73,000 workers at General Motors walked off their jobs Monday in the company’s first nationwide strike in three decades. The United Auto Workers said it called for the strike after GM refused to accept the union’s demand to protect workers’ jobs and benefits. According to the Detroit Free Press, General Motors is pushing the UAW to allow it to lower labor costs — by transferring responsibility for retiree health to an independent trust, freezing cost-of-living increases and instituting a new level of benefits for new hires. The strike has shut down 80 General Motors facilities in 30 states. The union has nearly $900 million in its strike fund, enough to cover a two-month walkout.
In Burma, tens of thousands of monks and protesters are marching through the city of Rangoon today in defiance of military orders. On Monday, Burma’s military junta warned that it was ready to take action against the anti-government protests that have rapidly spread across the country. The protests are the largest in Burma since 1988 when the military junta crushed a popular uprising and killed some 3,000 people. President Bush is expected to announce new sanctions against Burma today.
State Department spokesperson Tom Casey: "We certainly would call on the regime to exercise restraint in the face of these protests and also to release those that they’ve imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views over the course of the last few days."
Meanwhile, in Italy Buddhist monks held a rally on Monday to show solidarity for the protesters in Burma.
Buddhist Monk: "We’d just like to give our gesture of solidarity and support for a peaceful resolution to this very difficult situation and for — that the people can be free and can have a democratic process and they can earn a livelihood without being oppressed."
In a speech at Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended Iran’s right to nuclear power but denied Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "We are one of the countries that has cooperated most with the IAEA. They’ve had hours and weeks and days of inspections in our country, and over and over again the agency reports indicate that they have not detected a deviation and that they have received positive cooperation from Iran. But regretfully, two or three monopolistic, selfish powers want to force their word on the Iranian people and deny them their right."
Ahmadinejad’s appearance sparked widespread protests at Columbia. During the speech, Ahmadinejad was asked about Iran’s attitude toward homosexuals.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country."
Ahmadinejad appearance at Colombia dominated the news media on Monday. The headline on the Daily News read "The Evil Has Landed." Fox News ran a screenshot that read: "Is war the only way to stop Mahmoud?" Middle East analyst Juan Cole said the demonization of the Iranian president is part of a neoconservative push for yet another war. Cole writes: "The real reason his visit is controversial is that the American right has decided the United States needs to go to war against Iran. Ahmadinejad is therefore being configured as an enemy head of state. "
While Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off a special session on climate change at the United Nations. Ban Ki-moon said governments must take "unprecedented action" to reverse the trend of global warming.
Ban Ki-moon: "We hold the future in our hands. Together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we have failed to do the right things and left to them to suffer the consequences. So let us send a clear and collective signal to people everywhere. Today, let the world know that you are ready to shoulder this responsibility and that you will address this challenge head-on."
Over 80 heads of state attended Monday’s meeting, but President Bush chose not to attend. Bush, who opposes international treaties to address global warming, has organized a competing climate change forum later this week in Washington. Ban Ki-moon criticized the U.S. effort. He said, "The U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating global action." Yvo de Boer, a top U.N. climate change official, said the Bush administration needs to be part of the global discussion.
Yvo de Boer: "The United States is still the largest emitter worldwide of greenhouse gases. And for that reason and for a number of others, the participation of the U.S. is essential. At the same time, emissions in large developing countries, like China, India, Brazil, South Africa, are growing very fast, and to develop a future regime that doesn’t also engage them in terms of limiting emissions of greenhouse gases would be pretty much meaningless."
Yvo de Boer stressed the urgency of reaching an agreement on a plan of action that would replace the Kyoto Protocol.
John Coequyt of Greenpeace: "Well, what’s on the table right now and what really needs to happen is we need to have a negotiating mandate, a very clear binding mandate come out of discussions in Indonesia. And from that, we need to see much larger greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the developed world. We need to see expanded participation from the developing world. And we need to see sort of a global agreement that in the long run we’re going to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, in order to solve this problem."
Meanwhile, newly released government documents show that the Bush administration directed a behind-the-scenes effort to block California’s attempt to develop its own standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. Emails show Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters prodded her staff to lobby members of Congress and state governors to oppose California’s efforts.
In news from Iraq, up to 25 people died on Monday when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque during a reconciliation meeting between a Shiite and Sunni militia. The suicide bomber struck in the mixed village of Shifta, outside Baquba. Baquba’s police chief died in the attack. Meanwhile, in Baghdad residents of the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City say U.S. forces have raided a number of houses. One civilian died in the raids.
Iraqi resident: "We are poor people. We do not have oil! We do not have anything! They took everything from us. And in addition to all these things, they attacked us (repeatedly). Why did they do this to us? What did those innocent people do? They burnt out this generator, which supply us with electricity."
Two more Iraqi journalists have been killed. TV journalist Jawad al-Daami of the satellite station Al-Baghdadia was shot dead in Baghdad on Sunday. Radio journalist Muhannad Ghanem Ahmed of the station Dar Al Salam was killed on Thursday in the northern city of Mosul.
Protests against President Bush are planned today outside the United Nations ahead of his speech to the General Assembly. A citywide coalition of antiwar activists is forming funeral processions to march through the city to the United Nations. The demonstrators say they will commit civil disobedience by attempting to gain entry to the General Assembly in order to serve Bush with a warrant for his arrest.
In education news, more than 3,200 students, faculty and alumni at Stanford University have signed a petition to protest the appointment of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to become a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. The Hoover Institution is located on the Stanford campus but is an independent think tank and research institution. The petition effort is led in part by famed psychologist Philip Zimbardo.
In news from Guantánamo, a U.S. military appeals court has reinstated terrorism charges against a Canadian citizen who was first detained in Afghanistan when he was only 15 years old. In June, a military tribunal judge dismissed murder and conspiracy charges against Omar Khadr because Khadr had not been designated an "unlawful enemy combatant." But on Monday a military court overturned that decision. Khadr has been held at Guantánamo for five years. He turned 21 years old last Wednesday.
The National Lawyers Guild has called for the release of Mychal Bell and for all charges to be dropped against the Jena Six. The lawyers’ group urged the Justice Department to immediately convene an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrests and prosecutions of the Jena Six.
The Bush administration has given the Housing Authority of New Orleans the go-ahead to demolish the city’s four largest public housing complexes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the demolition of the 4,500 housing units on Friday. Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu criticized the ruling, but other lawmakers have endorsed such moves. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Republican Congressman Richard Baker said, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
Meanwhile in Mississippi, Oxfam America, the Mississippi NAACP and the Mississippi Justice Center are protesting a plan to divert post-Katrina housing aid to improve the state port at Gulfport. The Mississippi Development Authority wants to take $600 million in federal funds from a housing plan for low-income homeowners hit by Hurricane Katrina and move it to spruce up the port.
In economic news, Forbes has published its list of the 400 richest Americans. For the first time, 82 billionaires were not wealthy enough to make the list. The top 1 percent of Americans — those with comes incomes over $350,000 — are now receiving the largest share of national income since 1928.
New government statistics show police arrested a record 829,000 people for marijuana violations last year. According to the group NORML, a pot smoker is now arrested every 38 seconds in the country. The total number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. far exceeded the total number of arrests in the U.S. for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
And the Federal Communications Commission has fined Comcast $4,000 for broadcasting a fake news segment on the company’s CN8 local news channel last year. Comcast aired a video news release produced by the manufacturer of a sleeping remedy without disclosing the company’s ties to the video. This marks the first time the FCC has fined a broadcaster for airing a corporate public relations video as if it was an actual news segment. Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy released a study that found at least 77 TV stations around the country have aired corporate-sponsored video news releases over the previous 10 months.