Something About Me

April 14, 2016

Bernie Sanders took time out from his campaign to walk the picket line and encourage striking workers in New York City today (The Communication Workers of America). It was exactly the right thing to do. Workers need to know that someone in Government is willing to walk the hard walk with them. I know from experience. It made me smile with a memory.
I was running to be the Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Michigan. I got into the race a month late and more than a dollar short on campaign funds and political support. It would be a guerilla campaign.
The UAW had a designated candidate, Larry Owens. I should say the UAW leadership had a candidate. Most of them had never heard of Mr. Owens. Many rank and file felt a need to get militant and respond. The Democratic Establishment wanted to play nice… appeal to the “middle ground” and make a pitch to the people of Michigan that was intended to look like a palatable alternative to the personality of John Engler, rather than a challenge to very first stages of an attack on labor. Mr. Owens was a nice man who had earned his political shot. He had raised a lot of money for the Party. He knew all the players, all the rules, and had made all the deals. He was known by everyone in the Party and very few else. I couldn’t stand it. In a moment of inspiration, or sheer madness (I still don’t know which), I decided to announce and run.
The Establishment did not like the idea of someone like me jumping in. I was not one of them. I was outspoken – meaning I said what I thought and didn’t mince words. I was not controllable. I sued Insurance Companies, Corporations on behalf of victims… in other words, I sued their contributors. I was initially dismissed, but when I produced a series of commercials that were very successful, it got their attention. The attacks from Republicans started, but so did the attacks from Democrats. Nothing new for me after representing Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I started driving around in a minivan and learning how to organize events, just walking neighborhoods… it was a guerilla campaign. I was on my own.
I remember the morning distinctly. We were walking out of the door to my Law Firm, about to get into a Pontiac minivan, and going over the schedule of stops when I noticed a headline in the Detroit Free Press – a plant was closing in Flint because GM decided to move the business to Mexico. The UAW was picketing even as they were pulling the machines out of the plant to ship to Mexico. “Those sons of bitches, this is what it is all about. We are cancelling the schedule and we are going to walk the picket line with them”. I had a friend, a driver and a “political advisor” with me at the time (someone who had run a few campaigns before and charged more than I did by the hour). The advisor and driver told me to keep the schedule. My friend told me “let’s go get a picket sign”. We went to Flint.
When we got there, I talked with a few workers on the line. I asked if I could pick up a sign and walk the line with them. After an hour or so, some UAW leader types arrived and said I couldn’t walk the line. Owens was their candidate. The workers on the line got in their faces and asked where Owens was and told them to pick up a sign. End of discussion, and the moment (I believe) I won the nomination.


Common Sense

April 8, 2016

So Ted Cruz is proposing treating Americans who are Muslims as a violent gang and “patrolling” Muslim neighborhoods. Trump (who has already proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S, registering and giving ID cards to all Muslim Americans and closing down Mosques) is now proposing constant video surveillance of Muslim Americans. They claim that what happened in Brussels is going to happen here. You know the pattern… generate fear and take away freedoms. Let’s use a little common sense. We are not Brussels and what they are proposing will create a problem where this none.

Wonder why the terrorist from the Paris attacks was able to essentially walk the streets freely in Brussels for so long before he was captured? Wonder why the fifth attacker of the airport is still at large despite the most massive manhunt in their history? One reason is certainly the fact that Muslims in Europe are generally segregated and not assimilated socially or economically. They are treated with suspicion and bias by European societies. In other words, a Muslim in Brussels has no reason to cooperate with authorities. Given a choice, it is apparent that what they do is not so much to hide their fellow Muslim as much as refuse to cooperate with authorities who treat them with hostility simply because they are Muslim.

In the U.S. we would be naïve to think there are not sleeper cells already present. However, even the terrorist couple who went on the rampage in California had to hide their extremism from family members as well as neighbors. They escaped detection because they had to hide, even from their own relatives out of fear of being turned in. Muslim-Americans are integrated and assimilated into our society. They have access to the same opportunities as anyone else. Muslim-Americans are in the military defending our Country in Muslim battle zones in the Middle East. The FBI has arrested numerous terrorists based on tips from Muslim Americans. They are in law enforcement, and they are in the workplace. If there are Muslim “neighborhoods” it is because they choose to live in one, not because they have to.

This is what makes Trump and Cruz so dangerous. They propose treating Americans who are Muslims with hostility. This would create fear and resentments that would undermine the Muslim-American sense of ownership in our society and create militancy where there is none presently. It’s just common sense not to do what they propose, and they are probably intelligent enough to know that. However, as they have proven throughout the campaign, and as their GOP comrades in Congress have shown in general, they put their own political ambitions above the welfare of the Country.        


R-E-S-P-E-C-T

March 28, 2016

Where is Aretha when we need her? People are so angry and polarized it seems just about impossible to have an intelligent conversation about a disagreement. The problems we are facing now in the world and in our society in particular are not unique but what we are going through may be. I mean that our ability to problem solve seems to have dissipated in a white noise of media encouragement to feel the anger or feel the fear. I honestly think that the lack of personal contact and relationship, along with a political-media complex, has so polarized our society that we are risking a breakdown of civility. Turn on one cable station and all Moslems are violent, evil people. Turn on another station and all people who criticize Moslem extremists are violent, evil people. How many people watching these shows actually know a person who is Moslem, let alone have a personal relationship with one?

It’s not just about religion either. Trump is a Nazi, Bernie is a Communist and people who support either one want to destroy the country! All Michigan fans are arrogant and all Ohio State fans are thugs. It’s pervasive in our society and if there is one thing that could destroy it, it is the extremism of the media. Try turning off cable news and meeting people you may disagree with and just hang out for a bit. Don’t talk politics, religion or anything other than things and experiences you share in common. Show some respect and get to know the person. If isolating in your house in front of a television is the petri dish for fear and misunderstanding, then personal contact and familiarity is the salve for fear and misunderstanding.

 


Brussels Attack

March 26, 2016

Let’s start out by declaring that what happened in Brussels with the ISIL attack is tragic. It is horrible, but not terrible if we don’t allow our fear to terrorize. Already the voices of outrage and hatred are rising, especially among GOP candidates for president. How does it help defeat Moslem extremism when they hear someone who may be the next president advocating banning Moslems from the U.S., issuing identity cards to Moslem Americans, closing Mosques, using torture, and the wholesale slaughter of Moslems in Syria and Iraq (aka “carpet-bombing”)? This reflexive, violent response is exactly what the terrorists wanted to accomplish: terror and irrational responses.

Hatred is a symptom of fear. If we allow ourselves to become fearful and act out of fear then they have won. When we act like them, we become them – and they have won. Our response should be guided by determination and, above all else, a rational response. Sure, we should use common sense to respond. For example, we should thoroughly vet every immigrant and if they are not cleared, then we should not allow them to immigrate. Sure we should hold the governments of the Saudi Kingdom and Iran politically and economically accountable for funding and encouraging these extremists. There are many ways to maximize our safety without compromising our freedom or principles.

Personally, I refuse to be afraid, and I refuse to allow fear to dictate my actions. I am more likely to be killed by a white man with a gun than a suicide bomber. Should we ban white males? I may not be able to physically strike back at terrorists, but the very act of defying their “terror” by refusing to comply with their desired response from me is one way to defeat them. After the Paris attack, Parisians responded by making it a point to go out to public places – restaurants and clubs – in an act of defiance. This is not a naïve position or one rooted in denial. I use common sense and stay alert, and I am not unafraid. I just refuse to give into it.


Supreme Fools

March 26, 2016

Mitch McConnell is nothing if not a consistent fool. Make that a supreme fool. Before President Obama ever entered the White House, he publicly stated that his job (and the job of all GOP Senators) was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president. He then initiated the most obstructionist campaign against any president in history. It became so absurd that Republicans in both houses of Congress opposed the president’s initiatives that they had previously supported. It got so bad that the American Psychological Association is considering a new diagnosis of “Obama Derangement Syndrome” or what we call “black-tracking” (rejecting their own ideas whenever Obama supports it).

Perhaps the best example of black-tracking is to not even consider the current nominee for the Supreme Court. In one of the best “in your face” political dunks of all time, President Obama nominated someone that Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) only one week earlier cited by name as a man who would easily pass unanimously if only the president would be reasonable enough to nominate him. It clearly showed the willingness of Republicans to put party before the welfare of the country, leaving a Supreme Court seriously impaired for over a year, maybe a year and a half by the time the next president nominates and the Senate confirms.

All the obstructionism Mitch McConnell and his deranged GOP Congress has accomplished up to now is to hurt the country by failing to do much-needed legislation and making the institution of Congress the most derided and least respected in history. Then again, he and his cronies may have accomplished something else. By trying to destroy the Obama Presidency, he may have destroyed his own party. The obstructionism and rhetoric of the GOP leadership has spawned the two front running candidates for their party based on platforms of rejecting their leadership. The reality is that Congress stopped serving the needs of the country shortly after the Citizens United ruling codified the creation of the “donor class” and permanent dysfunction of government.


Trump

March 21, 2016

Anyone familiar with European history of the 20th Century has to be genuinely worried about our country. Donald Trump has revealed himself as the same type of political figure who rose to power in Spain, Italy and Germany during the economic turmoil of the 1930s. Now, I know that in the last seven years we have been flooded with hyperbolic allegations of fascism and totalitarianism in our political discourse. Right wing nuts claim Obama is “imperial” and seeking to destroy our democracy. Left wing nuts claim to see fascism behind every attempt to undermine Obama’s policies. Hyperbole is rampant, but in the case of Donald Trump, one has to wonder if hyperbole is even possible. History is calling to us to stop, even as it endeavors to repeat itself once again. I just never thought it could happen here.

I am not referring to Trump’s avid study of Hitler’s speeches, or the obvious imitation of Mussolini’s mannerisms in speeches, or even of his obvious admiration for the use of violent power to repress opposition (e.g. the Chinese or Putin). Trump is an authoritarian, with many of his promises of action being contrary to the Constitution and the law. He justifies actions completely contrary to American ideals and principles to preserve the same. His appeals to division and scapegoating are as familiar as history in Europe of the 1930s with its economic uncertainty and resurgent Nationalism. Like the rich and powerful of Hitler’s era, the billionaire class in this country encouraged him early on, thinking they could control him, but in reality they were creating the environment that would ultimately challenge their own power.

Trump is not hard to figure out and his tactics are as familiar as can be. What is hard to witness is the willingness of many Americans to ignore reality and support Trump no matter how intolerant, how xenophobic, how misogynistic or vulgar his behavior or policies. Americans seem to be unconcerned with his inveterate dishonesty (e.g. “There is no violence at my rallies.”) and are totally invested in him as a redeeming figurehead – they claim he is the only one who can change things. Even a few well educated supporters of Trump appear willing to be “good Germans” in the hope that he will change the system. Many people I know who are usually intelligent, honest, and tolerant refuse to consider the reality of what Trump represents in the futile hope that he is what they want him to represent.

Like past demagogues in history, every outrageous act of Trump is dismissed as a media lie (i.e. the Jews), or a conspiracy of the establishment to thwart the “will of the people.” “USA! USA!” has been appropriated by Trump supporters as the new “Seig Heil,” as though Trump represents the realization of American greatness. Violence against opponents is encouraged at his rallies, and opponents of Trump are characterized as the enemies of American values.

Some argue that Trump is the consequence of the GOP exploiting the politics of division ever since Nixon, and they may be right. However, Trump is less difficult to understand or dismiss than the millions of Americans who mindlessly support him. The disease of men like Trump are easily controlled if the swamp of support is small.  What we are seeing in Trump is a profound spiritual disease of American society.


On the Streets of Chicago

March 21, 2016

Anyone in my generation had to be reminded of the Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago when they saw the footage from the cancelled Trump rally a few days back. The two are somewhat analogous, especially for the amount of intolerance and hatred being expressed. When I saw footage of a Trump supporter leaving and giving the finger to a black protester and screaming “F-you N! Go back to Africa! I can recall seeing Mayor Daley screaming at Sen. Ribicoff “F-you you Jew Son of a B!” when the Senator denounced the violent tactics of the Chicago police.

Not that the protesters were peaceful and tolerant in 1968, or 2016. Both sides were itching for a fight and I am sure both sides believed they had the moral high ground. Watching protesters mocking Trump supporters and challenging them to fight also evoked a memory of 1968: Jerry Rubin encouraging protesters to fight the police. By resorting to intolerance, the protesters became what they protested, and the Trump supporters … well they pretty much represent the antithesis of what they claim to be: the “moral majority.”

I am part of the real moral majority – the majority of Americans who refuse to support the xenophobia, misogyny, and nationalist jingoism of Trump, and who also refuse to support the intolerance and tactics of those anti-Trump supporters. When Robert Kennedy was running for President he set the standard for what a true, moral force a politician can be in times of turmoil. One only has to see the film of his speech in Indianapolis after the King assassination to become both inspired by the example, and despondent over the present reality of presidential contenders.

One can only wonder what will happen in Chicago during the Republican Convention this summer. In 1968 the convention was in turmoil between the “establishment” support of the war and the insurgency of anti-war faction (those who had not been assassinated). The streets were full of violent protesters – angry and alienated by the “system.” Sound familiar?

 


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