June 13, 2013
One of the more prevalent half-truths of living in the USA these days is that what is good for Wall Street is good for all of us. It is a variation of the old “what is good for GM…” and, like its predecessor, it is equally fallacious. One need only look at the past 6 years to see that a booming market with unprecedented profits doesn’t translate to more jobs, let alone wealth trickling down. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite.
Much of the wealth generated on Wall Street is in the financial sectors, with banks and other financial institutions generating the majority of wealth, primarily due to a system that has been rigged by the government. The result is something that is felt in nearly every community in the US, especially among working class communities. For an excellent primer on how the financial sectors have been rigged against the interests of working families, I recommend Matt Taibbi’s series in the Rolling Stone.
To understand how allowing a rigged banking system affects our daily lives, consider this example. Interest rates of money transfers between international banks are set by a small group of individuals from a small group of banks, called LIPOR. These few lucky bankers set interest rates hours before the markets open, which has at least two consequences. First, is that the information on rate changes before markets open can result in huge profits for anyone who knows the information, and there is ample evidence of insider exchanges. Secondly, it means a few bankers motivated by financial gain can set rates that can (and have) devastating effects on municipalities from Greece to Detroit that rely on rates for loans and bonds to fund everything from schools to roads to powers sources. Manipulated money rates have resulted in the severe deficits of cities and municipalities such as Detroit more than any other cause.
For those of us who have commiserated about the awful choices Obama has made to his cabinet in his first term, the cold hard reality has set in that they were deliberate choices to further a policy of wholesale capitulation to Wall St. Take for example the announcement today that a former aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, with no experience in financial markets except for an internship for Goldman Sachs, will be appointed the head of the oversight council regulating, among other things, derivative exchanges (the most complex of all financial transactions). She replaces Gary Gensler, who has made enemies lately by actually trying to enforce the few regulations that do exist on derivative exchanges. These appointments are no accidents folks.
June 12, 2013
Under the category of “I told you so” the release of information that the NSA is spying on every American without a warrant touches on an issue that I’ve been talking about for months now, namely, the malignant cancer of government intrusion into our personal lives. For those of you who buy the argument that government spying protects our security, prove it. Even if spying on every American without any reasonable excuse was cost-effective, do you think that forfeiting our privacy in exchange for security is worth it? Doesn’t the AP and IRS scandals prove (once again) that these unconstitutional spying programs are used to abuse freedom of speech and other liberties? Nixon had his “enemies list”, but under Bush and Obama ALL Americans are considered on the enemies list unless otherwise proven. In fact, the combination of indiscriminate spying (i.e. unreasonable searches) and Obama’s unprecedented prosecution of whistle-blowers reducing government transparency is a greater threat to our freedom than any Moslem terrorist group.
In the words of a great song by “Rage Against the Machine”: WAKE UP!
Ben Franklin said: “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” WAKE UP!
June 3, 2013
Every year the so-called “movers and shakers” of Michigan (i.e. corporations and political gab-flies and brown-nosers) gather on Mackinaw Island for a few days of counter-revolutionary planning. This year’s focus appears to be on how to undermine American Democracy by accelerating the destruction of Detroit and the public education system.
Speaker after speaker, cabal after cabal of “conservatives” have attacked the concept of the public education system and advocated for increasingly privatizing education, or fracturing the public school system with competing systems such as Charter Schools. (Never mind that charter schools have proven over the years to be less effective, on the whole, than public schools).
Mind you, I am a critic of the current state of public education, but an absolute believer in the need for a public education system that is available to every child. In this sense I am simply reflecting the values of the Founding Fathers, such as Jefferson and Adams, who argued strenuously that democracy could not flourish without an educated citizenry. Public school education was a foundational issue for them because they realized that a strong public school system would be essential in safeguarding democracy.
In the years before our Republic was founded, education was a class driven privilege. It was a vehicle by which society was divided into rulers and the ruled. The educated classes controlled the economic and political engines of the day. Jefferson, among others, recognized that a true democracy had to rely on educating all citizens, regardless of their economic status. It was like they anticipated the legions of people making decisions by watching Fox News. The ability to think critically and not be led like Lemmings to a cliff was vital in their thinking.
I suggest that the right social policy should be to strengthen and improve the public school system, not destroy it by diverting funding and focus. An attack on the public school system is an attempt by corporations and conservatives to destroy our democracy. Where are all the drones when we need them most?
There is a simple answer to almost all the problems of the public schools: They are absurdly funded by the property tax. Thus, rich cities (i.e. Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, etc.) have great schools; poor cities (i.e. Detroit and Flint) have failing schools. Duh?
May 31, 2013
Detroit gets a lot of bad publicity and has a reputation as the poster city of a post-industrial America. Some of it is deserved. A casual walk two blocks on either side of Woodward Ave downtown does look a lot like a Neill Blomkamp post-apocalyptic movie, with almost as many abandoned than occupied buildings and homeless people staggering around. However, it is also the hometown of a lot of very good people and in times like this week, there are few places in the world I would rather be.
The fruit trees are blooming, the sun is shining. The Tigers are in first place and the Red Wings almost made the finals. Outdoor restaurants are booming and women are wearing shorter skirts. Take some time before a ball game and sit near the fountain in Grand Circus Park or Belle isle and enjoy the sights of old men playing horse shoes, families barbecuing and people just generally enjoying the sunshine and life.
There are challenges in Detroit and maybe we will never recover the glory days of the 50’s. But with the Woodward Cruise looming and swimming in nice cold lakes just around the corner… this is the place to be.
May 22, 2013
The State of Michigan has a Supreme Court which is owned by corporations, if measured by their record of decisions on business related cases. As attorneys already know, and hundreds of victims are discovering every year, it is virtually impossible in Michigan to sue a corporation about a defective product that has harmed them. That is no exaggeration: if you are harmed by a defective product in Michigan, you cannot sue the manufacturer. It’s unjust, it’s immoral, but that is law as interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court.
Yet, even by Michigan standards the breadth and scope of the Monsanto Protection Act (otherwise known as the “Farmer Assurance Provision”) is scary-corrupt. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, it allows the Monsanto Corporation to ignore any consumer and environmental laws that currently exist regulating the sale of genetically modified crops, AND immunizes them from any lawsuit from anyone harmed by their products. This bill was snuck into a budget bill as an amendment with no public debate or disclosure, which shows you how much our government is owned by big business.
I hope that all of you will contact your Senator and Representative and let them know how you feel about this law. It may not make a difference to the outcome (unless you are a millionaire or billionaire), but at least it let’s them know we are watching.
May 17, 2013
Have you ever read George Orwell’s classic book “1984”? I find that fewer and fewer people have, although many more people are aware of the iconic theme of “Big Brother” and its connotations. Once published, “1984” quickly became the essential warning to a society evolving toward the complete regulation of personal lives by an all-powerful government not regulated by laws but by fear. I began thinking once again of Winston Smith and his struggle of self-awareness and liberation. It’s a pity that “1984” is no longer mandatory reading in high schools, because what Orwell outlined in his novel is what we are living today, not in a cliché or hyperbole, but in a quite literal sense.
I began thinking again about Orwell’s classic as I reflected on the unfolding scandals involving the IRS and AP investigations, although these incidents are only the most recent and comparatively minor manifestations of our “Big Brother” society. What Orwell wrote about so eloquently was the process and maintenance of a totalitarian society that lacked any privacy or personal liberties. In Smith’s society there was a constant state of war, a fear of external and internal threats of violence and disorder. It was the fear of this vague but ubiquitous enemy (terrorists) that justified the government’s constant and limitless monitoring of personal lives. Fear was what maintained the willingness of people to accept the loss of any privacy or personal liberties.
Orwell could not have written a more prophetic introduction to the Patriot Act or the various defense bills passed by our elected representatives (including Democrats like our own Levin and Stabenow) permitting the virtual monitoring of our lives. Our phone calls, our e-mails, even our travels to and from places are subject to cameras, listening devices and other methods of surveillance. The budget for domestic spying is rumored to be over 70% of the defense budget, although what is being spent remains a secret. The Boston Marathon murderers were caught because of cameras which tracked them literally from the home to the bomb site. Most of us were impressed by the investigative acumen, but consider this: someone in government has access to the same information about you and can monitor you in and out of your home at any time without a warrant. That’s the state of the law today.
Unlike Smith’s society where someone is always monitoring someone else, we like to think that the government has a good reason to monitor us. The AP and IRS scandals are yet another reminder that our trust in government is more often misplaced.
May 14, 2013
Detroit may be making a comeback and that is a great thing. What would I do to revitalize Detroit? I would start with a plan. More and more younger people are moving into Detroit, especially the downtown area. But development in Detroit is happening like reforesting after a devastating forest fire. In the midst of a lot of desolation there are isolated pockets of growth and revitalization. The Midtown and Entertainment districts are virtually booming, and the Hart Plaza area is also developing. In between these areas are blocks of deserted and crumbling buildings. A plan to connect these areas should be developed, such as the proposed fast rail down Woodward Ave. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a shopping district with real grocery stores and hardware stores. Maybe even a gas station or two.
Even more important to the ultimate success of Detroit would be the planning and development of neighborhoods in these districts. Real neighborhoods with schools, playgrounds, etc. Detroit cannot be revitalized with young people coming downtown to apartments. Sooner or later, they will want a family and a home. In cities such as New York and Pittsburg people are hired to develop an actual plan – a “big picture” plan to sustain growth.
Finally, a great city has to:
1) Pick up all the garbage and litter;
2) Provided street lighting to the entire city;
3) Maintain all the parks and city pools;
4) Provide a visible and deterrent police presence on the streets;
5) Shovel the snow.
If we did just that, Detroit would be a really great city again.