Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Betsy DeVos - An Enemy to Public Education and LGBT Americans

Many of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer's cabinet nominees are more than a bit frightening.  Attorney General pick Jeff Session's has a racists history and was viewed as to extreme back when I lived in Alabama.  That, of course was before the Christofascists took over the Alabama Republican Party and merged a longing for segregation with a desire to impose a Christian version of Sharia law on that state.  Vladimir Putin loving Rex Tillerson is another frightening Trump pick. But in some ways perhaps the most disturbing is Betsy DeVos, a long time opponent of both the LGBT community - she has lavishly funded a who's who of anti-LGBT hate groups - and public education itself.  On the later issue, for years she has sought ways to shift public school funds from public schools to private school, many of which are right wing religious affiliated school.  Such schools provide a backdoor approach to re-segregating schools and a vehicle to provide extremist religious indoctrination to students. A length piece in the New York Times looks at this woman whose view of the poor makes Marie Antoinette's mythical statement "let them eat cake" look kind and soft hearted. Here are article highlights:
In announcing his intention to nominate Ms. DeVos, Mr. Trump described her as “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” Even critics characterized her as a dedicated, if misguided, activist for school reform. But that description understates both the breadth of Ms. DeVos’s political interests and the influence she wields as part of her powerful family. More than anyone else who has joined the incoming Trump administration, she represents the combination of wealth, free-market ideology and political hardball associated with a better-known family of billionaires: Charles and David Koch.
Like the Kochs, the DeVoses are generous supporters of think tanks that evangelize for unrestrained capitalism, like Michigan’s Acton Institute, and that rail against unions and back privatizing public services. . . .
DeVoses’ education activism, which favors alternatives to traditional public schools, appears to derive from the same free-market views that inform their suspicion of government. And perhaps more than other right-wing billionaires, the DeVoses couple their seeding of ideological causes with an aggressive brand of political spending. Half a dozen or more extended family members frequently coordinate contributions to maximize their impact.
In the 2016 cycle alone, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the family spent roughly $14 million on political contributions to state and national candidates, parties, PACs and super PACs.
All of this would make Ms. DeVos — whose confirmation hearing has been delayed until next week amid mounting pressure that her government ethics review be completed beforehand — very different from past education secretaries.
“She is the most emblematic kind of oligarchic figure you can put in a cabinet position,” said Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites. “What she and the Kochs have in common is the unbridled use of wealth power to achieve whatever political goals they have.”
Ms. DeVos, 59, grew up in Holland, Mich., the daughter of a conservative auto parts magnate who was an early funder of the Family Research Council [a certified anti-LGBT hate group], a conservative Christian group. When she married Dick DeVos in 1979, it was akin to a merger between two royal houses of western Michigan.
Her husband’s father, Richard Sr., co-founder of the multilevel marketing company Amway, was an active member of the Christian Reformed Church that preached a mix of social conservatism and self-reliance. He once told the church’s official magazine that Chicago’s poor dwelled in slums because that was “the way they choose to live,” according to a Washington Post story from the 1980s.
The flip side of the family’s proselytizing for capitalism, according to Professor Phillips-Fein, has been an effort to dismantle much “that would counterbalance the power of economic elites.”
While Dick and Betsy DeVos appear to practice a more tolerant form of Christianity than their parents — Ms. DeVos has spoken out against anti-gay bigotry — as recently as the early 2000s they funded some groups like Focus on the Family, a large ministry that helps set the political agenda for conservative evangelicals. They have also backed groups that promote conservative values to students and Christian education . . .
The family spent millions of dollars on a ballot proposal in 2000 asking if Michigan should legalize vouchers, in which students can use taxpayer money to attend private schools.
Many critics, like the education historian Diane Ravitch, argue that the point of vouchers is to destroy public education and teachers’ unions. The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State has documented how conservative Christians have long supported vouchers, which could fund religious schools.
[C]ritics see someone with an unmistakable agenda. “The signs are there that she will do something radical,” said Jack Jennings, a former general counsel for the House education committee. “Trump wouldn’t have appointed this woman for this position if he didn’t intend something radical.”

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