Do Something

June 24, 2013

The City of Detroit may seem to be on the ropes, but in fact something very good may be happening. Across the City there has been an explosion of participation in volunteer events designed to improve the quality of life for other people. Neighbors are mowing the grass and cleaning up neighborhood playgrounds long abandoned by the City. Habitat for Humanity is increasing its efforts to provide housing for the homeless. Maybe it’s a sign of Summer or maybe it’s a sign that we are awakening a sense of community spirit. One thing is sure: the significant influx of young people to Midtown and the Entertainment districts has infused an energy not seen for a long time in the center of the City.

As individuals you can improve the quality of your life by serving someone else or your community. Organize a few neighbors to help clean up a neglected property. Why not encourage your boss to participate in a Habitat project or something similar? Something  good always results in helping others and as we are seeing in Detroit, it is a contagious effort. So the next time your are chatting at the proverbial water-cooler or sitting on your front porch suggest an activity and… just do something.

Change That We Missed On

June 19, 2013

Change we can believe in. Remember that? I have been critical of President Obama since he picked his first cabinet (other than Hillary it was a rogue’s gallery of Goldman-Sachs alums), but always hopeful that he would come through for us. He has had his moments, and much of the lack of achievement could be attributed to Republicans intent of making him a failure at all costs. However, knowing that he was dealing with a Republican Party willing to harm the country rather than see him succeed, he should have adjusted his style. A consensus builder by disposition, he has never been able to become a leader. Consequently his legacy may be captured by his style of dithering. Against strong opposition he needed to be a strong leader, even if he didn’t accomplish much. One could argue that after the first two years of his first term, he didn’t accomplish much anyway. Maybe Obama-care will be more successful in transforming medical care than it’s shaping up to deliver, which would be a significant accomplishment. But frankly, his wholesale capitulation to Wall Street makes it more likely that corporate America will undermine the reforms.

Having been disappointed by the lost potential of Obama, dare we point to one woman who might make a difference in America? No, not Hillary. I’m talking about Senator Elizabeth Warren, who continues to amaze people with her outspoken criticism of Wall Street robber-barons. Add to her impressive resume an absolutely spot-on analysis of how the judicial system has become a de facto tool of the Chamber of Commerce. Forget about Obama, Hillary or Mr. Smith going to Washington, Sen. Warren is the real deal. 

Can It Be Done?

June 19, 2013

In 1998 I decided to run for Governor of Michigan. It was a, shall I say… unique experience. With no experience in politics and a few weeks to go in the Democratic primary race, I jumped into the campaign if for no other reason than to get the establishment candidates to begin talking about meaningful issues. I won the nomination with a guerilla campaign, organized from the streets up. I walked picket lines with UAW workers protesting the exporting of jobs to third world countries. I went to decrepit schools to illustrate the poverty and hopelessness prevailing. I went to events organized by other candidates and funded by their corporate sponsors, to challenge and debate them.  But the part that I was most proud of was the fact that I proposed radical (for the time) policies that, had they been implemented, would have made a tremendous difference to the people of Michigan.  These policies included a medical insurance exchange to reduce health care costs by up to 30% (which insurance companies and their Republican employees in the Legislature still resist), consolidating school districts before they became bankrupt (as they are now), and legislating safeguards against becoming a “right to (not) work” State. It was a pro-consumer, Social Libertarian platform.

Years of disastrous administrations like Engler, Granholm and Snyder have put Michigan on the brink of financial and social collapse. How many jobs are being lost, cities going bankrupt and school districts are collapsing today, while the religious extremists in the Republican Party are exclusively focused on legislating how you live your life? These should be the questions in the next campaign for Governor:  is Michigan a place you would want to start and raise a family today? Is there a future for them here, in Michigan?

I’ve been asked many times since 1998, but for the first time since then I am thinking about it… about challenging the powers again next year. Can it be done?

Lies, Damned Lies and… Bankers

June 13, 2013

One of the more prevalent half-truths of living in the USA these days is that what is good for Wall Street is good for all of us. It is a variation of the old “what is good for GM…” and, like its predecessor, it is equally fallacious. One need only look at the past 6 years to see that a booming market with unprecedented profits doesn’t translate to more jobs, let alone wealth trickling down. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite.

Much of the wealth generated on Wall Street is in the financial sectors, with banks and other financial institutions generating the majority of wealth, primarily due to a system that has been rigged by the government. The result is something that is felt in nearly every community in the US, especially among working class communities. For an excellent primer on how the financial sectors have been rigged against the interests of working families, I recommend Matt Taibbi’s series in the Rolling Stone.

To understand how allowing a rigged banking system affects our daily lives, consider this example. Interest rates of money transfers between international  banks are set by a small group of individuals from a small  group of banks, called LIPOR. These few lucky bankers set interest rates hours before the markets open, which has at least two consequences. First, is that the information on rate changes before markets open can result in huge profits for anyone who knows the information, and there is ample evidence of insider exchanges. Secondly, it means a few bankers motivated by financial gain can set rates that can (and have) devastating effects on municipalities from Greece to Detroit that rely on rates for loans and bonds to fund everything from schools to roads to powers sources. Manipulated money rates have resulted in the severe deficits of cities and municipalities such as Detroit more than any other cause.

For those of us who have commiserated about the awful choices Obama has made to his cabinet in his first term, the cold hard reality has set in that they were deliberate choices to further a policy of wholesale capitulation to Wall St. Take for example the announcement today that a former aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, with no experience in financial markets except for an internship for Goldman Sachs, will be appointed the head of the oversight council regulating, among other things, derivative exchanges (the most complex of all financial transactions).  She replaces Gary Gensler, who has made enemies lately by actually trying to enforce the few regulations that do exist on derivative exchanges. These appointments are no accidents folks. 

What Next?

June 12, 2013

Under the category of “I told you so” the release of information that the NSA is spying on every American without a warrant touches on an issue that I’ve been talking about for months now, namely, the  malignant cancer of government intrusion into our personal lives. For those of you who buy the argument that government spying protects our security, prove it. Even if spying on every American without any reasonable excuse was cost-effective, do you think that forfeiting our privacy in exchange for security is worth it? Doesn’t the AP and IRS scandals prove (once again) that these unconstitutional spying programs are used to abuse freedom of speech and other liberties? Nixon had his “enemies list”, but under Bush and Obama ALL Americans are considered on the enemies list unless otherwise proven. In fact, the combination of indiscriminate spying (i.e. unreasonable searches) and Obama’s unprecedented prosecution of whistle-blowers reducing government transparency is a greater threat to our freedom than any Moslem terrorist group.

In the words of a great song by “Rage Against the Machine”: WAKE UP! 

Ben Franklin said: “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”  WAKE UP! 

Mackinac Island Cabal

June 3, 2013

Every year the so-called “movers and shakers” of Michigan (i.e. corporations and political gab-flies and brown-nosers) gather on Mackinaw Island for a few days of counter-revolutionary planning. This year’s focus appears to be on how to undermine American Democracy by accelerating the destruction of Detroit and the public education system.

Speaker after speaker, cabal after cabal of “conservatives” have attacked the concept of the public education system and advocated for increasingly privatizing education, or fracturing the public school system with competing systems such as Charter Schools. (Never mind that charter schools have proven over the years to be less effective, on the whole, than public schools).

Mind you, I am a critic of the current state of public education, but an absolute believer in the need for a public education system that is available to every child. In this sense I am simply reflecting the values of the Founding Fathers, such as Jefferson and Adams, who argued strenuously that democracy could not flourish without an educated citizenry. Public school education was a foundational issue for them because they realized that a strong public school system would be essential in safeguarding democracy.

In the years before our Republic was founded, education was a class driven privilege. It was a vehicle by which society was divided into rulers and the ruled. The educated classes controlled the economic and political engines of the day. Jefferson, among others, recognized that a true democracy had to rely on educating all citizens, regardless of their economic status. It was like they anticipated the legions of people making decisions by watching Fox News. The ability to think critically and not be led like Lemmings to a cliff was vital in their thinking.

I suggest that the right social policy should be to strengthen and improve the public school system, not destroy it by diverting funding and focus. An attack on the public school system is an attempt by corporations and conservatives to destroy our democracy. Where are all the drones when we need them most? 

There is a simple answer to almost all the problems of the public schools:  They are absurdly funded by the property tax.  Thus, rich cities (i.e. Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, etc.) have great schools; poor cities (i.e. Detroit and Flint) have failing schools.  Duh?