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How Media Reports on the death of Billionaires: Helen DeVos

October 20, 2017

One can learn a great deal by paying attention to how the commercial news media reports on those who are part of the power structure, whether they are national or local.

In 2011, we wrote a critique of the news media’s coverage of the death of Fred Meijer, saying essentially that the news media in West Michigan had canonized the billionaire. We also pointed out that from 2007, when the world was in an economic free fall, through 2010, Fred Meijer had increased his wealth by 150%, totally $5 billion by 2010.

Despite Fred Meijer’s otherworldly wealth, the West Michigan news media chose to focus on his philanthropic activities. This tells us that the local news media do not question:

  • How people acquire their wealth.
  • The role and function of foundations or philanthropy.
  • What impact philanthropy has on systemic change.
  • And they generally ignore or keep separate the influence that philanthropists have on public policy.

On Wednesday, Helen DeVos, the wife of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, passed away. On Thursday, the West Michigan news media began to eulogize Helen DeVos, much in the same manner as they did Fred Meijer of Jay Van Andel in recent years. One MLive article provided a platform for those who are part of the power structure to voice their thoughts on the death of Helen DeVos, including Gov. Snyder, Rep. Justin Amash, some local CEOs, grandson Rick DeVos and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalyn Bliss. This article also included a tribute video to Helen DeVos created by MLive staffers.

Wood TV 8, WZZM 13  and WXMI 17 all had variations on the same kind of reporting, with nothing but glowing remarks about her generosity. 

In the primary article from MLive, the reporter provides an overview of the life of Helen DeVos, with a list of awards she won, her relationship to her family and the charitable causes she was involved in. One comment from her youngest son, Doug DeVos, is particularly telling.

“She saw the money as a tool to support causes close to her heart. The DeVos family has given away more than $1.2 billion over the years, a majority of the donations coming from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.”

Doug DeVos’ comment is instructive for two main reasons. First, he tries to minimize the vast amount of wealth that Rich and Helen had amassed over the years and get us to believe that it did really have any impact on her. Second, Doug points on the amount of money his mom and dad’s foundation has contributed over the years. Let’s take a look at that for a moment.

While most of the eulogizing focuses on the funding that Helen DeVos gave to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, it ignores so many other entities that were the recipients of funding from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has contributed money to organizations that are blatantly anti-LGBTQ, such as the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Focus on the Family. While doing research for the Grand Rapids LGBTQ People’s History Project, we discovered that their foundation threatened to withhold funding if the University was going to move forward with providing domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff. GVSU decided to take the money and then wait another 13 years before they agreed to provide domestic partner benefits.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also provided millions of dollars to organizations that are deeply committed to waging class war and standing on the side of those who are already wealthy. The couple’s foundation has given millions to each of the following politically right think tanks:

Heritage Foundation 

American Enterprise Institute 

Mackinac Center for Public Policy 

Acton Institute 

However, their foundation funding pales in comparison to the political contributions that Richard and Helen DeVos have made over the years. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported earlier this year that the DeVos Family has contributed $82 million since 1999. A great deal of that has come from Rich and Helen, which have been making large donations to candidates and the GOP for over 40 years.

If you spend time searching the database at the Center for Responsive Politics, you can see the vast amounts of money Helen and Rich DeVos have spent to buy political influence. Search the 49503 zip code and you see that most of the names that come up are Rich and Helen DeVos. The image below is just a sampling from the 2016 Election Cycle.

At the state level, you can look at a previous posting we did, which looked at how the DeVos Family had contributed to candidates who introduce policies that have become law. For instance, in 2015, DeVos money helped to pass HB 4052, a law that takes away local control. Why is this relevant, because powerful entities like the DeVos family do not want local communities adopting policies like a living wage, regulations against wage theft or adopting anti-discrimination ordinances that would include or add anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community. 

A second example signed into law in 2015 was HB 4188. This legislation, often framed as a religious freedom bill, would allow adoption agencies in Michigan the ability to deny LGBT couples/partners/families from adopting.

All of this is to say that Helen DeVos, like all the other members of the family, do significant harm through their wealth, both in the form of foundation given and political contributions. In more honest days, people did not mourn the deaths of local oligarchies or the robber barons in their community, they celebrated their deaths.

Gauntlet of Shame greeted Acton Institute event attendees and Betsy DeVos supporters in Grand Rapids last night

October 19, 2017

As we reported on last month, Betsy DeVos was the keynote speaker at the Acton Institute’s 27th annual gala event, held at the DeVos Convention last night. 

The protest outside was designed to make it uncomfortable for those attending the event, which were largely members of the capitalist class. The Acton Institute set up valet parking right along Monroe St. in front of the Convention Center, but some people chose to park in the ramp across the street under the city/county building. Either way, people who were attending the Acton Institute event had to pass through a gauntlet of protestors who greeted them with whistles, signs and chants of “Shame” as they entered the building.

 

The idea behind the Gauntlet of Shame was to communicate clearly to the Capitalist Class that what they do and what they support causes actual harm to people, especially to those most marginalized. We know that what the Acton Institute stands for, which is primarily about the neoliberal capitalism – profits over people, the privatization of public services, attacks against public education, dismantling unions – that these policies cause tremendous harm to working class people and especially to communities of color.

Another aspect about last night’s protest was that people were not there to engage in a dialogue. The Capitalist Class isn’t going to change, because they benefit from the systems that are in place. We were there to make people feel uncomfortable, because of all the harm they cause in the world. Here is the text of a handout that someone made, which sums up well the reasons why people were confronting those attending the Acton Institute Gala event.

Cops and War Criminals

The police presence was minimal when the demonstration began last night, with some cops in cars and others on bikes to keep an eye on those protesting. However, once it became clear that the protest was not the usual sign holding affair and that people were being made to feel uncomfortable, the police numbers grew.

The protest was concentrated at the main convention center entrance off of Monroe, so the police presence was heavy there, with 6 cops standing in front of the doors (along with convention center security) and then several other cops around the perimeter of that entrance, since people were coming from the north and south side of Monroe to enter the building. The police were even escorting members of the Capitalist Class from the valet area to the building.

At one point, just before he entered the building, people recognized the brother of Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince, who was attending the Acton Institute event. Immediately, people began shouting War Criminal at Prince and walking towards him. The police stood in front of those attempting to get closer to Prince, and just before he entered the building he blew a kiss to those protesting. This gesture was nothing more than a big “Fuck You” to everyone outside. Erik Prince can arrogantly make these gestures because he knows that the current political and economic system will protect people like him, despite the fact that the mercenary corporation he used to own, Blackwater, was responsible for the murder of innocent Iraqi civilians. Prince himself lived in the United Arab Emirates for several years to avoid extradition for his role in those murders. The Capitalist Class gets to live in this world, causing tremendous harm, and then they do not have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

The protest against the Acton Institute and Betsy DeVos began at 5:30pm and ended just after 7pm, since the dinner/keynote address was scheduled for 7pm. People left feeling energized, especially since this was an action that was focused on directly confronting those who attended the Acton Institute and those who support the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

 

 

Socialism in One Restaurant

October 18, 2017

(Editor’s note: For transparency sake, I was a part of the Grand Rapids Chapter of the IWW when Bartertown was part of the IWW. We had meetings there and I was part of many conversations both during and after Bartertown’s involvement with the IWW. I also tend to agree with Cole Dorsey’s comments in this article. This article was written and submitted by David Zeglen, who is a professor at George Mason University.)

by David Zeglen

Last November, “Bartertown”, a small vegan restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, closed its doors forever. Despite the restaurant’s relative obscurity, the closing nonetheless made headlines in the mainstream media: Fox News issued the story “Marxist Vegan Restaurant Closes After Customers No Long Willing to Wait 40 Minutes for a Sandwich”; Fortune reported “A Michigan Marxist Restaurant Closes After Failed Group Decisions and Long Sandwich Waits”; and Vice Media ran a short article entitled “Marxist Vegan Restaurant in Michigan Closes for Predictably Marxist Reasons.”

This hyperbole, schadenfreude, and invocation of familiar red-baiting tropes was symptomatic of a deeper anxiety about restaurant capitalism in one of the most exploitative sectors of the American economy. Bartertown represented the possibility of an alternative organizational model for the workplace. Although Bartertown’s co-founders never assumed that their restaurant would remain open for very long in a place as politically conservative as Grand Rapids, they were committed to cultivating a class consciousness via workplace democracy that would remain with Bartertown’s workers long after the restaurant closed. While Bartertown’s labor experiment was unable to move toward enacting broader structural changes, it nonetheless challenged the capitalist restaurant model and provided valuable lessons for future workplace organizing.

A Post-Recession Outpost

After years of working in various restaurants, Bartertown’s brainchild, Ryan Cappelletti, had seen first-hand how the industry relied on the basic principle of keeping wages low to keep food costs down and increase profit margins. Given the post-recession economy of Michigan in 2011, Cappelletti wanted to build a restaurant that saw its customers as struggling laborers in need of fair prices, and its workers as deserving of fair wages. Thus, Cappelletti and his fellow co-founders began to design a model that could meet these principles.

For Cappelletti, this was a chance to challenge some dominant ideologies about the food industry. To reduce food costs, the restaurant would be a true farm-to-table by using locally sourced vegan food from within Michigan. But Cappelletti didn’t use this farm-to-table ethos as a brand gimmick to justify charging higher prices like other local vegan restaurants. Instead, this model would ensure that customers could get a locally sourced plate of food for as low as $5.00. Although it is often assumed that locally sourced, seasonal food is more expensive for the customer, Cappelletti argued that restaurants opted for less nutritious frozen goods from regional suppliers more out of convenience than cost.

Capelletti also wanted the restaurant to have a barter system wherein Grand Rapids’ homeless, unemployed, and underemployed could come in and wash dishes for an hour in exchange for a meal. Additionally, as local mushroom forager Glenn Freeman recounts, the restaurant also accepted local food ingredients as currency that could be credited in exchange for a meal. 

This “Bartertown” also remained inviting to the working class by foregoing the pretentious décor and fancy menus characteristic of farm-to-table restaurants. While other places used overblown language like “artisanal” and “handcrafted” to deliberately ostracize certain demographics, Bartertown’s menus, with items such as “two-buck tacos,” “chickpea dip,” or “tofu Reuben” were simple and direct with basic descriptions. When rhetorical flourish was invoked, it was never to dress up the items as evidenced by the “bowl of food,” and “raw trash salad” options.

Rather than purchasing brand new lights, chairs, and tables, Cappelletti also hired a local builder who agreed to forage for materials and upcycle them into furnishings for the restaurant. As a result, Bartertown’s décor consisted of refurbished old doors for tables, mix-matched utensils, mugs, and plates, and used kitchen equipment, including a beat-up oven salvaged from an old church.

Let Them Eat Che

The DIY aesthetic was also applied to Bartertown’s art: on the main wall inside the restaurant was a giant red and black propaganda-style mural of Che Guevara dressed as a hamburger cook holding a plate of veggie burgers, with Ronald Reagan working beside him as a dishwasher. Although Bartertown sought to evoke a commentary on the linkage between political leadership, mass murder and faux-revolutionary status, the so-called “Che mural” offended many residents, including a local Cuban émigré who took to Facebook to complain about the restaurant’s alleged endorsement of a mass murderer. The Facebook comment was subsequently linked to a blog post critiquing the mural on a local website, wherein Grand Rapid’s bourgeois vegans became righteously indigent towards Bartertown’s aesthetic, despite the restaurant’s unprecedented commitment to worker’s rights.

Indeed, although Bartertown was conscientious about making its food accessible to everyone, there was also an underlying “fuck you” attitude towards customers who had internalized the absolutist mentality of always being right. Bartertown helped cultivate this attitude by hiring people who had little restaurant experience and therefore hadn’t been indoctrinated with the industry’s hierarchical value system, making it easier to train them in workers’ rights from the bottom up. During training, Cappelletti often encouraged the staff to be nice to the people who were nice to them back, and to not take any shit from people who were rude or offensive.

Bartertown also had a list of by-laws posted on the wall indicating that any sort of oppressive behavior, derogatory language, or general cause of discomfort or stress including mental or physical abuse from the customer would not be tolerated. As Bear, a former worker at Bartertown recalls, “we aimed to give excellent food and great service all the time because we loved to work there and keep it alive, but we just weren’t going to take any shit. If you didn’t like that, we would say ‘get the fuck out of here, we don’t need your money.’”

To help cultivate the workers’ sense of autonomy, Cappelletti contacted the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for help. Cole Dorsey, one of the founders of the Grand Rapids IWW branch, met with Cappelletti and agreed to help organize Bartertown into a closed-shop union based on the IWW’s core principles of horizontalism, direct democracy, accountability, and transparency.

With the IWW’s help, worker meetings were held every week and all decisions about delegating responsibility for specific tasks were made according to a simple majority rule with every worker having an equal vote from dishwasher to cook to server. Everyone agreed to being paid the same hourly minimum wage and dividing all tips fairly, and all the financial records were open. More important decisions about profits and finances were also collectively decided, usually through consensus, and everyone agreed that the priority would be paying back their investors, which they did within the first year. According to Onya Jackson, one of Bartertown’s co-founders, implementing IWW principles opened her eyes to how unfairly restaurants were usually run in the industry.

Trappings of Success

As Cappelletti admits, the IWW’s support before and during the restaurant’s first year was critical to Bartertown’s initial success. In addition to helping organize Bartertown’s workers, the IWW financially helped the restaurant by running donation drives, investing in Bartertown’s Kickstarter, and organizing punk concert fundraisers in Bartertown’s basement. When Bartertown first opened, the IWW also offered free labor from branch member volunteers to fill in when the restaurant was short-staffed, and offered advice on how to handle negative media attention while providing positive media coverage.

But the restaurant’s popularity also made it increasingly difficult for the busy staff to maintain the IWW’s requirements for a union shop, such as holding regular IWW meetings, recording meeting minutes for transparency, and writing up by-laws for the restaurant. By the time Bartertown had been open for a year, the relationship with the IWW had largely ended. Dorsey speculates that Bartertown might still be around today had they continued to work with the union and incorporate the restaurant into a larger network of IWW-supported businesses in the city. For Cappelletti, the dissipation of the relationship was regrettable, as the restaurant would soon need the kind of advice and support that only the IWW could provide.

For instance, in the spring of 2013, nearly 15 months after the restaurant had first opened, Cappelletti relinquished ownership and gave the restaurant to Bartertown’s five co-founding workers, including Jackson. After Cappelletti left, Bartertown’s confrontational attitude and equitable working conditions started to erode. According to Kate Vlaming, one of the co-owners of the restaurant at the time, workers grew increasingly passive-aggressive towards each other since nobody wanted to upset or offend anyone else by voicing their opinion about increasingly unfair divisions of labor.

As the owner, Cappelletti functioned as a symbolic totem that enabled workers to confront each other’s ideas indirectly, thus helping facilitate a workplace democracy. As a result, after nine months as a worker-owned and operated restaurant, in early 2014, Cappelletti agreed to take back ownership of Bartertown while continuing to run it as a worker-operated, if not worker-owned, restaurant.

However, Bartertown encountered a further problem that the IWW could have also helped to mitigate. In December 2014, Bartertown’s rental lot was sold to Rockford Construction, a local land development company with a reputation for gentrifying neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Rockford immediately doubled the rent on the lot, making it increasingly difficult for Bartertown to maintain its fair wages and low prices, even though the restaurant was doing their best business yet – a common problem in the American restaurant industry.

Soon after the Rockford takeover, Thad Cummings, a local entrepreneur, approached Cappelletti about becoming a partner in Bartertown. Although Cappelletti initially turned him down, Cummings continued to visit, investing money into the business and providing financial advice. According to Cummings, there was no way of saving Bartertown without its debt being bought out. In February 2016, Cappelletti relented, and finally sold Bartertown to Cummings.

Don’t Eat the Rich

After taking ownership of Bartertown, it became immediately apparent that Cummings’ approach to organizing the restaurant’s work relations was clashing with the workers who remained after Cappelletti sold the restaurant.

Cummings tried to continue the monthly staff meetings with equal votes for decision-making. But according to Cummings, some of his workers saw the job as just that (a likely result of different hiring practices from Cappelletti’s) and didn’t want to participate in meetings, while those who did participate would gridlock Cummings over basic business decisions. Cummings ended up making several unilateral decisions about the restaurant, which consequently provoked a backlash from several workers that the restaurant was only nominally worker-operated.

Furthermore, Cummings’ business partner, Crystal LeCoy, constantly micro-managed the workers and refused to hear input from other staff on how to run the restaurant. When some workers challenged LeCoy’s ideas, she responded by threatening to fire them. As Bear put it, “we weren’t the kind of people to take that without fighting back. We gave her [LeCoy] a lot of attitude for trying to control everything.”

Cummings and LeCoy also turned Bartertown into a no-tip restaurant. Instead of tipping, customers could pay two dollars for a meal card that would go on a board near the front of the entrance, which anyone from the community could take down and use. Workers recalled that while several homeless people did come in and use the board, many of the cards stayed unused, which made them suspect that Cummings was pocketing the “tips” and hacking wages.

When Cummings explained to his workers that their wage was more than what they were previously making with tips, they responded that the issue was less about money and more about having some control in the decision-making process. As Cummings said, “it’s bizarre when employees tell you how they are going to run the company.” Cummings also felt that making Bartertown a no-tip restaurant took away the incentive to work hard, and attributed this factor to the decline in customer service among his workers, rather than dissatisfaction with the social organization of management. However, he also admitted that he implemented his idea for the meal board with little input from the staff.

By the fall of 2016, Bartertown had become a series of constant battles between the restaurant’s old workers and its new owners. From Cummings’ perspective, he was continually frustrated by the fact that the workers couldn’t understand the financial complexity of the restaurant, which meant that workplace democracy could never work in the restaurant industry.

But for the staff, it was Cummings who didn’t understand that they were more interested in having a workplace democracy that wouldn’t last forever rather than having a deadening job that would. It wasn’t that Bartertown’s workers didn’t understand the nuances of business economics, it was that they weren’t willing to sacrifice their temporary autonomy for the drudgery of long-term wage slavery.

Although Cummings made a last-ditch effort to re-brand the restaurant and start anew, by November the writing was on the wall, and the restaurant closed for good.

No Recipes for the Kitchens of the Future

Instead of gleaning insights from an experiment with workrplace democracy, once Bartertown had closed, the media and the public responded by mocking a restaurant that had tried to provided workers with labor rights and a community with affordable food in a post-recession economy.

Cappelletti also distinctly recalls that several locals in the community blasted Bartertown’s for being thoroughly depraved and anti-American. But Bartertown’s politics embodied a particular valence of the American Dream that resonated with a different kind of world where people regulated production and could decide to do one thing today and another thing tomorrow. As Cappelletti countered, “we weren’t anti-American; just the opposite. We made Bartertown happen because we believed we could make it happen, and because we believed we could do whatever we wanted. We were just really hard working, and did everything we could to try and make the experiment last.”

Whatever mode of production follows capitalism won’t emerge as an entire system, but will involve small-scale experiments like Bartertown. Although many will fail, the lessons of those failures will enable other experiments to succeed and help shift this emergent system into the dominant one and change the overall logic of our contemporary social relations.

“Blues Lives Matter” Legislation continues to be pushed in Lansing

October 17, 2017

It is no surprise that legislators in Michigan, like all across the US, have been pushing legislation that is in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, copying the same language, naming it as Blue Lives Matter. The Black Lives Matter movement has made the issue of police brutality and the role policing in the black community a larger part of our political discourse, especially since the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2015. Blue Lives Matter is not a movement, but a racist campaign by the state to present Blacks Lives Matter members as “a threat” to social order.

2015 was the first time that Michigan Legislators attempted to get a bill passed that would make it a more severe crime for people to target law enforcement officers. The proposed legislation was HB 4585, but it never was adopted. 

In May of 2017, a revised bill was introduced, HB 4590, legislation that was introduced by Rep. Klinto Kesto. Kesto, who represents the 39th House District, is a former prosecuting attorney and has received significant amounts of campaign contributions from the Meijer and DeVos families

HB 4590 would specifically punish people who targeted police officers, correctional officers, firefighters or EMP workers

HB 4591 was introduced at the same time as HB 4590, a piece of legislation that was introduced by Rep. Brandt Iden, who represents the 61st House District. Iden is a former Kalamazoo County Commissioner and a Real Estate business owner. Iden has also received a significant amount of campaign contributions from the DeVos FamilyHB 4591 provides more clarity on the ways in which crimes against cops, firefighters, EMP workers and correctional workers would be punished. 

Last week, the legislation was being discussed and you can read the submitted Legislative Analysis as provided by House Fiscal Agency. This analysis notes that there were 16 police departments or police associations in Michigan who gave testimony in support of the proposed legislation. The only opposed statements were submitted by the ACLU of Michigan and Black Lives Matter of Lansing.

Here is an excerpt from the BLM Lansing statement:

Michigan should not fall in line with the states attempting to pass “Blue Lives Matter” laws with the misrepresentation that first-responders are not already protected. Attacks on first responders already carry enhanced penalties and are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Under this bill, Michigan police officers would be considered a protected class alongside vulnerable groups who face discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. There is no evidence that this legislation is necessary or will make first responders safer. There is ample evidence that police have the procedures and trainings to de-escalate encounters at a much higher rate when the civilian is not visibly identifiable as a person of color. The only people killed by police at higher rates than Black people are Native Americans.

Blue Lives Matter bills serve one purpose only and that is to silence criticism and peaceful protest which is a 1st Amendment right afforded to all Americans. Law enforcement is already one of the most powerful and protected organizations in the nation and to attempt to pass legislation that suggests otherwise is deceitful and disrespectful to the families of the innocent people, including children and unarmed civilians, who have been killed by law enforcement officers as if their lives didn’t matter and therefore are not worthy of peaceful protest. The best way for police to build trust with the community is to stop killing unarmed civilians and to take responsibility when it happens.

In Michigan and across the country, Democratic lawmakers have rarely spoken out against the Blue Lives Matter legislative campaigns, primarily because they do not want to be seen as “weak on crime” and because of their relationship to Police Unions.

The lack of any real commitment to defending black people by politicians is also a recognition that the Movement for Black Lives has a very clear a powerful platform. The Movement for Black Lives makes it clear that what they are calling for is an end to the War on Black People. This platform should be required reading for those who think that body cams will be sufficient in dealing with the War on Black People.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Protests continue to follow the Secretary of Education across the country

October 16, 2017

On Friday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke in Seattle, Washington at a forum hosted by the Washington Policy Center.

Her speech was not unlike many of the other speeches she has given since becoming Secretary of Education, especially at forums hosted by organizations that have similar a ideological framework as DeVos. 

There were a couple of things during her speech that are worth noting. First, DeVos once again used the mantra of states rights to push her education agenda, commenting that states, “are best equipped to solve the unique problems they face.” Second, DeVos argues that public money is really the taxpayers money and therefore, shouldn’t parents be able to spend that money how they want in terms of education? I wonder if Betsy feels the same way about tax dollars that subsidize large corporations, like Amway. Does she think the public should be able to decide if Amway or any other corporations should receive public money? How about the public tax dollars that go to the US military? Should the public be allowed to have a say in how that money gets used and whether or not they want it to go to the largest military in the world? Betsy DeVos, like all neoliberal capitalist only believe in government intervention when it serves their interest.

Third, DeVos makes a comparison between food and education choice. She states:

Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants. But you know what? Food trucks started lining the streets to provide options. Some are better than others; and some are even local restaurants that have added trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs.

Now, if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business?

No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.

This argument is essentially a free market argument, where she believes that education, like food or anything else, is nothing more than a commodity.

Fourth, early on in her speech, DeVos says:

State-based centers like yours are important in shaping policy because you have great ideas and you fight for them. Your fellow member in the State Policy Network, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has advanced major initiatives in my home state of Michigan.

It is important to understand that the Washington Policy Center, just like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Acton Institute are all think tanks that are members of the State Policy Network.   

According to Source Watch:

The State Policy Network (SPN) is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of July 2017, SPN’s membership totals 153. Today’s SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party.

The Center for Media & Democracy published an excellent report entitled, Exposed: The State Policy Network, which we highly recommend. Here is just one of the section from the report that provides a snapshot of what the State Policy Network advocates all across the country.

Protests Follow Betsy DeVos wherever she goes

Lastly, it is important to point out that during the 8 months that Betsy DeVos has been the Secretary of Education, protests occur no matter where she travels to. While she was in Seattle last Friday, she was greeted by over 1,000 people, possibly the largest demonstration she has been confronted by since taking office.

This video gives you a sense of how large the protest was.

People in Grand Rapids have certainly protested Betsy DeVos while she has visited Grand Rapids, both on in early August while she was at GRCC and more recently while speaking at the opening of the new MSU building in downtown Grand Rapids

In the Seattle Times story last Friday, they provide an interactive map of where the Secretary of Education has visited and how many times she was met by protestors. Go to this link and scroll down halfway through the article until you see this map.

This Wednesday, we have a chance to add to the number of protests against Betsy DeVos since she became Secretary of Education. The Acton Institute is holding its annual meeting at the DeVos Convention Center and Betsy DeVos is the keynote speaker. For details on the protest, go here.

Grand Rapids Bus Driver’s Union and Equity PAC trade words over November Transit Millage

October 12, 2017

On November 7, voters in the Greater Grand Rapids area can vote on whether or not to renew an operational millage for The Rapid bus system.

The issue has been a contentious one for more than a year, mostly because The Rapid board has failed to reach a negotiation with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 836. 

In recent months the issue has become more intense, with the ATU engaging in actions around the millage, most recently their confronting of Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss on Labor Day.

Since then, the Kent County Democrats have sided with the ATU to not support the millage, unless there is a contract agreement reached before the November 7 Millage vote. Some political candidates have also sided with the ATU in not endorsing the Millage, such as Robert Van Kirk who is running for the 77th State House seat and Rachel Hood who is running for the 76th House seat, although both want to see both of these things happen and are urging The Rapid and the ATUGR to find a just solution.

On October 9, Equity PAC formally endorsed the Transit Millage, with their entire statement at this link. Equity PAC does acknowledge that The Rapid and the union need to agree on a contract, but then it takes an ugly turn.

Equity PAC also strongly feels that it is important for The Rapid and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) to come together in agreement on a contract. The assurance of seniority and proper compensation is vitally important for those employed by The Rapid. However, it is more important above everything else that we support the interests of low income people, seniors and people with disabilities, and others in the need for this service.

“For too long we have allowed people to prosper, benefit and make money off the backs of minorities – and people in poverty in general. The latest move by the transit union, and its supporters to use the endorsement of the upcoming millage hostage until the ATU contract is negotiated is consistent with that unfortunate history. What is inconsistent is the amount of ‘allies’ who sit silent or agree to the tactic,” says Darel Ross, Equity PAC board member.

This statement from Equity PAC board member Darel Ross certainly got the attention of RiChard Jackson, who is the President of the ATUGR. Jackson released a statement today, which we reprint below.

There is less than a month before the November 7 vote. We will update readers on any new information in regards to a potential contract agreement and other positions on the Transit Millage.

 

The Acton Institute conference on Education & Freedom: School Privatization, School Choice and the Benefits of Free Market Capitalism

October 12, 2017

Last month, we reported that Betsy DeVos will be the keynote speaker at the Acton Institute’s 27th Annual Dinner. The $175 a plate Acton event will be held at the DeVos Hall in downtown Grand Rapids on October 18. 

The very next day, on October 19, the Acton Institute will host an event entitled, Education and Freedom. This event, which is being held at the Acton Institute headquarters on the corner of E. Fulton and Sheldon, makes this claim: 

Everyone in the United States knows education is badly in need of reform. While K-12 and higher education costs have outpaced inflation, we have yet to see commensurate returns.  And parents who opt out of such a system pay twice for their children’s education–taxes and tuition.

Choice, flexibility and innovation are needed.

The lack of freedom for parents, teachers, students, and state and local governments is distorting the purpose and function of education across the country.

It is clear that the Acton Institute is not hiding their ideological bias on the issue of education. They embrace the same fundamental framework as the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. The Acton Institute sees the existence of Charter Schools, Private Schools and School Vouchers as synonymous with FREEDOM. So do the people they have invited to their one-day conference

Brian Britton – He is the current CEO of National Heritage Academies (NHA), which is based in Grand Rapids. The NHA was founded by J.C. Huizenga, who is a current board member at the Acton Institute. Huizenga is part of the West Michigan power structure, because of his wealth and the organizations that Huizenga is part of. Over the past 10 years, the National Heritage Academies has spent $810,000 lobbying Congress on education legislation

Joe Cohn – Joe Cohn works for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE is a major proponent of the intellectual diversity movement, which aims to dismantle the so-called liberal bias in higher academia. Cohn writes about numerous issues related to higher education, but has spent a great deal of time writing about and supporting Betsy DeVos’s revision around Title IX. Like DeVos, Cohn believes that those accused of sexual assault are not treated fairly. 

Ben DeGrow – Ben is the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. DeGrow writes regularly about the importance of school choice and Charter Schools for the Mackinac Center. DeGrow’s work and that of the Mackinac Center around education policy, “is devoted to privatizing state institutions and to deregulating public education.Over the past decade, the Mackinac Center has received $325,000 from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and $210,000 from the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative

Timothy Hall – Hall works as the Director of Operations and Academics at Thales Academy in North Carolina. Thales Academy was founded by Bob Luddy, a businessman who supports GOP candidates and created Thales Academy because he wanted to offer parents private school options. Luddy was the top contributor to the anti-diversity-policy electoral effort in 2009 in North Carolina and is accused by the NAACP of desegregating school districts. 

Tom Lindsay – Lindsay is the Director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is a conservative think tank founded in 1989 by James R. Leininger. It is a member of the right-wing State Policy Network (SPN) and is based in Austin, Texas. It has ties to Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick PerryTed Cruz, and many other powerful politicians. The TPPF has been a champion of many of the ALEC bills used in states across the country and has a history of supports legislation that supports school privatization, virtual schools, attacking public education teachers and eliminating pensions for public school teachers.

Catherine Pakaluk – Pakaluk is a faculty member at the Busch School of Business and Economics in Washington, DC.  The Busch School is a Catholic School, and like the Acton Institute, believes that Catholicism and Capitalism are perfect bedfellows.

Greg Reed – Greg Reed is an attorney with the Institute for Justice. The Institute for Justice (IJ) is a libertarian public interest law firm registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and founded in 1991. The IJ names its four major issues as “private property, economic liberty, free speech and school choice.”

Mitchell Rocklin – Mitchell Rocklin is a Resident Research Fellow at The Tikvah Fund, a Jewish educational think tank and philanthropic organization in New York. The Tikvah Fund is a private philanthropic foundation that works closely with neoconservative think tanks and media outlets as well as an array of academic institutions to promote conservative ideologies. The foundation seeks to influence both academic discourse and the media on issues impacting economics, politics, culture, and religion, with a particular emphasis on the role of Judaism in society. The Tikyah Fund is politically Zionist in its orientation.

Jeff Sandefer – Jeff Sandefer has been the President of Sandefer Capital Partners. Sandefer Capital Partners is a U.S. based investment company. In February 2004 they announced that they would takeover Southern Pacific Petroleum (SPP), an ailing company that had been attempting to develop oil shale deposits in North Queensland. The project had been opposed by Greenpeace and other environmental groups due to its greenhouse gas emissions and the company’s refusal to relinquish leases over shale deposits that extended to within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Sandefer considers himself an entrepreneur educator.

Richard Vedder – Richard Vedder is a Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Vedder is also on the Board of Scholars and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. 

So, it seems pretty clear that the notion of Education and Freedom for the Acton Institute invited speakers means school choice, education privatization and education that embraces free market capitalism.