Our Right To Write

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (November 1997)

Underground newspapers are a perfectly legal way for students to express themselves, no matter what administrators might try to tell them. They serve the purpose of giving the students a voice where they can speak on any topic without the fear of being censored by a school official or giving out their identity. The First Amendment, or the right to freedom of speech, is the principal that protects student publications.

A supreme court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, stated that students do not lose the right to freedom of expression under the first amendment when they enter school. This decision has been applied to various cases regarding the distribution of literature at schools, upholding the rights of the students to distribute their literature. The only way schools can control the distribution is the time and place where it can be distributed, but they cannot ban it completely or censor content. The students must be allowed to distribute their literature at school.

Some principals will cite the clause in the Tinker decision, which states that literature can be barred from school if it’s distribution martially and substantially interferes with school activities. According to Sullivan v. Houston Independent School District, minor disruptions must be tolerated in order to accommodate the rights of students to express their views. The court stated that it is “their misconduct in the manner in which they distributed the paper, not the idea of a newspaper that should be stopped.” The American Civil Liberties Union also agrees that some disruptions in distributing the literature does not justify banning the literature. The school can make a rule that regulates the time, place, and manner of distribution. However, a rule that regulated the distribution so that the majority of students couldn’t get access to the newspaper would be unconstitutional.

Despite the fact that the school cannot censor a student newspaper, the newspaper is still required to follow the rules of any other newspaper. Rules regarding libel, copyright infringement, and invasion of privacy still apply. As with any publication, it is up to the student editors to decide what is appropriate and inappropriate.

Some people will ask why students don’t use the school newspaper to express their views, and there is a simple answer to that question. Newspapers paid for by the school or created using school supplies can be censored, to some extent. However, the school cannot censor publications made by the students with their own funds and supplies, since they are independently produced. It is much easier for a student to write a “controversial” article or an article criticizing the school if they don’t have to worry about their article being censored.

Underground newspapers are an important part of students’ First Amendment rights. It has been established in several different court cases over the past 28 years that students have the right to publish newspapers and distribute them at school. Students cannot be stopped because they present an unpopular viewpoint or criticism of the school; they are protected by the First Amendment.

Hey Faggot!!

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (November 1997)

I don’t know how many times I have walked down the halls and heard students saying something negative about homosexuals. Maybe I am missing something, but when did it become all right to insult someone based on their sexuality? It’s as bad as insulting people based on race or gender, which is considered socially unacceptable, yet the same people who complain about that do nothing about the problems with people who use homosexuality as an insult.

A perfect example of this is when a student asks another student, “What do you think of my new backpack?” To which the student ever so eloquently replies, “It’s gay.” Using a phrase such as “It’s black” to express your dislike of the backpack would have you labeled a bigot right away. Yet you can call it gay and nobody has a problem with it. Something is wrong with that situation. Just today I over heard some kid tell his friend, “My mom is gay, she made me pay for my own Tommy socks.” Using phrases like that makes you sound like an idiot, is it really that much harder to say, “my mom is dumb”?

A couple of days ago as I sat in the cafeteria I heard some kids arguing rather loudly about how one of the people in their social clique was “gay” because he wouldn’t share his pizza with them. While their word choice bothered me, I decided to mind my own business and stay out of their conversation. After carrying on their conversation for another minute, one of the students decided to come over to me and asked, “Doesn’t that kid look gay?”, pointing to his friend. So I decided to respond with, “Are you homophobic?” Once again he showed off his intelligence by replying, “Fuck you! Maybe you are his boyfriend.” While it is impossible to judge the school based on one student’s actions, I still couldn’t help but think to myself, “So this is tolerant City High?”

It amazes me how the students at City can be that intolerant, despite the fact that City is supposed to be a school for the gifted. Gifted people shouldn’t see homosexuality as such an evil that it’s only purpose is to provide a way to insult another student. When I applied to City I heard all about how tolerant the student body is, how it doesn’t have the discrimination problems based on race or sexuality that other schools do. How can anyone say this when people continue to talk about homosexuality this way? Do they even think about the fact that there are homosexual students at City? How do you think they feel when they hear people talk like this?

The students of City High should take it upon themselves to stop using homosexuality as a basis to insult people or show your disapproval of something. It doesn’t take that much effort to stop doing this or to tell your friends that it bothers you when they do it. The problem can be fixed easily and will go a long ways towards making City the tolerant school that everyone thinks it is.

City’s Horrible Image

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (November 1997)

When Mr. Slade addressed all of the classes at the beginning of the year, a big issue was City High’s image. He felt that City High’s image had been tarnished. Some problems he pointed out were students sitting in the halls, wearing hats, and listening to a walkman in the hall. All of these activities supposedly make City look bad, so he made everyone be confined to Cafeteria C during their free hours, where they could sit on the floor or listen to their headsets without being seen. Reluctantly students obeyed his wishes and the whole image thing was forgotten.

At least that is what everyone thought. On the 11th of Nov., Mr. Slade announced that students need to do a better job picking up their messes in the cafeteria because, “once again, this reflects poorly on the school’s image.” This came as no surprise to most several students, most of the people around me predicted that Mr. Slade would say that a dirty cafeteria reflected poorly on our image before he even mentioned it.

However, this article isn’t about Mr. Slade or our dirty cafeteria, which incidentally, is a problem that should be handled by the janitorial staff. This article is about City’s image. City has always been a school with a very good image. Most people know in Grand Rapids know that City is a school for the “gifted”, a school where the students are hard working and motivated.

City is still seen in a positive light by people in Grand Rapids. Every time I tell someone I go to City they are impressed. To them City brings up images of hard working, responsible students. I have never had a person say anything negative about City High. It seems that if sitting on the floors, listening to headsets, or any of these other activities were truly hurting City’s image I would have heard about it by now, as these activities have been going on for years. Not once have I had a person tell me, “City students are lazy, they all sit on the floor or listen to Walkmans at school.”

Maybe some students do sit on the floor and listen to walkmans, but does it really matter? Back when the students had blue mohawks or dressed like bums nobody tried to make them change. Their appearence certainly didn’t do anything positive for the school’s image. Until our test scores start slipping we shouldn’t be concerned with our image. As long as we maintain our position as the “best” students from an academic standpoint, we should be allowed special privileges. Even if that just means being able to listen to a walkman or sit in the halls with our friends.

Local Think Tank Invites Media Pundit

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (September 1997)

On October 20, for $7 you could have heard ABC’s 20/20 personality John Stossel speak on “Greed and Freedom.” Sponsored by the Acton Institute, Stossel was to speak about the evils of regulation and the “unnecessary level of fear that exists for the American consumer.”

Of course Stossel would say this, he works for ABC, which is owned by Disney, a company that makes its money off of the slave labor of mostly women in poor countries around the world. Stossel, who used to be a consumer advocate and activist-reporter has now become one of corporate America’s favorite pundits. According to Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon in their most recent book, Wizards of Media Oz, Stossel has been producing bogus shows on 20/20 like “Much Ado About Nothing?” where he questioned the bans on unsafe chemicals or “The Town That Loves Garbage” where he hailed landfills and belittled environmentalists who worked for conservation.

Stossel was such a hit with big business and ABC that he eventually began hosting hour-long specials. One entitled “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?” was a critique of the federal regulations aimed at the chemical industry. “Unknown to viewers, two of the three producers hired to work on Stossel’s special had resigned–because their research, including data that showed product safety regulation to be cost-effective, did not conform to Stossel’s preconceived beliefs (Wizards, pg. 20).”

Also according to Cohen and Solomon, Stossel gave a speech in 1994g to the “American Industrial Health Council” – a group that includes Du Pont, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and Squibb – telling the firms what they wanted to hear. Stossel claimed that the EPA and the FDA should be abolished. The Council paid Stossel $11,000 for the speech.

Increasingly there is less and less distinction between the “news” companies and those they are doing stories about. Stossel himself is quoted as saying “I have come to believe that markets are magical and are the best protectors of the consumer. It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market.”

The Sweetened Version of a Modern Day Crusader

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (September 1997)

On Saturday, October 18, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page of the “Religion” section article on Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright’s recent talk in town. Press writer Joane Sher tells us that Bright was hosted at Calvary Chruch, the mega-church located just off the East Beltline with a seating capacity greater than DeVos Hall.

The article quotes Bright frequently on the importance of women being witnesses, sort of a compliment to the growing men’s movement known as the Promise Keepers. The article also gives us quote a bit of background on both Vonette and her husband Bill, how they met and co-founded the Campus Crusade for Christ movement in the early 1950g’s. Interestingly, nothing much is said about what Campus Crusade has done, nor what its mission is.

Founded on the campus of UCLA in 1951g, Bill Bright’s goal was always to promote an ultra-conservative Christian worldview. To counter the anti-war movements on campuses in the 1960g’s, bright organized the Christian World Liberation Front. The group eventually split off to become what was known as the “Jesus Movement.”

In the 1970g’s, Bright went worldwide with a huge crusade in South Korea called “Explo 74.” The crusade was endorsed by South Korean leader Park Chung Kee who was notorious for being repressive. The site of Bright’s headquarters for the South Korean campaign was located on a spot that was donated by the government, which was the scene of a bloody battle between Park’s military and squatters in 1968g.

In 1973g, Bright co-founded Third Century Publishers, a conservative evangelical publishing house to promote a right-wing economic agenda and a neo-theocracy approach to government. Amway co-founder Rich DeVos was also involved with the project. In 1987g, Bright was personally invited by President Reagan to be a part of a dinner meeting with Salvadoran President Duarte and his military brass. Bright attended and there was no mention of his challenging Duarte for his bloody campaign against the Salvadoran people, nor Reagan’s military and financial support of the bloodbath.

These are only a few omissions from the Press article on an ultra-conservative movement leader while in town. This should not surprise us in a religious political atmosphere that praises the Promise Keepers and demonizes women who question their agenda. (Some of the info in this article comes from Sara Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare)

Labor History in Grand Rapids, Part I

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

In 1900 Grand Rapids was a bustling river town, not fully settled, but no longer frontier. The red light district was located in the river valley while the mansions of the wealthy overlooked the city from Heritage Hill.

Only seventeen years earlier, the last great log run swept away the railroad bridge near Ann Street. Crowds gathered along the banks of the Grand River to watch as thousands of white pine logs created a jam seven miles long and thirty feet deep. Perhaps this is why so many furniture factories started in the “valley city” — cheap wood, cheap water power, and cheap labor. Scattered along the river and throughout the city were 85 furniture and woodworking factories. Berkey and Gay, Widdicomb, American School Furniture Co. (American Seating), Sligh, Stickley Bros. and others were just then making this medium size city of 87,576 the furniture capital of the United States, a title it held until the Great Depression.

It was this cheap labor that bothered Thomas Kidd, secretary of the newly formed Amalgamated Wood Workers International Union (est. 1895). Low Grand Rapids wages were depressing the earnings of his members.

If the union was to grow, Grand Rapids workers needed to be brought into the fold. Kidd made numerous speaking trips to the city passionately and eloquently presenting his case to the English, Irish, German, Dutch, Polish, and Lithuanian finishers, rubbers, cabinet makers, sanders, and machine hands who compromised the 7,000 workers of Furniture City, USA.

“The most foolish and silly thing the working men have done of late years is to allow themselves to be kept divided by the religious question. Who ever heard of a corporation, a trust, or a combination of any kind, of capitalists allowing any question foreign to the objects for which they are organized to enter into their consideration at all? Everything likely to create discord is wisely cast aside, and all keep their eye on the main thing — the dollar. That is what they are after.”

“All the institutions of the country are used against us, even our chump of a president, Grover Cleveland [enthusiastic applause] and our condition will never be improved with being a better Democrat or a better Republican. Is all this not enough without our quarreling over questions of faith and thus assisting the enemy to bind us still tighter? [Many of the Dutch were opposed to trade unions.] The working men of this country are gradually but surely getting behind those of other countries. I am a Scotsman and I never worked over eight hours per day, nor on Saturday afternoons until I cam to this progressive country.”

“The union label is the coming power, and it will do away with strikes. The wood workers have adopted a label and already a furniture manufacturer in Chicago is using it on all his furniture, and a Minneapolis manufacturer will at one begin using 22,000 labels a week, and there will be no more strikes there. Furniture without the label can easily be boycotted through the central bodies in other cities.”

“In comparison with other furniture localities, wages here are fairly good, but if the workers here remain unorganized it will only be a matter of time when the employers will have to cut you still lower in order to compete with furniture from other parts. Reason as you will, experience proves conclusively that you will never get better wages unless you organize. In Oshkosh and Marshfield, Wisconsin, wages were as low as five cents an hour before unions were organized in those places, and the men were working eight hours a day, forty cents a day! Just think of it. Do you want to come to that? If you do, continue to go it alone, each man for himself, and you will get it, just as sure as you live.”

Despite Kidd’s best efforts, Grand Rapids Local 46 and Spindle Carvers Local 84 never numbered more than 200 members. In March, the AWWIU held its national convention in Grand Rapids. If the workers would not come to the union, the union would come to them. As hosts, Local 46 and 84 hand made convention badges of “white maple veneer handsomely lettered and mounted.” Sixty-eight delegates attended the week long session.

Most were German immigrants with a few English, French, and Swedes thrown in. The constitution was amended and union policies debated. However, all was not work. Germans, being Germans, and definitely not following the temperance fashion of the times, attended a social session held for the delegates entertainment:

“When the social session opened at 9 p.m. the hall was crowded, over four hundred present. ‘Elk’s mil’ was the first order of business and after several trips of the white-aproned dispensers, the fun began.”

An invitation was sent by the delegates to the local furniture manufacturers inviting them to meet with the union’s officers to discuss the advantages of the union label. Sligh, Rettig & Sweet, and the Luce Company agreed to meet.

The appointed time came and went, but no furniture representatives.

Unwilling to was the evening, the AWWIU officers decided to take in a performance at the Powers Theater. And what should be playing but “Sappho,” a performance so risqué, with the actress who portrayed a Greek heroine baring her arms and feet, that it had been banned in New York City and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

However, this was not the only thing laid bare that night. It seems the lure of culture was too strong for even upright, respectable businessmen, for there, seated in the crowded theater, were the errant furniture barons.

Epilogue

Kidd never did organize the furniture workers of Grand Rapids, despite his charismatic appeal and unceasing efforts. It would take another organizer and another union to lead Grand Rapids furniture workers in the Great 1911 Furniture Strike.

Justice 2000 Plan Runs Up Against Mayor’s Arrogance

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

While testifying at a Grand Rapids City Commission bearing on billboards last year, i suggested that there may be conflicts of interest involved with the Mayor and one other Commission member. Before i could continue, Jobn Logie (Grand Rapids Mayor) interrupted to explain cos view of those possible conflicts of interest. Co counted that time as part of my allotted 3 minutes, and cut me off immediately at the end of that time. When i protested, saying that cos interruption shouldn’t count as part of my time, co said, falsely, that i bad asked a question, implying that it was reasonable to count the “answer” as part of my time.

At a recent Commission meeting i did ask a question: Why no response to the request several of us made in December that the City establish a “Grand Rapids Justice 2000 Plan”? The response to this direct question was … utter silence. When i said something like, “I’m asking a question, and would like a response”, Logie said that the Commission does not have to respond to anything during a public comment period. So i asked, “Then, how do i go about getting a response?” Logie’s response to that: “if we decide to respond, we’ll let you know.”

If you are concerned about this arrogance and lack of meaningful response on the part of elected City officials, you might contact the Mayor’s office to express that concern: Jobn Logie, 300 Monroe Av. NW, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503; phone: 456-3168.

Residents Ignored Again as Grand Pricks Committee Pushes to Convert Downtown G.R. Streets into a Racetrack!

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

Since as early as 1992 DeVos and two others have been talking about holding “Grand Prix” races in downtown Grand Rapids. These races are held elsewhere in the country, though generally not on city streets! They involve loud, souped up cars that race repeatedly around a track.

Why? Good question!

At any rate, as one might gather from the presence of a DeVos, even such a crazy idea as this is no mere fantasy. In fact, it has been taken seriously by several City officials. Until recently, it was being planned-for July 1997. Now it is tentatively set for August 1998g.

Such an event is said to attract business to the area. In the eyes of some, that seems sufficient to justify virtually anything. Corporate sponsors would cover a good deal of the cost, and it is anticipated that many people would actually pay to witness these cars racing around (apparently they do so in other places).

One of the major corporate sponsors is Exxon, of Alaska oil spill fame. Promoters don’t seem to care what reputation the sponsors bring, so long as they bring their money.

To set up for such a race, which would be held over a three-day weekend and cover a circuit about two miles long, streets must be “rotomilled” and repaved. Manhole (sic) covers would have to be welded shut. Blockades must be set up to protect spectators and others. The route is proposed to fall within DDA (Downtown Development Authority) boundaries “so the DDA can be used as a financial resource to assist in the payment the street improvements.” The DDA, dominated by rich White males who do not live downtown, or necessarily even in the City, has control over millions of tax dollars that are diverted from schools and general government.

A committee supporting this idea says total costs of over $2.5 million would involve essentially no cost to the City other than some staff time. That staff time, in some cases at $30-$50 an hour, has perhaps already been considerable, though no estimate is available on total staff time cost. In addition, there is apparently no contemplation of rental charges for use of downtown streets. Of more concern, citizens would be barred from use of those streets during most of the three-day period of the event. Apparently no cost has been assigned, or even figured, for that loss of use.

In discussing the idea initially, one might think that the committee pushing for this event would want to get-the reaction of Grand Rapids citizens generally, and especially of those who live and/or work downtown. Not so! In setting up initial meetings to pursue the idea, Craig Kinnear, director of the Downtown Management Board, invited presidents or directors of GVSU, the Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Action Committee (a group of rich people who are responsible for the Arena, among other “development” projects), other business and tourist promotion groups, and owners/ managers of various large businesses downtown. NO average citizens were invited, NO residents or representatives of resident groups were invited, NO neighborhood association representatives were invited, NO workers or representatives of worker groups were invited, NO students were invited. In short–business as usual.

When Craig was asked why the planning group was so limited, co responded that any plan needs final City approval, and that public input could occur at that time. Co touted the idea as “an opportunity to showcase Grand Rapids:’ Asked if co had any concern about using Grand Rapids streets to “showcase” such exploitative companies as Exxon, co said simply, “No.”

Cow Diseases and Mad Humans

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

Since late March the corporate media has been giving us “stories” about what the dead cow industry calls “Mad-cow” disease. From the very beginning only two issues have even been discussed; how does this effect the dead cow industry and will this disease harm humans. Certainly i am not unconcerned about human health and well being. but the media coverage to this point has laid the blame at the feet of cows. According to Jeremy Rifkin’s book Beyond Beef “Scientists suspect that Bovine spongeform encephalopathy (BSE also known as mad-cow disease), which is incurable, is caused by feeding cattle offal (butchered sheep parts) from sheep infected with scrapie.”(pg. 143) If we follow Rifkin’s position on this, the “mad-cow” disease has in effect been manufactured by the systematic breeding of cattle by humans for human consumption. This systematic breeding has produced all kinds of diseases and suffering for the animals that will eventually be killed for human consumption. But now that the disease could harm human, and more importantly, harm corporate profits the media has decided to make it an issue.

This “mad-cow” disease has struck Europe before. In 1986g it hit British herds and within 4 years had caused the death of 16,000 cattle. What BSE does is eat away at the cow’s brain, “causing it to become spongelike in appearance.” Nowhere have we seen in the corporate media any honest discussion of what pain and suffering this causes the cattle: This should be of no surprise since millions of animals are murdered daily for the sole purpose of human consumption and that is not really even viewed as a relevant topic for discussion.

On a local level these media sins of omission take on an added dimension of disgust. On Wednesday, March 20, a local group known as West Michigan for Animals organized a public gathering for National Meat-Qut day. This was in conjunction with actions taking place all across the country calling upon people to abstain from eating animal flesh. Some 30 people gathered outside of a McDonalds on Michigan Ave. to hold signs and pass out flyers.

The group was primarily made up of high school and college age folk who brought with them their energy and rage on behalf of non-human animals. The only corporate media coverage was that of Channel 8 and they provided no reporter only a camera person. They did run a short sound bite at l1:00pm, but did not take advantage of making any connection to the current “scare” surrounding the “~-cow” disease. The Gran4 Rapids Press is always whining about not .covering events unless there is some local connection. What better opportunity to McDonalds, that most sacred of places for fast food devotees. Certainly can not be, demonstrating in front of BIG business. Maybe it was because the participants were young and outwardly rebellious. Of course, if they had been youth engaged in denouncing abortion or making a pledge of abstinence from sex the media would surely have been there en masse. In the end it seems to me that the corporate media does not want to discuss or allow others to discuss cow or any other animal humans consume; because they refuse to discuss the horrific-suffering and carnage that is perpetrated by humans, mad and sane alike, against animals.

“With BSE there are two issues where agriculture is vulnerable to media scrutiny. These are the practice of feeding rendered ruminant products to ruminants and the risk to human health.

The mere perception that BSE might exist in the US could have devastating effects on our domestic markets for beef and dairy products… How the American public and foreign markets respond will depend on their confidence in the US Government and particularly in APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). The media will play a tremendous part in conveying this information to the public. Thus, our relations with the media will play a vital role in this issue.”

Debt, Deceit, and Death: How Vern Ehlers Misleads Citizens

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

At recent “town meetings” with 3rd Congressional District Rep Vern Ehlers, attendees received various information about the federal budget. That information (which continues to be passed out despite having become dated) includes a budget breakdown which is shown in a pie chart and a line graph that is supposed to indicate the “path to a balanced budget”.

The pie chart that constitutes graph 1 includes Social Security and other “trust funds” that are supposed to be collected and administered separately from general funds. By lumping those funds together, trust funds are made more vulnerable, and military spending is made to seem like a smaller portion of the overall budget. The government has lumped these funds together in this way since 1968, when Lyndon Johnson wanted to make spending for the USA war against Indochina appear to be less of a drain on funds than it really was.

In addition, interest on the debt seems to be understated. That interest is now over $300 billion annually. According to the War Resisters League, 80% of it, conservatively estimated, is the result of past military spending. When those facts are taken into account and separate trust funds are removed, the military proportion of spending jumps to about half

Vern Ehlers indicated that balancing the federal budget is very similar to balancing a family budget. When there is less Inoireyav3llable, then “tough choices” have to be made.

Getting to specifics, co noted that reductions in Social Security payments have been consistently opposed, though suggested that such things as raising the retirement age (which amounts to a reduction in payments) “may have to be considered”. As for military spending, which Vern’s chart labels “defense”, co said it has already been reduced by 20% and we can hardly reduce it more while expecting to be able to meet the Pentagon’s criteria of being able to wage two simultaneous wars at any given time.

Vern cited the present military activity in Bosnia as one example of why a continued high military budget is needed. It is as good an example as any. With consistent media reporting on how USA troops have reluctantly entered a violent situation in order to mediate peace, it is relatively easy to get away with such statements.

The real situation in Bosnia and elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, however, is that Western powers, led by the USA, worked for years to destabilize the economy there, and especially to crush worker-managed enterprises and social programs. Their success was primarily responsible for bringing existing social and ethnic conflicts to the point of war. USA-dominated international economic. institutions, as they have done in so many other parts of the world, ended up devastating the economy.

That restructuring continues to take’ place, as the sovereignty of former Yugoslavian states bas been stripped in order to allow international banks and other corporations a free band in plundering the area One writer calls such restructuring a “mirror” for what is increasingly taking place now in the USA and other industrialized countries (Michel Chossudovsky, in CAQ, Spring, 1996).

Thus a major reduction in military spending, contrary to the deceitful information that Vern Ehlers is propagating, is not just reasonable, but necessary if the world is to retain any real hope for peace. But that is not the only way the budget can be substantially reduced.

Another way is to raise sufficient revenue to cover the bills. Vern says that the “American” people oppose any further increase in taxes. That, again, is nonsense. There has long been considerable support, despite over a century of media propaganda, for a much more progressive tax structure.

Graph 4 incorporates military spending reductions with changes in the federal tax structure to make it considerably more progressive. It assumes, first, that taxes on individuals in the USA are structured so that no person earns more than 10 times what any full-time working person earns. .It follows recommendations along those lines made by labor writer Sam Pizzigati in cos 1992 book The Maximum Wage: A Common-Sense Prescription for Revitalizing America—by Taxing the Very Rich. Pizzigati’s plan would substantially raise taxes on the top one percent of incomes while reducing taxes for the other 99%. This would reverse the trend of the last two decades, in which the richest 1 % have more than doubled (perhaps tripled) their income, while the majority, despite a continually growing economy have seen their income reduced. At the same time it would add an additional $200 million or more (in current dollars) to federal revenues.

Pizzigati’s plan is incorporated not because it is the only way, or necessarily the best way, to reduce the deficit by making taxes more progressive, but because it is clearly spelled out and seems very reasonable, at least as a starting point. Some other progressive tax schemes on individual income would actually reduce the deficit even faster. For instance, changing the income tax rates to what they were at their highest point – at the end of World War II – would probably raise more money than Pizzigati’s plan. The highest tax bracket at that time was taxed at a rate of 94%, just 6% less than Pizzigati now suggests, while upper income brackets just below the highest bracket were taxed at considerably higher rates than in Pizzigati’s plan.

In addition, various corporate tax breaks can be removed. Yearly totals include S&L bailout costs ($25 billion), corporate deductions for mergers and takeovers ($20 billion), arid numerous other deductions for such things as expanding overseas (thus eliminating USA jobs) that collectively add another $50 billion or more.

Only current military spending is assumed to be reduced, to 10% of its present level. This would save over $250 billion yearly.

Given that military spending is so highly destructive, one may wonder why even 10% is retained. That is because some have argued credibly that, given the present state of the world, such an amount may be needed to actually protect the USA from attack. While some of us reject those arguments, it seems reasonable to bring military spending to that level first, then, as the rest of the world bas opportunity to stabilize, work at eliminating the rest.

At any rate, the combined total of the above savings -amounts to about $550 billion yearly.

Another major problem with Vern Ehlers’ presentation was the total failure to acknowledge the USA’s social/ economic debt to people in various exploited areas of the world. That this failure is common even among progressive-minded people in no way excuses it. Any talk of relieving the debt burden should not fail to include that debt.

As this debt is directly due to USA robbery of assets in those areas, it seems reasonable to tax a portion of that stolen wealth as a means of starting to repay the debt. A reasonable way to do this is to tax wealth concentrations over $1 million in two ways: first, a 2% yearly tax on that wealth, which would raise roughly $30 billion yearly, and second, a 100% lifetime gift tax on such estates, which would raise roughly $40 billion yearly:

The latter tax would have the added benefit of breaking up estates of wealthy families and eliminating the present gross unfairness of a relative few getting millions of dollars simply for being born into the right family while most people’s inheritance amounts to little or nothing.

Numerous people, from radical to ultra-conservative politically, have made suggestions along this line. Liberal/radical thinkers cite. the gross unfairness of the existing tax structure. Ultra-conservative thinkers cite the need to protect inequality. An example of the latter is Paul Fisher, who claims cos suggested wealth tax would be enough to eliminate th~ federal deficit all by itself, and who writes: “Such a tax on wealth is a reasonable charge for the service which the government should supply. No one can hold on to great wealth without the protection provided by the government through its laws, its courts; its police, its diplomats and military defense, and the other few necessary services which government should supply.” Unfortunately (but probably necessarily), such public honesty is rare on the “conservative” side of the political spectrum.

The total of those wealth taxes would be about $70 million, or approximately 1% of the USA’s GNP. Considering the incredible extent and depth of damage done to exploited peoples, this is clearly totally inadequate as a matter of justice. And, of course, no amount of money can makeup for most of the social damage already done.

But $70 billion is no small change, and could serve as a starting point for making such reparations as are possible. And making a commitment to begin those· reparations, even if insufficient at first, would bring the issues involved to the forefront rather than allow them to continue to be buried.

These suggestions are reflected in graph 4 which reflects not just the current year’s federal deficit, as does Vern’s graph, but the total federal debt (as defined by the federal government itself).

The solid line starting at the lower left, indicates the increase in the federal debt from 1980 to 1995. Note that, while it had been increasing up to 1980, after that year it increased at a sharply higher rate. In the 12 years during which Republicans held the Presidency, it increased from under $1 trillion to over $4 trillion.

The intention all along was not to balance the budget, as Reagan and Bush both claimed, but to undermine the social economic safety net that supports so many US Americans, just as has been done for decades in Third World countries with the aid of military coups, death squads, IMP restructuring, etc. David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director, admitted this long after co left that position: “the deficit was a deliberate creation of conservatives to cripple the public sector, making either redistribution or improvements in domestic programs almost impossible.

Now Vern Ehlers, another Republican, is suggesting we ba1ance the budget, as before, in large part on the backs of those in the USA who can least afford it Vern’s painful and unfair means of doing so (short line segments extending from 1995) would result in a leveling, but not a reduction, of the total federal debt by 2002. Obviously, that is better than allowing the present situation to continue (long line segments extending from 1995 and quickly reaching the top of the graph), which simply could not be maintained for too much longer.

For all Vern’s comparison of the federal budget to a family budget, the graph makes it clear 1bat co is not even sensibly using cos own analogy. In a family budget, if one incurs substantial debt, a reasonable person devises a plan not just to keep the debt from increasing, but to eventually eliminate it.

The solid line from 1997 to 2015 incorporates the above-mentioned strategies that Vern has failed to even consider in order to do just that. It should be noted that once progress is made in reducing the total debt, further progress becomes easier, because interest charges (which are now a substantial part of the deficit) are reduced. Though that interest goes mostly to those who are already wealthy, and therefore is hard to justify, i have assumed that it will, in fact, be paid off. It would be quite reasonable to restructure that debt, as bas been done for numerous Third World nations, cutting payments by, say, 50%, and thereby allowing reduction of the debt to zero even faster.

The short solid line at the upper right represents a reasonable guess that, if the USA/corporate debt to exploited peoples elsewhere in the world is attacked head-on as suggested, by the year 2050 we may actually be able to see our collective way to settling that debt. At present, and certainly for a long time to come even with such an effort, that debt will remain out of sight.

While it may be argued that such a rapid turnaround in federal indebtedness is politically unrealistic (i.e., the wealthy are too powerful to make it feasible), it is even more likely to be politically unrealistic as long as our elected representative to Congress fails to even raise· the relevant issues. And as long as the extreme inequality which fuels that debt is allowed to continue, it is also politically unrealistic for us to expect to retain any semblance of real democracy.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Empirical surveys by researcher Edward Mulier strongly bear this out,· indicating recently that democracy has always broken down in countries with the most extreme income inequality, while that has never happened in those countries with the most egalitarian income distribution.

The evidence cannot get much stronger than that, and the message cannot be much clearer.