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DeVos Family now funding mostly out of state elections through PACs

September 29, 2016

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the DeVos Family has shifted their political donations from Republican Presidential candidates to Political Action Committee, mostly operating outside of Michigan. 

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Richard and Helen DeVos have contributed the most, but all of their children and their spouses are also major contributors as of June of this year. Many of the DeVos Family members had been making sizable contributions to Republican Presidential candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina. However, as these GOP candidates dropped out, the DeVos Family then shifted their funds to the Republican National Committee, Freedom Partners and American Crossroads.

In the Grand Rapids area, DeVos Family members were the Top 46 contributors in the current electoral cycle, ranging from $50,000 with each contribution, to half a million for each contribution. The most recent donation was in June of 2016, which means it is likely that they will contribute a million or more before the November election.

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You can see in the graphic above how this election cycle has resulted in significantly larger contributions, since we are in the Citizens United era

The three top recipients of the money from West Michigan, mostly from the DeVos Family, have all received $1,000,000 or more in contributions. The Republican National Committee has received $1,537.805, the Freedom Partners Action Fund has received $1,500,000 and American Crossroads has received $1,000,000 so far in the current election cycle.

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According to SourceWatch, “Freedom Partners describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(6) chamber of commerce that promotes the benefits of free markets and a free society. Koch Industries issued a press release stating that Freedom Partners is legally separate from the corporation, but Freedom Partners is controlled by Koch loyalists such as Marc Short. Politico describes the group as the Koch brothers‘ secret bank. Additionally, a document discovered after the winter 2014 donor meeting revealed extensive one-on-one meetings between donors and representatives of the political, corporate, and philanthropic wings of the Koch world.”

Freedom Partners is currently directing most of their funds to Senate battles in the following states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nevada. However, Freedom Partners also provides funding for national groups like the Heritage Foundation and the US Chamber of Commerce, along with local groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum. This is another way for the DeVos Family to contribute to West Michigan political organizations, without it being well know that they are the primary funders.

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Again, according to SourceWatch, “American Crossroads is a conservative Super PAC created in 2010 by right-wing political operatives and advised by Karl Rove and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie to support Republican candidates. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 Citizens United decision and the related decision in Speechnow.org v. FEC, Super PACs like American Crossroads can legally advocate for or against political candidates without restrictions on the amount of money they can raise from individuals and corporations.”

American Crossroads is also closely connected to the US Chamber of Commerce, coordinating strategic efforts and political ad buys in several states throughout the country. American Crossroads is led by President and CEO Stephen Law, a former chief lawyer for the Chamber of Commerce.

As we have reported before, the DeVos Family has contributing significantly to effecting the outcome of elections in Michigan, but it is also clear that they want to influence elections in numerous states as well. The DeVos Family might be based in West Michigan, but their political reach is far and wide. 

Major ArtPrize sponsors host Conference in Grand Rapids: West Michigan Policy Forum wants to end public sector employee pensions in Michigan

September 27, 2016

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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.screen-shot-2013-10-24-at-6-18-43-am

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:

• Pro-Life

• Traditional Family

• Capitalism

• 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.

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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

Michigan Senator Gary Peters votes to approve $1.15 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia

September 22, 2016

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.27649320274_40c75cd33b_z

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. 51bf7phvkol-_sx356_bo1204203200_

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.

Who knew the City of Grand Rapids is giving taxpayers money to a DeVos-owned business?

September 20, 2016

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We recently discovered that the City of Grand Rapids signed a contract with SG Ecosystem Inc, one of the DeVos-owned entities, in April of 2016.

In the Memorandum of Understanding, the City of Grand Rapids states it gave the DeVos-owned business entity $362,500 on April 1, 2016 and will will give an additional $181,250 on October 1, 2016 and another $181,250 on January 1, 2017. This means that by March of 2017, the City of Grand Rapids will have given $725,000 of taxpayer money to the DeVos-owned entity known as SG Ecosystem Inc.

SG Ecosystem Inc. is an outgrowth of Start Garden, created by Rick DeVos in 2012 as a venture capital funding source for those seeking to start new businesses. Start Garden has evolved, however, with a for-profit fund called Wakestream, the Start Garden Foundation (formerly known as eMerge West Michigan) and SG Ecosystem Inc., which has the contract with the Grand Rapids Smart Zone, run by the city of Grand Rapids.

According to a Start Garden Media Release, they have been working on this project of diverting public money with GVSU and the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority. Mike Morin, CEO of the new Start Garden Ecosystem, said in the same Media Release, “Start Garden has taken risks on people who want to take risks, and our region has benefitted from it. As the needs and demands of entrepreneurs change, we are adapting the ecosystem’s traditional public and private structures.” Which is just another way of saying, they wanted to divert public money to the private sector.

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“We created eMerge to be the non-profit, go-to resource for early-stage entrepreneurship support in West Michigan, and its programming has brought new visibility and awareness to the needs of entrepreneurs within the ecosystem. By combining our forces with Start Garden, we can further realize our efforts that will create a stronger talent system for West Michigan.” This statement is from Mike Jandernoa, chair of eMerge West Michigan, member of Talent 2025’s CEO Leadership Council and a part of the Grand Rapids power structure.screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-41-22-pm

This Media Release from Start Garden was sent out by Brian Burch, who has also been the PR guy for ArtPrize (another skilled mechanism for diverting public money to the private sector) and a Holland City Council member who voted against including LGBTQ people in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Many of those who sit on the board of the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Authority Board are people who have a strong interest in promoting neoliberal capitalism and the diversion of public money into private coffers. Some of these board members are with the Right Place Inc, the Van Andel Institute, the Michigan Small Business Development Center (run by the GVSU Seidman School of Business) and the CEO of the GRAM.

None of this is surprising, however. In fact, it is celebrated as good financial sense even amongst progressives. This is a direct result of economic austerity measures, meant to weaken the state and make it more submissive to the private sector. Reduce public services, privatize public services and divert funds from the public to the private because it is more “efficient.” Those are some of the defining elements of what makes up Neoliberal Capitalism. In this case, brought to you by the DeVos Family. 

DeVos Family has a financial hand in the 10 most contested House races in Michigan

September 14, 2016

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.

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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

New GRIID Study looks at Gender Representation in 2015 Films

September 13, 2016

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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.

Our most recent film study, Normalizing Male Dominance, did not reflect that Hollywood was improving much when it comes to gender representation. To read the entire study, click here.

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.

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Showing up after the Standing Rock Action in Grand Rapids: WZZM 13 misses half the story

September 10, 2016

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(Updated version)

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.

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