The Cost of Economic Injustice

May 20, 2016

Income inequality is one aspect of economic injustice that is getting some exposure this election cycle, primarily from Bernie Sanders. The fact that there is economic inequality is now widely accepted by economists, and felt by most Americans. This may be a good outcome, even if it did take widespread suffering to crush the usual stereotypes about poverty being a function of laziness or some other pejorative.

Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” America no longer exists. Even with heroic effort and working two full-time jobs, most Americans will not realize economic security. Since the Great Recession, the wealth of 50 percent of Americans decreased an average of 40 percent, while the average hourly wages of the 400 wealthiest Americans increased to over $97,000 per hour. There are structural aspects of our economy, built by political policy, that not only created the recent “Great Recession,” but have also increased the rate of the transfer of wealth since then. This comes at great costs to many social aspects of American life.

A deterioration in health and life expectancy are other negative consequences of inequality. America in the last five years has begun to imitate the conditions of Russians after the Soviet Union fell. In the last five years, the average life expectancy for white women in America has decreased at the same rate as Russian men after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In fact, American women now have the lowest life expectancy of women in any advanced country in the world! One factor in this decline is that the American economy has decreased the wealth of the majority of its citizens, resulting in decreased access to health care. One of the objectives of ObamaCare was to remedy that lack of access to medical treatment, but that was sabotaged when the Supreme Court gave the right of states to opt out of Medicare.

So it is not just a lack of access to education, or any of the traditional vehicles for upward mobility, that have been destroyed by this economy. It is also causing a deterioration in health and other aspects of a quality life. Reagan championed the “trickle down” economic theory that set into motion the greatest transfer of wealth in the world’s history. Since then, the political system has only increased that trickle to a torrent. Our children may be the first generation of Americans to live in a Third World country.


Something Right — and Here in Detroit

June 14, 2014

So much in the world seems to be going wrong, and there is so much anger and division in our society that it can be difficult sometimes to focus on what is going right.

Even I can get caught up in defending victims to the point where I despair unless I can be reminded that not everything is an angry battle. Sometimes, there are joyous battles. Take for example, the Detroit Capuchins.

The Capuchin Order was founded on the ideals of St. Francis and in 1883 they took root in Detroit. Since then they have been living up to their ideals of happy service to the poorest and least wanted of Detroit.

Every day they help treat drug addicts, reintegrate former prisoners, feed hundreds of the poorest, and generally spend time and conversation with people we tend to avoid when walking on the streets. Their Monastery was built on the East Side at Mt. Elliott, which even in the 1920s was known as a very rough neighborhood.

They go to places and help people we never see who are in desperate circumstances that would shock most Americans to know it existed within miles of their homes.

The amazing thing that one learns when working with them, is that they actually enjoy the work.  And after volunteering time at the Soup Kitchen or other services, and they help you to realize that the people you have helped have actually helped you far more. It will put the madness in perspective.

If you would like to support them or volunteer, contact them at:

The Capuchin Service Center
6333 Medbury St.
Detroit MI 48211

 


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.


Why I Didn’t Run

May 12, 2010

I struggled with the decision to run for Governor. Rome is burning and the people who started the fire, the professional politicians, are beyond redemption. I don’t think that they have solutions to offer. They only want another job at the public trough.

That leaves us ordinary citizens to sacrifice our careers and our privacy to put out the fires in Michigan and start the rebuilding process.

It takes incredible sacrifice for someone like me to serve in Government. I don’t need the job, I like what I do.

My own excursion into politics was eye opening. Many people in politics make their livings by brokering deals; they are parasites who rely on kick-backs [now or later]. The really dangerous ones are in three piece suits over at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

When I ran for Governor I refused to make any deals. I refused to sell my soul. The consequence was that I received very little help from my own party. To run successfully for governor you have to compromise your soul. As a lawyer defending victims I don’t have to sacrifice my integrity; and even on those rare occasions when I lose, I have a clear conscience.

Although I loved meeting the people of Michigan and touring the State, I just didn’t like the people who populate the “industry” of politics. I didn’t know if I wanted to again spend millions of my own money to get back into that cesspool.

There are two problems we have to deal with in Michigan that transcend political parties. They are structural. The first is that the vast majority of people in office today simply want to get elected because they need the job. That means that government is reactive – not proactive. Politicians wait until a crisis develops before they act because they are afraid. Governors and legislatures don’t take a stand until a consensus develops as the result of a crisis. Otherwise, they might be required to take a stand on an issue that later could hurt their re-election bids.

Professional politicians are self-centered instead of being focused on what’s good for the people. Polls, not principles, drive their actions.

When I ran for Governor I proposed a number of policies that were ridiculed at the time, but have since been adopted after the situation got so bad that we had to act.

I proposed a state-wide medical insurance pool that would have reduced premiums by 30% to individuals and small businesses. I proposed eliminating the small business tax, and ending the prison for profit system. I proposed diversion for non-violent first time, drug offenses. Had those policies been adopted in 1998, we would be in much better shape, but they weren’t “politically attractive” then.

When Jennifer Granholm appointed me chairman of the Film Commission, I proposed the largest tax incentive in the country as a way to attract film makers. Republicans in the legislature ridiculed my proposal. After I left, it was adopted with great success.

The second problem with politics is that as far as the political parties go, they are often a distinction without a difference.

Government has stopped governing for the good of ordinary folks. It has become a tool for big business to make money. The reason why the election of a Democrat or a Republican makes little difference to the everyday lives of most working people is that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and insurance companies control this State for their own self-interest.

Politicians can argue about ideology all day long, but in the end, the only real difference between the two parties is that most Republicans are nothing more than insurance company shills, and many Democrats aspire to yet another government job. The economic policies of the past 20 years have virtually all been dictated by what’s best for the corporate sponsors of each of the respective camps, not what’s best for the rest of us.

Michigan has the most business friendly laws, tax structure and judiciary in the country, and what real jobs do we have to show for it? At what point do we recognize that forfeiting the future of this State for low wage temporary jobs is not worth it? Less taxes and more business giveaways have bankrupted Michigan; destroyed our infrastructure and destroyed our quality of life.

Under the Republican administration in Michigan [1990 to 2002] we shifted the tax burden from big business to individual citizens. A multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company does not pay a dollar in property taxes, but parents have to pay additional fees and taxes to send their kids to failing schools over third world roads. That’s wrong, it’s unjust. However, if you propose building another prison or starting another war, the Republicans will rush to spend your tax money like drunken sailors.

For the Republicans to now claim that they are worried about the cost of universal health care after spending trillions on the war in Iraq is downright ludicrous. It’s so absurd that it makes me laugh to think that anyone could be that hypocritical and maintain a straight face.

In 1992, Michigan Republicans passed the only law in the country that makes drug companies totally immune from product liability suits for dangerous drugs. What happens then? Pfizer up and leaves the state taking thousands of jobs with it and the ordinary folks of Michigan still have no legal recourse when defective drugs kill their children!

One of the biggest concerns we have is that big business has invested millions of dollars to get activist judges elected or appointed to the bench so that they can serve their corporate masters. How do you explain the fact that four activist Michigan Supreme Court judges, appointed by Mr. Engler, ruled in favor of corporations and against individual citizens in 99% of their cases? That’s not a coincidence.

Judges like Robert Young and Stephen Markman have created a judicial environment in which our most vulnerable citizens cannot get justice. Ultimately, when people know they cannot get justice in Court they will take justice into their own hands. We have to move now to restore integrity to the Michigan Judicial system.

Lansing has sold the farm to big business and bankrupted the State as a consequence. Offering tax exemptions to corporations has not produced any lasting benefit to our state. Tax breaks are a means for the wealthy to get richer at the expense of ordinary folks.

The few jobs that are created by tax breaks [many of which turn out to be temporary], are not sufficient to offset the lost tax revenue. Prop A has destroyed our public school system in Michigan. There’s nothing wrong with a business making profits, but it cannot be at the expense of the lives of Michigan citizens, or our environment.

There are a few good Democrats in the mix right now. Virj Benero, and Andy Dillon are outstanding men with correct political positions. I know I’ve poked fun at Rick Synder, but at least he is focusing on real problems and making proposals that aren’t just focus-group driven dribble. And, he doesn’t need a job.

The other Republican candidates offer nothing more than the same. Their names read like a list of wannabes, in need of a new government job, with not a shred of ingenuity or talent among them.


Let Loose the Dogs of Racism

January 13, 2010

It’s a pity that the media is wasting an opportunity to have a genuine discussion about race relations in our country as the result of the Sen. Harry Reid controversy. The fact is that there is something worth learning from this episode for many white Americans. White Americans, especially older and even liberal ones like Harry Reid, have to begin to recognize that racism is more than just a political attitude. It is an emotional illness that has been ingrained in every American since the beginning of the country, including people of color as well. I say that older Americans have a greater bondage to racism because they grew up in a segregated society and have not had as much of an opportunity to develop and learn from the personal relationships with people of color. Harry Reid is having one of those moments right now.

I grew up in the Detroit area, and so I have had to “live and learn” my entire life that there are many forms of racism: conscious and subconscious. I came from a liberal home, but my liberal upbringing didn’t inoculate me from the fear and cultural ignorance or arrogance that has been woven into this Country’s history almost from the beginning. That is the real origin of racism. It is a subconscious process of differentiating and defining people based on the color of their skin. It is a perception based on stereotypes and ignorance that comes mainly from one thing: the lack of personal contact and relationships with people of other races. We fear the unknown, we fear the different.

My life’s experience has taught me that once you develop a relationship, whether personal or professional, with people of other races, the issue of race becomes more and more subtle and less problematic. Racist stereotyping or attitudes never completely go away, but they become less and less important emotionally when experience and personal relationships develop. In some cases, such as the integration of the Armed Services, the practical necessity of interdependence soon dissolves the barriers to personal transformation. Many of the closest friendships and bonds between men of different races have been formed in fox holes.

However, just simply forming relationships with people of different races is not sufficient to overcome racism. I had to be willing to question and confront my own thoughts and feelings before I could recognize the true extent of my own racism. Now, keep in mind that I was raised in a family that not only supported civil rights, but my parents put their lives on the line to pass civil rights laws (my father was a freedom rider in the most dangerous days of the movement). I have always had close friends of different races, and I litigate civil rights cases to this day. Yet, there have been times, when called out by my African-American friends that I had to realize that to really free my thinking and emotions from the bondage of racism, I had to be willing to be self-reflective and to learn. Freeing your mind from racism is not just a matter of adopting certain political and social attitudes – it is a matter of searching for the attitudes and emotions that cause us to relate to other human beings based on their race.

Will we ever become a society that doesn’t see or judge a person based on their race? I doubt it, simply because it is so ingrained structurally in our country. It is no secret why African-Americans consistently and constantly suffer from the highest rates of unemployment, incarceration and poverty. Yet when economic hard times like this also begin to affect white people, why do minorities (who are far more adversely affected) become the scapegoats? Why do white people like the tea-baggers identify “illegal immigration” and “socialism” (meaning to social programs for minorities) rather than the corporate oligarchy that has taken over the economy and created so much injustice? Why exploit the inherent fear and resentment of racism rather than an attempt to create social and economic justice?

People of color are not fooled by the faux-outrage of Republicans or Fox News – actions speak louder than words and the policies and actions of these people are obviously racist. They will continue to divide people based on race to perpetuate a political system in the service of the real source of economic and social injustice: protecting the 1%.

The words of Harry Reid were racist, but far less problematic to minorities than the threat posed by the actions of Republicans. Reid only embarrassed himself and discovered an element of his own racism. He has already overcome the most debilitating aspects of his own racism. His is the problem of recognizing the subtle extent to which his racism is ingrained after overcoming the larger obstacles of fear, resentment and hatred that causes one to advocate racist policies.


Of Life and Death

December 15, 2009

This post is a bit more personal than my usual, but I wanted to share a different part of my life with you all. Yesterday my children were Baptized at Holy Name Church in Birmingham, MI. The day before, I visited my brother, Doug, as he lay dying. My children are beginning their lives. My brother’s life is ending.

I am not much of a “believer” type, though I am sure that there is much more to life than the material. I am the son of a non-believer Jewish father and non-believing Norwegian mother. Indeed, my mom’s father became an atheist when they tried to shove Catholicism down his throat at a time he wasn’t ready to swallow.

Still, it was good for me to share the same excitement, confusion, and even amusement that my children had during the ceremony. My oldest son, Julian age 8, was able to understand some of the meaning of the sacrament – about as much as this Jewigian, raised as a Unitarian understood. Like Julian, Aiden and Quinn, I also began to listen to the prayers and participated in the ceremony, I began to understand something about my own life, death and the rituals and what it all means.

At the same time, my brother Doug is very sick with a cancer that will likely end his life. I love my brother and the prospect of his passing is painful for me. As I stood near the Baptismal font, listening to the prayers and smelling the incense and oils, sometimes staring out the windows and watching snowflakes fall on an otherwise dark December day, my thoughts alternated between my children and my brother. I was hearing and smelling and feeling the voyage from life to death and to life again. I felt the Maker’s rage for order. The Baptism brought home to me that death and life are the same when seen through the prism of the Universe and its continuum.

I don’t know what happens when people die, but I think it is not the end of us. It seems strange, in this cold, dark December reality of life, there is a source of life eternal – my love for my brother and for my children. That love will never die and that love makes life (and death) so much more understandable.


Choosing How to Live

December 9, 2009

Last week I wrote about faith and a number of people asked me to elaborate. Real faith, and not religious dogma, liberates us from fear and opens us up to actions that will improve the world. Writing about a quality I need to encourage in myself is one way I can focus on what I can do in response to the challenges the world presents. Last week I was starting to feel discouraged about the direction this country is taking.

The world can overwhelm us unless we can use the opportunities that problems represent to improve those qualities we have and do what we can to change what is wrong in the world. It’s too easy to give in to hopelessness and fear (just turn on cable news 24/7). The economy, wars, climate change… let alone the personal struggles we face every day… life can be hard and it can be a challenge. I choose to look at life as a challenge.

So many times in the past people have remarked to me about how I seem to be able to handle very stressful situations so easily. Well, it’s not easy, and I do feel anxious or unsure at times. I am only human. When facing death threats (as I did when representing Jack Kevorkian and the right of self-determination) or representing the victims of police brutality, running for Governor or even facing prosecution (persecution) by the Government – I am human and I do have times when I feel anxious or hopeless. In fact, I have those moments in every trial. I choose to not focus on the situation – or give in to the whining and hand-wringing. I choose to look inward and challenge myself to overcome any feelings or challenge the world presents to me. If I feel fear it is because I need to have more faith and act like it.

We all have more influence over our lives than we think – the world doesn’t defeat us, we do. Not me, not in any trial, not in this lifetime.