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House Bill 4826 proposes that there by public education curriculum that teaches capitalism and entrepreneurship to 8th graders in Michigan

December 5, 2019

A few weeks ago, we posted a story about a new class being offered through the Grand Rapids Public Schools, a class which essentially prepares students to work in the Hospitality and Tourism industry. 

The business community’s interest in public education has a long history. Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, author of the book, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism 1945 – 60, thoroughly documents the push by sectors like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to promote entrepreneurial education, including the creation of classroom materials for K – 12 schools.

The capitalist class continues to influence public education with a multi-pronged strategy, including attacks against public school teacher unions, redirecting public funding for Charter & private schools, and pushing state level legislation that would alter curriculum being used in public education.

This last tactic is exactly what we are within the GRPS and even at the state level, with legislation like House Bill 4826. House Bill 4826 essentially promotes entrepreneurial education, where students would be exposed to the ideas around creating their own businesses. The language of House Bill 4826 states:

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, the board of a school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall ensure that the school district’s or public school academy’s social studies curriculum for grade 8 includes a program of instruction in free enterprise and entrepreneurship.

House Bill 4826 goes on to say:

House Bill 4826 was introduced in August of 2019, by West Michigan legislator Tommy Brann. The bill was co-sponsored by the following state legislators – Hank Vaupel, Matt Maddock, Michael Webber, Steve Marino, Sue Allor, Gary Eisen, Ryan Berman and Gary Howell, all of which have been funded heavily by the private sector, with several of them receiving substantial from the DeVos family, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network searchable database.

House Bill 4826 has since gone to the Education Committee and that is where it remains. It is worth noting that the Education Committee is chaired by Pamela Hornberger’s number one campaign contributor has been the DeVos family, a family which not only promotes entrepreneurial education and supports attacks on public education and public education teachers.

Of course, so much of this kind of legislation happens without the public knowing about it, which is how politicians prefer it. However, what would an informed and organized movement for education justice respond to this kind of legislation, along with the multi-pronged strategy of those seeking to push a Neo-Liberal Education model in Michigan? For those interested in being part of such a movement, contact Grand Rapids for Education Justice, by going to their Facebook page sending an e-mail to informedteachers@gmail.com.

Stabenow & Peters both vote for legislation that extends the USA Patriot Act

December 4, 2019

A few weeks ago, Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both voted in favor of legislation that included a three month extension on the USA Patriot Act.

What is worse, is that there were no reforms included to curb the draconian legislation that has has bi-partisan legislation since it was signed into law in October of 2001.

The legislation in question also included funding for social programs, which is a tactic used by both parties to get their issues passed. The tactic of “hiding” the funding for certain programs has become more common in recent decades, making it harder for the public to know about or decipher.

In this case it was an Appropriations Act that was adopted by the Senate, with a majority  of Senate Democrats voting to support it.

Evan Greer, who is with the group Fight for the Future, is quoted as saying about this vote: 

“When the Patriot Act’s surveillance authorities were initially enacted, they came with a ‘sunset’ clause to safeguard against the exact scenario where we had an authoritarian, racist, openly fascist president. And yet here we are and top Dems are still supporting reauthorization.”

However, in many ways this is not surprising, when one considers that even during the first term of President Obama, where the Democrats not only controlled the White House, they controlled Congress and STILL voted to keep the USA Patriot Act.

The USA Patriot Act would have ended on December 15 of this year, but it is not extended until March 15 of 2020. One of the main concerns about this draconian legislation is the ability of the US government to collect data and engage in monitoring of all of its residents. This type of monitoring of the public includes wire tapping, collecting data on phone calls, business record and it grants the FBI surveillance powers.

A spokesperson from the ACLU responded to the extension of the USA Patriot Act last month, stating:

“It is disappointing that Congress is instead extending spying powers that have repeatedly been used to violate Americans’ privacy rights, and trying to bury this extension in must-pass funding legislation.”

This is just further evidence that we cannot rely on politicians to represent us or protect even basic civil rights and civil liberties.

Betsy DeVos Watch: The Secretary of Education receives an award from an anti-feminist women’s organization

December 4, 2019

Last month, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received an award from the group known as the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).

According to the Independent Women’s Forum website, it states: 

We work every day to engage and inform women and create a community to discuss how policy issues – including paid leave, health care, taxes, energy, minimum wage, and education – impact them and their families. 

The IWF does work on these issues, but they function from a patriarchal framework.

The IWF was founded by a group of women who were upset that Clarence Thomas was being accused of sexual harassment during his nomination to the US Supreme Court. According to Sourcewatch, the IWF is an anti-feminist organization predominantly funded by right wing foundations. 

The IWF is also connected to groups like the American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity. The IWF has defended right wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, they opposed teaching “global warming” in US schools and they oppose VAMA, the Violence Against Women Act.

However, the Independent Women’s Forum is primarily focused on supporting GOP candidates, especially those who are the most anti-feminist. For example, the IWV made $67,242 in independent expenditures aiding Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin with calls and independent voter outreach in November 2012, after Akin claimed on August 19, 2012 that rape victims couldn’t get pregnant because “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” 

Betsy DeVos was thrilled to receive an award from this anti-feminist group and she used the opportunity to preach her own anti-feminist perspectives.

The Department of Education posted Betsy’s speech online in mid-November. In that speech, DeVos claimed that Title IX was overreach. DeVos also goes out of her way to dismiss Title IX in her acceptance speech, framing the issue in what she believes is justice. However, as we have reported previously, what Betsy DeVos has done to Title IX, was to provide anti-feminist organizations a platform to push their agenda, an agenda which seeks to minimize campus sexual assault and provide greater protections to perpetrators. 

Of course, Betsy DeVos also used her acceptance speech as an opportunity to push her Neo-Liberal Education model, specifically the Education Freedom Scholarships, which provides matching federal funds for states which would want to adopt a  “school choice” model. 

The perpetuation of homophobia and transphobia: Grand Rapids Catholic Church denies communion to LGBTQ parishioners

December 2, 2019

Over the past few weeks there have been news local news stories about how the priest at St. Stephens Catholic Church has been denying communion to members of that church who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (lgbtq).

While this is abhorrent and should be condemned by any decent human being, the formal response by the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese is even more insidious. Here is what the statement, which is in direct response to a story done by WOOD TV 8:

“We appreciate Judge Sara Smolenski’s service to the community. We are grateful for her past generosity. These facts are not at issue in this matter.

As Pope Francis explains in Amoris Laetitia, “The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members.” (186) Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this.

Inclusion and acceptance have been a hallmark of Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids throughout the diocese’s history. They remain so. They presume, however, a respect on the part of individuals for the teachings and practice of the wider Catholic community. No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.

Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish, has dedicated his priesthood to bringing people closer to Jesus Christ. Part of his duty in pursuing that end is to teach the truth as taught by the Catholic Church, and to help it take root and grow in his parish. Mercy is essential to that process, but so are humility and conversion on the part of anyone seeking to live an authentically Catholic Christian life.

Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports.”

First of all, the Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids have NOT been about the business of inclusion and acceptance. From the very beginning of settler colonialism, the Catholic Church did not accept the indigenous people who lived along the Grand River, otherwise the priests who not have tried to convert them.

Secondly, the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese makes it clear that they support the priest, Father Nolan, who has made this decision to enforce the Catholic Teaching which says that those who identify as LGBTQ will be denied communion. I am not interested in arguing if this or isn’t catholic teaching, since I am more interested in what such an endorsement from the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese actually means.

For me, the defense of Fr. Nolan by the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese means that he has the full support of this local church to deny members of the LGBTQ community the eucharist. This action and the diocesan statement could also have further repercussions. First, by sanctioning the denial of communion to LGBTQ members, the Catholic Church is likely sending a message to other priests in the diocese that they now have license to do the same. Second, now that this issue has been made public, it could cause others who are LGBTQ to not be public about how they identify, thus not allowing people to be who they truly are.

Deny people communion is a long-held tradition in the Catholic Church. Is the early church, if you were a soldier, you could not take part in communion. Once the Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Constantine, their stance on soldiers and religion changed. Within a one hundred year span the Catholic Church went from saying that soldiers could not take communion to, you could not be a soldier unless you were a christian.

However, another way to look at this issue is, who gets to take communion, even if they engage in morally objectionable behavior? For instance, if a man beats his spouse, he isn’t denied communion. If a member of the Catholic Church is involved in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, they are not denied communion. Hell, I remember that when I was in the catholic seminary in 1983, we held a Good Friday walk from Aquinas College to what was then called Lear Siegler. Lear Siegler manufactured flight systems for nuclear weapons in the 1980s, right about the time that the US Catholic Bishops came out with a document against nuclear weapons. After our Good Friday march, we were called into the office of the President at Aquinas College. The AQ president lectured us and told us that the CEO of Lear Siegler was a member of the Catholic Church. We also found out later that the CEO was also a major contributor to Aquinas College.

Other examples of those who can continue to receive communion are ICE agents or prison guards, despite what role they play in doing harm to the immigrant community and other communities of color. Then there are those who are worth millions or billions. If you are super rich, you still get to take communion, even though your wealth is likely to have come about because of ongoing exploitation of workers and supporting politicians that pass tax policies favorable to those with massive bank accounts. In addition, you can hold deeply held racist attitude towards black or anti-semitic views towards Jews, and still part take in communion. In other words, the logic behind who the Catholic Church decides can take communion is anything but logical.

Denying communion to those who identify as LGBTQ might be the official policy of the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify the harm it causes to individuals, along with how it perpetuate homophobia and transphobia in this community.

FOIA documents were requested from the GRPD in September: Why is it taking so long?

December 2, 2019

On September 16th of this year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Grand Rapids Police Department regarding the May 1st, 2019 march that was organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR.

When submitting the request, I was asked by the GRPD if I wanted all GRPD communications or just those from the Command Unit. I chose just the Command Unit, since they are the ones giving the orders and to avoid the often repetitive nature of FOIA requests.

This is how the GRPD responded to my specific request, which clarified the scope of their monitoring and response to Movimiento Cosecha GR’s May 1st march:

All emails, texts, memorandum, reports or other public records including but not limited to communications from/to GRPD Command Staff personnel and other Command Staff GRPD personnel and from/to GRPD Command Staff personnel and other law enforcement agency including ICE, HSD, MSP, KCSD and Wyoming PD from April 15 to May 2 regarding May 1, 2019 Movimiento Cosecha GR March from Garfield Park to Pinery Park.

I was told that I would receive a response by September 30th, with an estimated cost for the FOIA request and the number of pages the GRPD had on the May 1st action.

On September 25th I received an e-mail from the GRPD that stated that the estimated cost for this FOIA request would be $578.64. I then sent another e-mail asking how many pages this included and their response was, “350 pages, plus attachments.”

In addition to the total estimated cost for the FOIA, they sent me a breakdown of the costs for gathering the information by a clerk with the GRPD and then having someone redact (black out) information they consider too sensitive for the public to see. Here is the breakdown of the cost they sent me.

A group of allies in support of Movimiento Cosecha GR raised the money for the FOIA request, so I went down to the police station to paid 50% of the estimated cost on October 15th. The person I gave the money to, then gave me a receipt and a letter stating that I would be able to obtain the documents within an estimated 20 business days from the date of the first payment…..October 15.

I was then told by the GRPD that 20 business days landed on Nov. 13, so I sent another e-mail asking if I could come by on November 14th or 15th with a thumb drive to obtain the FOIA documents and pay the balance. The GRPD’s response was, “No problem. Once I email you the final invoice, you can come in any time after that and pay the remained of the cost. I’ll have the records ready.”

I asked for clarification on November 13th on how long it might take. The GRPD responded on that same day saying, “The records are being reviewed by my Captain so it won’t be much longer.

I sent two more e-mails asking if the documents were ready and I received no reply. After talking with Movimiento Cosecha GR, we decided that it would appropriate to show up in person asking if the documents were ready and what it was taking so long.

On Wednesday, November 27th, several of us went to the police station in downtown Grand Rapids and walked up to the window where I had paid half of the estimated cost. I showed them the receipt and the letter they gave me stating it would be an estimated 20 business days and said that 20 business days was two weeks ago. We were told in a rather condescending tone that “it was an estimated 20 days” and “we will send you a message when it is ready.”

Ok, so according to the cost document shown above, it took a clerk 1 hour to collect all of the data and an estimated 15 hours for a captain with the GRPD to redact the documents. Again, I ask, why is this taking so long, since as of today, the documents have still not been released, which was two and one-half weeks ago from the estimated time of completion?

Of course, once the documents are obtained, we will provide some analysis of what they contained. In the meantime it is important for people to think about why the GRPD would have 350 pages (plus attachments) about a non-violent march from May 1st of the 2019, a march that was organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR. Hasta La Huelga!!!

MLive just can’t help but act as a stenographer for the DeVos family

November 27, 2019

On Monday, MLive posted a story with the following headline, DeVos family earns spot on Forbes’ list for donating $112 million

The article, like so many we have documented over the years, provides an unquestioning forum for the DeVos family and allows them, once again, to be seen as generous people.

The MLive article is based on a Forbes magazine list of the top 50 people who donate in the US. The DeVos family ranks 26th on the list, along with other members of the capitalist class, including Bill & Melinda Gates, the Walton family, Jeff Bezoz, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, George Soros and Charles Koch.

The problem with such innocuous lists is that they never question:

  • How these people became so wealthy
  • These lists don’t make comparisons to how much money these people contribute to candidates or political parties
  • And they never question what role rich people’s philanthropy plays within a larger political, economic and social framework.

Members of the Capitalist class become disgustingly rich because they exploit other people’s labor. Sure, some of these people were born into wealth, but that hasn’t stopped them from buying politicians that provide massive subsidies for their companies and to get politicians they have bought to pass policies that create tax structures that benefit those with the most wealth.

The only two entities that received funds from the DeVos family foundations, mentioned in the MLive article, were Spectrum Hospital Foundation and Grand Valley State University in 2018. There is no exploration into why the various DeVos foundations contributed the amount of money they did and there is no questioning of what strategic role this money plays for the DeVos family.

If we go back and look at the examples of the Rockefeller family or Andrew Carnegie, when were some of the first foundations were created, we know from that history that their wealth was much more scrutinized, even when it was used for philanthropic purposes. (see Foundations and Public Policy (Joan Roelofs) and The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (edited by INCITE!)

Those who create foundations are not giving money away to be generous, their philanthropy is strategic. Those with wealth use philanthropy to either distract people from asking questions about why those with wealth are so wealthy or to fund projects that fit within their ideological framework. For instance, the DeVos foundation contribute to conservative christian groups that embrace their worldview, to social service agencies that focus on individual solutions to issues like poverty, and to organizations that do public policy work that serves the interests of the DeVos family, like the Acton Institute, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the American Enterprise Institute.

Therefore, to report on the DeVos family philanthropy without exploring the deeper implications of why the contribute does a disservice to the public and demonstrates how MLive will not challenge the DeVos family influence in West Michigan.

New Hospitality & Tourism Academy at GRPS fits with the business community’s emphasis on developing workforce talent in West MI

November 25, 2019

Below is a video statement from the group Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) that addresses one of the new GRPS Academies, specifically the Hospitality & Tourism Academy.

By submitting a FOIA, the GREJ was able to obtain an overview of the Hospitality & Tourism class that will be offered through the Grand Rapids Public Schools. You can go to this link to read the overview of the class, as well as objectives and learning outcomes. 

This is just one of the Academies that the GRPS is offering, along with media and one that will introduce students to law enforcement and the military.

These types of courses are being crafted to fill, what those in the Neo-Liberal Education model refer to as “the talent gap.” In recent years there has been a much bigger push within the business community to try to influence and work with the education system to provide information and training to students that will provide employers with a larger pool of workers to fill positions in various industries.

There are numerous business groups that have been working with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to introduce and develop more and more classes that prepare students to enter the workforce. There are groups like Talent 2025, which is made up of CEOs from West Michigan who are wanting to till the talent gap. 

There is also the West Michigan Policy Forum, a group that is made up the most influential and powerful business and business leaders in the area. They push for state policy changes on many areas and one of those areas is education reform or as they say Talent. The West Michigan Policy Forum wants to

• Encourage the development of consistent K-12 and higher education metrics

• Expansion of college credits for work experience

• Require funding for state economic development and workforce agencies to align more closely with private sector efforts in talent development initiative

• Reform of Teacher Evaluation

Another group is Believe 2 Become, which was created by funding from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. Believe 2 Become produced a report in 2017 called, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan: Connecting A Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities

The video statement from GREJ challenges the notion that students are merely talent and that education should first and foremost provide students with robust critical thinking skills, as well as how to be civically engaged in the world.