Citizens Protest Cheney and the Bush Administration’s Policies at Cheney’s Fundraiser in Grand Rapids

On June 30, 2003, approximately 75 people came out to protest Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in town for a fundraiser for President Bush’s reelection campaign. His appearance in Grand Rapids was one of many recent fundraisers by both Cheney and Bush, who are hoping to earn between $170 and $200 million for their campaign. On nearly every stop of their fundraising tour, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been greeted by protestors – a good sign for those advocating “regime change” in the United States.

Photo of the Protests

GRAND RAPIDS — On June 30, 2003, approximately 75 people came out to protest Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in town for a fundraiser for President Bush’s reelection campaign. His appearance in Grand Rapids was one of many recent fundraisers by both Cheney and Bush, who are hoping to earn between $170 and $200 million for their campaign. On nearly every stop of their fundraising tour, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been greeted by protestors — a good sign for those advocating “regime change” in the United States.

In Grand Rapids, the protest was separately organized by two different groups and was attended by a variety of people who were not there on behalf of a specific group. The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change, who earlier this year organized a protest against President Bush when he appeared in Grand Rapids, organized focusing on three main points: the administration’s distortion of evidence pertaining to weapons of mass destruction, Cheney’s profiting from reconstruction contracts awarded as a result of the invasion of Iraq, and the need for regime change in the United States. Meanwhile, Fair Taxes for All brought out people to protest the exclusion of low-income families from the recent tax legislation signed by President Bush.

The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change pointed out the fact that Vice President Cheney has ties with Halliburton, a company that has made a significant amount of money of reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Cheney is a former CEO of Halliburton, and many protestors questioned the motivations behind Cheney endorsing the war in light of the “no-bid” contracts given to Halliburton and its subsidiary, Brown and Root. Halliburton continues to pay Cheney, paying him up to $1 million dollars in the last year in “deferred compensation.” The independent press has published numerous articles examining Cheney’s ties to reconstruction contracts, yet the mainstream press has neglected to cover the issue.

The protest was a typical rally, in that people held signs hoping that passing motorists would see them. The fundraiser was held in a suburban area along busy 4-lane thoroughfare, which meant that there was no pedestrian traffic and thus no ability to really educate people beyond what could fit on a sign. The signs accused Cheney of a number of things: being a war profiteer, a war criminal for the illegal war on Iraq (illegal by international law, and of questionable legality based on the United States’ own Constitution), using government policy exclusively for the benefit of the wealthy, and failing to help the millions without health care in the United States.

The police presence was relatively strong, and while a moderate amount of officers were present in the area in front of the Meijer Gardens, three vans containing additional “tactical squadrons” were kept on hand in order to prevent a demonstration like the one that occurred during the Bush visit in January, when 150 people marched through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids and blocking traffic. As has become the standard in Grand Rapids in the past six months, poorly disguised undercover officers and uniformed officers subjected protestors to video surveillance in case of “future crimes.”

As would be expected, the local corporate media’s coverage of the protest was awful — with many of the news organizations trying to characterize the crowd as “war protestors” or “Democrats” when in reality most of the protestors were calling for deeper and more complex changes in policy — changes that could not be readily reduced to sound bites. Such a reduction of issues down to a vulgar categorization is no doubt commonplace in the media, and serves as perfect reminder of why the independent press is so important.

Grand Rapids Critical Mass Celebrates its Third Anniversary

Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass bike ride celebrated its third anniversary in the streets of Grand Rapids on Friday, June 27th. Fifteen cyclists came out to celebrate bicycles as a means of pollution-free transportation, in addition to the three-year anniversary. Critical Mass is a monthly mass bike ride promoting bikes as a fun and healthy alternative to driving. Rides occur on the last Friday of every month in over 200 cities worldwide.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass bike ride celebrated its third anniversary in the streets of Grand Rapids on Friday, June 27th. Fifteen cyclists came out to celebrate bicycles as a means of pollution-free transportation, in addition to the three-year anniversary. Critical Mass is a monthly mass bike ride promoting bikes as a fun and healthy alternative to driving. Rides occur on the last Friday of every month in over 200 cities worldwide.

While Critical Mass has no “official” goal, it has been promoted in Grand Rapids as a way to foster community amongst cyclists, providing a monthly celebration of sorts in which cyclists can assert their rights and enjoy the safety of riding as part of a large group, while promoting bicycles as a viable means of transportation.

The first Critical Mass ride in Grand Rapids occurred in the mid-June of 2000, with the rides occurring regularly on the last Friday of every month since June 2000. The size of the ride varies dramatically, with as many as 50 cyclists participating in some of the larger rides (April of 2001 and September of 2002) and as few as ten cyclists in some of the smaller ones. This month the ride had no encounters with the Grand Rapids Police, and indeed the GRPD has ignored Critical Mass for the past three rides, a fact that participants welcome. The ride is supposed to be a fun experience for cyclists, and in the past encounters with the GRPD have dampened enthusiasm among participants.

Critical Mass is a leaderless event and relies largely on the efforts of individual participants for promotion. A local activist group, Media Mouse, maintains a website for Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass and sends out monthly email reminders about the ride, but does not have any type of leadership role. The website features flyers for interested participants to post around town and attach to bikes that they see parked around town, and for the most part, the ride is promoted through flyers and word-of-mouth.

The next ride will be on July 25th. Critical Mass meets at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids at 5:15pm and rides at approximately 5:30pm.

Local radio & hate speech? in Grand Rapids?

Jeff Smith

“You have made of radio a laughing stock to intelligence?.you have cut time into tiny segments called spots (more rightly stains) where with the occasional fine program is periodically smeared with impudent insistence to buy and try.”

Lee de Forest – inventor of the vacuum tube for radio – addressing the NAB in 1946<

If you have never done it, try doing a survey of local radio. Scan the FM & AM dial and you might be surprised to find that there isn’t a great deal of local news, diversity of music genres or political opinions. Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh on WOOD radio or one of the many Christian commentators on numerous local stations the radio landscape for freethinking people is pretty dismal.

This is in part due to the increasing consolidation of radio ownership that was propelled by the 1996 Tele-Communication. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently pushing further deregulation on media ownership, which may put more media in even fewer hands and limit the spectrum of opinions and types of music we hear. (See a study by the Future of Music Coalition) Clear Channel Radio, which owns over 1,200 radio stations nationally, owns 8 stations in GR alone – http://www.griid.org/mediademocracy-grandrapids.html.

This translates into less and less local information, and fewer and fewer local voices. Instead we are subjected to the likes of Michael Savage, who has a syndicated radio show that is run on roughly 300 stations nationwide. Savage’s show was recently cancelled on MSNBC, because on hate speech directed at Gays, Latinos and Jews. The national media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) spearheaded a campaign to get Savage off of MSNBC. Now FAIR is calling on people to get his hate speech off the air in local communities. Here’s a small dose of Michael savage:

“With the [Latino] population that has emerged, since they breed like rabbits, in many cases the whites will become a minority in their own nation… The white people don’t breed as often for whatever reason. I guess many homosexuals are involved. That is also part of the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race.”

(San Francisco Bay Guardian, 9/20/00).

Discussing student volunteers distributing food to the homeless in San Francisco, Savage declared that “the girls from Branson [school] can go in and maybe get raped… because they seem to like the excitement of it. There’s always the thrill and possibility they’ll be raped in a dumpster while giving out a turkey sandwich” (San Francisco Bay Guardian, 9/20/00).

Locally, Savage?s show can be heard on WOOD 1300 AM weekdays from 7-10pm. The Grand Rapids Press recently talked with WOOD Program Manager Phil Tower who said that they are running the show because “he had yet to hear of any organized campaign to persuade the station to remove the show.” Sounds like an invitation to me. You can contact WOOD Radio at http://woodradio.com/interact/, and send an e-mail to Program manager Phil Tower. You can also call the studio number 774-2424 and give it to them live. For more information on the national campaign go to http://www.fair.org/press-releases/savage-antisemitism.html.

Jeff Smith is the Director of GRIID, a local media watchdog ? www.griid.org. He actually gets paid to look at Tom Van Howe?s my hair and Juliet Dragos everyday. You can contact him at jsmith@grcmc.org

An Analysis of the Bush Tax Plan and Economic Inequality in Michigan

An examination of President Bush’s 2003 tax cut and current state of economic equality in the state of Michigan.

The 1990s was a decade of growing inequality in the United States,

with an increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of a small number

of people and a growing gap between the richest and poorest citizens. From

1995-2000, during the era of the great “stock market boom,” if one uses the

terminology of the mainstream media, the media reported that wealth was becoming

democratized and that everyone was making money in the stock market. However,

an assessment is a media myth with little validity, as economic numbers do

not support the claims about stock market wealth or those of greater monetary

equality. While inequality grew slower in the 1990s than in the 1980s, the

gap between the wealthiest Americans and the majority continued to grow.

1 From 1995-2000, the income of the top five percent of Americans

grew by approximately 3.5% while that of the bottom twenty percent grew by

1.7%.2 Such disparities are found across

all income levels, with those in the second twenty percent growing by just

over 2%, those in the third growing by 2%, the fourth by approximately 2.2%,

and those in the eighty-five to ninety-five percent range growing by approximately

2.5%.3 Incomes grew most significantly for those who already had the most money,

which is a trend that continues into the 2000s. From 2000-2001, while all

other brackets experienced declines, the wealth of the top five percent of

people grew by .4%.4 While .4% does not seem significant, in light of the decreases in income experienced by other

groups in the United States, it is a significant difference. During that period,

the bottom quintile’s income fell by 3.9%, the second by 2.3%, the third by

1.8%, the fourth by 1%, and those in the eighty-five to ninety-fifth percentile

by .7%.5

Michigan’s 9,938,444 citizens have experienced growing inequality consistent

with the national trend towards consolidation of wealth by a small minority.6

By the late 1990s, income of the wealthiest twenty percent of families was

9.2 times that of the poorest twenty percent, an increase from the late 1980s

when that number was at 8.9.7 While

some have tried to dismiss the numbers pointing to growing inequality as being

flawed, an examination of the arguments against rising inequality are rather

weak. One such argument states that different measurements lead to different

numbers, and that therefore the current statistics on inequality are flawed.

However, economists for the Economic Policy Institute

have found that no matter what measurement is used, inequality is growing.8 Another popular argument acknowledges

that there is inequality, but says it is “non-economic” and is caused by increased

taxes, however, this argument was also found to be lacking by the Economic

Policy Institute.9

Presumably, it is the aforementioned belief that leads to the

tax code changes such as those recently signed by President Bush in May of

2003. These “economic stimulus packages,” a term which is simply a euphemism

for “tax cuts for a small minority,” are passed under the premise that it

is the “tax burden” which causes both economic slowdowns and inequality, a

belief which ignores questions about the systemic nature of these problems,

failing to ask for example, if such levels of inequality are an inherent part

of an economic policy that benefits the wealthy and corporations to the detriment

of those outside of these groups. President Bush, arguing that the economy

has become stagnant, despite the fact that the economy has grown by small

amounts for seven of the last eight quarters, passed a tax package that primarily

benefits the wealthy.10 Just as the majority of people in

the United States and Michigan saw little benefit from economic expansion

of the 1990s, they will see little to no benefit from the recent tax package.

During the 1990s the mainstream media played a key role in creating

the myth that it was an economic “boom time” for everyone, despite the fact

that the economic data shows that this was clearly not the case. If recent

reporting is any indication, they will be playing a similar role in creating

the mythology that the Bush tax package benefits all Americans. CBS news boldly

proclaimed that “Most families will get a $400 check this summer for each

child to cover the increased tax credit, which went from $600 to $1,000 under

the law Mr. Bush signed Wednesday,” merely one example in what has been a

chorus of media reporting on the benefits of the “tax cut.”11 In

addition to the increase in the Child Tax Credit, which will go to families

with children under 17 making between $26,625 and $110,000, there was a reduction

and eventual elimination of taxes on dividends, elimination of the so-called

“Marriage Penalty,” and a reduction of taxes for those in the upper income

brackets. Perhaps one of the most interesting twists in the discussion of

the tax package is the fact that middle-income people will have the highest

tax burden because they do not quality for the targeted tax rates that go

to the poorest and wealthiest segments of the population.12

While the mainstream media has not undertaken a complete analysis

of the tax cut as a way of increasing inequality, they have looked at the

inherent inequality in the way the newly increased Child Tax Credit (from

$600 to $1,000) is awarded. This credit is one of the hallmarks of the Bush

plan, as it will send $400 checks to make up the difference to qualifying

families. The media has reported that families making over $110,000 will be

left out from the cut, and surprisingly, that those making between $10,500

and $26,625 will not receive this credit. By excluding families in the $10,500

to $26,625 range, 6.5 million families, with 12 million children, will not

receive the credit, despite the fact that they probably need the credit more

than anyone else, as income has been falling most rapidly for those in low

paying jobs.13 Credits for this income group were approved in the Senate version

of the bill, but dropped in the conference committee.14 According to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, “Low-income

families are treated differently because of the fact that they don’t pay income

taxes at the same rate that somebody not on the earned income tax credit does,”

and consequently, as far as the Republicans are concerned, they do not deserve

the credit.15 Republicans such as Senate Majority

Leader Bill Frist, who dismissed criticism of decision not to award the Child

Tax Credit low-income families as being “…the old, worn-out, tired, class

warfare issue,” have been forced to reexamine the credit, and there are bills

proposed which would extend the credit.16 Thus far, these proposals seek to

extend the credit both to minimum-wage families, as well as to more wealthy

Americans, raising the cut-off from $110,000 to $150,000.17 While

some Republicans, such as Tom Delay, argue that “…it’s a little difficult

to give tax relief to people that don’t pay income tax,” they are ignoring

the fact that giving credits to those not paying income taxes has historic

precedence.18 Such credits have

been awarded annually since 1975 with the Earned Income Credit, which provides

$32 billion in refunds to 19 million houses, while in 2001, a previous Bush

tax plan gave rebates to all people that paid taxes as a means to offset Social

Security and Medicare payments.19

Criticism in the mainstream media has been confined primarily

to the Child Tax Credit, but several independent organizations that monitor

tax policy have raised even more significant questions about who benefits

from the tax plan. According to Citizens for Tax Justice,

49% of taxpayers will receive a cut of $100 or less from the recent tax bill,

and for those 65.7 million people; the average reduction will be $19.20 Eight million taxpayers making under $75,000 will receive no cut

at all, a number that includes working people earning less than $30,000.21 United for a Fair Economy,

another non-profit organization, came to similar conclusions. Their examination

of the recent bill found that in 2003, the majority of Americans will receive

a cut of $0 to $100, while those making $1 million or more will receive a

$93,500 tax cut.22 According to their calculations,

over the next four years people in the lower 60% of wealth will get 8.6% of

the tax cuts, while the top 1% will receive 39% of the tax cuts.23 Here in Michigan,

2,184,000 million people, or 48% of all taxpayers, will receive a tax cut

of less than $100.24 Over

the next few years these numbers, with the exception of 2002 when “only” 46%

of the population will receive a tax cut of less than $100, get progressively

worse, with 72% in 2005 and 88% in 2006 receiving a benefit from $0 to $100.25

One of the major reasons that the wealthiest Americans benefit

the most from the recent tax bill is that a cornerstone of the package is

a reduction in, and elimination of, taxes on dividends. The reduction in dividend

taxes disproportionately benefits the wealthiest 1% of the population, as

they have the largest amount of assets and capital.26 Two-thirds of the benefit will go to the top 5% of wealthiest

Americans, with 25% of the benefit going to the top .2% of wealthiest people,

or those making more than $1 million dollars per year.27 The cut on dividends was able to pass, in part because of the

mythology of the 1990s — one in which the majority of Americans owned stocks

and benefited from the “bull market” of the late 1990s. However, such a belief

is clearly a media created myth, as only 48.2% of the population owns stocks

of any kind, a number which includes those owned indirectly in 401(k)’s, retirement

plans, and other such investments.28 Moreover,

an examination of those who benefited from stock market gains in the period

of 1989 to 1998, shows that it was the wealthiest households, with the top

one percent receiving 34.8% of gains, the next nine percent receiving 37.7%,

the next ten percent receiving 14.0%, and the bottom eighty percent receiving

only 13.6% of stock market gains.29

While the recent tax bill will increase inequality in the Michigan

and the rest of the United States, it is important to look at the context

into which the tax cut fits in order to completely understand it. This context

is one of steadily growing inequality over the past thirty years. In Michigan,

this inequality can be seen in the wages people are paid, as these wages have

fallen consistently during the past twenty years. The median, inflation-adjusted

wage for low-wage workers in 1999 (those in the 20th percentile)

were 6.9% lower than they were in 1979, while those for workers in the middle

were 9.8% lower than in 1979.30 When broken down in

terms of dollars, for workers in the twentieth percentile wages the median

wage in 1979 was $8.45 and $7.87 in 1999, mirroring the decline in the United

States from the median of $7.61 to $7.35 in 1999.31 For Median-wage workers, or those

in the fiftieth percentile, the median wage in Michigan in 1979 was $13.87

but had fallen to $12.51 in 1999, which exceed the national decrease from

$11.89 to $11.87.32 Because of this decline in wages, the percentage of jobs paying

poverty level wages has increased in Michigan. A poverty level wage is defined

as one paying less than $8.19 per hour, which is the wage required to lift

a family of four above the poverty line with full-time, full-year employment.33 In 1979 17.9% of jobs paid poverty

level wages, while in 1999 that number had grown to 22.9%, an increase that

exceeded the rate of the larger United States, which saw a growth from 23.7%

to 26.8%.34

Due to falling wages, government policies that favor the wealthy,

and cuts in social programs, among other factors, poverty rates are rising

in Michigan and the United States. From 2000 to 2001, the percentage of people

living in poverty grew from 11.3% in 2000 to 11.7% in 2001, for a total of

33 million people.35 Statistics from the 2000 Census reveal

that in 1999, 192,376 families, or 7.4% of those in Michigan were living below

the poverty line.36 The Economic Policy Institute

provides another marker to see how people in Michigan

are faring with their “Basic Family Budget Calculator,” a formula that calculates

how much a family with 1 to 3 children needs to earn in order to pay for basic

expenses such as housing, food, and transportation, and have additional money

leftover. 380,000 families live below the level they define as the minimum,

which is 20.2% of all families in Michigan, numbers that provide more evidence

of inequality.37

If only a small segment of the population is benefiting from

recent government policy, who else benefits? Corporations, many of whom have

CEOs who are among those benefiting from recent tax legislation, continue

to make massive profits despite the current economic situation and are consistently

given massive tax breaks. Their profits are such that in 2001 the average

factory worker was paid $26,764 while the average CEO was paid $11 million,

or 411 times what their average worker received.38 While

this fell from 2000 levels, when the average CEO made 531 times that of the

average factory worker, it remains an important way of demonstrating inequality.39 Not only do these

corporations continue to make enormous profits, they continue to receive major

tax breaks from the government. For example, Microsoft received $12 billion

in tax breaks from 1997 to 2002, paid no tax in 1999 despite profits of $12.3

billion, and only paid a tax of 1.8% on their profits of $21.4 billion from

2000-2002.40 Microsoft is not merely

an exception; rather it is indicative of the huge tax breaks given to corporations.

General Electric made $50.8 billion in profits from 1997-2002, yet they only

paid 11.5% in taxes, while Ford, with profits of $18.6 billion from 2000-2002,

paid only 5.7% in taxes.41 Even WorldCom, paid no taxes in two of the years from 1999 to

2002, despite having profits of $15.2 billion.42 While

these corporations receive massive tax cuts and make small segments of the

population millions of dollars, the majority of the population must make up

for the taxes not paid by corporations.

The level of inequality in the United States and Michigan has

risen in recent years, and the current tax plan will further the current level

of inequality. However, much of the current analysis of the recent tax plan

has failed to examine the plan as an agent of increasing inequality. While

there has been criticism of the Child Tax Credit and the way in which it was

awarded only to certain families, much of this criticism has failed to look

at the systemic nature of inequality in the United States. Given the level

of inequality, a “tax cut,” even if those who need it the most received it,

is unlikely to be able to overcome the current gaps in wealth. Based on the

statistics that exist for Michigan and the United States, it seems increasingly

likely that such disparities will need to be addressed by asking fundamental

question about the way in which government functions and who benefits from

its policies, and ultimately, major reforms need to be instituted.

1. Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and

John Schmit, The State of Working America 2000-2001, (Economic Policy

Institute, 2001), 34.

2. “Income Picture,” Economic Policy

Institute, online at http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_econindicators_income,

(accessed Sept. 24, 2002).

3. “Income Picture”

4. “Income Picture”

5. “Income Picture”

6. “Census 2000 Data for Michigan,” http://www.census.gov/census2000/states/mi.html,

(accessed June 02, 2003).

7. “Michigan at a Glance,” Economic

Policy Institute, online at http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/datazone_states_usmap_mi,

(accessed June 04, 2003).

8. Lawrence Mishel et al., State of

Working America 2000-2001, 34.

9. Lawrence Mishel et al., State of

Working America 2000-2001, 34.

10. Robert Freeman, “Bush’s Tax

Cuts: A Form of National Insanity,” CounterPunch, May 30, 2003, online

at http://www.counterpunch.org/freeman05302003.html

11. “No Truce in Tax Cut War,” http://cbsnews.cbs.com/stories/2003/05/30/politics/main556254.shtml,

(May 31, 2003).

12. Dana Milbank and Jonathan Weisman,

“Middle Class Tax Share Set to Rise: Studies Say Burden of Rich to Decline,”

Washington Post, June 04, 2003, online at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0604-07.htm

13. Derrick Z. Jackson, “A Tax Cut for

the Selfish,” Boston Globe, June 04, 2003, online at http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0604-09.htm

14. “No Truce in Tax Cut War,” http://cbsnews.cbs.com/stories/2003/05/30/politics/main556254.shtml,

(May 31, 2003).

15. “No Truce in Tax Cut War,” http://cbsnews.cbs.com/stories/2003/05/30/politics/main556254.shtml,

(May 31, 2003).

16. “Bush signs $350 billion tax-cut,” http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/05/28/bush.taxes.ap/index.html,

(May 28, 2003).

17. David Firestone, “DeLay Rebuffs Move

to Restore Lost Tax Credit,” New York Times, June 04, 2003, online

at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0604-06.htm

18. David Firestone, “DeLay Rebuffs Move

to Restore Lost Tax Credit,” New York Times, June 04, 2003, online

at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0604-06.htm

19. David Firestone, “DeLay Rebuffs Move

to Restore Lost Tax Credit,” New York Times, June 04, 2003, online

at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0604-06.htm

20. “Most Taxpayer Get Little Help from

Latest Bush Tax Plan,” Citizens for Tax Justice, May 30, 2003, online

at http://www.ctj.org/pdf/2003statecut.pdf

21. Derrick Z. Jackson, “A Tax Cut for

the Selfish,” Boston Globe, June 04, 2003, online at http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0604-09.htm

22. Chris Hartman, David Martin, and Ben

Robinson, “Bush Tax Cut Unfair, Won’t Help Economy,” United for a Fair

Economy, May 29, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/BushStimulus.html

23. Chris Hartman, David Martin, and Ben

Robinson, “Bush Tax Cut Unfair, Won’t Help Economy,” United for a Fair

Economy, May 29, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/BushStimulus.html

24. “Most Taxpayer Get Little Help from

Latest Bush Tax Plan,” Citizens for Tax Justice, May 30, 2003, online

at http://www.ctj.org/pdf/2003statecut.pdf

25. “Most Taxpayer Get Little Help from

Latest Bush Tax Plan,” Citizens for Tax Justice, May 30, 2003, online

at http://www.ctj.org/pdf/2003statecut.pdf

26. Dana Milbank and Jonathan Weisman,

“Middle Class Tax Share Set to Rise: Studies Say Burden of Rich to Decline,”

Washington Post, June 04, 2003, online at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0604-07.htm

27. Chris Hartman, David Martin, and Ben

Robinson, “Bush Tax Cut Unfair, Won’t Help Economy,” United for a Fair

Economy, May 29, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/BushStimulus.html

28. Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and

John Schmit, The State of Working America 2000-2001, (Economic Policy

Institute, 2001), 269.

29. “Economic Apartheid Data Center,” United

for a Fair Economy, accessed June 03, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/Economic_Apartheid_Data.html

30. “Michigan at a Glance,” Economic

Policy Institute, online at http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/datazone_states_usmap_mi,

(accessed  June 04, 2003).

31. “Michigan and the U.S.,” Economic

Policy Institute, accessed June 04, 2003, online at http://www.epinet.org/datazone/states/usmap/pdf/MI.pdf

32. “Michigan and the U.S.,” Economic

Policy Institute, accessed June 04, 2003, online at http://www.epinet.org/datazone/states/usmap/pdf/MI.pdf

33. “Michigan and the U.S.,” Economic

Policy Institute, accessed June 04, 2003, online at http://www.epinet.org/datazone/states/usmap/pdf/MI.pdf

34. “Michigan and the U.S.,” Economic

Policy Institute, accessed June 04, 2003, online at http://www.epinet.org/datazone/states/usmap/pdf/MI.pdf

35. “Income Picture,” Economic Policy

Institute, online at http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_econindicators_income,

(accessed Sept. 24, 2002).

36. “Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics

— Michigan, 2000 Census Statistics,” http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?ds_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U&geo_id=04000US26&qr_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U_DP3,

(accessed  June 02, 2003).

37. “Basic Family Budget Calculator – Grand

Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, MI,”http://www.epinet.org/cgioutput.cfm?template=epiuicalc.P4RGvg&title=Basic%20Family%20Budget%20Calculator,

(June 04, 2003).

38. “Economic Apartheid Data Center,” United

for a Fair Economy, accessed June 03, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/Economic_Apartheid_Data.html

39. “Economic Apartheid Data Center,” United

for a Fair Economy, accessed June 03, 2003, online at http://www.ufenet.org/research/Economic_Apartheid_Data.html

40. “Surge in Corporate Tax Welfare Drives

Corporate Tax Payments Down to Near Record Low,” Citizens for Tax Justice,

April 17, 2002, online at http://www.ctj.org/html/corp0402.htm

41. “Surge in Corporate Tax Welfare Drives

Corporate Tax Payments Down to Near Record Low,” Citizens for Tax Justice,

April 17, 2002, online at http://www.ctj.org/html/corp0402.htm

42. “Surge in Corporate Tax Welfare Drives

Corporate Tax Payments Down to Near Record Low,” Citizens for Tax Justice,

April 17, 2002, online at http://www.ctj.org/html/corp0402.htm

Nuns to Speak in Grand Rapids about their Recent Civil Resistance before Returning to Colorado for Sentencing

On June 8th, three Catholic nuns will speak in Grand Rapids about their plowshares action in October 2002 against nuclear weapons and their upcoming July 25th sentencing, which is expected to be five to eight years in Federal prison.

GRAND RAPIDS — Three catholic sisters, who belong to the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Grand Rapids, will be speaking on June 8th about their “symbolic disarmament” of a nuclear missile in Colorado in October 2002. The three, Sister Carol Gilbert, 55, Sister Ardeth Platte, 67, and Jackie Hudson, 68, are saying their goodbyes to friends and family as they prepare for their July 25th sentencing in Colorado, with a potential sentence of five to eight years in Federal prison.

The nuns felt compelled to act in order to bring attention to the 49 nuclear-armed Minutemen-3 missiles in Colorado, missiles that each have an explosive power of 300 kilotons or nearly 25 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. They acted both out of their religious faith, “…in the many names of God the Compassionate…to transform swords into plowshares” as well as what they see as an obligation under the principles of international law. Citing the 1945 Nuremberg Charter, they believe individuals are required to act against government policies that violate international law. During their recent trial, their attorney argued that the nuns’ actions were not only legal, but also morally imperative under the Nuremberg Principles.

photo of the action

Photo of the missile silo

On the morning of October 6, 2002, the three nuns cut through a fence and carrying four baby bottles filled with their own blood and a ball-ping hammer proceeded towards the N8 missile site near Greeley, Colorado. Once inside the restricted area, the three nuns, wearing hazmat suits with “Citizens Weapons Inspection Team” on the back began their “symbolic disarmament” of the missile. They poured the blood they were carrying into the shape of six crosses on the 20-ton missile lid and repeatedly hit the lid of the missile silo with a ball-ping hammer. Three panels of fencing were cut down to open the site for public inspection and the nuns were able to complete a liturgy and sing songs and hymns before Air Force personnel appeared.

The nuns are members of the Plowshares Movement, a worldwide disarmament group that was founded in 1980 by the late Philip Berrigan. Since 1980, over 150 people have participated in approximately 70 plowshares actions around the world. Like all Plowshares actions, this action was both symbolic and public; the three Sisters used hammers to symbolically disarm the weapons and their own blood to represent the deaths that can be caused by the weapons.

The nuns carried a statement with them that explained why they acted, highlighting both the fact that they were compelled to act by legal and moral imperatives and that they hoped their actions would bring the issue of nuclear weapons into public discussion. Naming themselves “Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II,” they came “…to Colorado to unmask the false religion and worship of national security” supposedly gained by nuclear weapons, and acting under the imperative of God, they seek “…to name things what they are, to unmask the lies, abuses, and racism hidden in the rhetoric of patriotism, security, and moral superiority.” They argue that the voice of God is one “…that proclaims world community, not domination of the world’s economy; peace, not planning for space warfare.”

The Sisters were arrested and charged with two felonies, interference with and obstruction of national defense and damage of more than $1,000 dollars to government property. The nuns spent nearly seven months in jail awaiting trial, as they refused to sign personal-recognizance bonds, as they would not agree to stay out of trouble during wartime. Their trial took place in the first week of April, in the midst of the war on Iraq. The nuns were convicted by a jury in a trial and as a result, could face up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, prosecutors are planning to ask for a five to eight year sentence, which according to the nuns’ lawyers, is one of the harshest penalties ever for a civil disobedience case.

The prosecution argues that the sentence is in part a result of their past crimes. The prosecution made it clear that this is meant to be a deterrent to those who may engage in similar actions, stating that “It is our hope that this prosecution and conviction serves as a deterrent not only to these defendants, but to others inclined to bypass peaceful and lawful means of protest to commit similar crimes.”

The nuns will be speaking on their Plowshares action at a free public event in Grand Rapids on Sunday, June 8th at 12:30pm. The event will be held at the Dominican Center of Marywood, located at 2025 E. Fulton St.

Report Back from the “Occupation is not Liberation Rally” in Grand Rapids

On May 31st, 30 people attended the first rally sponsored by the new anti-war coalition, the West Michigan Coalition for Justice & Peace. The theme of the rally was “occupation is not liberation.”

GRAND RAPIDS — Thirty people attended a rally Saturday at Fountain Street Church to say that “Occupation is Not Liberation!”

There were several speakers from the local Friends community, the Arab-American community, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Most of the speakers discussed future actions that people opposed to the occupation of Iraq can take, including a campaign to meet with local legislators as well as a campaign to encourage people to contact their legislators to highlight the talking points on the future of Iraq put together by the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change.

In addition, a new campaign was announced to work to get a resolution passed in Grand Rapids that states that Grand Rapids refuses to enforce the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. Should the Grand Rapids City Council adopt such a resolution, Grand Rapids would join three states and 118 cities, towns, and counties that have passed resolutions protecting civil liberties.

A number of mock “cluster bomblets” were also distributed to people at the rally. The “bomblets” were created to encourage discussion about what really makes a weapon a “weapon of mass destruction.” The following is a photograph of a “bomblet” and the text of the message written on each one:

People's Alliance Cluster Bomblet

WARNING!

You are holding a “cluster bomblet”

If this was real you would be dead or maimed right now, just like the hundreds of people in Afghanistan or Iraq that have picked these up.

A cluster bomb is made up of a large number of bomblets or submunitions, which are dispensed from a metal container and scattered over a wide area. These bomblets are about the size of the can you are holding and colored yellow, making them attractive to children. When they fail to explode as intended, they become indiscriminate killers, waiting to claim an innocent victim. Dud rates for cluster munitions are often in the 10% to 30% range meaning that cluster munitions strikes create the actual effect of a minefield. The U.S. military has used cluster munitions for over thirty years in places such as Laos, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and most recently Iraq. The U.S. and British forces have both acknowledged using cluster munitions in Iraq, dropping nearly 1,500 cluster bombs from the air as well as an undisclosed number launched by artillery.

For more information on Cluster Bombs:

Human Rights Watch

Mennonite Central Committee

This “Bomblet” was put together by the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change To learn more about us go to www.mediamouse.org.

In addition to the campaigns stated above, the West Michigan Coalition for Justice & Peace is in the process of planning future events.

Critical Mass Rides in Grand Rapids

Critical Mass Grand Rapids took to the streets despite a low turnout this month.

GRAND RAPIDS — Seven cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids as part of the monthly Critical Mass bike ride. Turnout at the rides has been quite low since October of last year, when approximately 40 cyclists took a major shopping street — 28th Street and held up traffic for miles while wearing large “No Blood for Oil” signs on their backs. In November 40 cyclists went to the Grand Rapids City Commissioners meeting to speak on the lack of bike lanes and other issues relating to cyclists, most of whom were regulars at Critical Mass, yet attendance has been low this year.

June 2003 will be the third anniversary of Critical Mass in Grand Rapids and we need ideas for promotion. Does Critical Mass in your city have large (or even decent) turnouts? How do you keep Critical Mass exciting? We would like to know how you promote your ride, please send us an email at info(at)mediamouse.org.

If you would like more information on the ride, we have an announcement email list that you can join by sending an blank email to cmassgr-subscribe(at)lists.riseup.net. There is also a discussion list if you would like to help with planning and promoting the ride. Send a blank email to cmassgr-discuss-subscribe(at)lists.riseup.net to subscribe.

The next ride will be on June 27th. We meet at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids at 5:15pm and ride at approximately 5:30pm.

Citizens Charge Representative Vern Ehlers with War Crimes

Local activists with the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change are continuing their campaign against Representative Vern Ehlers of the US 3rd Congressional District, vowing to hold him accountable for supporting violations of international law.

GRAND RAPIDS — Local activists with the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change are continuing their campaign against Representative Vern Ehlers of the US 3rd Congressional District, vowing to hold him accountable for supporting violations of international law.

On May 3rd, the group taped a mock trial titled The Trial of Vern Ehlers for broadcast on GRTV Cable Channel 25 in Grand Rapids.

Recently, the group completed a booklet titled The Trial of Vern Ehlers. The booklet contains the script from the mock trial, documentation of the statements within the trial, and a list of sources for those interested in additional information on violations of international law during the ongoing military actions in Iraq. The booklet, along with the original statement from people arrested on March 10th while attempting to enforce international law by arresting Representative Ehlers and broadcast times for the video production, are available online on a new section of the Media Mouse website, dedicated to collecting information about the ongoing campaign.

The activists arrested on March 10th are currently awaiting a jury trial in Grand Rapids.

Anti-war Activists Hold Rally and Leafleting Action in Grand Rapids

Anti-war activists continue to protest the invasion of Iraq with a rally and leafleting action in Grand Rapids.

After holding protests on Thursday and Friday, activists had another rally in downtown Grand Rapids at Veterans Park.

An estimated one hundred people attended the rally and most of the local media was there to report on the event as well. There were a few different speakers, who provided both analysis of current events and news from Iraq as well as sharing ways for people to get involved–explaining future events and meetings in Grand Rapids.

In continuing their waste of resources (see Grand Rapids: Police Deploy in Force, Monitor Meetings for more on recent police activities), the GRPD assigned many officers to the rally at Veterans Park, who were once again equipped with gas masks. There were an estimated 15 to 20 officers on the sides of the park with numerous unmarked police cars parked on the surrounding streets. The police, who have claimed in previous newscasts that they were the protests to protect anti-war activists from “pro-war” people, refused to intervene even when confrontations between activists and a lone pro-war person got increasingly tense. As has been the case at anti-war protests in Grand Rapids since January, they videotaped everyone in attendance.

After the rally, there was a march to the VanAndel Arena, where activists intended to distribute 1,000 flyers with information on the military actions in Iraq to the people who were at the arena attending the event. The GRPD made sure the march stayed on the sidewalk, and even with officers stopping the march at traffic lights, they still felt the need to drive cars along the side of the march.

Once the march made it the three or so blocks to the VanAndel, activists began distributing flyers, while others went to a WOOD TV 8 truck, the local NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids. After the protest at the Federal Building on Thursday, WOOD TV 8 only reported on the police, reporting the erroneous idea that the police were deployed in force to protect the city from anti-war demonstrators, completely ignoring the fact that protestors, not just police, gathered at the Federal Building. Activists were able to effectively disrupt the news taping, surrounding them with drums, refusing to remove signs from the shot despite the reporter’s “orders,” and chanting loudly. Many activists participating in this action considered the very fact that the WOOD TV reporters’ job was made difficult to be a victory, regardless of whether the footage was used.

As drumming, chanting, and leafleting protestors crowded the public sidewalk at the VanAndel, police and arena employees became increasingly upset and began operating without regard for the law. They setup barricades and refused to let protestors cross them, even though the space was clearly public, while simultaneously contradicting previous statements that demonstrators had the right to be on the sidewalk as long as they did not go up to the doors. The police also closed crosswalks to protestors, claiming that you had to have a ticket to the event to cross. The officers were clearly making up laws; some of them, including badge number 554, pushed people and confiscated banners that were left unattended—while police refused to allow people to file stolen property claims on the banners, stating that you had to know who stole the banner in order file a complaint. Within this context of nearly unbelievable restrictions on the right to assemble, it is not surprising that two activists were arrested for crossing the street.

Overall, the event was a success, as activists effectively demonstrated in the core of downtown where many people were, creating an almost carnival like atmosphere with passing cars honking, drums and chants echoing off the surrounding buildings, and leaflets being distributed to many in attendance.

Grand Rapids Police Deploy in Force, Monitor Meetings

In response to growing anti-war protests over the past two months, the Grand Rapids Police Department is increasing their presence at events and making attempts to monitor meetings.

As the military campaign against Iraq escalates, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is taking an aggressive approach to protests, showing up at all anti-war events with what many activists see as an excessive presence. Moreover, according to a news report aired on local NBC affiliate WOOD TV, the GRPD is making an effort to “know about events before hand”–intelligence which they are gaining by spying on activists and meetings.

A week and a half ago, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article in which they reported that the GRPD was preparing for anti-war demonstrations once the bombing started by increasing training–training which included observing other cities and learning how to handle “breakaway” protests and training to make mass arrests. In the past three days, local activists have seen this new “training” in action in the form of excessive police presence at events and the monitoring of meetings by the GRPD.

On March 20th, at an emergency anti-war rally at the Federal Building, the building was surrounded by police, and while there exact numbers were not counted, it was in the range of thirty to forty. All of the police present were deployed with gas masks and tear gas was on hand, in case the situation got out of control. In addition, numerous unmarked cars and regular cars circled the block. There were also at least three uniformed officers videotaping protestors. As was the case with the Bush demonstration, there were also undercover police deployed within the crowd. Along with the numerous police on hand at the Federal Building, there were also an estimated 30 officers on standby on the other side of downtown, all of whom were also equipped with gas masks. In addition, a small rally at Grand Valley State University’s campus was monitored by three to four police cars that continually drove around the block.

After a direct action planning meeting on the night of the 20th, a meeting that was infiltrated by police, local activists planned a funeral procession through the crosswalks of downtown Grand Rapids for the 21st at 4:30. Due to the infiltration of the meeting, activists were greeted by approximately 25 police at the intersection at which they intended to commence the action. Once again, the police were deployed with gas masks and tear gas was on hand. The number of police was completely excessive, as there were only about 15 people participating in the action. The GRPD made it quite clear that they were looking to arrest anyone who made even the slightest violation of the law. When activists changed it up a bit by moving to different intersections, five officers followed them on foot while others drove by the procession in their cars.

Despite the increased police presence and the efforts designed to intimidate anti-war activists, numerous events continue to be planned. Local activists say that they are not deterred by the fact that the GRPD is reassigning officers from their traditional patrols to cover protests and making efforts to monitor meetings.