BlackBox Radio

December 28, 2005

BlackBox Radio for Dec 27th 2005

Filed under: Weekly Show — blackboxradio @ 9:02 pm

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On this week’s show: a piece about the Labadie Collection, a radical archive housed at the University of Michigan. And a report about a new U.S. to Canada bridge slated to be built in SouthWest Detroit and the environmental justice concerns of local residents.. Plus, the following local, national, and international headlines:

Local Headlines:
farmland preservation in Michigan
controversial anti-affirmative action proposal on ’06 ballot
hunger strike in Grand Rapids
funding for fuel cell research center

National and International Headlines:
labor and human rights issues on the gulf coast
37,000 NYC transit workers strike
U. S. state department suspends publication of Hi Magazine
lawsuit against Blackwater Security Consulting
death penalty abolished in Mexico, but continues in US


Local Headlines

Last week Governor Jennifer Granholm awarded more than $1.3 million to support farmland preservation under a match program begun this year. Five communities and townships in the counties of Eaton, Grand Traverse, Kent, Macomb and Washtenaw qualified for the grants under the Agricultural Preservation Fund.

The Agricultural Preservation Fund Board selected communities from among grant applications submitted this fall. The selection was approved by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture at a public meeting held earlier this month.
“Michigan has more than 16,000 acres permanently protected, with thousands of preservation agreements being renewed and entered into every year,” said Mitch Irwin, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, which oversees the board. “The value of agriculture and open space has been recognized at all levels of government and this support from the top down will ensure that agriculture remains a vital and viable industry.”
To be eligible, local governments were required to develop and adopt a local ordinance governing development rights, update a community master plan to include farmland protection and provide matching funds of at least 25 percent.
For more information on farmland preservation, visit the Michigan Department of Agriculture.


Last Tuesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) be placed on the 2006 state ballot.

The controversial proposal that would prohibit affirmative action programs in university admission and government hiring was originally denied a place on the ballot when the Board of State Canvassers refused to put the issue on the ballot despite a previous court order.

Two main organizations opposing the initiative—One United Michigan and BAMN, are likely to pursue an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court. They claim that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative engaged in fraud while collecting the 500,000 signatures necessary to get the initiative on the ballot. Members of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative are alleged to have told voters that the initiative would protect affirmative action, as a ploy to convince voters to sign the petition.


In Grand Rapids, Makoi Welken has gone on a hunger strike.
The Grand Rapids Press reports that Welken came to the United States seven years ago from the Sudan, where he was a doctor certified by the University of Cairo.
Welken and other refugees say the conflict in the Sudan blurs the line between war and genocide. Since 2003, the Arab forces confiscated land and driven off much of the male population in what has cost an estimated 180,000 lives due to the war and the associated disease and famine. An estimated that 1.9 million people in southern and central Sudan died of war-related causes since 1983.
Welken was able to bring his mother and daughter to this country, where they joined a growing Sudanese population. Michigan has the largest number of Sudanese refugees in the country.
Now in his third day of the hunger strike, he says he doesn’t know how long it will go. Welken said the world needs to be shocked into action and to understand the plight continues.
“I’m not on a suicide mission,” he said. “But as long as people are trying to avoid the issue, I will be here.”


From the Flint Journal – Kettering University is $1.62 million closer to its planned fuel cell research center. The Department of Commerce will contribute to help build an Advanced Technology and Renewable Energy building in Kettering’s new research park – a move that’s expected to bring jobs and investment.
The center will manufacture fuel cells and develop fuel cell-related projects. Hydrogen fuel cells convert oxygen and hydrogen into water, producing electricity.
K. Joel Berry, director of the school’s Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration, estimates 20-30 jobs will be created in the first year of the 20-year project.
He says, “Naturally, I’m ecstatic about the future of Flint and the future of this project,” he said. “It’s another building block in helping the economic situation of Flint – one of many collaborations between Kettering and other entities. (But) it’s not the only answer. Other entities in Flint must step up.”



National and International Headlines:

The Baltimore Sun reported that an immigrant advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit last week against a Howard County contracting company, saying it refused to pay 35 Maryland laborers hired for cleanup projects along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The claims are similar to complaints filed around the country by advocacy groups and labor organizers, who say that firms doing post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction have taken advantage of immigrant workers.

In the clean-up efforts following the devastation of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, many undocumented workers and homeless people were recruited to the area to work under large companies contracted by the federal government. Companies such as Haliburton, Kellog-Brown & Root- a Haliburton subsidiary, and EEC Operating Services.

They were lured to the [Gulf Coast] region by promises of work and good pay. But it turns out that many of those workers have never been paid and have little recourse in collecting their promised checks. Some undocumented workers were even threatened with deportation when they demanded their pay.

An article on, Gulf Coast Slaves, stated that the problem is “a shadowy labyrinth of contractors, subcontractors and job brokers, overseen by no single agency, that have created a no man’s land where nobody seems to be accountable for the hiring-and abuse of these workers.”

The federal government has yet to respond to these criticisms or attempt to set up oversight committees.


37,000 New York City transit workers walked off the job last Tuesday morning as talks broke down between their union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last Tuesday morning. The MTA has sought to create a two-tier wage system between new hires and transit veterans, while asking greater health care contributions and an older retirement age.

Apart from economic issues, Transit Workers Union Local 100 members on the picket line listed the MTA’s disciplinary system and working conditions as reason for striking. Some bus operators talked about not having enough time to use the bathroom on the job, urinating in glass bottles and cups, and MTA officials making unannounced house visits on sick days. Others said that managers have great leeway in determining and deciding punishment. According to union officials, the MTA issued 15,000 disciplinary actions against TWU members last year.

The strike effectively shut the way business is run in the city, taking an estimated $400 million away from the economy each day. While transit workers see this strike as a fight for dignity and respect, public officials saw the TWU rank and file as lawbreakers. Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki used harsh language that many see as coded race baiting. The mayor called TWU President Roger Toussaint “thuggish” and played up the illegal aspect of the strike, threatening Touissant with jail time.

The strike ended on Thursday afternoon. According to reports on New York Indymedia, TWU officials showed up on picket lines throughout the city and instructed workers to return to work without any explanation of what had been accomplished. This generated considerable anger among many workers who had struck for three days and willingly accepted the loss of thousands of dollars in wages under the anti-union Taylor Law.

The sudden calling off of the strike was followed by a news blackout on ongoing negotiations between the TWU and the transit authority. It is being widely reported that the TWU has offered to impose greater out-of-pocket expenses for health care on their members in exchange for management curtailing its demand for the rolling back of pension protections.


According to Friday’s Toronto Star, the U. S. state department announced that it is suspending publication of its Hi Magazine, a monthly magazine established after September 11. The magazine is sponsored by the US state department and was distributed internationally in an effort to counter anti-Americanism in countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and others.

Announcing its creation in 2003 the company said the magazine was aimed at promoting an understanding of American values.

The magazine had been derided by commentators in the Arab world as “schlock” or “brainwashing” and one had dubbed it the CIA’s official publication.

Shortly after it hit the Arab street, the Al-Ahram Weekly in Egypt wrote, “many critics think the magazine is too naive to be anything other than an exercise in brainwashing.”

“Like other parts of our new diplomatic effort, it was not seen as something credible,” said Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations.

When the magazine was launched, Christopher Datta of the state department said it would counter disinformation or distorted images of America in the Arab world.

Along with Al-Hurra TV and Radio Sawa, Hi was a three-pronged $62 million (U.S.) annual effort to counter anti-Americanism.

Some critics argue that this is part of a broader U.S. strategy to control perceptions both inside and outside of Iraq. The LA times reported in late November that the Pentagon had been helping to feed news articles to various independent newspapers in Iraq in addition to paying off reporters who wrote pieces favorable to U.S. interests. Similar types of media manipulation were uncovered in the U.S. when it was reported in January that various federal agencies were distributing videos and news stories to US television stations and newspapers without identifying the federal government as their source and for paying U.S. journalists to promote administration policies. The Government Accountability office has labeled these actions as “covert propaganda”. Critics further argue that these examples of media control and distortion are not isolated but rather demonstrate a deeper systemic agenda by the Federal government to control both domestic and internationals populations opinions and understandings of U.S. policies.

### reports that an unprecedented lawsuit has been filed, concerning the deaths of four American civilians in Iraq.

The suit was brought by the families of four civilian contractors shot last year by Iraqi insurgents, who burned their bodies and hung the charred remains from a bridge across the Euphrates river in the city of Falluja.

The four men worked for Blackwater Security Consulting LLC, one of the companies fielding armed civilians in Iraq under contract with the Pentagon. The suit against Blackwater says the company broke explicit terms of its contract with the men by sending them to escort a food convoy in unarmored cars, without proper briefings, and in teams that were understaffed.

Alleging wrongful death and fraud, the suit is the first of its kind in the U.S. The way it is resolved, experts say, could have major implications for the future of military contracting and result in more rules and regulations.

Civilian military contractors now perform scores of functions once restricted to regular troops, and the trend toward “privatizing war” has been accelerating steadily.

### reports that even as the United States celebrated its 1,000th execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Mexico has finally wiped its own death penalty off the books. On December 9th, President Vicente Fox signed off on constitutional amendments that abolished capital punishment in both civil courts and military codes. Executions in Mexico have been suspended for decades – the last Mexican to be executed went before a military firing squad in 1961.

However, there are still has 46 Mexican citizens awaiting imminent execution on Death Row in the United States. U.S. death row inmates include approximately 120 foreigners from 29 countries.

Mexicans arrested in the U.S. are routinely kept in the dark about their Vienna Convention rights, including the right to contact their country’s consulate for legal assistance.

In the past, when Vienna Convention rights have been denied and Mexicans have later been executed, the U.S. response has been merely to apologize and argue that the denial of consular contact had no impact on the final judgment.

In 2003, President Fox took the cases of 51 Mexicans on U.S. death rows who had been denied Vienna Convention protection to the World Court in the Hague. By a 14 to 1 decision, that tribunal, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations, called upon Washington to review or reopen all 51 cases.

Of the 51 Mexican death row residents whose cases were decided by the World Court, two had been kidnapped from Mexico by private bounty hunters and brought to the U.S. to stand trial, a practice explicitly outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since the World Court decision was handed down March 31st, 2004, six Mexicans have been removed from U.S. death row rosters.



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