December 19, 2013

Most people were justifiably outraged when Judge Jean Boyd of Texas “sentenced” a young man responsible for the deaths of 4 people and leaving 2 more brain damaged to a posh treatment spa for 1 year, instead of the 20 years in jail recommended by prosecutors. The defense of “affluenza” – a made-up psychological condition not in any diagnostic manual – was successful and the families of the human beings slaughtered by Ethan Couch, a 16 year old driving drunk were victimized a second time.

You have to feel broken hearted for the families of the victims. Justice was their only consolation and justice was denied by Judge Boyd, who may have been a better argument for affluenza. There is little one can say about this miscarriage of justice, except perhaps to point out that the poor, and especially African-Americans suffer this type of injustice on a regular basis. One need not ask “what if Couch were black?” because Judge Boyd has a record in this regard. Just last year she sentenced a 14 year old African-American boy to 12 years in jail for punching a man once which resulted in his death. One cannot deny that killing any human being should result in punishment, nor can one deny that punishments are not the same when your family has money.

Judge Jean Boyd was no doubt elected to office and is just the kind of judge the Chamber of Commerce would endorse and help fund. Money corrupts the justice system just as easily as the political system, one only need look to the Michigan Supreme Court and its sterling record of ruling in favor of corporations over individuals 90% of the time for a more local example.

It’s sad, but true that in a sense our justice system is suffering from affluenza.   

Terrorist or Hero?

December 19, 2013

The death of Nelson Mandela gave us a good lesson in an historical perspective. For most of Mandela’s life he was branded a “terrorist”, because he advocated the destruction of the Aparteid system. Now he is celebrated as the man who led the effort that destroyed Aparteid. One decade’s terrorist is another’s hero. Nelson Mandela didn’t change what he was doing or how he did it. The world changed – for the better in that regard.

Of course there are still men like Dick Cheney who still insist that Mandela was a terrorist. I suppose this is more a commentary on his character and morality (or lack of). So the next time you hear “leaders” labeling men like Snowden, or Assange “terrorists”, remember Mandela and his journey beyond political labels to justice.    


December 10, 2013

Some of you who follow my blog nationally may not know what is truly happening in the Detroit Bankruptcy process. In fact, many people in Michigan have very little insight as to what is really going on. However, you should, because your city or county could be next.

The Governor of Michigan appointed an “Emergency Manager” (who is a bankruptcy attorney from Washington, D.C.) for Detroit who has the power to virtually render any decision by an elected official void. In other words, the EM nullifies the election of citizens of Detroit. The EM was appointed by the governor behind closed doors (i.e. no public transparency). After a superficial attempt to bargain with debtors, a process that the bankruptcy proceeding exposed as bad faith negotiations, the EM filed for bankruptcy an sought to include the pensions of city employees (even though those pensions had been protected under the Michigan Constitution).  The EM hired his own law firm to do the bankruptcy at an enormous cost. 

Getting access to the pensions is a priority agenda of the Governor and his EM. Wall St. banks have been systematically looting public pension funds all across the country, a process detailed in Matt Taibi’s Rolling Stone article in September 2013. Even though the governor of Michigan has given hundreds of millions of dollars to build privately held baseball and hockey stadiums, and we have all given hundreds of millions to bail out Wall St. banks, they are going after pensioners who average $19,000.00 per year of payments. Looting the public employee pension funds will provide only a fraction of the city debt, far less than what is owed to corporations. Those corporations can afford to lose tens of millions without missing a beat, but these pensioners and the poor in Detroit can’t afford to lose pennies. 

Detroit is first and Wayne County will be next. Your city and county will get a visit from the same silk stocking vultures circling Detroit now.   

Know Nothing Do Nothings

December 6, 2013

We live in historic times. The current Congress is on the verge of claiming its place as the least productive Congress in our history. Good riddance. Hopefully, history will note that the Republican Party is virtually responsible for a Congress that actually harmed the Country, through inaction. And it was a deliberate decision made when President Obama took office. Republican leaders in the House and Senate, essentially Southerners (I consider Ohio to be south of the Mason-Dixon line), decided to stop the black President, even if it harmed the Country. They nearly succeeded.

So what can we do to repair a broken Congress? How about requiring them to work as many days as we are required? This current Congress spent only about 120 days in session (about 100 days devoted to repealing Obamacare and robbing the poor), but were paid handsomely. I think we should consider a pro-rated pay based on days in session actually doing some work and the number of bills passed that actually solve problems. As it exists today, most of the time legislators devote while in Washington DC is spent on fund raising, and most of the time they spend “meeting with voters back home” are also spent meeting with money contributors. In other words, Congress is now a money-making business for a few hundred people instead of a legislative body focused on solving problems.

The key to reforming a broken Congress is to create money incentives to solving problems and money penalties for obstructing progress. What do you think will fix it?

OMG! Obama Killed God!

December 6, 2013

The Right Wing/Religious world was in full alert mode. It started with Rush Limbaugh announcing that President Obama had deleted the refernce to God when reciting the Gettysburg Address. The news spread like wildfire through the right wing media and the requisite expressions of outrage and calls by Tea Party Congressmen for impeachment went out. It confirmed the conservative narrative that Obama hated the country and was intent on making it an Islamic Caliphate.

Turns out the whole episode did confirm one narrative: that the right wing is populated with sub-cortical morons who reflexively react to meaningless stimulus. Limbaugh, the Grand Pubah of the Confederation of Idiots (to borrow a phrase), was demonstrating his cynical manipulation of ignorance for his commercial benefit. Most people on the right in my experience are extraordinarily ignorant of American History and generally not literate, so why would they know that more than one draft of the speech would exist, or that more than one version since Fox News was not there to report it?

It turns out that there were 5 versions of the speech, only 2 of which referred to God. President Obama was asked to read one version by the producer. It would be laughable, if not so such a sad reflection on so many Americans.


December 6, 2013

I know that you have heard it from me before. You can count on hearing it again. Last week tax returns from PACs were released and it gets me going… I read mind boggling numbers and can’t help but think about my clients, my employees and the people I meet every day on the streets.

1% of Americans own 40% of all wealth. That is a fact. That is the economic reality in the United States today. 5% own 90% of all wealth. The middle class is barely distinguishable from poverty level Americans in terms of real wealth.

In other words the system is fixed, your children have very little real hope of maintaining your lifestyle. That’s unjust and it should bother all of us… well at least 90% of us. Republicans in Congress are focused on cutting off food stamps to children and veterans. Active duty military are looking at a pay cut and paying for their own medical benefits. How did we get here? A simple theory that has become the poison of the American Dream: “trickle down economics”.

It is indisputable that favoring the rich with tax breaks has been a disaster for all but a very few Americans, yet we hear absolutely nothing from Congress on changing the rigged system. Why? The political system has now become rigged. Citizens United guaranteed that the super rich can pour billions into elections to shape elections. Just look at one PAC, Roves American Crossroads and the money they collect to rig the system politically. Tax returns released this week have numerous “anonymous” contribution such as one $16 million dollar contribution from one “person”. Who has $16 million to give for political elections?

Until the political system is reformed the tax code will continue to funnel wealth to the 1%. Someone needs to stand up for you in Congress.

Empty Capitalism

December 6, 2013

There are only a few segments of our society where capitalism is thriving. One is politics and the other is Wall Street. For most of the rest of us still believing in the American Dream, capitalism has become an empty promise. For the middle class, capitalism has become a job at McDonald’s. Is capitalism broken?

The overall economic data suggests that capitalism is broken for most Americans. Wealth has become overwhelming concentrated to fewer and fewer people. Just a few hundred people own most of the wealth of the country. The ability of people to move upward economically is at an all time low.

In fact, our children may be the first generation of Americans to grow up in a third world economy.

What has broken capitalism in our country? The economic axis of evil: the current Supreme Court, billionaires and politicians.

Running for political office was once considered public service. Spending over 70% of your time fund-raising is not public service. That’s what most Congressmen and Senators have to do these days, which tells you that those people are more concerned with being re-elected than working on our problems. And since the Supreme Court has legally sanctioned the purchase of politicians, they can make a lot of money.

I am not against people making money, nor am I against free speech. However, the current economic system has been so stacked in favor of the rich getting richer that the vast majority of the next generation of Americans will have no chance to become wealthier. This is a matter of economic justice. Billionaires have bought the political system and purchased politicians. It is a parasitic system… a malignant system.

So what is the cure? Government can. If only money can be rooted out of the political process. That’s a big “if”.

Ideology as Idiocy

December 6, 2013

I guess you could call me a political pragmatist. I’ve been called worse. As an attorney who has represented victims for my entire career, I am acutely attuned to the needs of people who have been wronged by the system. I tend to focus on how we can help real people find real justice. Consequently, I am not an ideologue – I am not wedded to any political party or economic theory. I am a Democrat, I am a capitalist, I am a believer in the American Dream. But I am not a believer that my beliefs are more important than reality. To me those ideologies (progressivism, capitalism) are like magnetic poles that guide a voyage.

This is where I think the system has gone wrong in the past 20 years. For whatever sociological reason, our society has shifted to one where ideology is more important than reality. Of course, the most extreme manifestation of this is the Tea Party. This is a political Party that openly espoused the belief that defaulting the debt would be good for our Country. If the Tea Party were a person, they would be hospitalized in a mental institution as a danger to themselves or others.

Compromise was the practical means to get work done. Ideology is the enemy of compromise. True believers in politics are just as dangerous as the religious ones. When ideological purity is the most important criterion for any endeavor, then that endeavor is doomed. Which, I suppose, does not bode well for our Country.