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.
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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:

Local and Michigan Headlines: Film Looks at Philanthropy in Grand Rapids; Family Research Council Candidate for Hoekstra’s Seat

Here are some interesting articles published elsewhere in the past 24 hours covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Hoekstra Still Supporting Torture

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Unfortunately, it isn’t exactly news that Representative–and candidate for governor–Pete Hoekstra supports torture. He’s been a strong proponent of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program and has said it was successful in preventing terrorist attacks.

However, Hoekstra has recently backed off a bit, still arguing that the interrogations produced useful intelligence, but speaking very carefully about his own support for the program.

In the Wall Street Journal, Hoekstra criticized President Obama’s release of government memos on torture and said their release makes it harder for intelligence agencies to function. He also said that their release was unnecessary, as Congressional support for the tactics was well known:

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Of Hoekstra’s current view on torture, The Grand Rapids Press reported:

In an interview Friday, Hoekstra stopped short of endorsing the interrogation technique, in which a person is made to experience the sensation of drowning.

“I didn’t go through the decision-making process back in 2003 when the president and the leadership decided it was an appropriate way to go,” Hoekstra said.

“I don’t know whether I would reach the same decision today.”

However, he added, “I think in total the process we used — enhanced interrogation techniques — kept America safer, prevented attacks and there are Americans alive today because of it.”

Clearly, Hoekstra believes the program worked–he’s just hoping to minimize it as an issue for both himself and Republicans. Hoekstra says he wasn’t aware of waterboarding being used when it happened, but he has supported its use. In the past, Hoekstra has voted against banning tactics including waterboarding, electric shock, beatings and mock executions and has said that those do not constitute torture because they do not inflict physical injury.

Ehlers: Votes Against Spending Bill, Ignores his own Projects

Ehlers Defends His Earmarks, Criticizes Others

I’m a little late on taking note of this article, but last Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press had another classic display of logic by Representative Vern Ehlers.

In an article titled “Congressmen Peter Hoekstra, Vernon Ehlers vote against spending bill with earmarks for their causesthe Grand Rapids Press reports that Vern Ehlers recently opposed a government spending bill because it was loaded with $410 billion in appropriations. Ehlers even called it irresponsible in a time of crisis.

Of course, the problem is that Ehlers inserted his own earmarks in the bill, even as he criticized others. Ehlers inserted $3.8 million in funding for a new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids, $500,000 for the Grand Rapids-based Our Community’s Children after-school program, and more than $300,000 for apple fire blight.

Ehlers defended the projects, describing them as “real good and real important.” And they probably are. The problem is that the other 8,500 projects also probably seem real good to their sponsoring legislators and their constituents.

Focusing on Twitter, Missing the Story on Iraq

Focusing on Pete Hoekstra's Twitter Updates from Iraq, Media Misses the Story on Iraq

Over the past week, West Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra’s use of Twitter while on a trip in Iraq, has been all over the local media and the liberal blogosphere. The Grand Rapids Press ran two articles, WOOD TV 8 ran several stories, WZZM 13 covered it, and so did WXMI. While covering what was a potentially serious issue and discussion, many stories opted to use rather tongue-and-cheek headlines such as “Hoekstra tweets set Congress a-twitter” and “Hoekstra’s trip twitters to an end” that made light of the story.

However, what is probably the most frustrating is that for all the coverage Hoekstra’s use of Twitter got, none of the media outlets in Grand Rapids bothered to report on Hoekstra’s trip to Iraq. This is unfortunate, because Hoekstra certainly made claims at a post-trip news conference that would have been worth investigating.

For example, Hoekstra makes the claim that the United States had defeated the “radical jihadists” in Iraq and that now those people–whom he does not define but associates with Al-Qaida–are moving “the focal point” of their efforts to Afghanistan. To that end, Hoekstra is now advocating a “strong military presence in Aghanistan.”

It was also news worthy that Hoekstra–a long time advocate of the US occupation of Iraq–said in the Ludington Daily News that “Everybody I talked to, and everything you saw there led you to be relatively optimistic … Now it’s a matter of how fast you pull down our troops.” Similarly, other Republicans on the trip to Iraq describe the “drawdown” of US troops from Iraq as “justifiable.”

Perhaps, the media looked at Hoekstra’s past statements on Iraq and found that he wasn’t a reliable source and decided not to report on his trip. After all, Hoekstra was the one who claimed in 2006 that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) had been found in Iraq. The claim was quickly dismissed by experts on the topic who said that the weapons were outdated and discarded long before the 2003 invasion.

Sadly, this probably has more to do with the corporate media’s laziness and zest for inconsequential, novelty reporting–for example a politician using a newfangled Internet tool–than a rejection of Hoekstra as an unreliable source.

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.

The Press Reports on Labor Law that it has Opposed

The Grand Rapids Press Reported Yesterday On The Employee Free Choice Act

In yesterday’s the Grand Rapids Press, there was lengthy article that looked at attitudes in West Michigan towards the Employee Free Choice Act. At the center of the article was a debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that was first proposed in 2007 to reform labor laws in the United States.

According to the AFL-CIO, the Act would make it easier for workers to form unions by:

Labor unions charge that the current system for forming unions is broken. They argue that the National Labor Relations Boards (NLRB) election process is so long and so tilted in favor of employers that it encourages anti-union campaigns.

Not surprisingly, the Employee Free Choice Act has been opposed by a variety of corporations, business owners, and politicians who argue that the law would give an “unfair” advantage to unions. They claim that the measure is anti-democratic because it would get rid of the “secret ballot.” Those opposing the law want to keep in place the current NLRB elections process because it guarantees them an advantage.

Employee Free Choice Act through the Lens of the Grand Rapids Press

A few short days after the Grand Rapids Press ran an article reporting that unionized workers earn more in West Michigan, the Press looked at the debate in an article titled “Companies, unions prepare for a faceoff over Employee Free Choice Act.” For the most part, the article is a fair look at the issue–talking to a variety of lawyers, union organizers, employers, and politicians. However, it is worth noting that earlier this month, the Press came out strongly against the Employee Free Choice Act in an editorial.

Local Politicians Weigh In

The Grand Rapids Press article also looks at what two local politicians–Republican Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra–have to say about the measure. In the past, both have opposed the measure. Ehlers is quoted more, saying that–without any kind of proof–that the measure “will probably hurt West Michigan.” He says that although he has opposed the measure, he thinks it will pass the House of Representatives. He anticipates a debate the Senate, but expects it will ultimately pass.

Still, he hopes that workers might think twice before forming unions:

“When people are lucky to have a job, maybe they’ll be worried about signing something like that.”

As always, these kind of comments are a good opportunity to look at how politicians have voted on related issues in the past. While the Grand Rapids Press fails to do that, the AFL-CIO’s legislative scorecard reports that Ehlers has a poor record of supporting pro-union policies.

He has also received substantial financial support over the years from groups representing business interests.