Headlines: Senate Cuts Education Spending from Stimulus Bill; 600,000 Jobs Lost in January

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate Nears Stimulus Vote After Cutting Education Spending

The Senate is expected to vote to end debate today on a compromise version that will cut more than $100 billion from President Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The cuts include $35 billion for education, $5 billion for jobless workers’ healthcare and $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings. A final Senate vote tomorrow would lead to negotiations with the House, which passed a larger version of the package last week.

Nearly 600,000 Jobs Lost in January

The vote follows Friday’s news that nearly 600,000 jobs were lost last month, bringing the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent–its highest in sixteen years. On Sunday, White House economic adviser Larry Summers urged congressional action on the stimulus bill.

White House economic adviser Larry Summers: “The economy lost 600,000 jobs just in January, lost three million jobs last year. We’ve got to give this economy some help. The Senate bill, the House bill–the overlap is 90-plus percent. We’ve got to work through the differences, find the best bill we possibly can and get it in place as quickly as possible to contain what is a very damaging and potentially deflationary spiral.”

President Obama is expected to fly to Indiana today to tout the stimulus plan in areas badly hit by the economic crisis. On Friday, Obama continued pressuring lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

President Obama: “It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual, while millions of Americans are being put out of work. Now is the time for Congress to act. It’s time to pass an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to get our economy moving.”

Loopholes Could Bypass Bailout Pay Caps

In other economic news, questions are growing around President Obama’s crackdown on executive pay at taxpayer-rescued firms. Last week, Obama announced a $500,000 salary cap at firms receiving future government bailouts. The move followed outcry over news Wall Street firms paid out more than $18 billion in bonuses last year. But the Wall Street Journal reports the curbs have several loopholes that could negate its impact. Firms could still pay out higher salaries by changing executives’ titles, restructuring pay packages, or simply putting it to a shareholder vote. Executives and managers could also get more money, because the plan doesn’t limit awards of restricted stock. Critics have called on Obama to impose the plan retroactively so that it also applies to firms that have already received bailout money.

Bank Closures Bring 2009 Total to 9

Regulators have closed four banks in Georgia and California. The largest, County Bank of Merced, California, had $1.7 billion in assets and $1.3 billion in deposits. Nine banks have been shuttered so far this year.

Lawyer: Gitmo Conditions Deteriorating

A military attorney for a Guantanamo Bay prisoner is claiming prison conditions have worsened since President Obama took office. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley told the Guardian of London at least fifty hunger-striking prisoners have been forced-fed while strapped to chairs and beaten if they resist. At least twenty prisoners are said to be in such poor shape they’ve been put on a “critical list.” Bradley said the accounts of mass beatings of hunger-striking prisoners are unprecedented.

4 Gitmo Prisoners Returned to Iraq

In other news from Guantanamo Bay, the Iraqi government says four Iraqi prisoners have been returned to Iraq. The US says they were initially arrested in Afghanistan.

Appeal in Boeing Rendition Case to Test Obama on Torture, Secrecy

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a federal appeals court will hear arguments today in a case seeking to reinstate a suit against a Boeing subsidiary accused of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to overseas torture chambers. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. The lawsuit accused Jeppesen of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Bush administration successfully won the case’s dismissal on the grounds it would risk exposing “state secrets.” But it’s unclear whether government lawyers under President Obama will make the same argument before the court today. Legal observers say the case will mark a significant test of President Obama’s stated opposition to White House-backed torture and secrecy.

Biden: US Will Continue Bush Missile Program, But Open to Compromise

Vice President Joe Biden has announced the US will pursue the Bush administration’s controversial missile defense shield in eastern Europe. Speaking in Germany this weekend, Biden said the US would continue to develop missile defenses to counter what he called “a growing Iranian capability.” But he left open the possibility of a compromise with Russia, saying US-Russian ties should be repaired.

Vice President Joe Biden: “The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our alliance. It’s time–to paraphrase President Obama, it’s time to press the reset button.”

The missile program has been widely derided as bellicose, expensive and useless to its stated goals of protecting national security. Poland would host ten ballistic missiles along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. The Bush administration claimed the missile system would protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon.

Report: US Support for Uganda Attack Led to Rebel Massacre

The New York Times has revealed covert US support for a Ugandan army attack on a rebel group helped lead to a massacre that killed as many as 900 civilians. With Bush administration approval, American military advisers helped the Ugandan military plan the attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious rebel group. But the plan was poorly executed, leading rebel fighters free to kill scores of people as they fled in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Critics say the US should have anticipated the plan would fail and lead to deadly reprisals.

15,000 Flee Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the number of refugees to escape fighting between government forces and Tamil Tigers rebels has now topped 15,000. Earlier today, the Sri Lankan military said at least twenty-eight people were killed when a suicide bomber blew herself up amongst a group of fleeing civilians. Some 250,000 people remain trapped amidst the intense fighting.

Iraqi Girl Killed in US Attack

In Iraq, an eight-year-old girl has been reportedly killed in an attack by US troops. Witnesses say several other civilians were injured when a US military convoy opened fire on a crowd of Shiite pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Karbala. The military says the shootings were accidental, following a mistaken weapons discharge.

Trial Date Set for Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

In other Iraq news, a trial date has been set for the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush during his farewell trip to Iraq last month. Muntadhar al-Zaidi will stand trial on February 19th on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. Zaidi faces fifteen years in prison. His attorney and family have alleged abusive treatment since his imprisonment.

UN Halts Gaza Aid Delivery in Hamas Dispute

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the UN says it’s stopped aid deliveries into Gaza after Hamas forces seized a shipment for the second time. United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesperson Christopher Gunness said Hamas seized ten trucks on Friday.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness: “The people of Gaza have suffered enough. They have gone through twenty-two days of conflict, and now we have a situation where their aid is jeopardized because their aid is being confiscated. This is a situation which must end immediately. The aid must be given back by the Hamas government.”

Hamas called the incident a misunderstanding and said it won’t be repeated. Much of Gaza’s 1.5 million population depends on aid for survival. Meanwhile, Israel continues sporadic military attacks in Gaza. Earlier today, a Palestinian militant was killed near the town of Beit Hanoun when an Israeli tank fired from across the border.

Israel to Hold National Elections

Israelis head to the polls tomorrow in national elections. All three leading candidates– Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima, Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor, and front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud–support attacking and blockading Gaza and the continued takeover of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu has openly called for toppling the democratically elected Hamas government.

Khatami to Challenge Ahmadinejad in Iran Vote

In Iran, former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has announced his candidacy in June elections. Khatami will face off against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is seeking re-election.

Bolivia Enacts New Constitution

In Bolivia, tens of thousands of people gathered on Saturday to mark the enactment of a new constitution. About 60 percent of Bolivians voted last month to advance indigenous rights and reaffirm state control over Bolivia’s natural gas reserves.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Since colonial times, we have been fighting against invasions and against oppression, and in this constitution of the Bolivian state is enshrined the deepest aspirations of the most neglected sectors, such as the workers and the indigenous people.”

The new constitution will give the indigenous majority more seats in Congress and greater clout in the justice system. It also officially recognizes their pre-Columbian spiritual traditions and promotes indigenous languages.

Australia Wildfire Toll at 131

In Australia, at least 131 people have been killed in what’s being called Australia’s worst-ever wildfire. Police are treating at least some of the 400 fires as arson. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called the alleged arsons an act of mass murder.

Haiti Pleads for Aid, Urges End to Indirect US Funding

The government of Haiti is making an emergency appeal for foreign aid. Meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval said Haiti needs as much as $100 million to avoid widespread unrest and collapse. Preval also urged Clinton to drop the US policy of funneling aid to Haiti through non-governmental organizations instead of directly to the state. Some of the groups used US aid to support the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

Ex-Police Officer in Oakland Transit Shooting Freed on $3M Bail

And back in the United States, the former Oakland police officer who fled California after shooting and killing an unarmed African American transit passenger has been freed on bail. The former officer, Johannes Mehserle, was caught on videotape shooting twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant in the back while Grant was lying face down on the ground on a subway platform. Grant worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store and was the father of a four-year-old daughter. Mehserle’s $3 million bail was posted by unknown sources. BART Police Chief Gary Gee drew controversy after encouraging officers to support Mehserle’s bail. Mehserle was released just as several protesters were arraigned for taking part in a protest against the killing that led to more than 100 arrests.

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Vern Ehlers: Economic Stimulus should Focus only on Jobs

Representative Ehlers Says Stimulus Bill Should Only Focus On Creating Jobs

After we reported last week on Vern Ehlers’ opposition to the recently passed economic recovery bill, Ehlers again appeared in the local media criticizing the bill as being too large and poorly thought out.

Ehlers Criticizes the Stimulus Bill in the Media

Yesterday on WZZM 13, Ehlers said the sole focus should be on creating jobs:

“If the people have jobs, a lot of the problems go away. If they don’t get jobs, the other problems magnify.”

Of course, Ehlers neglected to mention that the bill will create 158,000 jobs in Michigan.

In the Grand Rapids Press, Ehlers even went so far as to reject funding for the cash strapped Grand Rapids Public Schools. In the bill, GRPS would get $39 million in funding and schools in the Greater Grand Rapids area would receive around $96 million. Ehlers said the money–which would be aimed at funding construction and special education programs–is simply being used by Democrats “to support issues they would support anyhow” and that it is “going to turn into the biggest pork barrel spending ever.”

Ehlers has said the focus should be entirely on creating jobs, but he voted for an alternative Republican proposal that would have simply implemented a variety of long-sought tax cuts. That bill–sponsored by Michigan Republican David Camp–argued that tax cuts would stimulate job growth, although no clear connection was made.

Back in 2008, <a href="http://www.mediamouse.org/news/2008/10/ehlers-opts-to-ignore-constitu.php"Ehlers voted to spend $700 billion to bailout the financial industry. He also supported a controversial measure that gave tax rebate checks to US citizens with the goal of stimulating the economy. Ehlers was mildly critical of that bill, but seemed willing to support it because it was proposed by Republicans.

This year, Ehlers was one of the Republican Representatives approached by the Obama administration who thought that it might be possible to get the “moderate” Republican to support the bill.

Stimulus Bill Includes Corporate Tax Breaks

As a commenter pointed out when we last wrote about Ehlers and the stimulus bill, the bill is far from perfect. While Ehlers’ comments have been fairly ridiculous, much of the debate around the stimulus package has ignored the fact that it is full of proposals aimed at appeasing Republicans. For example, the bill includes billions in corporate tax breaks:

“At least $23.8 billion in corporate tax breaks have been included in the $825 billion economic recovery package in order to win backing from key business groups and their Congressional allies, even though the team that put the legislation together believes the breaks have little value in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

Top beneficiaries include banks, telecommunication companies, railroads and oil, hotels, casinos, and both commercial and residential real estate firms.”

This approach has been criticized by many progressives and progressive leaning policy organizations. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published a number of papers and reports criticizing policies aimed at reducing taxes as a form of economic stimulus.

Military Recruiting Increasing in Tough Economy

Military Recruiting On The Rise As Economy Crumbles

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that as the economy worsens, enlistment in the military is on the rise. The Army surpassed its recruitment targets for the months of October, November and December, which coincides with the first quarter of the fiscal year. The article also cited that there are expanded education benefits included in the new G.I. Bill, which is an attraction for many, especially new high school graduates. However, the Times failed to mention that the proposed discretionary budget for the 2009 fiscal year includes 58% for national defense (down 1% from the 59% of 2008), with a pathetic 7% for education, training, employment and social services.

The National Priorities Project breaks down exactly where spending on national defense goes: 89% to the military, 7% to homeland security, and 4% to preventative measures. Military spending has nearly doubled since 2001 – from about $350 billion to nearly $600 billion. Of total world military spending, the U.S. makes up 48%. Israel is the third largest arms importer (topped only by China and India, the two countries with the largest populations).

The amounts of money spent on war and military would be ludicrous at any time, but the fact that the nation is in a recession with alarmingly high unemployment rates, speaks volumes. The U.S. government continues to clearly prioritize war and oppression over education and social services.

Study: Segregation on the Rise in US Schools

A New Study Finds Segregation is Growing in the US School System

A new study by the University of California’s Civil Rights Project has found that despite rhetoric–particularly around Obama’s campaign–about racial equality in the United States, the United States is actually moving backwards in many respects on key measures of racial equality.

The study–Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge–finds that:

“the U.S. continues to move backward toward increasing minority segregation in highly unequal schools; the job situation remains especially bleak for American blacks, and Latinos have a college completion rate that is shockingly low. At the same time, very little is being done to address large scale challenges such as continuing discrimination in the housing and home finance markets, among other differences across racial lines.”

The Civil Rights Project has previously issued several reports on the integration of the public schools. It has found that in the decades since Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, gains have slowly been undone to the point where segregation is now growing each year. The study reports that 40% of African-Americans and 39% of Latinos now attend “intensely segregated schools.” The average African-American and Latino student also attends schools where nearly 60% of students are at or below the poverty line.

The report finds that suburban schools are also highly segregated, with the majority of suburban students attending schools that are 80% white.

At the same time, the study also reports that there is “almost no enforcement” of the Fair Housing Act and few penalties leveled for housing discrimination, which plays an important role in maintaining segregated schools.

The report concludes that the “separate but equal” approach that the government has returned to since abandoning serious efforts to integrate public schools has failed. Moreover, the report argues that new measures–such as No Child Left Behind–have failed and unduly targeted schools serving communities of color with sanctions while failing to give them the resources they need.

The report calls on the incoming Obama administration to make “the first serious commitment” to integrating the public schools since the Lyndon Johnson presidency.

College Costs in Michigan Limit Access to Higher Education

In Michigan, college costs continue to rise and are inhibiting access to the higher education in Michgian. Even as tuition costs soar, state financial aid has decreased since the early 1990s.

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A new study from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has found that across the United States, tuition increased 439% from 1982 to 2006 while median family income increased 147%.

In Michigan, politicians frequently talk about increasing the number of college graduates. as a way to revitalize the state’s economy, but that goal often remains illusive. The study concludes that Michigan is not educating its population at a level needed in a competitive economy.

A major factor is tuition, which has risen nationally and in Michigan. To attend college in Michigan, families must make considerable sacrifices. Michigan’s two-year schools cost less than the national average (average $2,207), but four-year colleges cost more (average $8,454). This creates a situation where families must pay a high percentage of their family income to afford college–an average of 23% for two-year schools and 34% for four-year public universities. The 40% of the population with the lowest incomes earn an average of $19,118. If a family earning that amount were to send a child to college, even after financial aid they would spend $6,276 for a two-year school (33% of income) or $9,254 (48% of income).

At the same time, Michigan’s investment in financial aid has decreased since the 1990s. The state’s investment in need-based aid is “very low” compared to top performing states. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends only 28 cents. Moreover, the study concludes, “Michigan does not offer low-priced college opportunities.”

Beyond the high cost of a college education, other barriers remain, particularly around race. Michigan has long had disparities between students of color and white students. For example, only 80% of African-Americans have a high diploma compared to 91% of white students. There is a 15% graduation gap between whites and students of color at four-year institutions, with 32% of African-Americans graduating from four-year institutions compared to 58% of white students. Overall, sixteen percent of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28 percent of whites. The study doesn’t go into reasons why these disparities exist.

Unfortunately, its unlikely this will improve soon, as voters in Michigan passed a ban on affirmative action in 2006. Already, there has been a decline in minority enrollment at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and colleges face challenges keeping numbers of underrepresented students at pre-Proposal 2 levels.

Moreover, as the economy continues to decline and state governments continue to face budget difficulties, it seems unlikely much headway will be made in addressing the cost of higher education or increasing access.

Guys and Guns AMOK: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre

Guys and Guns AMOK by Douglas Kellner provides a well researched analysis of recent mass killings in the United States including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, and the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

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Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre by Douglas Kellner provides a well researched analysis of recent mass killings in the United States including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, and the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Through an at times exhaustive examination, Kellner deconstructs these violent rampages and applies his considerable expertise as a critical social theorist. The result is a book that may overwhelm the reader with its abundance of information, yet will keep the reader shuddering with the recognition of just how much violence we in the U.S. appear to be willing to accept.

Guys and Guns AMOK is presented in four chapters: Chapter 1 – Deconstructing the Spectacle: Race, Guns, and the Culture Wars; Chapter 2 – The Situation of Contemporary Youth; Chapter 3 – Constructing Male Identities and the Spectacle of Terror; and Chapter 4 – What Is to Be Done? The book also has an extensive introduction and notes sections. It is an academic book and may not be the best selection for readers new to the topic. For those newly interested in the topic, the film Tough Guise by Jackson Katz may be a better first choice.

Guys and Guns AMOK examines popular U.S. culture and its glorification of guns, violent masculinity, war, youth alienation, celebrity and media spectacle. Through deconstruction of the non-stop, 24/7, mainstream media coverage that violent episodes receive, Kellner exposes the agenda of anti-gun control advocates and individuals on issues of race, gender, white male identity politics, and gun laws. He also educates the reader on what issues don’t receive much media attention like that the vast majority of gun deaths in the U.S. are routine killings, fatal gun accidents, and suicides (which guns don’t cause, but make easier). Guys and Guns AMOK also places the right-wing extremist view on the second amendment and gun ownership in context with the rapid changes the U.S. is experiencing in regards to race, gender, politics, global economics and the restructuring of capital. Remember the offense taken to Obama’s comment in San Francisco last April regarding certain groups of people experiencing hard times and clinging to religion and guns? Guys and Guns AMOK will provide some historical context and perspective on that viewpoint.

The author Douglas Kellner is a professor at UCLA, he has written extensively on the subjects of media, culture, terrorism, war, democracy and (stolen) elections.

Douglas Kellner, Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre, (Paradigm Publisher, 2008).

Access to Post-Secondary Education Aid Limited for Adults

Adults’ access to post-secondary education and job training in Michigan is limited by a lack of funding and a lack of programs according to a recent report by the Michigan League for Human Services.

A recent report from the Michigan League for Human Services has found that while the important of post-secondary education has grown in Michigan, financial aid for adults remains limited. This is particularly troubling as tuition at four-year colleges in Michigan has increased 20% since 2005 and 10% at two-year colleges.

The report finds tuition is a significant burden for families, particularly those with older adults wishing to return to school or gain additional job training. The report says that there are many obstacles for adults, including the way the federal financial aid system classifies people as “independent” and “dependent,” which can often lead to adults who are for all purposes “independent” having their parents’ income factored into the aid formula. Moreover, people who make less than $8,750 per year do not need to file income tax, yet a tax return is required for federal aid via the FASFA process. The report also found that many state programs in Michigan that aim to provide need based aid for people seeking to continue their education have age cut-offs. Programs that are open to wider age ranges–such as the Jobs, Education, and Training (JET) program and No Worker Left Behind–tend to be underfunded. Many adult students also face difficulties in receiving private loans due to credit checks according to the report.

However, while there are several obstacles to attaining post-secondary education and training, the report says that progress is being made through legislation aimed at streamlining the FASFA process and making aid programs more accessible. Even with these positive steps, the report argues that Michigan should consider increasing the amount of aid that it makes available to adult students.

Day Two of the West Michigan Regional Policy Summit

Day two of the West Michigan Regional Policy Summit was pretty much like the first–continued advocacy of a business-driven policy agenda for the state of Michigan.

Day two of the West Michigan Regional Policy Summit began with a panel discussion with representatives from colleges and universities (Read about day 1). Participating on the panel were Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University (GVSU), David Eisler, president of Ferris State/Kendall College, Timothy Nelson, president of Northwestern Michigan College, and Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College. The panel was presented with a series of questions with no time allotted for audience questions.

The first question posed to the panel asked what role higher education plays in contributing to the future and changing economy of Michigan? Some of the panelists said that their schools actively recruit international students so that they can diversify their student body to provide greater global opportunities for their economic partner. David Eisler with Ferris State said their students are “learning video gaming design, online identity protection, and health care education as their main contributors to the new global economy.” Timothy Nelson with Northwestern Michigan College said that their tech center contributes greatly to the global economy. Their campus is also the founder of the economic development corporation in Traverse City and that he will chair their area Chamber of Commerce beginning this January. Thomas Haas with GVSU said that he sees his role as being one of a facilitator of training for people to be prepared for the new economy. He went on to say that there needs to be more of an investment in higher education if we are to provide skilled workers for the future economy.

Next, the panel addressed ways to get business more connected to students. Eisler stressed more internships, even paid internships that could lead to ongoing employment. Nelson said that Northwestern has internship dynamics built into their curriculum; particularly in the healthcare area and that all their departments have a business advisory board to better interact with the business community. Haas believes that business and higher education have to work hard to attract and retain students to stay and work in West Michigan. Wilson-Oyelaran shared a story about a previous position she held in North Carolina. When the economy was hit hard, they invited the business community and foundation community to solicit input on future educational programs, which resulted in creating a biotech department. She emphasized the needs for constant partnering between business and higher education.

The panelists also addressed the issue of diversifying their student bodies and whether that was relevant to the future work force. The president of Northwestern Michigan said they do a great deal of international recruiting and hosting programs to inform the student body on global diversity. GVSU president Haas said, “diversity is an intellectual and business asset.” Wilson-Oyelaran said that the higher education community needs to make their schools more affordable for people who are not able to find financial support for college, which is a reality for many minority students. She suggested that corporate scholarships are also key to creating opportunities for minority students but did not cite any examples of companies that currently do this. Again, the emphasis was on the business/university partnership, but did not honestly address the racial disparities in college enrollment, an issue that made the news for GVSU recently.

The second morning session focused on healthcare’s role in the new Michigan economy. Dan Loepp, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan facilitated the discussion around healthcare and the economy. It is relevant to note that in terms of influencing public policy, which was woven into the entire summit, Blue Cross Blue Shield is the 8th largest lobbyist group in Michigan according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. It has spent over $400,00 in the past two years. Blue Cross Blue Shield is also the third largest contributor to candidates at the state level in Michigan, with a total $272,670 so far. Loepp made it clear that healthcare is central to the economic vitality for the future of West Michigan.

The panelists consisted of CEOs from Spectrum Health, Metro Health, Mercy Health Partners, and the VanAndel Institute. Rick Breon with Spectrum Health said that they have added more than 2,500 employees over the past 5 years. He said that one of their concerns is the underfunding of Medicaid and that the other major policy issue is term limits for state legislators, which has been a roadblock to changing Medicaid policy. Roger Spoelman with Mercy Health Partners said that training and funding for training future workers is their key concern, which he believes is a policy issue. David VanAndel with the VanAndel Institute spoke next and said that the FDA is a huge barrier to their ability to bring new drugs to the market. “We could deliver new medicines in months, but the regulatory system sometimes makes it a year or more and costs millions of dollars before we are able to bring them to the market.” At the state level, VanAndel said, the tax structure will play a key role in the future of healthcare.

Next the panelists were asked if they were “Czar for a day” what would they like to see happen? Metro Health CEO Mike Faas said that he would like to see more emphasis on training in primary care instead of specialized training. The Spectrum CEO said that we need to increase the supply of healthcare staff. David VanAndel said that about half of their staff are foreign nationals and he feels that we need to do more to train our own. “We are decades away from that, so we need some immigration reform, since our Institute is having difficulty in getting and retaining foreign nationals.”

When asked whether or not the healthcare system is broken, some responded with the need to put more emphasis on prevention and keeping people out of emergency rooms. One of the panelists actually suggested that “we might need a single payer system,” but that was quickly attacked by the Spectrum CEO who said, “we can’t turn it over to the government. The country is not ready for a Clinton-style change. It doesn’t matter which candidate you support, we simply can not make an easy transition to such a system.” This was an interesting comment on two levels. First, the Clinton healthcare proposal of the 1990s was nothing near a single payer plan, since Clinton did not want to take on the HMOs. Second, the two major party candidates are not advocating any significant changes to the current business managed healthcare system. Only the Green Party candidate supports a serious structural change to the current healthcare system.

Several other questions focused on training and retaining health care professionals; so some of the conversation was focused on specific approaches that the healthcare entites take, which had little impact on policy. VanAndel compared the healthcare sector to the lumber barons of years ago. He said, “the infrastructure that is now being put in place will bring the economic growth we want. It is definitely defining the region.”

The last question posed to the group had to do with what they thought about the insurance industry and whether or not it needs to change. Some of the panelists had mildly critical comments about the health insurance industry, but Rick Breon with Spectrum simply said, “Insurance companies are just middle men who move money around.” Others said that instead of criticizing the insurance companies we need to promote healthier lifestyles and get people to take responsibility of their own health. Unfortunately, this kind of comment does not take into account the role that the foods systems work. If one looks at the role that junk food marketers play in targeting kids (http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education/junk-food/commercial-alert-responds-to-ftc-study-on-junk-food-marketing-to-kids) with their unhealthy products, it would shed light on external forces that contribute significantly to poor health in this country.

The luncheon talk featured Awmay co-founder Richard DeVos. DeVos was introduced by the head of the philanthropy department at GVSU, (http://www.gvsu.edu/jcp/) Dorothy Johnson. DeVos was asked to address the issue of leadership. He began by saying he didn’t think of himself as a leader, just someone who was trying to make a difference. Then DeVos discussed what he thought were characteristics of a good leader and used Michael Gorbachov as an example of someone who “had the courage to move from communism to capitalism.”

The number one thing, DeVos said, was for a leader to “set the tone, no matter where they are.” He then went on to slam Governor Granholm for not attending the summit. He also criticized the governor for “never acknowledging Amway as contributing positively to the state.” DeVos then went on to say that “growth will come from us, not from some outside business that will bring us jobs.” He also said that we have to get our teachers to start telling our students that starting and running businesses are an honorable thing.” He also felt that universities need to teach more students how to create businesses, since the jobs will come from those who live here. He only mentioned business leaders from Michigan, but not the role that workers played in Michigan’s history.

Next DeVos spoke about the importance of being a good communicator. At Amway, they hold employee meeting every month so that “employees would know what was going on.” Those who attend are rotated so that everyone would have an opportunity to speak, even though DeVos omitted the fact that workers at Amway do not have the right to organize. He said that workers who come to work for 13 weeks without missing a day, they get rewarded one day off. Amway doesn’t pay people on days they are sick, since “how could they know people were really sick.”

DeVos also said that leaders are also builders that find ways to make things better. “Leaders don’t sit around bitching all the time.” He then talked about the construction that Amway has done in downtown Grand Rapids. DeVos also acknowledged the medical and furniture companies in this town, particularly the creation of Spectrum. Lastly, DeVos said that leaders figure out how to “enrich the lives of others.” “You wouldn’t have Millennium Park without Peter Sechia… The young people in the community need to learn from these leaders… I learned from Bill Siedman when he went off to the Ford Administration who said that it is important to get involved in politics. So ever since I have been involved in politics, both Jay and I.” DeVos did not provide any details of that political involvement, which has been significant and is worth investigating.

The last part of the day consisted of a short video that featured Ford CEO William Ford and David Brandon, CEO of Domino’s Pizza on the importance East/West collaboration. William Ford summed up the importance of the statewide effort by saying “Michigan is open for business.” Once the video was shown the summit organizers facilitated an electronic voting process where participants voted on sever major policy issues, with the top five being the ones that will be sent to policy makers. The seven topics being voted on were Governance, Future of Michigan’s Work Force, Education, Healthcare, Attraction and Retention of Talent, and Manufacturing and Design for the Future.

The voting showed that the majority people were in favor of restructuring state government by eliminating term limits, making Michigan a “Right to Work” state, aligning Michigan’s educational curriculum to the needs of the business community, reducing healthcare costs, providing incentives for medical research and development, enhancing the state’s investment in a transportation system, and streamlining the state regulatory environment. Of these priorities, the two that received the highest percentage of votes were eliminating the Michigan Business tax and creating a “Right to Work” policy for the state.

It will be useful for readers to pay attention over the next several months to see what kind of impact this policy summit will have in Lansing. MediaMouse.org will try to keep you up to date as these policy proposals unfold.

Student of Color Enrollment Down at GVSU

Student of color enrollment at GVSU is down 30% in the first class admitted under the requirements of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2.

The Grand Rapids Press published an article today that cites recent numbers from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to show that freshman enrollment by students of color is down by 30%. The article cites various officials at GVSU–West Michigan’s largest four-year college–who charge that the decline is due to the 2006 passage of the anti-affirmative action ballot proposal known as Proposal 2. Under Proposal 2–which bans the used of racial preferences in admissions–GVSU had to eliminate its Bret Price Awards scholarships that gave four-year full-tuition scholarships to students of color who met strict academic requirements. According to the article, this year recruiters are able to offer only $3,000 a year to students coming from certain urban schools and are unable to directly target students of color for recruitment.

GRIID Class Offered again at The Bloom Collective

The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) is once again offering a class on the history of US foreign policy since World War II.

GRIID Class Offered again at The Bloom Collective

Once again, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) is offering a class on US foreign policy since World War II:

Making Sense of US Foreign Policy: A 6-week workshop

Do you want to make sense of what the US is doing globally? What motivates US policy in the occupation of Iraq, why does the US unconditionally support Israel, why is the US trying to overthrow the democratically elected government in Venezuela?

These questions and many more will be explored in a 6-week workshop with the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID). We will use Bill Blum’s book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, plus additional handouts, documentaries and online resources.

The workshop is designed to discuss US foreign policy since WWII, politically, economically and militarily. We will discuss issues such as US intervention, torture, sanctions, use of proxy forces, war crimes, trade policies, the US relationship to the United Nations and other international agencies like the IMF and World Bank. Included will be an investigation of how US media factors into what we know about US foreign policy.

Part of the 6-week workshop will also include discussion about how our understanding of US policy determines what kind of actions we take to resist those policies. We will discuss the difference between tactics and strategies and look at the importance of social movements for bringing about structural change.

* The class will meet Mondays from 7- 9pm beginning Sept. 15 at 1134 Wealthy SE, in the Bloom Collective space.

* The cost of the workshop is $25, which includes the cost of the book.

* Workshop is limited to 10 people, with a minimum of 4 participants.

For more information contact Jeff Smith jsmith@mediamouse.org or 459-8423.