Professor Bundy: Conservative 101

April 29, 2014

While CNN continues to report on every random piece of debris found in the Indian Ocean, other media networks have moved on to more important things. One notable trend has been the strange case of Cliven Bundy. Every once in a while a personality rises above the staccato din of the media to offer an object lesson in life. Joe the Plumber was instructive on the deleterious effects of prolonged lead exposure. Anthony Weiner was a prohibitive tale of being careful where you point your cell phone camera. Now comes Cliven Bundy – ostensibly the conservative poster child of Conservatives and States’ rights advocates. As it turns out, he REALLY IS emblematic of Conservative values.

Cliven Bundy is a nut. He happens to own a lot of land and cattle out West so his lunacy existed in relative obscurity, except for the few human beings who had contact with him. Fox Cable News discovered him while he was in the midst of threatening Federal Land Management staff who wanted to collect grazing fees. The Feds allow cattlemen to let their cattle roam wherever they want on lands and feed, so long as the cattlemen pay a fraction the money they would have had to spend on feed. Mr. Bundy didn’t like that and his cause was first taken up by armed right wing terrorists, and then by their media outlet, Fox Cable News. For one glorious week, Mr. Bundy and his cause appeared on numerous shows on Fox, espousing the conservative principles existing under the umbrella of “States’ Rights”. He stood shoulder to shoulder with conservative men like Rick Perry and entire factions of the GOP, such as Wisconsin Republicans who wonder out loud if secession would be preferable to Obamacare.

Then, true to form, Mr. Bundy went on to show his conservative Achilles heel: he started talking about something conservatives want to leave unspoken: the racist foundation of contemporary conservatism. Mr. Bundy believes that slavery was preferable to freedom for African-Americans. He believes that African-Americans are less than humans because of Federal programs, such as welfare. (Keep in mind, his grazing on Federal lands is a form of welfare). Contemporary Conservatism (as distinct from the William F. Buckley generation) is inherently racist. This is what drives the irrational opposition to President Obama. How else to explain why Obama proposals that Conservatives used to support , are rejected? Why else would you oppose your own programs and policies simply because a black President supports them? When you delve deep enough into the conservative mind set and lifestyle you discover things like Rick Perry’s “Niggerhead ranch” or Mr. Bundy believing that African-Americans are worse off today because of Federal programs instead of “being taught how to pick cotton”.

Although Fox Cable News and others who touted Mr. Bundy as a Conservative hero has now become silent on the issue, the lesson should not be lost on us: Mr. Bundy DOES reflect true Conservative values.


Even the Pope

April 29, 2014

Income inequality is rapidly becoming one of the most discussed and divisive issues in our society, and around the world. Academic research has been grinding out the inescapable conclusion that our society is among the most economically unequal in world history, and the differences between industrialized countries (an antiquated term that should be replaced by a term something like “financialized economies”) and third world countries is growing even more unjust every year. This has spurred a renewed critique of capitalism.   I suppose the problem really lies in the human character: greed ultimately trumps altruism. Maybe that inevitable biological imperative to survive and reproduce our genes is a gravity too strong to transcend.

Let’s hope that some solution is found because the level of economic injustice has become pervasive and dangerous. The Congress and Supreme Court have transformed into an essential protection racket for the ultra-rich and the flood of capital to the richest 1% is draining the American middle-class. The situation is even worse in Third World countries where entire societies are so impoverished that survival is a day to day struggle. Even the Pope has been outspoken about the “evil” of unrestrained capitalism. Speaking from the vast warehouse of riches stolen from colonial conquests at the Vatican, the singular voice of Pope Francis seems dissonant, yet poignant at the same time. 

Whether through spiritual transformation or economic and political revolution, something has to change because the real casualty of our current economy is hope – the hope that with enough effort one can improve their economic standing. That is a hope rapidly fading for most Americans.     


More Bad News for Women

April 23, 2014

Last week the Republicans defeated an attempt to ensure equal pay for equal work for women, but that was only some of the bad news for American women. It seems pretty clear that women are losing the Conservative led “war on women” culturally and economically.

Census statistics indicate that the rapid gains of women in wages in the ’90s has stalled, and even begun to reverse. Now that Republicans have signaled that wage discrimination will be protected while they control Congress, the trend to reverse wage gains will most likely accelerate. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrated it makes me to tell a woman that she has no case against an employer, not because she has not been discriminated against, but because her employer successfully hid the fact for so long.

Women constitute over half of college graduates with advanced degrees (53%), yet less than 40% of those finding employment after graduation. The idea that a college degree will increase employability does not apply to women in America. Women also form the bottom of the economic barrel, constituting  over half of those employed at minimum wages and the majority of those in poverty (by far).

Women’s rights have been under attack by Conservatives for decades, but recently the role of women in society has also under attack. In most other countries of the world, including many Moslem Countries, women are represented in political leadership far more proportionally than in the U.S. For example, more women have been elected to political office in Afghanistan than in the U.S., proportionally.

Perhaps the most repugnant of Conservative’s attacks on women is their recent attempts to define their role as essentially “barefoot and pregnant.” Books by Conservative women published in the last year argue that women would be less likely to marry if they earned equal wages, and should attend college only to “marry well.” I kid you not!

This is not the society I want my daughter – or anyone’s daughter, to inherit. We need to become much more active in fighting the right wing attempts to set the Women’s Movement back.

A Just Society

April 23, 2014

Nelson Mandela once said that “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of Justice.” In America the rates of poverty have increased significantly, a trend that began with George W. Bush and accelerated after the market crash of 2008.

There is no denying that some fraction of those impoverished are impoverished through a lack of their own initiative or their own actions. Equally undeniable is the fact that the vast majority of those in poverty are there through no fault of their own and even with every effort they can muster. Poverty exists as a function of economic injustice — the result of government policies and the indifference of others. 

The majority of those in poverty in the U.S. are employed, part-time or full-time, in minimum wage jobs. Many others in poverty are single mothers, heroically struggling to support themselves and their children. Many of these women are employed, working long hours only to come home to even more exhaustive work. They rely on government support to help with child care, food and medical treatment. Many others rely on unemployment benefits to help them until they can find employment. Still others are mentally ill and homeless. 

Beginning in the Johnson Administration, government funded programs began to make progress reducing the rates of poverty, a trend that continued until the Bush presidency. Many government funded programs were ineffective, and tens of millions of dollars were wasted. However, tens of millions of wasted dollars to help the poor pales in comparison to the hundreds of billions wasted helping oil companies, tobacco companies, and billionaires in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Meanwhile, the present policy of our government is to ignore or imprison the poor. The rates of violent crimes is significantly lower in the last 10 years, yet the prison population has exploded … and we all know that those who go to prison are the poor. The rich get a free pass in a rehab program or probation. 

Let’s consider what we can do to create a just society, and the responsibility we each bear to have helped create a society that imprisons the poor rather than helps them.  


Trial Lawyers

April 14, 2014

Some Republicans tried to justify their vote against equal pay for women by saying that to pass the law would be to “line the pockets of trial lawyers.” That’s a very revealing explanation. 

If corporations did not discriminate against women, then there would be no lawsuits … period. A case without any evidence would get thrown out in an instant. Discrimination exists when the perpetrators can get away with it. Without the ability of an individual to file a lawsuit, no corporation would have an incentive to follow the law. Republicans want you to believe that corporations will voluntarily not discriminate anymore, and refuse to allow the ability of anyone to discover if any discrimination exists. 

The use of “trial lawyers” is a popular rhetorical tool of Republicans, but the equal pay law and the GM recalls of their cars with fatal defects are good examples of what we do as trial lawyers. GM knew about the defects years ago — before many people were killed because of them. GM did nothing to protect lives. They protected themselves, or rather their profits. The government agency charged with identifying those safety hazards didn’t discover the defects because (apparently) the deaths of dozens of people was below their radar. So much for over-regulation. 

It was a trial lawyer taking depositions in a lawsuit that not only uncovered the defect in GM cars, but also the cover-up of the defect. Thanks to a trial lawyer, lives will be saved and justice can be done for the victims. It is a textbook example of how trial lawyers protect society and your rights. This offends Republicans. 

Republicans want to argue that there are already laws against discrimination, but they want to make it impossible to discover the discrimination, nearly impossible to get a day in court and impose government limits on the amount of money anyone could recover no matter what the evidence is. As a person who has devoted his life to helping defend the rights of individuals against the wealthy and powerful, I understand why the right wing nuts attack my profession. We are the last resort of people like you when the powerful victimize. 


Equal Pay

April 14, 2014

You couldn’t ask for a clearer contrast between the “family values” of Republicans and those of the Democrats. The vote on equal pay for women was blocked by Republicans — every single Republican voted against it. Terri Lynn Land, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate to replace Carl Levin, chimed in with agreement with her fellow Republicans that women aren’t really interested in getting paid the same for the same work. You would think that a woman might have a hard time justifying a policy to allow discrimination against women, but apparently not a Republican woman.

As a father of two boys and a girl, I can’t imagine advocating a policy that punishes my daughter just because she is a girl. I wonder how ANY woman could remain a Republican after such a disgraceful vote. However, I can’t honestly discern if Republicans are conducting an ideological war against women, or if the issue is simply one where all Republican policies are subservient to protecting corporate America. 

Sure, Republicans have been the party to deny the right of women to choose what happens to their own bodies. The party of “small government” has proposed all kinds of government intrusions into the personal lives and bodies of women — even to the point of mandating government vaginal exams of pregnant women, and prohibiting reimbursement for contraceptives. The refusal to support equal pay for women might seem to be another extension of their “war on women.” But when you look at the big picture, the issue is less about discriminating against women as it is about protecting corporations. More than anything else, Republicans are all about protecting the profits of corporations and billionaires. Five Supreme Court Justices are possibly the only five people in the world who don’t understand the role of money in politics and power. The Ryan Budget just passed by the House of Representatives is essentially the declaration of GOP policy: take from the poor and give to the rich. 

The defeat of the equal pay law should be a warning to every American, female or male, that the agenda of the Republican Party is to turn the U.S. into a Third World economy where impoverished workers serve the goal of corporate profits. Resisting raising the minimum wage, equal pay, blocking unemployment benefits, Tort Reform … asking how any given law will affect corporate profits can explain 99 percent of all Republican policy. The Ryan Budget declares it loud and clear. In that sense, I suppose, the Republicans can legitimately argue that they are not prejudiced in favor of either gender: both should face equal injustice. 


It’s Official: American Democracy in Critical Condition

April 8, 2014

A government “of the money, for the money and by the money”… the Roberts Supreme Court once again ignored legal precedent and ruled to eliminate any campaign spending limits on individuals. Justice Thomas even went out of his way to write an opinion advocating for eliminating ANY restrictions on money. Their rationale (if one could even suggest there was any rationality) was that money given for political campaigns was free speech and protected by the Constitution. I agree with many analysts that this ruling paves the way for the destruction of the American electoral system. This is not hyperbole. 

We may all share the right of free speech, but at what point does the “speech” of the .0001% extinguishes the speech of the 99%? What if … the Koch brothers decided to buy up every minute of media advertizing in a campaign for their candidate because they can afford it? Doesn’t that restrict (if not eliminate) the speech of the other candidate and their supporters? What if Sheldon Adelson decided that he would spend .001% of his wealth to bankroll every single election in a given state to the point where no opposing candidate could compete? I guess he could rename the state after himself afterwards. When does “free speech” simply become bribery?

President Obama and Mitt Romney each spent about $1 billion in the last campaign. Since that campaign ended, the Koch brothers’ industries have profited over $12 billion, thanks in part to tax law changes and government contracts awarded to them. It would make good business sense for them to take $6 billion of that profit to overwhelm the next campaign for president and congress. Bye-bye EPA … bye-bye NLRB … bye-bye any obstacle to unbridled profits for them. 

The immediate effect of the Court’s ruling will be to change the fundamental nature of political elections: from now on candidates for elections will be pre-determined NOT by their ideas or principles, but by their capacity to get funding. That means a very few individuals in this country will determine who will be nominated and ultimately, who will be elected.   


Project 22

April 2, 2014

I believe that we have a special obligation to veterans and that as a country we are failing in that obligation. No matter what our politics or our beliefs about the legitimacy or morality of the Iraq and Afghan wars, young men and women have risked their lives to serve our country. Over 5,269 of these young heroes have paid the ultimate price since 2001. Many more have suffered crippling wounds, some of which are not always evident after multiple deployments to a war zone that has no boundaries of safety.  

It is estimated that over 30% of those who have served and survived in the Iraq-Afghan theaters suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical science is only now beginning to explain the neurochemical changes in brain structure and function that create the symptoms of PTSD, but that is small consolation to the families of veterans who have to continue to live with a brain that is still in combat years after they return. 

One of the fatal symptoms of PTSD is suicide, and we are currently experiencing an epidemic of veterans dying from suicide. Every day 22 veterans commit suicide. Every day. In the 13 years that we have been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan we have averaged an 1 combat death per day. The truth is that if the media reported that 23 Americans a day are dying from combat-related wounds, then maybe a few more Americans would take notice and force Congress to do something. 

Project 22 is an effort by Iraq-Afghanistan veterans to increase awareness and support for medical services and outreach to returning veterans. They can get nowhere in Congress, due to House GOP resistance to funding, so they are asking President Obama to sign an executive order prioritizing the issue of preventing suicides among veterans. I think we should all send a message to the White House asking for this executive order. 

It is the least we can do.        


Supreme What?

April 1, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case of a company owned by “religious” people who claim that being forced to provide birth control as part of standard medical coverage is violating their company’s “religious rights.” There is a lot at stake in the outcome, not just for “Obamacare.” At the root of the issue is whether or not corporations have the right to practice religion and therefore be exempt from, well, from virtually any employment law. It is the same insane line of rationalization that was the basis for the disastrous “Citizen’s United” ruling. Based on reports of the oral arguments, the predictable has prevailed: women justices have had to not only examine the litigants, but also had to school the male justices on what contraception is and how they work. Also predictable was Justice Scalia, who never fails to hide his biases or hypocrisy. 

Even though Justice Scalia formerly wrote a key decision on a case not allowing American Indians to practice ritual use of peyote saying their religious rights did not trump the law, he now indicates that he is willing to ignore his own precedent and allow corporations to practice religion — meaning forcing employees to accept their religious beliefs. The women justices, having educated their male counterparts on the medical uses and mechanism of contraceptives, went on to point out that various religions ban many essential medical procedures, such as transfusions, and questioned the obvious absurdity of how a non-living thing such as a corporation can “practice religion.” Some religious beliefs prohibit integration of races. In fact, there have been volumes written about absurd and unhealthy religious beliefs. 

Even with precedents and common sense on the side of ruling against a corporation’s right to impose religion on employees, it appears to be a close call. After all, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Roberts have never hesitated to ignore precedent or common sense to meet their ideological agenda. Do we have a Supreme Court or a Supreme Fraud? We shall see soon enough.