Ex-Gay Conference in Grand Rapids to be met by Panel, Protest

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I received a disturbing email earlier today about an “ex-gay” conference at Sunshine Community Church here in Grand Rapids. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, “ex-gay” ministries are rightwing religious/political ministries that operate with a homophobic/anti-gay agenda that says that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be “cured” by prayer and/or “reparative therapy.”

This particular conference is sponsored by a group affiliated with Focus on the Family called Love Wins Out. It’s part of a multi-million dollar industry of rightwing ministries focused on repressing LGBT people. The conference features sessions outlining “the family dynamics that can lead to the development of same-sex desires,” how lesbians are a result of “emotional dependency,” how to raise children “toward a healthy heterosexual identity,” and how to pursue legislative efforts aimed at stopping LGBT equality.

If anything good came out of the news, it’s that there is already serious organizing going into the countering the hateful message of the program, with Grand Valley State University organizing a panel discussion on ex-gay ministries and a protest at Calder Plaza.

An email from GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center provides some background information and outlines the events:

Dear members and friends of the LGBT community,

Focus on the Family is bringing their anti-gay seminar “Love Won Out” to Sunshine Ministry Church on Saturday, June 13th. This program has a “pray away the gay” philosophy.

To present another side to that conversation, Grand Valley State University will host a panel discussion on religion and homophobia that will feature national and local experts.

“Religion and Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in Our Community” is set for Thursday, June 11, from 7-9 p.m. in the Eberhard Center, Room 215, on Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus at 301 W. Fulton St. The event is free and open to the public.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, will begin the discussion with a presentation about the nature, validity, and impact of “ex-gay” reparative ministries or therapies. Truth Wins Out is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community against anti-gay misinformation campaigns.

Panel members will include the following:

• John Corvino, Wayne State University professor, author and lecturer;

• Milt Ford, director of Grand Valley’s LGBT Resource Center;

• Judith Snow, Grand Rapids area forensic therapist and author;

• Doug Van Doren, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ;

• Josh Sleutel, GVSU student, previous reparative therapy patient.

Join our Facebook group, “Religion & Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in our Community” The National Organization of Women is planning a protest response to “Love Won Out” on Saturday, June 13 at noon – Calder Plaza. Join their Facebook group at “Grand Rapids NOW Takes Action!

The event is sponsored by Grand Valley’s Division of Inclusion and Equity, Dean of Students Office, LGBT Resource Center, Women’s Center, Women and Gender Studies Department, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Liberal Studies Department, Allies and Advocates, and the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association.

For more information, call the LGBT Resource Center at (616) 331-2530. Tell your friends!

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Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Democracy Now Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

US, South Korea Raise Military Alert Level

The United States and South Korea have raised their military alert level after North Korea said it would abandon the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War. North Korea’s move follows its nuclear test and several missile launches earlier this week. The US-South Korea Combined Forces Command says it’s raised the alert level to three, the highest since North Korea’s only other nuclear test in 2006.

Ex-Officer: Blocked Photos Showed Rape, Sexual Abuse at Abu Ghraib

The former Army officer in charge of investigating the Abu Graib scandal says the photos recently blocked by President Obama include images of rape and sexual abuse. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Major General Antonio Taguba said at least one picture shows a US soldier raping a female prisoner while another shows a male translator raping a male prisoner. Taguba says other photographs show sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. The Obama administration recently drew criticism when it reversed a pledge to allow the photographs’ release.

US Military Toll Highest in Iraq Since September ’08

In Iraq, four Iraqi civilians and a US soldier were killed Wednesday in a Baghdad car bombing. At least twenty US troops have died in Iraq this month, the most since September 2008.

Israel Vows Continued Settlement Building as Obama, Abbas Meet

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House today for his first meeting with President Obama since Obama’s inauguration. Ahead of Abbas’s arrival, the Obama administration renewed calls for Israel to stop settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. But Israeli officials, meanwhile, said they’ll continue expanding settlements to accommodate so-called “natural growth” amongst settler communities.

Israeli Figures Attribute Settlement Growth to Migration

Israel says it needs to keep building to meet the housing needs of growing settler families. But recent Israeli government statistics show a large percentage of settlement growth was caused by settlers moving in from outside the territories. Despite its call for a settlement freeze, the Obama administration has still refused to demand Israel dismantle any of the large settlements that carve up the West Bank and that the World Court has deemed illegal. In Ramallah, independent Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti called on the US to exert meaningful pressure on the Israeli government.

Mustafa Barghouti: “I believe that the Palestinian president should demand American immediate, clear-cut pressure on Israel. Without American pressure on Israel, there can be no progress for peace and there can be great threat to the idea of peace based on two-state solution.”

Report: Israel Taking Vast Majority of West Bank Water

A new World Bank study says Israel is now drawing four times as much water as Palestinians from a critical shared aquifer in the Occupied West Bank. Palestinians are taking just one-fifth of the water supply amidst a fifth-consecutive drought this year.

Amnesty: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression

The human rights group Amnesty International says the worldwide economic decline is leading to greater repression across the globe. In its annual global report, Amnesty warns, “We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode.” The report says abuses are increasing as marginalized communities demand basic rights amidst worsening economic security. It also says incidents of racism and xenophobia are on the rise in addition to new restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers. Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said the United States needs to address growing inequality at home.

Irene Khan: “We saw in the Americas in the last year still the issue of inequality very much on the agenda. The economic crisis has made it even more prominent now, where poor people are being ignored, indigenous peoples’ rights are being trampled upon, business and the economy taking precedence over livelihoods and lives of people. That is a major problem in the Americas.”

The full Amnesty International report comes out today.

Lengthy Sentences Handed Down in Holy Land Case

Five founders of a defunct Muslim charity have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in a controversial case that critics have called a political witch-hunt. The Holy Land Foundation founders were convicted last year on charges of funneling money to the Palestinian group Hamas. Holy Land was the nation’s largest Muslim charity until the Bush administration shuttered it in 2001. The case relied on Israeli intelligence as well as disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by the FBI over a span of fifteen years. It was the second trial against the defendants after the first ended in a mistrial. Defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker were sentenced to 65 years apiece. At his sentencing hearing, Elashi said: “Nothing was more rewarding than … turning the charitable contributions of American Muslims into life assistance for the Palestinians. We gave the essentials of life – oil rice flour. The [Israeli] occupation was providing them with death and destruction.” Another defendant, Mohammad El-Mezain, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Hamas but acquitted on 31 other charges. Volunteer fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader was sentenced to 20 years in prison. And the fifth defendant, Abdulrahman Odeh, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Army Halts Training at Base over Record Suicides

The U.S. Army has temporarily suspended regular operations at a Kentucky base that leads the military in suicides. At least eleven soldiers have taken their lives at Fort Campbell this year. The Pentagon says it will halt regular training for three days so commanders can identify and help soldiers at risk of suicide.

Admin Mulls Single Agency for Regulating Banks

The Obama administration is reportedly considering establishing a single agency to regulate the banking industry. The new bureau would replace the several bodies that failed to prevent or foresee the nation’s economic collapse. The White House is expected to unveil a formal proposal in the coming weeks.

Obama Orders Secrecy Review

In other White House news President Obama has ordered a review of government secrecy and whether too many documents are being kept from the public. Obama has asked national security adviser James Jones to vet Cabinet officials on their disclosure process and appointed Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to head a task force on government secrecy.

Torture-Linked Firm Vacates Spokane Headquarters

The torture-linked military contractor Mitchell, Jessen and Associates has moved out of its Spokane, Washington office to an undisclosed location. Named for its founders, the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the firm played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s torture methods used on foreign prisoners. The investigative website ProPublica reports Mitchell-Jessen has disconnected its phone number and hasn’t left a forwarding address at its now vacated offices.

Activists Raise Environmental Concerns at Chevron Meeting

Activists gathered in and outside a shareholders meeting for the oil giant Chevron Wednesday in an attempt to call attention to the company’s environmental practices. Activist shareholders were able to address the meeting and propose a motion calling for a report evaluating Chevron’s environmental record. Hundreds of people also gathered outside for a protest against Chevron’s practices in several countries. Chevron is facing a $27 billion dollar damage claim over jungle pollution in Ecuador.

Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Meanwhile dozens gathered outside a New York courthouse where a landmark civil trial against the oil giant Shell had been set to begin. The case accuses Shell of supporting human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, including complicity in the torture and execution of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists. The trial has been delayed until next week. Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International said he hopes the trial will bring attention to problems facing the Niger Delta.

Steve Kretzmann: “What we really hope as a result of the trial is the underlying issues that Ken and the other Niger Delta peoples were trying to address, the constant gas flaring, the pollution of their homeland, the complete abject poverty, we hope these issues are addressed in Nigeria because that is ultimately what Ken and the Ogoni were struggling for and what communities in Nigeria are still struggling for today.”

The case was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-citizens to file suits for human rights abuses overseas.

Illinois Senate Backs Medical Marijuana

In Illinois, the state Senate has passed a measure to legalize medical marijuana. The measure now goes to the state House, where it’s already passed in a committee vote.

U.S. Plans Massive Embassy in Pakistan

The U.S. is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan similar to its current embassy in Iraq. In a recent funding request, the Obama administration asked Congress for $736 million dollars to build a new U.S. embassy as well permanent housing for U.S. officials in Islamabad. The request falls just below the $740 million dollar cost of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Burmese Court Bars Suu Kyi Witnesses

In Burma, the court overseeing the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected three of four witnesses that would have testified on her behalf. Suii Kyi is accused of violating her house arrest over an unwanted visit from an American citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The American, John Yettaw, testified Wednesday he was prompted by a ‘vision’ of Suii Kyi’s assassination. Yettaw is believed to be mentally unstable. Wednesday marked both the 19th anniversary of Suu Kyi’s victory in national elections that Burma’s military junta has refused to acknowledge and the sixth anniversary of the last time she was free from house arrest.

Ex-Chilean Soldier Indicted in Jara Killing

In Chile, a former soldier has been indicted on charges of involvement in the 1973 killing of the Chilean protest singer Victor Jara. Chilean military forces tortured and killed Jara days after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected President Salvador Allende. Jara’s hands were smashed so he could no longer play guitar before he was shot 44 times. The former soldier, Adolfo Paredes Marquez, has admitted to involvement but denies pulling the trigger. Chilean human rights attorney Nelson Caucoto said he hopes the commanding officers can be located and prosecuted.

Nelson Caucoto: “I hope we get to the bosses, the ones who gave the orders. Because I imagine that in this chain of command an 18-year-old didn’t have much of a chance to resist orders.”

Ethnic Studies Pioneer Ronald Takaki Dies at 70

Back in the United States, the ethnic studies professor and author Ronald Takaki has died at the age of 70. Takaki taught at University of California Berkeley for more than three decades. He is widely considered a founding figure in the field of multicultural studies.

Haitian Priest, Activist Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste Dies at 62

And the Haitian spiritual and political leader, the Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste, has died. He was sixty-two years old. Doctors say he suffered a stroke unrelated to the leukemia he battled three years ago. Jean-Juste was well-known as an advocate for Haitian refugees and later an outspoken supporter of the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after his overthrow in the 2004 U.S.-backed coup. The U.S.-appointed provisional government jailed Jean-Juste two times during its rule. The latest came in 2005, right before he was expected to register as a favored candidate in Haiti’s national elections. In 2004, I interviewed Father Jean-Juste right after his release from his first prison term.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste: “Look what they have done to Haiti, it is broken into pieces. Now we have to collect the pieces, and allow the people to come together, and I don’t see any way now unless President Aristide is restored to power and democracy has been corrected. The same way we do it in 1994.”

Single Payer Health Care Day of Action on May 30

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In light of news of health insurance monopolies in Michigan, the group Healthcare-NOW! is organizing protests for single payer health care on May 30 in over forty cities nationwide. The protests will be going on at the same time as the AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans, a private health insurance lobby) conference in San Diego.

Multiple studies have shown that single payer would be much more cost-effective than both the current system and Obama’s public/private plan. Overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing, profits, and executive pay make up 31% of all money spent on health care right now. A single payer system would cut all that out and use the savings to extend coverage to everyone. This plan is different from what Obama has proposed, which includes keeping the for-profit health insurance industry.

In West Michigan there will be one protest organized by Single Payer Michigan. The group is based out of Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. According to the facebook event page the protest is called “Demand single payer national health care now!” and it will begin at 1 PM on May 30th, at the Federal Building.

Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Democracy Now Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

UN Security Council Condemns North Korean Nuclear Test

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned North Korea for carrying out an underground nuclear test Monday. It was North Korea’s second nuclear test in three years. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said it is too early to tell if the Security Council will approve a new round of sanctions against North Korea.

Susan Rice: “What we heard today was swift, clear, unequivocal condemnation in opposition to what occurred. The meeting was brief and everybody spoke and everybody essentially took the same view. We are now resolved to work on a resolution. We believe it ought to be a strong resolution with appropriately strong contents, but obviously unless and until we have completed the process of negotiating that resolution, it would be premature to suggest what its contents would be.”

In a statement Monday, North Korea said the nuclear test was intended to “bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way.” Hours after the Security Council vote, North Korea fired two more short-range missiles. In response to the nuclear test, South Korea announced it would immediately join a US-led initiative to intercept ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, component parts or missiles to deliver them. Pyongyang has warned it would consider South Korea’s membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative to be an act of war. At the White House, President Barack Obama denounced North Korea’s actions.

President Obama: “North Korea’s actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea’s own prior commitments. Now, the United States and the international community must take action in response.”

Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal

In Afghanistan, leaders of the Taliban and other armed groups are reportedly talking to intermediaries about a potential peace agreement, with initial demands focused on a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. This according to the New York Times. The discussions have so far produced no agreements, since the militants appear to be insisting that any deal include an American promise to withdraw.

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bombing

Meanwhile a suicide car bomber plowed into a NATO convoy earlier today, killing three American soldiers and a civilian passer-by on a main road north of Kabul.

Pakistani Civilians Stuck in Swat Valley Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe

In Pakistan, Human Rights Watch is calling on the military to lift its curfew in the Swat Valley where the Pakistani military is battling the Taliban. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said: “The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water, and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban.” More than 2.4 million people have fled the region this month but up to 200,000 civilians remain trapped inside the conflict zone.

U.S. Relies on Foreign Nations To Hold Prisoners

The New York Times is reporting the United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain prisoners seized outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. The current approach began two years ago and has gained momentum under President Obama. Detainees who once would have been taken to secret CIA prisons or Guantanamo are now being handed over to other governments. At least four Middle Eastern countries as well as Pakistan are currently holding men captured based on information provided by the United States.

Sen. Feingold Warns Obama About Preventive Detention Plan

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has criticized President Obama’s plan to hold some prisoners indefinitely inside the United States without trial. In a letter to the president, Feingold said any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional. Feingold said, “Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”

Proposed Israel Laws Call for Loyalty Oath and Ban on Nabka Protests

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party plans to propose a law requiring residents to swear loyalty to the Jewish state. The party has also proposed legislation to ban the commemoration of the “Nakba” or “disaster,” which many Arab Israelis and Palestinians mark while the Jewish state marks its Independence Day. Under the proposed legislation, those publicly commemorating the Nakba could be jailed. The proposed laws have been denounced by Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Khalaili, Arab Israeli Resident: “First, we as Arabs, and as the remaining Palestinians, refuse this discourse. We consider the Nakba a part of the Palestinian history and culture. Just like we don’t ask the Jews to cancel the Holocaust. Using the same measurements, and the same meanings, it is impossible to cancel the Nakba day because it is an element that can’t be excluded from the Palestinians existence.”

Netanyahu: Israel Will Continue Building Settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will continue to build homes in existing West Bank settlements, defying U.S. calls to halt settlement growth.

400 LA Students Walk Out of Classes to Protest Teacher Cuts

In Los Angeles, about 400 students walked out of classes on Friday to protest possible teacher layoffs. The Los Angeles Unified School District faces up to $131 million in new cuts this year and could lay off up to 2,500 teachers.

17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

In West Virginia, 17 people were arrested Saturday during a series of protests against the coal industry. The protesters marked a new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a campaign to end mountaintop removal mining. The first two arrests occurred when two activists wearing hazmat suits and respirators boated onto an 8-billion-gallon toxic coal slurry lake to unfurl a 60-foot floating banner reading, “No more toxic sludge!” They were charged with trespass and littering. Later in the day eight more protesters were arrested on trespassing and conspiracy charges after they walked onto the Kayford Mountain mine and locked themselves to a giant dump truck. Seven others were arrested at Massey Energy’s Marfork Coal facility. Former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler took part in the protest but police refused to arrest the 94-year-old former lawmaker.

Six of the anti-coal protesters remain in jail.

Medical Group Calls For Ban on Genetically Modified Foods

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on genetically modified foods. The medical organization warned that genetically modified foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health. Dr. Amy Dean said “Multiple animal studies have shown that GM foods cause damage to various organ systems in the body. With this mounting evidence, it is imperative to have a moratorium on GM foods for the safety of our patients’ and the public’s health.”

Indian Human Rights Activist Dr. Binayak Sen Released on Bail

In India, human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen has been released on bail after being held for two years. Sen is the National Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He was arrested in May 2007, for allegedly helping the Maoist insurgency in the state of Chhattisgarh.

California Supreme Court To Rule on Gay Marriage Law Today

In California the state Supreme Court will issue its ruling today on whether the state’s gay-marriage ban will stand. In addition the court is expected to address the legal status of some 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California before voters approved Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage.

State Department To Extend Benefits to Partners of Gay Diplomats

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to soon announce that the partners of gay and lesbian U.S. diplomats will be eligible for many benefits currently denied them and allowed to spouses of heterosexual diplomats.

Liberty University Bans College Democrats Club

And in education news, Liberty University has banned the College Democrats Club from campus. In a letter to the group, a school administrator wrote: “We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University.” Liberty University is a Christian College founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

FBI Infiltrated Iowa Anti-War Group in Advance of RNC Protests

Republican National Convention (RNC) Protests

The legal fallout from the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention (RNC) last year has been intense. Eight activists from the Twin Cities have been charged as being a part of a criminal conspiracy, while at the same, extensive infiltration of protest groups by local and federal law enforcement has been documented. This attention didn’t just focus on activists in the Twin Cities as activists in Texas who were planning to participate in the protests were monitored for months beforehand by an undercover FBI informant.

Now news has come out of still more infiltration, this time of a protest group in Iowa City. According to the Des Moines Register, an FBI informant was used to spy on a group of anarchists from Iowa City. The local police department was not familiar with the FBI surveillance, but they have indicated that they were aware of an undercover officer being sent to the city by Ramsey County (where St. Paul is located) to spy on activists.

According to the newspaper, the FBI agent collected detailed information regarding Iowa City activists planning to attend the RNC:

The FBI documents provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The documents also include individuals’ plans for the convention demonstrations.

Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

The FBI documents show the investigative reports were written in August 2008 by Special Agent Thomas Reinwart, who is assigned to Cedar Rapids, based on reports from a “confidential human source” in Iowa City.

Individual names of protesters were blacked out of the copy of the FBI documents obtained by the Register, but the dossiers included personal facts.

For example, one woman was described as white, 5 feet 10 inches, 140 pounds, with blond hair and glasses. The report said she lived in Cedar Rapids, and it provided her cell phone number. She was characterized as a member of a specific subgroup who had interests in medic training and as a legal observer.

“She drives a little, dark green four door hatchback,” the report said.

A white man in his 20s who had recently moved to Iowa from Mississippi was also profiled by the FBI informant. “He is planning on attending the RNC and participating with the ‘Queer Block’ and ‘Bash Back,’ which are groups affiliated with the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender movement. Several hundred people associated with these two groups plan on doing their own thing and blocking an unknown (intersection),” the document said.

According to law enforcement officials, it was a fear of possible “crime” at the RNC that motivated the spying. And just what was the crime? Non-violent civil disobedience. Activists from Iowa City planned to organize a non-violent street blockade to disrupt access to the convention in order to have their political grievances heard. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries and something that has a rich history in the United States. The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the labor movement, and many other movements in United States’ have all used civil disobedience.

Religious Right Group Files Lawsuit Against Radical Queer Group over Church Disruption

Bash Back Protest

The rightwing Alliance Defense Fund has announced yesterday that has filed a lawsuit in federal court (Western District of Michigan) against activists who disrupted a church service in Lansing last Fall. The activists–part of a national queer/transgender network called Bash Back!–disrupted a church service at the “anti-queer mega church” Mount Hope outside of Lansing, Michigan. Bash Back! targeted the church over its anti-gay politics.

While the protest resulted in no arrests or local charges, the Alliance Defense Fund is now pursuing an effort in federal court to hold the activists responsible for civil rights violations (physical obstruction to a place of worship and intimidation at a place of worship) and trespassing.

According to independent media sources and Bash Back! the lawsuit has resulted in subpoenas being served on three activists in the Midwest. The federal complaint lists 14 activists by name who are believed to be associated with Bash Back! and the protest. In some cases, the complaint says specifically what activists are accused of doing–i.e. providing transportation–or that they were documented as being there by local law enforcement.

Much of the complaint focuses on Bash Back!’s use of so-called violent imagery of guns and activists glad in bandanas. It also argues that Bash Back! deliberately sought to intimidate the congregation and instill fear.

ADF says that the actions of Bash Back! indicate “how dangerous the homosexual agenda is to our First Liberty, religious freedom.”

In response to the lawsuit, Bash Back! said:

The work of devoted Bash Back!ers and allies determined that this morning’s hysteria is the result of the Alliance Defense Fund, a notorious anti-womyn, anti-queer, racist organization. The ADF decided to sue Bash Back!, Bash Back! Lansing and individuals because the authorities would not file a single criminal complaint regarding an action at the Mount Hope Church in Lansing last fall. But that’s not all! Those pesky evange-fascists are trying to identify and out up to 20 other people involved with Bash Back! in the hopes that criminal charges will be placed against them.

Interestingly, the lawsuit is alleging that Bash Back! Violated the church’s and its congregation’s first amendment rights under the FACE Act, a federal act that was first passed to limit the activities of anti-abortion protestors.

In the past, the Alliance Defense Fund has campaigned against measures aimed at giving civil rights to transgendered and gay citizens.

Headlines: Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Dozens Killed as Sri Lankan Military Bombs Hospital

Sri Lankan government forces have bombed the lone hospital in a northern war zone for the second time in as many days. At least fifteen people were killed and another forty wounded in today’s shelling, one day after at least forty-nine people were killed in the first attack. One of the bombs landed in a hospital ward filled with patients wounded in yesterday’s strike. Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan military is violating a pledge not to shell the tiny area controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Admin Might Not Release Torture Photos

The Obama administration is wavering on a vow to release several dozen photos depicting the torture and abuse of prisoners in CIA and military jails overseas. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has “great concern” about the photos and declined to say whether they’ll be kept under wraps.

Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Torture

Lawmakers are holding the first congressional hearing today on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear from witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former Condoleezza Rice aide Philip Zelikow. Soufan is expected to challenge Bush administration claims the torture techniques used on foreign prisoners were successful in gaining intelligence. According to ABC News, Soufan will tell lawmakers the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah went awry after the CIA ordered him to follow the torture plan devised by military psychologist and private contractor James Mitchell.

Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner

A Yemeni national has been ordered released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, a federal judge said the government has failed to prove twenty-five-year-old Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed had ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Ahmed has been jailed at Guantanamo since 2002.

Geithner: Social Security Not “Untouchable”

A new government report is warning the Social Security and Medicare programs are nearing insolvency sooner than predicted. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said the Medicare fund that covers hospital bills for senior citizens could run out of money by the year 2017. And it said the Social Security trust fund could be depleted by the year 2037, four years earlier than previous warnings. Republicans have long used the warnings of Social Security insolvency to push for its privatization. But the figures are controversial, in part because they fail to account for Treasury Department loans on Social Security’s estimated $2.5 trillion surplus. Economists have also long pointed out Social Security could remain solvent by minimal tax adjustments. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated the White House would be open to Republican attempts to undo Social Security, saying, “The President explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically.”

Afghan Commission Reports Toll of 140 in US Attack

In Afghanistan, a government commission has concluded 140 civilians were killed in last week’s US bombing of two villages in Farah province. If confirmed, it would be the worst single mass killing of Afghan civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Surviving relatives have begun accepting compensation payments, receiving $2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for the wounded.

Army Sgt. Charged for Killing of 5 Comrades

In Iraq, an Army sergeant has been charged in Monday’s killing of five other American service members at a military base near Baghdad. Sergeant John Russell faces five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. Military spokesperson Major General David Perkins said Russell had previously had his gun taken away and had opened fire at a clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins: “The commander of the suspect, that being Sergeant Russell, had taken his weapon away. He had experienced or had been referred to counseling approximately the week beforehand. And through that process, his commander had determined that it would be best for him not to have a weapon. The suspect was apprehended outside the clinic shortly after shots were heard.”

Russell is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Saberi Addresses Media Following Release from Iranian Jail

In Iran, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi has spoken out for the first time since her release. Saberi was freed on Monday after being held since January on charges of being an American spy.

Roxana Saberi: “I’m, of course, very happy to be free and to be with my parents again, and I want to thank all the people all over the world, which I’m just finding out about, really, who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period. I don’t have any specific plans for the moment; I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to relax.”

Ending Boycott, US Wins Seat on UN Human Rights Council

At the United Nations, the US has won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The vote puts an end to a boycott started by the Bush administration over the council’s criticism of the Israeli government. After the vote, UN Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the United States’ new seat but echoed Bush administration concerns.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “While we recognize that the Human Rights Council has been a flawed body that has not lived up to its potential, we are looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of member states to strengthen and reform the Human Rights Council and enable it to live up to the vision that was crafted when it was created.”

Tillman Parents Calls for Review of McChrystal’s Role in Cover-Up of Son’s Death

The parents of the slain Army Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman are calling for a review of the new US commander in Afghanistan’s role in the cover-up of their son’s death. The military initially said Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters but later conceded he died by friendly fire. Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, named this week to replace General David McKiernan, has been accused of urging top generals to ignore the evidence surrounding Tillman’s death. In a statement, Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, called for “careful scrutiny” of Lt. Gen. McChrystal at upcoming confirmation hearings.

House Weakens Emissions Bill

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have weakened a landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill in what they call a necessary move to win broader support. The measure would cap US emissions at a certain level and allow polluters to buy pollution credits that would ostensibly cancel out their emissions. On Tuesday, bill sponsor and House Energy Committee chair Henry Waxman said the bill’s emissions cap has been reduced from 20 to 17 percent, and its required percentage for drawing electricity from renewable sources dropped from 25 to 15 percent. Waxman said the reductions were necessary to win the support of Democrats backed by coal and other major industries.

NY State Assembly Backs Gay Marriage

Here in New York, the State Assembly has approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 89-to-52. The bill now goes to the State Senate, where it faces a tougher challenge.

$12B in Withdrawn Madoff Funds Could Be Retrieved

The New York Times is reporting investors withdrew some $12 billion from accounts at Bernie Madoff’s firm last year. Half of that $12 billion was taken just three months before Madoff was arrested in December on allegations of operating a Ponzi scheme. Madoff is currently in jail awaiting sentencing next month. Under federal law, the trustee handling Madoff’s bankruptcy can sue the investors to retrieve the money they withdrew.

CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld

Video has emerged showing two protesters confronting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. As Rumsfeld entered the building, Desiree Fairooz and Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK were there to greet him.

Desiree Fairooz: “War criminal! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! Arrest the war criminal! I wish I had some handcuffs right now to arrest this man! He is responsible for the death of millions of people! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! You’re protecting a man responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!”

After Desiree Fairooz was taken away by security, Medea Benjamin continued to walk alongside Rumsfeld down a staircase. She announced his arrival to a crowded room by again calling him a “war criminal.”

Medea Benjamin: “Here comes the war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld! War criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! There’s the war criminal! War criminal!”

Torture Memo Author Protested in Hawaii

In Hawaii, more than fifty people gathered outside a federal court building in Honolulu to protest the Bush administration torture memo author Jay Bybee. The demonstration was held as Bybee heard cases in his position as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The group World Can’t Wait has called for protests against Bybee in every city where he hears cases.

Israel Arrests Journalist Amira Hass

In Israel, the Israeli journalist Amira Hass was arrested Tuesday after returning from the Gaza Strip. Hass has been reporting from Gaza for several years. She was arrested on charges of residing in an enemy state and ordered to stay out of Gaza for thirty days.

Prosecutors Win Conviction on Third Try in Sears Tower Case

And in Miami, five defendants have been convicted of a plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. One of the defendants was acquitted. It was the government’s third attempt to convict the so-called “Liberty City Six” after two mistrials. The case has been criticized for lacking any physical evidence and relying on an FBI informant who reportedly devised the plot for which the defendants were convicted.

Protests Force Former Congressman to Cancel Lecture at UNC

Protest Forces Tancredo Off Stage

Back in 2006, protestors at Michigan State University (MSU) confronted racist Congressman Tom Tancredo and disrupted his speech by chanting. In the aftermath, conservatives took to the airwaves claiming that Tancredo was the victim of violence.

Tancredo received a similar welcome earlier this week at the University of North Carolina (UNC):

Before the event, campus security removed two women who delayed Tancredo’s speech by stretching a 12-foot banner across the front of the classroom. It read, “No dialogue with hate.”

Police escorted the women into the hallway, amid more than 30 protesters who clashed with the officers trying to keep them out of the overcrowded classroom. After police released pepper spray and threatened the crowd with a Taser, the protesters gathered outside Bingham Hall.

The protesters relented, and Tancredo began to speak, describing failed state and federal legislation aimed at providing in-state tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants.

Two women stretched out another banner, first along one of the aisles and then right in front of Tancredo. Tancredo grabbed the middle of the banner and tried to pull it away from one of the girls. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say because you don’t agree with me,” he said.

The sound of breaking glass from behind a window shade interrupted the tug-of-war.

Tancredo was escorted from the room by campus police.

Event Follows Similar Script Tancredo’s Michigan State University Appearence

The event was surprisingly similar to Tancredo’s appearance at MSU in 2006. Like that event, the speech was organized by a student group that endorses racism and white supremacy under the guise of opposing “multiculturalism.” In this case, it was a group called “Youth for Western Civilization” a nationwide group that opposes undocumented immigration, multiculturalism, and affirmative action.

Of the group, its president said:

“This is an organization that seeks to promote Western civilization,” Matheson said at the event. “We believe that our civilization is under attack from liberal forces.”

Matheson said his organization supports people from every race participating in Western civilization, but that they must be properly assimilated to American culture first.

At Michigan State University, it was Young Americans for Freedom who organized Tancredo’s speech.

Tactically, the appearances were similar: the rightwing student group brought a controversial speaker to campus to provoke “violence” from leftist student groups, put members of their group in the crowd with video cameras to capture images of the “violence,” and then went on the news to denounce the left.

Those who have been following this blog for the past few years will remember that Young Americans for Freedom at MSU brought in a string of racist speakers–Chris Simcox, Nick Griffin, and Jared Taylor. The organization was later dubbed “a hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. However, every time we saw the same thing–invite a speaker with the hopes of provoking a confrontation and then use that in an attempt to gain more support for their cause.

Headlines: Obama Follows Bush Policy on Limiting Detainee Access to Courts; 19 Arrested at New School Protest

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Follows Bush Policy on Limiting Detainee Access to Courts; 19 Arrested at New School Protest

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Navy Seals Free Ship Captain; Shoot Dead Three Somali Pirates

US Navy special forces freed an American ship captain Sunday by killing the three Somali pirates who were holding him hostage in a lifeboat. The rescue of Richard Phillips ended a five-day standoff that began when four pirates attempted to seize a US ship on Wednesday. The crew escaped harm after the captain offered himself as a hostage. Over the weekend, President Obama authorized the use of force if it appeared the captain’s life was in imminent danger. Hours before the pirates were shot dead by the Navy Seals, Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard appeared on ABC’s This Week and said an international legal framework is needed to address piracy.

Admiral Thad Allen: “I think the real issue is to create an international legal framework where there are consequences for these actions. For the past six to twelve months, we in the United States Coast Guard, with our other partners in government, have been working through entities like the International Maritime Organization to gain the UN Security Council resolutions that authorize entry into Somalian territorial waters and land to protect world food shipments. What you really have to have is a coordinating mechanism that ultimately brings these pirates to court, where they can be held accountable.”

A fourth Somali pirate is in US custody after surrendering earlier in the standoff. US officials admitted the killing of the pirates could escalate violence in the region. Somali pirates are still holding more than a dozen ships and more than 200 hostages. Piracy began in the region after Western ships started dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia, devastating the Somali fishing industry. Somali fishermen said they are worried about the increased presence of foreign navy warships off the coast.

Abdikadir Munganih: “We are very worried about the military activities on our sea by the international coalition who are fighting against Somali pirates, because sometimes when we go further out to sea we face a very dangerous situation because of their fleets on our sea, and since they began these operations, we catch less fish.”

US Considers Striking Al-Shabab Camps in Somalia

In other news from Somalia, the Washington Post reports President Obama is being urged by some in the Pentagon to carry out strikes against camps by the Al-Shabab militant group in southern Somalia. Others in the administration oppose military strikes, because there is no evidence the group is planning attacks outside Somalia.

Report: 687 Pakistani Civilians Killed by US Drones Since 2006

The Pakistani newspaper The News is reporting US bombing raids have killed 687 Pakistani civilians since 2006. During that time US Predator drones carried out sixty strikes inside Pakistan, but reportedly just ten of the strikes hit their actual targets.

14 Peace Activists Arrested Protesting US Drones in Nevada

Meanwhile, fourteen peace activists were arrested Thursday outside Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where Air Force personnel pilot the unmanned drones being used in Pakistan. The activists were arrested after holding a ten-day vigil to raise awareness of the drone strikes. Among the arrested were Kathy Kelly and Father John Dear.

Suicide Bombing in Mosul Kills Five US Soldiers

In Iraq, five US soldiers were killed in a suicide truck bombing in Mosul on Friday. It was the deadliest strike against US forces in Iraq in thirteen months.

Prominent Afghan Women’s Rights Activist Killed

In Afghanistan, a prominent female lawmaker and women’s rights activist was shot dead on Sunday. Sitara Achikzai was killed outside her home in Kandahar by Taliban gunmen on motorbikes.

Obama Follows Bush Policy on Limiting Detainee Access to Courts

President Obama has sided with the former Bush administration in claiming that prisoners held by US troops overseas have no US legal rights. On Friday, the Justice Department appealed a federal judge’s decision granting three detainees at the US military prison Bagram in Afghanistan the right to challenge their detention in US courts.

Two More Banks Collapse

In economic news, federal regulators shut down two banks on Friday: Cape Fear Bank in Wilmington, North Carolina, and New Frontier Bank of Greeley, Colorado. Twenty-three banks have collapsed so far this year.

Bailed-Out Banks Scrutinized for Raising Interest Rates and Fees

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports the committee overseeing federal banking bailout programs is investigating the lending practices of institutions that received public funds, following a rash of complaints about increases in interest rates and fees. Last week, Bank of America told some customers that interest rates on their credit cards will nearly double to about 14 percent. The bank is also imposing fees of least $10 on a wide range of credit card transactions. Citigroup is pushing new loans that carry annual interest rates of 30 percent, while Wells Fargo is offering its own form of a payday loan that carry annual interest rates of about 120 percent. Last year, US banks and savings institutions collected nearly $40 billion in deposit account charges and fees for everything from ATM usage to balance transfers. The fees accounted for about 25 percent of the industry’s total revenue.

70 Thai Protesters Injured as Troops Open Fire on Demonstrators

In Thailand, at least seventy anti-government protesters were injured earlier today when troops fired into the air in Bangkok and used teargas to clear protesters from the streets. Thailand’s prime minister declared a state of emergency on Saturday after 1,000 protesters stormed a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The summit was canceled, and Asian leaders had to be evacuated by helicopter. Most of the protesters are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Thaksin still has deep support among the urban and provincial poor due to his policies to help the poor during his time in office.

Sri Lanka Declares Two-Day Pause to Bombing

In other news from Asia, Sri Lanka’s government has declared a two-day pause to its offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels. Human Rights Watch estimates that 3,000 people have been killed since January as the Sri Lankan military attempts to eliminate the pro-separatist Tamil Tigers. The group accused the military of firing artillery into a designated no-fire zone.

Larry EchoHawk Tapped to Lead Bureau of Indian Affairs

In domestic news, President Obama has nominated Larry EchoHawk to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs. EchoHawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and the former attorney general of Idaho. He will become the first high-profile Mormon to join the Obama administration’s senior ranks.

Democrats to Hold Off on Restoring Semi-Automatic Assault Gun Ban

Newsweek is reporting the Obama administration has abandoned plans to restore a federal ban on certain semi-automatic assault guns despite a recent spate of killings. On Sunday, California Senator Dianne Feinstein told 60 Minutes she plans to hold off trying to renew the ban that she authored in 1994.

Leslie Stahl: “There is some sense that the President has so many crisis issues on his plate right now that the idea of bringing up guns, which is considered part of the culture wars, would be such a diversion.”

Sen. Feinstein: “I agree with you. I wouldn’t bring it up now.”

Stahl: “So you’re going to hold off?”

Feinstein: “That’s correct. I’ll pick the time and the place, no question about that.”

Clark University Cancels Finkelstein Lecture

In education news, Clark University in Massachusetts has canceled a scheduled speech by Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein after the Jewish campus group Hillel objected to his appearance. Finkelstein is known as one of the most prominent academic critics of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Clark University President John Bassett said Finkelstein’s speech on campus “would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding.”

Connecticut Student Paper Editor Dismissed for Activist Ties

At Central Connecticut State University, the opinion editor at the school’s newspaper has been dismissed because she is a member of a socialist club on campus. The paper’s editor fired Marissa Blaszko last month citing her antiwar activism and her membership in the Youth for Socialist Action club. Blaszko said, “We shouldn’t have to swear off our interest in activism, or hide our opposition to a war, to work for our campus newspaper.”

19 Arrested at New School Occupation Protest

In New York, nineteen students at the New School were arrested Friday after police broke up a student occupation calling for the firing of university president Bob Kerrey. Student activist Fatuma Emmad accused the police of using excessive force.

Fatuma Emmad: “Police began to violently and brutally attack people that were observing outside, alleging that they were people trying to escape from inside the occupation. And there’s footage that can be seen of the police attacking one student and having at least six officers around him. He’s not resisting arrest.”

Video shot at the scene by Brandon Jourdan shows police firing pepper spray into a New School building and police officers knocking students to the ground on the sidewalk. The New York Police Department originally denied any pepper spray was used but reversed their claim after Jourdan’s video was posted online.

A New Way Forward Protests Held in 60 Cities

And demonstrations to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis were held in over sixty cities on Saturday. The protests were organized by the group A New Way Forward. They are calling on the government to nationalize, reorganize and decentralize the country’s banks.

Terrorism Charges Dropped Against “RNC 8”

Terrorism Charges Dropped Against RNC 8

This week terrorism charges were dropped against the “RNC 8”. It’s a victory that shows both the power of solidarity and the problems in the State of Minnesota’s political prosecution aimed at activists protesting outside of the Republican National Convention (RNC) this past September.

MediaMouse.org previously wrote about the “RNC 8”, but for those who missed that article, the RNC 8 are eight activists who were arrested before and during the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities. The activists–who had been working with a group called the Republican Welcoming Committee and were providing logistical support for the thousands of protestors that came to the Twin Cities–were arrested before and during the protests. The eight were originally charged with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” The charge–which was filed under the Minnesota version of the USA PATRIOT Act–was filed despite the fact that the activists are not actually accused of participating in a riot. In the fall of 2008, three additional charges–Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism, Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property, and Conspiracy to Riot–were added. Activists have said that the charges could have a chilling effect on political dissent.

Now, the lead prosecutor in the case–Susan Gaertner–has dropped both of the terrorism charges, leaving only the conspiracy charges.

The news comes following significant national attention and a campaign by supporters that included the delivery of 3,000 petitions to Gaertner’s office last month asking her to drop the charges. Gaertner is currently in a campaign for governor and many suspect that attention around the case will cast a negative light on her campaign.

Friends of the RNC 8–a group organizing to support the RNC 8–issued a statement saying that:

“Friends of the RNC 8asks Susan Gaertner to continue in the direction of justice by dropping all the remaining charges, thereby saving enormous financial resources for the people of Minnesota in this time of rampant foreclosures, unemployment and economic turmoil. We also remind supporters that while we should rightly celebrate this small victory, the time for increased action to defend the RNC 8 is now. Political organizing is not conspiracy. Dissent is not a crime.”