The Supreme Coup

January 27, 2010

It was a change in government that few Americans seem to realize. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court put us on notice that we were no longer going to be a government “of the people, for the people and by the people”. It was a political coup.

Conservatives have hypocritically complained for decades about “activist judges”. They claim that liberal activist judges ignored or reversed legal precedents (like Jim Crow laws) and created laws from fictional rights. But no liberal Court has ever been as activist as our current U.S. Supreme Court, certainly not to the extent of fundamentally destroying our democracy. True, the U.S. Supreme Court did intervene to change the outcome of a Presidential election in 2000, but ignoring the popular vote to choose a president is relatively minor compared to what they did to us last week.

Last week the activist conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that we would no longer have a government of, by and for the People and we would now have a government of, by and for insurance companies and corporations. The radical activist Judges reversed decades of legal precedents, including rulings by previous Supreme Courts, and decided that in between the lines and hidden behind the words of the Constitution of the United States was the intent of our Founding Fathers that corporations, even multi-national corporations, have all of the same rights as any individual person who was a citizen. Among those rights was the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to affect the outcome of any election. For example, if a mayor or city council in your city refuses to allow a chemical company to dump toxic waste into the ground water, that corporation can spend millions of dollars to create a recall and millions more to make sure a candidate who will let them pollute is elected.

Now some people are naïve or disingenuous enough to suggest that money has nothing to do with the outcomes of elections because ultimately it comes down to votes. A candidate with no money won’t be heard by the electorate. Who will have the money to run ads to counter the non-stop negative ads or robocalls or all of the other negative campaign tactics used in elections? A candidate with no money can’t run a voter registration or “get out the vote” operation. There already are examples of how money from corporations have corrupted government: big money contributions from corporations have gotten pro-business judges elected in numerous States. Judges elected with the financial support of corporations have reversed long-standing legal precedents, reverse jury verdicts and created almost insurmountable obstacles for individual citizens to get justice. Legislatures also have been co-opted by corporate dollars. For example, we recently saw how a couple Senators who take millions of dollars from health care corporations and insurance companies completely obstructed a Health Care Reform Bill that would have benefited every American citizen.

So Judges Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito have reversed over 60 years of laws, fabricated a right and set into motion the end of our democratic institutions. Shame on them and shame on us if we don’t fight back this hostile but subtle coup.

Dr. Martin Luther King Day 2010

January 18, 2010

On a day celebrating one of the great Americans, it might do us some good to reflect on where we are as a society relative to the issues that Dr. King fought and died for during his brief life.

Today many people will celebrate the fact that for the first time we are celebrating MLK Day with a President of color. It does say something good about our society that a Black man with an Islamic name could be elected President. But Dr. King would be the first to point out that, in many respects, our society as it relates to the human condition, has not significantly changed since the mid-1960s.

Economic Justice: “Peace is not the absence of violence. It is the presence of justice.”

Dr. King considered economic injustice as the root cause of racism and violence in the Country. How have we progressed since 1968 with regard to issues of economic justice?

Dr. King called poverty the most “debilitating form of violence”. The rate of poverty among Americans has steadily increased since 2000, and there are now more Americans living in poverty than in 1964.

The rate of unemployment among African-Americans is 50% higher than for White Americans, and the net wealth of African-Americans is 10 times less than White Americans. The economic disparity has now spread to afflict even many White Americans. As a whole, wealth in America has decreased for 99% of all citizens since 1968, with 99% of all wealth now owned by 1% of the population.

Wages for African-Americans who are employed have grown closer to those of White Americans, but only because wages for all American workers has decreased when inflation is considered. In other words, White Americans are now beginning to suffer from the same economic injustice that has afflicted African-Americans for generations: massive unemployment and the loss of wages. This is not equality, it is shared injustice.

Social Justice: “A nation that continues to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Dr. King called the rate of incarceration of African-Americans and people of conscience in 1968 a great sin and another form of Jim Crow segregation. Today, the rate of incarceration of African-American males is much higher than even at the heights of the Civil Rights Movement, 1 of every 9 African-American males is in prison. When the other minorities and impoverished whites are considered, the prison system in the U.S. is considered by some a Gulag system with over 80% of the prison population poor or minorities. The rate of imprisonment for the poor and minorities is greater than any other country in the World, including the most repressive regimes such as China and Myanmar.

Dr. King opposed the war in Viet Nam and the “Arms Race” as immoral, and a symptom of the destructive power of the Military-Industrial Complex. Soon after Dr. King began to challenge the profits of Corporate America, he was assassinated. Now we have the never-ending “War on Terror” with trillions spent and no end in sight. What would Dr. King say about a society willing to spend trillions on wars and Wall Street bankers, but not spend a few billion to provide health care to every citizen?

While explicit expressions of racial hatred are less tolerated by our society compared to 1968, the emergence of the Tea Party, Birthers and Fox News has simply changed the words, not the bigotry of our society. One could only imagine how these elements of society would attack Dr. King and what he stood for today. Dr. King’s emphasis on economic justice as a predicate for peace and prosperity would surely put him in the crosshairs of these hateful people.

In this country, Dr. King was most known for his advocacy of civil rights. But to most of the world Dr. King was fundamentally an advocate of human rights. He spoke out on issues of the rights of all human beings to peace and security, to food and a living wage, to fair and equal treatment under the law – he spoke to principles of his own Christianity that were relevant to people of any race or creed. He also professed to be an American patriot who cared deeply about his country. He is the quintessential definition of a true patriot – a man willing to die to make his country live up to its ideals.

Finally, what would Dr. King say to President Obama, if he were alive today?

“A true leader is not a searcher for consensus, he is a molder of consensus.”

Let Loose the Dogs of Racism

January 13, 2010

It’s a pity that the media is wasting an opportunity to have a genuine discussion about race relations in our country as the result of the Sen. Harry Reid controversy. The fact is that there is something worth learning from this episode for many white Americans. White Americans, especially older and even liberal ones like Harry Reid, have to begin to recognize that racism is more than just a political attitude. It is an emotional illness that has been ingrained in every American since the beginning of the country, including people of color as well. I say that older Americans have a greater bondage to racism because they grew up in a segregated society and have not had as much of an opportunity to develop and learn from the personal relationships with people of color. Harry Reid is having one of those moments right now.

I grew up in the Detroit area, and so I have had to “live and learn” my entire life that there are many forms of racism: conscious and subconscious. I came from a liberal home, but my liberal upbringing didn’t inoculate me from the fear and cultural ignorance or arrogance that has been woven into this Country’s history almost from the beginning. That is the real origin of racism. It is a subconscious process of differentiating and defining people based on the color of their skin. It is a perception based on stereotypes and ignorance that comes mainly from one thing: the lack of personal contact and relationships with people of other races. We fear the unknown, we fear the different.

My life’s experience has taught me that once you develop a relationship, whether personal or professional, with people of other races, the issue of race becomes more and more subtle and less problematic. Racist stereotyping or attitudes never completely go away, but they become less and less important emotionally when experience and personal relationships develop. In some cases, such as the integration of the Armed Services, the practical necessity of interdependence soon dissolves the barriers to personal transformation. Many of the closest friendships and bonds between men of different races have been formed in fox holes.

However, just simply forming relationships with people of different races is not sufficient to overcome racism. I had to be willing to question and confront my own thoughts and feelings before I could recognize the true extent of my own racism. Now, keep in mind that I was raised in a family that not only supported civil rights, but my parents put their lives on the line to pass civil rights laws (my father was a freedom rider in the most dangerous days of the movement). I have always had close friends of different races, and I litigate civil rights cases to this day. Yet, there have been times, when called out by my African-American friends that I had to realize that to really free my thinking and emotions from the bondage of racism, I had to be willing to be self-reflective and to learn. Freeing your mind from racism is not just a matter of adopting certain political and social attitudes – it is a matter of searching for the attitudes and emotions that cause us to relate to other human beings based on their race.

Will we ever become a society that doesn’t see or judge a person based on their race? I doubt it, simply because it is so ingrained structurally in our country. It is no secret why African-Americans consistently and constantly suffer from the highest rates of unemployment, incarceration and poverty. Yet when economic hard times like this also begin to affect white people, why do minorities (who are far more adversely affected) become the scapegoats? Why do white people like the tea-baggers identify “illegal immigration” and “socialism” (meaning to social programs for minorities) rather than the corporate oligarchy that has taken over the economy and created so much injustice? Why exploit the inherent fear and resentment of racism rather than an attempt to create social and economic justice?

People of color are not fooled by the faux-outrage of Republicans or Fox News – actions speak louder than words and the policies and actions of these people are obviously racist. They will continue to divide people based on race to perpetuate a political system in the service of the real source of economic and social injustice: protecting the 1%.

The words of Harry Reid were racist, but far less problematic to minorities than the threat posed by the actions of Republicans. Reid only embarrassed himself and discovered an element of his own racism. He has already overcome the most debilitating aspects of his own racism. His is the problem of recognizing the subtle extent to which his racism is ingrained after overcoming the larger obstacles of fear, resentment and hatred that causes one to advocate racist policies.

The Next Governor of Michigan

January 7, 2010

Now that Mr. Cherry, a decent but uncharismatic and unfunded man, has decided to withdraw from the campaign for the next governor of Michigan, the field is wide open on the Democratic side. There is a lot of chatter on the right that the Dems are toast because Granholm has wrecked the State. Nonsense, on both counts.

In fairness to Ms. Granholm, she may not have done much to stop our slide into a Depression, but she didn’t cause it either. Governor Engler and the Republicans who ran the State for 12 years, left a 3 billion dollar deficit during a time when the entire Country was in an economic boom. Republicans gave away the ranch to corporations in exchange for a promise of jobs – and then the corporations took the money and left the State (e.g. Pfizer). The net result of virtually eliminating business taxes was increased unemployment, a tax burden shifted to municipalities (meaning that individual citizens now have to pay more taxes to keep their police and fire departments), education was virtually defunded and poor people were virtually left with a choice to leave the State or possibly die (e.g. the latest fire in Detroit killing three people who could not afford electricity).

Republican economic policies ruined the State. Granholm was only guilty of supporting the same failed policies and job-hunting in D.C. The truth of the matter is that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has bought the last two Governors and owns the Legislature. They have invested a lot of money to get judges elected as well. The next Governor will have to contend with a State government that represents only the interests of corporations. Someone who truly represents the best interests of the citizens of Michigan may only become Governor by leading a mob of pitchfork carrying citizens.

You can expect that the Republican candidate will have a fat bankroll and will be a Manchurian candidate. Hoekstra? Really? A man who enabled the economic policies of George Bush that have wrecked the Country? Pete, think about it… there is no Wall St. or Military-Industrial complex in Michigan – there is barely ANY industrial complex left in Michigan. There is no more economy to wreck. Take your cue from Engler: keep your bankroll and retire to Virginia. Cox? Well, tax-payers have to ask themselves whether you can trust a man who covered for Kwame? The only real question is: what then of the Democrats?

I don’t care if we elect a Republican or a Democrat so long as they are not insane. By that, I mean insane as defined by doing the same things and expecting different results. The next Governor of Michigan will have to be Roosevelt (Teddy AND Franklin) – someone who can break up the corporate stranglehold on government and really represent the interests of working families.

Home of the Brave

January 7, 2010

Here we go again folks, with the “War on Terror”. Not to diminish the seriousness of the attempt to blow up a commercial airliner over Christmas, but it seems to me that luck, and not skill or planning has been the determining factor in the last few attempts by al Qaeda to “terrorize” us. Indeed, without even being successful, al Qaeda has managed to terrorize us – with a little help from their friends at Fox News. We have been lucky in that al Qaeda apparently can only recruit incompetent and mentally deranged men to do their dirty work. First, a man named Reid gives himself a hot foot, and now another “terrorist” self-inflicted burns on his legs and crotch. It makes me wonder who should be more afraid – us or the “terrorists”. There have been two spectacularly unsuccessful attempts in over 8 years of millions of commercial flights. The odds of even witnessing a terrorist attack are so remote that you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning.

So what’s really going on? America’s military-industrial complex needs a boogey man – without the fear of war there is no profit. When the Communists faded into the sunset, Cheney-Bush came to the rescue with the never-ending war – the “war on terror”. I took my family on a vacation over the Holidays and we flew. I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t fly out of a sense of bravado. I am not going to allow fear to dictate what I do with my life. In fact, the thought of a terrorist attack never even crossed my mind.

Some people benefit from the fear of terrorism – people make money off of the FEAR of terrorism. As far as I am concerned the people who make money off of fear are more despicable. A fraction of all terrorists are motivated by ideology, but most “terrorists” are impoverished, illiterate and desperate, and/or they are mentally ill. While their violence is inexcusable, they are understandable in human terms. It is the people in the media and the military-industrial complex that exploit terror for profit that I find not only more despicable, but also more dangerous.

Consider this: we have suffered more self-inflicted losses as the result of the FEAR of terrorism than any act of terrorism. We voluntarily forfeited rights and liberties to the government after 9/11. More Americans died and more families were destroyed in an unnecessary war in Iraq than have been killed by all acts of terrorism against the USA, combined. We went from a booming economy and a budget surplus to a virtual depression in terms of unemployment and loss of income – primarily due to this “war” – and there is no end in sight. How many people realize that we have more “contractors” (i.e. mercenaries) fighting in Afghanistan than we have troops at an exponentially greater cost?

Fear of terrorism has created a dangerous symbiosis among the media, defense industries and politicians and al Qaeda that has already been far more damaging to our country than any act of terrorism. All al Qaeda has to do is have some deranged individual set fire to his crotch and then watch as our politicians and media pundits trip over themselves to tell us that we should live in fear unless we spend unaccountable billions and forfeit our freedoms. Dick Cheney and virtually the entire (mis)cast of Fox News are more dangerous to our Country than Al Qaeda.

What happened to the “home of the brave”? The only thing we have to fear – is fear itself.