Elizabeth Warren grills Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, saying she’s unprepared to protect American tax-payers against the waste, fraud and abuse of higher ed swindlers like Trump

There’s a lot to discuss about DeVos’s performance during yesterday’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. There’s one part in particular, however, that I’d like to share. It’s an exchange between the billionaire anti-public education activist and Senator Elizabeth Warren on the subject of how, as Trump’s Secretary of Education, DeVos protect against waste, fraud and abuse. [Warren deftly ties in the fact that our President-elect, up until recently, operated a fake university that swindled Americans out of millions.] Here’s what Warren had to say about the exchange on Facebook last night, followed by video of the exchange.

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Also of note, in case you missed it, was the part of the hearing when Senator Bernie Sanders asked DeVos if she would you be sitting in front of their committee, being considered for this incredibly impertinent Cabinet position, had her family not donated millions to Republicans.

As I’ve said before, there are a lot of truly terrible nominees that are being considered right now, but this one is on us. DeVos is someone who we know, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure the rest of the nation knows the devastation she wrought in Michigan, and what she’s likely to do to public education across the United States if given the opportunity. So, if you haven’t already, please read my last post about DeVos, share it with everyone you know, and ask them to call their Senators, especially if they happen to sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and ask them to vote against DeVos, a far right religious zealot with a long track record of pushing initiatives that weaken public education and deliver poor outcomes for children.

Posted in Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

If all goes well, in a few days, I’ll be meeting a man whose father built the secret tunnels beneath Harry Bennett’s castle on the Huron River

Every now and again, as I’ve written about him a few times in the past, I get an odd call about infamous Ford enforcer Harry Bennett, who built a fortress not far from here in 1930 to protect him from his many enemies. Not too long ago, as you might recall, a man contacted me from Palm Springs, where Bennett retired about 50 years ago, wanting to share photos of paintings that he’d been given by the former head of Ford security as a kid. [Bennett had taken up painting in his retirement, and this man had grown up next door to him, helping him around his house.] And, just a few days ago, I was asked by a man if I’d like to talk with his 96 year old father about the secret tunnels that run beneath the estate off of Geddes that Bennett built in 1930. [The tunnels, as I understand it, were built years later, after Bennett escaped a failed murder attempt.] Apparently, from what I’m told, his father built the tunnels, and has stories that he’s ready to share. [Hopefully they involve the lions Bennett supposedly kept in the tunnels to thwart his potential assassins.] So tonight I’m doing research on the house, its tunnels, and the stories of labor organizers who may have met their end on the property, as I have no idea where this discussion may lead.

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For those of you who may never have heard of Bennett (seen above with Henry Ford), here’s something I posted a while back that should give you a pretty good idea of the man.

According to legend, Henry Ford hired Bennett, a former Navy man, after having seen him kick someone’s ass on the streets of New York. He was apparently just the kind of man that Henry wanted, a brutal enforcer who could take care of “problems” within Ford at a point in history when organized labor was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Bennett came to head Ford’s “Service” Department, which was essentially a private army within the company comprised of the most cruel hoodlums and ex-convicts that money could buy. The men of the Service Department, under Bennett’s direction, made sure that the plants kept running efficiently, no matter what the cost… Word is that Hitler’s Gestapo was modeled after the Ford Service Department, so that should give you some sense of what they were like.

Coincidentally, during this same time in Michigan, there arose a political organization known as the Black Legion. A splinter group of the KKK, the Black Legion was dedicated to stopping Communism in all of its forms, especially, it would seem, through the killing of men organizing workers in Ford plants… Following are two clips from a pamphlet published in 1936 titled The Black Legion Rides, which touch on some of the connections between Ford and the Legion.

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Interestingly, the Black Legion was known to have dumped bodies on a property near Pinkney owned by Ford… Even more interestingly, Ford and Bennett refused to cooperate when authorities asked for permission to drain the mill pond and search for additional bodies in the summer of 1936, after the body of a man was found on the property, and interviews led the police to think that there were others.

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And, here, for those of who who still want more, is a clip from the book The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War.

bennett2Henry Ford was relaxing in a New York hotel room one day when he met a man named Harry Bennett. He was a little figure — five-foot-seven, 145 pounds, with hard blue eyes, receding brown hair, and a bulldog jaw. The New York Times columnist Arthur Brisbane introduced the two. Bennett was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from where Henry lived. The twenty-four-year-old was just out of the navy, where he had served as a deep-sea diver and had boxed under the name “Sailor Reese.”

Henry took a liking to Bennett. The little man had sly eyes that were calculating and fearless and a picaresque past that made him sound like a character out of a gritty detective novel. Every scar on his face had a story. Harry Bennett had learned to brawl as a kid from his father. In fact, his father had been killed in a barroom fight.

“I could use a man like you at the Rouge,” Henry said. “Can you shoot?”

“Sure I can,” said Bennett.

The men at the Rouge were “a pretty tough lot,” Henry said. “I haven’t got any policemen out there.”

Soon after, Henry hurled Bennett into the iron jungle. “There may be a lot of people over there who want to fire you,” he told Bennett, “but don’t pay any attention to them. I’m the only one who can fire you. Remember, you’re working for me.”

Born in 1892, Bennett was a year older than Henry’s son Edsel. In his basement office in the Rouge, he kept a small desk, a fireplace, and a couch. He hung a picture of his daughter on the wall. Other than that, the office was spare. It had two doors, one in front of him controlled by a button under his desk, and another secret door behind him so that Henry could come and go without being noticed. Bennett hung a target in his office for .32 caliber target pistols. He and his boss Henry sat for hours firing away. According to Bennett, “Mr. Ford was a dead shot.”

Each morning Bennett dressed in a suit, his trademark bow tie (a hanging tie could be grabbed and used in a fight), a fedora, and a holster in which he packed a handgun at all times. He picked up Henry at his Fair Lane estate and took him to work. Whatever Henry needed done, Bennett was there for the doing. The fact that he couldn’t change the oil of an automobile stirred confusion among the ranks. When asked what his job was, Bennett answered, “I am Mr. Ford’s personal man.” And then: “If Mr. Ford told me to blacken out the sun tomorrow, I might have trouble fixing it. But you’d see a hundred thousand sons-of-bitches coming through the Rouge gates in the morning, all wearing dark glasses.”

Henry paid Bennett “peanuts for a salary,” according to the ex-navy man. But he had access to a safe full of cash for special expenses. He moved into a winged Gothic home owned by Henry on the Huron River in nearby Ypsilanti, where he threw wild parties and showed pornographic films with titles like “The Casting Director” and “A Stiff Game.” He called his home “The Castle.”

In the 1920s, Bennett began to amass a private security force called the Service Department — a group of ex-boxers and ballplayers, cons, bad cops kicked off the force, and characters from Detroit’s La Cosa Nostra, which during Prohibition ran a thriving booze trade, smuggling liquor over the Detroit River from Canada. Service Department men were noticeable for their size, rough language, and cauliflower ears, and for the fact that they hung around without doing any work.

“They’re a lot of tough bastards,” Bennett described his burgeoning Gestapo, “but every one of them is a goddamn gentleman”…

Harry Bennett found opportunity in the Depression. As head of personnel, Bennett ruled the Rouge. People were desperate for work. If a man wanted a job — well, then, maybe he’d have to do somebody a favor. Maybe he’d have to vote a certain way in an election. Maybe he would have to wax one of Harry Bennett’s yachts, if he didn’t want to get his teeth knocked out. By 1937, Bennett had succeeded in building the Service Department into what H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury magazine called “the most powerful private police force in the world.”

“There are about eight hundred underworld characters in the Ford Service Department,” labor leader Benjamin Stolberg said. “They are the Storm Troops. They make no pretense of working, but are merely ‘keeping order’ in the plant community through terror.”

Among the Service Men employed by Bennett: Norman Selby, an ex-pugilist who fought as “Kid McCoy,” married ten times, paroled to Bennett after serving twenty years for murdering his sweetheart. Joseph “Legs” Laman, admitted serial kidnapper, nicknamed for his ability to evade the law on foot. Joe Adonis, a mobster called by the New York Post “a gang punk” and “dope king.” Sicilian mob boss Chester LaMare, the “Al Capone of Detroit,” who controlled Detroit’s waterfront during Prohibition. Former journeyman pugilist Elmer “One Round” Hogan, Sicilian gangster Joe Tocco, Jack Dempsey’s former manager Leonard Saks…

Under constant intimidation by Bennett’s Service Men — the “Ford Terror” — workers at the Rouge suffered nervous breakdowns and an anxiety-induced ailment known as “the Ford stomach.” “I think it was just fear that caused this tension in the company,” recalled engineer Roscoe Smith. “A lot of people, when [Bennett’s men] came around and started taking them apart, just couldn’t take it. They couldn’t stand the pressure.”

Meanwhile, the speed of the assembly line increased…

So, wish me luck. If all goes well, I should have new stories later this week of what it was like to work for Bennett and dig his tunnels.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Corporate Crime, History, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Secretary of Education pick Betsy DeVos caught on tape, talking about defunding public education in order to “advance God’s kingdom”

With the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, set to begin tomorrow, the folks at Politico just released a 2001 recording in which the Amway billionaire explains that her work to defund public education has been done in order to “advance God’s kingdom.” Her comments, according to Politico, were made during an annual conference for wealthy Christians called “The Gathering.” During the session, DeVos and her husband Dick talk about why they invested so heavily in the unsuccessful 2000 ballot initiative which would have allowed public dollars to fund private and religious schools by way of a voucher system.

This tape, says Michigan Democratic candidate for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, “gets to the heart of why Betsy DeVos wants to dismantle our public schools.” Here, for those of you who might not trust Whitmer’s interpretation, is a clip from the recording in which DeVos’s husband Dick laments the fact that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of our communities, suggesting that, if we could just find a way to close them, we’d not only bring America back to God, but also decrease the number of godless public school teachers in our communities.

Is this tape likely to generate the same kind of outrage that the new audio of Warren Mayor Jim Fouts comparing black people to “chimps” and calling old women “dried-up cunts” is getting? Maybe not. But one hopes that maybe there are enough people out there who care passionately about the separation of church and state to make sure that this becomes a central part of tomorrow’s hearing, right along with those 41 questions of Elizabeth Warren’s, and the news that broke a few days ago about how DeVos had neglected to mention a $125,000 anti-union donation in the disclosure forms she filed with the Office of Government Ethics.

As I’ve said before, there are a lot of truly terrible nominees that are being considered right now, but this one is on us, Michigan. DeVos is someone who we know, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure the rest of the nation knows what she did to Michigan, and what she’s likely to do to public education across the United States if given the opportunity. So, if you haven’t already, please read my last post about DeVos, share it with everyone you know, and ask them to call their Senators, especially if they happen to sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and ask them to vote against DeVos. It’s strong public education that made this country great, and, if anything, we should be redoubling our efforts right now, in the face of so many global challenges, not retrenching. We should be building public schools, not putting programs in place to weaken them, especially when the evidence shows that those programs have failed so miserably in states like Michigan. If anything, we need smarter, more engaged young people right now, and unaccountable, privately-owened charter schools just aren’t giving us that. Yes, they may drive more people to religion out of desperation, as they wonder how they’ll keep their families fed, but is that what we want for our next generation?

Posted in Education, Politics, Religious Extremism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Ypsi High students mark MLK Day with silent peace march and art exhibit

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Both EMU and UM have great events lined up for Martin Luther King Day tomorrow. My family, however, will be spending the morning with Lynne Settles and her Ypsi High art students, who will be silently marching from Ypsilanti’s water tower, starting at 9:00 AM, to the building on Michigan Avenue where, 150 years ago, to the day, abolitionist, author and statesman Frederick Douglass delivered a speech titled “The Perils of the Republic.” And, in that building, at the intersection of North Washington and Michigan Avenue, the students will be sharing their most recent creative work, which includes a life-size sculpture of Douglass, that, I’m told, will be reciting “The Perils of the Republic” with their voices. Given the incredible and inspiring work that Lynne and her students have done in the past, I suspect it will be awesome… Following are images of Lynne’s students, building the sculpture of Douglass along with University of Michigan’s Mark Tucker.

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Here, by way of Facebook, is a little more detail from Settles about the “Our Voices Will Be Heard” silent peace march and art exhibit.

We have a voice that needs to be heard. We are THE future, It’s about the problems we are facing now. They are trying to divide us when we need to come together as ONE; to go forward instead of going back to the past, There have been protest all over the country. A different approach maybe? A peaceful march from us, the STUDENTS our actions will speak louder than any word. We will come together and march in SILENCE. We will march for our future, our future children and their lives, on MLK day this is also the 150th anniversary of Frederick Douglass speaking in Ypsilanti, our voices will be heard TODAY!

Leading our march will be Rhea McCauley the niece of Cvil Rights leader Rosa Parks. The march will start at the Ypsilanti Water Tower and conclude at the “Yes” Gallery, 8 North Washington St. in downtown Ypsilanti.

The gallery will host a YCHS student Art Exhibits “Our Voices Will Be Heard.”

In addition to having work at the Ypsilanti Experimental Space, the students will also be displaying photography at the new Go Ice Cream event space just a few doors down, on North Washington. Here’s a photo courtesy Nick Azzaro, the man behind the Ypsi High photo studio.

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If you don’t happen to live in the area, or just can’t make it out tomorrow, my hope is to be posting video in the next few days, thanks to Donald Harrison at 7 Cylinders Studio. And, not just that, but Lynne Settles, one of her Ypsi High students, and local historian Matt Siegfried will be joining me this weekend on episode 55 of the Saturday Six Pack, talking about the march, Frederick Douglass, and the importance of art in post-Trump America.

Posted in Art and Culture, Civil Liberties, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Helping Paul Anka rewrite “My Way” for Donald Trump’s inauguration

Well, the mystery is finally over. We now know who Trump finally got to perform at his “very elegant” inauguration gala. Word came out just a little while ago that Paul Anka would be performing the song My Way. While I’d like to make fun, I think it’s actually fitting to kick off the Trump administration with the lyric, “And now, the end is near.” So I’m not going to make light of the fact that Trump, having been turned down by everyone from Elton John to Kiss, had to go and get an elderly Canadian, who hasn’t even had a song on the charts for the past five decades, to perform for him. I did, however, want to share the following, as I heard that Anka would be rewriting some of the lyrics for the occasion. These are just my initial thoughts on a few improvements. I’m sure, working together, we can do even better. So please leave your comments.

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update: Well, that was fast. Anka now says he’s decided to back out of the gig in order to spend the day with his son. So I guess it’s back to the drawing board. Hopefully Tiffany Trump is ready for the call.

Posted in Art and Culture, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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