Questions Continue Over Disenfranchisement in Michigan Caucus

While a coalition of African-American community activists, including members of groups such as the NAACP and the National Action Network, appear to be backing away from their calls for the resignation of Michigan Democratic Party officials and possible litigation over disenfranchisement in the 2004 caucus, controversy continues to surround the caucus.

A recent article in the Michigan Citizen makes comparisons to the widespread disenfranchisement in the 2000 presidential election and provides the best description of disenfranchisement in the Michigan Democratic Party caucus.

See also: Public invited to discuss caucus site closings

Litigation Threatened, Possible Disenfranchisement in Michigan Caucus

A coalition of African-American leaders in Detroit are calling for meetings with the Michigan Democratic Party’s leadership after many in the Detroit area experienced problems voting with sites moving abruptly and closing early.

Two articles on the subject:

John Kerry Wins the Michigan Caucus

Senator John Kerry won today’s Michigan caucus and will consequently gain most of the state’s delegates. However, with 17% of the vote Howard Dean also won some delegates, and despite what the media keeps saying about Dean’s complete failure, Dean is in second place when one looks at the delegates won. Kerry’s win was predictable, as most of the media’s coverage made the case that he already had the election wrapped up. The most recent issue of Z Magazine has an article titled “How the Media Picks the Candidates” which is an interesting read in light the media’s efforts to declare a “winner” after a small percentage of delegates have been selected.

Michigan Democrats to use Internet Voting in Upcoming Caucus

For the first time, people voting in the Michigan Democratic Caucus will have the option of using Internet voting to cast a ballot for one of the nine Democratic presidential candidates.

In Michigan’s upcoming Democratic Caucus on February 7, citizens will have a new way of voting–voting online using the Internet from their home or at public Internet terminals around the state. The Internet voting will be offered in addition to the traditional means of voting via mail or at one of nearly 600 caucus sites in Michigan.

The Michigan Democratic Caucus is part of the process by which the national Democratic Party will choose their nominee for president, eventually narrowing the current field of nine candidates down to one who will be confirmed at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. The Michigan Caucus follows Iowa’s caucus, New Hampshire’s primary, and the so-called “Super Tuesday Primaries” on February 3, but with 153 delegates, Michigan may play an important role in deciding the Democratic candidate.

While there has been a significant amount of criticism leveled at electronic voting in the past few months, especially against Diebold, a maker of electronic voting systems that are known to have significant security problems as well as VoteHere, who’s computer systems were recently broken into and blueprints stolen, Internet voting has not been given much press coverage. In the days after the 2000 election, it was hailed as a way of preventing what happened in Florida, but since that time expectations have been scaled back.

Even with the Democratic National Committee’s vote to approve the use of Internet voting for the Michigan Caucus, questions about security prevent Internet voting from becoming widespread. The Michigan Democratic Party is working to make sure the process will be secure and that people will be prevented from voting more than once. However, in a recent AP article Mark Brewer, executive chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, was quoted as saying that “We’re not guaranteeing a perfect election…Nobody can do that, every election has it’s flaws.” Little information has been disclosed about security systems to be used during caucus voting, only that people will be mailed the address to a private website and provided with some type of identification number to vote online. The security concerns are not just paranoia, in a recent primary in Canada an online voting system was knocked offline by hackers.

Party officials point to the success of Internet voting in other states as a testament to its feasibility. On March 7, 2000, Arizona held the first legally binding election over the Internet allowing people to use the Internet to vote in the state’s Democratic primary. The primary set a record with the largest turnout since the primary process was setup in 1984, with 39,942 of the 86,907 votes being cast over the Internet. The Alaskan Republican Party also held a non-binding straw poll in January of 2000 using the Internet. Both of these were conducted without any reported problems.

The federal government has also conducted tests on the feasibility of Internet voting. In the 2000 election, the Voting Over the Internet (VOI) Project allowed 84 voters to vote online at a cost of $6.4 million dollars, or $73,809 per vote. While the small sample size and “security issues” make it hard to draw meaningful conclusions from the 2000 VOI Project, the plan has been expanded for 2004 as part of the Help America Vote Act passed in the aftermath of the 2000 election. For the 2004 program, the Department of Defense and the consulting firm Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting of Enron notoriety) have collaborated on the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE). SERVE is designed to give statistically meaningful results, allowing up to 100,000 offshore military members to vote online.

While a recently announced partnership with the internet security firm VeriSign should help alleviate some of the potential security problems with SERVE, Accenture, the main company working on SERVE has a dubious history. Accenture has profited while working on the privatization of public services, from welfare systems to voting systems and has consistently pattern over-billed and exceeded estimates on projects. The company is a member of the US Coalition of Service Industries (USCSI) a coalition of service-based corporations lobbying for WTO-GATS agenda of privatizing public services. The company formerly had ties with Enron, and has a working relationship with Halliburton. Moreover, the company is incorporated in the offshore tax haven of Bermuda.

It is hard to say if Michigan’s Democratic Caucus will have any bearing on the future of Internet voting, as the technology is clearly not ready for widespread usage. It has not been adopted anywhere, as security concerns are still a major issue, especially in large elections where the results are considered more important and thus targets for manipulation.

People wishing to vote in the Democratic Caucus must be registered voters and must publicly declare that they are Democrats. However, they are not required to join the Michigan Democratic Party. Online registration begins on January 1st and ends on January 31st at 6:00pm on the Michigan Democratic Party website.

Protestors Rally Against Ashcroft, Disrupt Speech in Detroit

A quick write-up of the protest against Ashcroft in Detroit, written based on information reported in the corporate press since nobody had posted anything about the event to the Michigan.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Protestors greeted Attorney General John Ashcroft today at his appearance in Detroit at Cobo Center. The Attorney General was in Detroit as part of a tour designed to promote the USA PATRIOT Act and defend its necessity. This tour is part of a multi-faceted campaign, including a website that touts the benefits of the anti-terrorism legislation, that the Attorney General is taking to defend the controversial USA PATRIOT Act from growing criticism.

According to press reports, approximately fifty people gathered outside Cobo Center and denounced the PATRIOT Act—chanting slogans including “Ashcroft go Home” and “Down with the Patriot Act.” In addition to criticizing the USA PATRIOT Act, the ACLU of Michigan criticized Ashcroft for appearing in at an event closed to the public, while Ashcroft said that he chose the crowd of 200 police officers so that he could thank them for their role in the war on terror.

In addition to the rally, one protestor was able to infiltrate the speech by posing as a member of the press and disrupt it briefly. A man who claimed to be affiliated with frequent presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche (who recently suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney is likely organizing terrorist attacks against the United States – link) was able to disrupt the speech that “visibly angered” Ashcroft and his audience about 25 minutes into the speech. The protestor stood up and said: “Mr. Ashcroft, I’m with Lyndon LaRouche. We would like to know which of your terrorists are going to be used for a new 9/11, you and Dick Cheney,” “Tell them how you lie to the American people.” The man left the arena unescorted and joined the main rally.

Ashcroft’s trip was about more than defending the USA PATRIOT Act, he is also touting the necessity of the new VICTORY Act being circulated in the national legislature (full text of VICTORY Act available at http://www.libertythink.com/VICTORYAct.pdf). The VICTORY Act will increase law enforcement powers, claiming that they are needed to target “narco-terrorists.” Some of the provisions include raising the threshold for rejecting wiretaps, extending subpoena powers, and extend the power of the Attorney General to issue “Sneak and Peak” warrants.

Graffiti on the Rise in Grand Rapids

In recent months, there has been a notable increase in the amount of graffiti art seen around Grand Rapids, with colorful pieces of art covering previously blank walls throughout the city. This article explores the history of the graffiti scene in Grand Rapids and surveys its current state.

Graffiti Photo

Art by DUSA.BYH

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids has never been a city known for its graffiti–most graffiti has been confined to alleyways, under bridges, and other out-of-the-way spots, but in recent months graffiti has become increasingly visible in Grand Rapids as artists have grown bolder in their choice of location. This increase in graffiti comes from the “writers” [graffiti term that refers to the people that pain graffiti] that make up the “graffiti scene,” an underground where skill and visibility earn respect, and competition to become the most visible writer drives the competition that is inherent in graffiti.

It is now common to see “throw ups,” or quickly done outlines of graffiti monikers along highways and on walls around Grand Rapids, whereas they were previously confined to secluded locations. Moreover, there has been a notable increase in the quality of such pieces, with artists possessing considerable more skill than their predecessors creating the majority of the new graffiti. The increased frequency of “throw ups” in visible locations has been matched with an increase in the amount of “pieces,” or multi-colored works that take a considerable amount of time to create, being produced in both the secluded areas where graffiti artists have traditionally painted as well as in more visible locations.

Graffiti, from the Greek graphein (to write), has a history that some trace back to the Roman Empire, with examples being found on ruins in Pompeii. However, graffiti as it is commonly conceived is a product of the 20th century. Graffiti art, the focus of this article, comes from the subway graffiti that began to appear in New York City in the 1970s. One of the early writers, TAKI 183, was the first to gain prominence outside the graffiti scene, with an article about him appearing in The New York Times that aided in the public recognition of graffiti. Early artists in New York City gained recognition by painting entire subway cars with large “pieces” (a graffiti term short for “masterpiece”), resulting in a rolling canvas of sorts that took their art all over town. However, as the city of New York was never pleased with graffiti and in 1989 they finally were able to institute a policy of removing subway cars with graffiti on them immediately, an act that helped force graffiti into the streets on billboards, lamp posts, walls, and abandoned buildings.

During the 1970s and 1980s, graffiti spread to other urban areas around the United States, and eventually, throughout the world. Cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles were home to vibrant graffiti scenes, with artists developing a high degree of skill and visibility. In Michigan, Detroit has the longest tradition of graffiti, with numerous artists and graffiti crews covering the town for the past twenty years. Other Michigan cities, such as Ann Arbor and Lansing also have long histories of graffiti, but despite its size, Grand Rapids does not have a particularly well-established tradition of graffiti. While there has certainly been graffiti in the city for a number of years, the scene was never well developed and most of the art was relatively low quality, with the exception of a few artists, compared to what could be found in other Michigan cities.

Graffiti in Grand Rapids has gained relatively little mainstream attention because of its largely hidden nature. Aside from a Grand Rapids Press article titled “Graffiti: Art or Anarchy?” that examined the “graffiti underground” published on November 29, 1987, there has been relatively little public attention focused on graffiti that does not associate it with gangs. The article claimed that “the hieroglyphics [graffiti] are often devoted to the trinity of youthful graffiti: sex, intoxication, and music” finding that anarchy symbols and rock lyrics are among the most common types of graffiti. While the article featured pictures of graffiti art, it failed to make a distinction between the graffiti scene and scribbling, instead treating all types of graffiti as a part of a series of homogeneous expressions of youthful “alienation.”

A History of Distortion

Graffiti has long been erroneously associated with gang activity, a charge that is especially common in Grand Rapids. Many people in the city government and the Grand Rapids Police Department describe graffiti as a means used by gangs to mark their territory and have been able to successfully use the media to perpetuate this myth. However, the majority of graffiti in Grand Rapids has nothing to do with gang graffiti, and many writers refuse to call what local gang members write “graffiti.”

“The gangs do not do graffiti, they simply write their names or draw their logos haphazardly, there is no art involved” according to one local writer, a statement that sums up the essential differences between gang markings and graffiti. While gangs put their names up to intimidate and mark their territory, graffiti artists tag things in order to become known and develop their skills. In addition, a quick comparison of gang writing verses what is done by graffiti writers demonstrates a dramatic difference in aesthetics, as graffiti writers emphasize the art of writing, not just the act of writing.

The association of graffiti with gangs may be a conscious effort to discredit graffiti as an art form or it may be an honest mistake made by city officials, either way it is a problem that faces graffiti artists. Some of the confusion may be a result of the fact that the public face of graffiti in Grand Rapids is most often the tags, or writing of a graffiti moniker all over town — an art form that to people outside of the graffiti scene looks relatively similar to the GD logos and MEXICAN MOB scrawls that are found on some local walls. In addition, while they have not become an integral part of the graffiti scene in Grand Rapids, graffiti artists in other cities frequently form “crews” or groups of artists that band together for the common goal of getting their name all over their city. These crews, taking names such as Legends of Rare DeSign (LORDS) or I CAN FLY crew (ICF) it is conceivable that politicians could believe that graffiti crews are gangs, although it seems more likely that the crews are viewed as gangs simply because it helps to maintain the association of graffiti with gang culture.

A Political Act?

Some people consider graffiti to be a political act — a means of reclaiming blank urban spaces and using art as a way of breaking the monotony of the urban landscape. Such an assessment is relatively uncommon, and indeed most people do not see the connection between graffiti and politics, if such a connection does exist. One local writer that was interviewed takes issue with such an assessment, stating that while there may be a political aspect to graffiti, it is not an inherently political act.

“While there may be an underlying political context that either exists or can be, perhaps justifiably, externally applied to the art of writing — for the most part, people write not for any type of political reason but rather because they simply want to be seen and gain notoriety. It is important to remember, that the main goal of graffiti is to be seen, not to make a political statement,” says a local writer that for security reasons prefers their moniker not be used.

Moreover, the political arguments for graffiti are most often lost on the general public, who generally see graffiti as consisting primarily of the writing of nonsensical names rather than messages of a explicitly political nature. The public also sees only a small portion of the skills developed by writers which hides the more aesthetically pleasing graffiti that could be more easily viewed as a positive reclaiming of public space. It is this desire to get known, or “get up” all over town to become “all city” that motivates tagging, which is probably the most visible form of graffiti in the city of Grand Rapids, as well as the most offensive to most. Tagging involves writing your moniker with marker or spray paint on walls, newspaper boxes, signs, and other such surfaces. While other writers recognize the skill involved in producing a well-executed tag, for most outside the graffiti scene, tags represent little more than scribbles with bizarre combinations of letters and numbers, certainly not a form of political expression.

It is regrettable, that even with the emergence of new writers with a high level of skill in Grand Rapids, the best pieces remain hidden, for the most part, from public view under bridges, along railroad tracks, and other places where members of the public generally do not go. Tags often are indistinguishable to the untrained eye from gang tags, a fact that contributes to the overall hostility towards graffiti. If people saw the skill that goes into producing some of the pieces, there would perhaps be less hostile view of graffiti. However, even when people recognize the skill of graffiti artists, they often feel that while the art may be of quality, vandalizing private property is inexcusable.

The City’s Reaction

It is unclear as to what extent the city has taken note of the recent increase in graffiti, as it has not announced any new programs aimed at reducing graffiti. The city of Grand Rapids Streets and Sanitation Department runs a “Graffiti Busters” program that encourages citizens to report instances of graffiti on their property via a telephone hotline or email in order to facilitate removal by city employees. Graffiti Busters started in 1999 and uses a city employees to remove reported graffiti and coordinates large-scale clean-ups of areas with “chronic graffiti” using volunteers and people sentenced to community service in the 61st District Court. The program is an inter-departmental collaboration, involving the Streets and Sanitation Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Grand Rapids Police Department, Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, Neighborhood Services, Grand Rapids Information Center, and the City Attorney’s office. However, this collaboration has not necessarily increased the effectiveness of anti-graffiti efforts, many pieces remain up for a long time and the city has still not passed an anti-graffiti ordinance as called for in the program’s description. Funding has come from a variety of sources, including drug forfeiture money from the Grand Rapids Police Department, community development block grants, and general tax fund dollars.

Without a city ordinance, graffiti in Grand Rapids is generally punishable only if officers catch writers while they are writing. If the “damage” from the graffiti is one hundred dollars or less, the charge is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars and/or ninety days in jail. In situations where “damage” exceeds one hundred dollars, the charge is a felony and writers face a fine of up to two thousand dollars and/or four years in jail.

With most graffiti causing “damage” over one hundred dollars when costs for clean-up are calculated, the penalties are harsh if one is caught in the act. However, it is quite rare for the police to actually catch people while painting, a reality that spurred neighboring Wyoming to pass a city ordinance giving the police greater powers in arresting those suspected of graffiti. The Wyoming ordinance makes it illegal for those under 18 to carry “graffiti implements” described as spray cans, markers, etching tools, and “any other device capable of scarring or leaving a visible mark on glass, metal, concrete, wood, or any other surface.” Police are able to arrest minors carrying the aforementioned items if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the items are going to be, or have been used, for graffiti. The Wyoming ordinance also requires that artists and their parents be held financially liable for graffiti, requiring them to pay the financial costs of painting over the graffiti.

Documenting the Art

With graffiti being an illegal art form, there is an ongoing battle of sorts between writers and the city crews that cover up graffiti with one side wanting to be seen and the other side seeking to paint over the graffiti as fast as possible. In nearby Grandville and Holland, city policy requires graffiti be removed from public or private property within 48 hours of being reported, and as discussed earlier, in Grand Rapids Graffiti Busters aims to eliminate graffiti as fast as possible. For motorists traveling on local highways, evidence of this battle is easy to notice — large grey squares on the concrete walls and support structures that cover up graffiti.

This battle, and the temporary nature of graffiti, presents a problem for another group of people involved in the graffiti art scene, the artists and admirers that attempt to document graffiti. Because of its temporary nature, what is not covered up by the city fades over time, graffiti’s history is documented primarily through photographs, or “flicks” taken of graffiti art. In days before the Internet, people would collect these photographs in albums and trade them, although now flicks are more often collected on websites devoted to graffiti. Such sites vary from those that cover the whole world or entire countries, to those that cover their local graffiti scene exclusively. While there are no websites dealing specifically with graffiti in the Grand Rapids area, according to local writers the graffiti scene is being actively documented, both by its participants and by those on its periphery.

Conclusion

Despite its controversial nature in the mainstream, graffiti is here to stay, and indeed is increasing in Grand Rapids. While city officials and law enforcement officials will no doubt call for increased programs designed eradicate graffiti, these programs have not worked in the past and consequently, they are unlikely to work in the future. Hopefully the citizens of Grand Rapids will see this new wave of graffiti for what it really is, the creation of art by a talented underground of artists who are willing to risk arrest in order to reclaim public space as their canvas.

A photo gallery of some of the graffiti art in Grand Rapids can be found on the Media Mouse site and more information on the history of graffiti can be found on www.artcrimes.org. There is also a site documenting graffiti in Grand Rapids with a large collection of photos at grgraffiti.port5.com.

Protest in Dearborn Part of Growing Movement Against Bush

The July 24 protest against President Bush in Dearborn is part of a growing movement against the president. In recent months, he has been met by protestors at the majority of his fundraising appearances and protests are already being organized for the Republican National Convention in 2004.

The July 24 protest against President Bush in Dearborn is part of a growing movement against the president. In recent months, he has been met by protestors at the majority of his fundraising appearances and protests are already being organized for the Republican National Convention in 2004.

On this visit, his tenth to Michigan, Bush was greeted by protestors outside a $2,000 dollar per plate fundraiser in Dearborn where he raised $2 million for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. A crowd of fifty people protested Bush in Dearborn, with many protestors representing the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice.

The Dearborn appearance was the President’s second speech yesterday in Michigan. He spoke earlier in the day in Livonia at Beaver Aerospace and Defense, Inc. where he discussed his economic policies, claiming that his recent tax cut has spurred economic growth and that further prosperity should be coming soon. However, many people in Michigan do not agree with the President’s assessment of the economy. A recent survey by Lansing-based EPIC/MRA said that 60 percent of those polled in Michigan gave Bush a negative rating on the economy. Moreover, Michigan has a 7.2% unemployment rate (higher than the national average of 6.4%) and Michigan has lost 127,500 jobs, many in the manufacturing sector, since August of 2002.

The protest against the President’s policies that took place in Michigan was the most recent in what has become a common occurrence at appearances by the President, with the largest of recent protests consisting of thousands of people in Los Angeles. Earlier in the day at an appearance in Philadelphia, over one hundred people attended a protest outside the President’s appearance the Philadelphia Regional Financial Center, a check manufacturing plant where the first of the “rebate checks” that will be sent out as part of Bush’ new tax legislation were being printed.

The Philadelphia protest was also typical of recent Bush protests in another way — protestors were kept far away from the President. In Dearborn, protestors were kept 150 yards away from the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel by the Secret Service and the Dearborn police, something that has become common at Bush appearances around the country. Under the guise of the current “war on terrorism,” the Secret Service has been keeping Bush’s opponents out of his view. Yesterday in Philadelphia, protestors from the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) obtained an emergency court order from a U.S. District Judge demanding equal access to the site after Bush supporters were seen near the entrance to the building, while the Secret Service tried to push protestors back even further from the building. Predictably, the Secret Service excused their actions as being a security necessity and James Borsai, special agent in charge of the Secret Service in Philadelphia, was quoted as saying “In this climate, it’s all security.”

The protests can be viewed as leading up to both the 2004 election, when many progressives and Democrats will attempt to capture the White House, as well as the 2004 Republican National Convention. Organizers have already made the call for protestors to converge at the convention, which will be held in New York City in September of 2004. The RNC Not Welcome Collective began organizing for the 2004 convention back in May. Recently, the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice issued a call for a worldwide day of protest in solidarity with actions against the convention on August 29, 2004.

This is certainly not the first time that a presidential convention will be met by protests. While the quintessential example is the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, many people in the United States do not realize that the 2000 conventions of both the Republicans and the Democrats were met by large protests. At the RNC in Philadelphia, 420 protestors were arrested while doing direct action in order to prevent the start of the convention. Reports of police misconduct and abuse of power were rampant, and there are still a few people awaiting trials.

Police misconduct can be expected in New York City, as the NYPD has a horrible record in dealing with protests. In 2002 during protests against the World Economic Forum, the NYPD forced protestors into restrictive pens, repeatedly corralled demonstrators between lines of police and threatening to make mass arrests, made targeted arrests of well-known activists, and used lies as justification for attacking the crowds. More recently on February 15, 2003, the NYPD made over 300 arrests at an anti-war rally organized by United for Peace and Justice as well as other groups. The city refused to issue a march permit, citing “security reasons” and made numerous arrests when protestors organized unpermitted marches to the rally site and when the pens that had been erected to contain the protestors overflowed and spilled into the surrounding streets. The New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union released a forty-four page report titled, Arresting Protest, that examined police misconduct. Among the misconduct found by the ACLU was the use of excessive force, including the use of horses to charge peaceful crowds of people, the use of pepper spray on peaceful groups, political interrogations, denial of access to lawyers once arrested, and the denial of food and medical care.

The recent protests against the President and those planned in the future are evidence that the anti-war movement is expanding their focus, realizing that in order to stop war they must address issues of social justice. Whether or not momentum can be retained until the 2004 election remains to be seen, but so far, it looks like it will not be problem.

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

The Trial of Vern Ehlers

A “mock trial” in which Grand Rapids area US Congressional Representative Vern Ehlers is tried as a war criminal. The trial–organized by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change–focuses on Ehlers’ support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the trial, several witnesses present testimony outlining how Rep. Ehlers violated international law both in supporting the invasion of and sanctions against Iraq.

We have also produced a book containing the script and additional information about Ehlers’ crimes.

Statement: Vern Ehlers – A War Criminal?

The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change has issued the following statement on Representative Vern Ehlers and the protest yesterday at his office:

We are here today to hold Representative Vern Ehlers accountable for crimes violating both international and constitutional law. By supporting the Bush administration in their unrelenting drive to war, Congressman Vern Ehlers, as well as any other Representative or Senator that support this impeding war, will be complicit in crimes against humanity.

Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter declare that no member state has the right to enforce any resolution with armed force unless the Security Council decides there has been a material breach of its resolution, and determines that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted. Then, the Council must specifically authorize the use of military force. The Security Council has not authorized any use of force for subsequent violations involving Iraq, and at this point appears very unlikely to do so. Despite this, the Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that they will go to war with Iraq regardless of what the Security Council decides. This would be a violation of International Law.

The U.N. charter is a treaty and part of the supreme law of the United States under Article 6, clause 2 of the Constitution. . It requires the United States to settle all disputes by peaceful means and not use military force in the absence of an armed attack. The U.N. Charter empowers only the Security Council to authorize the use of force, unless a member state is acting in individual or collective self-defense. Iraq has not attacked this country, or any other country in the past 11 years. None of Iraq’s neighbors have appealed to the Security Council to protect them from an imminent attack by Iraq. Any war against Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council is therefore not only a violation of the U.N. Charter, but also a violation of the U.S. Constitution as well.

Article I, section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress, not the president, to debate and decide to declare war on another country. The War Powers Resolution provides that the “constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories, or possessions or its armed forces.” Congress has not declared war on Iraq, no statute authorizes an invasion and Iraq has not attacked the United States, its territories, possessions or armed forces. In supporting the Bush administration in waging war on Iraq, Congressman Ehlers is remiss in his own duties as an elected member of congress by abdicating the authority to wage war to the executive branch.

For twelve years Iraq has suffered under an extreme sanction regime that has prevented it from purchasing necessary foodstuffs, medicine, and materials essential to rebuilding destroyed infrastructure. The result of these sanctions has been the death of 5000 Iraqi children a month from what would otherwise be preventable disease and malnutrition and standard of living conditions that are the worst in the region. According to the Geneva Conventions – 1977 Part IV, Section 1, Chapter III, Article 54:”Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive”. These sanctions violate international law and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Despite both the dubious legality and horrendous moral ramifications of the Iraqi sanctions, Representative Ehlers has continued to support them.

According to the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was accepted by the U.N. as International law, “any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment” (article I). Furthermore, “The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law”(article III). We are here today to say that any member of congress that supports a preemptive war in Iraq or the continuation of the sanctions is, by the standards set by the Allied forces at the end of WWII, a war criminal.