Obama’s Mojo

August 4, 2016

After Michelle Obama brought down the house at the DNC with a speech that many call one of the greatest in convention history, the pundits were all pitying the poor speakers who had to follow. Enter President Obama. Twelve years ago he electrified the Country in a convention speech and consequently lit the fuse for his own Presidential run. Now Michelle and Barak have given us 3 of the most memorable speeches ever. In a brilliant speech, the Democrat and President used a quote from the patron saint of Republicans to unfavorably contrast the Republican candidate with Hillary Clinton. To use Reagan as a foil to Trump was the ultimate rhetorical takedown of a Party that struggles to maintain a sense of self-respect while their candidate reveals their silent hypocrisy.

There is no doubt that President Obama has suffered through years of outrageous treatment from the right wing, primarily because he was a black man (e.g. birther movement, secret Muslim movement, etc). How wonderfully fitting that he is finishing his second term as one of the most popular to leave office since President Bill Clinton. Well, I guess the new Obama is Hillary.

Contrasting the speeches given by Michelle and Barak Obama with those of Trump and wife #3, one has to be amazed at the intellectual gulf between them. I can understand Melania wanting to plagiarize Michelle, and perhaps we will hear Michelle’s speech again at a future GOP convention. But the revealing contrast is that of President Obama with Trump. Intelligence, class and authenticity with a birther, bombast and bigot. It may have taken a few too many years and another great speech, but finally we are realizing what we have had in President Obama and what we could get with Trump.

1968: RFK 2016: Sanders?

June 14, 2016

As we mark the anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy after he won the California primary, I wonder about the times we live through. It’s awfully hard to explain 1968 to people born since then. In some ways the social conditions were similar. America was very polarized and angry. Even more so than today. The passions ran out into violence in the streets. There was a racist running for President in 1968 (Wallace) as there is now. The political battles were being drawn between the “political establishment” candidates who supported that status quo of war and inequality and reformers, just as there are today. For Democrats, Humphrey was the establishment candidate, much as Hillary is now (although in Humphrey’s defense, Hillary has not accomplished nearly as much). Robert Kennedy was the reform candidate, which seemed strange coming from the political powerhouse family.

Kennedy represented a rejection of war as an economic policy, rejected nationalism and advocated “socialist” policies of uplifting the poor. Sanders is no Kennedy, though he has resonated with that historical epoch. The assassination of Kennedy was the coup de grace of the reform movement, and it has never recovered since then. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were all killed after deciding against war in favor of economic and racial justice. They had a real chance to change the direction of the Country. I am not so certain now that such reforms are possible without the social unrest we saw in 1968. In many ways, the possibilities in 1968 were far better than they seem to be now. I certainly never thought that 1968 was a more promising year than this one…   

Walk the Walk

June 13, 2016

I wondered how the GOP establishment, even the GOP mainstream (what’s left of it), would respond to Trump’s most recent racist tirade. The attack on Judge Curiel seems to have induced a zombie-like effect on them. Republican after Republican has gone on media and in the same flat affect denounced the Trump racism in terms that are as revealing of their own bias as there are of his. Some say his racism is “unfortunate” or a “mistake,” meaning the comments are only a concern in terms of their chances of winning the election. Some say they are “wrong,” which is a little closer to a moral judgment though not exactly clear as to why his racist attacks are wrong. Maybe they mean they are wrongly worded. I don’t know. Paul Ryan continues to amaze with his utter cluelessness by suggesting that the comments from a man who began his campaign by claiming Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers and refused to denounce David Duke, were coming from “left field.” Maybe he was suggesting that Trump has nothing but a left field in his ballpark, but I doubt it.

I was taught that when it comes to matters of racism, it’s not what people say, it’s what they do that matters. Most racists are cowards and spew their hatred behind closed doors. In public, they tend toward silence or the meek defense of overtly racist speech (e.g. “I think he simply misspoke”). If the GOP were really not resting on a foundation of bigotry, then they would take back their endorsements of Trump. Saying that Trump’s comments were wrong, but doing nothing about it says more about their moral compass than anything else. Worse yet, if it were true that the comments from Republicans about Trump that he was unqualified, pathological, etc. before he won the primaries were sincere, then it illustrates the reason why nothing can get done in government. If politicians are willing to ignore what is best for the Country to win elections, then it explains why we are unable to solve our problems. Once again, what they do matters more than what they say. If Republicans deserted Trump in droves as he continues to reveal his true character, then there may be hope for our country yet…    

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 About Me

April 14, 2016

Bernie Sanders took time out from his campaign to walk the picket line and encourage striking workers in New York City today (The Communication Workers of America). It was exactly the right thing to do. Workers need to know that someone in Government is willing to walk the hard walk with them. I know from experience. It made me smile with a memory.
I was running to be the Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Michigan. I got into the race a month late and more than a dollar short on campaign funds and political support. It would be a guerilla campaign.
The UAW had a designated candidate, Larry Owens. I should say the UAW leadership had a candidate. Most of them had never heard of Mr. Owens. Many rank and file felt a need to get militant and respond. The Democratic Establishment wanted to play nice… appeal to the “middle ground” and make a pitch to the people of Michigan that was intended to look like a palatable alternative to the personality of John Engler, rather than a challenge to very first stages of an attack on labor. Mr. Owens was a nice man who had earned his political shot. He had raised a lot of money for the Party. He knew all the players, all the rules, and had made all the deals. He was known by everyone in the Party and very few else. I couldn’t stand it. In a moment of inspiration, or sheer madness (I still don’t know which), I decided to announce and run.
The Establishment did not like the idea of someone like me jumping in. I was not one of them. I was outspoken – meaning I said what I thought and didn’t mince words. I was not controllable. I sued Insurance Companies, Corporations on behalf of victims… in other words, I sued their contributors. I was initially dismissed, but when I produced a series of commercials that were very successful, it got their attention. The attacks from Republicans started, but so did the attacks from Democrats. Nothing new for me after representing Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I started driving around in a minivan and learning how to organize events, just walking neighborhoods… it was a guerilla campaign. I was on my own.
I remember the morning distinctly. We were walking out of the door to my Law Firm, about to get into a Pontiac minivan, and going over the schedule of stops when I noticed a headline in the Detroit Free Press – a plant was closing in Flint because GM decided to move the business to Mexico. The UAW was picketing even as they were pulling the machines out of the plant to ship to Mexico. “Those sons of bitches, this is what it is all about. We are cancelling the schedule and we are going to walk the picket line with them”. I had a friend, a driver and a “political advisor” with me at the time (someone who had run a few campaigns before and charged more than I did by the hour). The advisor and driver told me to keep the schedule. My friend told me “let’s go get a picket sign”. We went to Flint.
When we got there, I talked with a few workers on the line. I asked if I could pick up a sign and walk the line with them. After an hour or so, some UAW leader types arrived and said I couldn’t walk the line. Owens was their candidate. The workers on the line got in their faces and asked where Owens was and told them to pick up a sign. End of discussion, and the moment (I believe) I won the nomination.

Supreme Fools

March 26, 2016

Mitch McConnell is nothing if not a consistent fool. Make that a supreme fool. Before President Obama ever entered the White House, he publicly stated that his job (and the job of all GOP Senators) was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president. He then initiated the most obstructionist campaign against any president in history. It became so absurd that Republicans in both houses of Congress opposed the president’s initiatives that they had previously supported. It got so bad that the American Psychological Association is considering a new diagnosis of “Obama Derangement Syndrome” or what we call “black-tracking” (rejecting their own ideas whenever Obama supports it).

Perhaps the best example of black-tracking is to not even consider the current nominee for the Supreme Court. In one of the best “in your face” political dunks of all time, President Obama nominated someone that Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) only one week earlier cited by name as a man who would easily pass unanimously if only the president would be reasonable enough to nominate him. It clearly showed the willingness of Republicans to put party before the welfare of the country, leaving a Supreme Court seriously impaired for over a year, maybe a year and a half by the time the next president nominates and the Senate confirms.

All the obstructionism Mitch McConnell and his deranged GOP Congress has accomplished up to now is to hurt the country by failing to do much-needed legislation and making the institution of Congress the most derided and least respected in history. Then again, he and his cronies may have accomplished something else. By trying to destroy the Obama Presidency, he may have destroyed his own party. The obstructionism and rhetoric of the GOP leadership has spawned the two front running candidates for their party based on platforms of rejecting their leadership. The reality is that Congress stopped serving the needs of the country shortly after the Citizens United ruling codified the creation of the “donor class” and permanent dysfunction of government.

What $50 Million Will Buy You (and Not)

October 13, 2015

With the admission from the Pentagon that the program to train Syrian fighters has failed, I have to question our priorities as a nation (again). Politicians will go back and forth about policy in the Moslem world in an endless loop of rhetorical nonsense intended to accomplish nothing more than political points.

It’s clear that all the money in our Treasury, all the weapons in our arsenal, and all the talk about the wonders of democracy will have no effect there. We spent $50 million to train five fighters, four of whom are already dead, one of whom defected to ISIL! The training program had a budget of $500 million, and who knows what will happen with that money now.

It appears that President Obama has decided on a nihilistic strategy in Syria. In the past days we have dropped dozens of pallets of weapons and ammunition in rebel held areas, like some demonic Santa Claus. It seems like the only “Christian” thing to do – mortars for Muslims … I guess he decided that if we can’t create democracy in Syria we will arm them to the teeth and let them kill each other (and a few Russians too).

Since the unnecessary war in Iraq, we have spent over $3 trillion and thousands of American lives to accomplish only chaos – and that’s only the money we have been told about! That does not include the hundreds of billions in arms turned over to ISIL, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups by the troops we have spent over a decade training. That money could have created a far better economy and society on Main Street America.

It’s clear that trillions of dollars will have no net positive effect in the Middle East, but I wondered what we could have done with the $50 million (chump change, really) in Michigan. Here’s a few ideas:

• Provide housing for every homeless veteran in Michigan.
• Provide 4 year college scholarships for 1000 of the poorest students in Michigan.
• Restore drinkable water to Flint.
• Provide free dental care for 50,000 children for a year.
• Hire 800 more police officers.

Even for government bureaucrats $50 million can do some damage:
• Buy 250,000 toilet seats for the Pentagon.
• Repair ½ mile of the Lodge Freeway.
• Hire 1,562 new Legislative Aids to assist Michigan Legislators to cover up extra-marital affairs and block all legislation.

Doctors Without Borders and War Without End

October 8, 2015

I heard an interview with John McCain this morning that was troubling. He was being asked about the situation in Afghanistan, and specifically about the bombing of a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders. Although the details of the incident are still unclear, some things are known, and it does not reflect well on our efforts there. The hospital was specifically targeted, and not the result of an errant bomb or miscalculation. The airstrike was requested by Afghan forces not receiving immediate fire from the hospital compound, and no American troops were being fired upon.

When asked about the incident, McCain responded that there were Taliban firing on troops “in the vicinity,” and when pressed for how close the fighting was taking place he simply said “they were in the city.” McCain denounced the description of the unjustified hospital bombing as a “war crime,” saying that if the Taliban had not entered Kunduz, then this “tragic event” would have never happened. His solution was sending more American troops to help train and assist Afghan government troops. When confronted with the fact that we had tens of thousands of troops training the Afghan army for over 12 years, and asked if the troops could ever be trained given the lack of success so far, he only responded that there may be a need for a permanent troop presence akin to what we have done in Post-WWII Europe.
I know men who have served in Afghanistan, two in particular who have served three or more deployments there. They tell me that Afghan troops (unlike Iraqi troops) do have a will to fight, but they are constrained by units segregated by ethnic and tribal identities. This creates mixed loyalties when these units are deployed in rival tribal areas. They are just as anxious to fight rival tribes as they are the Taliban. Speculation is that Afghan soldiers targeted the hospital to eliminate leaders of a rival clan, much the same as Gitmo was populated in part by innocent men who were falsely identified as Taliban by their ethnic rivals.
There is an even more compelling reason to doubt that any Afghan government, let alone army, could survive a U.S. withdrawal, and it is related to how the Taliban were able to capture Kunduz in the first place. The corruption of the Afghan government is so pervasive that residents of the city either stood by, or actually assisted the Taliban. It’s not that they want the Taliban as much as they want order and an end to corruption. Drug trade, sex trade, arms trade and demand for bribes for even the most trivial transactions is widespread. In other words, like Iraq and our long history of supporting many other unpopular and corrupt governments (e.g. Viet Nam, Nicaragua), we are on the wrong side of popular support. The widespread presence of American troops restrained the corruption of Afghan officials, just as we did in the post-Sadaam, Shia’ led Iraq. As the U.S. troops leave, corruption and ethnic violence becomes endemic.
In one sense, the nonsense of McCain did led to a valid point: without a permanent, significant American presence in Afghanistan, the country will collapse just as Iraq has. Only the most intransigent Neo-Con would advocate for a permanent presence, requiring an endless drain of resources and even more tragically, an endless stream of dead Americans not so much fighting terrorists, but supporting a corrupt, unpopular government.

Hidden Costs of War

August 28, 2015

At the end of the Clinton Presidency we had a budget surplus and the economy was humming. Then neocons took control of the government and gave away our surplus to a few of the richest Americans in exchange for the false promise of jobs that never appeared. Then they put us back into debt when they borrowed money to pay for an unnecessary war. We all understand some of what happened afterwards.

The budget deficit caused by the war and subsequent destabilization of the entire region, and then the near economic collapse caused by Wall Street deregulation, ballooned the deficit to epic proportions and put millions of Americans out of work. GOP foreign and economic policies were a disaster that we are only now digging out from — and maybe that’s a good thing to remember the next election.However, the real cost of GOP incompetence in Iraq is human, and hidden.That’s the real tragedy.

After WWII the human costs of the war were understood because they were widely shared. Not so in the modern era of war. You may know that between 1999 and now, 5,273 Americans were killed in combat. Did you know that over 128,500 combat veterans have died in the same period from suicide?

Those are the costs of war just as much as destroyed equipment or spent munitions. Every veteran who has been killed or disabled, or has succumbed to PTSD and depression is a casualty. Their families also suffer economically during multiple deployments, and emotionally as well. The deaths of so many Americans from combat and combat-related problems are shared by relatively few Americans and are not covered by a news media obsessed with e-mails and anchor babies.

It’s not just veterans and their families who are affected by war. Another aspect of the human costs of that war has been the systematic looting of social safety net programs, resulting in suffering and thousands of untold tragedies, mostly among the poorest Americans and children. Poverty, hunger, homelessness … economic and political instability … all either directly or indirectly caused by our misadventure in Iraq, although rarely identified as such.

The human tragedies caused by war extend to the next generations.Just as our children will be paying for the Iraq war, some of those children will be paying a heavier emotional price … This is a reality we might keep in mind as the same group of chicken-hawks are now pushing for a war against Iran.

Political Theater as a Distraction

August 24, 2015

When the infamous “Citizens United” case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, many people felt that it spelled doom to democracy in the U.S. They were right. Much of the angst was focused on the absurd notion that corporations had the same rights as individual Americans (they have no conscience, no beliefs, no feelings, no desires).

This was a legal fiction not imbedded in the Constitution (who thinks that “We the People…” meant corporations, businesses too?), but created by pro-corporation Supreme Court Justices. This gave corporations all of the rights as citizens, but none of the accountability (when was the last time a corporation was put in jail for committing a crime?). Others focused on the notion of money as speech, another absurd notion. Money buys speech, and it also suppresses speech as well. I think this was the far more insidious aspect of that decision, and we are witnessing the malignant effects in the current primary season.

The Trump candidacy on the surface is a distraction, but it may unintentionally serve notice to how fixed the system has become. Of course it is a distraction from real policy discussions. Anyone who saw the Fox Cable “debate” know they didn’t see a debate between candidates on policy issues, but rather a series of “gotcha” questions. It was like watching someone with lighter fluid spraying coals here and there hoping that the fire catches on eventually. Once Rand Paul flamed out, why not incite Ted Cruz? The media love Citizens United because the costs of advertising is way up as different campaigns compete for the premium and limited air time. For the media it’s like a six month long Super Bowl as far as advertising dollars.

The race to the rhetorical bottom distracts us from the ultimate issue — that whoever is nominated to run for president it will be the choice of a dozen or so billionaires, guaranteeing their positions will be protected. Look at the policy positions of every GOP candidate and Hillary Clinton as far as economic restructuring. There is no daylight between their positions. Only the rhetoric camouflaging the similarities.

These few men are being called the “Donor Class,” and they now control this country. No one can be nominated without the approval of the Donor Class. Maybe someone like Trump can make a run without them, but ultimately, he will need their approval and money to run in the general election. The Donor Class will never allow someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren become close to the White House, and even if they did, the Donor Class would use their money to elect legislatures to obstruct any attempt to address economic injustice.

Do you think I am being too cynical? I would like to hear a rebuttal. Someone please give me some evidence or reason to hope otherwise…