A Christian Nation

March 29, 2010

It barely made the headlines, but something very bad for the Country happened in Texas a couple weeks ago. Texas is the second largest consumer of high school text books in the Country. That means that they can have extraordinary influence not only over Texas students but also other school systems because of the availability of the text books being printed (or not being printed). Years ago, a coalition of conservative religious extremists were elected to the Texas State Board of Education and immediately began to impose a policy of “re-education” of Texas High School students to what they consider the “genuine” history of the United States. That history, according to conservative religious nuts, is that our Country was founded as a “Christian Nation” and that one essential role of Government was to protect the role of religion in government. It is as ironic as it is disturbing that the real “reeducation camps” are being built by Conservatives.

Those of us who are literate and well-educated on the evolution of the Constitution understand that the principles of the Enlightenment and the experience of persecution by organized religions was the guiding influence of the Founding Fathers. Washington assiduously avoided invoking any reference to a “Christian God” and always referred to the “Grand Architect”.   Some of the Founding Fathers were actually ministers in Christian denominations and they refused to incorporate Christian dogma into the Constitution. The Constitutional principles of the separation of church and state were based on Virginia law written principally by Thomas Jefferson, who although personally a Christian believer expressed a constant animus against organized religion. It was Jefferson also who wrote extensively on the importance of unrestricted access to public education as an essential requirement of any Democracy.

No wonder the State of Texas School Board refused to approve any history text book mentioning the contributions of Thomas Jefferson in founding our country!

It is an inescapable fact that conservatives use Christian dogma to justify their policies and existence. They seek to take power and create the Christian equivalent of an Islamic Republic – to turn our country into a place where laws enforce Christian doctrine. A few weeks ago a Republican Congressman told a Tea Bagger Rally that they should march on Washington D.C., shut it down and take over the government! Some people dismissed his comments as rhetorical flourish, but the treasonous message was obvious, revealing an emerging tolerance for the thought of a conservative coup. Would advocating taking over the government by force or Secession (as advocated by the Governor of Texas) be tolerated a 20 years ago? What will happen in the next 20 years if our children are being taught such a twisted version of our history?

Activist Judges

March 29, 2010

With the revelation that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was among Tea Baggers demonstrating in Washington D.C. can there be any doubt that there is a extremist element who are influencing the decisions of the Supreme Court of the U.S.? I know some people will try to distance Clarence from his wife’s actions – although she wasn’t seen spitting on African-American Congressmen, screaming racial or sexist epithets or carrying signs advocating violent revolution – common sense tells us that those political views are apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree.

Justices Thomas, Alito, Roberts and Scalia have all made public comments decidedly not very judicial and revelatory of a radical agenda to overturn precedent and decide cases to promote the corporate takeover of our Government. Some, like me, recognize that when the Court overturned decades of legal precedents to allow unrestricted rights of corporations (even multi-national corporations) to fund political campaigns was the first step in allowing a “corporate coup”.

There is a movement to change the law allowing judges to be elected, because Corporate money has been used to elect judges who, in turn, make rulings that favor corporate interests over the right of individuals. In Michigan, we have seen how Insurance Companies and the Chamber of Commerce have gotten judges elected to the State Supreme Court with a devastating result to individual rights and the trial by a jury of peers system. Unfortunately, many of those same Justices were initially appointed by a Governor who was also elected by the same Insurance Companies.  A solution to the problem of activist conservative judges is not easy or apparent, but to those of us who spend our lives fighting for the rights of victims it is becoming an impossible task to get justice. I won’t back down or stop fighting for the people, but I worry when jury verdicts are overturned and victims are denied justice or a voice in deciding our government.

The Real Threat to Our Future: GOP Tea

March 12, 2010

There’s a lot of media jabber these days about how the deficit spending of the Obama Administration is threatening the future of the next generations of Americans. Most people with a sense of reality and history, understand the difference between what Obama is doing and what his GOP and tea bagger critics are advocating.

There is a meaningful difference between Obama’s approach of deficit spending to save middle-class Americans through stimulus programs, and the GOP policy of deficit spending to further enrich 5% of the most affluent Americans. If by some miracle, we had been spared the GOP dominated 8 years of Bush/Cheney, we would have been able to save the economy from the criminal actions of Wall St AND fully fund universal health care with no deficit.

Remember that when the GOP took over the Presidency and Congress at the end of the Clinton Administration, there was a budget SURPLUS. If we take back the Bush tax cuts for the rich (which created no net job creation), the war in Iraq, the unfunded mandates of “No Child Left Behind” and Medicare Prescription Drug benefits, we would have approached the potential collapse of the economy under Bush with a $900 billion dollar SURPLUS.

If you want to define the bright lines between the Democrats and the GOP in terms of deficit spending, then it should only be fairly stated that the GOP spends money to enrich the rich, and Democrats spend money to rescue the economy. Liberal deficit spending may endanger the future of the next generation, but conservative deficit spending nearly destroyed the present. When it comes to fiscal policy, I would rather bet on the future of liberal deficits than the sure-fire destruction of Conservative deficits.

This brings us to the only apparent alternative to deficit spending: the fiscal agenda of the Tea baggers. Don’t let them hide behind flags or fool you with their rhetoric. The only result of their platform of an immediate elimination of deficit spending is anarchy. Over 75% of all cities would lose their fire and police departments, public education would be destroyed and infrastructure maintenance such as water purification and sewage treatment and road maintenance would be non-existent. Instead of drinking the cool-aid, the GOP wants to feed us tea.

Hurt Locker

March 5, 2010

Most of you already know that I filed a lawsuit on behalf of M/SGT Sarver against the producers of the movie “Hurt Locker’. I have represented a number of veterans over the years, but this lawsuit is particularly important because it not only addresses an injustice to one man, but to generations of veterans who have sacrificed their lives honorably and courageously only to be forgotten and exploited by our society.

Recently, a local news station broadcast a story about a couple who purchased a home and found a shoe box full of pictures and medals from a veteran of WWII. It had been left in the attic when the veteran had died years earlier. I thought to myself what a symbol of how combat veterans live after they come home from war. The real hurt lockers are stashed in the closets and attics of millions of American homes. They are full of pictures of men in the prime of their lives, buddies (some of whom did not come back) and medals reflecting an act of heroism among thousands of unrecognized acts of heroism.

Hollywood has made billions from exploiting the courage and sacrifices of veterans for generations. In many cases they portray veterans as sadistic or emotionally unstable – you know the stereotypes. In many cases glorify something that invariably leaves the participants changed forever. Any combat veteran will tell you that war is not glorious, if they even talk about it. Most of the time, the veteran keeps that experience hidden away in their own particular “hurt locker”.

It’s about time our society began to appreciate their sacrifices and, in particular, it’s about time Hollywood shared some of the wealth they have reaped off the blood and tears of veterans.

The Lie of Tort Reform

March 2, 2010

The “Health Care Summit” reminded me that there are some disturbing rumors that President Obama is open to incorporating GOP “ideas” on “Tort Reform”. This would be a tremendous mistake for several reasons.

First, Tort Reform has nothing to do with health care costs. It is solely a give away to the insurance industry. In States that have passed caps and other types of “Tort Reform”, the costs of delivering medical care, the costs of private medical insurance and the costs of medical malpractice insurance is the same, or more, as those States which have not passed Tort Reform. Study after study in the past 2 decades have consistently shown that medical malpractice lawsuits contribute less than 1/10 of 1% (.01) of health care costs. Some people claim that the hidden costs of lawsuits include the practice of “defensive medicine”, but again, the data proves otherwise. Most medical tests deemed to be unnecessary are ordered by doctors and hospitals seeking to up their fees and cover costs of purchasing new (and often unnecessary or duplicative) equipment. A hospital decides to order a new MRI machine and hire staff [even though a competitor down the street already has one], and all of a sudden the number of requests for MRIs increases.

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has steadily declined in the past 25 years. The number of cases won by plaintiffs has decreased, and the average amount of money verdicts has decreased during the same time period. So why has the cost of medical insurance premiums and medical malpractice insurance increased exponentially? The only economic factor shown to correlate with increases in the costs of insurance premiums is the stock market. In other words, insurance companies raise premiums depending on how their investments in the stock market fare. Then, of course, there are the 28% administrative costs, including lobbyists to make sure that States don’t audit their books.

Not one insurance company, in any state, has ever opened its books to correlate the premiums charged with the actual cost of underwriting. The health care crisis is in large measure due to the abuses of private insurance companies. The solution to the crisis is not to take away the legal rights of Americans to have their day in court, and protect corporations, which is what Tort Reform is. Whenever I ask people, even conservatives, if they think the government should be able to change any verdict from any jury without hearing or reviewing a single piece of evidence, they say “absolutely not”. That is exactly what happens with damage caps (tort reform).

Even though it is widely recognized that the abuses private health insurance corporations have created the heath care crisis, the President still refuses to consider a single payer system. A single payer system would immediately reduce administrative costs, which is the single greatest contributor to escalating costs. But another more important effect of a single payer system would be to remove the corrupting influence of insurance industry money on politics. If you happen to have seen the health summit on television, imagine a dollar sum above the heads of each and every one of those Congressmen talking, representing how much money they took from the insurance industry to get elected… Max Baucus ($35 million), Joe Lieberman ($12 million), etc.

Tort reform will change nothing regarding the costs of health care. It is another give away, taking away all our rights. What we really need is campaign finance reform. That would solve more than just the Health Care Crisis.

Local Politics goes National

March 2, 2010

Tip O’Neill once famously said that “all politics is local”. In Michigan, local politics is national. Consider this: a Legislature paralyzed in partisan gridlock while record levels of deficits grow and unemployment is at Great Depression era levels. Middle-class families are being destroyed as corporations rake in record profits. This describes the current situation in Washington D.C. Here in Michigan, we have been experiencing the same for over a decade. The experience of Michigan can be instructive to the national debate, although the politicians in Washington D.C. are just as unlikely as the ones in Michigan to learn the lessons.

In the early 1990s the State of Michigan under Republican leadership became captured by corporate money. Under the Trojan Horse of “job creation”, John Engler and his fellow Republicans effectively changed the focus of government from serving the welfare of the people to serving the welfare of the Chamber of Commerce. Corporate taxes were lowered resulting in a loss of revenue that turned a budget surplus into a budget deficit that has grown steadily. In a decade when the national economy was soaring and the U.S. budget was in surplus, Michigan’s rush to lower taxes and deregulation to create a “job friendly environment” turned a budget surplus into a deficit and sent the State down the toilet of economic and moral ruin.

For Michigan’s Republicans, “trickle down” wealth meant shifting the revenue burden away from corporations to families – fees for individual necessities such as driver’s licenses increased dramatically. Municipal fees and taxes were raised just to keep essential services such as police and fire departments, even as corporations were granted rights and tax waivers that antebellum plantation owners would have envied. Now, just a few years later, the corporations are gone, along with the precious few jobs they did generate, and so is the revenue they could have generated. The response of the Democrats in the post-Engler era was to do more of the same: deregulation, corporate tax waivers, etc. The result was more of the same. Now, Republican aspirants to the Governorship are advocating even more corporate give-aways, tax cuts and deregulation and the abandonment of the health and education systems.

Republicans in Washington D.C. echo the same policies that have nearly destroyed Michigan. The Pharmaceutical industry is a case in point. To attract these companies, Republicans gave away land and tax revenues. They removed the right of any citizen to sue drug companies under any circumstances, and imposed unconstitutional Tort Reforms. Very few jobs were created and those are gone along with the companies (Pfieser) who made record level profits. Tort Reform in Michigan has done nothing to lower the costs of medical care or medical malpractice insurance.

Michigan has been a laboratory on the destructive results that lowered taxes and deregulation have wreaked on working families and their communities. So why are we hearing Republicans advocating the same policies once again? Because those policies have created record profits for corporations and it trickles down to the politicians who represent those corporations. Not the people.