Major ArtPrize sponsors host Conference in Grand Rapids: West Michigan Policy Forum wants to end public sector employee pensions in Michigan
Every two years, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) hosts a major conference to articulate the goals of the most powerful members of the local capitalist class. I use the term capitalist class, because that is who makes up the WMPF and because their stated goal is to engage in class warfare, i.e., implement policies at the state level that will negatively impact working class families and benefit the business class.
In pervious conferences, they made cutting the state business taxes a goal, as well as making Michigan a Right to Work state. Both of those goals have been accomplished.
The policy goal of this year’s conference was to push further for even more draconian austerity measures at the state level, with particular emphasis on dismantling pensions for public sector workers.
In the first morning session of the West Michigan Policy Forum conference yesterday, David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United Sates and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, presented a study recently conducted by the multinational corporation PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study looked at seven municipalities in Michigan with the basic conclusion that public sector pensions are what is destroying municipal budgets. In fact, Walker, author of the book Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility, referred to public sector pensions as a “liability” for cities.
The undermining of public sector employee pensions is not a new thing in Michigan. Governor Snyder has made it part of his larger Neoliberal agenda to do away with public sector pensions and other benefits. It has been part of Snyder’s plan to offer revenue sharing to municipalities only if they met certain requirements, one of them being the attack on public sector employee benefits. The bus driver’s union in Grand Rapids has been fighting this very issue for nearly two years.
After the presentation by David Walker, based on the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, there was a panel discussion with four of the five panelists being unabashedly in favor of more austerity measures being adopted by municipalities. Leading the charge for cities adopting more austerity measures was John Kennedy, President and CEO of Autocam Medical. Kennedy has been with the West Michigan Policy Forum since its inception and a major player in the local capitalist class.
Another cheerleader for the elimination of public sector employee pensions was the City Manager of Port Huron, James Freed. Freed believes that the function of governments is to promote free markets and free enterprise, which will lead to “free people.” This whole theme was reinforced in the afternoon when Governor Snyder himself address the West Michigan members of the capitalist class.
The keynote speaker for this gathering was Star Parker, President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE). The theme of her talk was, “Market-Based Policies that are Helping Win the Fight Against Poverty.” Star Parker was the perfect fit for this conference, since she not only believes in the invisible hand of the market, she is the perfect person to deliver such a message, since she is an African American woman.
The Center for Urban Renewal and Education mission is to, “Address issues of race and poverty from a Christian conservative perspective.” Their national advisory board is made up of people from the Heritage Foundation the Family Research Council, the Liberty Cousel and the Ashcroft Group.
The Agenda of CURE are the following:
• Traditional Family
• Ownership Rights
• School Choice
• Personal Retirement Accounts
• Market-based Healthcare
• Charity Choice
Star Parker is a regular on far right radio talk shows, like the Rush Limbaugh show, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. She once said that marriage equality contributes to the failing of public education. CURE is also a pro-Zionist organization that condemns the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
However, the main reason why Star Parker addressed the capitalist class of Grand Rapids yesterday, was because of her zealous devotion to market-based solutions to poverty, to education and to government fiscal responsibility.
Before the end of the day, the audience also got to hear from two of the second generation members of the DeVos family, Dick and Doug, but they also heard from liberal capitalists like Fred Keller (Cascade Engineering) and Faye Richardson-Green with Richardson-Green Consulting LLC.
What those who claim to believe in collective liberation and social justice should take from this gathering of the local capitalist class is, they are well organized and tend to get the policies they want at the state level. It would be a mistake to simply ignore them or dismiss them as part of the “rightwing.” The local capitalist class is embedded in so much of what takes place in West Michigan, which is exactly why this area has the largest wealthy gap in the entire state.
Yesterday, the US Senate voted down a proposed amendment that would have blocked the proposed sale of weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by a vote of 71 to 27. Most Democrats, including Michigan Senator Gary Peters, voted in favor of the bill that would give an additional $1.15 billion in weapons to that Middle Eastern country.
Robert Naiman, writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, makes it clear why sending more US weapons in a bad idea. Naiman gives several reasons, but the primary reason right now is to make it difficult for Saudi Arabia to continue its war on Yemen.
This is the same assessment that Majorie Cohan has on US weapons sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Cohen states, “Saudi Arabia has engaged in war crimes, and the United States is aiding and abetting them by providing the Saudis with military assistance. In September 2015, Saudi aircraft killed 135 wedding celebrants in Yemen. The airstrikes have killed 2,800 civilians, including 500 children. Human Rights Watch charges that these bombings “have indiscriminately killed and injured civilians.”
Longtime anti-war activist Medea Benjamin just published a book entitled, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. In a review of her book, David Swanson states: The United States keeps rushing more weapons to Saudi Arabia as it uses them — with help from the U.S. military — to bomb houses, hospitals, and schools in Yemen, killing civilians by the thousands and non-civilians by the thousands, including with the use of cluster bombs.
Senator Peters does not have strong financial ties to the US weapons industry, but he is a major recipient of pro-Israeli money, like his predecessor Senator Carl Levin. This is relevant since the relationship between Israeli and Saudi Arabia continues to mature, which is another major reason these two countries are the top recipients of US military aid.
On can not emphasize enough the relationship between the role of Saudi Arabia and Israel as it relates to longterm US policy goals in the Middle East. One recent example is the Israeli-Saudi Red Sea deal, as reported by Middle East Monitor.
Senator Peters, as recently as last week, affirmed his continued support for Israel in a Press Release from September 14, that supports the recent US agreement to increase US military aid to Israel. The Press Release states: “The agreement will increase security assistance to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion per year. As the largest military aid package provided to any country in U.S. history, this agreement reflects the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and our unwavering commitment to the Jewish state.”
For the US, maintaining massive military funding to Israel and Saudi Arabia will only escalate violence and conflict in the region and Senator Peters is complicit in that violence.
As we reported last month, the DeVos Family wants to make sure that the election outcome for Michigan in November works in their favor.
As one of the wealthiest families in Michigan, the DeVos Family knows that contributing so much money to candidates not only increases their chance that their candidates will win, but that their candidates will also pass policy which benefits their interests.
According to the research conducted by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos Family has contributed funds to eight of the top ten most hotly contested races for the House in Michigan.
Here are the 8 out of the top 10 most hotly contested races for the House in Michigan and how much money the DeVos Family has contributed:
- 91st House District: Collene Lamonte vs Rep. Holly Hughes – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Hughes
- 39th House District: Michael Stack vs Rep. Klint Kesto – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Kesto
- 62nd House District: Jim Haadsma vs Rep. John Bizon – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Bizon
- 24th House District: Steve Marino vs Dana Camphous – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Marino
- 71st House District: Rep. Tom Barrett vs Theresa Abed – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Barrett
- 66th House District: Annie Brown vs Beth Griffin – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Griffin
- 61st House District: John Fisher vs Rep. Brandt Idem – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Iden
- 104th House District: Rep. Larry Inman vs Betsy Coffia – DeVos Family has contributed $9,000 to Inman
In 2012, we conducted a study looking at gender representation in Hollywood films. In that study we determined that the overwhelming majority of movies reflected a male-dominant cultural narrative, based, in part, on the actual numbers of leader characters and the content analysis.
What follows are some conclusions from the study.
- Statistically, there was some minor improvement in the number of lead female characters in the 2015 film study compared to the 2012 film study.
- Despite the increased female lead representation in the 2015 study, there are several films with lead female characters that do not challenge the dominant gender narratives – Sisters, Hot Pursuit, Cinderella, Fifty Shades of Grey, The War Room and The Age of Adaline.
- There were several films with lead female characters that challenged the male-dominant narrative, such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Sicario. However, even in many of these films, which are disproportionately action oriented or fantasy based, the female lead characters are juxtaposed with dominant male lead characters.
- There were several films where women’s bodies are hyper-sexualized and objectified, such as Get Hard, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Boy Next Door, Straight Outta Compton, The Wedding Ringer, Hot Pursuit, Vacation, Ted 2 and Sisters.
- Films with male lead characters rarely challenge the male dominant narrative and present a cookie cutter version of masculinity, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Creed, San Andreas, Black Mass, Pixels, Sniper, Bridge of Spies, Sicario, The Night Before, Jurassic World, The Kingsman, Taken 3, The Gift, Ted 2, The Maze Runner, Southpaw, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Spectre, Mission Impossible 6, The Gift, Max, Furious 7, The Night Before and the Wedding Ringer.
- There were films where men are presented as caring, sensitive and empathetic towards others, such as in Selma, The Imitation Game, The Martian, The Intern, McFarland USA and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
- As was the case in the previous film study, children’s films and animated films do challenge some gender norms provide more space to explore human in a less stereotypical fashion, with films such as Inside Out and Home.
What happens when a local TV station shows up late to a protest in solidarity with the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota? Essentially they butchered the story.
About 60 people showed up in solidarity with the Standing Rock encampment on Michigan Street, in front of the offices of G4S, a British company that is provide security for the pipeline project and has been beating native protestors and using dogs to maul them. This was the main reason for the organized protest and why that location was chosen. G4S also has a long history of supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine and profiting from the US prison industrial complex.
However, channel 13 completely omitted this fact in their story, as if people were randomly standing on Michigan Street in an area that wasn’t exactly the most visible.
WZZM 13 showed up as people were leaving after the 2 hour demonstration and was able to talk with someone from the local native american community. They missed the ceremony, the prayers, the drumming and the singing which centered the demonstration in solidarity with Standing Rock. On top of that, they used photos taken by demonstration participants without sourcing the photos or asking permission to use some of them. One participant from the demonstration did send them a few pictures to use.
It has begun. The decimation of the first block of homes, right now, today, in the process of gentrifying the Belknap neighborhood by Grand Valley State University and other private developers that are taking advantage of the re-development of the area.
This posting is not designed to provided detailed analysis of the GVSU-led gentrification of the Belknap neighborhood, rather we want to present a series of pictures, accompanied by brief commentary on the harsh realities of what gentrification looks like in this community.
GVSU owns virtually all of the land shown here in this map, which was included in the Memorandum of Understanding.
Working class families used to live in these houses that are now being bulldozed in the name of progress.
Families have been displaced, uprooted from friends, their children’s school, memories…..
Even if any concession were made, do we have any idea what it must be like to be forced from where you live?
This is just the beginning, just the first block to be leveled. These houses, which do not need to be destroyed, are now fenced off and waiting to be torn down.
These machines are owned by companies making a profit from the decimation of this neighborhood and it’s memories.
But wait, there is new housing being built just around the corner………oh, we’re sorry, it’s not for those working class families who were told to leave.