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More corporate welfare in Michigan for Agri-business companies while child poverty grows

August 23, 2017

Earlier this week, MiBiz reported that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in conjunction with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will be giving out $4.7 millions to agri-business entities to expand their already large production projects.

This is not surprising considering the history of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). Both of these government run entities are essentially using taxpayer funds to give to agri-business companies, because this is the kind of work that both groups do. That is to say, both the MDARD and MEDC do not generally provide funding to small businesses or small sustainable farms.

Another corporate entity, the Michigan Agri-business Association has hundreds of members, but some of the largest members are a who’s who of toxic and destructive companies like Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta and Enbridge.

Most of the space provided to spokespersons in the MiBiz article is from these three agri-business entities.

The article does provide some commentary space to one of the companies benefiting from the taxpayer subsidies, the largest egg producer in Michigan, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch.

Herbruck’s has been under a great deal of scrutiny for years because of its environmental record, since the company runs Controlled Animal Feeding Operations, known as CAFOs. You’ve probably see one of their larger facilities, which can be seen from highway 96 as you travel eat, right before the Ionia exit. 

Herbruck’s is no stranger to living off of taxpayer money. The Environmental Working Group, which has a massive Farm Subsidy Data Base shows that Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch has received $430,864 between 1995 – 2014. You can search the data base yourself to see who else is receiving corporate welfare.

One of the other agri-business entities receiving corporate welfare is Fairlife LLC, operating in Coopersville, Michigan. The company makes a milk drink and is actually a subsidiary of the largest beverage company on the planet, the Coca Cola Company

Nice to know that we are all paying money to agri-business corporations so they can they can expand and make even more profits, while so many people are just trying to survive.

GRIID Fall 2017 Class: Learning from Social Movements in US and Grand Rapids History

August 22, 2017

What can we learn from the history of social movements? What tactics and strategies have been effective in order for people to overcome systems of oppression?

This is the focus of the Fall 2017 GRIID class. Over an 8-week period, we will explore the power of social movement in US history, using the book, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. From Zinn’s book we will explore the abolition movement, the Black Freedom movement and the labor movement during the later part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. For those who don’t have a copy of Howard Zinn’s book, there is a PDF version online at this link

In addition, we will explore social movements in Grand Rapids history, focusing on the early labor movement and the civil rights movement. We will be reading a section from Jeffrey Kleiman’s book, Strike!: How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids and a chapter from Todd Robinson’s book, A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition, we will be using some additional research done through the Grand Rapids People’s History ProjectGRIID will provide a PDF version of the chapters we will be using for this class from the two books about Grand Rapids.

The class begins on Monday, September 25 and goes for 8 weeks ending on November  13. Class will meet from 6:30 – 8:30pm at take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church 1025 3 Mile Rd NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (lower level – enter off the parking lot) The class cost is $25, but we will not turn anyone away who is unable to pay. To sign up send an e-mail to jsmith@griid.org.

Is Fighting Fascism really an American Tradition?

August 21, 2017

There have been a great deal of memes floating around on social media in the past week, many of them in response to the White Supremacist violence that took place in Charlottesville.

Many of these memes address white supremacy and fascism. However, as is the case with most memes, they tend to oversimplify reality and sometimes distort reality.

Take the meme here on the right. It says, Anti-Fascists disrupting a large gathering of white supremacists. The image clearly is from WWII, with the US military deploying troops, getting ready to do battle with Nazis. Now, it is possible that many US soldiers who were drafted into WWII, believed that they were fighting fascism, but that does not necessarily mean that the military and political leadership in the US was deeply committed to fighting fascists and disrupting white supremacy.

It is important for us to critically look at this history and investigate what exactly the US was committed to before, during and after WWII, particularly as it relates to fighting fascism.

Did the US Fight Fascism in Germany?

In Christopher Simpson’s little known book, The Splendid Blonde Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century, the author makes it clear that US financial institutions played a major role in rebuilding Germany after WWI. Entities like J.P. Morgan & Co., National City Bank, Brown Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and the Bankers Trust Company all provided significant loans and made major investments in the German economy.

Simpson also notes that there were several law firms that played a major role in facilitating the financial transactions that US banks made with Germany during the 1920s and 30s. One of the most notable law firms was Sullivan & Cromwell. Sullivan & Cromwell was a major player, not only with relations between the US government and the German government, the law firm dealt with numerous other governments the US had relations with, so much so, that Sullivan & Cromwell became known as the revolving door with the US State DePartment. Many of the Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers either transitioned into positions in the US State Department or began in the State Department and then entered the law firm.

Two of the most notable lawyers who got their start at Sullivan & Cromwell, were brothers Allen and John Foster Dulles. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the Dulles brothers played a major role in building relationships with Nazi Germany and after WWII they were rewarded positions in the Eisenhower administrations as Secretary of State (John Foster Dulles) and the Director of the CIA (Allen Dulles).

The relationships that the Dulles brothers developed with Nazi Germany would pay off after WWII, since they would recruit hundreds of Nazi scientists, military leaders and intelligence agents to come work for the US. Christopher Simpson documents this history in his ground-breaking book, Blowback: The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis, and its Disastrous Effect on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy. One of the highest ranking former Nazi Generals to be recruited by the CIA, was Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was recruited specifically because he was one of the Nazi Generals in charge of the Eastern Front and had a great deal of intelligence on the Soviet Union. You can read all the details about this dynamic in Mary Ellen Reese’s book, General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection.

Doing Business with Fascists instead of fighting them

Another major reason to be critical of the claim that the US was committed to fighting fascists during WWII was based on the fact that many major US corporations were operating factories in Nazi Germany or manufacturing products to sell to Nazi Germany. One such company was IBM, which contracted with Nazi Germany to develop a punchcard system that was used to track Jews and other prisoners in concentration camps.

Edwin Black (who appeared in the video clip above), in his book the, Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to Hitler’s Holocaust, cites a 1945 US Army report, which called the Ford Motor Company, “the arsenal of Nazism” with the full consent of the automotive company based in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Ford Motor Company operated factories throughout Germany during WWII, for both automobile manufacturing and for the production of munitions for the Nazi army. (Nazi Nexus) In addition, the Ford Motor company was manufacturing vehicles that were used by the Nazi military up until at least 1944, mostly at their facilities in Detroit/Dearborn. This dynamic is also well documented in Charles Higham’s important book, Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi-American Money Plot 1933 – 1949.

Fighting Fascism means fighting White Supremacy

A third important dynamic that we need to come to terms with is that the US government was not really interested in what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Germany. The US had its own brand of anti-Semitism that was growing during the 1930s. This anti-Semitism impacted policy at the highest level, especially when it came to how the US government responded to the Jews who were attempting to flee Nazi Germany.

The US government ultimately denied entry to Jews we were fleeing Nazi Germany. The US literally turned away a ship of 900 German Jews in the late 1930s and shortly afterward, it rejected a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety.

In David Wyman’s book, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941 – 1945, the author makes it clear that the US did very little to actually prevent what Nazi Germany was doing to the Jews. In addition to not taking in Jews who had already fled Nazi Germany, the US did not intervene directly to put a stop to the death camps. US knowledge of the concentration camps was made clear by at least 1942, yet there was no strong effort to bomb the rail lines leading into the camps, the very same rail lines that were used to bring millions of Jews to work or be exterminated in camps all over Germany and German occupied territory. This failure on the part of the US political and military leadership to prevent the deaths of millions of Jews is well documented in Raul Hilberg’s book, Perpetrators, Victims and Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933 – 1945. Many US troops were certainly appalled to learn what was happening in the German concentration camps near the end of the war, but dismantling those camps was never a priority of the US political and military establishment.

A few other important points to raise in regards to the question of whether or not Americans have a strong history of fighting fascism are as follows:

  • After the Fascists were defeated in Germany, Italy and France, the US military often suppressed the anti-fascist forces in those countries and replaced them with the fascist collaborators that the resistance forces were attempting to defeat. Part of the reason the US military was ordered to restore power to fascist collaborators was because they did not want the resistance forces to take power, since the resistance forces were often made up of communists, socialists or anarchists.
  • While the US did round up roughly 11,000 German Americans during WWII and put them in internment camps, that number pales in comparison to the 120,000 Japanese Americans that were forces into internment camps. This disparity reflected to racial politics of the US government, which was much more interested in punishing people of Japanese descent than German descent.
  • Cherokee scholar Ward Churchill, in his book, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, refers to the Nazi concept of Lebensraum, which means living space. Churchill argues that the forces removal of Native nations in the US is what influenced Hitler in his adopt his racial policies towards Jews that ultimately led to their extermination.
  • After WWII, the US initiated the Marshall Plan as a form of economic recovery for Germany. However, as Michael Zezima, author of the book, Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of the Good War, notes, the Marshall Plan was really a massive subsidy to US corporations and former Nazi companies, so that they could continue to expand their influence in Europe.

While a great deal more can be said to challenge the claim that the US has a strong tradition of fighting fascists, this brief summary should be enough to get you to question this claim.

However, one should follow up with the books that are cited in this post and we certainly encourage you to do your own investigation into this matter.

If you wanted an actual example from this time period where Americans really fought against fascism, check out the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade were some 2,800 US volunteers that participated in fighting against the fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). These men and women were part of an effort that included forty thousand other men and women from 52 countries that fought against fascism in Spain. You can see from the photo here, that many African Americans were part of the effort to fight fascists in Spain in the late 1930s. This is the history we need to reclaim. This is the history we need to teach.

The honest Legacy of Congressman Vern Ehlers

August 18, 2017

On Tuesday, former US Congressman Vern Ehlers passed away at the age of 83.

In the past few days there has been a number of news stories reflecting on the life of the former Congressman, with virtually every story communicating nothing but respect and admiration for Vern Ehlers.

One article on MLive just listed the comments from local politicians, both current and former, such as Senator Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Bill Huizenga, current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. 

A WOOD TV 8 story provides significant time to Ehler’s former press secretary Chris Barbee, but also included commentary from additional politicians like Rep. Justin Amash, Gov. Rick Snyder and Rep. Fred Upton. 

An earlier story on MLive provided some background on Ehlers’ political career from Kent County Commissioner to Congressman. In addition, some of the news coverage highlighted certain policies that the former Congressman had “championed,” such as Great Lakes Restoration and STEM Education. 

Some of the themes that are reflected in the news coverage of Ehlers’ passing is that he was, “respected on both sides of the aisle,” that he had a great sense of humor and served the 3rd Congressional District well. Some of the reporting talked about his Christian faith and several respondents said that “we needed more politicians like Vern.”

It is always interesting to observe how the news media deals with the death of a politician, regardless of party affiliation. Congressmen Ehlers, like Congressman Paul Henry (whom Ehlers replaced) are almost canonized in the news coverage without any critical perspective on what these politicians stood for, not what their track record looked like.

Congressman Ehlers took over for Paul Henry as the Representative for the 3rd Congressional district in 1993, when Henry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This means that Ehlers was Congressman during the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and the first 2 years of the Obama administration. Ehlers left office in January of 2011.

From 1993 through 2011, anyone in Congress would have had to deal with major policies that impacted millions in the US and millions more worldwide. Former Congressman Vern Ehlers voted on trade policies, domestic economic policies, war and military budgets and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.

I was personally involved in numerous campaigns to challenge and confront Congressman Ehlers during his time in Congress and was even arrested on a few occasions at his office in the Grand Rapids Federal Building.

Ehlers, like most politicians, practiced business as usual politics. On the economic front, Ehlers consistently voted to continue massive corporate subsidies that were in the billions, while millions of families were struggling to make ends meet. Ehlers voted for the Clinton administration’s policy to end welfare as we know it and he voted for the massive bailout of banks after the economic collapse of 2007 – 2008.

These policies expanded the gap between rich and poor in the US and had devastating consequences particularly on women and communities of color.

Congressman Ehlers voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  These trade policies had devastating effects on US workers and resulted in the elimination of thousands of manufacturing jobs being lost in Michigan alone.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ehlers voted for the Patriot Act and everyone of the subsequent policies after that to renew or expand domestic US government surveillance programs. The Patriot Act targeted the Arab American and Muslim American communities and should be seen as what it is, a racist policy.

Congressman Ehlers voted to in support of the US military assault and then subsequent military occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Ehlers also voted for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and continued to voted in favor of military spending in Iraq, the use of private contractors and the use of torture by US military personnel in Iraq.

In March of 2007, several hundred people went to the home of Vern Ehlers to protest his ongoing support of the US occupation of Iraq, as you can see in this video:

Again, in 2008, Ehlers was confronted about his support for the US occupation of Iraq, when he was attending an event at the Women’s City Club in Grand Rapids:

Additionally, in the early months of the US military occupation of Iraq in 2003, members of the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change organized the Trial of Vern Ehlers as a dramatic depiction of the then documented US war crimes being perpetrated in Iraq, which Congressman Ehlers supported. You can read the transcript of the trial here or watch a video version of the trial.

So, despite the glowing news coverage of the passing of this former US Congressmen, some of us will remember him as a supporter of economic policies that supported the rich, devastating trade policies, US militarism, war crimes and torture. But hey, he was respected on both sides of the political aisle.

WOOD TV8 allows local leader of White Supremacist group to lie

August 17, 2017

Yesterday, WOOD TV8 ran a story headlined, Leader denies group is neo-Nazi: ‘Witch hunt’

Taking advantage of the national media attention from the White Nationalist/White Supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the channel 8 story used a Southern Poverty Law Center hate map to identify hate groups in West Michigan and chose to speak with the leader of a White Supremacist group.

However, the channel 8 piece, ultimately provided a platform for Mike Peterson, also known as Ragnar, to say that his group, the Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance, is nothing more than a religious group. The WOOD TV 8 reporter can only respond by showing one picture of Mike Peterson to challenge his identity with White Supremacy. This kind of weak and lazy journalism is not what people need, especially in light of the White Supremacist violence in Charlottesville last weekend. One more indication that commercial media outlets are more interested in ratings than doing real journalism.

Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance IS a White Supremacist group

There are numerous online sources that have actually done some investigation on who Mike Peterson is and what the Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance actually is.

Southside Chicago Anti-Racist Action states:

First off is Michael Peterson of the Grand Rapids metro area. You may remember him as Ragnar, mocked intensely as a divider of the white pride movement and possible undercover ZOG agent on Patrick Langballe’s classic video “Juliet is a pig 88”, Juliet being his kid’s mother who has cheated on him with other men in the ‘movement’. You might have even seen him in pictures of this year’s Hitler Birthday Celebration in Chicago (he’s the one furthest to the left). He is a Nazi that spent nine years in federal prison and now blogs,  paints dolls and figurinesfights with his own community on the internetwrites about mead on the internet and attends school at Grand Rapids Community College for writing and journalism. On top of this, he is a leader of the Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance, a culty religious group that blends Norse Paganism with white supremacy and forbids its members to be part of any other organizations. This outfit organized the Jackson, Michigan White Pride World Wide march March 22 last year.

Now simply exposing Michael for his fascist activism (usually carried out by the name Ragnar Whiteson, Ragnar Odinson, or Wotansvolk) would be enough, but it gets far juicier. Early last year, a White Culture Club attempted (and failed) to start up at Grand Rapids Community College. On the Gallows Tree Forum Michael owns up to the fact that he and other Gallows Tree members started the White Culture Club to help promote the religion he leads. But look up earlier on the thread at the article by the name of “White culture club tries GRCC”. It ran in the Collegiate, GRCC’s student newspaper, at the beginning of the controversy. And its author: Mike Peterson, Collegiate Staff Writer. That’s right, an active Nazi got to write THE FIRST ARTICLE about the group he helped start FOR THE PURPOSE OF BRINGING NEW MEMBERS into his own organization, and quite possibly got paid for it.

Around the same time that Peterson was at GRCC, he worked at the downtown bar J. Gardellas Tavern. Several people connected to Anti-Racist Action (ARA) in Grand Rapids at the time found out he worked there and exposed him to the owner. Shortly after Peterson was exposed, he was fired.

However, before he was fired, he and other members of his group were making threats against the former owner of Bartertown Diner, since that person used to organize punk shows in GR. Several members of the ARA and some Wobbly members responded and as soon as they showed up the White Supremacists fled.

Another online source states

Peterson’s activities means everyone around him, be it directly or indirectly, have to deal with whatever it is he brings around. That could mean at the restaurant he works at called Dee-Lite in Grand Haven, MI, or it could especially mean at his home in Allendale, MI where he holds his Gallows Tree gatherings that he calls blóts, which were old Nordic pagan sacrifices to the gods. He has held several there, and it is possible any neighbors or even his landlord do not know what he has been bringing to the neighborhood.

This may be the most recent piece written on Ragnar, aka Mike Peterson, since as the WOOD TV8 story confirms that Peterson lives in Allendale. There is also this scary video, which has Peterson in it several times. There are definitely several people in the video with White Supremacist symbols, so don’t believe his bullshit lies. 

Peterson also has a Facebook page, so make sure that you don’t friend him and make sure others know who this White Supremacist piece of shit is. Shine the light on him and all White Supremacists!

Tabling for Rapid Response to ICE means confronting white supremacist attitudes

August 15, 2017

Last night I attended a neighborhood church festival to table for the Rapid Response to ICE grassroots organizing group.

The church festival was hosted by Lee Street Christian Reformed Church in the southwest part of Grand Rapids. Those of us working with Rapid Response to ICE were contacted by one of the pastors at Lee Street CRC during the recent ICE raids, because a member of his congregation had been picked up by ICE and put into detention. 

The church festival was typical of many festivals, with lots of good food, music, a large play area for kids and information tables. I sat for about 2 hours and talked with mostly Cuban, Dominican, Mexican and Guatemalan people from the neighborhood. I had cards out with information on What to Do if ICE comes to your door and signage in Spanish about an upcoming training that the Rapid Response to ICE team was hosting next week.

Every single one of the people who were from recent immigrant communities all knew someone who has been targeted by ICE and shared their stories of the horrors that family members have faced. People also talked about the constant fear that they and some of the neighbors face, since they never know when government agents or local police will stop them. This is their lived experience and the reality they must face everyday. Despite the fear they face, these people were welcoming to me, they took cards about ICE to share with friends and they offered thanks for the work that the Rapid Response to ICE was doing.

This was in sharp contrast to the reaction I got from several white people who also attended the festival.

As I said, on our table was mostly signage in Spanish, with a stack of cards about what to do it ICE comes to your door, with the Spanish information side up. One white woman was looking at the information and said, “where is the English information?” I said that on the other side of the cards, the information was in English. She then grabbed a bunch of the cards and flipped them over to put the English side up. I told her that this information was for people from communities were the primary language was Spanish, therefore the Spanish side up. This white woman said that “they need to learn English.” I responded by saying that our goal was to provide information that may be critical to their safety in a language they are most comfortable with. I also told her that her statement was racist and that she needed to stop demanding anything from immigrant communities. At this point she walked away.

Then an older white man approached the table and asked what the Rapid Response to ICE was all about. I explained it to him and then he said, “but the problem is that they are here illegally and are a drain on our welfare system.” I responded by saying that people are not illegal and that people who are in the US that are undocumented are fleeing political and economic violence and that it is our obligation to welcome them here and fight against government repression. I also said that the claim that immigrants are a drain on the welfare system was just a lie perpetrated by anti-immigration groups like the Federal for American Immigration Reform and that the US economy would come to a halt if the millions of undocumented people were all detained or deported and not able to do the work that most of us in the US are unwilling to do. This guy also promptly left.

One other encounter I had was with another white guy who was also a member of the church hosting the event. He said that he has seen the cards we are distributing before and that he had a lot of problems with what they said. I asked what was problematic about providing information to people that could keep them from being arrested, detained and deported. He responded by saying, “these people needed to come to the US legally.” I responded by saying this was a highly privileged response and that what needed to change is the immigration policy of this country. He said we can’t take all of them. I responded by saying, “they took your family and mine, so why not all immigrants.”

I then said that your church pastors support this work and are even considering becoming a sanctuary church. He then spoke against sanctuary churches and said it would be wrong if that happened. I asked him if it was a christian mandate to welcome the stranger and he said, “only if they are refugees and not illegal.” He then walked away.

Tabling at this event was highly instructive and also reflected the very real divide in the US between those in the immigrant communities who are directly impacted from US policies and the general white supremacist attitudes and beliefs of millions of people in this country. In the end it was important for us to be there to provide information and to let people from impacted communities know that we are offering solidarity and support to them. It was also important to be able to confront and challenge those who wanted to hold on to their white supremacist values.

Who owns Representatives Amash and Huizenga?

August 14, 2017

The mid-term elections are over a year away, but politicians never wait around to raise money to keep their seats in Congress.

The Center for Responsive Politics now has the most recent FEC filings for the 2018 election, since the end of June. It’s always instructive to see who is funding candidates. In fact, one could say that those who currently contribute the most to political candidates essentially own them.

Campaign funds are not just to get politicians into office, they are a means to have access and to get politicians to decide on policy that is in the best interest of those making the contributions.

We looked at the current political contributions in the 2nd and 3rd Congressional races and here is what we found.

Representative Bill Huizenga, the incumbent, is running against Rob Davidson. According to the most recent data, Davidson has raised only $8,923, compared to Huizenga, who has raised $548,232. This is a seat that the Republicans have controlled for a long time and the 2018 election will not likely alter that reality.

Huizenga sits on the Capital Markets, Securities, and Investment Subcommittee and the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee. Therefore, it is not surprising that the primary contributors to his current election campaign are entities from the banking and financial sectors. 

Representative Justin Amash, in the 3rd Congressional District, is being challenged by Jeff Thomas. However, it isn’t much of a challenge, since Thomas has only raised $3,541, compared to the $140,160 that Amash has raised.

Unlike Rep. Huizenga, Rep. Amash receives a significant amount of contributions from more ideologically driven entities. One of the largest contributors is the DeVos-owned entity known as the WindQuest Group. Other groups on the list are Young Americans for Liberty, the Cato Institute and the DKT Liberty Project.

It seems clear that since there is no parity in fundraising between Thomas and Amash, that Amash is assured to maintain his seat for the 3rd Congressional District. As they say in the political world, campaign contributions are the mother’s milk of electoral politics.