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Socialism is great, when it’s for the private sector: More Corporate Welfare in Michigan

February 18, 2019

Just over a week ago, MLive ran a story entitled, West Michigan businesses get $9.9M from state for employee training. The article states: 

The Going PRO Talent Fund, formerly the Skilled Trades Training Fund, awarded $9,940,010 in grants to 261 West Michigan businesses, large and small, in a variety of industries to provide industry-recognized, transferable skilled trades training that employees may not have gotten otherwise.

The article goes on to say:

“As Michigan works to close its talent gap, programs like the Going PRO Talent Fund provide resources for employers and their employees to keep up with an ever-changing, high-tech global economy,” said Jeremy Hendges, Talent and Economic Development chief of staff. “This fund is part of Michigan’s comprehensive approach to ensuring it can compete in the global race for the most and best talent while ensuring our companies can continue to invest in homegrown talent.”

Jeremy Hendges, who is quoted in the article. recently wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit News, referring to this project, where the state gives millions to the private sector, as Michigan’s Marshall Plan. 

Hendges has previously worked has the Legislative Director in both the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives, which means he could work his connections to get legislative approval for this massive “grant program.” Well, at least that is what Hendges and MLive refer to it as, a grant program. The reality is that this project is nothing more than corporate welfare or socialism for the private sector.

While the capitalist class is pulling their hair out over recent suggestions that the rich out to be taxed way more than they are now, those in the private sector are claiming that taxing the rich would be socialism. However, when taxpayer money goes to the private sector, now they conveniently call it a grant or talent development.

Socialism for the Capitalist Class

While the MLive article focuses on corporate subsidies given under this program in West Michigan, across the state, the amount of public money given to the business community for “talent development” was a total of $29,458,110.00. You can view all the businesses which benefited from the massive corporate welfare scheme, by going to this link

Some of the larger recipients in West Michigan, were:

Gordon Food Service in Wyoming: $211,305

Michigan Turkey Producers in Grand Rapids: $113,699

Autocam Medical, LLC in Kentwood: $93,000

Herman Miller, Inc in Zeeland: $289,345

Herbruck Poultry Ranch, Inc in Saranac: $214,800

What is interesting is that each of these companies are run by people who are part of groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum or are directly involved with the Acton Institute, entities which promote the privatization of public services and seek to dismantle public sector employee benefits and pensions. How ironic that they have no problem holding their hands out to take public money that will primarily benefit their bottom line.

Trump’s Wall, Border Security and the need for strategic responses that lead to immigrant justice

February 17, 2019

For months now there have been threats from the Trump administration about wanting to build a wall along the border of Mexico and the US.

It has been since he was a candidate, that Donald Trump wanted to build a permanent wall along the border, something that appealed to his voting base. The issue of the wall has become even more contentious, especially after the government shutdown earlier this year.

On Thursday, Congress voted to pass legislation that would provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing in Southern Texas and would increase Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. This legislation passed in the Senate 823- 16, with wide bi-partisan support. Both Michigan Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters voted for this legislation. In the House a version of the bill passed 300 – 128.  

The New York Times also reported that: 

The agreement, tucked into a $49 billion bill funding the Department of Homeland Security, includes restrictions on where fencing can be built in the Rio Grande Valley and what can be used to build it. Only “existing technologies” are allowed, effectively prohibiting a concrete structure or any new prototypes that administration officials might try to put into place. Communities and towns along the border will also be able to weigh in on the location and design of the fencing.

Democrats have been using the language of “Border Security” during their tactical disagreement with President Trump and leading members of the GOP.

This decision by the Democrats has been seen by many immigrant justice groups across the country as a complete betrayal of what needs to happen around larger immigration issues and policies.

Being strategic amidst Trump’s threats

The legislation that came out of Congress on Thursday was not enough to satisfy the Trump administration and he has been threatening to declare a state of emergency and shut down the government again.

While these threats are fundamentally wrong and will only do more harm to immigrant communities, it is important that we think strategically about how to move forward on the wall, border security and ICE violence.

There have already been calls for demonstrations, specifically around Trump’s threat of a national emergency until he gets his border wall. Some of these actions are being organized by across the country, with one scheduled for West Michigan today.

The message for today’s protest is as follows: 

Protest Trump’s Attack on the Constitution to Declare Fake Emergency. NO HATE NO WALL NO RACISM NO ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY Trump wants to Steal Billions $ of tax payers dolllars needed for national disasters and misuse and insult our military for his racist unnecessary wall. Protest this Gross Abuse of Power on Presidents Day Monday at 5:30 p.m.

Part of the problem with this kind of language is that it only blames the Trump administration, while ignoring the bi-partisan reality of funding for border security and ICE. More importantly, the language doesn’t center the ongoing harm being done to immigrant communities.

In contrast, there are other actions being planned around the country, actions that are primarily being organized by communities of color and those most directly impacted by current immigration policies. This groups states, “We refuse to choose between Trump’s openly racist wall and the Democrats’ implicitly racist “smart border.” The differences between Trump’s border wall and a soft-power smart wall are minor variations on the same deadly theme. We will block the border wall. We choose another way: freedom of movement, solidarity, and mutual aid.”

In addition, the groups organizing these more strategic actions are also calling for the following:

  • We call for a “Block the Wall” mobilization on February 19 and 20 against the border wall and against the state of emergency. We can march, take over public space, and organize sick-outs in the nation’s capital. We can block every ICE detention center, field office, and ICE contractor around the country with the occupation of the public space around the facilities. Each of these offices are maintained by working class people in support staff, couriers, cleaning crews, tech services, and social workers. We invite all of these workers to call in sick and join the occupations on the sidewalks and streets.
  • We call for the organization of mutual aid to support the federal workers and subcontractors who remain uncompensated for 34 days of unpaid labor, and to support those who rely on government assistance. We call for cooperation to pool and distribute resources immediately to ease the daily struggles of those most affected. We commit to taking care of one another as the state gambles with the lives of millions.
  • We call for direct support for migrants and border struggles. There are multiple initiatives already demonstrating hospitality to migrants and physically defying the border that separates the United States from Mexico, from autonomous kitchens in Tijuana to indigenous-led anti-border camps in Texas. We will build the capacity to undermine the border, welcome refugees, and demonstrate that free movement can be beautiful, safe, and beneficial for all—so long as the police and la migra stay out of the way.

This kind of vision and strategy is critical if we are to work towards immigrant justice.

Things you can do to effectively support immigrant justice

  1. Build relationships with the immigrant community, relationships built on solidarity and mutual aid and NOT on White Saviorism.
  2. We need to center the voices and lived experience of immigrants while fighting state violence violence being done by policy makers, ICE agents or local law enforcement that is complicity with ICE.
  3. We need to support immigrant-led movements that are working for immigrant justice, movements like Movimiento Cosecha GR and national. 
  4. We need to directly confront systems of oppression that are targeting the immigrant community – ICE, local cops and state or private detention centers that are complicit in the ICE matrix. In Kent County, this would mean supporting GR Rapid Response to ICE.  
  5. We need to make the link between various systems of oppression, particularly where immigrant justice fits in. For example, US trade policies, the US funding of the so-called drug war in Mexico/Central America and climate change are all reasons that are contributing to people from that region coming to the US. Therefore, Capitalism, climate change, White Supremacy and other systems of oppression are the root of the immigration crisis. We need to work on dismantling these systems.

Statewide campaign against detention centers in Michigan to host first public meeting in Ionia this Saturday

February 14, 2019

Since last October, it has been known that the private company Immigration Centers of America (ICA) has been proposing a 600 bed immigration detention center in Ionia. 

In early January, ICA presented for the first time in front of the Ionia City Commission and one week later a new statewide coalition began meeting to fight the proposed detention center.

Since then, those who have been meeting in Lansing have met several other times and even participated in an action to confront the law firm that is representing ICE, Honigman.

Now, the statewide coalition is hosting a meeting this Saturday in Ionia for those who want to get involved in the campaign. Below is a flyer for the event, which you can share and invite others who want to be involved in the effort to stop the for profit detention center in Ionia and throughout the state.

Recently, people from Ionia and around the state spoke during an Ionia City Council meeting, expressing their opposition to the proposed immigration detention facility and will no doubt be doing more of that in the coming weeks and months. For more information on the statewide No Detention Centers in Michigan campaign, go to their Facebook page at this link

Appointments, Inaugural contributions and buying influence in the Whitmer Administration

February 13, 2019

In November, we posted a story looking at Gov. Whitmer’s transition team and noted that they were primarily made up of people from the business sector and those who reflected a “business as usual” approach to policy. 

Governor Whitmer has not yet filled all the appointments for her cabinet in state government as of this writing, but there has been some appointments that have raised concerns already, with the appointment of a lobbyist to be legislative director and a former charter school advocate to be the senior advisor for the Michigan Prosperity position. Doug Ross is the appointment for the Michigan Prosperity position and according to an recent article, his role will be to improve workforce talent and educational attainment and further overall economic development outcomes.” On the education front, this description sounds similar to what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing – education as workforce talent development

In addition, there are other signs early on in the Whitmer administration would should also raise concerns for those hoping for more progressive policies coming out of Lansing.

First, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), recently posted information about who the large financial backers of Governor Whitmer’s inauguration ceremony. The large contributions that the MCFN documents range from $100,000 contributors to $10,000. What follows is a list within each contribution level that people need to pay attention to:

$100,000 Contributors – Blue Cross/Blue Shield, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, PharmaSCript of Michigan, Governmental Consultant Services Inc., Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates and Public Affairs Associates, with the last three all being lobbyists.

$50,000 Contributors – Chemical Bank, Delta Dentral, Honigman (law first representing ICA proposal to build a 600 bed ICE detention facility in Ionia), Ilitch Holdings, Inc.; Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore; Karoub Associates, McAlvey Merchant & Associates; Meijer, Inc.; Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates; Michigan Legislative Consultants; Michigan Realtors and Quicken Loans and the Family of Companies.

$25,000 Contributors – AECOM; Boji Group; Business Leaders of Michigan; Citizens Insurance; Clark Hill; Comcast; Dewpoint; Ford Motor Company; HNTB Corporation; Huntington Bank; ITC: a Fortis Company; LeadingAge Michigan; Magna International; Michigan Association of Broadcasters-Michigan Public Broadcasting; Michigan Association of CPAs; Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association; Michigan Health & Hospital Association; Michigan Paving & Materials and Stoneco of Michigan; National Association of Theater Owners of Michigan; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Weedmaps.

$10,000 Contributors – Ascend Michigan; Atheneum Hotel; Auto Dealers of Michigan,; Butzel Long; Capitol Relations/Meridian Health Plan A Wellcare Company; Centene; Christman Company; Cinnaire; Coca-Cola Company Michigan; Dean Transportation; Deloitte; Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Detroit Medical Center; Dickinson Wright PLLC; DLZ Michigan, Inc.; Eidex; Ernst and Young; FCA US; Fritz Enterprises Inc. & Huron Valley Steel Corporation; HTC Global Services; General Motors; IGT Global Solutions Corporation; Jackson National Life Insurance Company; Kalitta Air; Karmanos Cancer Institute; The Kroger Co. of Michigan; Kyyba; LightSpeed Communications; Meredith Corporation; Michigan Corrections Organization; Michigan Funeral Directors Association; Michigan Interactive, An NIC Company; Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association; Michigan State Medical Society; Microsoft; Midland Cogeneration Venture; Midwest Independent Retailers Association; Miller Canfield; Netlogx; Penske Corporation; PhRMA; Priority Health; RNDC of Michigan; Shelborne Development; Sun Valley Foods; Small Business Association of Michigan; Switch; TILT Holdings; TransCanada; Uniprop; and Verizon.

Now, I left out unions, a few environmental organizations and Planned Parenthood, but compared to the number of private sector contributors listed above, their numbers were small in comparison. One could say at this point that making contributions of between $10,000 and $100,000 to Governor Whitmer;s inauguration ceremony is all about buying access. This is the standard thinking with political contributions in general. However, what we need to ask ourselves here is what else are large contributors expecting?

For example, the AFL-CIO contributed $10,000, but are they expecting that workers rights, workplace democracy, wages, benefits, etc will improve under Governor Whitmer or are they just hoping that things will not get worse than they already are for working class people? Honigman law firm, which contributed $50,000, might be expecting the State of Michigan to endorse the proposed ICE detention facility in Ionia (run by ICA). One could argue that other contributors from the private sector are not just buying access, but expectations that the Whitmer administration will be friendly to business interests throughout the state.

Additionally, there was an event on February 13th in Grand Rapids that should also raise serious questions for people hoping for progressive policies changes in Lansing under Governor Whitmer. The Right Place Inc., which is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, hosted a breakfast with the new Governor, which included 400 members of the business community. Check out the photos from The Right Place Inc. from the Investor Breakfast with Gov. Whitmer. 

Now, do people think that there was much discussion about progressive policy proposals at this breakfast or did the business community of West Michigan leave the event feeling confident that their interests would not be threatened under Governor Whitmer’s leadership? The fact that this was the first public appearance after the State of the State address should indeed raise serious questions for people who are hoping for Michigan to adopt more progressive policies, policies that are based on racial justice, gender equity, strong environmental protections, an expansion of workers rights, a restoration of teacher pensions, countering the attacks against public education, reducing the privatization of public services, ending the war on immigrants, putting a stop to Line 5 and making Flint’s fight for clean water and environmental justice a top priority?

This writer is not waiting to see if these things will happen because of state government. Instead, I believe that for these kinds of policies and practices to be adopted we need to put our collective hopes into the collective efforts of various social movements across the state.

Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE make demands at the City Commission meeting

February 13, 2019

Last night, members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE addressed the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting about the GRPD’s involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A few weeks ago, the ACLU and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) sent a letter to the Grand Rapids City Commission and the GRPD about the police department’s involvement in the arrest and detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. Gomez, a former US Marine, was arrested by the GRPD, which then turned him over to ICE. This was the specific issue that immigrant justice activists addressed during the commission meeting.

There were seven people from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE that addressed the commissioners during public comment. They addressed several issues related to the GRPD and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and made the following demands:

  • No cooperation between GRPD and ICE
  • No City resources should be used to support ICE violence against the immigrant community
  • The City Commission should endorse the Drivers License for All campaign being organized by Movimiento Cosecha
  • The GRPD should stop harassing and intimidating those involved in trying to prevent ICE violence against the immigrant community.

Some of those who spoke talked about the trauma that immigrants experience because of ICE arrests or being in detention, along with how children are impacted by witnessing the arrest of a parent. One social worker for GRPS also addressed the constant fear that the immigrant community lives in because of ICE harassment, intimidation and violence.

The Drivers License for All campaign was addressed in part because of the fact that based on a recent study, we know the GRPD engages in racial profiling and because immigrants who do not have a US drivers license often end up in ICE custody even if they were only originally charged with driving without a license.

Sergio Reyes with Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke specifically about a recent incident where he and his wife were pulled over by the GRPD for no clear reason. When the cops made him get out of the car they said he smelled like pot, even though Reyes was not smoking. In addition, the police questioned his wife separately who later told her husband that the police said, “if he is a citizen he has nothing to worry about.” This point underscored the issue of the GRPD asking the immigration status of people, even though it is not their job to enforce immigration policy.

Members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE addressed members of the Grand Rapids City Commission just weeks after they successfully got the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to end ICE holds because of their seven month campaign against the contract between the county and ICE.


The Time I confronted Rich DeVos on being a billionaire

February 11, 2019

A new report was just released showing that the richest 0.00025 percent of the American population now owns more wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent.

The report comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research and was authored by Gabriel Zucman. 

The wealth gap in the US has been growing in recent decades and the top 400 richest people, those featured in the annual Forbes 400 report, are continuing to amass disgustingly large amounts of wealth. There are over 500 billionaires in the US alone and several of them live in West Michigan, including the Meijer and DeVos families.

I have written a great deal about the wealth of these two families, particularly the DeVos family. However, I have never shared a story about the time that I confront Rich DeVos about his wealth at a book signing in 2004.

The Grand Rapids Press had run an article about DeVos’ new book entitled, How to Be Like Rich DeVos: Succeeding with Integrity in Business and Life. The article that the Press ran had a picture of Michael Jordan, Mother Theresa and Jesus, but the picture of DeVos was larger than the rest of them. The article also mentioned that DeVos would be at a book signing at Schuler Books on 28th Street, so some of us decided to go.

When we arrived at the bookstore, people had already lined up to get a copy of the book signed by the Amway co-founder. A friend of mine and I decided to grab other books to get signed. My friend grabbed the book Robbing Us Blind: The Return of the Bush Gang and the Robbing of America and I grabbed a leather-bound copy of the King James Bible.

We decided to stand in line by not right next to each other, so as not give ourselves away since people may have recognized us. My friend greeted DeVos first, who was puzzled by the book title that my friend wanted him to sign. DeVos said, “yeah, I guess some people can be too greedy,” and signed the book anyway. We later auctioned the book off for a fundraiser.

When I finally got to the table, I hand DeVos the bible I had brought up and he said, “You want me to sign your bible,” and I said, “sure, why not.” He began to sign it and I said I saw the article in the GR Press that had you picture, along with Jesus, Michael Jordan and Mother Theresa. I ask him, “how did you feel about having a larger picture than Jesus?” DeVos said, “I did think it was a little strange, but it was out of my hands.” He went back to signing the bible and then I asked him, “So, what do you think about that gospel quote, which says that it is harder for a man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to go through an eye of a needle.” DeVos was getting ready to respond, when his body guard, a rather large man, grabbed my arm and said, “that’s enough,” and pulled me away from the table.

Those who are billionaires are engaging in unjust and criminal behavior, especially while so many are suffering from lack of healthy food, health care, housing and other basic human rights. For more on the history and politics of the DeVos Family, see our DeVos Family Reader.

If we want Health Care Justice, look to the grassroots, not elected officials

February 11, 2019

On Friday, MLive reported that Gov. Whitmer was looking at changes around the work requirements for those receiving Medicaid.

Michigan expanded its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. A new Michigan law requires able-bodied Healthy Michigan Medicaid recipients to work an average of 20 hours of work per week, or 80 hours per month. Recipients need to comply with this for at least nine months per year, starting in 2020, with some exemptions.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to convince the Michigan legislature that requiring people on Medicaid may not be necessary and that most states don’t require it under the Affordable Care Act.

This decision on the part of Governor Whitmer comes just days before the kickoff to the national campaign known as Medicare for All. There are grassroots groups all over the country that will be hosting “barnstorms” this week, an effort that is being coordinated by National Nurses United (NNU). You may recall that National Nurses United was pushing for a Single Payer Health Care System when Obama ran in the 2008 election. Obama the candidate had voiced support for a Single Payer System, but once he became president, his advisors thought that pushing for a Single Payer System would be too much.

However, the reality is that based on most polling, at least two-thirds of Americans favor a Single Payer System or Medicare for All. According to a recent article on Common Dreams, over 30 million Americans are uninsured and two-thirds of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. Millions of people across the country are having to chose between heating their homes, buying groceries or paying for health care.

In Grand Rapids, there will be a meeting on Medicare for All, on Wednesday, February 13, from 6:30pm – 8pm at CWA Union Hall, located at 3281 Kentland Court SE in Grand Rapids. The Facebook event states in the description:

Over 70% of Americans want #MedicareForAll, but politicians won’t pass this bill without public pressure. Find out how you can mobilize your community to win #MedicareForAll. Put #PeopleOverProfit, and cover everyone regardless of income or health condition. EVERYBODY IN. NOBODY OUT.

This type of organizing is in sharp contrast to what elected officials like Gov. Whitmer are doing, which only protects the existing health care system. If people want to have just policies like Medicare for All, then they should rely on grassroots efforts and social movements, not on the empty promises of elected officials.