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Lookin’ Back, Movin’ Forward: The End of MediaMouse.org

Almost ten years ago, a group of people fed up with the way things were going in the world and in Grand Rapids, Michigan started meeting. Inspired by the excitement surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle, Media Mouse formed as a group that sought to distribute information about under reported issues–globalization, corporate control, Latin America, and U.S. imperialism–to name just a few.

In the early years, that meant organizing a wide variety of campaigns and projects–protests, independent media festivals, speakers, rallies, documentary showings, zines, and more. Like many groups that formed in 1999, Media Mouse rode the wave of energy that followed the successful WTO protests in Seattle and made globalization and corporate power an issue here in Grand Rapids. We also did local work: we built connections with other groups pursuing social justice, targeted area lawmakers, and organized in support of alternatives to motor vehicle transit. Again, like many groups of the era, we moved into anti-war work following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had an arguably important roll in that movement. We posted regular updates about protests on the Internet and launched one of the first blogs in Grand Rapids to keep people updated about what was happening in Iraq and in the ant-war movement. We continued the work of that earlier blog–The People’s Alliance Bulletin–when we launched a regular blog at MediaMouse.org in January of 2004.

Since 1999, the political context has changed greatly–gone is the excitement of Seattle, gone is the sense that anti-war work could end the Iraq War, and gone is the administration of President George W. Bush. Granted, Bush’s replacement–Barack Obama–has proven to be every bit as disappointing as we would have expected, yet much of “the left” is still struggling with how to deal with the Obama phenomenon and has been largely paralyzed since his election. In addition to political changes, the Internet has changed dramatically since we started blogging back in 2003. Now there are innumerable places for people to get left/progressive news and a wealth of technologies that make it increasingly easier to do so.

In this context, it’s hard to see where MediaMouse.org fits into the current struggle. To be sure, there is plenty to be outraged about and plenty of things to fight for and against. Everything that we ever wrote about–environmental destruction, inequality, racism, etc–continues to persist and likely will for quite some time (especially if we don’t step up to organize against these things). However, locating where MediaMouse.org should be in those struggles is difficult. Stepping back from the daily task of writing and maintaining the site, there are no easy answers to those questions. At this point, I’m convinced that MediaMouse.org–as it has existed at least–doesn’t have much of a place. In a lot of ways, I think we failed at our main goal–which was to motivate people to take action in their communities around issues that they care about in order to help strengthen the struggle to a new world. We rather simply told people how bad everything is and rarely inspired substantive discussion about how we could move forward.

Moreover, underlying these questions about the where MediaMouse.org fits into the broader struggle are the particulars of the project. MediaMouse.org has no clear and quantifiable strategic or political goals, making it next to impossible to determine our direction or measure any “success” we might have. All too often, we jump from one issue to the next with no real continuity and are all to willing to write about whatever we feel like, with no real connection to what folks need or want out of an alternative media project. Similarly, the project is almost painfully dysfunctional–there is no decision making structure, there are all sorts of problems with work distribution, no accountability, emails go unanswered, and almost all of the work is (and has been) done by one person. To add further insult to injury, if the project is not sustainable when it comes to its actual work, it’s even less so financially. Ultimately, the internal problems are such that to abandon it–and start over if needed in the future–is the only thing that really makes sense. Trying to “fix” things would be an uphill battle that at this point we don’t have the energy to pursue. To be sure, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the numerous mistakes that people involved with MediaMouse.org have made over the years–hopefully sometime soon we will be able to share some of those lessons to prevent people from making the same mistakes again.

At this time, I’m confident in saying that MediaMouse.org has outlived its usefulness. Internal problems coupled with an inability to respond to the changing political context, has rendered this project largely ineffective. That said, we’re quite proud of much of the work we have done over the years, whether it is reporting on under reported issues here in West Michigan or traveling across the country to cover large mobilizations against trade agreements. There is a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which has been the opportunity to hear that we inspired people–however few they may be–to act to make this world a better place.

With MediaMouse.org no longer taking up so much of the contributors’ time, we will be in a better position to be able to act in that capacity and to move forward from a place where we are unhindered by the baggage and responsibilities associated with this project. To that end, we are excited to see where the future takes us–and excited to make room for others to fill whatever gaps may be left by our departure.

In the end, we just want to thank everyone that ever read what we wrote, contributed to the site, or otherwise helped make this project work to the extent that it did.

In Pursuit Of A Stronger Struggle For A New World,

- MediaMouse.org

Condi Rice Comes to Town; Press Focuses on her Piano Skills

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Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will be speaking in Grand Rapids on Monday at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ annual dinner. As is always the case with these events, they are limited to members of the Economic Club and their guests, with makes it so that ordinary folks generally can’t see what these former government officials say. Moreover, when they are in town to speak about their experiences while in government, citizens deserve a chance to know what is said. Ideally, that is a role that media can play.

But, I doubt we’ll get much serious coverage from The Grand Rapids Press or the other local media in town. In advance of her appearance, The Grand Rapids Press has focused on her piano skills:

She won’t be tickling the ivory, but Economic Club of Grand Rapids officials still are excited to hear from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. There had been quiet hopes the 1,500-plus attendees would hear a piano performance from Rice, dubbed the world’s most prominent amateur musician by The New York Times in 2006. Club Executive Director Lorna Schultz said she was disappointed, but organizers just couldn’t work it out. Still, the crowd for the club’s 22nd annual dinner will be the fourth largest on record.

You would think that they would focus on her record–particularly as it relates to torture. A group of students at Stanford recently campaigned for Condoleezza Rice–a faculty member–to be prosecuted for war crimes:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

For those who want to learn more about Condoleezza Rice’s record, a profile of her on SourceWatch.org has a good critical overview of her career, particularly with regard to her role in selling the Iraq War. It’s also worth reading recent news articles about her giving specific approval of torture.

Grand Rapids Press Advocates for More Ethanol Production

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In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention placed on global warming. From the focus on “green jobs,” to “sustainability,” and “clean energy” there has been a lot of talk about what to do to address the problem. Much of this talk has centered around finding ways to “address” the problem while maintaining the current levels of production and industrialization, something which I just can’t see happening. If the underlying system is inherently destructive, it’s hard to image that giving it a new “green” coating–say with wind power instead of coal power–is really going to make that much of a difference if we maintain the ideology of unlimited growth.

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press published an editorial that advocated the passage of a bill that would allow small-scale ethanol plants in Michigan. Ethanol–one of the great false solutions to global warming–requires growing plants to provide fuel. According to the Grand Rapids Press, not only would this help Michigan’s farmers remain economically sound, but it would also be an important step towards a renewable energy future:

Ethanol is the most common biofuel. An efficient, renewable fuel source that proves less expensive is good for Michigan’s economy and the national effort to break our foreign-oil dependency. There are not many farmers currently engaged in small-scale production, but fluctuating energy prices and better technology could lead to more interest.

Unfortunately, biofuels really aren’t anywhere near sustainable. To run every vehicle in the United States on biofuels, you would have to dedicate the entire country’s agriculture output to fuel. Moreover, growing such crops relies on–and would likely expand–the destructive industrial agricultural system. That agriculture system–as well as ethanol production–is powered by fossil fuels.

Greenpeace writes:

Other ‘innovative’ solutions, like biofuels (which are mentioned in the ‘Clean Energy Dialogue’), have a terrible human cost. In 2007, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food called biofuels, which are made from food crops like wheat and corn, a ‘crime against humanity.’ According to the Earth Policy Institute, the grain needed to fill the gas tank of an SUV could feed one person for a year. Biofuels are already taking food out of the mouths of people. In 2008, approximately one-third of the US corn crop went to biofuel. Last year the United Nations World Food Programme also warned that it lacked the resources to keep up with rising food prices which it attributed, in part, to biofuels.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Capitol News Coverage Dying; Bill Targets Teachers Who Strike

Here are some interesting stories published elsewhere on the web in the past twenty-four hours. Feel free to discuss them in the comments or let us know if we missed anything:

  • Capitol news coverage dying – This column from the Lansing City Pulse by MIRS editor Kyle Melinn looks at the dramatic decline in news coverage at the capitol. Over the past several years, media outlets across Michigan have dramatically reduced the number of reporters covering the state capitol. With important issues before the legislature–such as the upcoming budget–Melinn says that people want to know what is going on in Lansing, but he isn’t sure if there will be reporters to satisfy their interest.
  • Health and Hope – This is an interesting article from Rapid Growth Media about a dentist who was inspired by a trip to Africa to give up his lucrative dental practice in the suburbs to provide dental care for low income patients in the Burton Heights neighborhood as part of Health Intervention Services. The clinic is part of the Free Clinics of Michigan network. To be sure, it’s going to take a lot more than individual acts of charity and selflessness to fix the health care system in the United States, but it’s great to see things like this.
  • GRIID Interviews Kathy KellyThe Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) interviews activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence. Kelly was in Grand Rapids last night to speak about her recent trip to Pakistan and what she learned from talking with refugees who have been displace by U.S. drone attacks.
  • War Funding Coverage Full of Omissions – Over the past week, MediaMouse.org has reported on the debate over war funding in the House of Representatives. In particular, we have looked how the Democratic Party has been willing to sellout its anti-war constituents. In this piece, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) looks at how the war funding bill was covered in the Grand Rapids Press. Not surprisingly, it was barely covered, but what can you really expect from a newspaper that has no national reporters?
  • White House Says, ‘Stand Tall, Michigan!’ – The Obama administration’s so-called “green jobs czar” says that Michigan has everything it needs to make it “a green energy capital of the world.” The only thing missing is the political will to adopt green policies.
  • Proposed bills tell teachers one strike, they’re out – Two proposed bills in the Michigan House of Representatives will make it easier to punish teachers who participate in strikes. The bills would enact new penalties–including loss of certification for two years–on teachers who strike. Teacher strikes were made illegal under a 1994 law.
  • Dow dioxin cleanup in mid-Michigan could take years – This article from the Detroit Free Press describes a pretty typical pollution scenario. A corporation–in this case Dow Chemical–contaminates a large swath of land with a toxic chemical–in this case dioxin. After several years of citizen complaints, the EPA finally decides to investigate the issue. First, they promise a study. Then, they decide how to clean it up, then they actually (more often, a maybe) start doing the work. It takes years before the pollution is ever cleaned up. In this case, clean up could last until 2018.

Meijer Tax Break Would Come At Expense Of Key Services

I’m generally skeptical of many tax breaks given to corporations for development projects. All too often, the projects come at the expense of tax revenue that could be otherwise used to provide social services. In many cases, projects fail to deliver on their promises of economic and neighborhood revitalization.

Most often, the local media acts as a cheerleader for development projects and never questions the need for tax breaks nor do they explore the basis on which the request was made. However, a recent article in The Grand Rapids Press–”Michigan rejects Brownfield tax credits for 28th Street Meijer store, but Grand Rapids may grant project local Brownfield status“–recently caught my eye because it was one of the few articles that I have seen that actually says what it will mean to give Meijer a tax break.

Meijer is asking for “brownfield” status on a project to redevelop their 28th Street and Kalamazoo store. According to Meijer, a 1 acre parcel of land that will be used in the development is contaminated. Interestingly, Meijer admits that it was the source of the contamination–its leaky gasoline storage tanks contaminated the groundwater.

However, The Grand Rapids Press reports that if the tax break is granted, it will come directly from money that could be used to provide key services:

If approved, the money will come from new property taxes generated by the store over the next 27 years. Those new taxes would otherwise fund city services, local public schools, Kent County operations, the Kent County jail, the local transit millage and Kent County’s senior millage.

So, the choice is clear–we can either fund critical social services, or we can have a redone Meijer store.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Hoesktra Says His Use of Twitter Is Just Like Iranian Protestors; Granholm Opposes Republican Plan To Cut College Tuition Assistance

Here’s some interesting stories published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours. As always, if we missed anything, leave a comment below:

  • Michigan Supreme Court gives judges control over courtroom dress – The Michigan Supreme Court decided that judges should be allowed to force witnesses to remove head scarfs and other face coverings while in the courtroom. This decision has ramifications for Muslim Michiganders–which is where the case arose from.
  • Hoekstra compares himself to Iranian protesters- Representative Pete Hoekstra is an idiot, but that fact becomes especially apparent every time he uses Twitter. His latest Twitter controversy features him comparing himself to Iranian protestors who are using Twitter to organize pro-democracy demonstrations. Sure…
  • Tensions over nation’s largest incinerator heat up as July 1 contract deadline looms – Detroit is set to decide whether or not it will continue burning its trash at a controversial incinerator that many environmentalists say has toxic effects–particularly on children living nearby.
  • Michigan jobless rate soars to highest level since 1983 – Michigan’s unemployment rate is now at 14.1%. It’s the highest since 1983 and is way above the national unemployment rate of 9.4%.
  • Granholm opposes cutting tuition aid programs – Governor Jennifer Granholm is rejecting Republican proposals to cut college tuition aid from the state budget. She argues that supporting college education is critical if Michigan is going to transform its economy.
  • Big job announcements by Farmers, Foremost Insurance, Roskam Baking, Holland businesses may take time to hire – A couple days ago, the local corporate media–including The Grand Rapids Press–went crazy about announcements of several thousand jobs coming to West Michigan. Now, after a huge front page article, The Grand Rapids Press reports that the jobs will take years to materialize. One company says that the timeframe could be as long as 17 years. Ahhh, the typical hype of corporate news…
  • Kent County school districts see another revenue source fizzle as Coca-Cola contracts expire – Collectively, Kent County’s public schools negotiated with Coca-Cola back in 1999 for a contract that brought $22.6 million to the schools. Now that contract is set to expire and there are doubts that a new contract will make that much for the schools–if one is signed. The Press cites the beverage industry who says that there has been a shift away from soda consumption. I think it’s pretty sad that education is such a low priority in our society that schools are forced to pursue these kind of contracts just to get by.
  • Ambiguity in new marijuana law is cited – Felony charges against a Madison Heights couple who’s house was raided due to their possession of medical marijuana were thrown out in yesterday by a judge. The judge said that the medical marijuana law is too ambiguous to determine if a crime was committed.

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.

Local and Michigan Headlines: How Much Power Does Consumers Need; High Speed Railways in Michigan

Here’s links to a few worthwhile articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that have been published elsewhere on the web. As always, if we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

  • How Much Power Does Consumers Need? – Consumers Energy is under fire both for high fees it is charging for its renewable energy as well as its estimate of the state’s energy needs. A coalition of environmental and citizens groups is saying that the utility company has greatly over estimated how much energy Michigan needs and that it is using flawed numbers.
  • Hoekstra tweets response to court ruling – Earlier this year, Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is running for governor of Michigan–was at the center of a controversy for his use of Twitter and the disclosure of classified information. Now, he’s at it again on Twitter, dismissing Court ruling as “crazy.”
  • EPA downplays dredging risk to Bay City water supply – After citizens raised concerns about the possibility of dioxin-contaminated sediments moving downstream as part of a dredging project in the Saginaw River, the EPA has responded by saying that they won’t test for dioxin downstream.
  • Standing Up Against the Establishment – This post over at West Michigan Rising is from a person interested in running for Michigan’s 20th District Senate seat. However, he says that he was met with opposition from the Democratic Party establishment which is seeking a less progressive candidate. It’s a predictable response from the party, as is the first comment in response to the post in which the commenter attacks the author for deciding to go to the Green Party.
  • Call Conyers to Support His Opposition to Bigger Wars – Michigan Representative John Conyers has consistently voiced his opposition to an upcoming spending bill that would continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging people to thank Conyers for his stand.
  • When workers lead the way – A retired autoworker looks at how the UAW’s leadership and their role in accepting concessions that will harm workers.
  • High speed railways discussed before task force – A summary of a legislative task force’s hearing on a proposed high speed rail system between Detroit/Ann Arbor and Chicago.

Grand Rapids Water Festival Saturday

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On Saturday, the annual Grand Rapids Water Festival will take place in Riverside Park from 12:00pm to 9:00pm. The event will feature tables from environmental organizations, speakers, and a number of performances by folk and bluegrass bands. Among those slated to speak are representatives from the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. You can view the full schedule online.

Here’s a video featuring Michigan residents sharing their reflections on the importance of water to Michigan:

New Year-Round Downtown Market Being Studied

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In Saturday’s Grand Rapids Press, there was an interesting article about a study being undertaken by Grand Action to look at the feasibility of constructing and operating a downtown market that would feature fresh produce, meats, and other local goods. The market would be designed to compliment existing farmers markets in the city.

According to the article:

Frey, Spitzer and Mayor George Heartwell said leaders of the often-bustling but seasonal Fulton Street Farmers Market have supported their efforts.

A year-round market would be designed to provide space for a wider array of products than the typical seasonal market, Frey said.

Frey and Spitzer envision a place where local produce is sold alongside freshly butchered meats, seafood, breads, cookies and other items.

Artists also may have space in the facility.

“One of the goals we’ve enunciated throughout the project is to be supportive of the Grand Rapids local foods system, to develop more interest in local foods,” Spitzer said. “It is very important for us that the development of this project not harm Fulton Street or other markets. It’s really intended to expand interest in local foods.”

It’s a pretty good idea. Purchasing locally grown food is more sustainable than transporting food for hundreds of miles. Moreover, the more money that is spent locally, the more money stays in the community.