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Statewide campaign against detention centers in Michigan to host first public meeting in Ionia this Saturday

February 14, 2019

Since last October, it has been known that the private company Immigration Centers of America (ICA) has been proposing a 600 bed immigration detention center in Ionia. 

In early January, ICA presented for the first time in front of the Ionia City Commission and one week later a new statewide coalition began meeting to fight the proposed detention center.

Since then, those who have been meeting in Lansing have met several other times and even participated in an action to confront the law firm that is representing ICE, Honigman.

Now, the statewide coalition is hosting a meeting this Saturday in Ionia for those who want to get involved in the campaign. Below is a flyer for the event, which you can share and invite others who want to be involved in the effort to stop the for profit detention center in Ionia and throughout the state.

Recently, people from Ionia and around the state spoke during an Ionia City Council meeting, expressing their opposition to the proposed immigration detention facility and will no doubt be doing more of that in the coming weeks and months. For more information on the statewide No Detention Centers in Michigan campaign, go to their Facebook page at this link https://www.facebook.com/NoDetentionMI/

Appointments, Inaugural contributions and buying influence in the Whitmer Administration

February 13, 2019

In November, we posted a story looking at Gov. Whitmer’s transition team and noted that they were primarily made up of people from the business sector and those who reflected a “business as usual” approach to policy. 

Governor Whitmer has not yet filled all the appointments for her cabinet in state government as of this writing, but there has been some appointments that have raised concerns already, with the appointment of a lobbyist to be legislative director and a former charter school advocate to be the senior advisor for the Michigan Prosperity position. Doug Ross is the appointment for the Michigan Prosperity position and according to an recent article, his role will be to improve workforce talent and educational attainment and further overall economic development outcomes.” On the education front, this description sounds similar to what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing – education as workforce talent development

In addition, there are other signs early on in the Whitmer administration would should also raise concerns for those hoping for more progressive policies coming out of Lansing.

First, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), recently posted information about who the large financial backers of Governor Whitmer’s inauguration ceremony. The large contributions that the MCFN documents range from $100,000 contributors to $10,000. What follows is a list within each contribution level that people need to pay attention to:

$100,000 Contributors – Blue Cross/Blue Shield, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, PharmaSCript of Michigan, Governmental Consultant Services Inc., Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates and Public Affairs Associates, with the last three all being lobbyists.

$50,000 Contributors – Chemical Bank, Delta Dentral, Honigman (law first representing ICA proposal to build a 600 bed ICE detention facility in Ionia), Ilitch Holdings, Inc.; Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore; Karoub Associates, McAlvey Merchant & Associates; Meijer, Inc.; Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates; Michigan Legislative Consultants; Michigan Realtors and Quicken Loans and the Family of Companies.

$25,000 Contributors – AECOM; Boji Group; Business Leaders of Michigan; Citizens Insurance; Clark Hill; Comcast; Dewpoint; Ford Motor Company; HNTB Corporation; Huntington Bank; ITC: a Fortis Company; LeadingAge Michigan; Magna International; Michigan Association of Broadcasters-Michigan Public Broadcasting; Michigan Association of CPAs; Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association; Michigan Health & Hospital Association; Michigan Paving & Materials and Stoneco of Michigan; National Association of Theater Owners of Michigan; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Weedmaps.

$10,000 Contributors – Ascend Michigan; Atheneum Hotel; Auto Dealers of Michigan,; Butzel Long; Capitol Relations/Meridian Health Plan A Wellcare Company; Centene; Christman Company; Cinnaire; Coca-Cola Company Michigan; Dean Transportation; Deloitte; Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Detroit Medical Center; Dickinson Wright PLLC; DLZ Michigan, Inc.; Eidex; Ernst and Young; FCA US; Fritz Enterprises Inc. & Huron Valley Steel Corporation; HTC Global Services; General Motors; IGT Global Solutions Corporation; Jackson National Life Insurance Company; Kalitta Air; Karmanos Cancer Institute; The Kroger Co. of Michigan; Kyyba; LightSpeed Communications; Meredith Corporation; Michigan Corrections Organization; Michigan Funeral Directors Association; Michigan Interactive, An NIC Company; Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association; Michigan State Medical Society; Microsoft; Midland Cogeneration Venture; Midwest Independent Retailers Association; Miller Canfield; Netlogx; Penske Corporation; PhRMA; Priority Health; RNDC of Michigan; Shelborne Development; Sun Valley Foods; Small Business Association of Michigan; Switch; TILT Holdings; TransCanada; Uniprop; and Verizon.

Now, I left out unions, a few environmental organizations and Planned Parenthood, but compared to the number of private sector contributors listed above, their numbers were small in comparison. One could say at this point that making contributions of between $10,000 and $100,000 to Governor Whitmer;s inauguration ceremony is all about buying access. This is the standard thinking with political contributions in general. However, what we need to ask ourselves here is what else are large contributors expecting?

For example, the AFL-CIO contributed $10,000, but are they expecting that workers rights, workplace democracy, wages, benefits, etc will improve under Governor Whitmer or are they just hoping that things will not get worse than they already are for working class people? Honigman law firm, which contributed $50,000, might be expecting the State of Michigan to endorse the proposed ICE detention facility in Ionia (run by ICA). One could argue that other contributors from the private sector are not just buying access, but expectations that the Whitmer administration will be friendly to business interests throughout the state.

Additionally, there was an event on February 13th in Grand Rapids that should also raise serious questions for people hoping for progressive policies changes in Lansing under Governor Whitmer. The Right Place Inc., which is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, hosted a breakfast with the new Governor, which included 400 members of the business community. Check out the photos from The Right Place Inc. from the Investor Breakfast with Gov. Whitmer. 

Now, do people think that there was much discussion about progressive policy proposals at this breakfast or did the business community of West Michigan leave the event feeling confident that their interests would not be threatened under Governor Whitmer’s leadership? The fact that this was the first public appearance after the State of the State address should indeed raise serious questions for people who are hoping for Michigan to adopt more progressive policies, policies that are based on racial justice, gender equity, strong environmental protections, an expansion of workers rights, a restoration of teacher pensions, countering the attacks against public education, reducing the privatization of public services, ending the war on immigrants, putting a stop to Line 5 and making Flint’s fight for clean water and environmental justice a top priority?

This writer is not waiting to see if these things will happen because of state government. Instead, I believe that for these kinds of policies and practices to be adopted we need to put our collective hopes into the collective efforts of various social movements across the state.

Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE make demands at the City Commission meeting

February 13, 2019

Last night, members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE addressed the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting about the GRPD’s involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A few weeks ago, the ACLU and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) sent a letter to the Grand Rapids City Commission and the GRPD about the police department’s involvement in the arrest and detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. Gomez, a former US Marine, was arrested by the GRPD, which then turned him over to ICE. This was the specific issue that immigrant justice activists addressed during the commission meeting.

There were seven people from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE that addressed the commissioners during public comment. They addressed several issues related to the GRPD and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and made the following demands:

  • No cooperation between GRPD and ICE
  • No City resources should be used to support ICE violence against the immigrant community
  • The City Commission should endorse the Drivers License for All campaign being organized by Movimiento Cosecha
  • The GRPD should stop harassing and intimidating those involved in trying to prevent ICE violence against the immigrant community.

Some of those who spoke talked about the trauma that immigrants experience because of ICE arrests or being in detention, along with how children are impacted by witnessing the arrest of a parent. One social worker for GRPS also addressed the constant fear that the immigrant community lives in because of ICE harassment, intimidation and violence.

The Drivers License for All campaign was addressed in part because of the fact that based on a recent study, we know the GRPD engages in racial profiling and because immigrants who do not have a US drivers license often end up in ICE custody even if they were only originally charged with driving without a license.

Sergio Reyes with Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke specifically about a recent incident where he and his wife were pulled over by the GRPD for no clear reason. When the cops made him get out of the car they said he smelled like pot, even though Reyes was not smoking. In addition, the police questioned his wife separately who later told her husband that the police said, “if he is a citizen he has nothing to worry about.” This point underscored the issue of the GRPD asking the immigration status of people, even though it is not their job to enforce immigration policy.

Members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE addressed members of the Grand Rapids City Commission just weeks after they successfully got the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to end ICE holds because of their seven month campaign against the contract between the county and ICE.

 

The Time I confronted Rich DeVos on being a billionaire

February 11, 2019

A new report was just released showing that the richest 0.00025 percent of the American population now owns more wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent.

The report comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research and was authored by Gabriel Zucman. 

The wealth gap in the US has been growing in recent decades and the top 400 richest people, those featured in the annual Forbes 400 report, are continuing to amass disgustingly large amounts of wealth. There are over 500 billionaires in the US alone and several of them live in West Michigan, including the Meijer and DeVos families.

I have written a great deal about the wealth of these two families, particularly the DeVos family. However, I have never shared a story about the time that I confront Rich DeVos about his wealth at a book signing in 2004.

The Grand Rapids Press had run an article about DeVos’ new book entitled, How to Be Like Rich DeVos: Succeeding with Integrity in Business and Life. The article that the Press ran had a picture of Michael Jordan, Mother Theresa and Jesus, but the picture of DeVos was larger than the rest of them. The article also mentioned that DeVos would be at a book signing at Schuler Books on 28th Street, so some of us decided to go.

When we arrived at the bookstore, people had already lined up to get a copy of the book signed by the Amway co-founder. A friend of mine and I decided to grab other books to get signed. My friend grabbed the book Robbing Us Blind: The Return of the Bush Gang and the Robbing of America and I grabbed a leather-bound copy of the King James Bible.

We decided to stand in line by not right next to each other, so as not give ourselves away since people may have recognized us. My friend greeted DeVos first, who was puzzled by the book title that my friend wanted him to sign. DeVos said, “yeah, I guess some people can be too greedy,” and signed the book anyway. We later auctioned the book off for a fundraiser.

When I finally got to the table, I hand DeVos the bible I had brought up and he said, “You want me to sign your bible,” and I said, “sure, why not.” He began to sign it and I said I saw the article in the GR Press that had you picture, along with Jesus, Michael Jordan and Mother Theresa. I ask him, “how did you feel about having a larger picture than Jesus?” DeVos said, “I did think it was a little strange, but it was out of my hands.” He went back to signing the bible and then I asked him, “So, what do you think about that gospel quote, which says that it is harder for a man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to go through an eye of a needle.” DeVos was getting ready to respond, when his body guard, a rather large man, grabbed my arm and said, “that’s enough,” and pulled me away from the table.

Those who are billionaires are engaging in unjust and criminal behavior, especially while so many are suffering from lack of healthy food, health care, housing and other basic human rights. For more on the history and politics of the DeVos Family, see our DeVos Family Reader.

If we want Health Care Justice, look to the grassroots, not elected officials

February 11, 2019

On Friday, MLive reported that Gov. Whitmer was looking at changes around the work requirements for those receiving Medicaid.

Michigan expanded its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. A new Michigan law requires able-bodied Healthy Michigan Medicaid recipients to work an average of 20 hours of work per week, or 80 hours per month. Recipients need to comply with this for at least nine months per year, starting in 2020, with some exemptions.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to convince the Michigan legislature that requiring people on Medicaid may not be necessary and that most states don’t require it under the Affordable Care Act.

This decision on the part of Governor Whitmer comes just days before the kickoff to the national campaign known as Medicare for All. There are grassroots groups all over the country that will be hosting “barnstorms” this week, an effort that is being coordinated by National Nurses United (NNU). You may recall that National Nurses United was pushing for a Single Payer Health Care System when Obama ran in the 2008 election. Obama the candidate had voiced support for a Single Payer System, but once he became president, his advisors thought that pushing for a Single Payer System would be too much.

However, the reality is that based on most polling, at least two-thirds of Americans favor a Single Payer System or Medicare for All. According to a recent article on Common Dreams, over 30 million Americans are uninsured and two-thirds of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. Millions of people across the country are having to chose between heating their homes, buying groceries or paying for health care.

In Grand Rapids, there will be a meeting on Medicare for All, on Wednesday, February 13, from 6:30pm – 8pm at CWA Union Hall, located at 3281 Kentland Court SE in Grand Rapids. The Facebook event states in the description:

Over 70% of Americans want #MedicareForAll, but politicians won’t pass this bill without public pressure. Find out how you can mobilize your community to win #MedicareForAll. Put #PeopleOverProfit, and cover everyone regardless of income or health condition. EVERYBODY IN. NOBODY OUT.

This type of organizing is in sharp contrast to what elected officials like Gov. Whitmer are doing, which only protects the existing health care system. If people want to have just policies like Medicare for All, then they should rely on grassroots efforts and social movements, not on the empty promises of elected officials.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Cheerleading for Trump and School Choice

February 7, 2019

After the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took the opportunity to thank President Trump for his comments about “education freedom” and her own call for expanding School Choice in a statement released the same day

We decided this would be a useful opportunity to do a simply deconstruction of what Betsy DeVos had to say, which you will find here below.

 

 

Consumers Energy Super Bowl message was a shallow PR stunt designed to distract us from all the money the company makes from dirty energy

February 6, 2019

On Super Bowl Sunday, viewers in the Lower peninsula of Michigan saw a 90 second message from the CEO of Consumers Energy, Patti Poppe. The message was both an apology and a thank you to businesses and residents of Michigan, since the company asked people to turn their thermostat down.  

Such a statement from the CEO of Consumers Energy should be seen as a shallow PR move, especially considering what Consumers Energy represents. Consumers Energy is a company that has been profiting off of the public for decades, while manufacturing energy that has caused a great deal of harm to public health, to environmental devastation and to climate change.

While Consumers Energy likes to show that they have a diversified energy portfolio, the company has primarily manufactured energy through coal, which has been one of the worst forms of energy that humans have ever used

However, the company takes no responsibility for their role in destroying the environment, harming human health and adding to the climate change crisis. In fact, Consumers Energy now likes to talk about how they are a responsible corporation that embraces the Triple Bottom Line – People, Profit and Planet.

This was Patti Poppe’s message to those who gathered at the Econ Club of Grand Rapids in December. Local talking head Rick Albin did a short interview with Poppe before her Econ Club talk, where Albin said, “you are always looking at what is best for Michigan.” This type of uncritical thinking is what we are used to with the news media in West Michigan. Of course, the CEO of Consumers Energy would not be challenged at the Econ Club lecture, because the people who attend such functions share the ideological principles that Patti Poppe does, which of course is that Capitalism is Wonderful.

The Consumers Energy CEO commercial during the Super Bowl did generate a fair amount of Michigan news coverage, but it focused on what Patti Poppe had to say and less about the company. Sure, there was some criticism around residents having to turn down their thermostats, but the criticism was limited and narrow in scope.

According to Salary.com:

As President and CEO, CMS and Consumers at CMS ENERGY CORPPatricia K. Poppe made $6,862,295 in total compensation. Of this total $1,100,000 was received as a salary, $1,144,000 was received as a bonus, $0 was received in stock options, $4,263,888 was awarded as stock and $354,407 came from other types of compensation. This information is according to proxy statements filed for the 2017 fiscal year.

Imagine if people knew that the person who asked us to turn down our thermostats makes nearly $7 million a year.

Another relevant question for the news media to ask would be how much the company spends on lobbying and political contributions. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network Consumers Energy spent the following amounts on lobbying in Michigan during the past four years.

2015      $311,117

2016      $230,820

2017      $225,651

2018      $129,314 (for January – July)

At the federal level, Consumers Energy has spent $4,119.558 on political contributions since 1990 and $23,073,752 on lobbying since 1998, according to OpenSecrets.org

There was going to be a ballot initiative in 2018 for Michigan that was energy related, but Consumers Energy and DTE Energy struck a deal with the ballot organizers in the Spring of 2018 to keep the issue off the ballot. The deal would require both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to commit to relying on 25 percent renewable energy by the year 2030. While some may see this as a positive step, it is grossly inadequate levels for renewable energy use, especially considering what the global climate scientific community has been saying. For instance, the US Global Change Research Program, which published its Fourth National Climate Assessment, makes the following statement in their summary of findings: 

Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

In 2012, there was another ballot initiative called 25 by 25, which was calling for 25% renewable energy production in Michigan by 2025. Consumers Energy spent money to defeat the ballot initiative

Therefore, it seems pretty clear to this writer, that the message from the CEO of Consumers Energy was a shallow PR stunt designed to get the media and the pubic to focus on turning down our thermostats instead of critically assessing what the real function of Consumers Energy is……to make as much money as possible while harming human health, destroying ecosystems and making climate change inevitable.