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Business as Usual at the Grand Rapids Press

September 27, 2010

On September 6, The Grand Rapids Press published an article, complete with “photo album,” of Dick and Betsy DeVos’s new summer home in Holland. The facts—that the DeVos family had chosen to tear down a 12,000-square-foot, multimillion dollar home in order to build a 22,000-square-foot faux-chateau, along with a multi-bedroom guest house—proves that the current Michigan Depression is only a rumor for some people.

The photos prove something that my father used to say: “Money can’t buy good taste.”

Surprisingly, in this area of DeVos worship, particularly during the current month of Art Prize (formerly known as September), this Press article rubbed many people the wrong way. Letters to the editor all month have complained bitterly about the insensitivity of an article flaunting the DeVos’s immense pyramid-scheme fortune at a time when people in West Michigan are struggling with increased poverty, loss of jobs and health care insurance, and record numbers of foreclosures.

The Press, insists bombastic editor Paul Keep, embraces criticism, but it apparently rankled under this relative onslaught of harsh letters. So on Sunday, September 26, the job fell to Business Editor Nancy Crawley to play apologist for the Press’s decision to feature the DeVos summer house story on page 1.

In doing so, she revealed a lot about the Press’s attitude about capitalism, the still-clung-to idea of a trickle-down economy, and an open contempt for the realities of life in West Michigan for the majority of us.

Crawley stated that a “handful of readers” chose to complain. This was unbelievable, Crawley said, puzzling, “Didn’t the project employ scores of people, from architects to attorneys to carpenters?” Why, there was even a local grocer who had to add “staff” (probably an out-of-work college student) to handle all the food orders from work crews.

Of course, Crawley doesn’t note that all this fabulous employment was temporary, and now has essentially come to an end.

Other readers, Crawley says, objected to the front-page placement of the story. This, she said, was “evidence of a scary mind set emerging from this long, ugly recession—a stern, puritanical insistence that we don’t deserve good things, good times.”

Of course, an objective observer might comment that the problem was that so few of us enjoy “good things, good times,” and those who do are doing so at the expense of the majority of working-class folks in the area.

After all, we’re talking about Dick and Betsy DeVos here. Proponents of a right-to-work state in Michigan, and advocates of union-busting. Supporters of private-school vouchers that weaken bring public education for those who can’t afford private schooling. Heirs to the vast Amway wealth that was brought about by drawing people into a pyramid scheme that destroyed thousands of lives and businesses. And let’s not forget Betsy “Marie Antoinette” DeVos’s statement in 2004 that the only problem with the Michigan economy was that Michigan workers were paid too much. In a press release statement in 2004, Betsy stated, “Many, if not most, of the economic problems in Michigan are a result of high wages and a tax and regulatory structure that makes this state uncompetitive.”

But according to Crawley, our supposed Puritanical insistence that we be frugal and not lavish “hurts rather than helps our economy. What makes the economy stronger and our way of life the envy of the world is that people have the right to pursue happiness, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and, if they have gotten rich on the up-and-up, let’s hope they spend their money instead of hoarding it.”

Oh, yes—the famous Reaganomics with its trickle-down effect is omnipresent in this ludicrous column. Dick and Betsy DeVos have served the economy well by spending, spending, spending. And now, Grand Rapids, Nancy Crawley says it’s your turn. Let’s make West Michigan the envy of the free world by spending to keep our economy (that is to say, the fortunes of the ùber-capitalists like the DeVos family) strong. Even if you have to cut out a few more meals in your two-room rented apartment, or lower the thermostat again, or figure out how the same income you had 10 years ago is going to stretch to meet record increases in your health insurance, or watch your house being seized by the sheriff.

And, with the kind of sensitivity that we’ve come to expect from the Press, Crawley’s column ran right next to a feature article titled “2010 on track to set another record for foreclosures across Kent County, West Michigan.” The first line of the article was, “Andrew Zukowski lost his full-time job eight years ago and has not had a steady paycheck since.”

Let’s hope Nancy never glanced over at the next column of the Business section. It might have brought a little reality into the rosy, free-market, spendy world in which she lives, and from which she edits and reports to the rest of us long-suffering Press readers.

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