bid contracts for jailing those arrested in the war on terror which increasingly are those arrested for immigration violations.”

The speaker concluded by saying that “After 9/11 we have done what terrorists wanted the US to do, by creating a climate of fear.” However, Professor Camayd-Freixas has been receiving lots of letters of support since his essay on Postville went out over the Internet and he thinks that people want justice to be done. However, “if we are to solve this crisis, we need to understand that it is rooted in the economy.”

He then gave his own five-point plan to reform immigration policy.

First, there should be a prioritized path to legalization, in which the government makes it easier for people to apply for legal status. Second, there should be an expansion of visa processing. Third, the needs to be a “free trade workers program” not like the braceros or guest workers programs, which essentially created indentured servants. Fourth, there should be the use of legitimate means of enforcement, which the speaker said the US government has. Lastly, he said there should be “Migration Prevention,” where funds and programs can be used to prevent people from coming to the US by creating real economic development throughout Latin America.