Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

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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.

Call Ehlers to Oppose Legislation that will make it Easier to Build a New Coal Power Plant in Holland

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I’ve never been a big fan of MoveOn–they are generally way too close to the Democratic Party and are largely unwilling to challenge U.S. imperialism–but they did send out a nice action alert to the people on their West Michigan mailing list asking them to call Representative Vern Ehlers about a measure in Congress that would repeal sections of the Clean Air Act and make it easier to remove roadblocks to the plant.

In the past, MediaMouse.org has highlighted local opposition to the plant and highlighted how the technology being promoted for it is unproven. Aside from being a good way to help stop the coal rush in Michigan, it’s also a good test to see how Ehlers–who has the reputation of being an environmentalist–responds.

Please take the time to call Representative Ehlers today:

For years, Holland Board of Public Works has been trying to build a dirty, coal-fired power plant in Holland, not far from you. If built, the James DeYoung Power Plant would spew out smog and soot pollution, and you’d be in the high-risk zone for health effects. (1)

Until now, local activists with groups like the Sierra Club have been able to stop this and other plants. Relying on the Clean Air Act and other protections, activists have heroically battled Holland Board of Public Works to keep this giant new polluter out of Holland. (2)

But now, coal industry lobbyists have forced a terrible provision into the new energy bill–it would repeal crucial sections of the Clean Air Act and remove some key remaining roadblocks to Holland Board of Public Works’s plant. (3)

Congress is voting next week. Can you call Rep. Ehlers right away?

You can say something like this: “I don’t want a new dirty coal plant in Holland. Please oppose the repeal of the Clean Air Act provisions in the energy bill.”

Representative Vernon Ehlers

Phone: 202-225-3831

Grand Rapids District Office: 616-451-8383

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

http://pol.moveon.org/call/index.html?cp_id=956&tg=FHMI_03&id=&t=14

What does this mean in your area? If the coal industry wins, local groups may be unable to stop the James DeYoung Power Plant in Holland. The Clean Air Act provision at stake here requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for global warming pollution for coal plants. Every local coal plant fight is different, but in general it’ll be much easier for coal companies and utilities to get funding to build new plants if there’s no chance the EPA will force those plants to cut their global warming pollution.

How did this happen? For years, George W. Bush refused to use the Clean Air Act to cut global warming pollution. But the Obama administration has taken the first steps toward changing that, so the coal industry is desperate to take away Obama’s authority to limit global warming pollution.

We got Congress’s attention in the last two weeks with a powerful grassroots drive to fix this and other problems in the energy bill. We made thousands of phone calls, wrote letters to local newspapers, and delivered petition signatures in person to hundreds of congressional offices. But we’re not there yet.

The clock is ticking down to the big vote next week, and we need to stop the repeal of this key provision in the Clean Air Act. Can you call Rep. Ehlers today?

Sources:

1. “Surry coal plant: Just say no,” The (Newport News) Daily Press, June 7, 2009 and “Estimating the Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power Plants Receiving International Financing,” Environmental Defense Fund, 2009

2. “Stopping the Coal Rush,” Sierra Club and “Taking on King Coal,” Time, November 5, 2008

3. “EPA urged to act on climate, not wait for Congress,” Associated Press, May 18, 2009

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.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Measure Introduced to Repeal Ban on Same-Sex Marriage; Brother Defends Local Administrator of Racist Website

Here are some interesting articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that were published elsewhere on the web in the past couple of days:

  • Byrnes same-sex marriage initiative surprises Mich. Democrats – State Representative Pam Brynes is introducing legislation to reverse the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. According to Brynes, the time is right with recent polls showing that most Michigan residents support same-sex marriage and even former Vice President Dick Cheney saying that it’s time.
  • Appeals court allows ACLU challenge on public defender system to go forward – A Michigan Court of Appeals in Ingham County has rejected a claim of immunity by the state of Michigan and allowed a challenge filed by the ACLU on behalf of a class of indigent defendants against the state’s public defender system to go to trial.
  • Senate bills would weaken environmental rules, privatize review – Michigan State Senator Judson Gilbert has introduced two bills in the Senate that would weaken environmental laws by taking away the state’s ability to make laws stricter than their federal counterparts. The bills would also require state agencies to review all laws and asses their friendliness to business.
  • Michigan’s Unkindest Cuts – This is a short commentary piece published over at Michigan Liberal that criticizes the state of Michigan’s decision to cut funding for the arts. The author argues that arts funding–always the first to be cut–is a critical means of attracting new residents to Michigan.
  • Man died defending home despite U.S. eviction moratorium – Late last month, local and state police wearing SWAT equipment and using an armored truck showed up at an Allen Park home to evict a man who was living in his house despite its being foreclosed. The man was shot and killed when police shot a barrage of bullets at his house. Now, several weeks after the shooting, it’s still unclear what happened.
  • Most of West Michigan’s federal stimulus money flowing to road work – The majority of federal stimulus money being spent in West Michigan is going towards roads. The Grand Rapids Press has a handy map highlighting the various projects that have received funding.
  • A question of race? Working couple stopped by police – The Muskegon Chronicle has a disturbing report about racial profiling: an African-American couple quit their job distributing phone books in the predominately white town of Grand Haven because they felt unwelcome after two encounters with police.
  • Mike Lloyd: The special privilege of a Press career – Grand Rapids Press editor Mike Lloyd–who is leaving the Press–gushes about his brushes with power over the years. While not particularly newsworthy, it’s a good reminder of why I’m so glad to see him go.
  • Grand Rapids’ Downtown Development Authority: Did members assemble illegally? – Grand Rapids’ Downtown Development Authority used a secret meeting to discuss a controversial spending plan. Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time the DDA has used secret meetings. The Grand Rapids Press has more in this must-read article.
  • Brother defends hate site operator Steve Reimink who has ties to alleged Holocaust Museum shooter – The brother of Steve Reimink–who was tied to a racist website operated by the Holocaust museum shooter–is trying claim that Steve Reimink is just a normal guy with no ties to organized racism. In the article from the Grand Rapids Press, the Southern Poverty Law Center says that is extremely unlikely.
  • Fair Tax plan wins big at convention – Tea Party activists in Michigan–an outgrowth of national rightwing protests against taxes back in April–are considering a ballot measure to implement a so-called “fair tax” that would replace Michigan’s taxes with a single higher sales tax.

Local and Michigan Headlines: What Happened to Single Payer Health Care; College-Bound Michigan Students Unsure about Financial Aid

Some worthwhile articles published elsewhere in the past 24 hours or so:

Holocaust Museum Shooter has West Michigan Ties

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By now, most MediaMouse readers have probably heard that James Von Brunn shot and killed security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was the third shooting connected to the white supremacist movement in the past three months.

Not too long after the shooting, news came out that Von Brunn is actually a well-known white supremacist who has been active in the racist movement for years. According to Democracy Now, Von Brunn worked for Noontide Press, which later became a part of the Institute for Historical Review–a leading holocaust denial organization. Back in the 1980s, Von Brunn staged an attack on the U.S. Federal Reserve, claiming that it is a part of an international Jewish conspiracy. Von Brunn served six-and-a-half years in prison for that crime. When he emerged from prison, he became involved in the racist movement once again. According to The Washington Post, Von Brunn was interested in the potential of the Internet and supported himself by selling racist propaganda. In 1999, Von Brunn wrote a book titled Kill the Best Gentiles that ranted about the impending destruction of the white race.

West Michigan Ties to the Shooting: From the Racist Movement to the Ron Paul Movement

Although Von Brunn was from Maryland, he has ties to West Michigan. His website–HolyWesternEmpire.org–was (it is now down) operated by a West Michigan man by the name of Steve Reimink. Reimink lives in West Olive and allegedly took control of the website–which contains some of Von Brunn’s anti-Semetic writings–in the year 2000. . The domain’s email registration was steveo1488@hotmail.com. The “1488” is a reference to common neo-nazi numerology, with 14 referring to David Lane’s so-called “14 Words” motto (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) and the “88” being numerical shorthand for “Heil, Hitler.” The Grand Rapids Press looked into the West Michigan connections a bit, as did WOOD TV. They don’t uncover anything too interesting and generally don’t put the connection into the context of the larger white supremacist movement.

Interestingly, some blogs have been reporting that Reimink’s girlfriend is involved with Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty as an Ottawa County organizer. Her phone number is the same as what is listed in the registration for Von Brunn’s website. This wouldn’t be the first time that connections between Ron Paul’s organizations (Campaign for Liberty and his presidential campaign) were tied to white supremacy. Last year, MediaMouse.org reported that a Ku Klux Klan member from Michigan was a coordinator for Paul’s presidential campaign.

A Reminder of Why Anti-Fascist Organizing is Needed

Sadly, it isn’t much of a surprise that Von Brunn has ties to West Michigan–the state has a long history of connections to the racist movement. Michigan is home to prominent white supremacists including John Tanton (one of the key funders of the anti-immigration movement) and James Wickstrom. In addition, there are numerous racist groups active in the state and there have been several white supremacist events in the state.

While this is sad and outraging, at the same time, it’s a sobering reminder of why it is key to pursue anti-racist and anti-fascist organizing. All too often, much of the left–particularly the more mainstream portions–have written off white supremacists as fringe whackos who don’t need to be taken seriously. They’ll frequently make arguments that organized racists make fools out of themselves (thus neutralizing themselves, according to the line of arguing), that they don’t have any following, and that as reprehensible as their rhetoric may be, it is protected by the constitution and should just be ignored. Aside from being statements being made from a considerable amount of privilege, I don’t think they are true. When white supremacists are ignored, they make gains–whether that be by increasing their literature distribution, entering the electoral realm, or attempting to recruit teenagers–all of which have been used in Michigan.

I’m not sure that strong anti-fascist organizing could have stopped this shooting–or other similar “lone wolf” acts by white supremacists–but it can make it a whole lot harder for white supremacists to organize. Folks like Von Brunn operate within the organized racist movement and the smaller that movement, the less support they will have. Moreover, the more that anti-fascists confront the racist movement, the less traction the fewer inroads they will be able to make. It’s critically important that the racist movement be confronted at every turn, otherwise–as has been shown repeatedly in the past–they will continue to garner followers.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Updates on Coal Plants in Michigan; Pete Hoekstra is Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World”

Here’s some interesting headlines covering Grand Rapids and Michigan from the past twenty-four hours: