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: Amway 50th Anniversary; Michigan Politicians on Twitter

Here are what we think are some of the more important stories to come out of Grand Rapids and Michigan in the past 24 hours:

  • And, things wrap themselves up in a neat little package – Michigan Liberal has perhaps the last word on the controversy surrounding Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and his canceled speech in Grand Rapids. When the Kent County GOP canceled it over Huntsman’s stance in support of civil unions, the DeVos family stepped in. It turns out that there may have been a practical reason for that–Huntsman was being consider to be Ambassador to China, a country where Amway has aggressively expanded in recent years.
  • Rep. Scripps and House Dems Introduce Health Care Package – The Michigan House Democratic Caucus has introduced a health care reform package that allegedly will guarantee access to health care by requiring insurance companies to insure people with pre-existing conditions, reign in costs, ban unfair market practices, and insurance every child in Michigan by expanding the MiChild program. I’m not sure that this will do all that much to help cover all of the uninsured people in Michigan, but we’ll have to see.
  • Spurning Coal, Manistee Rides the Windspire – After rejecting a coal plant five years ago, Manistee is now a part of Michigan’s renewable energy future. Mariah Power is manufacturing its Windspire home wind turbine in the city.
  • Detroit juries losing color – In Wayne County, African-Americans are 42% of the population, yet they made up only 27% of the jury pool in 2004–that number has since fallen. Michigan Citizen has a great exploration of the issue.
  • Appeals court to hear Pinkney defense – This Michigan Citizen article is a good summary of the case of Reverend Edward Pinkney. Pinkney is a Benton Harbor community organizer who was convicted in 2007 on trumped-up charges of voter fraud. Pinkney has an upcoming court day here in Grand Rapids and supporters are invited to attend.
  • Hoekstra co-sponsors “Christian heritage” resolution – Representative Pete Hoekstra has taken a break from supporting torture in order to co-sponsor a resolution celebrating the United States’ so-called “Christian heritage” in Congress. It’s hardly a pressing issue and numerous historians have shown the resolution to be severely flawed.
  • Stabenow parties like it’s 1989 – Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow has joined with conservative Republican Senators to sponsor a resolution that seeks a federal amendment to ban flag burning. This has come up numerous times since the Supreme Court overturned state-level bans on the practice in 1989.
  • Amway celebrates golden anniversary with deep local roots and a global reach – This is the start of the Grand Rapids Press’ coverage of Amway’s 50th anniversary. As expected, this series will be full of a lot of hype with three days of major stories on the company. Surprisingly, this first article does focus a lot of attention on various lawsuits that the company has been a part of over the years–although the overall tone is positive. There was nothing in the article on how the fortunes made by Amway founders Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos have been used to support conservative politics or how they have sought to use their money to influence public policy.
  • Twitter takes flight with lawmakers – The Detroit Free Press looks at politicians in Michigan who are using Twitter and how they use it. I suppose this is a good time to plug the MediaMouse.org Twitter account @mediamouse.

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

Rosa Parks Statue Funding Approved, The Press Focuses on Online Comments

Grand Rapids Press Frontpage

Sometimes, it’s just too easy to criticize The Grand Rapids Press. Yesterday, the newspaper ran an article about negative reaction to the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) decision to allocate $100,000 to go towards a statue of Rosa Parks. The statue is slated to be placed near Rosa Parks Circle at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Monroe Center.

Perhaps wanting to recall the debate over naming Rosa Parks Circle after the Civil Rights icon, The Grand Rapids Press titled its coverage “DDA statue gift lures monumental anger.” However, while the title implies that there is some legitimate opposition to the statue, the Press could only muster up some posts from its Mlive.com website. It writes:

“The Downtown Development Authority’s decision on Wednesday to allocate $100,000 toward a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in the park bearing her name stirred online readers — at times getting ugly.

Some of the more than 30 anonymous comments left after two stories about the project had racist undertones, while others questioned the expenditure at a time when unemployment is high and the community’s needs are great.

Others complained Parks had no direct ties to Grand Rapids.

“Nothing against Ms. Parks or her role in civil rights, but come on — this smells to high heaven of trying to be P.C. and the city just keeps playing the game. Can’t anyone just stand up for common sense?” wrote “noreaster99″ in a comment posted after the story on Mlive.com.”

It would be one thing if The Grand Rapids Press was able to cite a local politician, or someone on the DDA who was opposed to the statue–but the best it can do is mention some posts by goofballs on its website. The fact that online comments are a hotbed of racism and reactionary rhetoric is hardly news–almost any online forum associated with any of the West Michigan media sites has this. I hardly think this constitues “monumental anger”–but nice pun nevertheless.

Unfortunately, as newspapers like The Grand Rapids Press struggle to stay relevant, we are seeing a lot of this. The Press will occasionally feature quotes–always attributed to ridiculous nicknames–on various news topics. In some cases, it has even made what “happens” on its website “news.” See for example, its coverage of the “live blog” during the final episode of The Bachelor.

Can’t we just call this what it is? Laziness and an easy way to promote their online presence.

Hoekstra’s Twitter Usage Leads to Government Policy Review

Pete Hoekstra's Use of Twitter from Iraq is Grounds for a Government Policy Review

West Michigan Republican Representative Pete Hoekstra’s use of Twitter during a recent trip to Iraq has led to a review of government policy according to an article in Congressional Quarterly.

Congressional Quarterly reports:

“A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Cdr. Darryn James, said Tuesday the Pentagon’s policy is to withhold itineraries until congressional delegations reach their destinations inside war zones. The House sergeant at arms and House Armed Services Committee echoed that concern in separate statements Tuesday.

And James said Hoekstra’s actions have led Defense Department officials to review how they communicate those restrictions to lawmakers, who now have access to mobile communications devices linked to global networks.”

The information Hoekstra disclosed was not classified, however, several aides interview in the Congressional Quarterly article said that legislators are routinely told not to disclose details of where they are traveling overseas.

As we reported on Tuesday, Hoekstra has downplayed the controversy. Later that day, he released a document titled “Democrats Claim Disclosing Travel is a Safety Risk–Except when they Do It” that shows several instances when Democratic legislatures have issued statements while in Iraq. However, Hoekstra’s updates via Twitter–which disclosed the approximate location of his delegation–were considerably more specific than the examples he shared with the media.

Pete Hoekstra Uses Twitter to Post from Iraq about Secret Trip

Republican Pete Hoekstra Used Twitter to Violate an Embargo on a Secret Trip to Iraq

Over the weekend, a controversy–started on the Internet and fueled by reporting on the Internet–has surrounded West Michigan Congress member Pete Hoekstra. Hoesktra–who is the Ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and its former Chair–is accused of violating disclosure policy regarding a trip to Iraq.

Hoekstra used the micro-blogging service Twitter to post updates about his trip.

Experienced Politician Violating Security Procedures?

On Friday, CQ Politics reported that Republican Pete Hoekstra had violated an embargo on what was supposed to be a secret trip to Iraq:

“‘Just landed in Baghdad,’ messaged Hoekstra, a former chairman of the Intelligence panel and now the ranking member, who is routinely entrusted to keep some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Before the delegation left Washington, they were advised to keep the trip to themselves for security reasons. A few media outlets, including Congressional Quarterly, learned about it, but agreed not to disclose anything until the delegation had left Iraq.

Nobody expected, though, that a lawmaker with such an extensive national security background would be the first to break the silence. And in such a big way.

Not only did Hoekstra reveal the existence of the lawmakers’ trip, but included details about their itinerary in updates posted every few hours on his Twitter page, until he suddenly stopped, for some reason, on Friday morning.”

Aside from the fact that he violated an embargo on this trip, several bloggers have uncovered an editorial he wrote back in 2006 that derided the release of classified information:

“WE ARE IN the first war of the Information Age, and we have a critical advantage over our enemy: We are far better at gathering intelligence. It’s an advantage we must utilize, and it’s keeping us safe.

But every time classified national security information is leaked, our ability to gather information on those who would do us harm is eroded…

We are a nation at war. Unauthorized disclosures of classified information only help terrorists and our enemies – and put American lives at risk.”

No Apologies from Hoekstra

Despite the heat that Hoekstra has drawn for the Twitter posts, he will not apologize for the posts. He said that his posts did not endanger himself or others on the trip:

“‘It doesn’t say I’m arriving at the embassy at 10 of 5 and this is the road I’m taking,’ Hoekstra said. ‘I think the bad guys already knew there was Blackberry service, and my guess is they probably already knew the Iraqi flag was flying over the palace.’

Hoekstra said he did not post as many updates after the delegation left the international Green Zone and entered the more dangerous areas of Iraq, where Blackberry service was less reliable anyway.

‘I didn’t Twitter that because that’s a different environment,’ Hoekstra said.”

On WOOD TV 8, Hoekstra’s spokesperson–Dave Yonkman–downplayed the messages and saying that Twitter allows Hoesktra to be more transparent.

Yonkman further said that the fact that what the media is missing is that this is a story of success in Iraq. He asserted that a few years ago this would not have been possible and that this is proof that the situation is improving in Iraq.

Hoekstra’s Twitter Debacle: A Success for New Media?

Regardless of what folks think about the role that Hoekstra’s Twitter postings will have on his run for governor in 2010, it does show the success that so-called “new media” can have in pushing stories into the mainstream. What began with an article on a website that many of his constituents likely don’t read, ended up moving into the mainstream. In the end, what began as a concern raised largely by the liberal blogosphere became a subject of mainstream news–and eventually garnered a response from Hoekstra.

Viget: A Grand Rapids Wiki

How many people knew that Grand Rapids’ city motto is “Motu Viget“–Latin for “strength in activity”? While that is a fairly irrelevant factoid, there is a far more interesting use of the motto–Viget.org. Viget.org is a “wiki”–an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia.org–that anyone can add and edit covering Grand Rapids, Michigan. Of course, the possibilities are endless, one could write an article on anything from the (106) art gallery to Yesterdog–and indeed people have.

At this point, the total number of entries is still small, but it’s growing and there are a lot of possibilities. Like Mediamouse.org, Viget.org is another vehicle for building an independent, non-corporate infrastructure for folks in Grand Rapids. While it is still a long way from achieving that goal, other city wikis–notably Rochester, NY and Davis, CA–show the potential that wikis offer. They contain everything from progressive activist groups to local history.

Media Mouse encourages folks to contribute to Viget.org and promote it. We’ll be proactively adding and editing articles where appropriate and in the near future, we’ll be adding a list of recently added articles from Viget.org to our homepage.

It’s Our Web

Media Mouse has endorsed a new campaign launched by FreeSpeech TV to challenge the corporate dominance of the Internet.

Media Mouse has endorsed a new campaign launched by FreeSpeech TV to challenge the corporate dominance of the Internet. The campaign features a video (see below) and a website promoting truly independent websites and open source software. The campaign coincides with recent announcements of new profiling and data-mining initiatives from Facebook and MySpace as well ongoing debate over net neutrality.

The video and campaign announcement:

This is a truly crucial time for the Internet, the most powerful and interactive medium humans have ever seen. New commercial incursions by big online media conglomerates including the widely distained “Facebook Beacon” make explicit what new media giants have been doing quietly for some time; searching for new and evermore invasive ways to sell our attention, our clicks and our private information to advertisers and marketers.

The message is clear; new media giants cannot be trusted.

Just how consolidated is the Internet becoming? An article titled “Our Web, Not Theirs” has the following startling facts:

“One recent study showed that only 20 domains (websites) capture 39% of all time spent online by US users. Considering that the Internet is technically an open medium, this is an amazingly high level of user concentration. Myspace.com, which is owned by News Corporation, commands an astounding 11.9% of US users time online. Bearing in mind the USA has well over two hundred million Internet users this kind of concentration of online website usage creates huge vectors of power.

Chief among the online brands are the ever popular social networking website.

In the period between September 2006 to February 2007 the number of visitors to the social networking website Facebook.com jumped 75 percent to 24.8 million worldwide and the number of visitors to MySpace.com grew 26 percent to 98.5 million visitors in the same period. “More than half of all Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 use some online social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook.

Many of the most powerful online media websites are owned by some of the largest media corporations. Fox Interactive Media (NewsCorp) spent $580 million to acquire MySpace.com. Google, a large and evermore powerful media corporation, owns one of the most popular blog platforms: BlogSpot.com. Google also purchased Youtube, the most popular online video site on the Internet, for U.S.$1.65 billion. Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL Time Warner own other popular platforms. Google’s chief executive officer Eric Schmidt, recently estimated that Google buys start-up web companies every few days, and is quoted saying, “I think the pace [of Google buyouts] will accelerate”.”

We strongly encourage folks to seek out independent websites in general, but especially those maintaining a local connection to Grand Rapids and Michigan. While not necessarily endorsing everything about them, we encourage folks to check out the following websites:

* G-Rad – A Grand Rapids blogging community.

* Grand Rapids Community Media Center – The online presence of the Community Media Center. It offers information on independent radio and television as well as media literacy resources.

* Grand Rapids History – An online archive of local history that accepts visitor submissions.

* The Atrium – The blog of the Grand Rapids Public Library. They also have an interesting wiki.

* Viget.org – A Wikipedia-style encyclopedia covering Grand Rapids and West Michigan that anyone can edit.

Feel free to add other local and statewide websites in the comments.

Action Needed to Preserve Public Access and Net Neutrality in Michigan

Because of the urgency of the issue, Media Mouse is reprinting this slightly edited action alert that went out on the Progressive Directory of Western Michigan mailing list today. For additional background information, see the Media Mouse article titled “Bill Threatens Public Access and Net Neutrality in Michigan.

As early as this week, the Michigan state Senate may vote on a bad bill that would allow large corporations like AT&T to overlook needy communities, ignore consumers and gut Net Neutrality. The bill is a dream for AT&T, but a nightmare for Michigan residents.

The Video Franchising Bill is a market grab by communications giant AT&T — at the expense of Internet choice, local funding and programming. The bill would allow the company to gut consumer protections, cherry-pick which communities receive high-speed broadband and video service, dodge local community access requirements, and ignore Net Neutrality — the fundamental principle of the free and open Internet.

On Tuesday, SavetheInternet.com activists gathered at the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing to protest the legislation — an AT&T giveaway called the “Michigan Video Franchising Bill” (HB 6456). Hundreds of other Michigan residents have already contacted their state senators — asking them to vote NO on this bill.

In Grand Rapids, citizens can keep the pressure on by contacting Senator Bill Hardiman and requesting that he vote “NO” on the “Michigan Video Franchising Bill.” Hardiman can be contacted at (517) 373-1801. A sample script for the call is available from Free Press as is a system for logging calls.

Bill Threatens Public Access and Net Neutrality in Michigan

A new bill on the fast-track for passage during Michigan’s “lame-duck” congressional session threatens public access and net neutrality while providing telecommunications and cable companies with a series of handouts at the expense of citizens and local communities.

Telecommunications industry lobbyists are working to pass a new measure that threatens public access programming and net neutrality in Michigan. The bill, HB 6456 or the “Michigan Video Act,” is being put on a fast-track by “lame duck” Senators who are working with industry lobbyists to pass the bill before the end of the legislative year. According to the media reform organization Free Press, the bill was written by telephone industry lobbyists and is part of a concerted effort by telecommunications corporations to attack net neutrality and public access at the state level after suffering setbacks at the federal level due to widespread public opposition. Under the terms outlined in the bill, public access, including channels such as Grand Rapids’ GRTV are threatened, while network neutrality on the internet–the principle that all content must be delivered equally and without preference (for example, traffic to Media Mouse is treated the same as that to WOOD TV and there is no preference given to corporate content)–is being threatened by a bill that the Grand Rapids Community Media Center has called “full of ambiguous language and technically flawed” in an email titled “PEG Specific Issues in HB 6456: From a Community Media Perspective” and distributed to that organization’s membership.

The analysis prepared by the Grand Rapids Community Media Center highlights a number of reasons why Michigan residents should oppose the bill. The bill mandates that public, education, and government access channels be delivered to cable providers via the method that they chose, requiring public, educational, and government entities to invest in expensive new hardware in order to deliver content. Under current franchise agreements, which are currently negotiated by municipalities (but would no longer be under HB 6456) in exchange for the use of public rights of way, this content is delivered to cable companies at no cost via cable’s upstream channels. HB 6456 restricts franchise fees to up to 1% and mandates that they be used for capital costs such as buildings rather than allowing access facilities to allocate the money as needed. Upstream (iNets) channels would also be eliminated, meaning that communities using a portion of the cable system for public safety (911), government communications, video transmission, or for local program acquisition would have to immediately replace critical systems. The bill makes no mention of where funding for such upgrades would come from, suggesting that it would likely have to come from local taxpayers. The bill would also limit the number of access channels to those that currently exist preventing future additions and would allow cable companies to place access channels in any package they chose rather than being required to place them the most affordable packages as currently stipulated.

Opponents of the bill have planned a rally for Tuesday November 27 in Lansing from 12:00pm to 1:00pm on the steps of the Michigan capitol building. The legislation has attracted national attention and as such the rally is being sponsored or attended by a variety of entities including the Michigan chapter of the Alliance for Community Media, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Free Press, MoveOn, and even Google. Free Press’ call to action describes Lansing as “swarming” with AT&T lobbyists who are attempting to push the bill through as soon as possible while the Michigan Alliance for Community Media is urging citizens to stand up for “broadband competition, PEG Access, and internet freedom.” The Alliance call goes on to label the pending bill “a hand-out to AT&T and Comcast.” In addition to the rally, Free Press has an online email action that allows Michigan residents to send a letter opposing the bill and is encouraging people to submit letters to the editors of their local newspapers as a means of publicizing the issue. In order to facilitate the “letter to the editor” action, Free Press has setup an online application to expedite the process.

Media Mouse on MySpace

As another way of promoting our work, Media Mouse now has a presence on Myspace (http://www.myspace.com/mediamousegr) and encourages people to add us as a friend as a way of further promoting the website. Of course, with MySpace owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp (the parent company of Fox News), Media Mouse has no illusions about MySpace offering independent media, instead it is quite clear where MySpace stands. Moreover, MySpace, while being one of the most popular websites in the country and being utilized by many youth activists, also comes with a number of caveats. In the past year several activists have been targeted through postings on MySpace, with arrests of anarchist teenagers who bragged about vandalizing churches or doing graffiti, as well as providing additional “evidence” in the “green scare” that has targeted radical animal rights and environmental activists. According to indictments filed in some of the cases, evidence from MySpace linking suspects to anarchist protests and CrimethInc literature was used by prosecutors as justification for denying bail. Of course, as with any online service, folks participating in any type of political activity should exercise caution when using them and keep in mind the tenants of security culture and refrain from posting pictures and describing their political involvement online.

In addition, Grand Rapids Critical Mass and Activate are two other local activist projects with a presence on MySpace.