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

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

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

Senate Dems Delay Vote to Tax Bank Bonuses

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

AIG Executives to Return $50 Million in Bonuses

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

Report: Geithner Changed Plan After Pressure from Hedge Funds

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

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

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

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Pose Danger

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

Ehud Barak to Join Netanyahu’s Coalition Government

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

UN Official Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLO Official Assassinated in Lebanon

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

37 Die in Iraq Bombings

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

UN: Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi Violates International Law

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

US Tried to Silence Binyam Mohamed with Plea Bargain

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

South Africa Bars Dalai Lama from Peace Conference

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

Sen. Sanders Attempts to Block Obama Nominee

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

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

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

Obama Nominates Three to Top Treasury Posts

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

Labor Union UNITE-HERE Splits

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

Newhouse to Close Ann Arbor News

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

Canadian Seal Hunt Faces Criticism

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

Study: Lots of Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

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

Headlines: White House Opposes Tax on Wall Street Bonuses; Protests Mark Iraq Invasion Anniversary

Democracy Now Headlines:  White House Opposes Tax on Wall Street Bonuses; Protests Mark Iraq Invasion Anniversary

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.

Report: US Will Appoint “Afghan PM” to Bypass Hamid Karzai

The Guardian of London reports the Obama administration and European allies are preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Afghan government in a direct challenge to Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. The US is considering creating a new chief executive or prime ministerial position in an attempt to bypass Karzai, who has has fallen out of favor in Washington. In a further dilution of Karzai’s power, the US is proposing to divert money from the Kabul government to the provinces. Last week, Karzai accused an unnamed foreign government of trying to weaken the central government in Kabul. Karzai said, “That is not their job. Afghanistan will never be a puppet state.”

Obama: Exit Strategy Needed for Afghanistan

On Sunday, President Barack Obama appeared on 60 Minutes and discussed the situation in Afghanistan.

President Obama: “But we can’t lose sight of what our central mission is: the same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11. And that is, these folks can project violence against United States citizens, and that is something that we cannot tolerate. But what we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems. So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s got to be an exit strategy. There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”

Last month, President Obama ordered 17,000 more US troops to fight in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, US Special Forces are being accused of killing five Afghan civilians inside the home of a local mayor. The US disputes the report and says the dead were all militants.

Obama: Bush-Cheney Policies Haven’t Made Us Safer

During the same interview on 60 Minutes, President Obama was asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comment that the new administration’s counterterrorism policies were making the US more vulnerable to attack.

President Obama: “I think he is–that attitude, that philosophy, has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is, after all these years, how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many–how many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment, which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world.”

Geithner to Unveil Plan to Purchase $1 Trillion in Toxic Assets

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is preparing to unveil a plan today to purchase as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and other assets from banks. The government is reaching out to hedge funds, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds to help buy the toxic assets. The Obama administration has described the plan as a public-private partnership, but most of the actual money will be put up by the government. The New York Times reports the government will offer low-interest loans to coax investors to form partnerships with the government to buy toxic assets from banks. If the assets go up in value, the hedge funds stand to benefit greatly, but if the assets fall, taxpayers bear most of the risk. We’ll have more on the plan after headlines.

White House Officials Oppose Tax on Wall Street Bonuses

Obama administration officials are expressing concern over moves by Congress to heavily tax Wall Street bonuses. Last week, the House voted to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid since January 1 by companies that owe the government at least $5 billion in bailout loans. Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser, said the House bill is a “dangerous way to go.”

World Bank: 2009 Will Be “Very Dangerous” Year

In other economic news, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned the entire globe will feel the effects of the economic meltdown this year.

Robert Zoellick: “Well, I think 2009 is going to be a very dangerous year. And just to give you some reference points, the IMF came out with a new global forecast recently, close to decline of about one percent of growth. We at the Bank will be coming out with ours soon, and it will probably be in the range of one to two percent. But to put that number in a context, you haven’t seen a figure like that globally since World War II, which really means since the Great Depression.”

The World Bank also warned over the weekend that a wave of social and political unrest could sweep through the world’s poorest countries if G20 leaders fail to come to their aid. A new report from the Overseas Development Institute said the collapse of the global economy would cost 90 million lives, lead to an increase to nearly a billion in the number of people going hungry, and cost developing countries $750 billion in lost growth.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Responds to Obama’s Message

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Saturday President Barack Obama’s offer of better ties was just a “slogan,” but pledged Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington. Khamenei’s comment came one day after President Obama released a videotaped appeal to the people of Iran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “They (Americans) give the slogan of change, but in practice no change is seen. We haven’t seen any change. Even their literature has not changed. Since the first moment the new United States president officially took office and delivered speech, he insulted Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government.”

Israel Accused of Targeting Medical Personnel in Gaza

Physicians for Human Rights has accused Israeli soldiers of failing to give medical teams special protection during the attack on Gaza. Sixteen Palestinian medical personnel were killed by Israeli fire; another twenty-five were wounded. Israel attacked thirty-four medical facilities, including eight hospitals.

IDF Soldiers Ordered to Shoot at Gaza Rescuers

Documents have also been found that suggest Israeli troops were given orders to shoot at rescue teams during the war. One document found in a Palestinian home taken over by the Israeli military reads, “Rules of Engagement: Open fire also upon rescue.” The note was handwritten in Hebrew.

Soldier: Israeli Rabbis Turned Gaza Invasion into Religious War

The McClatchy News Service reports rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and to ”get rid of the gentiles.” This according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza. The soldier said the message from the rabbis effectively turned the twenty-two-day Israeli attack into a religious war.

Israeli Activist Calls for Assassination of Mahmoud Abbas

A prominent right-wing Israeli activist has publicly called for the assassination of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nadia Matar of the group Women in Green made the call last week during a speech in New York organized by Americans for a Safe Israel.

Nadia Matar: “And don’t you understand that in order to bring peace to Europe, one has to first destroy the Nazi beast? Today we must destroy all the terrorist organizations. We must kill all the terrorist leaders, starting with Mahmoud Abbas and all others.”

Nadia Matar was speaking at the Safra Synagogue in New York. The synagogue’s rabbi, Elie Abadie, condemned Matar’s remarks, saying he was “horrified at such hateful statements.”

Antiwar British MP Barred from Canada

The Canadian government has barred British antiwar lawmaker George Galloway entry into the country on the grounds that he is a threat to national security. Galloway was scheduled to start a four-city speaking tour next week. Galloway has been a vocal critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli government. Canadian officials accused Galloway of giving financial support to Hamas and offering sympathy to the Taliban.

Family of Slain Iraqi Guard Sues Blackwater

The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing another lawsuit over its work in Iraq. The family of a slain Iraqi security guard sued the company last week, saying a Blackwater contractor shot the man without provocation on Christmas Eve of 2006. At the time of the shooting, the Iraqi guard was on duty protecting Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. According to the lawsuit, Blackwater promised to compensate the widow of the Iraqi guard in a series of payments but stopped after an initial payment of $20,000.

Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods Fight Proposed Labor Law

In labor news, executives from Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods have launched a campaign to block the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions. The three retail giants have proposed a so-called compromise bill that strips the key portions of the legislation. The companies want to preserve the current law that allows employers to force workers to hold a secret ballot election before recognizing a union. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would be able form a union if a majority of them signed a card or a petition.

Jury Acquits Former Puerto Rican Governor

In Puerto Rico, a federal jury has found former Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila not guilty on nine counts of conspiracy, false statements and wire fraud, among other crimes.

Vermont Panel Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Vermont has moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. On Friday, the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill extending marriage to same-sex couples in Vermont. The full Vermont Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.

NYC Pays $1.5 Million to Families of Two Killed by NYPD

In New York, the city has agreed to pay out $1.5 million to the families of two young men shot dead by New York police detectives fourteen years ago in the Bronx. The families of Hilton Vega and Anthony Rosario had sued the city, claiming police used excessive force in the shooting. The detectives in the case were both former bodyguards for Rudolph Giuliani during his 1993 mayoral campaign.

Four Oakland Police Officers Killed in Shoot-Out

In Oakland, police are investigating how a routine traffic stop turned into one of the bloodiest days for police officers in California history. Police say a twenty-six-year-old man, Lovelle Mixon, shot dead four Oakland police officers over the span of several hours before he was fatally shot. Police said Mixon was already wanted on a warrant. He had been despondent over his inability to find a job and afraid of being arrested again.

Protests Mark 6th Anniversary of US Invasion of Iraq

And protests were held in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities on Saturday to mark the sixth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Headlines: Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes; Obama Treasury Dept. Sought Bonus Protections in Stimulus Bill

Democracy Now Headlines:  Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes; Obama Treasury Dept. Sought Bonus Protections in Stimulus 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.

Seeking Return of AIG Payouts, House OKs Tax on Bonuses

The House has overwhelmingly approved a measure to recoup taxpayer money by imposing a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to employees at the insurance giant AIG. The tax would also apply to any company receiving more than five billion dollars in bailout funds. A Senate version would impose a lower rate than the House’s 90 percent. The vote came hours after AIG complied with a New York state subpoena and disclosed the names of employees who received bonuses.

Protesters Rally Outside AIG Offices

Public outrage over the AIG bonuses fueled the Congressional response. On Thursday, demonstrators gathered outside AIG’s offices in Washington, DC to decry the bonus payouts.

Amy Swanson: “It’s not fair to all the working people here who struggle daily for our health care, income, pay their rent, pay their bills.”

Joan Nemeth: “Being paid 15 thousand dollars an hour compared to your workers’ hours at eight dollars or 10 dollars or even 15 dollars, where’s the justice in that? There is no justice in being paid that much more.”

Francisco Cuison: “This bailout money is from the government, it’s taxpayers’ money, and it should be spread out to the people who need it.”

Geithner Admits Requesting Bonus Protection Provision

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner meanwhile has admitted his staff asked Senator Christopher Dodd to insert a provision in the economic stimulus bill that allowed AIG to hand out the $165 million dollars in bonuses. Geithner made the admission in an interview with CNN.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We expressed concern about this specific version. We wanted to make sure it was strong enough to survive legal challenge. But we also worked with him to strengthen the overall framework and his bill has this very important provision we’re relying on now to go back and see if we can recoup payments that were made that there was no legal ability to block.”

The New York Times reports Senator Dodd is drawing outrage from constituents in his home state of Connecticut for his role in the AIG bonuses controversy. Dodd has come under scrutiny for admitting he was asked by the treasury to include the bonus protection provision in the stimulus bill after initially claiming he didn’t know how it got inserted.

AIG Sues for Return of $300M in Taxes

As AIG faces the loss of its bonuses, it’s quietly filed a lawsuit to recoup more than $300 million dollars in what it says are overpaid taxes. The company says it overpaid the government in charges for using off-shore tax havens. The suit effectively means AIG is using U.S. taxpayer money to sue its majority owner, the U.S. taxpayer. The government owns an 80 percent stake in AIG following its $170 billion dollar bailout.

Holbrooke Served on AIG Board

Meanwhile a top Obama administration official is coming under scrutiny for his ties to AIG. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, served on AIG’s board from 2001 until early last year. Holbrooke is believed to have collected up to $800,000 during his AIG stint.

Probe: Bailout Firms Owe $220M in Taxes

In other bailout news, a Congressional probe has found the top thirteen firms to receive bailout money owe more than $220 million dollars in unpaid federal taxes. Congressmember John Lewis of Georgia, the chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, says two of the companies owe more than $100 million dollars apiece. The review only looked at the top twenty-three bailout recipients, leaving open the possibility of further owed taxes from nearly 450 remaining companies. The inspector general overseeing the federal bailout says he will investigate whether recipient companies misled Congress on their tax obligations.

Citigroup to Spend $10M on Exec Offices

The bailed-out financial giant Citigroup meanwhile is coming under scrutiny for a ten million dollar plan to build new offices for top executives. Citigroup has received $45 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

Auto Parts Suppliers to Receive $5B in Aid

The Treasury Department is set to provide up to five billion dollars in financing to auto parts suppliers. The money will come through the government’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. Auto parts suppliers have asked for up to $25 billion dollars amidst the auto industry decline.

Obama Apologizes for “Special Olympics” Gaffe

President Obama continued his criticism of AIG Thursday on the second day of his trip to California. Appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama said the AIG case exemplified Wall Street excess.

President Obama: “The immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem but the larger problem we’ve got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody and if we can get back to those values that built America then I think we are going to be okay.”

Obama’s appearance marked the first ever by a sitting U.S. president on a late-night talk show. He was later forced to backtrack after appearing to make fun of the disabled in joking about his bowling abilities. After Leno complemented him for a low bowling score, Obama said: “It’s like the Special Olympics or something.” In a statement, the White House said Obama didn’t “intend to disparage” the Special Olympics.

Obama Releases Videotaped Overture to Iran

President Obama meanwhile has released a videotaped appeal to the people of Iran. In a message timed to coincide with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, Obama said he is prepared to meet with Iranian leaders.

President Obama: “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

Iranian officials reacted to the tape by renewing calls for the U.S. to address Iranian grievances, including the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s nationalist government.

Obama Admin Seeks to Double Afghan Forces

The Obama administration is drafting a plan to double Afghanistan’s national security forces. According to the New York Times, senior administration officials say the U.S. is seeking a force of about 400,000 Afghan troops and police officers.

Israeli Soldiers Recount Killings of Unarmed Palestinians

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, several Israeli soldiers have provided new accounts of human rights violations during Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published testimony from soldiers recounting the firing on unarmed Palestinian civilians and the intentional destruction of their property. The Israeli military says it will investigate.

UN Human Rights Investigator Accuses Israel of War Crimes

The allegations come as a top UN human rights investigator has accused Israel of committing war crimes during the Gaza attack. In an annual report, Richard Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Israel appeared to violate the Geneva Conventions code requiring forces to distinguish between civilians and armed combatants. Falk is calling on the Security Council to establish an ad hoc criminal tribunal to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Israel Arrests 10 Hamas Officials in West Bank

Meanwhile Israel has arrested ten Hamas officials in the occupied West Bank. Hamas is calling the move a blackmail attempt to pressure it for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Talks on a prisoner exchange broke down this week in part over an Israeli demand that hundreds of the freed prisoners be arrested or deported upon their release. Israel has seized and jailed some forty elected Hamas lawmakers since Shalit’s capture in June 2006.

Bush Admin Aide: U.S. Knowingly Jailed Innocents Seized in Afghanistan

A former Bush administration official says the U.S. has continued to jail many Guantanamo Bay prisoners seized in Afghanistan despite knowing of their innocence. In an interview with the Associated Press, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to then then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the U.S. held on to the innocent prisoners in the hopes they could one day provide helpful intelligence. Describing the Bush administration mentality, Wilkerson said: “It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance.” Wilkerson continued: “We need to put those people in a high-security prison like the one in Colorado, forget them and throw away the key. We can’t try them because we tortured them and didn’t keep an evidence trail.” Wilkerson says former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to improve vetting of Afghan prisoners.

Judge Rejects Dismissal of CACI Torture Suit

The Pentagon contractor CACI has lost a bid to dismiss a torture lawsuit brought by four former Abu Ghraib prisoners. On Thursday, a federal judge made public a ruling rejecting CACI’s claim to be immune from prosecution. The case also names the company L-3 Services as well three individual contractors. One of the plaintiffs, an Iraqi farmer, alleges he was caged, beaten, threatened with dogs and given electric shocks during more than four years in U.S. detention.

El Salvador, Costa Rica Renew Cuba Ties

El Salvador’s new president-elect is vowing to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. Mauricio Funes says he will reverse a policy that has not recognized Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

El Salvadorian President-elect Mauricio Funes: “I said during my speech announcing running for the Presidency, I would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba because, up to this date, we would be the only Latin American country who does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba and that’s what I plan on doing.”

Funes’ FMLN party won El Salvador’s election on Sunday, ending twenty years of governance by the U.S.-backed, right-wing ARENA party. His announcement comes as Costa Rica also reopened diplomatic ties with Cuba after nearly fifty years.

Documents: Reagan Officials Knew of Guatemalan Abuses

Newly de-classified material has provided further evidence the Reagan administration knowingly supported the Guatemalan government’s human rights abuses in its crackdown on guerrillas and leftist dissidents. The National Security Archive has released documents showing State Department officials directly reported that Guatemalan forces targeted anyone suspected of involvement with guerrillas or dissident groups. In 1984, then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin also reported labor activists were being “rounded up” for interrogation. More than 200,000 thousand people died under the U.S.-backed Guatemalan military between 1960 and 1996.

2012 GOP Hopefuls Reject Stimulus Aid

Back in the United States, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has announced she’ll reject nearly half the federal stimulus funds allocated for her state. Palin cited her opposition to increasing the deficit and her desire to remain free of Washington control. The rejected spending includes $160 million dollars for education and $9 million dollars for public health. Palin becomes the third potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate to turn down stimulus funds, following governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. This week Texas Governor Rick Perry also rejected stimulus aid.

Decrying Homeless Policies, New York Housing Activists Occupy Vacant Building

Here in New York, dozens of people gathered at a vacant building in East Harlem Thursday to call for more affordable housing and better treatment of the homeless.

Protester: “We need housing now. I’m homeless. I’m tired of being homeless. When its $1,500 a month for a closet in NYC alone, in the Bronx they’re charging people $1,500. Section 8 is not there anymore. These housing programs that they give us are only 2 years. What happens after 2 years? We have to tell people today that we are tired of it. This is what we’re going to do: If there’s a homeless building we’re there, if there’s a shelter they’re not opening up to the homeless, we’re there. We need to change now.”

The event was organized by Picture the Homeless. The group says New York has up to 24,000 vacant apartments that could house every homeless family in the city.

Protests Mark 6th Anniversary of Iraq Invasion

And protests are underway in this country and around the world to mark the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On Thursday, more than two dozen protesters were arrested at parallel events in San Francisco. Five of the arrested said they were Iraq veterans. Here in New York, hundreds gathered at Union Square and later outside the military recruiting station in Times Square. In Washington, D.C. a U.S. army veteran was arrested hanging up a sign near the White House that read “Veterans say NO to War and Occupation.” Protests are expected to continue in several major cities through the weekend.

Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

Democracy Now Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

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.

Fed to Buy Up $1.2T in Bonds, Securities

The Federal Reserve has announced a massive new government intervention in the U.S. economy. The Fed says it will buy up $1.2 trillion dollars in government bonds and mortgage-linked securities to free up the frozen credit market. The purchases will increase the Fed’s holdings in financial markets to $3 trillion dollars–an increase of fifty percent. The new mortgage securities purchase will account for more than half of the new spending, at $750 billion dollars. That’s on top of the $500 billion in securities previously bought. According to analysts at Wachovia bank, the federal government could end up funding up to seventy percent of mortgages issued this year.

Uncertainty Grows on When Admin Knew of AIG Bonuses

The Obama administration is facing questions on when it knew of AIG’s plans to hand out $165 million dollars in bonuses after receiving its $170 billion taxpayer bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says he didn’t know until last week, and only told White House officials two days after finding out. But testifying on Capital Hill Wednesday, AIG CEO Edward Liddy said government officials were informed three months ago. The Washington Post reports the Treasury was told at least one month ago.

AIG Exec: Employees to Give Back Half of Bonuses

Liddy meanwhile also defended the bonuses, saying they were essential to retaining top employees.

AIG CEO Edward Liddy: “Make no mistake. Had I been CEO at the time, I would never have approved the retention contracts that were put in place over a year ago. It was distasteful to have to make these payments. But we concluded that the risks to the company, and therefore the financial system and the economy, were unacceptably high.”

Liddy says he’s asked a few hundred AIG executives and employees to give back at least half of the extra pay but refused to give details on who is keeping their bonuses. AIG is also facing questions on the billions of dollars in taxpayer money it used to repay other financial firms.

Dodd: Bonus Protections Added to Stimulus Bill at Admin’s Request

Questions meanwhile are also surrounding treasury officials and lawmakers for political maneuvering that effectively authorized the executive bonuses with the passage of the stimulus bill last month. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says he introduced a provision that would have forced bailout recipients to cap bonuses at $100,000 and tax those exceeding it at thirty-five percent. The measure passed through the Senate but was inexplicably removed during talks with the House. Meanwhile the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Christopher Dodd, is claiming he inserted a provision protecting contractually-promised bonuses at the request of the Obama administration. Dodd didn’t name the administration officials who told him to insert the provision. He says he wouldn’t have done so had he known it would have allowed the bonuses at AIG.

Fannie Mae to Hand Million Dollar Bonuses

As the controversy over payments grows, the government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae has announced plans to give four top executives at least one million dollars in what it calls “retention bonuses.” The bonuses are being handed out amidst Fannie’s request for some $15 billion dollars in government aid.

Judge Orders Disclosure of Merrill Lynch Bonuses

Meanwhile a New York judge has ordered the disclosure of employee bonuses paid out at Merrill Lynch just before Bank of America bought out the firm in a government-backed deal. The ruling came in New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to subpoena several top Merrill Lynch executives who were each paid more than $10 million dollars in cash and stock. Overall, Merrill Lynch handed out over $3 billion dollars in bonuses just before the Bank of America deal. For its part Bank of America has received $45 billion dollars in government aid.

Obama: No More “Business As Usual” for Wall Street

Meanwhile at the White House, President Obama invoked the controversy surrounding AIG to call for changes to the financial system.

President Obama: “As we get out of this crisis, as we work towards getting ourselves out of recession, I hope that Wall Street and the marketplace don’t think that we can return to business as usual. The business models that created a lot of paper wealth but not real wealth in the country and have now resulted in crisis can’t be the model for economic growth going forward.”

Obama later traveled to California for a tour to promote his economic stimulus plan. Speaking at a town hall-style event in Costa Mesa, Obama said he takes responsibility for the AIG controversy.

President Obama: “I know Washington is all in a tizzy pointing fingers at each other and saying its the democrat’s fault and the republican’s fault. Listen, I will take responsibility, ‘I’m the President.'”

Military to Phase Out Forced Extensions by 2011

The Pentagon has announced it will all but end the controversial “stop loss” policy forcing soldiers to serve extended tours of duty. More than 13,000 troops are currently involuntarily serving in the military under a policy imposed in 2004. Some have described the ‘stop-loss’ practice as a backdoor draft. On Wednesday, Gates admitted the military has forced soldiers to serve “against their will.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “As of the end of January there were 13,200 soldiers in stop loss. I am pleased to announce that I have approved a plan to eliminate the use of stop loss for deploying soldiers… When somebody’s end date of service comes up, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do.”

Gates says the Pentagon intends to end “stop/loss” across the entire armed forces by March of 2011. But he left open the right to continue it under what he called “extraordinary circumstances.” Soldiers under “stop loss” will also now be paid an additional $500 per month, retroactive to last October.

Czech Government Forced to Drop Vote on U.S. Missile System

In the Czech Republic, overwhelming opposition has forced the Czech government to drop attempts for parliamentary approval of a U.S. missile radar site. The Czech government had agreed with the Bush administration on hosting part of the so-called “missile defense” system along with a missile site in Poland. But on Wednesday, the government withdrew a planned vote fearing it would be defeated. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek vowed to seek another vote.

Czech Prime Minister: “The government decided in tonight’s negotiations that it will take back the treaty instruments, both of the treaties from the United States about the placement of radar units in the territory of the Czech Republic. That doesn’t mean that we’ve entirely resigned from the process of missile defence because we can return this back to parliament at any time.”

According to the anti-radar group Campaign for Peace and Democracy, two thirds of Czechs have consistently opposed the radar plans. Czech peace activists have led calls for a national referendum and have been credited with pressuring lawmakers to oppose the U.S. missile program.

Minister: Iraq Considers Increased Stake for Oil Companies

The Iraqi government has hinted at further concessions for international oil corporations operating in Iraq. On Wednesday, Iraq’s oil minister told an OPEC gathering in Vienna that Iraq will consider granting foreign companies a share in oil production profits, rather than the current system of receiving fixed fees. Earlier this year Iraq raised the amount foreign companies can recoup from oil projects from 49 percent to 75 percent.

Judge Orders Continued Marri Jailing

A federal judge has ordered the continued imprisonment of Ali al-Marri, who has been the only so-called ‘enemy combatant’ jailed in the United States. Marri has been held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. The Obama administration charged him last month to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. Marri will be transferred to Peoria, Illinois for an arraignment hearing on Monday.

Senators Back Increased IMF Aid

Back on Capital Hill, a bi-partisan group of Senators is voicing support for an Obama administration plan to increase U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund. Obama has asked Congress to grant the IMF $100 billion dollars to aid struggling nations hurt by the economic crisis. Senator John Kerry backed the proposal after meeting IMF and World Bank officials.

Senator John Kerry: “We are convinced that the IMF needs to have additional funding. Secretary Geithner has made a proposal for additional funding. I speak for myself and say that I support that. I think it is an essential ingredient of our ability to send a message regarding stability and regarding our preparedness to help countries face the banking challenges and the consumer and food challenges that we face across the globe.”

It’s unclear what kind of conditions recipient nations would face for accepting the new IMF aid.

African Leaders: Economic Crisis Could Reignite Regional Conflicts

African leaders are warning of renewed conflict on their continent if they’re not aided during the global economic meltdown. Meeting ahead of next month’s G20 summit, several African officials issued stark warnings on the consequences of price drops in African goods, loss of tourists and a sharp reduction in foreign remittances. The head of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, said the potential fallout from the global economic crisis is an “emergency” in Africa.

U.S. to End Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Justice Department has confirmed plans to end the Bush administration’s policy of raiding distributors of medical marijuana. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said drug law enforcement would be restricted to traffickers falsely posing as medical dispensaries. Under Bush, medical dispensaries accused of violating federal law were raided even if they complied with state law.

Rep. Waters Introduces Bill to End Minimum Drug Sentencing

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters has introduced a bill to end mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related cases. The Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act would repeal mandatory minimum sentences and grant judges discretion to determine sentences.

New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

New Mexico has become the fifteenth state to outlaw the death penalty. On Wednesday, Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill barring capital punishment following its approval in the state legislature. New Mexico is the second state to end the death penalty since the Supreme Court restored it in 1976.

Study: Latinos Largest Ethnic Group in U.S. Prisons

A new study says Latinos now constitute the largest ethnic group in federal prisons. Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos account for forty percent of prisoners nationwide.

Hugo Lopez: “Between 1981 and 2007, the share of all federal offenders who are Hispanic has risen from about 24 percent in 1991 to 40 percent in 2007. So they have really almost doubled their share of all sentenced federal offenders. Also, Hispanics represent the single largest group of sentenced federal offenders. The 40 percent share Hispanic is larger than the white share at 27 percent and the black share at 23 percent in 2007.”

Nearly half of the Latin prison population has been jailed on immigration charges, followed closely by drug charges.

Reparations, Israel Dropped from UN Racism Text

Negotiators drafting the declaration for next month’s UN Conference Against Racism have acceded to U.S. and European Union demands and dropped references to Israel and reparations for slavery. The Obama administration has vowed to boycott the conference unless the two issues are dropped from conference text.

Actress Natasha Richardson Dies at 45

And the Tony-award winning stage and film actor Natasha Richardson has died at the age of forty-five. She suffered a brain injury in a ski accident in Canada and was taken off life support yesterday. Richardson was the daughter of the British actor and activist Vanessa Redgrave. The two were said to be in talks to appear together in a stage production of “A Little Night Music.” Our condolences to Vanessa, as well as Natasha Richardson’s husband, the actor Liam Neeson, her aunt and uncle Corin and Lynn Redgrave, her sister Jolie Richardson and her two sons.

Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

Democracy Now Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

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.

Congress to Propose Tax on AIG Bonuses

Lawmakers are vowing action following a massive public outcry around bonuses at the bailed-out insurance giant AIG. On Tuesday, Senate leaders said they would introduce a measure imposing a special surtax to recoup taxpayer money. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank said Congress should remember that the US government now owns 80 percent of AIG.

Rep. Barney Frank: “But I think we can look at it from the standpoint of us as the owner. We’re the owner of that company, in fact. Now, there are some covenants that have kept us from doing that. I think the time has come to exercise our ownership rights–we own most of the company–and then say, as owner, ‘No, I’m not paying you the bonus. You didn’t perform. You didn’t live up to this contract.’ Presumably, the bonuses had some merit stuff in it.”

The Treasury Department, meanwhile, said it would deduct the $165 million in AIG bonuses from the government’s next infusion of $30 billion in bailout funds.

Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation

As the AIG controversy grows, other bailed-out firms are reportedly secretly discussing how to shield future bonuses from public scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reports executives at Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are mulling ways to keep their bonuses without violating anticipated new government rules. The options include increasing base salaries for top employees. Citigroup has received $45 billion in taxpayer money, while Morgan Stanley has received $10 billion. Last week, Wells Fargo said it had increased the base salaries of its CEO and two other top executives. Wells Fargo has received $25 billion under the Wall Street bailout.

Obama Pushes for Budget Approval

President Obama continues to lobby for congressional approval of his $3.5 trillion budget. Speaking at the White House, Obama criticized Republican opponents.

President Obama: “‘Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs; it is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party. The American people sent us here to get things done. And in this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let’s show them that we’re equal to this task before us. Let’s pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity.”

US Mulls Widening Pakistan Strikes

The Obama administration is reportedly considering widening US attacks inside Pakistan. According to the New York Times, the strikes would extend to the province of Baluchistan beyond the currently targeted tribal areas. Hundreds of people have been killed in the US attacks on Pakistani soil.

Obama to Appoint Darfur Envoy

President Obama is set to appoint a special envoy on the crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The New York Times reports Obama will name Major General J. Scott Gration later today. The move comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intensified criticism of Sudan on Tuesday at the State Department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps, because by their expulsion of the aid workers who came from all over the world to assist with the health and the sanitation and the security and the education of the refugees, they are putting those 1.4 million lives at risk.”

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

D’Escoto Criticizes Bashir Indictment

Also on Tuesday, UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann criticized the indictment, saying it has tinges of racism and could undermine peace talks.

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: “It was unfortunate, unfortunate, and I think it does a disservice to the people’s perception of international justice. It helps to deepen a perception that international justice is racist, because this is the third time that you have something from the ICC [International Criminal Court], and for the third time it has to do with Africa.”

Talks Fail on Israel-Hamas Prisoner Exchange

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, talks on a prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and Hamas have broken down after Israel rejected a deal. Hamas is seeking the return of hundreds of prisoners in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The talks reportedly collapsed around an Israeli demand that Palestinians detain or deport most of the prisoners once they’re released.

Tutu Campaigns for Gaza War Crimes Probe

The South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among a group of sixteen leading war crimes investigators and judges calling for a UN inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The group has written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Arbishop Desmond Tutu: “It isn’t that we want to sensationalize. It’s just that some very serious things have happened, and if we are hoping to have a world that is stable, a world that abides by the rule of law, then it has to apply to everybody.”

Other signatories joining Tutu include former Irish President Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

US Keeps Blackwater in Iraq Despite Iraqi Ban

The State Department has quietly signed a deal that keeps the company formerly known as Blackwater in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban. The Washington Times reports the US signed a new contract with Blackwater in February, just days after the Iraqi government said it wouldn’t renew Blackwater’s operating license. The $22 million contract extension runs through September of this year. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The company recently changed its to name to Xe as part of a rebranding campaign.

Reversing Bush Stance, Obama to Endorse UN Gay Rights Statement

The Obama administration is set to endorse a UN gay rights declaration that the Bush administration refused to sign. Approved last December, the declaration calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality and guaranteeing equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. The US was the only Western country to oppose, joining Russia, China, the Vatican and several Arab states. The Associated Press reports the White House made the move after an emergency review of the US stance.

Hundreds Protest Bush in Calgary

In Canada, hundreds of protesters gathered in Calgary Tuesday outside President Bush’s first foreign trip since leaving office. Bush was speaking before an invite-only crowd at a private event. At least four people were arrested. Activists constructed a giant shoe cannon in a symbolic tribute to the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush last year. Bush entered Canada without any apparent trouble after the Canadian government ignored a request from a group of Canadian lawyers for his arrest or deportation as a war criminal.

Dismissed Mayor Becomes Madagascar President

In Madagascar, an opposition leader has declared himself interim president after former president Marc Ravalomanana stepped down. The new president, Andry Rajoelina, says he will hold elections within two years. Rajoelina is a former disc jockey who was dismissed by Ravalomanana as the mayor of the capital last month.

Groups Call for End to Ban on Foreign Scholars

Back in the United States, a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups is calling on the Obama administration to reverse Bush administration policies of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a letter released today, the coalition says the policy of “ideological exclusion… compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important.” The call comes ahead of a federal appeals court hearing next week on the case of one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe who was barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a French-based Palestinian charity. The charity is legal in France.

Military Sexual Assault Up 8%

And in military news, the Pentagon says reports of sexual assault in the armed forces rose eight percent last year. The reports were up 25 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Headlines: Outrage over AIG Bonuses; Banks Decreased Lending After Government Bailout

Democracy Now Headlines: Outrage over AIG Bonuses; Banks Decreased Lending After Government Bailout

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.

Outrage Grows over AIG Bonuses

Facing increasing public outcry, the Obama administration pledged Monday to try to block the bailed-out insurance giant AIG from paying out as much as $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other workers. AIG is attempting to hand out the bonuses despite the company’s central role in the meltdown of the global economy. AIG has already received $173 billion in government bailouts. During the last quarter of 2008, AIG lost a record $62 billion–that amounts to over $460,000 per minute. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, one of the President’s top economic advisers, said the government cannot just abrogate contracts, but yesterday President Barack Obama asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue every legal avenue to block the bonuses.

President Obama: “This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?”

Andrew Cuomo Subpoenas AIG over Bonuses

AIG has so far refused to publicly reveal who is set to receive the money. On Monday, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a subpoena to uncover this information and to determine if the bonuses are legal. Cuomo said if a company enters into contracts in which it agrees to pay funds it effectively doesn’t have, it’s akin to a looting of a company. While Cuomo is issuing subpoenas, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has suggested the top executives at AIG should consider taking their own lives. Grassley said, “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them, if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”

Treasury Report: Banks Decrease Lending After Bailout

A new Treasury report has found the nation’s largest banks are continuing to reduce the flow of credit to new homeowners and consumers despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. In December, the nation’s twenty-one largest banks lent out $162 billion for first mortgages. Less than half that amount was lent out in January. New home equity credit lines decreased from $15 billion to just $5 billion.

Tristan Anderson Remains in Critical Condition in Israeli Hospital

Hospital officials in Israel say the American activist Tristan Anderson is now semi-conscious after days under full anesthesia. Anderson was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the separation wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Anderson underwent brain surgery in an Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv on Saturday. Parts of his right frontal lobe were removed. Anderson is now able to lift fingers on one hand in response to a voice command.

Protesters Condemn Israeli Military for Shooting US Activist

Friends and supporters of Tristan Anderson held a series of protests on Monday. In San Francisco, hundreds of people marched to the the Israeli consulate. Police arrested five activists at the scene. Three protesters were arrested at a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Miami, Florida.

UN Urged to Investigate War Crimes Committed in Gaza

A group of sixteen of the world’s leading war crimes investigators and judges have sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for the United Nations to launch a full inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The letter’s signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,434 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault, including 960 civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the war, including three civilians killed by Hamas rockets.

Netanyahu Offers Foreign Ministry Post to Far-Right Politician

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a pact with far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman in an attempt to a forge a right-wing government in which Lieberman would become Israel’s foreign minister. Lieberman has called for laws to require Palestinians living in Israel to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. Lieberman has been condemned by many moderate Israeli and Jewish leaders. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, recently described Lieberman’s run for president as an “outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell.”

Ahmed Tibi, one of the few Palestinians in the Israeli Knesset: “This is the compatible of Le Pen and Joerg Haider. When those were elected, the Austrian government was isolated and boycotted mainly by Israel. It is time to call for boycotting the government and mainly boycotting Lieberman himself.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Becomes Web-Only Newspaper

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is printing its final edition today and becoming an online-only news site known as SeattlePI.com. The 146-year-old newspaper will become the largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. The paper’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, made the official announcement Monday. The vast majority of the paper’s 167 employees are losing their jobs in the transition. The closing of the Post-Intelligencer comes just days after Gannett announced the closing of the Tucson Citizen. Last month, Scripps closed the Rocky Mountain News. Many media analysts say the San Francisco Chronicle may be the next paper to cease publication. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the Justice Department to consider giving Bay Area papers more leeway to merge or consolidate business operations to stay afloat.

Report: 3% Of Washington, D.C. Population Has HIV or AIDS

Health officials in Washington, D.C. say three percent of the city’s population now has HIV or AIDS. Shannon Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, said, “Our rates are higher than West Africa. They’re on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya.” Hader said the HIV rates in Washington are twice as high as New York City and five times as high as Detroit.

Legal Group Campaigns to Have Attorney Linked to Torture Memos Disbarred

A campaign has been launched to disbar former Pentagon attorney William Haynes for his role in approving the Bush administration’s torture policies. The National Lawyers Guild has filed a complaint with the California State Bar against Haynes. The complaint states that Haynes “breached his duty as a lawyer and advocated for harsh tactics amounting to torture in violation of U.S. and international law.” Unlike several other top Bush administration attorneys, Haynes was able to find a job after leaving office. He is now chief corporate counsel at the oil giant Chevron. The New York Times recently reported former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington are both still looking for work.

Khatami Withdraws from Iranian Presidential Race

In Iran, former president Mohammad Khatami has withdrawn his candidacy from the country’s June presidential election. Khatami said he didn’t want to split the reformist vote. Khatami made the announcement days after another pro-reform candidate, former Iranian Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, announced his candidacy. The BBC reports Khatami’s withdrawal leaves Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a stronger position to win re-election.

Iranian Drone Shot Down in Iraq

The US military has revealed US jets shot down an Iranian unmanned surveillance aircraft last month. The incident took place in Iraq about sixty miles northeast of Baghdad.

Sudan Calls For All Foreign Aid Groups To Leave Within A Year

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir said Monday he wants all foreign aid groups to leave Sudan within a year. Al-Bashir accused the aid groups of providing false testimony against him and his government. The moves comes less than two weeks after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the aid groups need to stay in Sudan.

John Holmes: “If all the agencies were required to leave and not be able to operate that would, we believe, have enormous ramifications for the welfare of the people of Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. The government of South Sudan for example have made clear that they welcome international NGOs continuing to work in the South and indeed in the border areas. So it would have a very significant impact if it was carried out in quite the way in which that statement appears to suggest. As I say, we’ve only seen media reports of that and we’ve had no clarification about what it’s supposed to mean.”

Record Number of Immigrants Being Held In U.S.

The U.S. government is now holding a record number of immigrants in jail. A new report by the Associated Press found that 32,000 immigrants were being held as of January – nearly five times the number held in 1994. According to the AP, 58 percent of the immigration detainees do not have an attorney.

Obama Vows To Overhaul Food Safety System

President Obama has vowed to fundamentally change how the nation handles food safety issues, saying the current system is a “hazard to public health.” On Saturday Obama announced the creation of a Food Safety Working Group to advise him on which laws and regulations need to be changed.

President Obama: “This Working Group will bring together cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century; foster coordination throughout government; and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them.”

President Obama has also nominated Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner, to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Michelle Obama Endorses Local Food & Community Gardens

Meanwhile First Lady Michelle Obama has been touting the benefits of locally grown food and community gardens. In a speech last month the First Lady described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens. In a separate interview she said: “When you grow something yourself and it’s close and it’s local, oftentimes it tastes really good.” In an attempt to support local farmers, the White House has begun buying fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sara Jane Olson To Be Released From Jail

Sara Jane Olson is set to be released today from a California prison. She was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s. She was arrested in 1999 after living for twenty-five years. She pleaded guilty to taking part in two attempts to bomb the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975, but later proclaimed her innocence.

Richard Aoki, Former Black Panther, 1938-2009

And the civil rights activist Richard Aoki has died at the age of 71. He was an early member of the Black Panther Party and later served as a Field Marshal for the Panthers. He was the only Asian-American to hold a leadership role in the group. Aoki was born in 1938 in California and spent part of his childhood living in an internment camp during World War II.

Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without 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.

AIG to Pay Out $450 Million in Bonuses

The failed insurance giant AIG is preparing to pay out $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other employees despite receiving a $173 billion government bailout. The bonuses include over $165 million to executives in the Financial Products unit, which lost $40 billion last year and played a major role in the meltdown of the global financial system. AIG is paying out the bonuses even though it is now 80 percent owned by the US government. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, the director of the White House National Economic Council, described the bonuses as outrageous, but he said the bonuses are part of a contract.

Lawrence Summers: “We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.”

AIG’s new chief executive Edward Liddy justified the bonuses, saying AIG would have trouble attracting and retaining talent “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the US Treasury.”

AIG Lists Banks It Gave Bailout Money To

Meanwhile, AIG has disclosed for the first time the names of the financial institutions that benefited from the government’s $173 billion bailout. Goldman Sachs was the largest recipient at nearly $13 billion. Over $35 billion was also paid out to foreign banks including Societe Generale of France, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Barclays of Britain and UBS of Switzerland.

FMLN’s Mauricio Funes Wins El Salvador Election

In El Salvador, leftist presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has claimed victory, ending twenty years of conservative rule. Funes’s party, the FMLN, is a former guerrilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government for close to twenty years. Funes defeated Rodrigo Avila of the ARENA party by three percentage points. During a victory speech, Funes promised “safe change” in the mold of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mauricio Funes: “That is why I invite, from this moment, different social and political forces to help us build this unity, which should be based on tolerance, on respecting differences and the identification of common objectives.”

Pakistan Reinstates Sacked Chief Justice

In an attempt to defuse a growing political crisis, the Pakistani government has announced the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice. The move comes as Pakistan was facing mass streets protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. On Friday, Zardari ordered Pakistan’s main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to be placed under house arrest. Sharif defied the order and held a large protest in Lahore on Sunday. Sharif was threatening to march to Islamabad, but the protest was called off after the government announced the reinstatement of Chaudhry. Chaudhry and sixty other judges were dismissed in 2007 by former president General Pervez Musharraf.

Israeli Troops Shoot US Activist in West Bank

An American activist from Oakland, California was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Thirty-seven-year-old Tristan Anderson is the fourth member of the International Solidarity Movement to be critically injured or killed by the Israeli military since 2003.

Jonathan Pollack of the ISM: “He was shot at directly with a tear gas projectile, with an extended range tear gas projectile from about fifty to sixty meters. And the impact caused several condensed fractures to his skull and collapsation of his eye socket. He was operated on in the hospital a few hours later in critical condition, and large portions of his frontal lobe had to be removed, because it was splattered with bone fragments as a result of the impact of the tear gas canister.”

During their weekly demonstrations since last April, four unarmed N’alin residents have been killed and over 400 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Red Cross Report: US Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding. The author Mark Danner published parts of the secret Red Cross report in the New York Review of Books. Danner said the Red Cross’s use of the word “torture” has important legal implications. Danner said, “It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading.’ The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”

Cheney: Obama Policies Are Making US Less Safe

Hours after excerpts of the Red Cross report were published, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CNN. He was asked whether he believed President Obama was making Americans less safe by abandoning some of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism techniques.

Dick Cheney: “I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles. President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he’s making some choices that, in my mind, will in fact raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Obama: US Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charge

Dick Cheney’s comments came days after the Obama administration said it will no longer consider prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to be enemy combatants. Despite abandoning the label, the administration claims it still has the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge even if the individual is captured far from any battlefield and has not directly participated in hostilities.

Madoff Lawyers File an Appeal for his Release

Attorneys for Bernard Madoff have filed an appeal to challenge a judge’s decision to keep the former chairman of NASDAQ in jail until his sentencing in June. On Thursday, Madoff pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding investors of $64 billion. He faces up to 150 years in prison. Meanwhile, newly released court documents show Madoff and his wife had a net worth of over $800 million at the end of last year. Their assets included homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and the French Riviera, a $7 million yacht, a $2 million fishing boat and $2.6 million in jewelry. Madoff’s wife is trying to keep nearly $70 million worth of assets, including a penthouse Manhattan apartment, claiming her money has nothing to do with her husband’s scheme.

China Expresses Concern over Safety of US Investments

In other economic news, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has publicly expressed concern about the security of China’s trillion-dollar investment in US government debt. Wen said, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.” China is America’s biggest foreign creditor.

European Lawmakers Meet with Hamas Leader in Syria

On Saturday, a European delegation met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in the first announced visit of a European delegation to meet with Hamas leaders. Members of the delegation included British Parliamentarian Clare Short.

Clare Short: “We’re very clear that to make progress we need to talk to Hamas, because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinian people. So we’re trying, by our visit, to bring more and more parliamentarians to open up discussion with Hamas in order to move things forward in the hope that we can, in the end, get a just peace.”

Two Israeli Police Officers Shot Dead in West Bank

Two Israeli police officers were shot dead on Sunday near the settlement of Masu’a in the northern West Bank. An organization calling itself the “Imad Mughniyeh Group” claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban Bomb Kills Four US Soldiers

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for setting a roadside bomb that killed four US soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the mayor of Kandahar survived an assassination attempt Sunday when a remote-controlled bomb was place on a wheelbarrow near his office. The bombing killed one person and injured six others.

US Missile Strike Kills Four in Pakistan

The US has carried out another missile strike inside Pakistan. A US Predator drone fired two hellfire missiles at a home near the Afghan border. The strike reportedly killed four militants.

Hilda Solis Sworn in as Labor Secretary

Former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis has been sworn in as Labor Secretary. In her first day in office, Solis announced the suspension of Bush administration rules that made it easier for companies to hire immigrants as so-called guest workers. Solis said today’s economic climate makes educating workers more important.

Hilda Solis: “In times of economic crisis, giving Americans the tools they need to find and keep good jobs must be our priority. Now, more than ever, we must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. Retooling our workforce not only helps workers but supports high growth industries by ensuring they have the adequate skills that workers need.”

New Mexico Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

New Mexico has moved a step closer to abolishing the death penalty. On Friday, the state senate voted 24-to-18 to end capital punishment, but it is unclear if Democratic Governor Bill Richardson will sign the repeal bill.

Vermont Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

In Vermont, hearings begin today on whether the state should legalize same-sex marriage.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested in Tennessee

In Tennessee, fourteen anti-coal activists were arrested Saturday as they participated in a die-in in front of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters in Knoxville. Organizers said the action was held to show solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and the survivors of the recent coal ash disaster outside of Knoxville.

Arizona’s Oldest Newspaper, Tucson Citizen, to Close

And in Arizona, the state’s oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, has announced its final issue will be on Saturday. The paper is owned by the Gannet chain. Meanwhile, members of the San Francisco Chronicle’s largest union have agreed to contract concessions that parent company Hearst Corporation says are essential to keeping the newspaper open.

Headlines: U.S. Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008; Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008; Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

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.

Madoff Jailed After Guilty Plea

The billionaire financier Bernie Madoff has pleaded guilty to all eleven counts against him for his role at the helm of one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff entered the plea Thursday at a federal courthouse here in New York. In a ten-minute statement, Madoff said he is “deeply sorry and ashamed” for his actions. Madoff is accused of running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. He has been jailed pending a June sentencing hearing, where he faces up to 150 years in prison. Several former Madoff clients who lost their life’s savings were among the hundreds in attendance. Applause broke out in the courtroom when the judge announced Madoff would await his sentencing in jail.

Madoff victim Burt Ross: “Oh, sure. Tremendous satisfaction when they put the cuffs on him. That’s justice. We don’t live by mob rule. I was concerned that people would be yelling and shouting. There was none of that. It was a dignified courtroom.”

An attorney for a group of former Madoff clients, Rob Intelisano, said unanswered questions remain.

Rob Intelisano: “I think they’re satisfied that he’s going to jail immediately. I think they would have been happy to hear a little bit more about, you know, what happened, how long the fraud took place, who else was involved, whether the family members were involved. I mean, you could tell that Madoff was clearly trying to protect the family and his own employees in his elocution.”

Fed: US Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008

A new government report says American families lost a record-high amount of wealth last year. According to the Federal Reserve, American families in 2008 cumulatively lost 18 percent of their wealth. The losses amount to $11 trillion, equal to the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the UK. As losses add up, debt is also skyrocketing. Mortgages and credit card debt now amount to $13 trillion, or 123% of after-tax income. In 1995, debt amounted to 83 percent of income.

Report: Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

The author of an authoritative study on climate change says he underestimated the dangers of global warming. In 2006, the British economist Lord Stern wrote the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which argued the costs of fighting climate change would amount to one percent of annual global GDP by 2050. By contrast, the report said the cost of doing nothing would amount to up to 20 percent of world GDP. But speaking at a UN meeting in Copenhagen, Stern revised the latter figure, saying the cost of inaction could be up to a third of the world’s wealth.

US Restores Funding to UN Population Fund

Among the measures in this week’s omnibus spending bill is a provision reversing the Bush administration’s ban on funding for the UN Population Fund. Funding ceased in 2002 with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, which restricts money for organizations that counsel, provide or advocate for abortions. With President Obama’s signing of the spending bill on Wednesday, the US will provide the fund with a $50 million commitment. UN Population Fund director Thoraya Obaid hailed the new US stance.

Thoraya Obaid: “We warmly applaud this action by President Obama. This is a much, much needed support. It will contribute to UNFPA’s ongoing effort to support governments to decrease maternal mortality, improve maternal health, and prevent HIV/AIDS. Certainly, this funding will advance the health and rights of women in all countries all around the globe. We’re very happy to receive this money.”

Spending Bill Moves US Toward Cluster Ban

The spending bill also includes a provision that will move the US toward a ban on cluster bombs. Under new rules, US military weapons must now have a self-destruct failure rate of less than one percent, a standard few cluster bombs can achieve.

US Attack Kills 18 in Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least eighteen people have been killed and another fifty wounded in an apparent US missile attack. A Pakistani security official said the victims were al-Qaeda militants and operatives. The attack occurred in the tribal area of Kurram near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Defying Crackdown, Pakistanis Begin Protest March

In other news from Pakistan, opposition activists are vowing to intensify protests despite a heavy government crackdown. The Pakistani government banned public gatherings in two key provinces and jailed hundreds of people ahead of a protest against President Asif Ali Zardari. On Thursday, demonstrators began a march from the city of Karachi to Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of several dismissed judges.

Obama Extends Iran Sanctions

President Obama has extended a section of US sanctions against Iran for at least another year. Thursday was Obama’s deadline to extend or end restrictions barring US companies from involvement in the Iranian oil industry and blocking trade and investment ties.

US Complains to Israel on Gaza Blockade

The US has again complained to Israel over the blockade of aid supplies to the Gaza Strip. The State Department agency USAID says Israel has prevented goods including jam, toothpaste and toilet paper. On Thursday, Israel rejected a shipment of tuna, canned meat, diapers, wet wipes, sterile gauze, blankets, candles and flashlights.

Hamas Criticizes Rocket Attacks

In other news from Gaza, the Hamas government has criticized recent rocket attacks at nearby Israeli towns. In a statement, Hamas said the rockets have not been fired by its resistance fighters and vowed to find those responsible. The Israeli government cited Palestinian rocket fire as the reason for its assault on Gaza, even though it was Israel that broke the ceasefire with a deadly November 4th attack. The news comes as a leading Palestinian human rights group has officially increased its count of the Palestinian death toll from the Gaza assault. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says 1,434 Palestinians were killed, up from the previous toll of 1,300. The center says 960 of the dead were civilians.

Doctors Without Borders Withdraws Remaining Darfur Aid Workers After Kidnapping

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Border says it’s begun withdrawing remaining workers in Darfur after the kidnapping of three staff members. Three of the group’s five field operations had remained active despite the Sudanese government’s expulsion of aid workers following the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last week. But Doctors Without Borders director Christopher Stokes said a new round of kidnappings have forced its complete withdrawal.

Christopher Stokes: ”As a consequence of this kidnapping, given the deteriorating security conditions in Darfur, the remaining MSF sections, knowing that two Medecins Sans Frontieres sections had been expelled last week, but the remaining three–Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium, Switzerland and Spain–who had had full authorization to continue working providing life-saving assistance, have also decided to withdraw their teams, not because they’ve been expelled, but because of the security conditions for the moment are so unclear and don’t allow us to remain in the field.”

US Opposes Harm Reduction at UN Drug Talks

In Vienna, UN talks over a new global strategy to combat illegal drugs have ended in a gridlock between the US and several other nations. The US led opposition to inclusion of “harm reduction” in the final document for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Several countries say they’ll interpret the document to condone harm reduction anyway. Harm reduction measures include methadone clinics and needle exchange programs for heroin users. On Thursday, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs head Antonio Maria Costa said anti-drug programs must approach addiction through a range of social and medical factors.

Antonio Maria Costa: “What do we have in mind for health? Well, certainly we have in mind recognizing–and member states are doing so, growingly, but not all yet–that a drug addiction is a health condition, is a vulnerable condition, is physical, is psychological, is emotional, perhaps is contextual–low income, being at the margin of society, family conditions. It has to be dealt with as an illness, and therefore it has to be dealt with by doctors and not by policemen.”

The US has been widely criticized for its longtime resistance to decriminalization and treatment-based alternatives.

GOPers Threaten Salvadorans over Election Outcome

Back in the United States, two Republican lawmakers have issued threats over the outcome of Sunday’s national elections in El Salvador. On Thursday, Republican Congress members Trent Franks of Arizona and Dan Burton of Indiana said Salvadorans living in the US could lose their immigration status and the right to send remittances home if the leftist FMLN party wins the vote. Polls indicate the FMLN will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has long had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.

RNC Chair Apologizes for Apparent Pro-Choice Stance

Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele is coming under criticism from members of his own party after taking an apparent pro-choice stance on abortion. In a new interview with GQ magazine, Steele refers to abortion as an “individual choice.” Steele released an immediate retraction, saying, “I tried to present why I am pro-life while recognizing that my mother had a ‘choice’ before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life.” It’s the second time in as many weeks Steele has backtracked over comments that drew Republican ire. Last week, Steele apologized to right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after the two engaged in a public fight over the leadership of the Republican Party.

Cuomo, Lawmakers Mull Plan to Link Exec Pay to Performance

The Wall Street Journal is reporting New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is in talks with lawmakers on a plan to condition Wall Street pay on how well a firm performs. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank has voiced support for the proposal.

Study: Half of Infant Products Contain Carcinogens

And a new study says more than half of leading name-brand infant care products contain dangerous levels carcinogenic chemicals. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, products including Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Baby Magic lotion tested positive for one or both of dioxane and formaldehyde. The chemicals are not active ingredients but instead a byproduct of the manufacturing process.

Headlines: Shoe-Throwing Journalist Sentenced to 3 Years; Bush Admin. Ran Executive Assassination Ring

Democracy Now Headlines: Shoe-Throwing Journalist Sentenced to 3 Years; Bush Admin. Ran Executive Assassination Ring

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.

Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist Sentenced to 3 Years

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison. A reporter for Al-Baghdadiya television, Muntazer al-Zaidi drew worldwide attention when he hurled his shoes at Bush during a news conference in December. Zaidi was convicted of assaulting a foreign leader. His attorney and family have claimed prison guards have abused Zaidi since his jailing. Earlier today, Zaidi’s brother, Uday Zaidi, rejected the verdict.

Uday Zaidi: “They told us of the verdict when we entered the court. Unfortunately the court is politicized.”

Reporter: “Will you appeal the verdict?”

Zaidi: “We have already appealed the verdict but the verdict was taken before session. The Iraqi justice is not independent and it is not honest, and I scorn those who said the Iraqi justice is independent. The Iraqi justice is not independent and it is politicized. This court was set up according to Paul Briemer decisions and the verdict of the court was issued according to Bush decisions.”

Ex-Hussein Aides Sentenced to 15 Years

In other Iraq news, two top officials under the Saddam Hussein regime have been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Former foreign minister Tariq Aziz and presidential advisor Ali Hassan al-Majeed were convicted of a crime against humanity for their alleged roles in the 1992 killings of 42 merchants. Fluent in English, Aziz was known as the international face of Hussein’s government prior to the U.S. invasion. He is widely believed to have wielded little influence in Hussein’s government.

2 Journalists Among Dead in Baghdad Suicide Attack

The death toll from Tuesday’s suicide bombing west of Baghdad has risen to thirty-three people. The dead included two Iraqi journalists with the Cairo-based Baghdadiya TV. Another television reporter was also critically injured.

Pakistan Arrests Activists, Bans Gathering Ahead of Anti-Gov. Protest

In Pakistan, hundreds of activists have been jailed ahead of today’s massive protest march by opponents of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistani government has also banned public gatherings in two key provinces. The march was initially organized to demand the reinstatement of the deposed Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Obama Conditions Palestinian Aid on Recognizing Israel’s “Right to Exist”

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Obama administration has announced it will withdraw its entire $900 aid pledge if the pending Palestinian unity government doesn’t recognize Israel’s “right to exist.” The warning was reportedly delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week. Clinton told Abbas the U.S. Congress won’t approve Palestinian aid unless the Palestinian government also renounces violence. No such conditions have been imposed on Israel. The Israeli government refuses to renounce violence and has never recognized the right of Palestine to exist. Palestinians have also criticized the demand they recognize Israel’s “right to exist” because it forces them to go beyond recognizing Israel within secure borders, but in fact affirm the legitimacy of their dispossession and ongoing occupation.

Obama Seeks $100B for Global IMF Assistance

The Obama administration says it will ask Congress for a $100 billion dollar commitment to the International Monterary Fund to aid struggling nations hit by the economic crisis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said poorer countries need assistance for the downturn to reverse.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “It’s time now for us to move together and to begin to act to put in place a stronger framework of reforms. A lot of good work has happened, but we need to now bring this together so that we’re together as a world economy working together. Everything we do in the United States will be more effective if we have the world moving with us.”

It’s unclear what kind of conditions recipient nations would face for accepting the new IMF aid. President Obama said Geithner will push for greater international commitments at an upcoming summit of G20 finance ministers.

President Obama: “We’ve got two goals in the G20. The first is to make sure that there is concerted action around the globe to jumpstart the economy. The second goal is to make sure that we are moving forward on a regulatory reform agenda that ensures that we don’t see these same kinds of systemic risks and the potential for this kind of crisis again in the future.”

Hersh: Bush Admin Ran “Executive Assassination Ring”

The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed the Bush administration ran an “executive assassination ring” that reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh says U.S. operatives have secretly gone into countries and executed suspects on a target list. The operation was apparently run under the extra-legal Joint Special Operations Command, overseen only by the White House. Hersh made the disclosure while speaking Tuesday at the University of Minnesota.

Italy Court Dismisses Evidence in CIA Kidnap Trial

Italy’s top court has dealt prosecutors a major setback in the trial over the CIA kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. Twenty-six Americans are being tried in absentia along with several former Italian intelligence officials. On Wednesday, Italy’s Constitutional Court threw out most of the evidence in the case on the grounds prosecutors have violated so-called “state secrecy.” Omar was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to US bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt. He says he was tortured there during a four-year imprisonment.

Obama Signs Spending Bill; Provisions Include Increased Chemical Disclosure

President Obama has signed into law the $410 billion dollar omnibus spending bill funding the federal government for much of this year. The bill includes a measure that will force companies to provide more information on chemicals they release into the environment. The provision reverses a 2006 Bush administration regulation that eased requirements on reporting chemicals.

Obama Issues 1st Signing Statement

With his signature on the spending bill also came Obama’s first signing statement, a presidential declaration freeing him from following some of the bill’s contents. Obama took issue with five provisions, including one relating to negotiations with foreign governments and international organizations.

Foreclosures Rose 6% in February

Newly-released figures show the number of homes threatened by foreclosures rose thirty percent in February over the same period last year. According to RealtyTrac, nearly 291,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month, up 6 percent from January.

Opening Door to Dismissal, Judge Faults Prosecutors on Al-Arian Plea Deal

A federal judge has paved the way to throwing out charges against the Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian. In a new ruling, Judge Leonie Brinkema says Al-Arian may have been duped into thinking his plea bargain protected him from future prosecutions. Brinkema has given Al-Arian’s lawyers ten days to ask for the case’s dismissal. Al-Arian was released in September after over five years prison but still faces charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organizations in northern Virginia. He was initially accused of being involved in the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but a Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges against him. Still, Al-Arian chose jail time rather than undergo a second trial after prosecutors re-filed charges. Al-Arian’s defense lawyers argue prosecutors have violated his plea deal by subsequently charging him for refusing to testify in cases that have nothing to do with him.

Pro-Single-Payer Demonstrators Burn Insurance Bills

In Washington, D.C., a small group of demonstrators rallied for single-payer health care outside the national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans on Wednesday. A handful of protesters burned their health insurance bills as an act of protest. The rally was called by a new group called ‘Single Payer Action’ that is advocating direct action to demand a single-payer health insurance system in the United States.

“One Spring Break” to Protest Torture, War

Many U.S. colleges go on spring break tomorrow. One group of students will be using their time off to rally against what it calls “illegal occupations and the use of torture by the United States government.” The group, Our Spring Break, says it will join a march organized by Witness Against Torture. The group’s website is OurSpringBreak.org.

Emphasizing Treatment, Obama Picks Seattle Police Chief for Drug Czar

The Obama administration has nominated Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the nation’s new drug czar. The White House announced the pick as it also unveiled a new plan to emphasize treatment over jailing in drug-related cases. Under the policy, the Obama administration will order greater use of alternative drug courts that allow offenders to seek treatment rather than serve jail time. Kerlikowske said efforts should focus on reducing demand.

Gil Kerlikowske: “The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them, and that starts with our youth. Our nation’s drug problem is one of human suffering. And as a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities.”

Kerlikowske’s says his step-son has struggled with addiction. Appearing with Kerlikowske, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. will also focus on the drug wars in Mexico.

Vice President Joe Biden: “Since the beginning of last year, there have been nearly 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. If we had said that years ago, we would have looked at each other like we were crazy. But, 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. Violent drug trafficking organizations are threatening both the United States and Mexican communities.”

EU Report Faults Global Strategy on Drugs

Kerlikowske’s nomination comes as the U.S. takes part in a UN conference in Vienna on setting a global drugs strategy for the next decade. A new European Commission report says the previous decade’s strategy has been a failure. The U.S. has been widely criticized for its long-time resistance to de-criminalization and supporting treatment-based alternatives.

Morales Calls for Decriminalizing Cocoa Leaf

Bolivian President Evo Morales is among those attending the conference. On Wednesday, Morales chewed on a cocoa leaf and called on President Obama to stop massive eradication programs against it.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “We know that a part of the Coca leaf is diverted towards an illegal programme: cocaine. We are very responsibel. We’re not defending cocaine. And we are never going to defend it. We’re not the cocaine culture. So, with the new president, Obama, we want to improve relations and have common plans.”

Obama Launches White House Council on Women and Girls

Back in the United States, President Obama has signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. The Obama administration says the Council will “provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls” and ensure government agencies consider how their policies impact women and families. Senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett will serve as the council’s chair.

Obama, Clinton Honor “Women of Courage”

At the State Department, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored eight women from around the world at the third annual Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage. The women are chosen based on nominations from U.S. embassies.

First Lady Michelle Obama: “The women we honor here, standing on this stage today, risk their lives to fight for themselves and for their mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and friends. And in doing so, they create a better society not just for them, but for their fathers, sons, brothers, grandfathers, and husbands. The women we are honoring today are not just changing their own circumstances, they are changing the world.”

The eight women come from Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Niger, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

Justice Dept. Opens Civil Rights Probe of Arizona Sheriff

After months of growing scrutiny, the Justice Department has launched a civil rights probe of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio has been accused of overseeing a discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. He recently made headlines for parading a group of chained undocumented prisoners through the streets of Phoenix before transferring them to the infamous Tent City jail. Last year, a group of Latino activists in Arizona filed a lawsuit accusing Arpaio of racial profiling. The Arpaio investigation is believed to be the Justice Department’s first related to immigration enforcement.

Madoff Expected to Plead Guilty on All Counts

At the time of this broadcast the indicted financier Bernie Madoff has arrived at a New York federal courthouse. He’s accused of operating one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff is expected to plead guilty to all eleven felony charges against him. He faces a prison sentence of 150 years.

Headlines: Tibetans Mark 50 Years of Uprising; 1 in 50 U.S. Children Homeless

Democracy Now Headlines: Tibetans Mark 50 Years of Uprising; 1 in 50 U.S. Children Homeless

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.

US: Iran Lacks Material for Nuke Weapon

US intelligence analysts have concluded Iran lacks sufficient material for a nuclear weapon and hasn’t yet decided if it wants to try to make one. Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples was questioned by Republican Senator John McCain.

Sen. John McCain: “General Maples, Do you believe that it is Iran’s intention to develop nuclear weapons?”

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples: “I believe they are holding open that option, sir, but I don’t believe they have yet made that decision.”

Senate OKs Spending Bill After Treasury Assures Cuba Embargo Backers

The Senate has approved a $410 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for much of this year. The vote came after the Treasury Department assured supporters of the US embargo on Cuba that new provisions in the bill will mark almost no change from current policy. The spending bill was held up last week amidst opposition to several provisions loosening trade and travel restrictions with Cuba. But in a letter sent to lawmakers opposed to easing the embargo, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the provisions will be narrowly enforced. As the Obama administration touted the continued restrictions, a group of South American defense ministers issued a call for ending the embargo. The twelve ministers were gathered at a meeting of the twelve-country Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR.

Uruguayan Defense Minister Jose Bayardi: “Right now Cuba does not represent any security problem for the US. And US policy with respect to Cuba is more determined by internal pressure, by lobby by North American Cubans. That’s the frank analysis of the situation.”

Obama Unveils Education Reforms

President Obama has proposed a new set of reforms to fix what he calls a crumbling education system. On Tuesday, Obama called for a longer school year and higher pay for top teachers.

President Obama: “The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens. And my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation. We have the best universities, the most renowned scholars. We have innovative principals and passionate teachers and gifted students, and we have parents whose only priority is their child’s education. We have a legacy of excellence and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did.”

Biden Urges NATO Support on Afghanistan

Vice President Joe Biden was in Brussels Tuesday to make a new appeal for international backing of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. Speaking at a NATO gathering, Biden defended the Obama administration’s escalation of the Afghan war.

Vice President Joe Biden: “I know the people of Europe, like the people of my country, are tired of war, and they are tired of this war. But many of our citizens, both here in Europe and at home, question why we need to send troops and treasure so far from our homes. But we know–we know that it was from the space that joins Afghanistan and Pakistan that the attacks of 9/11 occurred. We know that it was from the very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack on Europe since 9/11 and the attack on Mumbai.”

The Obama administration has ordered an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan and is hoping for more non-US forces, as well.

Intel Pick Withdraws Nomination, Blasts Israel Lobby

The Obama administration’s pick to become the nation’s top intelligence analyst has withdrawn his nomination after an intense lobbying campaign by backers of Israeli government policies. Former US Ambassador Charles “Chas” Freeman had come under Republican-led opposition over his comments criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Freeman has years of diplomatic experience, including stints as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and assistant secretary of defense. Some Democrats joined in on the opposition to Freeman’s appointment.

In a statement, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer took credit for Freeman’s withdrawal, saying, “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”

In a statement, Freeman blasted lobby groups, lawmakers and pundits who support Israeli government policies for forcing his withdrawal. Freeman wrote,

“The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency…The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.”

Freeman continued,

“I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.”

Gaza Family Sues Israeli Government

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a Palestinian family that lost twenty-nine relatives in the Israeli attack on Gaza has filed a $200 million lawsuit against the Israeli government. The ordeal of the Samouni family drew international attention after it was revealed Israeli forces shelled their homes and then blocked medical aid. In addition to the twenty-nine dead, another forty-five relatives were injured, most of them children. Family member Naela Samouni described her family’s ordeal.

Naela Samouni: “My mother-in-law died, my sister-in-law and her daughter and two more people. The majority of my family died in the home that I am standing in now. Of course, we’re going to file a lawsuit against them.”

The surviving members of the Samouni family now live in the rubble of their destroyed homes.

Suit: Israel Stealing West Bank Resources

Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights group has filed a High Court challenge seeking to block Israeli digging in the occupied West Bank. The group, Yesh Din, claims Israeli mining in the West Bank amounts to a robbery of Palestinian resources. Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said Israel is violating international law.

Michael Sfard: “The natural resources that are digged out of the earth in the West Bank is transferred into Israel for the benefit of the Israeli construction market. This is, of course, an illegal enterprise. It violates the very basic principles of international law and laws of belligerent occupation. It is also immoral, because we’re literally swallowing chunks of the earth of the West Bank that belongs to the people of the West Bank and for their future development.”

According to Yesh Din, 75 percent of the resources mined by Israeli companies in the West Bank are being transferred to Israel. Some of the remaining gravel is being used to construct new Israeli settlements that further carve up Palestinian land.

Clinton Sees Hope in Haiti for “First Time”

In Haiti, former President Bill Clinton joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday to promote an anti-poverty initiative being launched there. Clinton said he sees signs of hope in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Bill Clinton: “I have followed Haiti for more than three decades. This is the first time I have ever really believed that the country had a chance to slip the bonds of poverty and escape the heritage of oppressive government and misgovernment and abuse of people that have held people down too long.”

Clinton is sometimes described as a champion of Haitian democracy for restoring the overthrown elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after the first US-backed coup. But Clinton was widely criticized for forcing Aristide to accept US-imposed neoliberal economic policies as a condition for his return to office.

Tibetans Mark 50 Years of Uprising

Here in New York, hundreds of pro-Tibet demonstrators marched through the streets Tuesday to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China. The marchers passed by the UN and the Chinese consulate.

Protester: “Today is the fiftieth anniversary after we losing our country. So we are here to raise our voice to all the international people, especially to the Chinese, to say that Tibet was an independent and is an independent country still. So we are here together to tell the world the story about our Tibetan cause.”

A parallel demonstration was held near the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. The Dalai Lama marked his fifty years in exile on Tuesday by calling for “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet and accusing China of imposing a “hell on earth.”

Afghan Journalist Once Jailed by US Slain in Kandahar

An Afghan journalist once jailed by the US military has died in Afghanistan. Twenty-three-year-old Jawed “JoJo” Ahmad was shot and killed while reporting in Kandahar. Ahmad’s death comes less than six months after his release from US military imprisonment after nearly a year of being held without charge. He was working as a videographer for the Canadian television network CTV when US forces jailed him in October 2007. He later revealed US soldiers broke two of his ribs, deprived him of sleep and held him in a grave-like cell during his captivity. After his release, Ahmad said he wanted to tell his story and help other prisoners abused at the US-run Bagram prison where he was held. In a statement, law professor Barbara Olshansky of International Justice Networks said, “‘s death should compel all who have stood in the way of examining US policies in Afghanistan to make way for the investigation that has been needed for eight years. We are all responsible for the death of a brave young man who worked for the US and Canada in Afghanistan and paid the ultimate price for his heroism.”

Van Jones to Advise Obama on Green Jobs

The Obama administration has tapped author and activist Van Jones to become a special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. Jones is expected to start work next week. He is author of the bestselling The Green Collar Economy, which lays out a plan for a green economy he says could help solve the nation’s economic inequality while also addressing the long-term environmental threats to our survival as a planet. Jones is the founding president of Green for All and the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. That group challenges human rights abuses within the US criminal justice system.

Attorney: Madoff to Plead Guilty on All Charges

The indicted financier Bernie Madoff appeared in a federal court Tuesday on allegations of operating one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff was arrested last year and accused of running an estimated $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff’s lawyer says he will plead guilty to all criminal charges in court tomorrow. He faces a prison sentence of 150 years.

Staffers Force Disabled Youths to Fight at Texas Facility

In Texas, caretakers at a state-run residential facility have been caught forcing disabled youths to fight each other. Cell phone video shows staffers provoking and then shoving the youths to ensure they start fighting. Corpus Christi Police Captain Tim Wilson called the fights some of the worst child abuse he’s seen in over thirty years.

10 Die in Alabama Shooting

In Alabama, a lone gunman killed at least nine people in a shooting spree Tuesday before taking his own life. Four of the victims were relatives of the gunman.

Study: 1 in 50 US Children Homeless

A new study says that one in fifty American children are homeless. The National Center on Family Homelessness says the number marks an increase over ten years ago and continues to grow.

Foreclosed Homeowners Call for Bankruptcy Reform

In Washington, D.C., a bus tour of foreclosed homeowners made its final stop Tuesday after a cross-country trip. The “Recovery Express” picked up passengers who lost their homes in eight cities across the nation. Edith Adachi made the trip from Chicago.

Edith Adachi: “My home is gone. I’m never going to get that home back again. But there’s many of you who have homes and now in foreclosure, and there’s something we can do about them. And I’m here to represent all those people.”

The “Recovery Express” was organized by the group People Improving Communities through Organizing, or PICO. Organizers are calling for bankruptcy law reform that would grant troubled homeowners the right to appear before a bankruptcy court if banks won’t negotiate with them.

Green Architect Greg Franta Found Dead at 58

And the green architect Greg Franta has been found dead. His body was discovered inside his car in a ravine between Golden and Boulder, Colorado. It appears that he crashed on his way home over a month ago, when he was reported missing. Greg was the chief architect at Rocky Mountain Institute and named Colorado architect of the year in 1998. He worked with the Clinton administration to make the White House more energy efficient. He had been spearheading the building of Democracy Now!’s new studio, which we are looking forward to being the first LEED-certified TV/radio/internet studio in New York City. In this video for the Rocky Mountain Institute, Franta spoke about the importance of green building.

Greg Franta: “When we think about high-performance buildings, it’s having a lower environmental impact, and it’s good for our economy. Creating a place for the building users, so it becomes sustainable in a variety of ways.”

Greg Franta was fifty-eight. His death is a tremendous loss for us all. Our condolences to his family and to the Rocky Mountain Institute, which we know will continue to pursue his dreams of building a more sustainable world.