DeVos Wages War On Public Education, But Meet His Brother In Law...
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 08:52:07 AM EST
Last March 31, 2006, I covered the Christian right's war on public education and a Department of Education commissioned study that revealed public schools, if anything, outperform their private school counterparts. But, does Amway fortune heir Dick Devos care, or does he view institutions of public education, that Jefferson saw as integral to American Democracy, as obstacles in the way of a long range scheme to undermine democracy ? In a 2002 Heritage Institute address Devos, a leader in the war on public education who wants Intelligent Design in schools, is associated with Christian Reconstructionist views, and has been a significant funder of the "Council On National Policy" and served as the CNP's president in the late 1980's, outlined a "stealth strategy" for eliminating public schools. If DeVos succeeds in his jihad against public schools and American Democracy, maybe his brother-in-law Erik Prince, who owns Blackwater USA, the subject of a new expose by Jeremy Scahill and possibly the most powerful private mercenary army in the world, could help out with the ensuing anarchy... for a price, of course. (See Nation article on Blackwater, or full story for video with Jeremy Scahill )
As Talk To Action contributor Dr. Bruce Prescott, who has written extensively about the war on public education observes, in "Our Late, Great Public Schools:

"Thomas Jefferson was convinced that democracy depended on a well-educated citizenry and he was right.  Our nation's founders rejected the rule of divinely ordained aristocratic elites.  We were to be governed by the common consent of the people.  That meant every citizen would need an education."

Exactly, Dick DeVos might respond, exactly.....

Dick DeVos, who was roundly beaten in his 2006 bid for the Michigan governorship, has sunk a small fortune into school privatization in the Wisconsin area. But Devos, as Talk To Action Co-Founder Frederick Clarkson describes,  is also a key long term strategic funder who "has invested tens of millions of dollars in building the organizations of the religious right and the wider conservative movement" (Media Transparency provides some provides numbers).

One of DeVos' pet concerns is school privatization ( AKA destruction of public education ) and Mr. DeVos has been recognized as one of the national leaders in the "school choice" movement promoting charter schools, and All Children Matter", funded by DeVos and members of the Walton family (of the Walmart fortune ) promotes charter schools, probably as a strategic wedge that will help to pave the way for voucher systems.

Although Walton family contributions to "All Children Matter" top contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, Devos' ledearship in the Christian right's battle against public schools has been key -- as the following story from a Michigan-based pro-charter schools organization testifies

"All Children Matter is the most recent example of DeVos' pro-voucher activities. The group is funded not only by the DeVoses, but even more significantly by Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who died in a plane crash last year. Walton gave All Children Matter $3.2 million. His younger brother, Jim Walton, gave more than $3 million.

The organization fits within a strategy DeVos laid out in a speech four years ago to the conservative Heritage Foundation. In the speech, DeVos argued for a state-by-state fight for vouchers and other challenges to traditional public schools.

Housed in offices nestled between the DeVos Convention Center and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, All Children Matter has made itself a national political force by supporting lawmakers and organizations sympathetic to it cause.

The group is a model for other school choice advocacy groups, said Clint Bolick, president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, a national group trying to change education through vouchers and tax credits.

Bolick called the DeVoses "among a handful of giants in the education-reform movement."

"Their biggest contribution nationally has been the creation of All Children Matter, which really plugged a huge hole in the school choice movement by creating a political arm," Bolick said. "They have almost single-handedly made the school choice movement a significant factor in state legislative races around the country." "

Interestingly, the website of "All Children Matter" provides a key tool that could aid activists working to oppose the Devos/Walton funded agenda to destroy public education, considered by some to lay at the heart of historical American Democracy.  

The home page of the "All Children Matter" site features an interactive map that allows visitors, by clicking on any state in the Union, to view details of efforts within that state to undermine public schools  

As occasional Talk To Action contributor Russ Bellant details in his first installment of a four part talk To Action series on Dick DeVos ( Bellant's full series : 1, 2, 3, 4 ) , even Dick DeVos' charitable contributions for scholarships that go to poor students in the Michigan area in the end are primarily designed to degrade public schools, by removing the most talented students, and build up a constituency, of advocates for school voucher programs, to be  eventually mobilized as an active political force:

DeVos says he is for educational opportunity for all, providing substantial funding for scholarship programs that are intended to transfer talented youth from public schools to more conservative private schools.

These type of state and national scholarship programs are directly funded and/or controlled by DeVos, WalMart leaders and several right wing financiers to intentionally create a broader constituency for vouchers. Once vouchers are in place, the DeVoses of the world believe that public education will be significantly reduced. Vouchers, however, have been defeated during public referenda by approximately a 2 to 1 margin all over the U.S. because the public does not want to transfer tax dollars to schools without elected boards or public accountability. These scholarship programs are designed, over the years, to change those results.

The DeVos - supported Heritage Foundation did not claim that the goal of these programs was to help poor folk. Instead Heritage wrote that the goals were political: "The privately funded voucher movement is building a powerful constituency for school choice." They also noted that the "children's parents have names, addresses and phone numbers. They are waiting to be mobilized as a pressure group." The pressure would be applied to "break up" public education and changes that "could take the form of publicly funded vouchers, of tax credits, of a vast expansion of charter schools."

Bellant, perhaps the leading expert on Dick DeVos' political designs for public education in America and for the US as a whole, made the following predictions as to what citizens in Michigan could expect were DeVos to succeed in his 2006 Michigan gubenatorial bid :

# Push for more charter schools

# Find ways of using state resources to assist private schools

# Make it more difficult for public schools to maintain financial solvency

# Support legislation that would weaken affirmative action

# Support so-called right to work legislation to weaken Unions

# Place barriers before Unions regarding political donations

# Privatize more state government functions and eliminate other functions

# Advocate denial of benefits for same sex partners if they are public sector workers

# Placement of Right wing social issues in the school curriculum, such as creationism, in order to get public schools to start teaching some religious themes.

# Support another voucher campaign initiated from a GOP controlled legislature, using the Detroit school crisis as a pretext

# Cut taxes in such a way as to primarily benefit the highest income strata

# Cut programs because tax cuts reduced revenues

# Reduce wages and benefits for public employees

# Reduce wages and benefits for school teachers and non-instructional staff

# Big cuts to revenue sharing to cities or tie it to municipal privatization schemes

# Efforts to strip Detroit of its assets, including the Detroit Water and

Sewerage Department

# Take over and/or restructure the Detroit schools to undermine the authority of Detroit voters. At the time of the takeover of the Detroit schools, DeVos called it a "failed' district, when in fact the Detroit student scores were in the mid-range of districts across the state and it had a $97 million surplus. It was the takeover that looted and damaged the district.

# Start campaigning for President

It is unlikely DeVos' agenda has changed much since then.

As Russ Bellant describes, in his second Talk To Action installment on DeVos, the AmWay heir is part of a movement dedicated not only to doing away with public education but even with American Democracy itself

The thrust of the so-called religious leaders of the CNP is toward a movement called Christian Reconstructionism, which claims that our contemporary society is "unBiblical" and should be ruled by theocratic church authority. Also known as Dominionists, these proponents assert that democracy is "heretical," as are the issues of working people and organized labor; civil rights and social justice issues, as well as empowerment of the disenfranchised. They would replace the Constitution with a form of rule based on Old Testament law. As extreme and bizarre as that sounds, many powerful, politicized religious broadcasters are secretly part of this movement and coordinate political action with others through the CNP. Among those associated with this movement is D. James Kennedy, whose generous funding from the DeVos family allows him to deliver scathing lectures against the gays and lesbians, against civil liberties and for "reclaiming America" to a rightwing version of godliness.

This is the most influential coalition that Dick DeVos is part of. He came in through his father, who is a governor of the CNP. His late father-in-law, Edgar Prince, was the single largest donor to the Council. DeVos Jr.'s foundation also has given the CNP at least $28,000....

Why does DeVos and his network value being in a conspiratorial organization with so many persons with extreme political agendas? More disturbing is the question is how such a network could operate in secret with such radical goals and yet maintain ties to the White House and Congress, all without accountability. This is the closest thing we have to the leadership core of a fascist political movement and the world is silent. [emphasis added]

Indeed, Bellant's words were especially prescient in light of a new book by Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, that details the explosive growth of Blackwater USA, a company barely over a decade old that now is, according to Scahill:

the most powerful mercenary firm in the world. It [Blackwater] has 20,000 soldiers on the ready, the world's largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships. It's become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration's so-called global war on terror. And it's headed by a very rightwing Christian activist, ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family was one of the major bankrollers of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s. He, himself, is a significant funder of President Bush and his allies. [ source : Democracy Now ! interview referenced below ]

company Scahill describes as the "Praetorian Guard In The War On Terror". In a recent Democracy Now ! interview with Amy Goodman, Schahill summed it up:

It was Amway and Dick DeVos in the 1990s, and it was Edgar Prince and his network -- Erik Prince's father -- that really created James Dobson, Focus on the Family -- they gave them the seed money to start it -- Gary Bauer, who was one of the original signers to the Project for a New American Century, a major anti-choice leader in this country, former presidential candidate, founder of the Family Research Council. He credits Edgar Prince, Erik's father, with giving him the money to start the Family Research Council. We're talking about people who were at the forefront of the rightwing Christian revolution in this country that really is gaining steam, despite recent electoral defeats.

And what's really frightening is that you have a man in Erik Prince, who is a neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given over a half a billion dollars in federal contracts, and that's not to mention his black contracts, his secret contracts, his contracts with foreign friendly governments like Jordan. This is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been given, essentially, allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against secularists and Muslims and others, and has really been brought into the fold. He refers to Blackwater as the sort of FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves. And it embodies everything that President Eisenhower prophesied would happen with the rise of an unchecked military-industrial complex. You have it all in Blackwater.

Commenting on Scahill's book, Former New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief and veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges, author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning [link to article derived from Hedges' book] and The Christian Right and The Rise Of American Fascism gives the following dire assessment on possible uses for  Blackwater's private army:

Should our nation enter a period of instability following another terrorist attack on American soil, an economic collapse or a series of environmental disasters the tyranny that groups such as Blackwater impose on others could become the tyranny they impose on us. The rise of this unchecked mercenary force, as Scahill understands, could presage the final stage in the collapse of American democracy."
Here's Jeremy Scahill, summarizing the theme of his new book:

... is where Dick DeVos was recently beaten in his bid to become governor. He was beaten by Jennifer Granholm, who is still battling the majority House Republicans over their proposed cuts in education funding... again. Anything but raise taxes!

by downstreamer on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 11:22:34 AM EST
I thought I had made that correction last night....

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 11:53:33 AM EST

would welcome DeVos as a philospher-king.

Via Molly Ivins, presenting for your consideration ... Rep. Debbie Riddle.

We are currently saddled with a right-wing ideologue sugar daddy, James Leininger out of San Antonio, who gives immense campaign contributions and wants school vouchers, abstinence education and the like in return. The result is a crew of breathtakingly right-wing legislators. This session, Representative Debbie Riddle of Houston said during a hearing, "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell."

Riddle's a real peach -- so big-R Republican that she still has Nancy Reagan hair.

by moiv on Wed Mar 28, 2007 at 01:08:23 AM EST

My family lived in Texas from 1976 to 2000 and I lived there from 1976 to 1987. I remember back in the late 1980s reading in the Dallas Morning News about a woman who had left the Texas Republican Party because it had been taken over then by the religious right. Kevin Phillips notes in his book American Theocracy that the process of religious right activity has helped to create what he calls the "first religious party in the history of the United States."

by khughes1963 on Wed Mar 28, 2007 at 07:06:52 AM EST
Who contributed a good deal early on in this blog wrote a great series, for Talk To Action, on the takeover of the GOP that started in Texas.

Frederick Clarkson wrote in the takeover while it was underway. Few others journalists did  - Joe Conason noticed and covered it too though.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Mar 28, 2007 at 08:43:15 PM EST

. . . is that the word that comes to anyone else's mind when hearing about Blackwater . . .?
Lenny Flank Author, "Deception by Design: The Intelligent Design Movement in America"
by Lenny Flank on Wed Mar 28, 2007 at 08:56:14 PM EST
I suppose there may be some parallels. Many differences too, but....

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Mar 29, 2007 at 03:23:48 PM EST

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