Economics of Mass Destruction

September 25, 2008

I guess I feel like most other Americans today angry and suspicious. I have been blessed enough to know that my family will weather this economic storm, but I am worried about my employees and for the most vulnerable in our society. I am worried that people will be so preoccupied with their own bank accounts that we will forget to look after the welfare of people who have less or nothing at all.

One way or another, the guys on Wall St. and on Pennsylvania Ave. will get taken care of – they can just write each other checks from our accounts. We should be angry about what is happening with this economic bail-out. We (apparently) should be worried about our own finances and future as well. However, I think the right kind of anger is not focused on self-interest but on the effect this crisis and bail-out will have on the people who can least afford it.

And the hell of it is that we can’t even be sure there is a real or fabricated crisis! After all, when was the last time that President Bush spoke to the country about a disaster that was at our doorstep unless we acted immediately? Iraq – and that not only turned out to be a fraud but a disaster afterward.

Perhaps I am a bit cynical about the impending economic Armageddon, or rather the proposed solution being discussed in Washington, but doesn’t it seem strange – even a bit suspicious? Here are some questions I would like answered.

  • 1. Why should we trust Secretary Paulson to have absolute power to spend $700 billion of our money, when he didn’t even see this disaster coming down the tracks until it was already here?
  • 2. Is there anything – anything else in this Country that the Republicans can screw up?

When Bush became President, we had the highest rate of employment in decades and the largest budget SURPLUS. The economy was the best seen since the end of WWII. Now we have a record deficit which will exponentially increase the lowest rate of employment since the 1950’s and an economy that can “meltdown” in days!

We are less safe as a Country compared to eight years ago, less respected abroad and even our traditional allies are much less cooperative. Europe has become the center of science and education, India and China the center of Commerce – even Iraq has a better economy and a budget surplus!

The only recourse we have and the only healthy focus of our anger has to be the ballot box and our willingness to look out for each other.


September 25, 2008

Is there anybody who doesn’t believe that if Barack Obama was white, he’d be ahead by 40 points?

Is there anybody who doesn’t believe or understand that this $700 billion bail-out is the biggest Republican tax hike in history?

Self Interest

September 18, 2008

This morning I was driving to court in Detroit listening to the radio about yet another story of the “bridge to nowhere” and other assorted lies on the growing GOP laundry list, I started to get that feeling in my gut once again. It’s not that I didn’t expect the lies (when I ran for Governor as a Democrat my opponent’s staff consisted of several of McCain’s current consultants), but they are apparently getting away with it.

The McCain and Palin ads aren’t the first false campaign ads (although they may be the most flagrant and prolific). It seems so sad that people are willing to dismiss dishonesty because of the symbolic importance of Party. What happens when people refuse to look beyond the symbols of their own political party to the reality?

I wonder what would happen if we judged political candidates the same way jurors judge litigants. You know what I am talking about. Corporate America has been successful in convincing America that lawsuits are a fraud and a scam to get money. Virtually everyone in the jury pool is looking for “the lie”. If a juror gets the impression that someone is not telling the truth, even regarding totally irrelevant facts, the trial is lost. How is it that people are so willing to ignore facts and deny justice to victims, and yet be so tolerant of candidates for the Presidency who blatantly lie?

Most of us listen with the filter of self-interest. What’s in it for me? It is the kind of thinking that allows our leaders to lie to justify war, or torturing prisoners. Without admitting it, it is this kind of thinking that allows ordinarily good people who are doctors to justify lying to protect a colleague from a verdict rather than promoting justice and good medical care. Every lie or injustice that is tolerated because it serves self-interest harms us. It harms our politics, it harms our Country, and it threatens those things that truly are in our interest: justice, peace, prosperity.

What we assume are “self-interests” in an election or a trial are not always what they appear to be. The best way of finding out what end is being sought is to look at the means being used. For example, if your candidate is willing to constantly lie, how do you know when they are telling the truth?

How a person conducts themselves is the most important clue as to their true motive. You know – it’s common sense.

Monday Moanin’ 9.15.08

September 15, 2008

Many Americans wonder how people like the Taliban ever become popular and take power in countries like Afghanistan. Some wonder if we aren’t seeing the beginnings of an American Taliban. (By the way, don’t forget that we armed the Taliban for a decade in the 1980’s against the Soviets.)

Mullah Omar was a gifted politician as well as a popular cleric. He had a gift for reducing the social and economic problems of his country to simple religious terms and solutions. He spoke of political problems in religious terms such as “good vs. evil”. Of course, the Taliban were good, and their opponents were evil. Afghanistan is a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance. Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindu religions coexisted for centuries in a country that was the crossroads of trade between the East and West. It became a disaster when religion and governmental policy were merged.

Omar started as the governor of a small Province in Western Afghanistan. Omar began by forcing all schools to teach Islamic theology and law. Eventually, the Taliban version of religious law became the law of the land, Afghanistan became an Islamic State, and the rest is all too well known.

In America we have been going through what the right wing has called a “culture war”. It is really a conflict between the secular vs. the religious. The kinds of words being spoken by GOP are not about cultural values – they are about religious values they want codified into law. Consider some of the GOP platform post-convention, and the speeches made during the GOP Convention. If speeches and platforms are any indication, consider these GOP promises:

* Change America from one Nation under God to A Christian Nation and allow Christian groups to discriminate in hiring practices if, say, hiring a gay or a Muslim, would violate their religious beliefs

* Continue to permit employers to discriminate against women with regard to equal pay for equal work and make it virtually impossible for women to get any justice (see Senate vote of McCain April 22, 2008). Appoint Supreme Court Judges such as Scalia and Thomas to eviscerate anti-discrimination laws protecting women in the workplace.

* Criminalize abortions, even when pregnancies are the result of rape or incest.

* Lifestyle decisions and sexual orientation not consistent with our “Judeo-Christian” heritage would not be afforded legal protections and could be criminalized

Those are just a few examples. If you are not Republican, you are not Christian – and that is the fundamental construct of Islamic radicals, i.e. to merge political positions with religious doctrine and then demonize the opposition. Just watch FOX news’ Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

Maybe you have a dissonance similar to mine when I hear Sarah Palin justifying the criminalization of all abortions under any circumstance as, well, Christian. Didn’t Jesus advocate protecting and changing people, instead of putting them in jail? Remember the passage of the adulteress in Scripture? Would Sarah Palin be next to Jesus and protect the adulteress, or would she be one of the crowd with a stone in their hands?

The Christianity of the GOP is not the one I want to see replace our Constitution anymore than the vast majority of Muslims want to live under the Taliban’s version of the “law”. The moment this becomes a “Christian Nation” is the moment we cease to be a “free Nation”. Where have you gone Thomas Jefferson? (Or Joe DiMaggio, for that matter).

Maybe what we need is an American Crusade to beat back the lip-sticked pit bulls at the gates of our Democracy.

Sarah Palin

September 13, 2008

Did Sarah Palin tell Charlie Gibson that she was willing to go to war with Russia over Georgia or the Ukraine if they were part of NATO? My fellow Americans, does this candidate, who would be one heartbeat away from the presidency understand the concept of mutually assured destruction? If America elects another imbecile who they would like to put on lipstick with – we deserve exactly what we get. In other words, who in their right mind would vote for another person as unqualified as Bush?


September 9, 2008

I spent the last five days in Wyoming at Gerry’s Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College. Spence and I taught a seminar about my trial. Lawyers from all over the country came to hear about how we won the case and to hear about Gerry’s last trial. It was sort of strange to relive such a painful time of my life. At the same time, I continue to appreciate the greatness of Gerry Spence. We ended the seminar with me reading a portion of Gerry’s closing argument. There were few dry eyes in the room, just like during the trial. I’ve heard a lot of closing arguments in my life, and I can tell you that Gerry Spence’s closing argument in my case will go down in history as one of the greatest closing arguments ever.

Parenting & Life’s Lessons

September 7, 2008

I became a father later in life. I’m 57 years old and have three children under the age of seven. Over the years, I have seen many of my friends change after having children, but I never fully appreciated how much being a father would change me.

Having a child forces you to look long and hard at your own behavior because your children imitate everything you do. I was forced to do exactly that when my oldest son and I were watching the speeches at the Democratic Convention. At one point a speaker said, “these are the values of Democrats… these are our values.” The following dialog ensued:

“Dad, what’s a value?”

“Well, a value is a kind of feeling or an idea that helps people make important decisions. A value teaches us how to behave.”

“So Dad, when you deserve a time-out, does that mean you have bad values?”

My seven-year-old son is a little too young to be going existential on me, but he did force me to think about my own life, my values and my behavior. How do you explain to yourself, let alone your child, that the values we profess to have are not always the values we show by our behavior? How many of us would dare ask our children what they thought of our values based on our behavior at home?

Maybe I should have said that values are more of an ideal. Or maybe I should have said that values are not often discussed and examined—except during political campaigns.

Aren’t my son’s questions something we should be routinely asking ourselves? It is an important question for so many aspects of our lives and the decisions we make. The answers aren’t so simple for me. I spend most of my life in the courtroom or at my law office. Does that mean I don’t value my family as much as my career? Does it mean that I value helping victims or helping myself? I am not talking about motives here; by what measure can we tell what our own REAL values are?

When I’m in trial, I guarantee you that the jurors base their decision as much on credibility as they do on the evidence. Credibility is established in court, and out, by the consistency between what we say and what we do. Values become the only true evidence. If you don’t believe me, ask a child.

Monday Moanin’ (A Day Late)

September 2, 2008

Last week was an historic week for politics. Obama’s nomination and speech on the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech was something I wish my parents, especially my father, were here to witness. My dad, Bernie, was a Harvard Law School graduate. Like Obama he was offered jobs at silk stocking law firms on Wall Street, but chose to come to Detroit and establish the second interracial law firm in Michigan.

My dad was a civil rights lawyer who went south as part of the Lawyers Guild during the most dangerous days of the Civil Rights Movement to represent the Freedom Riders who were being persecuted and prosecuted. I was just a boy when he would call home. I could hear the fear in my mother’s voice when she talked with him. Now I hear hope in the voice of an African-American (so much like my father) as he spoke to America – not as an African-American, but as an American.

When I was young, segregation was still the law in the South. In the last eight years moral evil is once again creeping into politics and into the law. I practice in the State of Michigan where a right-wing gang of four on the Supreme Court is intent on destroying the rights of all victims. Barack Obama now emerges as a symbol of hope that maybe, just maybe, we can right the ship.

There was another voice heard last week as well – the voice of cynical politics. I just want to hear Sarah Palin’s justification for being on a ticket with a man who opposes equal pay for equal work by women. Let’s not kid ourselves, Palin is there to capture the James Dobson’s of the party, you know—the hate mongers… the guys who condemn black teenage pregnancies.

Maybe it’s just me but, couldn’t you hear the voice of Slim Pickens as Palin kept mispronouncing the word “nuclear”. She kept pronouncing it as a “noo-ku-lar” proliferation. If Pickens was introducing Paulin as the VP choice, he might say:

“ Awwww, shoooot. Looky here boys. This little lady is always packin’ and as part-time mayor of Wasilla, Alaska she stood toe-to-toe with those gol-derned Roooskies and never lost an inch of American soil – and you know Russia is on the border of Czechoslovakia. So next time that ole wildcat Putin goes a’stompin’ and a’bombin’ those good ole boys down in Georgia you can bet yer bottom dollar I’ll be sendin’ her down South to kick some commie behind.”

There is a difference between historic achievement and historic cynicism. We should all judge McCain’s judgment and wisdom with his pick of Palin. Still, as I am fond of pointing out to my young lawyers, in the words of Paul Simon, “people hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.”