Baghdad or Detroit?

May 21, 2010

This past weekend a convoy of SUVs and Trucks drove up to a home and set up a perimeter. Men in combat armor, with guns drawn, made their way across a lawn littered with children’s toys and up to the front door. The violence was sudden and fatal. In a coordinated movement, men rush to the door and throw a stun grenade through a window. After the grenade exploded there was a shot and when the smoke cleared a seven year old child was dead.

You might expect that this was Baghdad, or some other city in Iraq or Afghanistan. It was in a war zone, but in the streets of our own City of Detroit. The Detroit Police threw a grenade into the front room of a home without warning and rushed in with guns blazing. The same Police Department that is under a Federal “probation” of sorts because of excessive use of fatal force against innocent citizens, is now throwing grenades and shooting 7 year old girls that are asleep in their own home.

The police were seeking a man suspected of homicide, but the police were not astute enough to know that there was an upper and lower flat – and they chose the wrong address. Along with the Police were camera crews, there to film a reality cop show and, if they were lucky, a snuff film.

Police experts are appalled at the excessive tactics of the Detroit Police Department, whose job is to protect innocent citizens. They had many non-violent alternatives, such as waiting to see if the suspect was leaving or entering the home. Just wait until he is isolated and can be apprehended without any risk to innocent citizens.

Killing innocent people to capture a suspect is a crime in war zones under international law and the Geneva Conventions. What do we call it when it happens in Detroit?

Of course, the usual response of police was to justify the killing but claiming that the victims had “resisted” or posed a life threatening danger. A grandmother and a sleeping 7 year old girl, just suffering the concussion of a grenade were a danger to armed and armored police? Unfortunately for the men who killed this child, there were witnesses and a video film exposing their attempted cover up.

In some cities, such as Newark, NJ, police are honored for not using deadly force even when the circumstances justify deadly force. In Detroit, officers have been given medals for using deadly force on innocent citizens. Is it any wonder why Detroiters not only distrust but also fear their Police?

Lost Treasure

May 14, 2010

$6.7 billion dollars/month – $80 billion dollars/year. That is what the war in Afghanistan (what can be fairly called Obama’s war in Afghanistan) is costing us in money. What the war is costing in terms of the truly invaluable treasure – the lives of American soldiers and Marines dwarfs the material costs.

It’s not worth it and it will only get worse. I have written before about the war in Afghanistan, and here I go again…

I have a great deal of respect for President Obama, and I was an early supporter, so it’s not easy to discuss how much of a profound failure he is with regards to Afghanistan. How a man of such obvious intellect could fail to understand history as it repeats itself in Afghanistan is a lesson in point on political and institutional blind spots.

Let’s discuss just how the wheel of history repeating itself… a recent example from 1963. Ngo Dinh Diem was installed by a US engineered coup as president of South Viet Nam. He was considered an ally who would rubber stamp the US military involvement. He was corrupt, encouraged corruption (especially in the opium trade) and he was no fan of democracy or the rule of law. He had a brother who was also corrupt and directly involved in the drug trade (who also happened to be a Roman Catholic Archbishop).

Hamid Kasai, once employed by Haliburton, was appointed President of Afghanistan by the Bush Administration (no coup was necessary) and remains President only because the US turned a blind eye to a fraudulent election, controlled by his brother who is involved in the opium trade.

Henry Cabot Lodge, then ambassador to S. Viet Nam, warned against supporting Diem and escalating military involvement However, the US felt that Viet Nam was a necessary war to stop the advancement of our enemies (this time the Communists) and that if Viet Nam fell then all of SE Asia would fall. We had to support Diem to win the war, and we had to win the war to avoid fighting one on our own soil. Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador to Afghanistan has publicly warned against supporting Karzai and escalating US military involvement.

Diem falsely projected control of most of South Viet Nam, but really only controlled major cities – most of the countryside was either under Communist control or were opposed to the Diem regime. The Karzai does not control any areas outside of the two major cities, and barley those.

The parallels should be obvious to anyone, but here is the scariest. The latest argument in favor of the war is that it necessary to prevent Pakistan from destabilizing and becoming a radical State. Anyone remember what happened when the US escalated the war across the border into Cambodia? Not only did Cambodia become unstable, so did Laos. Think about this the next time the media celebrates another Predator drone attack in Pakistan.

Why I Didn’t Run

May 12, 2010

I struggled with the decision to run for Governor. Rome is burning and the people who started the fire, the professional politicians, are beyond redemption. I don’t think that they have solutions to offer. They only want another job at the public trough.

That leaves us ordinary citizens to sacrifice our careers and our privacy to put out the fires in Michigan and start the rebuilding process.

It takes incredible sacrifice for someone like me to serve in Government. I don’t need the job, I like what I do.

My own excursion into politics was eye opening. Many people in politics make their livings by brokering deals; they are parasites who rely on kick-backs [now or later]. The really dangerous ones are in three piece suits over at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

When I ran for Governor I refused to make any deals. I refused to sell my soul. The consequence was that I received very little help from my own party. To run successfully for governor you have to compromise your soul. As a lawyer defending victims I don’t have to sacrifice my integrity; and even on those rare occasions when I lose, I have a clear conscience.

Although I loved meeting the people of Michigan and touring the State, I just didn’t like the people who populate the “industry” of politics. I didn’t know if I wanted to again spend millions of my own money to get back into that cesspool.

There are two problems we have to deal with in Michigan that transcend political parties. They are structural. The first is that the vast majority of people in office today simply want to get elected because they need the job. That means that government is reactive – not proactive. Politicians wait until a crisis develops before they act because they are afraid. Governors and legislatures don’t take a stand until a consensus develops as the result of a crisis. Otherwise, they might be required to take a stand on an issue that later could hurt their re-election bids.

Professional politicians are self-centered instead of being focused on what’s good for the people. Polls, not principles, drive their actions.

When I ran for Governor I proposed a number of policies that were ridiculed at the time, but have since been adopted after the situation got so bad that we had to act.

I proposed a state-wide medical insurance pool that would have reduced premiums by 30% to individuals and small businesses. I proposed eliminating the small business tax, and ending the prison for profit system. I proposed diversion for non-violent first time, drug offenses. Had those policies been adopted in 1998, we would be in much better shape, but they weren’t “politically attractive” then.

When Jennifer Granholm appointed me chairman of the Film Commission, I proposed the largest tax incentive in the country as a way to attract film makers. Republicans in the legislature ridiculed my proposal. After I left, it was adopted with great success.

The second problem with politics is that as far as the political parties go, they are often a distinction without a difference.

Government has stopped governing for the good of ordinary folks. It has become a tool for big business to make money. The reason why the election of a Democrat or a Republican makes little difference to the everyday lives of most working people is that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and insurance companies control this State for their own self-interest.

Politicians can argue about ideology all day long, but in the end, the only real difference between the two parties is that most Republicans are nothing more than insurance company shills, and many Democrats aspire to yet another government job. The economic policies of the past 20 years have virtually all been dictated by what’s best for the corporate sponsors of each of the respective camps, not what’s best for the rest of us.

Michigan has the most business friendly laws, tax structure and judiciary in the country, and what real jobs do we have to show for it? At what point do we recognize that forfeiting the future of this State for low wage temporary jobs is not worth it? Less taxes and more business giveaways have bankrupted Michigan; destroyed our infrastructure and destroyed our quality of life.

Under the Republican administration in Michigan [1990 to 2002] we shifted the tax burden from big business to individual citizens. A multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company does not pay a dollar in property taxes, but parents have to pay additional fees and taxes to send their kids to failing schools over third world roads. That’s wrong, it’s unjust. However, if you propose building another prison or starting another war, the Republicans will rush to spend your tax money like drunken sailors.

For the Republicans to now claim that they are worried about the cost of universal health care after spending trillions on the war in Iraq is downright ludicrous. It’s so absurd that it makes me laugh to think that anyone could be that hypocritical and maintain a straight face.

In 1992, Michigan Republicans passed the only law in the country that makes drug companies totally immune from product liability suits for dangerous drugs. What happens then? Pfizer up and leaves the state taking thousands of jobs with it and the ordinary folks of Michigan still have no legal recourse when defective drugs kill their children!

One of the biggest concerns we have is that big business has invested millions of dollars to get activist judges elected or appointed to the bench so that they can serve their corporate masters. How do you explain the fact that four activist Michigan Supreme Court judges, appointed by Mr. Engler, ruled in favor of corporations and against individual citizens in 99% of their cases? That’s not a coincidence.

Judges like Robert Young and Stephen Markman have created a judicial environment in which our most vulnerable citizens cannot get justice. Ultimately, when people know they cannot get justice in Court they will take justice into their own hands. We have to move now to restore integrity to the Michigan Judicial system.

Lansing has sold the farm to big business and bankrupted the State as a consequence. Offering tax exemptions to corporations has not produced any lasting benefit to our state. Tax breaks are a means for the wealthy to get richer at the expense of ordinary folks.

The few jobs that are created by tax breaks [many of which turn out to be temporary], are not sufficient to offset the lost tax revenue. Prop A has destroyed our public school system in Michigan. There’s nothing wrong with a business making profits, but it cannot be at the expense of the lives of Michigan citizens, or our environment.

There are a few good Democrats in the mix right now. Virj Benero, and Andy Dillon are outstanding men with correct political positions. I know I’ve poked fun at Rick Synder, but at least he is focusing on real problems and making proposals that aren’t just focus-group driven dribble. And, he doesn’t need a job.

The other Republican candidates offer nothing more than the same. Their names read like a list of wannabes, in need of a new government job, with not a shred of ingenuity or talent among them.

Supreme Test

May 12, 2010

More than a few people have been arguing that the current Supreme Court has been stacked by the Republicans with Judges who consider the Constitution as a tool to expand and empower the rights of business corporations over the rights of individuals (Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Roberts). The evidence is supported by recent decisions that enable corporations to discriminate against women, and to permit unlimited funding of campaigns by corporations. Whereas the U.S. Constitution was once considered a shield for the rights of the people from the powerful, it is now being bent to undermine individual freedoms whenever those rights conflict with the profits of business.

This makes the nomination of Elana Kagan as the next Supreme Court Justice a vital matter to anyone who cares about liberty. Consider the events of the last 2 weeks: an ecological disaster caused by a corporation that was allowed to protect their profits at the expense of our safety, and a cyber-theft on Wall St. that created a few multimillionaires in less than a minute while wiping out the pensions and savings of thousands. BP is now venue shopping in Texas, where judges have been elected by the contributions of Oil Companies – a clear example of how corporate money is expected to buy justice. The robber-barons on Wall St. will continue to make money by betting against the same stocks they sell us.

The system has become so unjust and unfair that it is threatening our democracy. What will happen when ordinary people, individual citizens, know they can never get justice in the courtroom because judges are protecting the interests of the rich and powerful? That’s not what our Founding Father’s intended, and it’s not the way the Constitution should be interpreted.

The only question that Ms. Kagan should be asked is “do you believe the Constitution provides the same protections to inanimate objects (such as multinational corporations) as it does to individual US citizens? Do you believe that the Constitution seek to protect the rights of the individual from the rich and powerful?”

Fear and Loathing in the Wild West

May 6, 2010

What is happening right now in Arizona is a classic study of what happens when people are afraid. The Arizona law passed this last week clearly targets race – it is a law that puts anyone who is or looks Hispanic on the radar of every law enforcement agency and vigilante in the State. People who deny that it will lead to racial profiling are either being disingenuous or incredibly naive. Over the years of practicing law I can tell you race is the first variable every police officer notices when determining probable cause – whether it is a driving violation, shoplifting, or as simple as standing on a street corner. If an officer is looking for an “illegal alien” and sees two people, one with blonde hair and blue eyes and another who is Hispanic, who are both dressed identically and act identically – which one is going to get questioned? We all know. It is the same reason why so many African-American men who are not guilty of any crime are identified as a perpetrator, arrested (and more often than any other race), wrongfully convicted. This law is all about fear and race. It’s no coincidence that the Arizona Legislature almost passed another law the same week requiring President Obama to produce his birth certificate (again) to be on the next election ballot.

Why would Arizona react so extremely to the issue of immigration when adjacent states such as New Mexico, does not? The answer is obvious to me, having grown up in one of the most segregated cities in the North. When neighborhoods began to integrate there was always more violence than in neighborhoods that had already integrated. That was because people fear change. Arizona is rapidly becoming a State with a majority minority population, i.e. most people living there will soon be minority status. Arizonans are simply saying the same things I would hear being said to African-Americans by the racists in my neighborhood: “we don’t like your kind here.”

Is it really so hard to understand why the Tea Baggers are overwhelmingly white and older? I feel sorry for them because they are frightened people, but they really have nothing to fear. Once you live with and become friends with people of a different race or culture, they become human beings and not an abstract fear.

Justice Roam Polanski Style

May 6, 2010

If the US is asking for the extradition of Roman Polanski, why is the government not asking for the extradition of Cardinal Bernard Law or Pope Benedict XVI? If we consider it important enough to seek extradition of a man responsible for the rape of a child, why are we not asking for the extradition of men who were responsible for allowing the rapes of tens of thousands of children?

Bernard Law was Cardinal of the archdiocese of Boston and had actual knowledge of pedophile priests responsible for the rapes of hundreds of children. He protected the pedophiles from the law and allowed them to be transferred to other duties and other opportunities to rape more children. Cardinal Law beat it to the Vatican literally moments before being served with a subpoena for Grand Jury testimony by the Massachusetts State Police. He claims diplomatic immunity and refuses to submit to justice.

Pope Benedict XVI while Bishop received complaints of child abuse by priests, but his office never responded to the complaints or contacted the police. His supporters claim that he never PERSONALLY saw any of these complaints and was unaware of them. However, as Cardinal Ratzinger before becoming pope, he insisted that ALL cases of sexual abuse be reported to him and only to him. Now stories are emerging about the direct role the Pope played in covering up the crimes and enabling the sexual abuse by pedophiles.

In Britain, there is a movement to serve the Pope with a writ (the equivalent of a subpoena). We should do the same.

Perhaps Roam Polanski should have fled to the Vatican rather than Switzerland, where he would only be one more pedophile among many…