July 30, 2013

Over 4 million people work in the fast food industry. Contrary to what most people think, these workers are not college or high school students. Most of them are people who are trying to support themselves or a family. They earn about $8.00 an hour, with no benefits. Many of them work two jobs and still cannot make ends meet.

There is a growing movement, starting in New York, for fast food workers to unionize. It is the only way they would ever be able to support their families. I support this movement for a couple reasons. First, I don’t think that it is just for anyone to work full time for wages that are not living wages. Second, I think that after the government destroyed the manufacturing base of America in the late 90’s, the only economic sector left to rescue the middle class was the service industry. If fast food workers can organize then there is hope for the future. 

Unionizing is the only means to re-establish a middle-class. I would be willing to pay more for a Big Mac knowing what it means to the person serving me. 

Motor City Blues

July 30, 2013

It was confusing to some people in the beginning. Detroit was a mess and the political leadership ineffective. Detroit City Council could justifiably be called incompetent, even corrupt. With the threat of white Republicans voiding elections and naming an Emergency Manager, the City Council even managed to screw up a State funded rescue of Belle Isle. We all know something had to be done, especially if we wanted to avoid bankruptcy, but voiding lawful elections and appointing an Emergency Manager seemed… well, un-American – or at least Republican. Little did we know that behind the scenes, Snyder and a small cabal of anti-democratic “pragmatists” were already plotting who would be the Emergency Manager and holding discussions with him on filing bankruptcy in any event.  They were even consulting “conspiring” with write-in white Republican candidate for mayor, Mike Duggan.

Kevin Orr and his law firm were named not to save Detroit as the Emergency Manager, he was there as a cover to do what Republicans had wanted to do all along: destroy unions and disenfranchise Detroit voters.  Orr never negotiated in good faith with unions and pensioners.   E-mails exchanged before he was the EM disclosed he discussed strategies for bankruptcy rather than saving pensions.  The answer seems obvious- the bankruptcy was not a last resort, it was preordained.    

It seems a done deal now, so what we have left is the need for strong DETROIT political leadership to rebuild Detroit in a direction that can strengthen the City… and defend the City from Republican carpetbaggers. 

American Reality

July 25, 2013

We all have grown up hearing about the “American Dream” – you know, the one where any child could become rich if they just made the effort. When I was growing up in a middle class neighborhood in Oak Park, I had no appreciation that I would be among the last generation of Americans where that dream had a chance to become real. A recent study by Harvard economist Raj Chetty has proven that the American Dream is no longer a reality for the vast majority of American children. Combined with other studies showing the massive economic disparity in the U.S. (we now rank among the worst third world dictatorships in terms of unequal wealth distribution), the massive study confirms that since the “Reagan Revolution” the middle class has nearly disappeared, the poverty rate has exploded and, most importantly, the actual ability of the poor to improve their economic status has been greatly reduced. In other words, not only are there far more American in poverty, their chances of getting out of poverty no matter how hard they work is greatly diminished. The American reality for today’s children is “no matter how hard you work, the chips are stacked against you in this Country”. That’s what tax breaks for the rich has done to the U.S.

The Chetty study (The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures Evidence from Spatial Variation Across the U.S.) was based on the most extensive data base ever examined and has already won the most prestigious award among U.S. economists and mentioned as a Nobel Prize potential. It showed that tax policies since the Reagan Era are perfectly predictive of the growth of poverty and the lack of upward economic mobility among Americans. Although the authors offer no explanation of the results, the results are indisputable: areas of the country where upward mobility is nearly impossible are areas of the country with the most corporate friendly tax rates, and States with least amounts of tax expenditures on social programs and the most tax loopholes for the richest. Most of the States are in the South, with a few Western and Midwestern post-industrial States such as Ohio, Indiana and (now) Michigan. All of the States with the least chance of upward mobility are “Right to Work” States.

One can only wonder how long the economic injustice in this country will be tolerated by Americans.  

Zimmerman as the White “O.J.”?

July 23, 2013

The Right Wing blogosphere is cracking (pun intended) with comments justifying the Zimmerman verdict as the “White O.J.” meaning the not guilty verdict was some sort of payback for the O.J. acquittal. At first glance there are similarities – both were acquitted, both benefitted by sloppy police work, less than stellar prosecutors, and obviously biased jurors. Yet, to equate the two is to fail to understand the meaning of the trials.

O.J. was a case of an accomplished athlete and media star who “thought” he was invulnerable and was motivated by pathological jealousy. Zimmerman was a Barney Fife wannabe who was overcompensating for his lack of physical prowess and courage. He was motivated by his bigotry, and ultimately his fear. I think all bigotry is rooted in fear. The O.J. verdict became a socially important event when jurors, long victimized by the Los Angeles Police and “justice” system decided to send a message verdict.

The jury in Zimmerman’s trial were not sending a message verdict – at least not consciously. They allowed their own bias to create assumptions not much different than the one’s Zimmerman made when he saw Trayvon Martin walking in his community. Some of the jurors apparently believed that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman and had the responsibility to avoid the confrontation, although they had to ignore the evidence that Zimmerman was the one who got out of his truck to confront Trayvon with a loaded gun. So those jurors allowed their biases to shape their understanding of the evidence and the instructions to justify something they wanted to do from the onset: let Zimmerman go free.

Zimmerman has become the poster boy for the NRA and other gun nuts, and I suppose there is some justification for that. Many of these gun nuts are cowards themselves, motivated by an overwhelming fear translated into the need to have a gun. But I have to hope that most of these gun-toting cowards are not out to prove something through creating a situation to justify killing. A lot of these gun nuts are the first to say that if the victims of gun violence only had a gun then they wouldn’t have died. Maybe the NRA will start a program to provide every adolescent African American Male in Florida with a gun for protection. After all, if Trayvon had only carried a gun he would have had a chance with Zimmerman.

Zimmerman is no O.J. in any sense other than the fact that he got away with it. Unlike O.J., Zimmerman will unfortunately be celebrated as a hero by many. 

Questions with Answers

July 22, 2013

Why are government representatives and representatives of the government (i.e. the media) calling for contractor Edward Snowden to be arrested and charged with treason for revealing State secrets that has not been proven to be harmful to the Country; when men in the government lied about the program under oath; or when Dick Cheney revealed the identity of a secret CIA operative (which are both crime)? Because we live in an age when the government can lie and attack citizens, not vice versa. Sad, but true is the fact that exposing government abuses of citizens is now considered a crime, if not treason, and ordinary citizens and soldiers who become whistle-blowers are punished while wrongdoers go free.

What are two things you don’t want to hear if you are on trial for second degree murder? “The defendant is guilty as charged” and “knock, knock – who’s there?” There is always room for creativity in the courtroom, but much less room than there is for common sense. If you have to begin a joke with a disclaimer, then it’s not a good idea to begin with. The question now is not what is the joke, but who is the joke?

The Voting Rights Act changed the American electorate by enabling minorities to exercise their rights to vote. Since Republican efforts to suppress the vote are no longer restricted to the former Confederacy, why not EXPAND the safeguards to include States (such as Michigan) who have attempted to pass voter suppression laws in the LAST election? Because our society is just as racist as it has ever been, and preserving government power for old white men is the job of young white Republicans. Within hours of the SCOTUS ruling, Texas already began implementing a voter suppression program ruled illegal under the ACT. Probably a record time for exposing the idiocy of their logic in overturning the Act. 

The Media Fails Again

July 22, 2013

I used to wonder how the media, the last safeguard we have for what is left of our democracy, failed us so badly in the lead up to the second war on Iraq. Even the New York Times, which I have considered the most important and independent newspaper in the country, blindly went along with the Bush/Cheney deliberate lies about weapons of mass destruction. I think I have the answer to my question – and a confirmation of my fears. The truth is that there is only a small vestige of independent journalism left in this Country.

Look at what is happening now to Edward Snowden and his revelations of unaccountable, illegal spying on Americans. I am becoming convinced that the media has become nothing more than a corporate funded extension of the Government, simply mouthing the Government’s propaganda. Fox News has always been a no-brainer, but when NBC commentator/(journalist?) Davis Gregory essentially tries to prosecute the journalist who reported the Snowden revelations, it becomes obvious that they are acting as nothing more than government mouthpieces. The people who (justifiably, I think) raged against Obama for spying on journalist who covered whistle-blowers, are now implying that the same journalists should be prosecuted for reporting the revelations.

Why is it that no one is talking about prosecuting government employees who lie under oath about illegal government activities (like the head of the NSA), but are calling for the arrest of whistle-blowers revealing those lies?  Dick Cheney was on the news calling Snowden a traitor for disclosing illegal spying on Americans, but has gotten a free pass for revealing a secret CIA agent (Valerie Plame). How was that not treason?

The media, as a whole, is a tool of the government. As frightening as it is to contemplate, the web may be the only independent source of news. It is revealing that journalists like Glenn Greenwald are being attacked not only by the government but also by media figures like Gregory.

Wake up.   

Zimmerman Verdict

July 16, 2013

Many people were surprised by the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, especially those who followed the evidence closely. Some pundits are blaming the Law as it is written for this miscarriage of justice. The jury seemed to have followed the law and did what they felt was right. But we all know the real reason for this injustice: an unjust society still influenced by racial animus. Trayvon had every right to defend himself from a man who had been following him and then got out of his truck to confront him, but in this society black men have to prove they are innocent in any confrontation. No one who is honest could say that if it had been Trayvon who followed Zimmerman, got out of his SUV with a loaded gun to confront Zimmerman and eventually shot him dead would be acquitted.

The verdict is also no surprise for many women either.  The Zimmerman defense was nothing more than the typical rape defense used forever to help rapists escape punishment: the victim asked for it. The defense exploited the reflexive suspicion against black men. The jury rewarded the defense: Trayvon walking in a white neighborhood and forced to defend himself asked for it.

So where do we go from here?  As a father with two Bi-Racial children I know the despair that many parents are feeling today – despair and fear. Parents of black children have always been forced to train their children on how to avoid being targeted in public (e.g. never run from the police, never put your hands in your pockets when stopped by police, etc.) but this verdict  in Florida and this case in particular means that it is virtually open season on their children.

God help us. 

Zimmerman Trial

July 15, 2013

Well, I held off as long as I could on opining over the Zimmerman Trial. I wanted to wait until the evidence was in to form an opinion. I have represented people (and children, namely Nate Abraham) accused of murder and I am acutely aware of the “presumption of guilt”. I am not referring to the Constitutional right to a presumption of innocence – a vital right that may be the most violated right of all. People automatically assume a criminal suspect has done something, with the rare exceptions of white suspects whose case has been amplified to social significance by the media. Like Zimmerman. This is why the media and the Defense put Trayvon Martin on trial as well.

It’s a natural bias we all share and one every attorney has to deal with. Whenever I drive along a highway and see a policeman searching a car they have pulled over I don’t think “Gee, I wonder what that guy is presumed innocent of doing…” We all tend to assume that they must have done something to justify police action. This is because we give police the benefit of the doubt out of a natural bias. We all NEED police that are honest and trustworthy, and because we need to trust police we tend to give them that benefit of doubt. Except those of us attorneys who have seen countless arbitrary and illegal actions by a relatively few, dangerous officers know better.

As protective as I am about the presumption of innocence, I also know the emotional power of bigotry, and in cases involving race it often controls the outcome. I think the evidence proved the case of second degree murder. It certainly proved the lesser charge of manslaughter. Yet, justice wasn’t done in the Martin case partly because of one significant piece of evidence allowed into the trial: the fact that Martin had trace marijuana in his body at the time of death. Of course, trace amounts would not affect anyone’s behavior to any noticeable degree, and even if it did, marijuana would lessen any propensity for violence and reduce reaction times, muscle strength and energy. The problem with the ruling to include this evidence was that it was clearly more prejudicial than probative – it fits perfectly with the most racist and frightening stereotypes of young African-American men: wandering the streets high on drugs and violent. Can a jury of nearly all white women overcome this bias and look at the evidence objectively?

I trust the jury system.  I also know it is flawed and reflective of the prejudices which pervade our land.

Tommy B.

July 15, 2013

This is a difficult blog for me to write.  I feel sad, and everyone here at the office is grieving over the death of our co-worker, Tom Baulch. Tom died about a week ago from complications of Sepsis. To most people he was “Tommy” – a 62 year old big kid. He had the curiosity and enthusiasm of a kid of 9 years old, and an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball. In fact, he was so curious about life that he never stopped learning and this high school graduate would routinely wipe the floor with the best trial lawyers in the office at “Jeopardy” in the lunch room. He was not overly educated, but someone who could intelligently talk about nearly any subject. And he did. He could talk, and talk.

I hired Tom as our building manager when he lost his job during the Detroit News Paper strike many years ago. He was our “go to” guy whenever something needed to be done around the office, whether it was cleaning or getting some obscure file. He had a lot of health problems, and struggled with his weight, but he came to work and struggled through his aches and pains. He also had more than his fair share of tragedies in life, but they never took anything out of his propensity for loud and sincere laughter. I think that is what I will miss the most about him – not hearing his laughter bellowing down the hallways. He was a good man who could laugh just as loudly at himself as he would a good joke – and he was a gifted practical joker. 

Tom is not the first co-worker we have lost, but he will be missed. Although his laughter has stopped, our love for him will not. R.I.P. Tommy

The Immorality of the Right

July 15, 2013

The Michigan Senate went on vacation before resolving the issue of expanding Medicare and establishing insurance pools in preparation for the implementation of Obama-care. It was an act of injustice and cowardice as much as one of irresponsibility. Even Gov. Snyder felt compelled to cal his own Party out for leaving the State in a position to lose potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, but the real story is not so much one of political insanity (even thought the State Senators know what is right to do, they fear the wrath of corporate-funded extremists like Tea Baggers and the Chamber of Commerce), as it is one of the lack of moral courage. Across the Country, in States like Louisiana and in Washington DC, the right wing has actively sought to deny funding for basic and essential human services for the poorest citizens while at the same time enabling their corporate masters to increase profits.

Denying the changes required in Medicare to implement Obama-care has an immediate effect of denying medical services to citizens who need it most, but can afford it least. It is a political act that ultimately will cost the citizens of the State millions, but even more importantly will cause suffering and deaths among the poor. It is cruel and immoral – an act as “un-Christian” as one could imagine. However, it is totally consistent with the overall attitude of the Right. To Conservatives, the lives of the poor, the homeless and the persecuted are not exactly irrelevant – they actually go out of their way to cause suffering among the vulnerable. Take as an example on a national scale, the failure of the House GOP to pass the latest Farm Bill. This trillion dollar bill was derailed because tea baggers wanted to eliminate food assistance to the poor, especially children in poverty. I suppose a silver lining of sorts is the fact that enough Republicans had a conscience left (or who were from agricultural States) to join Democrats to vote against it.    

This is something I have never been able to understand – how Right Wing Conservatives tout themselves as “Christian” when in fact their politics is directly contrary to Scriptures. It’s positively… diabolical!