“When Did It Become Unconstitutional…”

March 28, 2013

As everyone knows at this point from the endless and constant media coverage, the Supreme Court is holding oral arguments on the issue marriage equality, with both DOMA and Prop 8 up for decisions. Although most people might be surprised by the inane (if not offensive) questions posed by Justice Scalia, seasoned observers of the Supreme Court were surprised by how restrained he was. After all, this is the same man who called voting rights was an “entitlement”, thereby securing his reputation as a bigot.

In a day full of highlights in the absurd and comical, Justice Scalia did provide the attorneys the ultimate softball question… which they promptly fouled off. Justice Scalia was demanding to know when prohibiting same sex marriages became unconstitutional. The answer of course is that it was always unconstitutional. Prohibiting any American from marrying has always been contrary to the Constitutional framework of individual liberty. Just because it had never been questioned until now, does not mean it was permissible at any time in the past. Denying former slaves and women the right to vote was also unquestioned for decades, but were also found to be unconstitutional eventually. Not that the question was relevant to any constitutional issue. Scalia, I suspect, was trying to make a point that allowing same sex marriages was somehow a “fad”, the same way he considers Suffrage was a fad.

The whole issue of same sex marriage is serving to expose the reactionary nature of Scalia, Alito and Thomas. These are men who claim to want to limit the role of government in our lives, except when it concerns their own prejudices. 

The Real GOP in Michigan

March 25, 2013

While some GOP leaders are at least mouthing the intent to moderate their rhetoric and policies to be more inclusive, Republicans in Lansing make no such pretence. In the last few weeks the extremists in Lansing have passed along bills to nullify elections in Detroit (the Emergency Manager), nullify the popular vote in national elections (by changing the rules on how votes are counted) and limited the rights of women to take birth control pills (by allowing any insurance to refuse to pay for birth control pills, and any physician and medical institution to refuse to prescribe them, even in emergency situations). This all comes hot on the heels of making Michigan a right to (not) work State, and in anticipation of even more radical laws limiting our liberties.

So how did a traditional Blue State come to have such an extremist Legislature and Governor (albeit Snyder is a recent convert to insanity). The process in Michigan is a template for a hostile takeover of State legislatures by a few billionaires, including the Koch brothers. These would-be oligarchs are allying themselves with local ideologue millionaires (such as the DeVos family in Michigan), who in turn fund alliances between various right wing special interest groups to turn out the vote in local elections. Thus the Tea baggers become allied with the right to life and allied with anti-immigration groups to elect local representatives. Each group, focused on their own single issue is tied together with a well funded candidate taking radical and even contradictory positions. All it takes is for a designated candidate to spend a little face time with small groups and avoid media scrutiny of their real agenda. Never mind that the real agenda of the Kochs and DeVos is to turn Michigan into a third world economy benefitting the 1%.

The only remedy is a grass roots movement of democratic oriented people who are just as motivated to use their vote… at least while they still have it.   

The Emancipation of Detroit

March 18, 2013

Detroiters may have lost their vote to run their own city, but we have an opportunity return the favor to the men who really run Michigan – DeVos and the Koch brothers. If Detroit voted at the same level as African-Americans in the rest of the country, we could easily oust the representatives of corporate America and elect a governor and Legislators that represent us.

In 2008, a record turn-out of African-Americans helped to elect President Obama. In 2012, despite efforts to suppress minority voting by Republicans, an even larger percentage of African-Americans turned out to vote. Research from the Brennan Center for Justice showed that the cost of complying with the new voter compliance measures hastily adopted by Republican Legislatures actually exceeded poll taxes that have been illegal since 1966. In fact, in 2012, the level of African-American voting as a percentage nearly equaled that of Caucasians for the first time.

There is nothing we can do about the Emergency Manager in Detroit.  But we can register to vote and motivate a electorate who has been targeted by DeVos and his Governor and his representatives in the Michigan Legislature. If every African-American eligible to vote in the next State elections chooses to vote, then we can send a message back to the Robber Barons controlling Lansing: “you don’t have enough money to buy this State”.

Detroit With Vultures

March 18, 2013

It appears to be a done deal – Gov. Snyder has appointed an Emergency Manager for Detroit. For anyone who loves Detroit it is a sad day, and I fear will it turn out to be a matter of destroying the city to save it.

First and foremost, Detroit has to take responsibility for this to happen in the first place. The political machine in Detroit since Mayor Kilpatrick (who inherited a Detroit with a budget surplus)have been corrupted into an ethos of self-service and self-destruction, with political leaders for the most part interested in serving their own needs rather than the needs of the City. There has not been a leader with a healthy vision for Detroit in nearly a generation. Detroit floundered economically because of the lack of responsible political leaders on both the local and state level.  

As Detroit reeled from the corruption of Kwame to the dysfunctional dictatorship of the City Council, the carrion in Lansing watched and waited. The silent takeover of DeVos and Koch in Lansing was unmasked with the betrayal of Michigan by Synder when he snuck through the Right to (not) Work legislation at the direction of his lord and master, DeVos. It was only a matter of time before carrion descended onto Detroit to destroy the unions and pick apart city assets.

They didn’t have to wait long for City Council to manifest yet another instance of self-destructive dysfunction (namely, the Bell Isle fiasco) as the pretext to justify nullifying elections and appointing an Emergency Manager. Our economic savior, Mr. Orr, arrived waiving the specter of bankruptcy and warnings to unions. He was also hotly followed by tax liens on his own properties, which should have suggested that the real agenda wasn’t fiscal responsibility.

Already, the plum of Detroit assets, the Water Department is being mentioned as a target for sale. Interestingly, the Governor has said that the State management of Belle Isle would be up to the City Council (that would cost the State money).

The real conflict for me is the fact that I can only hope that Detroit does emerge from the Emergency Manager stronger, because it was clear Detroit could not do it on its own. It feels a bit like welcoming death after a long, painful illness. 

Rand Paul

March 13, 2013

Leave it to the Obama Administration to make a man like Rand Paul into a hero. Senator Paul’s filibuster to force the Obama Administration to declare that American citizens will not be assassinated while sitting in their living room in the U.S. was a remarkable, if not embarrassing, moment in our history. Senator Paul, known for his father and profoundly ignorant comments, chose to personally put himself on the line in an old fashion filibuster, standing for 13 hours without even a restroom break… to do the right thing. A man who is rightly reviled by many (even many Republicans) as the poster boy for the anti-science, know-nothing Tea Party beliefs, chose to do the right, even heroic thing (and God, how it pains me to admit this) by challenging the attempt of the Obama Administration to nullify the due process provisions of the Constitution. Is there any doubt that without Sen. Paul’s one man stand the unwritten policy of the United States would have been that drone attacks on citizens in the United States without any trial would be permissible? Where were Senators Stabenow and Levin? Still supporting the “War on Terror” at any costs, including our liberties? Is this Bizzaro World?

No, just Washington D.C., and a government that has lost its way, along with a moral compass.

The Great White North

March 13, 2013

I just returned from a trial in Anchorage, Alaska. All of February in the Great White North, and it was a fascinating experience. I had never been to Alaska and, apart from historical facts and its reputation for spectacular natural beauty, I knew very little about Alaska, especially from a cultural perspective. I knew it was a State where Sara Palin is still popular and defended. It is a State with a reputation for being very Republican, which is to say Conservative. I was wrong.

Alaska, at least Anchorage, is not Republican it is Libertarian – a place that is fiercely independent. They are just as anti-corporate as they are anti-government. They just don’t want anyone telling them what to do. There is an individualism that also paradoxically translates into an inter-dependence on each other. For example, the challenging weather creates a willingness to help each other, whether it means pitching in to get a car out of a snow bank or getting groceries for your neighbor.

The most striking aspect of Anchorage was that there was no obvious class or racial divisions. I never observed any racial tension and everyone seemed familiar with each other in a small-town sort of way. Maybe Alaska’s distance and recent arrival to the United States insulated it from the cultural legacy of slavery and racism, or perhaps the physical challenge of the environment has created a place – maybe the only place left – where the American dream is still possible.