Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Mining Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

Democracy Now Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out 'Public' Health Care

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.

Admin Rules Out U.S. Re-settlement for Gitmo Prisoners

The Obama administration says its scrapping plans to let foreign prisoners cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay live in the United States. The White House had already announced its opposition to admitting a group of seventeen Chinese Uyghur prisoners even though they were no longer designated ‘enemy combatants’ and ordered immediately freed. Administration officials cited Congressional opposition to the Uyghurs’ release in arguing they stood no chance in convincing lawmakers to accept other freed prisoners.

6 Gitmo Prisoners Freed

The news comes as four of the Uyghur prisoners have been released to Bermuda, where they will live as foreign guest workers. The U.S. is still in talks to send the remaining thirteen to the Pacific archipelago of Palau. Two other Guantanamo prisoners were also released Thursday and sent to their home countries of Iraq and Chad. The Chadian, Mohammed El Gharani, was the youngest Guantanamo Bay prisoner on record, having been arrested in Pakistan at the age of fourteen.

Dems Resolve Gitmo, Photo Differences in War Funding Bill

Congressional Democrats meanwhile have reached an agreement on a war funding bill that would authorize the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to stand trial in the United States. The measure does not include language allowing indefinite detention as President Obama has inititally proposed. The White House also dropped a request for a provision imposing a Congressional ban on the release of photos showing the abuse of prisoners at U.S. jails in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama said he will continue to seek the photos’ censorship through an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Anti-War Lawmakers Urge Rejection of War Funding

The war funding bill includes more than $90 billion dollars for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and is expected be voted on next week. In a letter to other House members who have previously opposed war funding, Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey of California and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio urged them to retain “steadfast opposition” to the new bill. Speaking on the House floor, Kucinich said the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is based on “aggression and lies.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “A new administration and the same old war, with an expansion of the war in Afghanistan. We cannot afford these wars. We cannot afford these wars spiritually. They are wars of aggression and they are based on lies. We cannot afford these wars financially. They add trillions to our national debt and destroy our domestic agenda. We cannot afford the human cost of these wars, the loss of lives of our beloved troops and the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq , Afghanistan , and Pakistan.”

Senate Backs Sweeping Tobacco Regulation

The Senate has approved a measure that would strengthen government regulation over the tobacco industry. On Thursday, Senators voted 79 to 17 to give the Food and Drug Administration new authority in overseeing the manufacture and marketing of tobacco. The FDA would be able to ban the most harmful of the thousands of chemicals used in cigarettes and reduce the amount of nicotine. Tobacco companies would also be forced to disclose the ingredients in their products. The House passed a similar measure last month. A longtime cigarette smoker himself, President Obama has vowed to sign the legislation into law.

Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

President Obama was in Green Bay, Wisconsin Thursday to promote his push for health care reform. Speaking at a town-hall style event, Obama rejected criticism of his calls for creating a government-run public insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

President Obama: “To those who criticize our efforts, I ask them, ‘What’s the alternative?’ What else do we say to all the families who spend more on health care than on housing or on food? What do we tell those businesses that are choosing between closing their doors and letting their workers go?”

Obama’s comments were aimed at critics who have opposed any type of public health plan. Private insurers have opposed a government-run program out of fear they’d be unable to compete with its cheaper costs. Obama did not however address his progressive critics who advocate the creation of a single-payer system that would eliminate for-profit insurance companies entirely. As Obama promoted his version of a public insurance program, a key Senate Democrat said he would oppose any form of public health care. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair leading Congressional efforts on health care reform, said he would propose a plan based on creating member-based insurance cooperatives not run by the government. Bacus explicitly ruled out using the word “public”, saying: “It’s not going to be public, we won’t call it public, but it will be tough enough to keep insurance companies’ feet to the fire.”

Von Brunn Charged With Murder in Holocaust Museum Shooting

The white supremacist James von Brunn has been charged with murder for Wednesday’s shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. On Thursday, Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, spoke of her son’s life.

Jacqueline Carter: “He’s just a beautiful person. He liked his job and he worked a lot. It would be just like him to try and protect people from harm.”

Von Brunn remains in critical condition from wounds sustained when other security guards returned fire. Meanwhile Thursday, the FBI acknowledged it had been “aware” of Von Brunn’s hateful writings about religious and ethnic minorities but that it never launched a criminal probe.

WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of the swine flu a global pandemic. On Thursday, the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to six, its highest level. Health officials say the alert level means the swine flu has spread to two world regions and doesn’t signify a likely increase in deaths or serious cases.

General: Afghan Violence Worse Since 2001

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. General David Petraeus said the attacks hit a more than seven-year high last week. Addressing the public outrage in Afghanistan over scores of deadly U.S. attacks, Petraeus said*: “This is the graveyard of empires. . . . It is a place that has never taken kindly to would-be conquerors.”

Iran Holds Presidential Elections

In Iran, a record turnout is expected today for a presidential election between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and three opposition candidates. Ahmadinejad is facing a stiff challenge from Mir Hossein Mousavi, an architect and artist who served as Prime Minister of Iran between 1981 and 1989.

Carter: Hamas Key to Future Peace Deal

Former President Jimmy Carter is renewing criticism of the U.S.-led boycott of the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Speaking on a visit to Syria, Carter said the U.S. and Israel should drop their refusal to deal with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. Carter also called for a prisoner exchange that would see the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza for some of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Jimmy Carter: “I don’t believe there is any possibility to have peace between Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved directly in harmony with Fatah. My hope is that we could see some agreement between Hamas and Israel with the release of Shalit and an equivalent, the release of prisoners that Israel is holding, Palestinians.”

Aid Groups to Return to Darfur

In Sudan, the Sudanese government has authorized several aid groups to return to Darfur. Sudan expelled the groups in March after the International Criminal Court charged President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with committing war crimes in Darfur. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the groups have been readmitted on the condition they change their names and logos. Holmes also said the aid groups will return to humanitarian crisis that worsened during their absence.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “However effective the efforts of the government, United Nations, the remaining NGOs have been in preventing a further immediate crisis, they have not yet replaced and can not easily or rapidly replace the capacity and skills lost. Current levels of assistance in some areas remain well below the necessary standards to which we subscribe, and as we enter the hunger gap and rainy season, the needs and gaps will only be further exacerbated.”

Thousands of Peruvians Rally Against Indigenous Crackdown

In Peru, thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations Thursday to support an indigenous protest against oil and natural gas exploration in the Amazon rainforest. Police used tear gas on a crowd of at least 20,000 protesters near the national Congress in Lima. Tensions have flared after last week’s police killings of an estimated 30 civilians at an indigenous roadblock. On a visit to Cuba, Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced support for the indigenous protests.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It’s not possible that the most oppressed people in Latin America’s history be humiliated like we have seen in recent days in some regions. We hope these problems are a lesson in understanding the demands, the demands of defending life, the environment, the planet earth and humanity, as Fidel said.”

The unrest in Peru has ties to U.S. trade policy. The land laws that sparked the uprising were passed under “fast track” authority granted to Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government to implement the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Activists Protest Schumer for Backing Peru Trade Deal

On Thursday, three activists were released from jail following their arrest for blockading the New York offices of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The activists say they confronted Schumer for his refusal to address human rights concerns in voting for the U.S.-Peru trade deal in 2007.

New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective

Environmental groups and Appalachian activists are criticizing new Obama administration rules on mountaintop removal as too lax on the coal industry. On Thursday, the White House unveiled new regulations governing mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits, imposing more extensive environmental reviews, and asserting federal authority over state-level regulators. But critics say the rules offer few specifics and will have little effect if any. Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice said: “The administration is proposing… to essentially [rearrange] the bureaucratic deck chairs on the disastrous ship that is mountaintop removal. They announced… no substantive policies to actually stop the destruction [it’s] caused.’

Interior Report Criticizes Bush Sale of Utah Land

A new Department of Interior report has faulted the Bush administration for its rush to sell off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah last year. The report says the Bush administration did not follow longstanding procedures in trying to sell off 22 parcels of land. The sale was later cancelled by Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The report’s findings could bolster the defense of a college student who disrupted the auction by posing as a bidder. The student, Tim DeChristopher, is currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction.

Iraq War Vet Commits Suicide

In California, a 24-year old Iraq war veteran has committed suicide. Former Army Specialist Trevor Hogue was found dead in his childhood home last week. He had hung himself to death. His mother says he was left seriously emotionally scarred after witnessing a bombing attack on other members of his unit.

Owner of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Sentenced to 1-Year Term

An owner of a California dispensary for medical marijuana has been sentenced to one year in prison. The owner, Charles Lynch, was given the jail term despite the Obama administration’s vow not to prosecute medical dispensers who comply with state law. But federal judge George Wu said the new federal policy would not affect his ruling.

Survey: 2.8M Homes Unprepared for Switch to Digital TV

And analog television signals will shut off tonight as the U.S. completes the transition to digital TV. The survey group Nielson says around 2.8 million homes remain unprepared for the switch. Most of the unprepared households fall in the low-income, elderly and rural demographics.

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Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

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.

Tamil Tiger Leader Killed; Sri Lanka Claims Victory

Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war is in its final throes, with the militant Tamil separatist group, the Tamil Tigers almost completely defeated. The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed earlier today while trying to flee in an ambulance. Several other senior Tamil Tigers have also been found dead. On Sunday the Sri Lankan military claimed victory after the Tamil Tigers said it was “prepared to silence its guns” and admitted that the fighting had reached a “bitter end.” An estimated 8,000 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka since January when the military intensified it attack on the separatist group. We’ll have more on Sri Lanka after headlines.

Rumsfeld Covered Briefing Papers in Biblical Texts

GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly placed Biblical quotes on President Bush’s top-secret briefings during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a U.S. soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Another briefing paper included a photograph of a U.S. tank next to the quote “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” A third briefing paper showed U.S. tanks entering an Iraqi city alongside the quote “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” Some Pentagon officials were concerned that, if Rumsfeld’s top secret briefings were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was a battle against Islam. One Pentagon official warned the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

Obama Criticized For Reviving Military Commissions

Human rights organizations are criticizing President Obama’s decision to revive the military tribunal system for Guantanamo Bay prisoners despite the administration’s pledge to grant prisoners expanded legal rights.

Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch: “This has been tried before. The first round of military commissions were struck down by the Supreme Court. They were revived under slightly improved rules and once again they were still profoundly unfair. They allowed coerced evidence into the courtroom and they had terrible hearsay rules, the judges didn’t even know what the rules were. The proceedings were totally chaotic. This will be the third time that there is an effort to resurrect the military commissions and we have absolutely no faith that they are going to be any better, even if you do improve the rules slightly.”

On Friday President Obama unveiled new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the tribunal system.

Robert Gibbs: “The president, as I said, during the debate said that properly structured military commissions had a role to play. The changes that he is seeking, he believes, will ensure the protections that are necessary for these to be conducted in order to reach that certain justice, as well as live up to our values.”

Report: U.S. Special Forces Sent Into Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. is sending Special Forces into Pakistan to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Twenty-five to fifty Special Forces personnel are deploying to two new training camps in Baluchistan, a Taliban stronghold on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

Report: 1,000 Suspected Taliban Killed in Pakistan

The Pakistani military is now claiming it has killed more than 1,000 suspected Taliban fighters along the Afghan border. Pakistan is considering widening its offensive to outside of the Swat Valley. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told the Sunday Times of London: “Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” The military offensive in the Swat Valley has already displaced more than a million people.

29 Killed in U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan

Meanwhile the U.S. has carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan, killing as many as 29 people Saturday in South Waziristan.

Brother of Afghan President Survives Attack

In Afghanistan, gunmen attacked the convoy of President Hamid Karzai’s brother earlier today. Ahmad Wali Karzai survived but the gunmen killed one of his bodyguards.

Blackwater Guards Shot Civilian Car In Afghanistan

Four U.S. contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul earlier this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians. The contractors were off duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking.

Obama Addresses Abortion Debate At Notre Deame

During his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Barack Obama called on both sides of the abortion debate to tone down their rhetoric and search for common ground.

President Obama: “The fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

About 40 people were arrested at Notre Dame Sunday protesting President Obama’s support of abortion rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi Put on Trial in Burma

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial today on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest after a US man swam to her home. If convicted she faces a further five years in detention. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 19 years in detention. We’ll have more on Burma later in the show.

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet in Washington

President Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. Obama is expected to ask Netanyahu to freeze Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while Netanyahu is expected to stress that “time is running out” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The meeting comes as reports emerge that Israel has begun constructing a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years. Tenders have been issued for 20 housing units in the new Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundational work.

The group Israeli Peace Now movement called the move proof that “Netanyahu is not ready to commit to a two-state solution” and is striving to “prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Four Kuwaiti Women Elected to Parliament

In Kuwait, a group of women have won election to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time. The U.S.-educated economist Roula Dashti is one of four women who won seats.

Roula Dashti: “Change is coming to Kuwait; we want a culture of solutions to many issues we can cooperate in. We want a constructive debate and if it’s God’s will this period will be the period for building a nation”

Women in Kuwait gained the right to vote and to run for office in 2005.

Russian Police Break Up Gay Rights Parade

In Russia, riot police police broke up a peaceful gay rights parade in Moscow Saturday and detained 40 people. The march had been outlawed by Moscow authorities.

Obama Taps Republican Governor To Be China Envoy

President Obama has named Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman is a Republican who had been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin, served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the administration of President George Bush from 2001-2004. He also served as co-chair of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Jon Huntsman: “You have my commitment that we will take the U.S.-China relationship to new heights- focused on not just that which divides us but more importantly, that which unites us knowing that this will be critical for lasting peace and prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Pacific. I’m reminded of my favorite Chinese aphorism, it goes something like this: ‘Together we work, together we progress.’ This more than anything else I think captures the spirit of our journey going forward.”

General Electric Begins Dredging Hudson River

General Electric has begun dredging for PCBs in the Hudson River, 25 years after the contamination was deemed a federal Superfund site. GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson before PCBs were banned in 1977. The contaminated sediment will be transported by train to a hazardous waste site in Andrews Texas near the New Mexico border. The Sierra Club in Texas has opposed the plan. Neil Carman said: “All they’re doing is relocating toxic waste, They’re moving a problem from one location to another [and] creating problems for future generations to solve.”

While GE is paying to clean up the river, the company is still challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law in federal court.

Obama Taps GE Attorney To Be Nation’s Top Environmental Litigator

Meanwhile President Obama has tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said: “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

In other environmental news, the Obama administration has given the green light for 42 more mountaintop removal permits dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath.

FBI Spied on Iowa Protesters Before Republican Convention

The Des Moines Register has revealed an FBI informant and an undercover Minnesota sheriff’s deputy spied on political activists in Iowa City last year before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Confidential FBI documents obtained by paper provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

Peruvian Indigenous Groups Fight Plans to Develop Natural Resources

And the Peruvian government has sent troops into the Amazon to squash protests by Peruvian indigenous groups who oppose plans develop the region’s natural resources. On Friday the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle called for an insurgency against new laws that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango: “The national committee for the struggle appointed by all of you has decided by expressed mandate to prepare itself to declare our (indigenous) communities as an insurgency against the government of Mr. Alan Garcia Perez… Insurgency means disobeying the government because of the mistreatment. They abuse us. They are killing our communities.”

More Mineral Exploration in the Upper Peninsula

Mineral Exploration in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Save the Wild UP–an environmental group organizing opposition to a proposed sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–is reporting that Kennecott Minerals (who is pursuing the sulfide mine) and another company, Trans Superior Resources, are currently looking for uranium and metallic minerals in the Ottawa National Forest.

Save the Wild UP writes:

“Kennecott is pursuing three separate project areas located within the Ottawa. According to a Forest Service scoping letter, the company is looking for “all base and precious metals and other precious and semi-precious minerals”. The 640-acre “Watersmeet” parcel is located roughly four miles southeast of Watersmeet; the 200-acre “Haight” parcel is located roughly 8 miles northwest of Watersmeet; and the 395-acre “Bates” parcel is located on Perch Lake, roughly 20 miles north of the town of Iron River.

Trans Superior is also pursuing three parcels, totaling 920 acres in an attempt to locate “nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, palladium and associated minerals.” All are located just east of Prickett Lake and roughly 8 miles southwest of the town of Baraga. The company had previously obtained federal uranium prospecting permits from the Ottawa for exploration activities adjacent to the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness as well as for locations east and northeast of Lake Gogebic. The new Prickett Lake projects are immediately to the northeast of the Sturgeon Wilderness.”

Both companies have been heavily involved in mining projects in the Upper Peninsula. Trans Superior’s parent company, Bitterroot Resources, has a joint venture agreement with the uranium mining company Cameco.

Public comment is currently being accepted and will be accepted indefinitely during the current “scoping” period. Once the forest service completes an environmental assessment for the projects, there will be another 30-day comment period.

Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop “War on Terror” Terminology

Democracy Now Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop 'War on Terror' Terminology

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.

Admin Proposes New Authority to Seize Non-Bank Firms

The Obama administration is seeking Congressional approval for the authority to seize troubled non-banking firms. The proposal would grant regulators powers similar to those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over banks. The government could cancel contracts, including bonuses, as well as sell off company assets or debts. Speaking before the House financial services committee Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke said the proposed new authority could have prevented the government bailout of AIG had it been in place. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week.

Obama Defends AIG Response, Pushes Budget

President Obama meanwhile appeared in the second White House news conference of his presidency. Obama was asked about his slow response to news of the AIG bonuses.

CNN Correspondent Ed Henry: “Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, “Look, we’re outraged.” Why did it take so long?”

President Obama: “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Obama meanwhile tempered his previous criticism of Wall Street, saying executives shouldn’t be “demonized.”

President Obama: “Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more.”

Obama focused his appearance on touting his $3.6 trillion dollar budget as it heads towards a House and Senate vote. Democratic leaders say they’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during committee talks. A vote could come as early as next week. Obama meanwhile offered his first comments on Russia and China’s proposal for a new global currency, saying he’s against the idea.

Bailed-out J.P. Morgan to Buy Luxury Jets

The bailed-out financial giant J.P. Morgan says it’s going ahead with with a $138 million dollar plan on two luxury jets and a deluxe aircraft hanger. The firm has received $25 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Projects

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining projects for a new review of their environmental impact. Mountaintop removal has been widely criticized for endangering waters and streams in the Appalachian Valley. The review effectively overrides last month’s federal appeals court ruling that backed the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to oversee mountaintop removals. Environmentalists had previously won court judgments affirming that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act. In a related action, the EPA also announced it will block two projects that had won Army Corps approval. The EPA says the mountaintop removals would have endangered streams in West Virginia and Kentucky with thousands of feet of mining waste.

Probe: Labor Dept. Fails to Safeguard Worker Rights

A new Congressional probe says the government agency for enforcing labor laws has failed to protect workers. In a report set for release today, the Government Accountability Office says the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division hasn’t adequately enforced violations of minimum wage, overtime and other labor rights. The study says agency officials mishandled nine out of ten cases brought by undercover agents posing as workers. Some investigators dropped cases simply because the accused employers didn’t return their calls. Others waited months to respond to worker complaints and then said it would take another several months to act on them. The report says: “Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn. Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

Specter Withdraws Support for Employee Free Choice Act

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has dealt a blow to organized labor, announcing he won’t support the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. It’s been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who’ve launched a multi-million dollar lobbying and ad campaign to stop it. Specter had previously signaled support for the bill and its sponsors had been counting on his backing.

Health Insurers Offer to Drop Overcharging for Illness

The nation’s private health care industry has made a new concession in its effort to stave off proposals for a government-run health care program. On Tuesday, the two main health insurance trade groups said they would be willing to stop charging sick people higher fees if all Americans were required to buy insurance. The proposal doesn’t completely rule out continuing charging varying premiums, and would only allow apply to individual customers, not small businesses.

State Rep.: “What’s Medicaid?”

A veteran Republican state representative is coming under criticism for admitting he doesn’t know what Medicaid is. Speaking before a hearing of the Texas state Health and Human Services Committee, Gary Elkins said: “What’s Medicaid? I know I hear it … I really don’t know what it is.”

Obama Admin Backs Ban on Foreign Scholar

The Obama administration has apparently decided to continue the former President George W. Bush’s policy of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a federal appeals court hearing Tuesday, a government lawyer argued in favor of maintaining a ban on a prominent Muslim intellectual 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 Palestinian charity. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the ban on Ramadan’s behalf.

Pentagon Memo: Drop “War on Terror”

The Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration appears to be dropping the phrase “the global war on terror.” In a memo sent to staffers this week, a Pentagon security official writes: “This administration prefers to avoid using the term “Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror.’ Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'” An Obama administration official said there has been no official policy change and that the memo solely reflects the opinion of the author. But its directives conform to recent public testimony from senior officials.

Labor Joins Incoming Israeli Government

In Israel, the Labor party has overcome internal opposition to join incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud government. Both the Labor and Likud parties agree on maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land but Likud has more forcefully rejected peace talks. Labor leader Ehud Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Labor only won thirteen seats in last month’s election.

Clashes Follow Far-Right Israeli March in Arab Town

In other news from Israel, dozens of far-right Israeli activists marched in Israel’s largest Arab town on Tuesday, setting off a protest from residents that ended in clashes with Israeli police. Mohammed Baraka, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, condemned the march.

Mohammed Baraka: “This attack on the citizens has no other explanation but that the police are used to hit and fire toward the Arabs wherever they are. On the other hand when an extremist group demonstrates against our existence, under the name of freedom, they give them the chance to walk in the streets, protected by 2,500 soldiers and policemen. But the people who came to defend their houses and their existence, are suppressed by the police in a very horrible way.”

South Africa Cancels Peace Conference Following Dalai Lama Ban

South Africa has cancelled a global peace conference following an uproar over its ban on the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending. The South African government has been accusing of caving in to China, one of its largest trading partners. On Tuesday, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, condemned the move.

Mandla Mandela: “It is a sad day for South Africa, it is a sad for Africa and we are a nation that is striving to be a leader in the African continent, to also be advanced as far as our peace initiatives we have in Burundi and Sudan. I am very saddened today to see that someone like the Dalai Lama who all our laureates hold highly, has been turned down on their visa application.”

UN Warns on Darfur Aid

The UN is warning of dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on foreign aid groups in Darfur. 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. On Tuesday, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the remaining aid groups are inadequate.

Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “While a significant effort is being made by the government, by the UN, by the NGOs which are left to plug some of the immediate gaps in these areas, these are at the same time band aid solutions, if I can put it that way, not long term solutions.”

10 Die in Afghan Bombing

And in Afghanistan, at least ten civilians have been killed and another six wounded in a roadside bombing. The attack targeted a road used by foreign soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

Longwall Mining: A Destructive Means of Obtaining Coal

Across Michigan, utility companies are proposing the construction of seven new coal-fueled power plants to meet the state’s rising energy needs. Corporate CEOs are arguing that the plants are necessary, while citizen groups–such as Clean Energy Now–are opposing the plants.

However, behind the coal that provides us with much of our electricity are destructive mining processes that are destroying the natural environment and ruining communities across Appalachia.

Where Michigan’s Coal Comes From

Michigan and Consumers Power Rely on Coal from Mountain Top Removal Mining

While much of this advocacy work highlights the cost of coal-fueled pollution in terms of CO2 emissions and global warming, the question of where the coal burned in Michigan comes from, is often ignored. Michigan has not mined coal since the 1960s, instead importing it from Wyoming and Appalachia where coal seams are more lucrative.

In recent years, coal mining–which always has been associated with environmental degradation–has adopted more destructive technologies, such as mountain top removal mining. Mountain top removal mining is a process through which the tops of mountains are blasted off to expose seems of coal. This process dumps earth in the surrounding valleys, often polluting waterways and occasionally destroying homes.

Consumers Energy uses coal obtained through this process to fuel coal burning plants servicing the Grand Rapids area.

Longwall Mining: A Lesser Known, but Still Destructive Process

Longwall Mining is Environmentally Destructive

However, while mountain top removal mining has received considerable attention, another destructive mining technique–longwall mining–has received little attention.

Earlier this month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report titled “The Hidden Costs of ‘Clean Coal’: The Environmental and Human Disaster of Longwall Mining” that looks at this technique. Following its year long study, The Center writes:

“…most Americans have never heard of longwall mining. Our project aims to change that, and to expose the havoc wreaked by an industry peddling a “clean coal” campaign. The longwall machine may not look as dramatic as blasted mountaintops, but it is quietly collapsing not just the ground below but the communities above it.”

How Longwall Mining Works

Longwall mining has been developed for use in southwestern Pennsylvania and northern Appalachia about thirty years ago. It’s attractive to coal companies because it increases productivity and profits. It manages to increase productivity because unlike traditional coal mining techniques, longwall mining extracts all of the coal in a seam.

The process uses underground mines with large steel shearers that slice off entire coal seams. Removing the coal seams leaves caverns that can be up to five feet tall. No coal remains, which leaves a void cut out of the ground. This void is often filled by collapsing earth–a phenomenon called “subsidence.” Subsidence causes disruption to wildlife, the depletion of water resources, and damage to surface structures.

Effects of Longwall Mining

Longwall mining is having a devastating affect on Appalachia according to the report:

  • Structures above a longwall mine almost always suffer subsidence, forcing homeowners to contend with such damages as shattered foundations, crooked roofs, and cracked plaster. By last September, 1,819 property owners had reported longwall damages since the state began documenting such complaints.
  • Longwall mining dams, diminishes, and dries up water sources. Scientists have found the practice is permanently lowering the area’s water table and draining its aquifers; state regulators have reported damages to 23 stretches over 97 miles of mined streams.
  • The environmental fallout has hit farmers so hard that the agricultural land and farming community are dwindling.
  • State policymakers have fostered this destruction through the mining law and environmental regulations, leaving citizens virtually powerless to undo harm.

Despite these effects, mining companies are generally allowed free reign to mine wherever they wish, provided that they work with homeowners to address structural damage and damage to water supplies. These commitments are addressed with varying degrees of success, with coal companies occasionally offering up solutions–such as the use of water buffalos when wells dry due to the mining–or downplaying the damage.

Longwall Mines Produce an Increasing Amount of Coal, but with Little Oversight

In 2007, longwall mines produced 176 tons of coal or 15% of the total US production. An estimated 10% of all electricity now relies on coal obtained through this process. After debuting in the 1980s, 40% of coal mines used longwall mining by 1993.

However, despite the prevalence of longwall mining, government regulation is limited and often tends to function mainly as a way of “rubber stamping” the plans of coal companies’. Coal companies and government officials have downplayed damages, saying that it is difficult to know what potential consequences may be in advance.

Judge Rules in Favor of Kennecott Mine Air Quality Permit

An Ingham County Circuit Judge ruled last week that the Michigan DEQ ruled appropriately whne it granted an air quality permit to Kennecott Eagle Minerals. Kennecott is hoping to build a controversial sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula.

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An Ingham County Circuit Judge has ruled that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) ruled appropriately when it <a href="http://www.mlive.com/newsflash/michigan/index.ssf?/base/business-18/122667624126360.xml&storylist=newsmichigan&quot;.gave Kennecott Eagle Minerals an air quality permit for a proposed sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The lawsuit was filed by the Huron Mountain Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Additional hurdles remain before the mine can begin operating, including an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water discharge permit and the results of a hearing over whether or not the DEQ ruled appropriately when it gave a permit to Kennecott to operate the mine and discharge water.

Opponents of the mine–who have been organized for over two years in the UP–argue that the mine will produce acidic run-off that threatens the watershed.

Granholm’s UP Director Resigns to Work as Lobbyist for Mining Company

Governor Granholm’s director of the Governor’s Office for the Upper Peninsula has resigned to work in “government relations” for a controversial mining company whom he often spoke with on behalf of the governor.

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Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s director of the Governor’s Office for the Upper Peninsula has resigned to work for a controversial mining company.

Matt Johnson–who held the position–has been the governor’s representative on a number of key decisions pertaining to a proposed sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula. That mine would be operated by Rio Tinto (the parent company of Kennecott), whom now employs Johnson as a “Government Relations” official. Johnson was the governor’s contact on sulfide mining since 2003, working with the governor and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to formulate laws regulating sulfide mining and providing her with talking points on the mine.

Unfortunately, this kind of “revolving door” is common for government officials, with regulators frequently moving between government positions and private sector jobs–often with the very companies they were charged to review. Michigan has particularly weak laws on this issue. Other states often require a one year (or longer) period to elapse before officials can take positions with private sector companies.

This is not the first time that Granholm’s administration has been criticized for its close ties to Kennecott. Back in 2007, environmental groups called for the removal Hal Fitch, a DEQ official who was allegedly responsible for withholding key reports critical of the mine’s safety.

Public Comment on Fish Threatened by Sulfide Mine Re-opened

The federal government has re-opened public comment on whether or not the Coaster Brook Trout–a fish threatened by a proposed sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–should be classified as an endangered species.

Save the Wild UP–an organization opposing the construction of an environmentally destructive sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–that the United States Fish and Wild Service is soliciting additional public input on whether or not the Coaster Brook Trout should be considered an endangered species. The trout’s only remaining spawning grounds is the Salmon Trout River that is threatened by possible pollution from the Eagle Project Sulfide Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains. Save the Wild UP encourages people to review information on the trout and comment. Designating the Coaster Brook Trout as an endangered species could be an important step in preventing the opening of the Eagle Project mine.

The Coaster Brook Trout is the namesake of Grand Rapids’ Coaster Brook Earth First! a group organizing locally to oppose the Eagle Project mine.

“Protect the Earth Summit” in the UP to Address Sulfide Mining

Groups organizing against a controversial sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula have planned a two-day rally for the first weekend of August to keep the pressure on Kennecott and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

A rally called the “Protect the Earth Summit: On the Shores of Gichigami” is planned for August 2nd and 3rd by opponents of metallic sulfide mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The event–taking place in Marquette and on the Yellow Dog Plains–will feature speakers from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario who will talk about their success in stopping uranium exploration and sulfide mining across the Great Lakes region. The event is being sponsored by Yellow Dog Summer, Keepers of the Water, and Students Against Sulfide Mining, with funding provided by the Western Mining Action Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

For more information, visit YellowDogSummer.wordpress.com.

Save the Wild UP, another group in the Upper Peninsula organizing against sulfide mining, recently published a piece titled “Kennecott’s Stuck in the Mud: Sulfide Mining Not A Done Deal” that explains that despite Kennecott’s proclomations, there are still many roadblocks remaining before the mine can begin operations.

Sulfide Mining Protest Friday

The group Coaster Brook Earth First! has planned West Michigan’s first protest against sulfide mining. It will take place on Friday at the offices of Warner, Norcross, & Judd, a law firm representing Kennecott Minerals.

Coaster Brook Earth First! has planned the first protest in West Michigan against sulfide mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It will take place at the offices of Warner, Norcross, & Judd, a law firm representing Kennecott Minerals.

“July 11 – Noon

5/3rd Building (111 Lyon St)

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Join Coaster Brook Earth First! for a protest at the offices of Warner, Norcross, and Judd, LLP in downtown Grand Rapids. The law firm is providing legal counsel to Kennecott Minerals, a company seeking to open a controversial sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Mining in sulfide-rich areas produces acid mine drainage–sulfuric acid that can leak into nearby wells, streams, and lakes. Mining on the Yellow Dog Plains could alter water quality and flow, devastating this fragile eco-system and threatening the health of various waterways.

Help Promote the Protest:

Full Size Poster

Quarter Sheet Handout