On Being Right

March 28, 2014

Gov. Snyder looked just as he should have in the press conference: like a man walking a razor blade between his conscience and Tea Party mobs. In declaring that gay couples who were married this past week were legally married and then announcing that as far as the state was concerned they were not married, he tried to walk that thin line between conscience and political survival. It was an act of tepid courage and reflexive cowardice: like sticking a toe in the water and back out again. 

Of course people should be free to marry whomever they want. It is one of those “inherent rights” that organized religion has not let go of yet – but reality has a way of intruding into life, even into the lives of the religious right. They use “laws” to enforce their religious dogma, but these are not laws intended to preserve liberty. Like most laws that codify prejudice, the laws on marriages are starting to catch up with society. What happens when a society ignores religious leaders and laws restricting liberties? Good things, usually.

First, they opposed inter-denominational marriages, forcing people for generations to violate their spiritual conscience to realize a loving relationship. Until the men at the top realized that society was ignoring them and marrying across denominations anyways. It turns out that a Catholic marrying a Lutheran would not destroy the family as an institution, as predicted. Then they forbade inter-racial marriages, until again they noticed that society was ignoring them again and, once again, the institution of family was not destroyed. Now comes marriages between same sex couples and… well, society has done it again – forcing bad laws to change.

I wonder what happened to political leaders who did what was right and bent the “arc of justice”? Kennedy sent troops to protect children integrating schools (another outcome opposed by “religious” men). Lyndon Johnson was no saint, but he passed the very unpopular and politically risky Civil Rights Bill. These days, political leadership is in the hands of (predominantly) men who know what is right, but choose to take the safe course, as if there was more honor in being re-elected than right.

But watch out Gov. Snyder, conscience is a persistent muse.

Planes, Trains and Impassable Roads

March 25, 2014

Anyone who travels on Michigan roads knows that many of them are virtually impassable without using extraordinary vigilance and Formula One-level steering ability. Major surface streets, such as Telegraph Road and Woodward Avenue have innumerable potholes, with many of them more than a foot deep. Maybe, just maybe, we can see the light at the end of the wheel-bending tunnel.

Now that Republican lawmakers in Lansing are finished with the important business of passing laws like requiring citizens to fly American flags only made in the U.S., they seem ready to act on Gov. Snyder’s pleas to fund road repairs at a meaningful level. I can only guess that the roads near Grand Rapids are just as bad and that the insurance companies are writing too many checks for damaged cars as the precipitant, but better a good change for bad reasons than not at all.

One potential pothole to funding road repairs is that the budget surplus of nearly $1 billion is not nearly enough to repair all roads and bridges. It would take nearly $10 billion to do the job, an estimate nearly everyone agrees is accurate. For once, Republicans are forced to admit that an essential government function (i.e. infrastructure) requires taxation. They have ignored the need for more taxes to fund road repairs so long that the roads are becoming impassable. Funding for public transportation is out of the question for Republicans as an alternative. So they have to raise a tax.

It would make sense to make high-volume, heavy vehicle corporate users and more taxation of upper level incomes to pay for much of the repairs, but then again that would make sense. Their idea: make the poor pay for it with higher gas taxes.

Go figure …

Creationism and Vouchers

March 25, 2014

As the son of a public school teacher, I have always been protective of public education. By protective, I don’t mean defending those school systems that do not do an adequate job educating students. I mean that I am protective of the system of public school education from efforts to undermine the system by the religious right.

The founding fathers did not advocate for “school choice.” They advocated for a public school system that provided equal access to all children. They viewed public education as an essential foundation of democracy. I agree, which is why we should all vigorously oppose the taxpayer funded charter school/school voucher movement being funded by right wing extremists, such as the Koch brothers.

Recent data has shown that, as a whole, charter schools do not deliver better education to students. In fact, when you include data from religious-based schools receiving tax vouchers, it is clear that their students not only do poorly on testing, it would be fair to say that they are getting less of an education than indoctrination. Let’s talk about one reason why.

Americans for Prosperity (the Koch-funded extremist group) has been spending millions to elect state legislators who sponsor vouchers to schools with explicit requirements to teach Creationism — a religious doctrine that teaches that the universe began 10,000 years ago and that mankind appeared virtually at the same time in the same form as today.

Creationism began as a reaction against the theory of evolution, but has had to expand to challenge some of the basic tenets of science and of scientific discoveries in the last 100 years. For example, Creationist classes reject basic mathematical principles that form the basis of inventions as varied as CT scans to survey instruments to computers.

Creationist curricula indoctrinate students to reject the scientific method and personally attacks scientists such as Einstein, Hawkings and others with discoveries that contradict Creationist dogma. They reject the idea that light travels at a speed faster than sound, because they have to reject scientific findings of galaxies billions of years distant. It’s crazy, but religious dogma can be that way sometimes.

It’s easy to understand why students in these schools score low on testing and pursue degrees in science far less often than public school students. It’s also easy to understand why increasing numbers of Americans believe the earth is flat, that climate change is a myth and that our ancestors rode on the backs of dinosaurs. The “Flintstones” cartoon is scientific fact in these schools.

It also explains why Southern and Bible belt states are economically lagging behind while continuing to vote for men with beliefs and policies that are keeping them behind the blue states. It also points to why public education, if not science, is the target of the religious right. An informed electorate is essential to a vital democracy.

CIA: Too Dangerous for Freedom?

March 13, 2014

Americans are now beginning to share the same fear and loathing of the CIA as most of the rest of the world has for generations. It’s hard for most of us to accept the world’s revulsion of the CIA as justified, because we have been led to believe that the CIA has protected us through the Cold War and is in the forefront of the War on Terror. Historically the CIA has been as fatal for democracies in the world as they have been for dictatorships, but the rumblings in the halls of the Senate indicate that maybe the agency is a much a threat to our government as any other. 

What would cause the current head of the Senate Intelligence Committee to publicly accuse the CIA of illegal and unconstitutional acts? Sen. Feinstein, outraged at the Agency’s spying on Congress and attempts to intimidate Congressional staffers, is hardly a critic. In fact, she has been in lock-step with President Obama’s many attempts to shield the spy agency from real scrutiny over the many suspected illegal acts attributed to it. Maybe, just maybe, there has been a sea change somewhere in government and the virtually unfettered power of the agency is being challenged. 

Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy both feared the power of the CIA and sought to end the agency. Many knowledgeable people know the CIA’s fingerprints were all over the Kennedy assassination (for example, Oswald and Ruby were both on the CIA payroll at one time, and the man Kennedy fired as head of the CIA – Dulles – ran the Warren Commission). Every President since then has given the agency carte blanche and when the “war” on terror replaced the “cold war” its powers were expanded to openly allow torture (something only secretly allowed before). 

It will be interesting to see where the current tide against the CIA leads, but if history is a predictor then this wave will break against the wall of fear that the agency has always used as a shield. The only time the CIA has been restrained is when they have been caught interfering with domestic politics. We can all thank Eric Snowden if this is so … another indication that his disclosures of CIA and NSA abuses are the act of a patriot. 


Jesus and Conservative Republicans

March 13, 2014

Paul Ryan is a lot like many other Republicans insofar as he likes to think of himself as a conservative whose “Christian” values guide his policy. His recent speech at CPAC used coded words and Christian symbols to communicate his political pitch.

For example, he told his fellow Christian conservatives that the left was making a mistake by advocating programs to feed the poor (such as school lunches), because the poor don’t want full stomachs, they want “a life of dignity – of self-determination.” He suggested that feeding poor children hot lunches fills their stomach but empties their souls. I suggest that Paul Ryan has never been poor or hungry … or Christian. 

In fact Ryan isn’t even a very good Catholic boy either. His own church teaches that the economy must serve people, not the other way around … protect the rights of workers to organize and join unions and to have fair wages. You know, the exact opposite of what Ryan stands for. 

In fact, I challenge any person who claims to be a “Christian” and a “Conservative Republican” to justify the following.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that the Father would welcome those who fed the hungry… took care of the sick, welcomed the stranger and visited the imprisoned. He hardly advocated turning his back on those in need and saying “you’re on your own”.  

Right wing nuts claim that our country is a “Christian Nation” and that the government should reflect Christian values, yet they want to eliminate programs that feed the poor, deny medical benefits, deport immigrants and imprison people (well, mostly black men anyway).

I suppose they will answer with the Left’s support of abortion rights and gay marriage, but the Left really doesn’t claim any unique political connection to God. 

Maybe Ryan and his religious right would do well to remember what Jesus said about Pharisees.



Justice and Justices

March 13, 2014

There is a minor rebellion brewing in the Democratic Party over judges nominated for lifetime appointments to the federal courts. At first glance you would have to scratch your head over the nomination of Michael Boggs, a man with as despicable a history on civil rights as any Jim Crow era politician. This is Obama’s nominee? The constitutional law attorney, an African-American? That’s the best he can do? 

The fact is that he is one of four GOP nominees that Obama has had to accept in order to gain approval of numerous other nominees immorally (if not illegally) being held up by the GOP. It’s a devil’s bargain that should be resisted, even if it does mean that a crisis in the federal system results. Maybe I am becoming a nihilist, but it might be better to have no judges than prejudiced ones. It might be better to let the system break down in crisis than to compromise justice. The legislative branch is all but broken now, and the cancer that is the Tea Party conservative movement is metastasizing into the courts. Maybe it’s time to draw a line, and justice is a good place to start.    


Trials: Every Verdict Tells a Story

March 13, 2014

I am in the process of trying a case in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of a little girl who was forced to be born in a jail cell because her mother was imprisoned and denied necessary medical care by a local hospital. As I was taking the drive to court this morning I heard a radio report of a hunger strike among prisoners in California protesting that state’s practice of condemning large number of prisoners to solitary confinement. That state already is under a court order to relieve massive overcrowding. I wonder how it is that we have become a country that imprisons more people than any other nation in the world.  

In Michigan, one of the largest segments of employment, especially in the Upper Peninsula, is corrections. In a state with more prisons than some countries have, more prisons are being built. If one were to base a guess on what is happening with the prison system based on who is there, one could say that our country has decided to imprison African-American males as a social policy, and the mentally ill, and non-violent drug users. 

Violent crime is at an historic low, yet our prison population is at an historic high. I wonder if imprisonment has become the default setting on a society that refuses to address the social problems that require more effort and long-term investment. Just like the medical and prison staff who turned their eyes away from a woman and child in need, as a society we turn our eyes away from those in need: the mentally ill and homeless, the impoverished, the marginalized in our society. 

Or when we can’t avert our eyes, we imprison them.