What Do We Do?

July 11, 2018

If there are three words that describe the current social/political climate it could be corruption, cruelty and (in)competence. It’s a tough world. What could Progressives offer as an alternative? Many argue that Progressives need to become street fighters and go at the White Nationalist takeover of our government. Maybe we need the opposite in the sense of tactics, but not strategy. Martin Luther King was as tough as anyone, tougher than most. To continue to maintain non-violence when attacked, to continue to hold consistent with principles even when politics compel compromise… these are the qualities of toughness rooted in moral courage. This is what Progressives need and if we need an example, then the recently nominated Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Maybe its too early to tout Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, but the way she campaigned was absolutely what I think will work. She was an unapologetic Progressive who overcame the political machine with face-to face, personal campaigning. She was elected as the Democratic Party nominee in an overwhelming Democratic District, but she was not the anointed nominee and she was labelled by the DNC as “too Progressive to be elected”.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez calls herself a “socialist democrat”, but her personal grace and authentic beliefs when challenged by voters won them over. People don’t care about labels when the candidate is speaking to their immediate needs and concerns. She never seemed to lose her composure or sense of decency as she walked the District as the challenger to not only the Nationalist blitz but also her own Party’s power structure. I think she demonstrated that the way to win is with decency, ideas and compassion.

Progressive should fight and fight hard, but fight with the same moral conviction of Dr. King. We have to fight first for control of the Democratic Party, with ossified leadership long controlled by Wall Street, then onto convincing Americans to recapture the compassion, the decency and the hope that was America not long ago.

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SCOTUS

July 10, 2018

Justice Kennedy has made three extraordinary decisions that will leave a legacy that has literally changed American society forever: The Right of Gay couples to be married, the Citizen’s United and the decision to retire during the Trump Presidency. The decisions on the Constitutional Right of Gay people to marriage certainly changed society and the concept of Gay marriage seems accepted by most of our society. However, no Constitutional Right will be safe under a Trump appointed Court.

Citizens United effectively ended democracy in the United States through the widespread corruption of politics. There is an argument the Russians and a terrible Hillary campaign had more to do with Trump being elected than big money contributions, but the net effect of Citizens has been to enable corporations to determine who the candidates will be in any major election. This is especially true since Kennedy helped other Conservatives to end the Union Movement and gut anti-trust safeguards. For decades, Conservatives have railed against “judicial activism” but the present SCOTUS has ignored numerous, long-standing legal precedents mostly in cases involving the rights of women and of Labor.

The worse effect of Kennedy will be the calculated decision to allow Trump – someone who has no respect for the rule of law – to appoint the next Justice and guarantee an activist, reactionary Court for decades. Trump has already promised to only appoint Anti-Choice candidates. The nibbling around the corners of the Roe v Wade decision has been ongoing for decades, but the fundamental Right has been affirmed. This SCOTUS has already shown an activist willingness to ignore decades of legal precedent to effect their conservative agenda, they will have no problem going right at Roe.

Don’t look to Dems to prevail in the fight to delay the vote on a replacement until after November. The GOP will drag it out as long as they can to continue to motivate their base, but in the end, they will confirm a reactionary Justice before November. Trump will have at least two Justices that will have pledged loyalty to him, in the event of any challenge to the Mueller Investigation. The lasting legacy of Justice Kennedy will be the catastrophe he has been for our democracy and basic Rights.

 


Happy Anniversary

January 18, 2018

Friday is the anniversary of the inauguration of Donald J. (“J for genius”) Trump. The plan is for Trump to host a $100,000 per plate gala dinner at his Florida Golf Resort. The optics of a party for the rich at a golf resort while the government is shut down are apparently not daunting for the President. After all, he truly believes he could murder someone in public and not lose support.

However, there is another even more socially and politically significant anniversary that is really is worth celebrating – the Women’s March. The massive, historic march of women across the country and in other countries has been followed by something a bit unusual. The March was not a one-time event and has led to a significant empowerment of women. The movement gave birth (excuse the pun) to significant efforts on behalf of women in our society such as the effort to identify and end sexual harassment, and the record number of women running for political office. It’s a real social and political movement and long overdue.

In the mid seventies the “Women’s Lib” movement emerged. While it did produce some important social changes, it really didn’t translate to economic and political power for women. Wages for women still lag behind men. Women rarely achieved political power. The ultimate confrontation of the women’s liberation movement’s failure to achieve and sustain success was the election of a man who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women. The brutal fact of the electoral college victory sparked the March and one year later, it appears that the massive march is more than a flash in the pan protest.

We can only become a better society as the result.

 

 


The Lessons of History

December 12, 2017

General Flynn pleaded guilty to a felony, to avoid the likelihood of being convicted of even more serious felonies. Apart from the delicious irony of the man who self-righteously led the Republican mob chanting “lock her up” even as he was committing felonies, or the legal implications to the Trump cabal, there are some interesting lessons from history that are immediately apparent. I’m not talking about John Dean or other more contemporary parallels, although the implications of Flynn cooperating with the Special Prosecutor do suggest a parallel. I’m talking about the figure of Flynn, his actions and understanding their significance. I’m talking about another famous general: Benedict Arnold.

Both Arnold and Flynn were respected generals. Both were fired from their jobs and became resentful and bitter as the result. Both men felt they were intellectually and morally superior to the men who hired and fired them, and both became secret agents of a foreign country for personal gain. Their cause became personal enrichment and vindication. Both of their treachery were uncovered as the result of intercepted communications. In the end, both men acknowledged their crime, but not their wrongdoing. Their narcissism prevented them from admitting they were wrong as much as it led them to their betrayals in the first place. Theirs was not the fate of the tragic hero who falls because of a fatal flaw. Theirs was the fate of men who served themselves above all else. Their motivation was rooted in narcissism, not altruism or any genuine concern for the common good. They strove for recognition, admiration and enrichment. When they failed to get what they believed they deserved, their rage translated into self-destruction.

There is one important difference of course. While both deserved to be fired from their jobs, their bosses were markedly different. George Washington was a man with an ego kept in check by his conscience, and President Obama had a similar character. Both Washington and Obama were alarmed by the self-serving ambition, the duplicity and destructive effect of their generals and fired them. Flynn’s most recent boss however, lacks both a conscience and any sense of judgment of their abilities other than personal loyalty before loyalty to Country. Even though Trump knew that Flynn had betrayed the country, he kept Flynn on until the public exposure necessitated letting him go. For Trump, self-enrichment involving betrayal of the country was not troublesome until the public opinion began to affect his own stature. That’s the alarming aspect of how Trump handled Flynn, and maybe a portent of what is to come. He didn’t care that Flynn had been compromised by foreign intelligence agencies and had broken the law. Trump kept him on in one of the most sensitive intelligence positions of any Administration even knowing Flynn was a foreign agent. That should worry all of us. That error of judgment would never occur to Trump and worry him. At least not nearly as much as the cooperation of Flynn with Mueller. In fact, Flynn may be nothing more than a moral reflection of Trump and consequently the reason why he was willing to tolerate Flynn’s lawlessness and betrayal of the Country.


Sexual Harassment is Not Politics

November 27, 2017

Roy Moore may be the drop that burst the dam, but the long sad history of men using power to sexualize and objectify women reaches back millennia. Recently the news about Al Franken broke, signaled by the same man (Roger Stone) using the same language (“time in the barrel”) used to announce the Wikileaks release of hacked e-mails from the Clinton Campaign. There is a political side to this issue, but this is a far more import issue than the election of a Senator (or President for that matter). The fact is that women have been abused subtly and not so subtly in our society and it’s long past the time to end it. The boy’s club should be closed.  It is not enough to reject physical sexual assault of women and tolerate verbal assault, or economic and social assault. But how to change?

Men are getting pretty nervous about now. Welcome to the experience of women. What is harassment and what is not? Is inviting a women coworker out for drinks after work harassment or a good will gesture? When is a joke a joke and when is it an assault? What is OK or not OK? Here are some suggestions guys…

If you want to share a joke, an invitation, or conversation with a woman in the workplace (or anywhere else), how about asking yourself if you would be good with someone doing that to your own daughter? How about treating women respectfully with clear boundaries until the woman knows you well enough to understand your motive? How about questioning your own motives first? How about asking women for permission and respecting their answer?

Of course, it will be hard on men for a while, and why not? It wasn’t men who precipitated this social change – it took the courage of women speaking out. Even now, victims of abuse from men are attacked and risk attempts to smear, shame and bully them into silence. Guess what? It doesn’t work anymore. We men have to change, and if we don’t know how to change then let the women around you define what that change looks like. Wow! You mean let women have some control? Yes, that’s right.

Even now, we can only begin to see the outlines of the path to change. Liberal men do it. Conservative men do it. It is a problem that transcends politics, but political ideology seems to be a defining aspect of responses. Al Franken immediately admitted the truth and apologized for behavior over a decade earlier and before he became a Senator. Trump and Moore attack their victims. Kind of ironic, if not sad, that the Party of Family Values is now becoming the Party of pedophiles. Whether it’s fair or not to be paying the price for behavior done decades ago, there is a moral difference between admitting your behavior was wrong and denying it and attacking the woman involved.

Some well-intentioned men, confused and fearful of their own past behavior being exposed, resent being put in the position where they may be “inconvenienced” by having to question their behavior toward women. Change is never easy, and for men in this society change is long overdue. We can start by rejecting the attempts to victimize women who speak out.


Hypocrisy

September 1, 2017

There are so many instances of hypocrisy from politicians of every persuasion it almost goes without notice most of the time. However, the current level of hutzpah from Texas Republicans is worthy of notice for its sheer audacity. Virtually all the Texas Republicans voted against relief for Hurricane Sandy and insisted on budget reductions to offset the costs. While some of the Texans, such as Cruz, now insist they voted against the bill because it contained pork barrel spending not related to hurricane relief, they all insisted at the time that ANY relief bill would be blocked unless the money was found by reducing funding from social safety net programs. They wanted to homeless to suffer so that the other homeless could go back home. This is what conservatives do: complain about the evil of “big government” until they need the help.

Of course, I wouldn’t want the badly needed relief not to get to Texas, but it would be nice to rub their noses in their own stuff. Maybe they should call the bill the “Hurricane Sandy Payback Bill” or something similar. As much as conservatives complain about the self-righteous hypocrisy of liberals, there is more than enough among conservatives to match up, especially among evangelicals. Remember, evangelicals wondered if Sandy was a judgment from God against New York. Maybe God is punishing states that voted for Trump, or for denying climate change … it’s a slippery slope, my conservative friends.

Enough political fun. I do hope that people in Texas, especially the poor and homeless, will get the help they need and stay safe.


The Orange Barrel Summertime Blues

August 29, 2016

For many of you who follow the blog and live outside of Southeast Michigan, around here warm weather is known more popularly as the “Orange Barrel Season.” It seems like as soon as the temperature has three continuous days above freezing, work begins on repairing the roads and highways of Michigan. These roads (and bridges) rival those of a Third World country in terms of disrepair. Actually, our roads may be worse. One important reason why Michigan’s roads and infrastructure are so bad is the Michigan government.

Unlike other states that have insisted on enforcing minimum materials and construction standards, along with a guarantee of viability, Michigan governments since the Engler Administration have allowed contractors to use inferior materials and construction methods to create a virtual perpetual employment machine, moving constantly from one short-term, emergency fix to another. It has also been a government that has resisted any effective public transportation system, or enforced regulation of heavy traffic vehicles.

Since all of the highway work had been unguaranteed, it guaranteed huge tax expenditures to create emergency, and short-term fixes. It’s quite remarkable to see if you are not from Michigan. Slow-moving trucks roll along at 5 mph on a 70 mph highway for miles, causing huge traffic jams while men shovel out a gravel and tar mixture to fill in monster pot holes. Then they rely on subsequent traffic to roll over the mound to compact it down, while the rest of the tar and gravel are sent bouncing off of cars in other lanes.

Well, there’s good news and bad news in this regard with the announcement of a major road reconstruction project at one of the busiest conduits in SE Michigan, at I-75 in Oakland County. The good news is that the huge congestion of traffic creating a 10-mile-long, bumper-to-bumper commute into Wayne County and the City of Detroit will be somewhat relieved. The bad news is that the project will take 12-14 years to complete! For Oakland County residents working in Detroit, it means more than a decade of finding alternate routes or commutes extended hours longer. Imagine spending 2-3 hours or longer to drive 10 miles to work.

I’m guessing that the good conservative types in one of America’s riches counties will be wishing they had approved extending the Woodward light rail pretty soon. For the thousands of people who use I-75 as their route to Northern Michigan … just think of it as an opportunity to tour the back roads instead of a costly extension of hours in travel time. There even might be some economic benefit from the fact that hotels and restaurants will have increased business once driving to Mackinac will take an over-night trip rather than the usual 5 hours.

Or maybe we can contemplate how much of a difference government can make with regard to infra-structure – for good or bad.