Friday, January 27, 2017

Choosing Democracy: Betsy DeVos and Blackwater

Choosing Democracy: Betsy DeVos and Blackwater:

Betsy DeVos and Blackwater

 By Marc Norton

 founder Erik Prince, who has been called “America’s most notorious mercenary” by author and journalist Jeremy Scahill, has emerged as an influential advisor to the incoming Donald Trump regime.

Prince is also the brother of Betsy DeVos, who is in the process of being confirmed as secretary of education — and an advocate for the privatization of public schools.

 The connection between these two reactionary political players is no secret, but is one of those barely-known facts that has remained mostly hidden in plain sight.  Despite significant press around the confirmation hearings for DeVos, the corporate media has not called the public’s attention to her relationship to Prince.  Plaudits go to the The Intercept for publishing an article on January 17 by Scahill about Prince's connection to Trump, and highlighting his connection to DeVos.

Prince’s biggest claim to infamy is as the founder of Blackwater, a private security firm that hired mercenaries to augment US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, among many other places.  Blackwater, now transformed into a company called Academi, had an intimate relationship with the CIA, and was regarded by many as one of the CIA’s go to organizations when it wanted to contract out its dirty work.  Blackwater got into hot water more than once, particularly in 2007 when some of its mercenaries gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians, including a 9-year old boy, in Baghdad.

Scahill reports that trusted sources tell him Prince has been giving Trump advice on his staff picks for the Defense Department and the State Department.  Nothing like having friends in high places if you want work.

Prince is close to another Trump advisor, the racist Steve Bannon.  Prince has often appeared on Bannon’s Breitbart Radio.  Last July, Prince told Bannon that a Trump administration could and should create a new version of the Phoenix Program, the CIA assassination program during the Vietnam War that “neutralized” tens of thousands of alleged Viet Cong leaders.  The new assassination program would presumably target “radical Islamic extremists,” and who knows who else.

DeVos, while not a public advocate of murder like her brother, has worked for decades in an effort to undermine and assassinate public education.  A billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, she is a prominent Republican donor and fund-raiser.  Her political efforts have centered around campaigns to give parents taxpayer-funded “vouchers” so they can pull their children out of the public education system and send them to private schools, including religious schools.  She has also campaigned to expand charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private companies.

She isn’t responsible for her brother, of course, but the two are closely linked politically, as described in a 2014 Mother Jones article — and there’s no sign anywhere that she has said she doesn’t approve of his actions.

DeVos hails from Michigan, where she is a political force to be reckoned with.  She has been credited with creating a network of charter schools in Michigan that are virtually unregulated, despite the abysmal test scores of their students.  Dick DeVos, Betsy’s husband, led and funded the successful campaign in 2012 that turned Michigan into a so-called “right to work” state, effectively outlawing the union shop.  That includes, of course, public schools.

DeVos was called the “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee” for the office of Secretary of Education ever by Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers. (See below)

The Erik Prince-Betsy DeVos connection adds another layer of concern to the prospect of DeVos running the Education Department.  It is becoming more clear every day that the Trump regime is a collection of the most reactionary set of scallywags ever assembled in Washington DC, which has seen its fair share of reactionaries.

Prince did his bit to get this latest bunch of scallywags into the White House, and to give the Education Department to his sister.  On November 4, just days before the election, Prince used Breitbart News to spread a fake story about the Anthony Weiner sex texting scandal, claiming that the New York Police Department investigation “found State Department emails.  They found a lot of other really damning criminal information, including money laundering, including the fact that Hillary went to this sex island with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.  Bill Clinton went there more than 20 times.  Hillary Clinton went there at least six times.”

Let’s hope that DeVos is not tempted to recruit her brother to run an assassination program against public high school principals.  Oops, I meant a “character” assassination program.

This article was first published by 48 Hills
Copyright © 2017 by Marc Norton
Marc Norton’s website is

What you can do. 

In her hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week, Betsy DeVos proved just how unqualified she is to serve as secretary of education. And in response, millions of you contacted your senators urging them to vote “no” on her confirmation. We have to keep up the pressure.

At the hearing, DeVos couldn’t answer basic questions, dodged controversial issues, and failed to say what she would do to support public schools and the kids who attend them. Her most ridiculous answer may have been that we should allow guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears (she really said that!), but her most frightening responses showed just how dangerously unqualified she is for the job.

Write a letter and tell your senators to vote NO on Betsy DeVos.
  • She refused to commit to the basic premise that all schools that receive public funding should be held to the same standards of accountability.
  • She didn’t understand the difference between student proficiency and student growth—showing she has no idea how to meaningfully assess student progress.
  • She showed she has no knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and didn’t even know it was a federal law.
  • She refused to answer when asked what she had learned from failures of the “choice” experiment in Detroit.
  • She refused to commit to enforcing rules that protect students from fraud and predatory behavior by for-profit universities.
It was clear from her testimony that DeVos doesn’t care about what helps kids. She repeated her belief in “choice”—which to DeVos means defunding traditional public schools to pay for private school vouchers and for-profit, unaccountable charters.

Since her Jan. 17 hearing, there has been an outpouring of opposition from the American people: Millions of parents and community members have joined educators in signing petitions, calling their senators, and writing emails and letters. In more than 200 cities and towns, tens of thousands came together Jan. 19 to defend our public schools and services as part of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools Day of Action. And hundreds of thousands across the country joined marches on Jan. 21 to protest President Trump and his agenda, including his nomination of DeVos. And it’s working. 

Thanks to all your efforts, the committee vote on DeVos was delayed a week to give senators more time to dig through her mountains of ethics paperwork. This gives us another week to contact our senators’ offices and tell them to oppose her confirmation.

Tell your senators to vote NO on dangerously unqualified Betsy DeVos.
Our public schools—which serve 90 percent of all our students—must be fully funded and given the resources and support they need to succeed. That includes promoting children’s well-being, especially in schools that serve kids who need extra support the most. It means ensuring kids have opportunities for engaging learning through project-based instruction and pathways like career and technical education, gifted learning programs and magnet programs. It means investing in our teaching force, so educators can reach their full potential and support student learning. And it means building cultures of collaboration between teachers and administrators, between schools and communities, so we’re all working together to lift up students.

Across the country, we are standing up to offer our vision, and to tell DeVos and Trump that we will not watch quietly while they undermine public education and vital services the American people depend on and believe in. But we have to keep the momentum we have going.

DeVos is the least qualified, most ideological nominee ever put forward to lead the Department of Education. She doesn’t believe in public education—as she has shown by spending millions of dollars to privatize schools in Michigan. The results of her policies have been disastrous for students and the schools they attend.

We must raise our voices loudly and clearly to defend our students and our schools. I hope you’ll join us by sending a letter to your senators today.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President 
P.S. Watch this video of a Detroit student telling members of Congress why Betsy DeVos should not be confirmed.