My Home Town

May 31, 2013

Detroit gets a lot of bad publicity and has a reputation as the poster city of a post-industrial America. Some of it is deserved. A casual walk two blocks on either side of Woodward Ave downtown does look a lot like a Neill Blomkamp post-apocalyptic movie, with almost as many abandoned than occupied buildings and homeless people staggering around. However, it is also the hometown of a lot of very good people and in times like this week, there are few places in the world I would rather be.

The fruit trees are blooming, the sun is shining. The Tigers are in first place and the Red Wings almost made the finals. Outdoor restaurants are booming and women are wearing shorter skirts. Take some time before a ball game and sit near the fountain in Grand Circus Park or Belle isle and enjoy the sights of old men playing horse shoes, families barbecuing and people just generally enjoying the sunshine and life.

There are challenges in Detroit and maybe we will never recover the glory days of the 50’s. But with the Woodward Cruise looming and swimming in nice cold lakes just around the corner… this is the place to be.

The Monsanto Protection Act

May 22, 2013

The State of Michigan has a Supreme Court which is owned by corporations, if measured by their record of decisions on business related cases. As attorneys already know, and hundreds of victims are discovering every year, it is virtually impossible in Michigan to sue a corporation about a defective product that has harmed them. That is no exaggeration: if you are harmed by a defective product in Michigan, you cannot sue the manufacturer. It’s unjust, it’s immoral, but that is law as interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Yet, even by Michigan standards the breadth and scope of the Monsanto Protection Act (otherwise known as the “Farmer Assurance Provision”) is scary-corrupt. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, it allows the Monsanto Corporation to ignore any consumer and environmental laws that currently exist regulating the sale of genetically modified crops, AND immunizes them from any lawsuit from anyone harmed by their products. This bill was snuck into a budget bill as an amendment with no public debate or disclosure, which shows you how much our government is owned by big business.

I hope that all of you will contact your Senator and Representative and let them know how you feel about this law. It may not make a difference to the outcome (unless you are a millionaire or billionaire), but at least it let’s them know we are watching. 

Big Brother is Us

May 17, 2013

Have you ever read George Orwell’s classic book “1984”? I find that fewer and fewer people have, although many more people are aware of the iconic theme of “Big Brother” and its connotations. Once published, “1984” quickly became the essential warning to a society evolving toward the complete regulation of personal lives by an all-powerful government not regulated by laws but by fear. I began thinking once again of Winston Smith and his struggle of self-awareness and liberation. It’s a pity that “1984” is no longer mandatory reading in high schools, because what Orwell outlined in his novel is what we are living today, not in a cliché or hyperbole, but in a quite literal sense.

I began thinking again about Orwell’s classic as I reflected on the unfolding scandals involving the IRS and AP investigations, although these incidents are only the most recent and comparatively minor manifestations of our “Big Brother” society. What Orwell wrote about so eloquently was the process and maintenance of a totalitarian society that lacked any privacy or personal liberties. In Smith’s society there was a constant state of war, a fear of external and internal threats of violence and disorder. It was the fear of this vague but ubiquitous enemy (terrorists) that justified the government’s constant and limitless monitoring of personal lives. Fear was what maintained the willingness of people to accept the loss of any privacy or personal liberties.

Orwell could not have written a more prophetic introduction to the Patriot Act or the various defense bills passed by our elected representatives (including Democrats like our own Levin and Stabenow) permitting the virtual monitoring of our lives. Our phone calls, our e-mails, even our travels to and from places are subject to cameras, listening devices and other methods of surveillance. The budget for domestic spying is rumored to be over 70% of the defense budget, although what is being spent remains a secret. The Boston Marathon murderers were caught because of cameras which tracked them literally from the home to the bomb site. Most of us were impressed by the investigative acumen, but consider this: someone in government has access to the same information about you and can monitor you in and out of your home at any time without a warrant. That’s the state of the law today.

Unlike Smith’s society where someone is always monitoring someone else, we like to think that the government has a good reason to monitor us. The AP and IRS scandals are yet another reminder that our trust in government is more often misplaced. 

Detroit Development

May 14, 2013

Detroit may be making a comeback and that is a great thing. What would I do to revitalize Detroit? I would start with a plan. More and more younger people are moving into Detroit, especially the downtown area. But development in Detroit is happening like reforesting after a devastating forest fire. In the midst of a lot of desolation there are isolated pockets of growth and revitalization. The Midtown and Entertainment districts are virtually booming, and the Hart Plaza area is also developing. In between these areas are blocks of deserted and crumbling buildings. A plan to connect these areas should be developed, such as the proposed fast rail down Woodward Ave. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a shopping district with real grocery stores and hardware stores. Maybe even a gas station or two.

Even more important to the ultimate success of Detroit would be the planning and development of neighborhoods in these districts. Real neighborhoods with schools, playgrounds, etc. Detroit cannot be revitalized with young people coming downtown to apartments. Sooner or later, they will want a family and a home. In cities such as New York and Pittsburg people are hired to develop an actual plan – a “big picture” plan to sustain growth.

Finally, a great city has to:

1)      Pick up all the garbage and litter;

2)      Provided street lighting to the entire city;

3)      Maintain all the parks and city pools;

4)      Provide a visible and deterrent police presence on the streets;

5)      Shovel the snow.

If we did just that, Detroit would be a really great city again.

The Lessons of Cleveland

May 13, 2013

The relief we all feel after the rescue of those three women (and a child) from the monsters who had kidnapped them in Cleveland is unfolding as a horror story that should terrify any parent. The fact that three women (girls really) were kidnapped, two in broad daylight, and held prisoner for a decade is astonishing for many reasons. One reason that struck me was the fact that they had been held that long,  without anyone noticing anything unusual about the home or the suspects.

I suppose we could write it off as a commentary on how fragmented and isolated we have become as a society. When I was growing up in Oak Park, everybody knew their neighbors. They also knew each others’ business as well, which as a kid who sometimes got in trouble I hated, but as a parent now I appreciate.

But what happened in Cleveland is less a commentary on the isolation of modern society as it is on the disparity of public safety in a class-driven society. It turns out that several times over the years neighbors, and possibly even the victims, had called the police to the house, but the police never responded.  This was a lower class neighborhood and the reality is that the poor (and especially poor women) are often discounted by the authorities. If this had been a complaint in an affluent neighborhood, do you think they would have responded to a complaint about women being abused the first time? Of course.  If a 9-1-1 operator had received the call made by the victim from a rich neighborhood, do you think that the dispatcher would have been as casual, telling the girl that they would send a car around when “one became available”? Of course.

Still, in the end, someone was willing to help these women and (eventually) the police did show up. We should be happy and hopeful for the victims, angry and righteous about their abusers and maybe a bit more willing to help out our neighbors. 

Masters of War (Part 4)

May 8, 2013

Senate Republicans are clamoring to get us involved in the war, this one in Syria. They claim to be morally outraged at the carnage, and they are criticizing President Obama for not acting to save lives. It is as typical an act of hypocrisy that Republicans are so expert at, but one of the more dangerous ones.

They are all denying (so far) that they don’t want any “boots on the ground”, but that is just a matter of semantics. For example, they want a “no fly zone”, but what happens if a pilot is shot down? However, most Senators simply want to arm insurgents that are not radical Islamists. That’s really where the issue is: they just want to lobby for the arms industry – another multi-billion dollar arms sale for their masters.  To really appreciate the hypocrisy of these Republicans consider the fact that we would need to have “boots on the ground” to run background checks on who can get our weapons when the same Republicans refuse to allow background checks to save American lives.

Not only has their mission to sell weapons for their corporate masters remained the same, so have their tactics, namely – fear of a terrorist takeover of weapons of mass destruction. Republicans claim chemical weapons have been used and are falling into the hands of terrorists to be used against us. Sound familiar? Maybe that is why our allies in NATO are demanding clear evidence before they jump into more American war mongering.  

HBSC, Congress and other Forms of Criminals

May 1, 2013

I wonder how many people realize how much corporate money has corrupted our government. For example, what if you could prove that some of the largest investment banking corporations were actively recruiting the business of terrorists and drug cartels in exchange for laundering money and loans at premium rates? Would you expect the US Attorney to act on the proof and stop the illegal activity and maybe even put a few gangster bankers in jail? Please.

Banking giants HSBC and UBS have been found to repeatedly violate laws and exploit loopholes to launder money for terrorists and Mexican drug cartels. Repeatedly. The evidence was overwhelming, in the forms of actual memos discussing how to hide accounts and violate regulations. HSBC and UBS – bankers for terrorists and drug lords also happen to be too big to break up, or to prosecute their executives. So the Obama Administration decided to let them off the hook legally. Not once, but twice. Just ask Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer (formerly of Covington and Burling, a law firm that represents big banks like, well, you guessed already)why he chose to undermine the law and the “war on terror”.

Lest you Obama-haters overly focus on his administration, consider that the reach of big money banks extends to Congress, to the extent that they flagrantly wield their power. Take for example Congress passing the STOCK law this past week. Prior to this law it was illegal for every American except Congressmen to engage in insider trading. Representatives and Senators sitting in on, say, a Committee regulating mining subsidies could virtually leave the hearings, call his investment banker and trade stock in mines. Outrageous, right? Well, the STOCK law was proposed to stop this practice. Except after some fine tuning by bank lobbyists, there are two exemptions to this law: congressional aides and investment bankers getting information from them.

Does this make you as angry as it makes me?