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Perpetuating Misinformation: MLive article is nothing more than a version of a US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release

August 20, 2019

It is not a new thing for news agencies to act as stenographers for systems of power. However, with the consolidation of news agencies under greater corporate control, journalism increasingly becomes a mouthpiece of state or private power.

A recent example of how journalism fulfills this the function as stenographer and thus fails the public to provide an independent or critical perspective on the issue of immigration.

Below there are two versions of what happened when US Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested 10 undocumented immigrants in the town of Munising in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The version on the left, is a Media Release from US Customs and Border Patrol dated August 15. On the right, we have what MLive printed on August 15, later updated on August 16. 

The similarities are striking. It is as if MLive just re-worded the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, without doing any actual journalism.

This practice of acting as a stenographer is dangerous on two levels. First, it normalizes the idea that whatever information the government provides is unquestioning. It is extremely dangerous if we are not encouraged to question official positions, whether those positions are from private or state sources.

The second reason why it is dangerous for MLive to act as a stenographer for the US Customs and Border Patrol is that it promotes misinformation. Since MLive simply ran a re-worded version of the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, they are perpetuating inaccurate information when they focus on the one person arrested who had previous drug charges. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the US do not have a criminal conviction.

However, the damage was already done, since the US Customs and Border agent is quoted as saying:

“Today the men and woman of the United States Border Patrol made Munising safer by removing a convicted illegal alien drug dealer and nine others from the streets.”

This statement by the US Customs and Border Patrol agent is misinformation. We don’t really know what the narcotics charges were for the one man named in the story and more importantly, the other 9 people were not charged or convicted of anything other than being in the US without “proper” documentation. Being in the US without documentation is not a criminal offense, it is a civil infraction. The matter is compounded when the US Customs and Border Patrol agent says that the arrests made Munising safer. The US Customs and Border Patrol agent provides no evidence as to how these arrests would make Munising safer. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants in the US are not engaged in criminal activity, even though the MLive article, which relies on the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, would have readers believe just the opposite.

It is no surprise then that this kind of journalism not only misinforms the public, it affirms the anti-immigrant sentiment that permeates so much of the political climate.

Borrowing money from the Teacher Pension gains ground in Michigan, but what would the MEA be willing to do to stop it?

August 20, 2019

Over a month ago, we first reported about a proposal from the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) an economic scheme to pay for road repair in Michigan. 

Under the WMPF proposal, the state would issue a 30-year pension obligation bond to borrow $10 billion that would be pumped into the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System. This proposal fits within the larger agenda of the WMPF, which is to promote and pass neoliberal economic policies in Michigan.

Even though this plan seems rather outlandish, it is finally getting some traction. Late last week, the West Michigan Policy Forum posted on their Facebook page back to back articles, suggesting that the their Teacher Pension plan is gaining ground and even Gov. Whitmer is warming up to the idea.

Crain’s Detroit Business reported that Gov. Whitmer was “warming up” to the idea put forth by the West Michigan Policy Forum, in a late July article. However, an article in Bridge Michigan states that the Governor has not committed to anything in terms of how to fund the roads, but that the clock is ticking since the legislature has yet to approve the state budget.

On August 7, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) stated that the: 

“MEA will oppose any efforts to bond, borrow, delay payments, re-amortize or otherwise underfund our pension system to pay for road repairs. All these amount to the same thing – schemes that put the health of our pension system at risk for current and future school retirees.”

While this stated provides clear opposition, what is the MEA prepared to do to protect the teacher pensions? The MEA has for years banked on the strategy of funding Democratic lawmakers to further their interests, but Democrats have been a minority in the legislature for years and not all Democrats endorse their positions.

If the GOP can convince Gov. Whitmer to support the Teacher Pension plan to fund the roads, what is the MEA prepared to do in order to stop this from happening? If the MEA can’t lobby elected officials to oppose the Teacher Pension plan, then they need to adopt other strategies like Direct Action. The MEA only need to look to other teacher unions across the country, which have been striking in recent years and in most cases they have won their demands. Eric Blanc documents the teacher uprising across the country in his recent book, Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso Books). Unfortunately, there is no indication that the MEA will adopt any kind of direct action strategy, which is why the teacher union in Michigan continues to loss major battles against the larger neoliberal education policies being championed by groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum.

Senator Tom Barrett, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and the DeVos Family

August 18, 2019

On Friday, in an article published by MLive, it was announced that there will be legislative support for Movimiento Cosecha’s Drivers Licenses for All campaign. 

State Senator Stephanie Chang will be introducing legislation in the upcoming weeks that will allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity obtain a drivers license in Michigan. Michigan used to grant undocumented immigrants the right to obtain a drivers license, but that change in 2007, when Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox made a ruling to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining a Michigan Drivers License.

The MLive article includes video taken by Movimiento Cosecha that shows a member of Movimiento Cosecha asking Gov. Whitmer if she supports undocumented immigrants and their desire to have a drivers license in Michigan. Whitmer said she would support the granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

It is important to recognize that the only real reason that some Michigan politicians are willing to support drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants is because of all the organizing that Movimiento Cosecha and other immigrant rights groups have done to make drivers licenses an issue.

However, there are some Michigan legislators, specifically Republican lawmakers, who do not support allowing undocumented immigrants to have a Michigan drivers license. One such politician is Sen. Tom Barrett, a Republican from Charlotte. Barrett was quoted in the MLive article as saying that allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a drivers license is a,”slippery slope towards granting amnesty or giving them voting rights.” He also stated:

“We have to respect the laws of our country, not encourage or reward people for being here illegally.”

So, lets unpack what Sen. Barrett had to say.

First, on the matter of respecting the laws of the country. Since the founding of the US, most laws have benefitted white people, particularly white people with property. The laws of the US have primarily punished the poor, black, brown and indigenous people. It was legal to own slaves for nearly 100 years in the US. It was legal to disenfranchise communities of color for most of US history and still the system has found ways to prevent people of color from voting. It has been legal in the US to actively discriminate against black, brown and immigrant people. It was legal to deport Chinese immigrants after the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was legal to round up Japanese Americans during WWII and forcibly put them in internment camps. It was legal for white people to take indigenous land.

Second, undocumented immigrants who come to the US are primarily coming out of desperation, fleeing violence, persecution, poverty and climate injustice. Undocumented immigrants risk their very lives to come to the US so they can have a better life.

Third, providing undocumented immigrants the opportunity to obtain a drivers license is not a reward. When undocumented immigrants are allowed to obtain drivers licenses in Michigan, it means they will be able to support their families, contribute to their communities and contribute to broader community safety.

Fourth, does Senator Barrett realize how ridiculous he sounds when he says, giving undocumented immigrants a drivers license is a slippery slope towards granting amnesty or giving them voting rights. How is granting people asylum a slippery slope? As was already stated, people are risking their lives to flee dangerous circumstances and should be able to apply for asylum with the fullest support of the legal system.

Fifth, we all know that only those who have citizenship can vote, so either Senator Barrett doesn’t know the law or he is merely using rhetoric which speaks to his constituents, rhetoric which is rooted in xenophobia, nationalism and white supremacy.

Sixth, Senator Barrett has been a politician only since 2014 and he has won the past few elections primarily because of the amount of money he has raised since becoming a State Representative and State Senator in Michigan. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the number one family to contribute to Tom Barrett since he first ran for office in 2014, is the DeVos Family. The top two entities to finance Tom Barrett since he first ran for office, have been the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. The number one contributor to both of those GOP entities has been the DeVos Family.

Therefore, since the DeVos Family has been the primary economic contributor to Senator Tom Barrett, we can certainly put some of the blame on them when Barrett says dumb ass shit like, “We have to respect the laws of our country, not encourage or reward people for being here illegally.”

Foundation Watch: What groups received funding from the Van Andel family foundations?

August 14, 2019

In the past few months we have made several posts about the various DeVos family foundations and some of the foundations run by those that act as financial advisors to the DeVos family

Today, we want to look at the family that began a partnership with DeVos, a partnership that led to the creation of Amway. Of course, we are talking about Jay Van Andel and his family. Van Andel was always less of a public figure that Rich DeVos, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t as politically active in a variety of causes.  Even though Jay Van Andel has been dead for years, it is important to note that for several decades he financially supported numerous far right entities in the US, both religious and political

The two Van Andel family foundations we are examining today, are the David & Carol Van Andel Foundation and the Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation.

According to Guidestar, the David & Carol Van Andel Foundation states that it has just over $90 million in assets. We looked at the 990 documents between 2014 and 2017. However, both the 2016 and 2017 990s did not provide any information on specific recipients of the David & Carol Foundation. Therefore, the amounts listed below are only from 2014 & 2015.

Some of the larger entities that have received funding from this foundation were:

  • Cascade Fellowship CRC $1,200,000
  • Grand Rapids Christian Schools $647,000
  • GREAAT Schools Inc. $233,000
  • Grand Rapids Opera $225,000
  • Grand Rapids YMCA $260,000
  • Western Theological Seminary $1,000,000
  • Grand Action $175,000

The largest recipients of funding from the David & Carol Van Andel Foundation are Christian entities, specifically Cascade Fellowship CRC, Grand Rapids Christian Schools and Western Theological Seminary. These entities fit within the ideological framework of the Van Andel Foundation and the Van Andel family.

Another recipient was Grand Action, which fits within the family’s public/private partnership model, which is essentially a Neoliberal economic model, where the public contributes part of the money, but there is no public oversight. Then there is GREAAT Schools, Inc. According to the Guidestar, “GREAAT Schools Inc. is hands-on in the formation of charter school models from concept to implementation.  We are committed to organizing high performing school models, including a college preparatory curriculum and a focus on achievement culture.”

Lastly, the David & Carol Van Andel Foundation contributed to civic entities like the YMCA and Opera Grand Rapids. The Opera is a recipient, since Betty Van Andel, David’s mother gave lots of money before she died, which is why the newer building on East Fulton is named after her.

Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation

According to Guidestar, the Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation has assets of $93 million. Like the other Van Andel family foundation, there is significant financial support to Christian organizations. We looked at the 990 documents between 2014 and 2017, so the totals below reflect 4 years of contributions. Here is a list of the larger recipients from the Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation:

  • Hillsdale College $4,800,000
  • Holland Home Foundation $1,755,000
  • Camp Rogers $1,040,000
  • Trillium Institute $500,000
  • Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation $250,000
  • Michigan State University $250,000
  • Children’s Healing Center $250,000
  • Gerald R. Ford Foundation $200,000
  • Meijer Gardens $200,000
  • Family Promise $150,000
  • Potter’s House $92,500
  • American Enterprise Institute $50,000
  • Foundation for Michigan Freedom $50,000
  • Acton Institute $35,000

Like the rest of the Van Andel family foundations, a great deal of money has been contributed to Christian entities or conservative organizations, both of which fit within the family’s ideological and political history.

Hillsdale College is a great example of the kinds of entities that the Van Andel family has supported over the decades. We wrote about Hillsdale College in late 2017, which included information about how the college has a history of opposing things like public education and affirmative action. 

Some of the ideologically driven entities that received funding from the Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation are the Foundation for Michigan Freedom, which is a political lobby group that is run by the DeVos family operative Greg McNeilly. The American Enterprise Institute is one of the most influential right-wing think tanks in the US and the Acton Institute plays a similar role, since by AEI and Acton elevate market-driven economics as what must be protected and expanded.

On the matter of education, the Steve & Amy Van Andel Foundation, like the other Van Andel and DeVos foundations, supports Christian Schools like Potters House, but also contributed to the GRPS by way of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, with the intent of influencing public education to reflect their religious and ideological framework.

Both of the Van Andel family foundations we have looked at today, continue the same kind of religious and political support that was begun by their father Jay Van Andel. And, like their father, both Steve and David Van Andel do it with less attention than the members of the DeVos family, even though they share the same goals.

Hot Zip Codes and the Cold realities of housing costs in Grand Rapids

August 14, 2019

On August 9, WXMI 17, ran a story headlined, Northeast GR named “hottest zip code” in the US.  The story, which is modeled after a Press Release for July 31st, only cites a real estate agent for the story and no residents. 

It seems that anytime Grand Rapids makes the news by being on some list, the local news media jumps on the opportunity to do a story. However, the stories are always superficial and never challenge or critique whatever list that Grand Rapids is now on. Doing fluff stories is always great for advertisers, since it creates what those in the ad business call, “creating a wonderful climate for consumption.” However, journalism could ask real questions and report on a variety of issues that are raised from this WXMI 17 story.

First, it is important to note that the source of the “hottest zip code” story in from Realtor,com, which is run by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is not some neutral do-gooder entity, they are an association made up of companies that are in the business of of making massive profits off of housing. In 2018, the National Association of Realtors spent $72 million to lobby Congress to adopt policy that would be profitable for the members of their association. 

Second, the only source cited in the channel 17 story was real estate agent Jesse Baragar. Baragar is quoted as saying, “It’s affordable too, good first-time home buying area but just the parks and community and the walkability is the main reasons.” Let’s face it, this narrative, which is a standard narrative about the housing market, primarily targets white professionals and their families. In addition, it is the narrative used that promotes gentrification.

Third, Baragar goes on to say in the channel 17 story that, “It’s a hot price range, $178,000 is the average sale price in this area, very aggressive sale price.” Of course, the question here is, affordable for whom? There are thousands of people in Grand Rapids who make minimum wage or close to it, which automatically eliminates them from any possibility of buying a house in the 49505 zip code area at $178,000.

Fourth, the danger of stories like this one from Fox 17, is that it encourages more landlords and  property management companies to increase rent costs because of the “walkability, breweries and good schools” arguments. (If you watch the Fox 17 story, pay attention to the video footage and who is represented and what location is represented) Increased rental costs means that working class families and individuals will be priced out of the area and be forced to find housing somewhere else. Again, this dynamic will primarily benefit white people, white residents and white business owners, but it is a dynamic that WXMI fails to pursue, since that would take some actual work, whereas reporting on what the National Association of Realtors has to say is a whole lot easier.

Action Alert: Pressure U of M to allow the public access to the papers of John Tanton, the anti-immigrant White Supremacist

August 12, 2019

A few weeks ago we wrote a critique of how MLive eulogized a far-right, white supremacist in Michigan, John Tanton. 

Tanton was the founder of numerous white supremacist groups and probably had more of an influence on the modern anti-immigrant movement that anyone else. Tanton was the founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a hate group.

Since we wrote the July 23 article about Tanton, it has come to our attention that the University of Michigan holds countless documents and papers from John Tanton, but they won’t allow the public to view any of those documents, even though it would likely provide tremendous insight into Tanton’s network and his influence into the modern anti-immigration movement.

A University of Michigan law student, Kerry Martin, has been leading an effort to have U of M make Tanton’s papers public. In a recent message from Martin, he states:

The University of Michigan has now asked the Supreme Court of Michigan to allow it to keep hiding the Tanton Papers. Rather than complying with the Michigan Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision in June, which required U-M to release the papers, U-M is instead digging its heels and taking its fight to the Supreme Court. In doing so, it continues to use our tuition and taxpayer dollars to shield the records of a white supremacist from public scrutiny. This is an outrage. 

Please share the petition with your friends and networks, so we can send a strong message to the University of Michigan and its president, Mark Schlissel: Release the Tanton Papers! 

You can also watch and share this brand-new video from the immigration attorney and advocate involved in the case, Hassan Ahmad, a video that provides a solid overview of Tanton’s white supremacist legacy. 

What the Business Community is doing to influence the education system in Michigan: The West Michigan Policy Forum is leading the effort to adopt a Neoliberal Education Model

August 11, 2019

If you are unaware at this point that the West Michigan Policy Forum wants to push their own agenda for education in Michigan, then maybe it is time to pay attention.

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), which was founded in 2008, has been vocal about education policy for years. Several years ago, they pushed Michigan legislators to shift public sector teacher pensions from a guaranteed fixed pension to a pension that is at the whim of the speculative market. 

On the West Michigan Policy Forum, they list their priorities and education is included on the list. Of course, they don’t generally name it as education, instead they refer to education as Talent. This is primarily because the WMPF is made up of members of the business community who are interested in education to the degree that it impacts the kind of employees they might have. Here is the list of education, or Talent priorities they have:

In addition to seeing education as Talent, the WMPF also is committed to pushing a neoliberal education model, which is essentially the model that Betsy DeVos has been promoting the past three decades. A neoliberal education model is one that seeks to radically alter the existing public education system and to utilize more public dollars to fund private and charter school options, which are less regulated.

Last September, the WMPF hosted former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at their conference, which had a heavy emphasis on education policy. We reported on what Bush presented, which was essentially the neoliberal education model. 

Most recently, the WMPF posted a short interview conducted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce with Founder of North 42 Partners and member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Michael Jandernoa.

The interview only lasts for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, but some of what Jandernoa has to say should concern those committed to education justice. One of the questions posed to Jandernoa was to comment on the current status of Michigan’s education system. Jandernoa says that it is one of the worst in the country, which is true. However, what he fails to mention is that the decline of the state’s education system was due to significant reduction in state funding, attacks against teacher unions and a push to adopt and expand charter schools.

Another question posed to Jandernoa has to do with why businesses should care about education. Jandernoa provides the talent response, encouraging listeners to get involved in the Chamber’s education advocacy committee.

Lastly, Jandernoa states that the business community is prepared to work with teachers and principals to help improve the education system. The fact is, the business community has been deeply influential in the Grand Rapids Public School system, working with the GRPS leadership to create career-centered educational opportunities and curriculum.

For several years now businesses like Rockford Construction, Amway, Triangle Associated Inc., Huntington Bank and the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd have been working with the GRPS to develop specialty programs like the Academy of Business, Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Many of these same businesses also are part of the advisory council of the Academy for Business Leadership & Entrepreneurship, where they provide input and can directly influence school curriculum.

Last August, MLive reported that the GRPS was expanding these talent/career focused schools, or what they are calling academies. The first that will be rolled out this fall is the Academy of Culinary Arts and Hospitality and Tourism. Other academies that will follow are:

  • Academy of Advance Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management
  • Academy of Public Safety, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity
  • Academy Physical Therapy and Sports Management
  • Academy of Media Production
  • Academy of Cosmetology

The Grand Rapids Public Schools will only continue to be radically transformed under the influence of the business community, unless students, parents and community members take a more active role in the future of education in Grand Rapids.