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How’s the New Oligarchy Treating You So Far?

October 9, 2011

In 2002, when the tax cuts for the wealthy were planned by the Bush Administration, Dick Cheney told the others at the meeting, “This is our due.” The tax cuts were one of the final bricks in a fortress of financial vandalism that Reagan had started in the 1980s. The cuts cemented into place loopholes and tax advantages so extreme that within a few years, the gap between rich and poor in this country widened to Grand-Canyon size.

The result? The top 1 percent of capitalist elites now control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, and some estimates place it even higher. Extended by the Obama Administration in the spring of this year, the lucrative tax cuts aren’t good for everyone; they cost the government $42 billion a year. But the justification to workers for this massive handout to America’s richest citizens was always this: The recipients of all this bounty would turn around and create more jobs.

In Michigan, where we started into a single-state recession in 2001, this always seemed implausible. And the loss of jobs that started in our state has spread across the nation. Between 2008 and 2010 alone, after the tax cuts for the rich had been in place for 6 to 8 years, the U.S. lost 8 million jobs.

It’s estimated that that the few jobs that have been added since the rich started raking it in have cost taxpayers approximately $400,000 per job.

Now the middle class soon is disappearing before our eyes.  Middle class incomes have dropped almost 10 percent from 2001 to the present, and many former members of the middle class have joined the one out of every seven Americans who are now living in poverty.

We believe it’s always good to recap a crisis situation. So here, zeroing in on Kent County and Grand Rapids, are some effects the new oligarchy has had on our community:

In 2001, Grand Rapids’ unemployment rate was approximately 6.3 percent. By 2010, our unemployment rate in Kent County was 11.1 percent.

But these numbers don’t include everyone who has maxed out unemployment payments and still don’t have a job. It’s estimated that Michigan’s true unemployment rate is currently 20.3 percent.

•In 1999, Grand Rapids had a poverty rate of 8.9 percent. Today, our poverty rate is 15.7 percent.

•In the United States, the rate of children living in poverty has increase 18 percent in the past 10 years. In Michigan, it’s increased 64 percent.

•On October 1, thanks to new legislation from Lansing, people who have drawn more than two years’ worth of welfare have been cut from the rolls. In Grand Rapids, this first wave included 300 families and 767 children. Many more families will become homeless and find themselves without income in the near future—two years is now a lifetime cap for drawing welfare in the state. And with a real unemployment rate of over 20 percent, a job for any of them seems a faint hope at best.

In 1999, the median family income in Michigan was $3,400 above the national average. In 2009, it was $3,900 below the national average. Adjusting for inflation, the average Michigan worker with a full-time job makes less money than a worker here did in 1978.

•Fewer people in Kent County have been able to complete college educations during the past decade. In Michigan, less than one-quarter of adult citizens now have a college degree. The national average is 27.9 percent.

•In Michigan, one out of every 349 families lost their home this year to foreclosure. In Kent County, it’s one in every 205 homes. From July to September of this year, the foreclosure rate here jumped 29 percent.

And how, by contrast, are the wealthiest of our citizens faring, compared to the rest of us? Very well indeed, thank you, since they’ve skimmed all of the cream and most of the milk out of this area for themselves.

As GRIID recently reported, Fred Meijer’s net worth has increased 150 percent over the past five years, and Rich DeVos’s net worth has increased 43 percent. Ask yourself how many jobs Amway and Meijer’s has added to this area of the country as a result of this tremendous upsurge in the wealth of the corporate owners.

Michigan faces other challenges related to this money grab by the top 1 percent of wealthy elites, and Grand Rapids shares them:

•The power brokers in this state who own Governor Rick Snyder and have fed him the entire Mackinac Policy Center strategy are busy at work making their ultimate dreams come true. The DeVos-fueled “think tank” presents a program that promotes privatization in all areas of government, including city services and teachers’ unions on the local level. It’s also the cradle of the concept of merging of Grand Rapids, Kent County, and other area communities into one massive structure ruled by a “CEO”: the infamous One Kent Coalition.

The One Kent Coalition, led by Dick DeVos, David Frey, Pete Secchia, Peter Wege, and Kate Pew Wolters, among others, recently had to back down from their push to force the change. Their proposal was so open-ended and vague that it would allow for something akin to a permanent Emergency Financial Manager running West Michigan—with no citizen input and complete power to privatize city and county services. Don’t expect the retreat to be anything but a temporary regrouping. This group of greedy capitalists wants all of the city and county assets under its complete control, and now is the time to make it happen.

•Dick and Betsy DeVos’s dream of dismantling the public school system in Michigan is starting to come to fruition in Detroit, where 50 percent of the public schools were closed and 41 of the remaining schools were just turned into charter schools by the current Emergency Financial Manager.

•The expanded Emergency Financial Manager law was a brilliant stroke by the crafty policy-center gurus. In one stroke, it:

Allows services to be moved from city control with citizen oversight into the hands of private companies

Advances the continued destruction of the public school systems. It also allows redistricting to occur without any citizen vote.

Lets Snyder and his gray presences behind the gubernatorial throne to get rid of troublesome elected officials who were voted by citizens into local offices.

Transfers public assets into the hands of waiting capitalists—such as the transfer of a public waterfront park in Benton Harbor onto the books of a development company that’s going to turn it into a private resort.

•New legislation is about to be introduced to make Michigan a Right-to-Work state…but only for teachers. More specifically, only for teachers who are members of the MEA, Michigan’s largest teachers’ union. This is a clever method to bust this union via a targeted state law.

•Governor Snyder has assessed $1.7 billion in new taxes on the poor and the elderly, and used the money to cut the state’s largest business tax by 80 percent—because, of course, they are going to use the money to create new jobs in Michigan. Ha, ha.

Now it’s been announced that the Snyder administration is planning to push another tax cut for businesses: a repeal of the tax that businesses pay on commercial property, such as equipment and furniture systems. This will take another $800 million of tax money away from the state. Lieutenant Governor Calley said about the proposed legislation, “We’d like to have a system that essentially rewards productivity and investment in Michigan.”

Some industrial-centered communities will lose up to 50 percent of their tax revenues as a result, but companies like Amway, Meijer’s, and Steelcase will pocket those rewards.

•In August, Snyder’s approval rating stood at 38 percent. But he dodged a recall and just said that he plans to run for a second term. And with his gluttonous patrons and their now-even-deeper pockets standing guard around him, he just might pull it off.

Remember, they believe all this is their due. Grand Rapids is no longer yours. It’s carrion waiting to be devoured by the wealthy capitalist elites of West Michigan. If we stand by and do nothing, we’ll have to witness the stripping of the bones yet to come.

So how is the oligarchy treating you these days? And what do you plan to do about it?

Czar Snyder image used by permission from artist Linda R. Robinson.

Occupy Wall Street images from Wikimedia Commons.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ned permalink
    October 10, 2011 12:56 am

    Why don’t you just fly the hammer and sickle flag? This aritcle isn’t even factual. Don’t let the truth get in the way.

  2. kswheeler permalink
    October 10, 2011 3:26 am

    Ned, do you have different unemployment rates, poverty rates, net worth increases of the wealthy, statistics on the costs of the tax cuts for the rich, current legislation in the state house, etc.?

    I got a lot of my information from the state government, the US Census Bureau, Snyder’s home page at michigan.gov, area newspapers, and the Mackinac Policy Center website. Are you saying they’re all lying?

    Please present your data that refutes the facts I’ve used in this article. Please don’t use anything from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, as they are both documented and/or have been charged for issuing false statements on the airways. Anything else as a resource is fine. Thanks.

  3. Ben permalink
    October 10, 2011 11:46 am

    More “I hate the rich” nonsense.

    All the while none of you have pledged to rid yourselves of all the corporate-made products that you seem to have no issue buying.

    And I’m sure you also turn down your paychecks too, right?

    No-talent hacks who see a great opportunity to use the government to steal wealth from others and give it to themselves on the basis that they “feel” they deserve it.

  4. kswheeler permalink
    October 10, 2011 1:17 pm

    Ben, you know nothing about my buying habits or those of anyone here. Similarly, you know nothing about my or others’ work situations. How do you know anyone here draws a traditional paycheck or works for a corporation? How often do you think people here buy new products rather than trade or swap or buy secondhand in order to avoid contributing to capitalist profits? I think you’d be surprised at the answers.

    As for “using the government to steal wealth from others and give it to themselves,” that’s just a standard Tea Party line that you’ve memorized–I doubt you even know what it means, and I doubt you could explain how it even relates to this article.

    Talk about hacks. Look in a mirror. Go peddle these completely unoriginal, conservative talking points and middle-school insults somewhere else. If you want a civil discussion of the issue at hand, then show some respect, present some original ideas with real links to back them up, and act like a grownup.

    Don’t post here with this juvenile troll crap again. If you are capable of adult behavior and original thought, prove it. Otherwise, take your Neo-Nazi ass, plop it back into that desk chair in your Mom’s basement, and wait for someone to haul you off to a re-education camp, hopefully in the near future.

  5. kswheeler permalink
    October 10, 2011 1:29 pm

    Oh, one more point–judging from a previous post of yours, I take it you call yourself a Christian? And yet you profess a hatred for the poor, a love of the rich, a disdain for those who are suffering, and a lack of a sense of charity. You are what Eugene Robinson recently termed “a compassionless Christian.”

    If you’ve read the Bible, I’m sure you’re aware that professing to be a Christian while showing the diametric opposite of Christ-like behavior is blasphemy.

    Good luck with that.

  6. Ben permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:32 pm

    Oh, one more point–judging from a previous post of yours, I take it you call yourself a Christian? And yet you profess a hatred for the poor, a love of the rich, a disdain for those who are suffering, and a lack of a sense of charity. You are what Eugene Robinson recently termed “a compassionless Christian.”

    See, that would be an example of you being WRONG.

    I never professed to anything of the sort. I guess if you arent a socialist/communist/weekend Marxist like you guys, you have to be a Christian, huh?

    And I’ve professed hatred for the poor? I would LOVE to see your proof of this one.

    My compassion for the poor is far greater than people that talk a good mile, but likely haven’t given a red dime or time to doing anything for them.

    And no, handing a guy a dollar is not the same, just in case you thought that made you compassionate.

  7. Ben permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:45 pm

    “Ben, you know nothing about my buying habits or those of anyone here. Similarly, you know nothing about my or others’ work situations. How do you know anyone here draws a traditional paycheck or works for a corporation? How often do you think people here buy new products rather than trade or swap or buy secondhand in order to avoid contributing to capitalist profits? I think you’d be surprised at the answers.”

    Oh sure. I totally bet all of the electronic doodads and clothing, cars, food products, furniture and whatnot, were all bought used.

    Not one dollar passed between your holy hands to the filthy paws of the corporations!

    Really?

    “As for “using the government to steal wealth from others and give it to themselves,” that’s just a standard Tea Party line that you’ve memorized–I doubt you even know what it means, and I doubt you could explain how it even relates to this article.”

    Let me do it at a 4th-grade level so can understand:

    You hate the rich.

    You hate that they have more than you.

    You dont want them to have more than you.

    How do you change that?

    You use the government to confiscate their wealth and property and give it away to people that haven’t done anything to earn it. Like they did in many 3rd world nations like Venezuela, and Cuba.

    Or maybe you have some non-Marxist way to pull that off that you seem far too shy to admit here?

    “Talk about hacks. Look in a mirror. Go peddle these completely unoriginal, conservative talking points and middle-school insults somewhere else. If you want a civil discussion of the issue at hand, then show some respect, present some original ideas with real links to back them up, and act like a grownup.”

    I’m reading two people that are presenting plenty of hilarious hack material that you can find on any standard leftist outlet like:

    MSNBC
    NPR
    Moveon.org
    ThinkProgress
    Huffington Post
    NY Times
    LA Times
    CBS
    CNN
    ABC
    NBC
    Chicago Tribune
    Democratunderground
    CodePink
    Current TV

    News to you: Nothing that you’ve written is anything more than the standard set of GR wannabe progressives hipsters trade back to each other while sitting around downing PBRs <—corporate brand btw.

    "Don’t post here with this juvenile troll crap again. If you are capable of adult behavior and original thought, prove it. Otherwise, take your Neo-Nazi ass, plop it back into that desk chair in your Mom’s basement, and wait for someone to haul you off to a re-education camp, hopefully in the near future."

    LoL! "Neo Nazi"? See, Now I'm getting the real you to show yourself.You dig deep enough, the true totalitarian nature of a leftist comes out for all to see.

  8. kswheeler permalink
    October 12, 2011 4:41 am

    Ben, thanks first of all for your list of what you consider “leftist” publications. I assume you meant that part of your post as humor…The Chicago Tribune? ABC/NBC/CBS??!!! The LA Times? NPR??!!!! Hilarious! It was like a Monty Python skit about the Tea Party and their wild paranoia about the media.Thanks for the laugh.

    Secondly, I made the assumption that you were a Christian because of what you said to people who were assessing the artistic merit–or rather, the lack thereof–of “Crucifixion.” You called them bigots, and the vitriole of your reaction made me think that you were a conservative Christian yourself and would defend any piece that was “Christian” regardless of how vapid or trite it was. I apologize for my mistake in analyzing your reaction to the comments.

    It’s insulting to have assumptions made about your beliefs and/or behavior, isn’t it? You might actually feel the irony of my mistake, given all of your assumptions about the people who write for this site and those who comment here, which you present as facts with no foundation at all. And some of your assumptions are so incredibly off the mark that they, too, are funny–or would have been if you hadn’t framed them all as violent verbal attacks.

    In addition to just asking you to offer your opinions without the juvenile insults, I also tried two classic teaching techniques with you: extinction (withholding the response you wanted) and negative reinforcement (answering your sarcasm and insults with sarcasm and insults of my own). These two methods are usually effective with male children. Neither seems to have caused you to rethink your behavior.

    That’s a shame, because a civil conversation about our differing opinions might have been interesting. But you’ve proved that it’s impossible.

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