Governor of Michigan?

May 17, 2018

Some early observations…

The presumptive nominees for Governor of Michigan are Schuette (GOP) and Whitmer (Democrats). A quick exam of their web sites reveal what one might expect: noble concepts that hardly anyone would disagree with, without any of the details on any plan that will translate rhetoric to reality. Of course, even the best laid plans come to little when the Legislature is controlled by lobbyists. I have to give Ms. Whitmer credit for at least mentioning the problem of big money lobbyists and Gerrymandering, but the same critique on a lack of details on how she will accomplish the goals applies. The reality in Michigan reflects the broader reality in all American politics: once the beauty contest of elections end, big money controls the Legislative agenda no matter who is elected.

Schuette is endorsed by Trump which guarantees that he will reduce taxes for the rich, divide us by class/race politics, eliminate regulations protecting the environment and expand the role of government to intrude into our private lives. Where Ms. Whitmer might decorate the doors to the Capitol with a sign that reads “Lobbyists Must Use Back Door”, Schuette would put up a sign that reads “Everything For Sale”. It’s a cynical comment, I know, but I am waiting to at least hear a hint of something that would be different.

I don’t know either candidate personally. Ms. Whitmer seems like a decent person, Schuette is a known quantity just by virtue of the friends he keeps. There are two basic problems for both Parties with the upcoming election. The first is out-State voters. Trump signs littered Michigan’s rural landscape, where the majority of underemployed, welfare recipients live (most welfare recipients in Michigan are white and live in rural areas). GOP State Legislators recently made a play to harden the atrophied Trump base by promising to give them more welfare benefits and cut welfare to “those people” in Detroit. That could work because to many Michiganders “those people” and “the Democrats” are synonymous and class/race politics is red meat to them.

The second basic problem are Urban voters in Southeast Michigan. If you think the rural Trump voters are atrophied, then Southeast Michigan voters are nearly in contractures. Alienated from the abandonment by the last Democratic Governor and the condescending assumptions of the last Democratic nominee for President, these voters may not be in the mood to vote for another white woman Democrat. The Dems only hope may be the legalization of Marijuana, which is the only tangible benefit of voting for Dems (and many young Republicans).

What we really need is an Independent nominee unfettered by money and political Parties. I only know one person who fits that bill.

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Where’s Our Joe Welch?

May 16, 2018

This past weekend you might have heard the last agonal breaths of American decency as we processed the Congressional hearings for the nominee to run the CIA. Ms. Haspel was unapologetic about her role in torturing prisoners and denied responsibility for the destruction of the evidence of the tortures that she controlled. Perhaps the essence of the inquiry was encapsulated in her refusal to condemn the savage torture of human beings as immoral, while at the same time stating that her “moral compass” was strong. Some of the few remaining voices of decency remaining in politics voiced their outrage at the lack of moral decency from the person who will be the face of the CIA to the world. The Trump Administration’s response was to mock one of those moral voices as irrelevant because he was going to die anyway. McCain’s voice had more than principle to deliver – John McCain experienced torture from the hands of North Vietnamese, and refused to bow to the torture. The disabilities resulting from his beatings and other forms of torture still cause him suffering. (A Vietnamese General who was one of the commandants of a POW camp recently said that McCain was revered among Vietnamese because of his honor during that time).

Our national history is pockmarked with shameful episodes of immoral, indecent behavior, but we have always followed these epochs by a national repudiation. During the McCarthy hearings, guided by a lawyer named Roy Cohen, our government lied, smeared and publicly ruined the careers of many Americans under the false pretense of national security. Their methods were more of a threat to our national security than the communist infiltrators they sought out. They were unapologetic and ruthless. At one key moment another attorney representing the U.S. Army, Joe Welch, finally stuck a moral (and mortal) wound to the McCarthy/Cohen reign of terror when he asked “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”. It was an indignant question that finally shook our country out of it’s moral stupor and ended the disgraceful campaign.

We already know the answer to the question as to whether or not the Trump Administration has any sense of decency, but they also apparently lack a sense of shame as well and refuse to condemn their mocking the suffering and imminent death of a real American war hero. Trump once asked where his Roy Cohen was at the Justice Department to sabotage the investigation into the Russia-Trump campaign collusion. Trump was mentored by the very same Roy Cohen, and is just as ruthless and unapologetic as Joe McCarthy. The difference between our response to Welch’s question then and the lack of significant response now, may be even more troubling: perhaps we have become a society that, as a whole lacks decency.


The Trump Voter in Me…

May 1, 2018

If you ask a Trump supporter why they voted for Trump, or why they continue to defend his indefensible actions, it will be an exercise in futility. Facts and reality are irrelevant to otherwise intelligent and decent people. This is not a phenomenon that can be understood intellectually. It is an emotional process, and if you ask the Trump supporter to describe how they feel and why, then you may begin to understand their decision – and quite possibly agree with them.

In Michigan before Trump, the Democratic Party stood for one thing: they stood up for the working people. That ended during the Clinton Administration when they abandoned the core principle of economic justice and put the Party in bed with Wall Street. Repealing Glass-Steagall sowed the seeds of a bitter harvest for everyone except Wall Street. NAFTA was negotiated without regard to the impact on labor. Abandoning economic justice as a core principle was a betrayal of working Americans and opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money.

To disguise their betrayal of working people, Democrats adopted the liberal equivalent of Nixon’s Southern Strategy: identity politics. They divided Americans (and their own constituencies) based on socially defined identity, instead of uniting them on economic justice. The net effect in Michigan was that the Democratic base was fractured, and everyone suffered economically. Identity politics is the reason why otherwise tolerant, decent people are willing to accept Trump’s divisive rhetoric at times – it reassures them that Trump is still “anti-Establishment” – and it has been effective in diverting from the fact that our government (and media) is controlled by a few very rich people and corporations.

The implications of the Trump victory in Michigan is as profound as it is disturbing. The wide-spread belief that money has corrupted all of government and both political parties, and that our present government exists to serve only the richest Americans and Corporations has caused a rejection of the traditional Two-Party system. When decent, hard-working and patriotic Americans have lost any hope that government will serve their needs, then it is the beginning of the angry mob. When Trump fails, and he will, then it will be past the time to worry. It will be time to run for cover. Trump is a demagogue, and demagogues who gain power are a symptom of a malignant process that has historically led to social unrest and violence.

This is the real existential redefining going on: it is us against the government and both Parties. This is how the Trump supporters I know feel, and to my astonishment, it is also how I feel.


The Steele Dossier and Golden Don

April 30, 2018

The Trump administration has repeatedly attacked the Russian Collusion investigation with two false premises. First, they say the Russian Collusion Investigation was prompted by the Steel Dossier, and that the Steel Dossier was entirely untrue and the result of Democratic Party funding. To the contrary, the Russian investigation by our intelligence agencies was prompted when an official Trump Foreign Policy Adviser Popadopoulis bragged to an Australian Embassy official about his contacts with the Russian government agents in possession of hacked DNC materials. Popadopoulis has since pleaded guilty to false statements and is cooperating with the Special Prosecutor. Here is what we do know so far about the Steele Memo, along with Trump Administration commentary.

  1. Steele Dossier confirmed: There was a Russian operation to undermine the Presidential election by attacking Hillary Clinton, supporting Donald Trump and social media campaign to ferment polarization via targeted fake news. Trump administration: Fake news… the Russians did not get involved with the campaign…
  2. There were multiple, multi-level contacts between Trump Campaign officials and Russian operatives. There has been absolutely no contact by anyone in the Trump Campaign and Russians at any time…
  3. Russian hackers under the direction of the GRU (Russian military intelligence) has illegally obtained DNC e-mails reflecting poorly on Hillary Clinton. Russians meeting at Trump Tower said they had the hacked e-mails, WikiLeaks released them.
  4. WikiLeaks was to serve as the release point for DNC hacked information, including e-mails.
  5. Donald Trump may have been compromised by proposed business deals with Putin associated Oligarchs. Don Jr. once said that a lot of their business came from Russia. President Trump has said he had no business with Russia during the campaign. His personal attorney, Cohen, admitted that they were trying to seal the deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election.
  6. Donald Trump may have been compromised during an overnight stay in Moscow during the Miss Universe Pageant by prostitutes sent to his room. This is interesting folks. Trump has consistently denied staying overnight in Moscow until this past week when flight logs and the testimony of a Pageant official made it clear that Trump did spend the night at the hotel in Steele’s report. Trump, who has said he never even met Putin, let alone talk to him, said in an interview this week that Putin told him that Russians had the best prostitutes. Hmmmm.  I guess on this one issue, unless we get the videotapes (what a terrifying thought), we will have to give Golden Don a pass…

Oh, Bobby, Where Art Thou?

April 14, 2018

When Dr. King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy took up his message and led Democrats to a message that is just as powerful today as it was 50 years ago. King identified economic injustice as a root evil feeding the racism and militarism that is strangling the American Dream. Kennedy astutely recognized that poor whites have more in common with African-Americans – they struggled to share the crumbs of an economic system that funneled wealth to the wealthiest. They were drafted to fight and die in the same wars that the privileged were exempted from and even were enriched by.

Bernie Sanders had the right idea. He is right about the real evil dividing and poisoning American society. It was one reason why his message was resisted as much by the Democratic Establishment which sought to inherit the same system, rather than change it. There is no one else in the Democratic Party who understands the problem and has the courage to speak against that power. That doesn’t bode well for our Country.

In Michigan, we are about to elect new Governor. We have our own Bernie in Shri Thanedar, who has some very well thought out policies and the integrity to run his campaign consistent with his ideals. And we also have the other Democrats who seek power by compromising rather than leading. Michigan is going to be divided in the same fashion that has maintained the same unjust economic system that creates Flints, crumbling infrastructures and failing schools and billionaires at the same time.

Bobby Kennedy was a man who was transformed from a man who was a foot soldier in the political machine that was steering our country further into the moral abyss identified by King. He changed and ended his life as a moral leader taking up the cause of the American Dream for the American people. WE desperately need leaders like this to emerge in our politics today. The question I’ve been pondering is whether or not the system has become so irredeemable that those leaders are crushed before they have a chance. The Democratic Party nationally and in Michigan has been a closed club for many decades, and the result has been manifest in elections.

The bottom line is that it is not elections that are the matter at hand. Those are rigged  – not for one political party or another, but with the same compromised morality leading to the same crushing injustice.


MLK: 2018

April 13, 2018

Many of you know that I consider Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as one of the greatest American leaders and the best argument for the existence of a biblical prophet in our lifetime. Every year we celebrate his life and legacy, and sadly every year we seem to find even more urgency to re-examine his life and example. There are many qualities that Dr. King had that are so lacking today among the leadership of both parties. One of the key qualities of Dr. King that is most desperately needed now is leadership. Dr. King knew what it meant to be a leader, and it wasn’t just walking at the front of marches. He operated from a moral foundation that was unshakable and ultimately that moral compass led him to expand his crusade to fight the evils of “Racism, Militarism and Poverty”. His insistence on fighting for social justice resulted in his being isolated and attacked, even from other civil rights leaders.

Dr. King was very unpopular at the end of his life. Popularity is not the companion of true leaders. Of course, the ingrained racist nature of American society hated him. His constant prophetic denouncements of police brutality directed at African-Americans, his condemnation of attempts to take away their rights to vote and the refusal to accept anything but full realization of the American promise was received as well as the prophesies of Isiah. However, it was the rejection by his allies in the civil rights movement that was most disappointing. Other leaders wanted to compromise with evil – they wanted to turn a blind eye to the unjust war in Viet Nam and the debilitating effects of poverty affecting both black and white American. They argued political expediency. They felt that to get what they wanted, they needed to ignore the system that was to ultimately poison American society. He saw the system that was increasingly consolidating wealth and power to a tiny class of Americans and denounced income inequality. He saw the evil and danger of the military-industrial complex that depended on fears to start wars and poor Americans to fight those wars. Because he chose to keep his focus, and because he had the moral courage to lead us into uncomfortable truths, he became isolated. Like every biblical prophet, his devotion to right came at a cost personal popularity, and ultimately his life.

Today, no one could reasonably argue that economic injustice, militarism and racism seem as powerful and destructive as ever. President Nixon designed the “Southern Strategy” of dividing poor whites from poor African-Americans, exploiting racism to promote policies that only impoverish whites as much as minorities. We have progressed from engaging in episodic wars against nation-states to constant war against fear: a war where there is no clear victory but only the constant fear of “terrorists”.

The reason why Democrats are just as complicit in “The Dream” failing is because they are as tied to these evils as Republicans are. Democrats may not rely on the more overt tenets of racism than the unapologetic racism of the Republican Party, but until they abandon militarism and same economic system that is crushing American society then they only continue to participate in promoting injustice. There is no clear moral leader among the Dems – no Bobby Kennedy’s to take up that mantle.

Dr. King truly was a prophet and they are rare gifts from God. Hopefully someone will emerge to led us from this wilderness, because history is not kind to any nation that rejects the message of a prophet.


Conversations with Pope Joyce

April 12, 2018

One of my favorite books from James Joyce was “Portrait of a Young Man”. In one of the better passages, during a conversation between a younger and older man, the young man confesses that he may have lost his faith. “Does that mean you will become a Protestant then?” the older man asks. The Younger man replies that he had lost his faith, not his brains. Joyce was Irish and at that time during which being a Protestant in Roman Catholic in Ireland was the equivalent of being African-American in the Jim Crow South. His intellectual honesty was suborned to the practical (i.e. financial) reality.

I remembered the quote while reading the response of Pope Francis to the Canadian Government’s attempt to reconcile the atrocities committed on indigenous people, specifically on the issue of the Canadian Boarding School system that forced indigenous children into boarding schools to learn the English language and white man’s culture. Many of the children were physically abused for simple offenses such using their native language or clothes. Children were sexually abused. Many were beaten or starved to death as part of the “discipline” meted out by the staff of these boarding “schools”. Virtually all of the facilities were run by Roman Catholic religious or Protestant missionaries. The Pope has refused to apologize without explanation for the role of the Church in the horrible abuse of generations of these children. Why would the leader of the Church refuse to renounce its role in the abuse and murder of indigenous children?

No explanation is needed. For this Pope, and the ones before him, the issue is not about their religious duty to the most vulnerable of its victims. The issue is that by apologizing for their well-documented abuse of these children, they admit some responsibility and that means paying victims money. It seems shameful, and it is. However, just as Joyce acknowledged the reality of how renouncing religion can affect one’s welfare in a society controlled by religion, the Holy Roman Catholic Church recognizes how acknowledging its sins can affect its bottom line. One could easily imagine the Pope in a conversation with his Cardinals…

Pope Francis: I am thinking that we shouldn’t have run these boarding schools that physically and sexually abused and murdered children in Canada.

Cardinals: Does that mean you will be apologizing then?

Pope Francis: I said I think we shouldn’t have tortured and killed those children, not lost my mind…