Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

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.

Iran Supreme Leader Calls For Probe Into Disputed Election

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud in Friday’s presidential vote. Khamenei made the announcement following three days of street protests by supporters of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election. Khamenei’s decision to call for a probe has shocked many in Iran. On Saturday Khamenei had urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a “divine assessment.” According to the official election results, Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote but Moussavi claims the vote was rigged. Moussavi was planning to hold a major rally in Tehran today but Iranian officials ordered a ban on protests. Opposition websites report that over a 100 prominent opposition members were detained and then released over the weekend. At a rally on Sunday Ahmadinejad spoke before tens of thousands of his supporters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “In our beloved Iran, democracy is a fundamental principle. First of all, it’s the nation which determines everything. It’s the people who decide. It’s the nation’s will that governs. It’s the nation which selects the rulers in every decision making level of the political system”

UN Approves New North Korean Sanctions

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a new round of sanctions against North Korea. North Korea responded by vowing to step up its nuclear bomb-making program by producing more plutonium and uranium. North Korea also threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is headed to Washington for summit talks Tuesday with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu Backs Demilitarized Palestinian State

Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. During the speech on Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution but only if the new Palestinian state had no army, no control of its airspace and borders, and would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Binyamin Netanyahu: “If we receive this guarantee for demilitarization and the security arrangements required by Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, we will be prepared for a true peace agreement (and) to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.”

During the speech Netanyahu also said Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and that israel would not concede to US demands for a complete halt to all settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “He is not with the two state solution, he is not going to stop settlements including natural growth so we have attempts to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region, now Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back. It’s really up to President Obama tonight, he has the choice. He can treat Israel like a country above the laws of men, apply double standards and this will be a costly road, or he can have the Israeli government oblige with it’s commitments eminating from the road map. The two state solution with ’67 borders and stopping settlement activities including natural growth. Tonight what Netanyahu told us-there will not be permanent status negotiations.”

Top Sunni Lawmaker Assassinated in Iraq

In Iraq, a top Sunni lawmaker was assassinated on Friday shortly after giving a sermon calling on authorities to investigate the widespread reports of torture in Iraqi prisons. Harith al-Obaidi is the third Iraqi lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005.

Report: 30 Lawmakers Have Financial Holdings in Health Care Industry

The Washington Post has revealed almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a health-care index. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major health-care companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year. On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss health care reform. On that 22-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the health-care industry. The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd whose wife serves on the boards of four health-care companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit

The Obama administration is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing subsidiary to be sued over its roles in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is urging the court to throw out the case citing the State Secrets Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said: “This is a watershed moment. There’s no mistake any longer … the Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions.”

Judge Rules Jose Padilla Can Sue John Yoo Over Torture

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled Jose Padilla can sue former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo for coming up with the legal theories that justified his detention and torture. Padilla says he was repeatedly tortured while being held as an enemy combatant. Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, was held for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said QUOTE “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”

CIA Fires Mitchell, Jessen & Associates

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed the agency has fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and other contractors connected to interrogations. Mitchell, Jessen & Associates was run by two former military psychologists who helped design the CIA’s torture program. Panetta made the disclosure in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine.

CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing U.S. Be Attacked Again

In the same interview CIA Director Leon Panetta harshly criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for questioning the Obama administration’s national security policies. Panetta said of Cheney “it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Peruvian President Alan Garcia Accused of Ethnic Genocide

Peruvian President Alan Garcia is warning that police may have to use a ‘heavier hand’ on indigenous protesters in the Amazon following the recent clashes that left over 60 people dead. Indigenous tribes fear losing control of natural resources after recent presidential decrees opened up investment on extending mining and oil drilling in the jungle. Indigenous activists in Peru are calling for investigations into the violence and the resignations of government officials, including Garcia. On Friday the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher spoke in Lima on behalf of the indigenous protesters.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: “And I hear that Garcia has publicly declared my brothers and sisters of the Amazon to be ‘not first-class citizens.’ I have to say, ‘Shame on you, Alan Garcia because we are all first-class citizens. We are all Peruvians. And I hear that you are criminalizing indigenous protesters by calling them terrorists and savages. Who gave orders to commit ethnic genocide?”

Obama Admin To Spend $350 Million On New National Educational Standards

In education news, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend up to $350 million to help develop national standards for reading and math. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the government’s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Two top officials of the anti-immigrant group Minutemen American Defense have been arrested on murder charges in Arizona. Shawna Forde, the group’s executive director, and Jason Bush, the group’s operations director were both charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A third person was also charged. Police say the three broke into a home and a killed a man and his 8-year-old daughter. The Minutemen American Defense organization has sent teams of armed vigilantes to the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canada border in an attempt to stop undocumented workers. It is a separate organization from Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Domestic Workers Rally in New York

And here in New York, over 200 domestic workers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall Sunday to urge state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Speakers included Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

Nisha Varia: “It’s an issue of having equal legal protections. It’s about having domestic work recognized as work. And the same sort of issues about not being paid for your work, not having time off, and not being respected-we really need to see the government and employers respond to that.”

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Local and Michigan Headlines: Mackinac Center Attacks Organized Labor (Yet Again); Poll Finds Support for Gay Marriage in Michigan

Here’s some interesting Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from today and over the weekend:

Anti-Gay Candidate Elected to GRCC Board of Trustees

Richard Ryskamp

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Richard Ryskamp, an anti-gay “morality” candidate for Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, Ryskamp won the seat. He received the second highest number of votes in the election.

In an article from the Grand Rapids Press, Interim President Ann Mulder seemed concerned over Ryskamp’s election. She was quoted saying, “I have faith the top three will understand the significance of this college and will put aside any individual agenda to address the real issues of education and the viability of this college.” Over the past several years, Ryskamp has appeared at board meetings and consistently criticized the school for its policies.

We wrote a detailed piece about his politics, but it’s worth noting a further substantiation of his anti-gay views. Earlier this year, Ryskamp submitted a letter to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press weighing in on the controversy over WOOD TV 8’s decision not to air an anti-gay television special. Not surprisingly for Ryskamp–who has criticized gay speakers at GRCC–ranted against the “radical homosexual agenda” and “radical gay activists.”

We’ll keep an eye on Ryskamp and what he advocates. It’s unfortunate that a school that is known for taking serious steps to promote diversity and LGBT inclusion, now has such a man serving on the board.

Michael Savage Barred from Entering U.K. over “Hate Speech”

Michael Savage

Conservative radio show host Michael Savage has been barred from entering the United Kingdom due to his “engaging in unacceptable behavior by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.”

Savage has been banned since October 2008, but the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary just released a list of sixteen people banned from entering the country. The list bans people who foster extremism and hatred according to the U.K. government. It includes the anti-gay Revered Fred Phelps, white supremacist Stephen Black, two Russian skinheads, and various Palestinian activists.

Michael Savage’s show can be heard in West Michigan. In the past, Savage has been the target of an organized campaign in the United States to target advertisers to pull ads from his show due to “hate speech.”

Savage has a long history of engaging in anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant speech.

Fox News: Riling Up the Right through Selective Editing and Scare Tactics

Fox News

Fox News’ ratings are skyrocketing, in large part due to rightwing opposition to President Barack Obama. In a review of Fox News’ first “100 days” of covering Obama’s administration conducted by Media Matters, the channel has consistently talked about “the extreme left,” “socialism,” “communism,” “fascism,” and touted Obama’s so-called “failures.”

At the same time, Obama’s popularity has remained high. 69% of those living in the United States approve of the job he is doing and “half of Americans now [say] the country’s headed in the right direction.” Rather than presenting the “Fair and Balanced” view of Obama’s administration–which would acknowledge his popularity–Fox News is taking every opportunity to oppose the administration. They are doing this by giving conservative legislatures a prominent voice, having on conservative commentators as guests, and even participating in promoting a series of rightwing anti-tax “tea party” protests.

Fox News has also selectively edited interviews to portray Democrats and progressives–when they appear–in a negative light.

Media Matters recently conducted a study showing that Fox News has consistently done this going back several years. It’s a convenient way to rile up the rightwing base. Recently the channel has selectively cropped comments by Al Gore to make it seem as though he is personally profiting from his work addressing global warming, to make it seem like President Obama supports a healthcare system like “European countries,” and that President Obama want Supreme Court judges that do not look at United States law.

While providing an interesting look at how the rightwing media is attempting to energize its perceived base, Fox News’ selective editing is also an important reminder that progressives and those on the left need to be careful when we use the media. The media in Grand Rapids is certainly willing to distort and selectively edit interviews, making it essential that we carefully prepare for media appearances. We should never assume that they will cover us–or anyone else–fairly. Their number one goal is profit.

Education Action Group Mailing Warns Against “Union Puppets”

050109-union.jpg

When I opened up the mailbox today, I was greeted by a postcard from a group called the Education Action Group urging me to vote against the “union puppets” running for the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board. The mailing says that the Grand Rapids teachers’ union “wants expensive health insurance and a 6-10 percent raise.” According to the post card, that’s something that the district can’t afford and we need to vote to stop the “union takeover.”

Of course, it’s open knowledge that the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Education Association are engaged in an ongoing dispute over the state of the contract between the union and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Even as the candidates seek to talk about other difficult issues facing the district, the media is largely defining the race based on the contract dispute.

A lot has been said about the Education Action Group and its agenda elsewhere. But it’s worth noting once again that the organization is engaged in a statewide campaign to undermine the Michigan Education Association and to attack teachers’ unions. To that end, it has a secret donor list that funds a variety of outreach activities including these mailers, videos featuring the rather slimy consultant Dick Morris, travel expenses, and it pays an organizer to oppose teachers’ unions across the state.

The Education Action Group claims to be “a struggling group fighting for our children” that is heroically taking on the unions in defense of the proverbial “little guy (or gal).” They say they are advocates for the silent majority that opposes the teachers unions. They claim to be “an independent, non-partisan organization.”

However, they have close ties to the Republican Party and the rightwing establishment in Michigan. The group’s head–Kyle Olson–was paid $29,000 by the group to lead its efforts. Olson’s a Republican and he was a lobbyist for the Michigan Association of Realtors, he managed Republican Gerald VanWoerkem’s campaign for state Senate in 2002, and he ran unsuccessfully for the Muskegon Board of Commissioners. He was also on Republican Mitt Romney’s Michigan presidential campaign.

The Education Action Group doesn’t divulge its board of directors or donors, but there are links to other prominent rightwing groups in Michigan. The organization’s incorporator, Eric Doster, is on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project a group that is part of Dick and Betsy DeVos’ ongoing efforts to promote school vouchers and attack public education. This has fueled speculation that the Education Action Group might have ties to the DeVos family and the rest of the anti-public education forces in Michigan. Kyle Olson’s brother Ryan Olson, was Director of Education Policy at the rightwing Mackinac Center which has long been critical of public education in Michigan and that advocates a wider agenda of privatization. Back in 2000, it was involved in a failed effort to adopt a statewide school voucher campaign.

For those who want a more balanced look at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board election, check out the voters guide produced by the League of Women Voters.

Richard Ryskamp: The Anti-Gay “Morality” Candidate for GRCC’s Board

Richard Ryskamp

On Monday, we posted video from a candidate forum for candidates in Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees election.

We also mentioned one candidate, Richard Ryskamp, is a far right “social conservative” that is running a campaign that wants to restore “values” to the college. Even though Ryskamp likely has no chance of winning–the oh-so-liberal Grand Rapids Press even came out against him–its worth noting his views on some of the issues, lest some voters accidentally vote for him (Trigger warning: some of this may be offensive):

COURSE MATERIAL: In his “My Story” page explaining why he is running, Ryskamp describes his major motivation as being the fact that a Freshman English course at GRCC assigned the film American Beauty in class. Ryskamp describes the film as “filthy” argues that it is indicative of the kind of “indoctrination” that public universities engage in. As further examples, he says that University of Michigan engages in “the training of abortionists to the promotion of sodomy through courses like ‘How to be Gay.'”

LGBT ISSUES: Ryskamp is highly critical of programs at GRCC that promote awareness about LGBT issues. For example, he is critical of GRCC’s decision to have gay men as speakers at GRCC during its Diversity Lecture Series. Ryskamp says that the two “promote perversity” asserting: “Among other things, both of these lecturers promoted the opinion that sodomy is wholesome and that certain special privileges should be granted to those who practice it. But no speaker has been hosted to present the opposing view, a view that has been held throughout the history of all enduring civilizations including our own, i.e. that sodomy is unwholesome for individuals and for our society as a whole.” Ryskamp’s homophobia is his main issue.

DRAMA: Ryskamp argues that GRCC’s theater group, GRCC Players, actively produces “propaganda media.” To that end, he argues that the school’s production of “Summer and Smoke” uses “our taxes… to repeatedly to glorify promiscuity.” Similarly, he criticizes the production of “Corpus Christi” in 2003. That play explores gay themes in Christianity. Not surprisingly, Ryskamp’s version of Christianity has room for no such discussion.

It’s also worth noting that in November of 2008, Ryskamp appeared on the ballot for the University of Michigan Regents. In an Mlive.com Voter Guide, Ryskamp said that the most important priority for the University of Michigan is “to end the assault on the religious and moral foundations of our society.”

In that election, Ryskamp ran as a candidate for the U.S. Constitution Party. The U.S. Constitution Party is a far-right political party that is anti-gay, wants to stop immigration and supports “English-only” laws, favors repealing voting rights legislation, and seeks to eliminate social programs such as social security and welfare. Back in 2006, its candidate for Michigan Attorney General spoke at a white supremacist gathering.

During his campaign for the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Ryskamp advocated cutting or eliminating taxpayer funding to educational institutions that pursue agendas contrary to “our nation’s foundation of (biblical) religion and morality.” In this election, Ryskamp has said that he has voted against recent funding requests for GRCC.

Hate Groups Increase Nationwide in 2008; Decline in Michigan

Hate Groups Rise Nationwide in 2008

A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents a continued rise in the number of hate groups in the United States.

The organization says that in 2008 there 926 hate groups active in the United States. These groups range from neo-Nazi skinheads to Ku Klux Klan groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has grown from 602 in 2000 to 926 in 2008.

The organization sees the potential for a further increase in hate groups–which were motivated in the past few years by the debate over immigration–with the election of President Barack Obama and the continued economic crisis.

This year, the report lists 23 hate groups in Michigan, down from 26 last year

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report comes a few days after a government report that raised the prospect of an increase in rightwing extremism and violence.

Controversial Radio Host Michael Savage Still on the Air in Grand Rapids

Michael Savage is Still on the Radio in Grand Rapids Despite History of Offensive Remarks

A little over a year ago, MediaMouse.org reported on an effort aimed at pressuring advertisers to pull their financial support for conservative talk radio show host Michael Savage. The campaign specifically targeted Savage’s racist comments against Muslims.

That campaign–initiated by Brave New Films’ NoSavage.org and the Council on American-Islamic Relations–resulted in several advertisers pulling ads from Michael Savage’s show. These included ITT Technical Institute, Chattem, Inc. (owners of Gold Bond, Icy Hot, and Selsun Blue), Union Bank of California, Intuit (parent company of TurboTax and QuickBooks), and GEICO Insurance, along with US Cellular, Sprint Nextel, Sears, Universal Orlando Resorts, AutoZone, Citrix, TrustedID, JCPenney, OfficeMax, Wal-Mart, and AT&T.

Michael Savage on the Air in Grand Rapids

At the time, we also looked at Michael Savage’s show in West Michigan, which aired–and continues to air–on WOOD Radio. MediaMouse.org prepared an online letter writing campaign that called on the station to stop airing Savage’s show. Unfortunately, it still is being aired at 9:00pm on WOOD 1300 AM (and elsewhere in Michigan).

WOOD Radio writes that Savage is:

“An independent-minded individualist, Michael Savage fits no stereotype. He attacks big government and liberal media bias, but champions the environment and animal rights.”

Aside from Savage’s supposedly unique insights, WOOD writes that the show is lucrative for advertisers:

“Give your audience a chance to hear why for the past two years Talkers Magazine named Savage as one of America’s top talk radio hosts. He knows how to explore issues, entertain, stimulate, and promote in ways that boost the ratings and profits of every station lucky enough to carry him.”

Big Dollars and Big Ratings

Money might be the real reason Michael Savage stays on air. According to WOOD Radio’s website, Savage’s show can boost ratings and profits.

Michael Savage’s show is syndicated by Talk Radio Network, with whom he has had a nine-year relationship. His contract was given a multi-year extension in November of 2008 and his show airs on over 300 stations nationwide in 42 of the top 50 radio markets.

Ratings Come with a Price: Offensive and Hateful Comments

Last year when we looked at Savage’s show, the focus was on racist comments Savage had made about Muslim people. Over the years, critics have documented examples of Michael Savage’s racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

One of the biggest controversies since we last looked at Michael Savage were his comments on autism over the summer of 2008. Savage said that autism is a “fraud, a racket” and that many suffering disease are “brats” who doesn’t have a father around to tell them to “cut the act out.” Savage’s comments were criticized by Autism United for being both ignorant and belligerent.

In response to the comments, AFLAC, Budweiser, Cisco, Direct Buy, Home Depot, Sears, Radio Shack announced they would stop advertising on Savage’s show.

Since the controversy over autism, Savage has continued to make incredibly offensive statements. These have included statements that undocumented immigrants are taking over the United States, that Muslim immigrants are terrorists, that immigrants don’t know proper hygiene techniques, that all terrorists are Muslims, and that welfare recipients should not be allowed to vote.

The media watchdog group Media Matters has a continually updated list of offensive comments by Michael Savage.

What Can Be Done

Comments can be sent to WOOD Radio expressing frustration that the station continues to air Michael Savage’s show. Comments can be addressed to:

  • Tim Feagan, General Manager – timfeagan@clearchannel.com
  • Angela Vuyst, Program Director – avuyst@woodradio.com
  • Michael Breimayer, Assistant Program Director – mbreimayer@woodradio.com
  • WOOD Radio’s phone number is 616-459-1919

It is worth noting that comments delivered via email or in writing will be logged in the station’s “public file” which is used by the FCC when deciding whether or not to renew the station’s license.

Michael Savage’s show can be contacted at:

  • Email: michaelsavage@savage-productions.com
  • Phone: 1-800-449-TALK (8255)

Another possible avenue could be targeting Michael Savage’s advertisers, but finding an updated list of advertisers is difficult. Moreover, given his ratings, he seems to be able to find new advertisers with relative ease.

It’s also important to remember that Savage’s show is one example–albeit a particularly egregious one–of the kind of hate that is regularly found on rightwing talk radio. For those wishing to learn more, we strongly encourage you to check out Rory O’Connor’s Shock Jocks: Hate Speech & Talk Radio.

Top Stories of 2008

Here’s a brief list of some our favorite stories that appeared on MediaMouse.org during 2008.

We’re not so big on end-of-the-year wrap-ups, hence the reason why our 2008 “top stories” list is just now being posted. However, we did one last year and already did a round-up of our favorite books of 2008, so it seems only appropriate to get this post done.

Compiling the list also offers some time for reflection on what MediaMouse.org has done over the past year. Like many progressive, left, or liberal news sources, we probably focused a bit too much on the 2008 elections. However, unlike many of those outlets, we focused most of our “Election Watch” coverage on dealing with systemic issues such as ballot access, voting problems, and substantive differences between the candidates. Unlike so many of our peers, we didn’t fall lockstep behind the Democratic candidates and I’d argue we’re in a better place because of it. With the inevitable disappointments that followed Obama’s election–see his right-leaning cabinet choices for example–we’re in a better position to hold Obama accountable.

Our traffic–as it has every year MediaMouse.org’s existence–also increased.

Anyway, here’s the list of some of our favorite stories. As always, the list could be considerably longer, but this seems like a manageable length.

Also, if you like what you see here or saw throughout the year, please consider giving a donation–it would mean a lot to us.

2008 Elections

Media

Racist Right

Islamophobia

Environment

The Economy

Iraq

Prisons