U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

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This week, the United States Senate passed a resolution that apologizes for slavery. It’s pretty sad that it took well over one-hundred years to get to this point, but at least it’s something. It should be noted that Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both co-sponsored the resolution.

To be sure, a Senate resolution can’t under the reality of dehumanization and oppression–or the legacy of slavery’s contemporary manifestations–a fact that the Senate recognizes:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;

The Senate resolution apologizes for both slavery and Jim Crow:

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sense of the Congress is the following:

(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

The Congress–

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

Of course, the kicker:

(2) DISCLAIMER.–Nothing in this resolution–

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

It’s disappointing that the resolution excludes the prospect of reparations, but that is likely to be an ongoing battle that needs to be waged by progressives and radicals.

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Headlines: Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing; Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing; Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding 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.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Backs Vote Outcome

In his first public response to days of protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has defended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rightful winner of last week’s presidential election. Addressing thousands of people at Tehran University, the ayatollah appealed for calm and called for an end to the protests calling for a new election. Khamenei’s comments come after six days of massive street demonstrations organized by backers of presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. On Thursday hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters rallied in Tehran to mourn those killed over the past week. Meanwhile the Iranian human rights attorney and Nobel Peace Prizer winner Shirin Ebadi has called for new elections under the watch of international monitors.

Shirin Ebadi: “I think that if new elections are organised but if there are no international observers, no matter what the outcome of these new elections would be, it could be protested and rejected by one or the other parties.”

Senate Approves $106 Billion War Funding Bill

The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly approved a $106 billion emergency spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue the war in Iraq. The vote was 91 – 5. Voting against the war-spending bill was Democrat Russ Feingold, Independent Bernie Sanders and three Republicans: Jim Demint, Mike Enzi and Tom Coburn. The spending bill also includes $420 million for the Mexican government to fight the drug war as well as increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. The House passed a similar war-spending bill earlier this week. Much of the spending bill will go toward expanding the U.S. war in Afghanistan. On Thursday Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted civilian casualties in Afghanistan have become a major strategic vulnerability in that war.

Robert Gates: “It is clear that we need to do much more to overcome what I believe is one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities. The Afghan people must be reassured that US and NATO forces are there as friends, partners and, along with Afghan security forces, their protectors as well.”

U.S. Moves Missile Defense System to Hawaii

Defense Secretary Gates has said the U.S. is moving ground-to-air missile defense systems to Hawaii as tensions escalate between Washington and North Korea Robert Gates said that the U.S. is concerned that Pyongyang might soon fire a missile toward Hawaii.

Supreme Court Denies Post-conviction DNA Testing

Prisoners attempting to challenge their convictions have been dealt a major setback by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled Thursday that criminals do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said it is up to the states and Congress to decide who has a right to testing that might prove innocence long after conviction. In the dissenting opinion, John Paul Stevens wrote QUOTE “there is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done.” The Innocence Project says DNA testing has exonerated 240 people nationwide, at least 17 of whom had been sentenced to die.

Court Ruling Limits Workplace Age-Discrimination Lawsuits

The Supreme Court has also issued a ruling that will make it much harder for older workers to win workplace age-discrimination claims. In another 5-4 decision, the court ruled that workers bear the full burden of proving that age was the deciding factor in their dismissal or demotion. The business community praised the decision, while the National Senior Citizens Law Center and AARP sharply criticized it.

Immigrant Rights Group Criticize Lax Sentencing in Penn. Murder Case

Immigrant rights groups are outraged over the sentencing of two white teenagers involved in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The teenagers will serve as little as six months in jail. Last month an all-white jury exonerated the two former high school football players of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating.

100 U.S-Born Children Filed Suit to Block Deportations Of Their Parents

100 U.S.-born children have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the deportations of their parents until Congress overhauls U.S. immigration laws. The Miami-based American Fraternity organization argues that the constitutional rights of these children are being violated because they will likely have to leave the country if their parents are deported.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested at West Virginia Mine

In West Virginia, 14 anti-coal protesters were arrested Thursday when then attempted to scale a 150-foot-high excavating machine at a mine owned by Massey Energy and unfurled a huge banner that read, “Stop Mountaintop Removal.” The piece of equipment, known as a dragline, can remove house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth. The protest shut down Massey’s Twilight Mine for several hours.

LA Teachers End 24-Day Hunger Strike

In Los Angeles, a group of teachers have ended their 24-day hunger strike to protest budget cuts. The teachers said they will now organize a campaign to recall some members of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. Thousands of Los Angeles teachers may soon be fired as the district faces a $700-million budget gap.

Peru’s Congress Overturns Land Laws

The Peruvian Congress has overturned two controversial land laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. The laws would have opened large areas of the Peruvian Amazon to logging, dams and oil drilling. Indigenous leader Daysi Zapata praised the decision by the Peruvian Congress.

Daysi Zapata: “Today is a very historic day for all indigenous people and the entire country of Peru. We, the indigenous peoples, are present here because we believe that the demands of the indigenous peoples were just.”

Texas Billionaire Stanford Surrenders to FBI

Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford has surrendered to FBI agents. The chairman of the Stanford Financial Group is to appear in court this morning. Earlier this year the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against Stanford and his top executives of conducting an $8 billion fraud.

Court Overturns Ban on Military Recruitment of Minors

In California a federal judge has struck down laws in two Northern California cities banning military recruitment of minors. Voters in Arcata and Eureka passed the laws last November.

Senate Apologizes For Slavery

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation of African-Americans. A disclaimer tacked on at the end of the bill said nothing in the resolution authorizes or supports reparations for slavery.

Aung San Suu Kyi Turns 64

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi turns 64 today. She remains under house arrest. Activists across the world are marking her birthday with vigils and protests.

Hortensia Bussi, 94, Widow of Salvador Allende, Dies

And Hortensia Bussi, the widow of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, has died at the age of 94.

Employee Free Choice Act Still Alive

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After a lot of hope following the election of President Barack Obama, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–a measure aimed at making it easier for workers to form unions–seemed destined for failure in March. A key Republican Senator–Arlen Specter–withdrew his support for the bill and a group of CEOs offered an alternative proposal that would effectively neuter the bill by removing a key provision–“card check”–that allows workers to form a union once a simple majority of workers support it.

However, there are recent indications that the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is back on track. According to an article in Roll Call, months of negotiations in the Senate (http://www.theittlist.com/site/ittlist/ind/5456/) are starting to pay off with some sort of deal apparently being near. Senator Tom Harkin says that the bill may be ready by next month. The newspaper further reports that Specter is now looking for a way to support the legislation in order to fend off a Democratic challenger in the next election.

While negotiations are taking place in the Senate, unions are also increasing their efforts in support of the legislation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an ad campaign targeting five Senators whose votes are considered key in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads assert that the vote for the EFCA is a choice between supporting working people and the greedy CEOs that were responsible for the current economic crisis.

Hopefully grassroots pressure from labor and social justice groups can keep the Employee Free Choice Act intact, but with how recent “compromise” efforts seem to be going on things like war funding and global warming legislation, I’m not terribly optimistic.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Senate Republicans Looking to Cut College Assistance; Complaints against GRPD Increase

It has been a slow morning, but here are some interesting articles published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours:

  • Senate Republicans to Cut Michigan Promise Scholarship, Other College Tuition Aid – Republicans in the Michigan Senate are looking to cut a variety of college tuition scholarships that help low income students attend college. The need-based programs they are looking to cut include the Michigan Promise Scholarship, the Michigan Work Study Program, the Part-Time Independent Student program, and the Michigan Education Opportunity Grants. I highly doubt such a move will do anything to help the state’s economy.
  • Granholm, MEDC Announce Over 11,000 New Jobs For Michigan – The local media–and the progressive blog Blogging for Michigan–is talking up an announcement from Governor Jennifer Granholm that over 11,000 new jobs are coming to the state. Included in that number are 3,100 new jobs in West Michigan.
  • As federal case continues, developers rush to finish elite golf course on public dunes – The Michigan Messenger looks at the continued development a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Benton Harbor. The course was built on the site of a former public park and has been at the center of a controversy between developers and citizens. Now, the company has begun construction while it awaits a federal court ruling on the development. It’s hoping to circumvent a full environmental review of the project. Despite all the controversy, Governor Granholm has praised the project as the kind of development that she hopes to see across Michigan.
  • Grand Rapids area in bottom 20 of Brookings Institution report, but economist sees hope – The Kent, Barry, Ionia, and Newaygo area ranks near the bottom of a Brookings Institution report that measures metropolitan unemployment, production, and housing. However, the Grand Rapids Press talks to a local economist who says that West Michigan actually is getting better.
  • Grand Rapids Police Department sees ‘unheard of’ increase in firearms discharge by officers; citizen complaints also rise – In less than two years, the GRPD has discharged their firearms six times–a substantial increase over previous years. Still, according to the GRPD, this hasn’t meant that there has been widespread injury to officers or suspects. Additionally, complaints are up, but the GRPD attributes that to a new reporting system.

Legislators Drafting Health Care Legislation have Financial Ties to the Industry

Last week, we highlighted an article in USA Today that explained how lobbyists are skirting federal campaign finance regulations by giving money to “honor” lawmakers. At the time, we wrote that it is an example of how corrupt the legislative process has become.

Now, there is another noteworthy example. Late last week, The Washington Post reported that most of the legislators drafting health care reform legislation have substantial investments in the sector:

Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer’s debate.

The list of members who have personal investments in the corporations that will be affected by the legislation — which President Obama has called this year’s highest domestic priority — includes Congress’s most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.

Rules for disclosing this information are limited and there are no rules that prevent members from having a financial interest in industries that they regulate.

Given that so many members of Congress profit from the health care industry, it’s no surprise that a single-payer health care system–which would create a government-sponsored insurance system–is largely off the table. a

Michigan Scientists to Legislators: Do Something About Global Warming

On Tuesday, a group of more than 150 scientists, researchers, and academics released a letter urging Michigan’s U.S. Representatives and Senators to take action against climate change by supporting measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The letter says that global warming could have devastating consequences on Michigan’s economy and environment and that in order to avoid such consequences, action needs to be taken.

Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers reacted to the letter, saying in The Grand Rapids Press that:

“The scientific community is pretty well in agreement that the amount of greenhouses gases are changing things … that it is, in fact, dangerous,” Ehlers said.

“It’s a major problem. Wishing it away doesn’t solve it.”

Ehlers indicated that he supports the cap-and-trade concept of dealing with emissions.

The letter is important because here in West Michigan, we see an awful lot of hyped “science” that purports to discredit global warming. We’ve had local TV meteorologists (Craig James and Bill Steffen) dismiss the science, the activities of a local think-tank, and numerous letters to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press that have denounced global warming, despite the scientific consensus on the issue. In that sense, hopefully this letter will make some headway in convincing people that there really isn’t a debate over global warming–it’s a scientific reality. Also, kudos to the Grand Rapids Press for not giving space to a “skeptic” to discount the impact of the letter.

Local signers include Prof. Al Steinman, aquatic biologist and climate change expert from Grand Valley State University; Prof. R. Jan Stevenson, climate researcher and biologist from Michigan State University; and Prof. Karel Rogers, biologist and climate researcher from Grand Valley State University.

The full text of the letter follows:

As scientists living and working in colleges and universities in the state of Michigan, we urge the Michigan Congressional delegation to support strong federal policies for rapid and deep reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We are convinced that immediate action is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming on Michigan’s economy and environment, including the Great Lakes. While slowing the damaging effects of climate change poses enormous challenges, we also believe such action presents Michigan with real opportunities to reinvigorate our economy and improve the quality of life for all Michiganders.

Controlling carbon emissions is critical to the energy future of our state and nation. It will help Michigan and the United States take full advantage of the clean renewable resources and energy efficient technologies that are available today. A workable federal policy to combat global warming will also encourage researchers, investors, and businesses to accelerate development and deployment of next generation energy technologies. Putting a price on carbon is a critical step toward building a clean energy future for the US and right here in Michigan.

Federal climate policy offers a unique opportunity to protect valuable natural resources and stimulate the economy ‐ the benefits to Michigan will likely far exceed the costs. A comprehensive federal climate and energy policy can provide the stable regulatory framework, appropriate market signals, and long‐ term investment commitment necessary to jumpstart new business, transition core industries, and enhance our global competitiveness. Recent studies have shown that capping carbon pollution and promoting energy efficiency could create millions of new jobs nationally and more than 150,000 new jobs in Michigan, nearly 50,000 of them in manufacturing. Michigan already boasts one of the nation’s largest solar components manufacturers, and will be one of the first states to produce advanced automotive batteries. Michigan universities are already partnering with major industries and suppliers, as well as Silicon valley funded start‐ups, to deliver next generation vehicles and fuels technologies, while we also put idled manufacturing capacity to work building components for wind turbines. Sound climate policy will accelerate this transition – it is a critical part of the stimulus our struggling economy needs.

Doing nothing is not a viable option for Michigan. Our state faces serious economic, social, and ecological impacts from global warming. If climate change continues on its present course, not only will we miss out on the new economic opportunities outlined above, but two of Michigan’s biggest industries, agriculture and tourism, could suffer. Additionally, climate change could seriously impact water quantity and quality in the Great Lakes, leading to greater conflicts over water resources in the region.

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, contributing $60.1 billion to the state’s economy annually and providing more than 1 million jobs, according to the Michigan State University Extension. About 24 percent of all Michigan workers are employed in the state’s agriculture/food system. Many of the jobs and much of the economic impact provided by Michigan’s agriculture industry could be lost if climate change continues on its present course. Conversely, Michigan universities are leaders in agriculture and bioenergy research, and Michigan farmers stand to gain from federal policy that promotes renewable energy and caps carbon pollution. Farmers, for instance, could realize new revenue by leasing land for wind turbines and assigning unproductive cropland to carbon offset programs and producing biomass for next generation renewable fuels.

Associated with warming temperatures, increased ozone concentrations can decrease crop production and damage one of Michigan’s few economic bright spots. Intense rainstorms during spring planting season and summer droughts, both of which have increased in recent decades, will continue with greater intensity under “business as usual” carbon emissions and will likely reduce agricultural productivity and pollute our surface waters, including the Great Lakes. Hotter, drier summers and more droughts will require additional irrigation for crops that were previously rain‐fed. Warmer winters will favor more southern insects, pests, and plant pathogens. Perennial fruit crops like Michigan’s tart cherries are particularly vulnerable to increased climate variability caused by regional warming. All of these factors could dramatically reduce agricultural production and increase costs for farmers, agribusinesses, and others who have either direct or indirect ties to Michigan’s important agriculture industry.

Left unchecked, climate change will also harm our state’s tourism industry. Tourism contributes $17.5 billion each year to Michigan’s economy and provides 200,000 jobs, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Winter sports, such as skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowboarding will suffer due to shorter, warmer winters. Warmer Great Lakes, rivers, streams, and inland lakes will change the distribution of fish species, and many species of cool‐water fish — including all four of our trout species (Brook, Lake, Rainbow and Brown Trout) — could disappear from our region. Bird‐watching activities will slow due to a decline in bird diversity, particularly among waterfowl and songbirds. Longer, hotter summers could increase beach use, but beach recreation could see a decline in activities because of more volatile weather and potential increases in pollution and waterborne‐ and insect‐ diseases.

Policymakers have a clear choice: allow climate change to continue on its present path and cause serious long‐term damage to Michigan’s natural resources and economy, or embrace an enlightened global warming solutions policy that will protect our air, water, land, and Great Lakes while spurring economic growth right here in Michigan.

For all these reasons, we urge the passage without further delay of reasonable global warming solutions policies that can give Michigan citizens, businesses, and farmers cost‐effective, clean and affordable energy.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Grand Rapids Considering Layoffs because of Budget Cuts; Senate Passes Foreclosure Bill

Here are some interesting stories covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

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

Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

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 Block Funds for Gitmo Closure

Senate Democrats are refusing to finance the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay until the Obama administration submits a detailed plan. On Tuesday, Democratic leaders said they would reject an $80 million request to relocate Guantanamo’s 240 prisoners and vowed to block the transfer of any prisoners into the United States. The move follows a similar action by House Democrats last week. It could mean delaying President Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by at least several months.

Senate Approves Credit Card Bill

The Senate has voted to impose new regulation on the credit card industry. The measure would give credit card companies a nine-month deadline to comply with new rules including a 45-day notice and an explanation before raising customers’ interest rates. They’d also be forced to post agreements on the internet and allow online bill payments without added fees. The measure is weaker than original versions that included an amendment to cap interest rates at fifteen percent. Other defeated proposals would have protected consumers from spending money they don’t have and limited how companies impose new fees. Meanwhile the New York Times reports banks are now considering a series of measures to recoup their anticipated lost profits from the new rules. The moves include imposing new annual fees and curbing cash-back and rewards programs to sterling borrowers. The House is expected to vote on the credit card bill as early as today. A final version could be held up by an amendment added to the Senate bill that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks. House leaders say they might vote separately on that proposal.

Admin Mulls New Regulatory Body for Financial Products

The Obama administration is reportedly mulling proposals for a new regulatory commission overseeing financial products and services including mortgages, credit cards and mutual funds. The proposed commission would be tasked with ensuring loans and other financial products are structured and marketed fairly.

Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards

President Obama has unveiled new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The rules aim to cut emissions by 30 percent and require passenger cars to average thirty-nine miles per gallon by 2016. On Tuesday, Obama noted the rules are the first to impose federal regulations on car emissions in the United States.

President Obama: “For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America.”

The White House estimates the regulations would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 900 million metric tons over the lifetime of more efficient vehicles. Appearing with Obama at the White House, California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger praised the new rules.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger: “We are very happy this has happened because it means a reduction of one-third of greenhouse gases and one-third of oil consumption. As you have heard the President said–this is reducing oil consumption by 1.8 billion gallons of oil. This is staggering. It’s the equivalent of taking 55 million cars off the road.”

U.S.-Russia Panel Says Missile Shield Wouldn’t Work

A joint American-Russian commission has concluded the proposed U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe would be ineffective against the types of Iranian missiles it would purportedly aim to stop. The Bush administration launched the program under the pretense it would protect Europe against Iran, but it’s widely seen as a far-strike weapon. The commission of U.S.-Russia scientists bolsters that perception. In their report for the EastWest Institute, the scientists say Iran is highly unlikely to produce a nuclear-tipped missile, and the proposed defense shield wouldn’t be able to stop one anyway. The scientists say Iran is years away from producing a nuclear warhead and could only do so with major and highly visible foreign assistance. It also notes Iran would be further unlikely to launch an attack because doing so would assure its own destruction through U.S. retaliation. The Obama administration has so far continued with the missile program but hinted it could be open to its cancellation.

Sri Lanka Blocks Aid Workers from Reaching Displaced

In Sri Lanka, the government continues to prevent aid workers from reaching some 300,000 people displaced in the fight with Tamil Tiger rebels. Earlier this week the Sri Lankan government declared victory after a twenty-six year war. The Times of London reports Sri Lanka is blocking the UN from reaching government run-camps housing refugees. There are fears camp populations will be hit with an outbreak of contagious diseases including hepatitis and dysentery.

Palestinian Authority Installs New Cabinet

In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new cabinet to head the Palestinian Authority. Former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was re-instated to his old post, along with several other members of the Fatah faction. Fayyad denied reports of renewed talks between Palestinian officials and Israeli leaders despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “I don’t think it’s really the right time to be talking about negotiation, when in fact there are understandings and agreements that have been reached that require immediate implementation. I don’t think Mr. Netanyahu set the right tone by clearly avoiding any reference to the possibility of a solution concept that has become a matter of the national consensus, namely the two-state solution.”

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum rejected the cabinet as illegitimate amidst ongoing national unity talks brokered by Egypt.

Fawzi Barhoum: “The formation of the government by Abu Mazen in the West Bank will reinforce the political chaos, judicial and legislative, which he is carrying out over there in the West Bank. This is considered to be a deliberate sabotage of the internal Palestinian dialogue and threatens the negotiations slated to take place in the future in Cairo.”

2 Americans Killed in Afghan Attack

In Afghanistan, two Americans have been killed in a roadside bombing near Kabul. The Pentagon says the victims were a U.S. soldier and a military contractor.

Pentagon: Blackwater Contractors Weren’t Allowed to Carry Weapons

In other news from Afghanistan, the Pentagon says four US contractors with the company formerly known as Blackwater weren’t authorized to carry weapons when they fired on an approaching vehicle in Kabul earlier this month. At least one Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors were off-duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking. The contractors now say Blackwater officials had supplied them with the guns in violation of their military contract.

Spanish Lawmakers Vote to Restrict Foreign Probes

In Spain, lawmakers are trying to block their judiciary’s war crimes investigations of foreign governments including the United States. On Tuesday, Spain’s Congress voted to limit judges’ jurisdiction to cases with a clear Spanish connection. Spain’s National Court is currently investigating 13 foreign cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction. They include the torture of U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The Spanish vote follows weeks of pressure by foreign governments seeking to curb the investigations. It’s unclear whether the vote will apply to the current cases or only to future ones.

Obama Envoys Disclose Speaking, Consulting Fees

Newly-disclosed financial statements show two top Obama administration envoys received hundreds of thousands of in consulting and speaking fees last year. Dennis Ross, who serves as special advisor for Iran, received more than $200,000 in speaking fees from pro-Israeli government groups. Ross refused to disclose how much he earned for appearances on the cable news network Fox News. Meanwhile, Obama’s envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, reported $1.7 million in income last year. Holbrooke’s earnings included more than $300,000 as a consultant for Coca-Cola and $10,000 for serving as a director on the board of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG.

U.S. Priest Slain in Guatemala

A U.S. priest who helped expose abuses by the Brazilian military dictatorship during the 1970s has been killed in Guatemala. The Reverend Lawrence Rosebaugh died Monday in a robbery attack by masked gunmen. He was 74 years old. In 1977, Rosebaugh hand-delivered a letter to First Lady Rosalynn Carter detailing his abuse at the hands of Brazilian forces, helping to bring international attention on the Brazilian dictatorship.

Uruguyan Writer Mario Benedetti Dies at 88

And the Uruguyan writer Mario Benedetti has died at the age of 88. A popular novelist and playwright, Benedetti was also an outspoken political commentator, criticizing U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Cuban embargo.

Headlines: Dozens of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombings; Doctors, Activists Confront Senate Panel for Ignoring Single-Payer Health Care

Democracy Now Headlines: Dozens of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombings; Doctors, Activists Confront Senate Panel for Ignoring Single-Payer 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.

Dozens of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombings

Dozens of civilians were killed Tuesday in a U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. Witnesses say U.S. warplanes bombed scores of homes during clashes with Taliban fighters in the Western province of Farah. Villagers reportedly brought truckloads of bodies to their provincial governor’s office. The Red Cross says dozens of civilians were killed, including many women and children. Estimates of the dead range from thirty to as many as one-hundred-and fifty. The attack comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for his first White House meeting sine President Obama took office. On Tuesday, Karzai said U.S.-Afghan relations are strong despite tensions over the bombing of Afghan civilians.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “We’ve had ups and downs, especially in the past year and a half in our relations with America. There were difficult moments over civilian casualties, there were tense moments over aid distribution and corruption and all that. But ladies and gentlemen, through this forum, I would like to inform the American people that the fundamentals of this relationship are very, very strong.”

Karzai says he’ll discuss the latest mass-killing of Afghan civilians when he meets Obama later today. The Obama administration has increasingly criticized Karzai since he began vocally condemning U.S. airstrikes and calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

Justice Dept. Torture Memo Probe Rules Out Prosecution

Prospects are dimming for the prosecution of Bush administration lawyers who authorized the torture of foreign prisoners. In a draft report, Justice Department investigators say the lawyers–John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury–shouldn’t face criminal charges for authoring memos that backed a range of abuses including waterboarding and physical assault. The report however does say they showed serious lapses in judgment, and recommends referring Yoo and Bybee to their state bar associations for possible disciplinary action, including disbarment. Bybee is an appeals court judge while Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

Report: Torture Backers Lobby to Sway Investigation

The leaked details of the Justice Department probe come amidst reports Yoo and Bybee have launched an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort to water it down. According to the Washington Post, Yoo and Bybee have encouraged former Bush administration colleagues to warn current Justice Department officials against recommending criminal prosecution.

U.S.: Bank of America Needs $34B

In financial news, a government assessment of the nation’s top banks has found Bank of America needs an additional $34 billion in capital. The amount is triple previous estimates of what the government’s ‘stress test’ was expected to recommend. The finding could result in U.S. taxpayers becoming Bank of America’s largest shareholder. Bank of America could raise the needed capital by taking the government’s existing $45 billion in non-voting preferred shares under the Wall Street bailout and converting it into common stock. Government officials are also expected to instruct the bailed out financial giant Citigroup to raise an additional $5 to $10 billion in capital. The full stress test results will be announced on Thursday.

AIG Bonuses Higher Than Previously Disclosed

The bailed-out insurance giant AIG has revealed its controversial bonus payouts were higher than previously disclosed. New figures show AIG paid out more than $454 million in bonuses last year–nearly four times the amount it reported in March.

Doctors, Activists Confront Senate Panel for Ignoring Single-Payer Health Care

On Capital Hill, a group of doctors and activists directly challenged Democratic Senators Tuesday for their refusal to discuss single-payer health care. The action came at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care reform. None of the fifteen witnesses called to testify support single-payer, and the committee chair’s, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, has dismissed single-payer as “off the table.” One by one, eight single-payer advocates stood up to challenge Baucus and call for single-payer.

All eight single-payer advocates were arrested. The action was organized by the groups Single Payer Action and Health Care Now!

Biden Criticizes Israeli Settlements, Checkpoints at AIPAC Meeting

The Obama administration has offered some rare public criticism of Israeli government policies. Speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said Israel should freeze settlement activity.

Vice President Joe Biden: “Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You’re not going to like my saying this but: not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, access to economic opportunity and increased security responsibility. This is a show-me deal. Not based on faith. Show me!”

Although the Obama administration has called for freezing the expansion of exisiting Israeli settlements, it’s yet to call for their dismantlement and Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

Hamas Leader Renews Acceptance of Palestinian State in ’67 Borders, Says Rocket Attacks Ceased

As Biden chided Israel, Hamas’ political leader renewed his acceptance of a Palestinian state within the Occupied Territories. In an interview with the New York Times, Khaled Meshal said: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Meshal also said Hamas fighters in Gaza have completely ceased firing rockets at nearby Israeli towns.

UN Asks Israel for Reparations in Gaza Attacks

A United Nations investigation has found the Israeli military was “negligent or reckless” toward UN facilities, personnel and other civilians during its three-week attack on the Gaza Strip ending in January. Israel attacked at least eight UN sites during its assault on Gaza, including a school where up to forty civilians were killed and a warehouse storing desperately-needed supplies. The report found Israel intentionally fired on a UN-run elementary school, killing three youths seeking refuge inside. The UN says it’s asked the Israeli government to formally acknowledge its claims of Palestinian militants firing from the sites were untrue. The report also calls on Israel to compensate the families of the UN workers killed or injured in the attacks. But in what critics are calling a major capitulation, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has explicitly rejected the report’s call for a further investigation into whether Israel violated international law. In a cover letter attached to the report, Ban praises Israel for its alleged cooperation in the probe and says: “I do not plan any further enquiries.” Ban was questioned about his stance at a news conference on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon: “I have no authority to edit or change or alter any recommendation and conclusions of this board of inquiry’s judgement. However, because it contains some very sensitive information, then I decided to summarize, respecting the integrity of these reported conclusions.”

40,000 Flee Swat as Pakistani Leaders Arrive in U.S.

In Pakistan, more than 40,000 people have reportedly fled the Swat Valley following clashes between Pakistani and Taliban forces. Both sides are blaming the other for the breakdown of a truce in the region. Despite the fighting, Pakistani officials say they’ve rescinded an evacuation order because they don’t plan to launch a new military offensive. Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in two districts bordering Swat. The unrest comes as Pakistani leaders are in Washington for meetings at the White House. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to meet President Obama later today. Testifying before Congress, Obama’s special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said the U.S. is fully backing Zardari.

Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “Pakistan as such is of immense importance to the United States strategically–that our goal must be unambiguously to support and help stabilize a democratic Pakistan, headed by its elected President Asif Ali Zardari. We do not think Pakistan is a failed state. We think it is a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies and we have, Mr. Chairman, the same common enemy.”

Iran Reviews Saberi Conviction After Family Drops Attorneys

In Iran, government officials have apparently forced the jailed Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi to drop a group of prominent lawyers including the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Saberi was sentenced last month to eight years in prison after being convicted of spying for the United States. Her father says she’s ended a two-week hunger strike protesting her imprisonment. On Tuesday, the Iranian judiciary said it would review Saberi’s conviction shortly after her family announced it won’t retain Ebadi and the other attorneys.

Mexican Journalist Killed After Warning of Threats

In Mexico, a journalist who warned of threats on his life by government officials has been shot to death. Fifty-two-year old Carlos Ortega Samper was killed one day after his warnings were published. He was shot three times by unidentified assailants in the

northern state of Durango.

Obama Proposes $63B for Global Health

President Obama has unveiled a $63 billion dollar proposal for new global health spending over the next six years. Obama says he’ll expand on U.S. funding for AIDS programs to also focus on tropical diseases and other treatable and preventable illnesses.

Several AIDS advocacy groups are criticizing the proposal, saying Obama has backtracked on a pledge to increase AIDS funding by $1 billion a year.

Supreme Court Ruling Prompts Calls for Dropping Postville Charges

The national bar association for immigration lawyers is calling on the Justice Department to drop charges against undocumented workers swept up in a raid on an Iowa meatpacking plant last year. Nearly 400 workers were detained at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, making it one of the largest raids in U.S. history. On Tuesday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said the charges should be dropped following this week’s Supreme Court ruling on identify theft. On Monday, the court ruled prosecutors must prove an undocumented worker knew false identity papers belonged to another real person.

Maine, D.C. Near Gay Marriage Approval

Maine has moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the Maine House voted 89 to 57 to allow gay marriage in the state, following a similar vote by the state Senate last week. Both chambers will each hold one more vote on the bill before sending it to Democratic Governor John Baldacci. Baldacci has previously opposed gay marriage but isn’t expected to issue a veto. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the city council has again voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states following a similar vote last month. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is expected to sign the measure, setting up a likely showdown with Congress, which approves D.C.’s laws under Home Rule.

Pentagon Withdraws Exoneration of Iraq War Propaganda Program

The Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office has withdrawn a report that exonerated military leaders for a propaganda program ahead of the Iraq war. Beginning in 2002, the Pentagon recruited more than seventy-five retired military officers to appear on TV outlets as so-called military analysts to portray Iraq as an urgent threat. In January, the Pentagon’s inspector general dismissed allegations the program violated laws barring propaganda and rejected reports showing the analysts used their Pentagon access to win government contracts for defense companies. On Tuesday, the Pentagon admitted the report was flawed and even removed it from its website.

Globe, Union Reach Deal

And the Boston Globe has reached an tentative agreement with its largest union amidst threats of the newspaper’s closure. The New York Times Company had threatened to close the Globe within sixty days if workers did not agree to a series of major financial and contract concessions. The Newspaper Guild says the deal will ensure the Globe’s continued publication. Meanwhile on Capital Hill, Senator John Kerry is set to hold a hearing today on the future of newspapers.

Headlines: Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Democrats; Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

Democracy Now Headlines: Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Democrats; Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

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.

Texas Reports First U.S. Swine Flu Death

The death toll from the global swine flu breakout continues to rise, including the first known fatality in the United States. Earlier today government officials said a twenty-three month old child died in Texas. It was the first swine flu death reported outside Mexico, where seven people have died in confirmed cases and another 159 in suspected cases. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said a global pandemic is a “very serious possibility” but not inevitable. World Health Organization Assistant Director Keji Fukuda said confirmed infections continue to rise.

Keji Fukuda: “Since yesterday there has continued to be an increase in laboratory confirmed cases of these swine flu influenza infections. So yesterday we reported that there were 73 infections and today we are reporting that there are 79 laboratory confirmed infections as of the information that we had this morning.”

The U.S. has at least 65 confirmed cases, 45 of them in New York. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state-wide emergency after authorities said they had confirmed thirteen cases.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Today I’m issuing an emergency proclamation to strengthen California’s response and what this basically does is it gives us some extra tools for our health authorities in order to respond very quickly and it also cuts through the red tape so that all state agencies will have to go and assist the Department of Public Health in every way possible.”

President Obama has asked Congress for $1.5 billion dollars in supplemental funding to address the swine flu crisis.

Rejecting “State Secrets” Assertion, Appeals Court Reinstates Torture Suit

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to torture chambers overseas. On Tuesday, a three- judge panel rejected the Obama administration’s assertion of so-called ‘state secrets’ privilege and said the case can proceed. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Obama administration’s opposition to the case carried over from the Bush administration, which had previously won the case’s dismissal. In its new ruling, the federal appeals court says the government’s assertion of secrecy should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner said: “Today’s ruling demolishes once and for all the legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed ‘secrets’ in a court of law.”

Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Dems

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has announced he’s leaving the Republican party to join the Democratic caucus on Capital Hill. The move could have a major effect on the balance of power in Washington. If Minnesota Senate winner Al Franken prevails in his legal battle with former Senator Norm Coleman, he and Specter would give the Democrats sixty seats–enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. On Tuesday, Specter said he is making the switch on ideological grounds.

Sen. Arlen Specter: “As the Republican Party moves farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more aligned with the philosophy of the Democratic Party. This is a painful decision. I know that I am disappointing many of my friends and colleagues. Frankly I’ve been disappointed by some of the response so the disappointment runs in both directions.”

By joining the Democrats, Specter will avoid a tough challenge in the Republican primary ahead of the 2010 mid-term elections. Despite switching sides, Specter says he’ll maintain his “independence.” On Tuesday, Specter vowed continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove obstacles for workers to join unions. Democratic leaders say they will re-tool the measure to gain Specter’s support.

Lawmakers Call for Special Counsel on Torture

In other news from Washington, Democratic Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler of New York and John Conyers of Michigan are calling for the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate and prosecute Bush administration torture. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the lawmakers write: “Because the United States is bound by its own laws and by international treaty, we are obligated to investigate and prosecute those who have violated the laws against committing torture.”

KBR Sued for Toxic Air Exposure

The military contractor KBR is being accused of endangering U.S. soldiers and contractors at open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a series of lawsuits filed on Tuesday, twenty-one plaintiffs in nine states said KBR failed to properly dispose of toxic waste burned in the open-air pits. The emissions from the burnt waste allegedly caused respiratory illnesses, tumors and cancers.

Student Pleads Not Guilty in Utah Land Case

In Utah, a college student who prevented a mass sell-off of public wilderness has pleaded not guilty to charges of interfering with a public auction. Tim DeChristopher made headlines in December when he disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine. The trial is set to begin in July. On Tuesday, some 200 supporters rallied for DeChristopher outside his arraignment at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

The Obama administration is calling on Congress to eliminate the disparity in drug sentences for dealing crack versus powdered cocaine. Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine triggers the same mandatory minimum sentence as possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law has disproportionately punished African-American drug offenders, who account for more than eighty percent of crack cocaine cases. In prepared testimony for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer says: “The administration believes Congress’ goal should be to completely eliminate the disparity in prison sentences between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.” Breuer did not say whether the White House will back reducing or eliminating minimum sentences.

White House Apologizes for Low-Flying Plane

The White House has apologized for a plane flight that scared New York city residents Monday as it flew low over New York harbor along with two F-16 fighter jets. Hundreds of downtown office workers fled their buildings out of fear of an attack similar to 9/11. But the plane turned out to be one used by President Obama that was being photographed in a public relations stunt. On Tuesday, President Obama apologized.

President Obama: “It was a mistake as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again.”

The plane-ride photo-op cost more than $329,000. Obama says he’s ordered a review to find out how the mission was approved.

Study: 60% of Americans Subjected to Polluted Air

And a new study says sixty percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of pollution. In a report released today, the American Lung Association says air pollution has reached worrying levels in every major city, effecting some 186 million people.