michigan

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.

Benton Harbor Activist Will Remain Under House Arrest

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Benton Harbor community activist will remain under house arrest while he is waiting the outcome of his appeal. You can read more about Pinkney’s case online. For more on the ruling, see the AP article below:

(AP) — LANSING, Mich. – A Benton Harbor minister will remain on house arrest while he appeals a prison sentence for writing that God could punish a judge who presided over his election fraud conviction.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Edward Pinkney’s appeal of his house arrest in an unanimous order dated Wednesday.

Pinkney was sentenced to five years of probation in 2007 after being convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election. He later wrote an article saying the judge who handled his case could be punished by God with curses unless he changed his ways.

Another judge ruled that Pinkney’s column violated his probation and sentenced him to prison. The state appeals court has released Pinkney on bond while considering an appeal of his sentence.

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.

New Coalition Calls for Action Against Diesel Pollution in Michigan

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A new coalition called the Alliance for Healthy Air is calling for the Michigan legislature to pass legislation that would crack down on diesel pollution.

The coalition says that diesel pollution from vehicles can be easily reduced by as much as 90% by retrofitting existing vehicles with pollution control technology. In order to advocate this goal, the coalition is asking that Michigan legislature set an example by retrofitting all state vehicles and is also calling on the City of Detroit to make a similar commitment. In addition, the group seeks a 70% reduction in diesel pollution by 2020.

Informing their work is research that shows that diesel pollution is a threat to public health. In a press release announcing the effort, the group writes that:

In Wayne County, the lifetime cancer risk from diesel pollution is 429 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable cancer level of 1 in 1,000,000. The high particulate levels in Detroit have led to extremely high children’s asthma rates: one in five children in Detroit have asthma, and asthma hospitalizations for children are three times the statewide average. Wayne County’s risk factor is the highest in Michigan and ranks 80 out of 3,109 counties nationally.

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.

People’s Summit and Tent City in Detroit Advocates an Economic Agenda for the Rest of Us

This week, activists from across the country gathered in Detroit for the People’s Summit and Tent City to counter the National Business Summit in Detroit.

The People’s Summit was organized to promote “active resistance, political discussion and strategizing” with the end goal of developing “people’s stimulus plans” and an “economic bill of rights.” In announcing the event, the organizers wrote:

On June 15-17, 2009, the National Business Summit, sponsored by the Detroit Economic Club, will take place at the Renaissance Center, General Motors Corporate Headquarters. Millionaire capitalists like the heads of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Chrysler, Humana Inc., Ascension Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, BNSF Railway Co., and PVS Chemicals, and well as the presidents of the National Council on Competitiveness and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will gather at this summit. President Barack Obama and cabinet members have been invited.

These wealthy businesspeople will put their greedy heads together to discuss “innovation and policy ideas in technology, energy, environment and manufacturing.” In other words, they will be strategizing on how to further increase their profits at the expense of the ever-shrinking middle class, the vast working class and the growing millions living in utter poverty.

The National Business Summit will be held in a city with record-high unemployment and poverty rates, lay-offs, budget cuts, school closings, utility cost hikes and shut-offs and massive home foreclosures. With a registration fee of $1,495, it is unlikely that any victims of foreclosures and evictions, let alone laid-off workers, will be able to attend the National Business Summit. No one at this event will be speaking in the interests of those most affected by the economic collapse.

Throughout the People’s Summit, video of the event was collected and posted on their blog. A sample of the video–from a protest outside of the National Business Summit–can be seen below:

For more video, visit their blog.

Muslim Civil Rights Group Seeks Clarification on Hijab in Michigan Courts

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is seeking clarification on a new administrative rule adopted by Michigan’s Supreme Court that could allow judges to demand that witnesses remove religious head coverings while testifying.

The Washington-based group says that the removal of religiously-mandated attire such as a hijab would violate the constitutional right to religious freedom. In a press release, Dawud Walid of Michigan’s CAIR chapter said, “Michigan residents of all faiths need clarification as to whether they will be forced to remove their religious attire in order to appear in a state court.” The group says that the rule could be used against people of other faiths who wear head coverings.

The rule was adopted by the Supreme Court via a 5-2 decision. The two opposing judges said that there should be a clear written exception fore religious attire.

As it currently stands, the rule reads:

“The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has furthered argued against the rule saying that numerous studies have shown that jurors have an easier time assessing the credibility of a witness testimony by simply listening to a witness rather than watching their facial expressions.

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.