Aug 18, 2015

August 17, 2015: Note from Daily Kos, Violates the Sensibilities, Interests of the Oppressor

I just checked my inbox and to my chagrin discovered an email from Daily Kos featuring an essay by one Shaun King entitled “Why Bernie’s fake apology to black folk really bothers me”.  What bothers me is why Mr. King would take issue with how Bernie has handled the situation.  Confronted by a group of hotheads, physically taking the podium and interrupting a few of Sander’s political rallies, a campaign spokesman emailed the group suggesting that they send a responsible representative to meet with Sanders in an appropriate space. This is hardly an apology.  The media, Daily Kos among them, have responded by dismissing his “apology” as callous and insincere. Faux News is having a field day over the developments as the right-wing echo machine wrings its hands in glee hoping to witness an early snuffing of the only legitimate grass-roots ‘movement’ to arise in this country since at least the 1960’s.  Here was my response:

"So you are implying that you would respect a candidate for President of the United States that         when confronted with a group of screaming hotheads immediately falls to his knees and genuflects before them, then announces to the world that he accepts their entire agenda?

Look these people have no legitimate reason to be assaulting the likes of Bernie Sanders who is the only person presently in the Presidential race who has done anything to further the interests of those struggling in this country.  The Clintons? Are you kidding me? What have they done but savage the safety net, hanging the poor and the middle class out to dry.  The Republican field?  Why did they wait until Jeb was finished speaking before they engaged in their boorish behavior?  Why don't they go to a Trump or Cruz or Paul rally and exhibit such behavior?  Is it because they know they will get no hearing, or is it that they are afraid to do so?

Sanders owes this 'movement' no apology.  What has happened and is happening in America is and has long been a national disgrace, a disgrace that Sanders has spent his entire life trying to rectify.  To demand an 'apology' not only makes no sense, but violates the sensibilities of all those who have tried and are trying to move this country forward."

No one has responded more forcefully than Bernie Sanders on the issues of racism, police brutality, racial profiling and the wholesale incarceration of Blacks and Latino’s in this country.  No other candidate has called for the demilitarization of America’s police forces.  But it doesn’t matter to these people, who have been hell-bent on gaining national attention by disrupting the candidate in this race drawing larger crowds than all the others put together.  I suppose it’s the price one pays nowadays for taking the podium and delivering a message that rings in our ears like the Bell of Liberty.  But in attacking Bernie the forces demanding justice risk doing material damage to the only candidate now running willing or capable of delivering that justice. 

The tactics of “Black Lives Matter” remind me of the Teabaggers.  You remember them, shouting down town meetings, demanding to ‘take our country back’, while carrying placards saying “Hands Off My Health Insurance”.  Yes, you remember them, ‘populists’ purporting to defend the private insurance industry against encroachments by government.  Let’s keep those lifetime limits on coverage, those pre-existing conditions, those high premiums, and this lack of competition.  All in the name of ‘freedom’.  Shills of the capitalist cavorting as populists.  The BLM ‘movement’ adopting similar tactics and attacking the likes of Bernie Sanders are likewise demonstrating a similar political intelligence: serving only the interests of the oppressor.

Aug 16, 2015

August 16, 2015: An Icon and a Gentleman, Voice of Reason, The Poorer Now

I awoke this morning to discover that Julian Bond has passed away due to an undisclosed illness.  He was 75.  Bond came to my attention, as he did with most of America, during the contentious 1968 Democratic National Convention where “contrary to his intentions, he became the first African American to be proposed as a major party candidate for Vice President of the United States.  While expressing gratitude for the honor, the 28-year-old Bond quickly declined, citing the constitutional requirement that one must be at least 35 years of age to serve in that office.” (1)  The convention, conducted amid the tumult of the Vietnam War and the resulting Police Riot in the streets of host-city Chicago, subsequently nominated Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine for Vice President joining Hubert Humphrey at the top of the ticket.  A team that would subsequently suffer a narrow loss to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. 

By 1968, Bond, at the young age of 28, had already achieved a great deal.  In 1960 he was one of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a group that would quickly take to the ramparts and become the vanguard of the movement to register black voters in the heart of Dixie, as well as leading protests in several states to end segregation in public places.  Elected in 1965 as one of eleven African-Americans to the Georgia House of Representatives, the Georgia State Legislature “voted 184-12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War” (2) and expressing sympathy for those ‘unwilling to respond to a military draft” (3).  This action was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States when in 1966 it ruled in Bond v. Floyd “that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him. (4)  He subsequently served 4 terms in the Georgia House and from 1975-1987 he served six terms in the Georgia State Senate.

Bond also taught at several universities including American University, Drexel, Harvard and the University of Virginia. (5)  More recently he served for 12 years as the chairman of the NAACP, after having been the first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Always a man of principle, in 1967 he was one of eleven House members who refused to vote “when the legislature elected segregationist Lester Maddox…as Governor of Georgia”, (7) after the election, in which neither major candidate won a clear majority of the vote, was left for the legislature to decide.  Later he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King because “the King children had chosen an anti-gay megachurch” in which to hold the services. (7)

A voice of reason in unreasonable times, a gentleman, a scholar, a warrior for righteous cause.  We have been enriched by his presence and will be the poorer now.  
(2). Ibid
(3). Ibid
(4). Ibid
(5). Ibid
(6). Ibid

(7). Ibid

Aug 14, 2015

August 13, 2015: Where is the Justice Department, a matter of Anti-Trust, Cabals and Cartels

In the wake of the decision handed down last month by the Supreme Court that the Federal Government has the constitutional authority to establish public insurance exchanges, thereby driving the final nail into the conservative arguments concerning the validity of the Affordable Health Care Act, the insurance industry immediately began an orgy of mergers.  Economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich had this to say:

“Now that insurers know the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, they’re merging like mad. Today Aetna announced it will spend $37 billion to buy rival Humana in a deal that will create the nation's second-largest health insurer. Yesterday, Centene announced a $6.3-billion deal to acquire Health Net. Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem just made a $47-billion offer for giant insurer Cigna.

We’re rapidly on the way to having a handful of giant health insurers. The only difference between this outcome and a government-run single payer, such as Medicare for all, is that revenues will go into executive salaries, dividends, and advertising and marketing rather than into lower premiums and health care.

When will we learn?” (1)


It is a poignant question and one that should be troubling to every Progressive Democrat in America.  When will we learn?  The answer, as it pertains to the elites in this country, is that—like the Commanding Generals on the Western Front a century ago—they will never learn.  But the question runs deeper, when will we—we the people—learn?  Not since George W. ‘Ol Two-Cows’ Bush upon assuming the presidency dropped the anti-trust suit against Microsoft, a case that the government was incidentally winning, this government has not brought a significant anti-trust action. For nearly a generation there has been a veritable orgy of mergers and acquisitions as the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceuticals and other major players have merged and joined forces in an erstwhile effort to further concentrate economic and political power.  Now, with the ACA firmly in place the major players in the Health Insurance industry are wasting no time in going about the business of strangling competition. 
The consequences cannot be good, for the concentrations of economic power into fewer hands, and the concentrations of the political power that follows will mean that the long anticipated benefits resulting from the creation of public insurance exchanges as well as the requirement that all participate in the system will be strangled at birth by the attempts of the industry to further eliminate competition.  Whatever ‘savings’ anticipated by the Act will soon be undone as the industry morphs into a cartel with less than a handful of companies commanding the markets.

Economists have long recognized that the behavior of Capital is to concentrate itself into fewer and fewer hands.  Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once observed that however the capitalist lauds competition, the fact is that he hates competition and will do whatever it takes to rid himself of it.  The classic example of this, dating back to the nineteenth century heyday of the modern capitalist experiment, was the railroads.  Financiers like Gould and Fiske would buy up railroads, like the old Erie Railroad, not to invest in them and improve them, but to close them down and eliminate the competitor.  Similarly, General Motors famously bought the old trolley companies in Los Angeles in order to close them and render the population dependent on the automobile.  Surveying the American experience Professor Galbraith observed that when confronted with competition the Capitalist will soon scurry for cover, seeking government protections by way of tariff restrictions, favor by way of government contracts, and the manipulation of the marketplace by the elimination of competition by way of restricting or eliminating government oversight and regulations. 

Governments also have long recognized this behavior and began immediately after the Civil War, with the passage of the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts to address these unwelcome tendencies.  But it has, historically, fallen upon the People to insist on a remedy.  In fact, by 1905 Anti-Trust laws were being applied by the courts not to Capital but Labor.  After having decided in “United States v. E.C. Knight Co… that the Sherman Act could not be applied to a virtual monopoly of the sugar industry because the manufacture of sugar was not in interstate commerce”, the court had “(f)or all practical purposes…virtually set aside the Sherman Act”.  This action by the court was soon followed in the 1905 decision in Swift and Co. v. United States in which “the Court held that a combination of meat packers (union) was an illegal monopoly under the Sherman Act on the ground that its activities were transactions in interstate commerce”(2)  By the early years of the last century Capital, ensconced in power, had co-opted government and, with the aid of an ideologically compliant Court, set about making a mockery of not only free enterprise but the will of the people.

It took a ‘revolt of the masses’ in the form of a ‘prairie fire’ of grass-roots protest in the form of the Greenback and Progressive movements to right the ship.  With the election of Teddy Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson the Progressives, able to influence first the Republican and then the Democratic Party would compel government to not only protect the people from the worst ravishes that Capital is prone but to empower workers to improve not only pay but working conditions as well.   Finally, with the coming of the New Deal and the passage of the Wager Act, Fair Labor Standards Act the enforcement of Anti-Trust laws and the institution of a long overdue regimen of Federal Regulation, the People, acting through government, were able to not only establish a system of relative economic justice but a large and thriving Middle Class as well.

There has been a great unravelling of this in the last 40 years, the greatest example of which is the destruction of the Labor Movement as well as the inability of this government to enforce the laws on the books, particularly Anti-Trust laws.  Trends that increasingly see no improvement with the election of Democratic Administrations, leaving one to ask: Where are you Mr. President?  Where is the Justice Department?

As Goldman-Sachs staffs the Treasury, no matter who which party assumes power; as Paul Volker advises a Democratic Administration on economic Policy; as the likes of Alan Greenspan would be found commendable by both a Jimmy Carter and a Ronald Reagan, a George Bush and a Bill Clinton; and as no administration since Carter has lifted a finger to aid and protect the workers on the shop floor; and as no recent administration has seriously enforced anti-trust, it is clear that cabal having seized the levers of power now owe their allegiance not to the people, but to the cartels they have empowered.

As the Middle Class writhes in agony, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush wait in the wings.  Nothing more need be said.  No matter who wins, we lose.  The Calvary isn’t coming.  When will we learn?  Good question Dr. Reich, it’s been nearly half a century now.  One thing is certain though, our ancestors were never such fools.

Meanwhile the Republicans have moved in Congress to eviscerate the Pell Grants making higher education unaffordable to much of the Middle Class.  You see they don’t want us competing with their kids in school either, they fear the competition.

(1). Robert Reich, Facebook post 7-15-15
(2). Tresolini, Rocco J. “American Constitutional Law” The Macmillan Company
                    New York, Collier-MacMillan Limited, London. Pg. 265


Aug 5, 2015

August 5, 2015: All-Dunn, Plumbing the Mendoza Line, New ‘Age of Shoddy’

For decades the threshold by which an athlete was judged competent to remain in Major League Baseball was determined by what became known as the ‘Mendoza Line’(1).  The standard was coined in 1979 by teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte in honor of one Mario (Manny) Mendoza whose defensive skills were such that he played several years in the major leagues despite having a batting average hovering at or about .200.  This, the gods of baseball had determined, would be the absolute minimum offensive performance, the point at which one’s defensive skills however formidable could no longer justify one being in the lineup or on a major league roster.  As a struggling player’s batting average plummeted ever lower, the approach of the much feared ‘Mendoza Line’ would hang over the hapless ball player like the Grim Reaper waiting for that moment to call him ‘home’ and snatch him back to the corn fields of Iowa or snuff his career altogether.  No more.

With the advent of Free Agency and multi-year contracts, Major League Baseball has of late presented us with the proverbial ‘superstar’ free of the constraints of convention and not subject to the long established norms of the game.  I give to you as Exhibit One, one Adam Dunn.

Known as the ‘Big Donkey’, Dunn was acquired by the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in the off-season following the 2010 season.  Signing for a reported four-year 60 Million dollar contract (of which the Sox reportedly paid out 56 Million) Dunn struggled through the 2012 season hitting a paltry .159 in 496 plate appearances.  The following season he struck out a record 222 times in 649 plate appearances raising his average to .204. The “Sporting News”, making a mockery of sporting awards, promptly dubbed the ‘Big Donkey” 2011’s “Comeback Player of the Year”, perplexing future historians of the game as they ponder just how bad you have to be the previous year to win this honor with a batting average .004 points above the “Mendoza Line”.  Nevertheless the Texan clogged on.  In four years he hit a meager .201 for Chicago, striking out 720 times in 2187 plate appearances, or roughly 1/3 of the time.  As for the remainder he would, predictably by always going deep into the count, work a walk (321 of those over nearly 4 seasons); but more often than not hitting directly into a defensive shift as opposing teams would put the third baseman or shortstop over on the right side of the infield.  Dunn, always swinging for the fences would, if he got his bat on the ball at all, hit it into the defense or pop it up.  Saying that he was paid to hit home runs, he hit 106 of those in 4 years, many—all too many with the bases empty and when the additional run didn’t figure into a win or loss—the big oaf went about making a mockery of the game.

It cost Ozzie Guillen his job as Manager of the Sox.  Guillen had led the club to its first World Championship since “Pants” Rowland piloted the franchise in 1917, a feat which should have earned Ozzie a lifetime sinecure.  But as the club wound through the 2011 season with Dunn, in the middle of the lineup and striking out at a record pace, Guillen was unable to do anything about it.

You see at a cost of 12 million for the first year of his contract, Dunn was making a bit over $74,000 a game.  That’s about $8,250 per inning worked or, since he played mostly as a Designated Hitter, one would more accurately parcel it out by plate appearances or at-bats.  Assuming 4.2 plate appearances on average per game every time the ‘Big Donkey’ came up to bat it cost the club $17,619.00.  Paying a player this much money means that a manager no longer has the option to bench him, for no owner or General Manager is going to sit idly by and pay out that kind of money for an ‘asset’ that isn’t being used.  And so Sox fans had to endure nearly 4 long years of watching the big oaf.  By the time he left the team, mercifully traded to Oakland with a couple of months left on his contract, the White Sox had paid between 18 and 20 Million dollars’ worth of strike outs.
Moreover, when he did hit the ball it was predictably to the right side of the infield, weak grounders, pop-ups and fly balls hit right into the shifted defenses.  Rarely did he make plate adjustments to hit the ball to the now open left side or into the outfield down the left field line.  When he did to it, his average would rise but, after a few games, he would revert to old habits and the same old Dunn would return.  When ‘Hawk’ Harrelson, calling a televised game, would announce “Here’s Adam” it would send chills down the spine of any good Sox fan, much like fingernails scraping across a blackboard,

This is the conundrum in which the modern game finds itself. The Atlanta Braves had a similar experience signing Second Baseman Dan Uggla, the Yankees are presently paying Alex Rodriguez tens of millions as he presents the public with a meager .280 batting average.  Pitchers now routinely are paid as much as $5,000.00 per pitch!  Being a legal monopoly and confronted with ‘free agency’ and player unionization, the owners and players have made their deals with intent on passing the costs on to the consumer, resulting in skyrocketing ticket, parking and concession prices.  Meanwhile the quality of play continues to deteriorate as team play unravels, performance slumps, uniforms are worn improperly.  Today we witness in the sport the emergence of players from college programs and the minor leagues who simply have not mastered the fundamentals of the game.  They cannot make adjustments hitting at the plate, cannot bunt the ball, cannot field their positions properly, and make too many base-running mistakes.  Baseball has given us a ‘new age of shoddy’.

Ken Burns, in his television presentation of “Baseball” informs us that the sport has been central to the American Experience, playing major roles in establishing social norms from segregating to integrating American culture.  That it has.  What Baseball is presenting today is the example of what has gone terribly wrong with the economy and, by extension, the cultural norms.  Long established as a legal monopoly, baseball was able to function by oppressing its labor force.  With the coming of the Player’s Association and, more importantly, Free Agency the cork was removed from the bottle sending player compensation, profits, and costs through the roof.   Now it is quite impossible to imagine Major League baseball as being able to exist in anything other than a state-sponsored monopoly.  Oliver Wendell Holmes was quite right about that.  Another league in competition would surely likewise send the cost of labor skyrocketing, as it did when the old American Football League challenged the National Football League at its inception.  Professional sports, in order to function, nearly demand state protection.

It is one thing to have a monopoly or, for that matter, an oligopoly or cartel.  These do exist and, sometimes as with the municipal power plant, the water department, or local hospital are necessary.  But to have an unregulated monopoly leads to the kind of dysfunctions that produce the Adam Dunn’s of this world and a management left powerless to influence performance. The lack of regulation, as it did in the American Auto Industry leads to Shoddy. Lack of competition without regulation lead to complacency and decline.  We must have one or the other.



Aug 3, 2015

August 3, 2015: To Bob Steiner, Civilizing the Barbarian, Very Least I Can Do

“It takes eighteen years and thousands of dollars to civilize the barbarian.”
                         ----from "The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

In my case it took a bit longer.  About this time forty-nine years ago I went to work for a pharmacist in downtown Grand Haven.  His name was Bob Steiner and he owned and operated a pharmacy located directly across the street from Hoffsteder’s news stand at the corner of Washington and Third Street.  Washington is Main Street in downtown Grand Haven at the foot of which lies the old Grand Theater and the bleachers for the musical fountain, proudly proclaimed at the time to be the world’s largest. 

Bob was, none of us could imagine at the time, one of a dying breed of businessman.  He owned and operated a once thriving establishment, one of two downtown druggists, and was a well-connected member of the community establishment, prominent in the local Chamber of Commerce.   Already feeling the pressure from the newly established shopping centers cropping up along the newly re-built U.S. Highway 31, Bob was one of the principle movers who worked to renovate the threatened downtown business district by getting other business owners behind the projects to build the new fountain as well as a project to heat the sidewalks downtown in the winter so as to make walking main street a more safe and pleasant experience.  Bob was a man about town, a man of property and standing, and a man who had connections and knew how to use them.  He was also a staunch conservative and a Republican.

This, for some reason, did not jaundice his view of a young lad from “the other side of the tracks” who, at the age of 17, he brought into his employ.  I took the job, at 65 cents an hour, having worked most of the summer at a Drive-In Theatre then managed by my uncle but, with it being seasonal employment and the summer being short, I knew I needed a job for the winter.  So it was that I found myself working at Steiner’s Pharmacy in the late summer of 1966 until April of 1967, during my senior year in High School.

Through the course of the ensuing months Bob, who worked nearly all the hours the store was open rarely filling his position with an assistant pharmacist would, while reacting to a newscast on a television he would occasionally watch, offer an opinion.  His views would reflect ones that would most closely fall near those expressed by Barry Goldwater or Bill Buckley, both of whom he held in high esteem.  This, after a time, would elicit a response because Bob, I soon found, was looking for a response—indeed a spirited response.  We soon found ourselves in a protracted discussion, if not debate, for my views were nearly diametrically opposed to his.  This, I was to discover, was not to be a liability for conservative though he was, he was also a man of reflection, discernment, tolerance and civility.  I discovered, all too late and to my own personal loss, that I didn’t appreciate his wisdom and his guidance nearly enough.

For you see that despite our divergent standing the community, despite our differences in political philosophy and economic standing, Bob nevertheless reached out and took this young lad in hand, however his reluctance and his immaturity.

One Saturday morning in March of 1967, as the war in Viet Nam was nearing its crescendo in terms of the numbers of troops that were to be at any one time committed and, subsequently, the draft of young men into the service, I just reaching my 18th birthday reported for work. 

“Joe”, Bob called out from the Dias overlooking the store from which he could survey the operation while he was filling prescriptions, “what are you going to do after you graduate?”

For a moment I thought he was asking if I were going to stay at his pharmacy.  I hated the place, the pay was a pittance, about half the federal minimum wage at the time, and I was eager to leave.  “I’m not sure” I replied.

“Are you going to college?”  he asked.

“I’ve applied to Grand Valley”, I answered, “but I haven’t heard back from them”

“Have you applied anywhere else?” 
“No” I confessed.  I had not.  The truth was that I had graduated dead center at place number 199 of the 400 who graduated in my class.  This was, in part a consequence of graduating from a parochial grade school and being put into industrial arts classes during my freshman year in High School.  I hated it and was bored by it and my grades reflected it.  Not until later, during my last two years when the school administration, after administering the Iowa Tests put me into more advanced classes that my grades began to improve.  I had made the ‘honor roll’ a few times in the last two years but it didn’t raise my overall grade point average above the absolute mean.  Nevertheless I had filled out an application because my friend Johnny Hierholzer, with whom I had been a classmate dating back to second grade at St. John’s Lutheran and who, being a neighbor living just around the corner had, along with his parents, pressured me into obtaining an application and sending it in.  Johnny was hoping I would be accepted and we could commute together to school as we had previously walked together from the old neighborhood to school.  He had better grades, I had my doubts.  Visions of the rice fields of Indochina beckoned.

The next Monday afternoon, after finishing a day at school, I reported for work at the drug store. I was counting the cash in the till when I heard Bob’s voice from his perch overlooking the floor.  “When you finish with the register, I want to see you in my office” he commanded.

Oh shit, what have I done now? I thought.  After having counted the cash in the register I proceeded back to his office, located behind a door to the right of the pharmaceutical counter and leading both to his office and the stairwell down to the basement. I finished with my clerical task, made sure there were no customers to wait on and then proceeded to the doorway leading to his office making sure not to go in too far so that I could hear if anyone entered the store.  Stopping short, Bob began to speak.

“I’ve got a friend at the College”, he began.  “He’s a good friend of mine.  His name is Mr. Putnam and he’s the head of the admissions department at Grand Valley.  You have an appointment to meet with him on Wednesday morning at 9AM.  I want you to go to the principal’s office at school tomorrow and tell him that you won’t be in school on Wednesday, that you are going up to the college to meet Mr. Putnam.  Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“Good.  Now if you don’t make that appointment on Wednesday morning I will not be a happy man, do you understand me?

Again I nodded.

“Now go back on the floor.”

I did as I was told.  I went up to the college on Wednesday morning full of hope but also full of trepidation.  Surely, I thought, my grades wouldn’t be good enough.  This school was a tough place I had heard.  It hadn’t received its accreditations, so it was flunking kids out left and right, tough standards, hard place.  What if my grades aren’t good enough, what if god knows, I get accepted here, how would I afford it?  I had no money and the job certainly wouldn’t support funding college.  What if I simply failed?  To say that things were precarious is an understatement.

I arrived at the college, found the admissions office, and was instructed to take a seat and wait for a few moments.  I expected some underling to emerge but, to my surprise, out came the director himself.  He introduced himself saying that he had heard some good things about me. What followed was a personal tour of the campus as the director took me from building to building describing the facilities, the hopes for the newly established college (now university), and what they were looking for in student recruitment.  Finally, after a couple of hours, he brought me back to his office.

“How about it?  Do you want to come here?” he asked.

“I don’t think I can afford it, my family doesn’t have much money and won’t be able to contribute anything.  I’m the oldest of six children and there isn’t much to go around”.  I replied.

“I can fix that” he said.

“How?”  I asked incredulously.

“A combination of student loans and grants.  We can make this happen.  How about it?” 

“O.K.” I replied.   I couldn’t believe it.

When I reported for work that afternoon Bob asked me how it went.  I told him that I had been accepted, still not truly believing it.  A smile crossed his otherwise humorless countenance. 
A few weeks later I moved on.  Johnny’s mother, then a secretary in the office of the W.T. Grant department store, had arranged an interview with the manager of the store.  In due course I landed a new job.  I never got around to appropriately expressing my appreciation or properly thanking Bob for his efforts. Full of stiff-necked pride and not properly socialized, I simply moved on.  He was a mentor to me before I knew or understood what mentoring was; indeed sometimes it takes longer than 18 years to get the barbarian out of the child. It does, I have come to understand, indeed take a village.

Bob is gone now, as are so many who have influenced my life.  I am ashamed to admit that I treated him shabbily, for here was a friend in the truest sense of the word; one that saw some promise in the boy and did everything he could to secure a place for him. These columns are his testament as well as mine, and although I know he would find little agreement with the opinions expressed herein he would readily befriend the soul that animates these pages. 
Thank you Bob Steiner, I know it is too late, but Thank You nonetheless. It is the very least I can do.  








Jul 5, 2015

July 4, 2015: Berniemania, Tuning Fork and a Sledge Hammer, Assaulting the Citadel

“The Bernie Sanders Smear Has Begun” wrote Matthew Pulver in “Salon”(1).  Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, a self-styled “centrist” and long time Hillary supporter, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” complaining that Sanders is too extreme to win a Presidential Election. 

Clinton indeed has every reason to worry.  Bernie is drawing huge crowds at nearly every campaign stop.  In New Hampshire, the Manchester Union Leader reported on June 6th that over 1,000 people jammed themselves into a recreational center in the town of Keene to hear Bernie speak.(2)  On July 2, over 10,000 people packed into an auditorium in Madison Wisconsin; a crowd so large that it was ‘standing room only’ with more than an additional thousand estimated to have stood outside the hall to hear the speech. (3) He is drawing crowds that, at times dwarf any other candidate on either side of the political fence.

The self-styled unabashed ‘Democratic Socialist” has a message that is resonating through the beleaguered middle class.  An early ‘straw poll’ taken at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in Milwaukee had Sanders within 9 points of Hillary, polling in at 41% among the party regulars to Clinton’s 49%. (4) And, by the middle of June he had closed within 12 points of Hillary in neighboring New Hampshire. (5)  Whether or not he can garner the resources to mount a full-fledged 50 state campaign remains to be seen, but clearly many self-styled ‘progressives’ are in search of a viable alternative to Wall Street’s favorite Democrat.
Sanders, has served for years as an Independent in the Congress.  His presidential campaign is nothing less than a full fledged insurgency against the staid old ‘mossbacks’ who have run the party for nearly a quarter century; the Clintonites with their ‘centrist’ agenda that has served only the interests of the investor class.

His message is a ‘progressive’ one, calling for raising taxes on the upper echelons to 90%; rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. He stresses the need to break up and re-regulate the banks, to reinstitute the Glass-Steagall act, to enforce anti-trust laws.  He has led the fight against the looming trade agreements currently being pushed by the Obama White House in conjunction with Republicans in Congress.  He calls for the rigorous enforcement of environmental laws and the funding of renewable energy.  He wants to make education free for every student, and the raising of the minimum wage.  He advocates for the organization of the workforce into unions to ensure occupational safety and a fair return for a day’s labor.  He wants to rebuild the infrastructure, roads, bridges, rail lines, high speed internet, to create jobs and make the country more competitive.  It is a broad and encompassing agenda boldly calling for a return to the ‘golden era’ of postwar American pre-eminence, or as much of it as we can recapture in today’s world economy.

The Clinton campaign will ignore this challenge at its peril, for his message rings through the country like a tuning fork hit with a sledge hammer.  His appeal runs the spectrum from Progressives in the New Deal tradition and old Wallace and Reagan Democrats wanting a slice of the 'American Pie' to independents and tea baggers angry at the 'Eastern Establishment", the bailout of the bankers, and  anxious to reign in Wall Street. He's even getting a measure of Republican support for positions he's taken.  For instance, according to a recent CBS/New York Times Poll 80% of Republicans agree with Bernie that there is too much money in politics, over 70% of Republicans think that there should be limits to what individuals or the burgeoning Political Action Committees can be allowed to spend.  Indeed 81% of Republicans felt that the campaign finance system needed fundamental changes (45%) or a complete rebuild (36%). (6)  Sanders, if he can gather the resources to build an organization and purchase enough media to broadcast his message, now threaten to assault the citadel and capture the heart of the Democratic Party. It is a tall order but he, if anyone, is uniquely positioned to make the attempt.

Accordingly the attacks have begun.  McCaskill is but the first, but certainly not the last to take the field in effort to defend the ‘once and future Queen”.  Employing the tactics of Karl Rove, McCaskill went about the business of turning a sign of success into a liability by acknowledging, then denigrating the size of crowds drawn to his campaign.  “Well, you know Rand Paul’s father got massive crowds, Ron Paul,” she said. “He got the same size crowds, Pat Buchanan got massive crowds. It’s not unusual for someone who has an extreme message to have a following” (7) she concluded.

“Ooooh, gotcha:” wrote Matthew Pulver in “Salon” “Big crowds mean you’re an extremist. So the fewer people you have the more reasonable you are.” (7) By this standard Rick Santorum, who recently held a campaign event at which an audience of just one person emerged would, by this logic, be the most reasonable man in the field. 

Pulver went on to behold that Sander’s domestic platform is hardly extreme, or even radical. His campaign’s “bread and butter” is “mostly a return to mid-century, postwar policies, infused with social democratic ideas from places like Sweden, where social democrats gained a majority in parliament 75 years ago.”  Sweden, so terrifyingly extreme that it has become the home of: “Volvo, Ikea, Spotify, Saab, H&M, Skype, Ericsson, AstraZenaca, and many more”. (7)  Sanders, observed Pulver is hardly ‘extreme’ in the fashion of Ron Paul or Buchanan, citing Paul’s extreme libertarianism and calls to outright abolish Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and Buchanan’s Christian White-Nationalist race baiting.
Sanders can only appear ‘extreme’ in the context of the degree to which the Democratic Party, led by the Clintons, has wandered to the political ‘right’. 

“We have no way of knowing”, writes Pulver, “whether or not the Clinton team signed off on this means of attack, if this Sanders-as-extremist line will be something returned to as his success continues.  If so, it will be hard for some to hear from the political family most responsible for making Sanders fairly standard postwar liberalism an extreme position.  Bill Clinton helmed the rightward turn of the party in 1992, and now Hillary can call anyone who didn’t follow Bill’s lead ‘extremist’  It compounds the already problematic dynastic dimension of Clinton’s campaign.  The Clintons, preparing for the coronation, also get to police what is acceptable in the party with Hillary the enforcer of the law Bill laid down?  Continuing to call Sanders an ‘extremist’ might only convince many Democrats that the Clintons consider the party theirs.” (7)
It is more than that.  Clinton must know that the insurgency is not a flash-in-the-pan; but she cannot confront the challenge head on. The devil, as they say, is in the details.   By speaking in the tradition of the Party’s history, Sanders is claiming the mantle of FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ and for Hillary to openly confront Sanders by drawing distinctions between them only serves to demonstrate the gap between her professed ‘progressive’ politics and the ‘real deal’.  She will pale by comparison. By forcing Hillary to take the mantle from him, Sanders threatens to lay bare the shortcomings of Hillary’s progressivism and demonstrate that here stands no FDR or Truman or JFK.  The attacks come instead from surrogates, she will attempt to stay above the fray, opting out for generalities, talking the talk but unwilling, and unable, to take the first step in the walk.

Hillary recently gave a major policy speech on the economy.  Economist Robert Reich gave her excellent grades on recognizing the problems, but failing grades on her remedies.  She, like her husband before her, will rail against Wall Street, and speak using the terminology of progress and reform, but will not utter a single word in terms of specifics toward remedy. To do so threaten not only the financial underpinnings of her campaign but require the outright repudiation of her husband’s legacy.  As with the pending trade agreements she comes out opposed to ‘fast-track’ authority, not when she could have used her voice in the arena to help shape public opinion but at the very moments the Congress was moving to enact it, when weighing in on the question would be seen by her Wall Street supporters as having negligible influence.  Significantly, she did not at the same time speak in opposition to the TPP and other trade agreements, but remained silent. It is this reticence, this unwillingness to champion an issue or a cause, this unwillingness to fight to redress grievance that has characterized the Clintons from the beginning.  Though they talk like the Roosevelt’s they act like the Hoovers and this is what has drawn Bernie Sanders into the arena, and this is what he threatens to expose.


(7) emphasis mine.



Jun 29, 2015

June 29, 2015: Tragical Michigan Tour, Deep Runs the Rot, Pure Mississippi

“Michigan is winning the ‘race to the bottom’, rapidly transforming itself into the Mississippi of the Midwest”.
                         -----from the “Quotations of Chairman Joe”

As noted in a previous post (1), according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, median household income in my old home state of Michigan fell by $13,278.00 between 2000 and 2013.  According to the report a truly ‘staggering drop”.   The rot runs deep permeating the old industrial heartland and now threatening the entire nation.
In an essay entitled “Michigan: A Magical Mystery Tour of American Austerity Politics”, first appearing on the website TomDispatch and republished by Bill Moyers on the website “Moyers and Company”,  Laura Gottesdiener and Eduardo García take us on a “Magical” or, more appropriately “Tragical” tour of my beloved Michigan revealing what has befallen the great State under nearly three decades of ‘benign neglect’.  The following is the article as it appeared in almost its entirety:

“Something is rotten in the state of Michigan.

One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself — all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

If you’re thinking, “Who cares?” since what happens in Michigan stays in Michigan, think again. The state’s aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders. In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed bankruptcy lawyer and former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to be a “legal adviser” to Atlantic City. The Detroit Free Press described the move as “a state takeover similar to Gov. Rick Snyder’s state intervention in the Motor City.”

And this spring, amid the hullabaloo of Republicans entering the 2016 presidential race, Governor Snyder launched his own national tour to sell “the Michigan story to the rest of the country.” His trip was funded by a nonprofit (fed, naturally, by undisclosed donations) named “Making Government Accountable: The Michigan Story.”

To many Michiganders, this sounded as ridiculous as Jeb Bush launching a super PAC dubbed “Making Iraq Free: The Bush Family Story.” Except Snyder wasn’t planning to enter the presidential rat race. Instead, he was attempting to mainstream Michigan’s form of austerity politics and its signature emergency management legislation, which stripped more than half of the state’s African-American residents of their local voting rights in 2013 and 2014.

As the governor jaunted around the country, Ann Arbor-based photographer Eduardo García and I decided to set out on what we thought of as our own two-week Magical Michigan Tour. And while we weren’t driving a specially outfitted psychedelic tour bus — we spent most of the trip in my grandmother’s 2005 Prius — our journey was nevertheless remarkably surreal. From the southwest banks of Lake Michigan to the eastern tips of the peninsula, we crisscrossed the state visiting more than half a dozen cities to see if there was another side to the governor’s story and whether Michigan really was, as one Detroit resident put it, “a massive experiment in unraveling US democracy.”

Stop One: Water Wars in Flint

Just as we arrive, the march spills off the sidewalk in front of the city council building.

“Stop poisoning our children!” chants a little girl as the crowd tumbles down South Saginaw Street, the city’s main drag. We’re in Flint, Michigan, a place that hit the headlines last year for its brown, chemical-laced, possibly toxic water. A wispy white-haired woman waves a gallon jug filled with pee-colored liquid from her home tap. “They don’t care that they’re killing us!” she cries.

We catch up with Claire McClinton, the formidable if grandmotherly organizer of the Flint Democracy Defense League, as we approach the roiling Flint River. It’s been a longtime dumping ground for the Ford Motor Company’s riverfront factories and, as of one year ago today, the only source of the city’s drinking water. On April 25, 2014, on the instruction of the city’s emergency manager, Flint stopped buying its supplies from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and started drawing water directly from the river, which meant a budgetary savings of $12 million a year. The downside: people started getting sick.

Since then, tests have detected E. coli and fecal bacteria in the water, as well as high levels of trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic chemical cocktail known as THMs. For months, the city concealed the presence of THMs, which over years can lead to increased rates of cancer, kidney failure and birth defects. Still, it was obvious to local residents that something was up. Some of them were breaking out in mysterious rashes or experiencing bouts of severe diarrhea, while others watched as their eyelashes and hair began to fall out.

As we cross a small footbridge, McClinton recounts how the city council recently voted to “do all things necessary” to get Detroit’s water back. The emergency manager, however, immediately overrode their decision, terming it “incomprehensible.”

“This is a whole different model of control,” she comments drily and explains that she’s now working with other residents to file an injunction compelling the city to return to the use of Detroit’s water. One problem, though: it has to be filed in Ingham County, home to Lansing, the state capital, rather than in Flint’s Genesee County, because the decision of a state-appointed emergency manager is being challenged. “Under state rule, that’s where you go to redress grievances,” she says. “Just another undermining of our local authority.”

In the meantime, many city residents remain frustrated and confused. A few weeks before the march, the city sent out two notices on the same day, packaged in the same envelope. One, printed in black-and-white, stated bluntly: “Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard.” The second, in flashy color, had this cheery message: “We are pleased to report that City of Flint water is safe and meets US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines… You can be confident that the water provided to you today meets all safety standards.” As one recipient of the notices commented, “I can only surmise that the point was to confuse us all.”

McClinton marches in silence for a few minutes as the crowd doubles back across the bridge and begins the ascent up Saginaw Street. Suddenly, a man jumps onto a life-size statue of a runner at the Riverfront Plaza and begins to cloak him in one of the group’s T-shirts.

“Honey, I don’t want you getting in any trouble!” his wife calls out to him.

He’s struggling to pull a sleeve over one of the cast-iron arms when the droning weeoo-weeooo-weeoo of a police siren blares, causing a brief frenzy until the man’s son realizes he’s mistakenly hit the siren feature on the megaphone he’s carrying.

After a few more tense moments, the crowd surges forward, leaving behind the statue, legs stretched in mid-stride, arms raised triumphantly and on his chest a new cotton T-shirt with the slogan: “Water You Fighting For?”

Stop Two: The Tri-Cities of Cancer 

The next afternoon, we barrel down Interstate 75 into an industrial hellscape of smoke stacks, flare offs and 18-wheelers, en route to another toxicity and accountability crisis. This one was caused by a massive tar sands refinery and dozens of other industrial polluters in southwest Detroit and neighboring River Rouge and Ecorse, cities which lie along the banks of the Detroit River.

Already with a slight headache from a haze of emissions, we meet photographer and community leader Emma Lockridge and her neighbor Anthony Parker in front of their homes, which sit right in the backyard of that tar sands refinery.

In 2006, the toxicity levels in their neighborhood, known simply by its zip code as “48217,” were 45 times higher than the state average. And that was before Detroit gave $175 million in tax breaks to the billion-dollar Marathon Petroleum Corporation to help it expand its refinery complex to process a surge of high-sulfur tar sands from Alberta, Canada.

“We’re a donor zip,” explains Lockridge as she settles into the driver’s seat of our car. “We have all the industry and a tax base, but we get nothing back.”

We set off on a whirlwind tour of their neighborhood, where schools have been torn down and parks closed due to the toxicity of the soil, while so many residents have died of cancer that it’s hard for their neighbors to keep track. “We used to play on the swings here,” says Lockridge, pointing to a rusted yellow swing set in a fenced-off lot where the soil has tested for high levels of lead, arsenic and other poisonous chemicals. “Jumping right into the lead.”

As in other regions of Michigan, people have been fleeing 48217 in droves. Here, however, the depopulation results not from deindustrialization, but from toxicity, thanks to an ever-expanding set of factories. These include a wastewater treatment complex, salt mines, asphalt factories, cement plants, a lime and stone foundry and a handful of steel mills all clustered in the tri-cities region.

As Lockridge and Parker explain, they have demanded that Marathon buy their homes. They have also implored the state to cap emission levels and have filed lawsuits against particularly toxic factories. In response, all they’ve seen are more factories given more breaks, while the residents of 48217 get none. Last spring, for example, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permitted the AK Steel plant, located close to the neighborhood, to increase its toxic emissions as much as 725 times. The approval, according to the Detroit Free Press, came after “Gov. Rick Snyder’s business-promoting agency worked for months behind the scenes” lobbying the Department of Environmental Quality.

“Look at this cute little tree out of nowhere over here!” Lockridge exclaims, slowing the car in front of a scrawny plant whose branches, in the midst of this industrial wasteland, bend under the weight of white blossoms.

“That tree ain’t gonna grow up,” Parker responds. “It’s dead already.”

“It’s trying,” Lockridge insists. “Aww, it’s kind of sad. It’s a Charlie Brown tree.”

The absurdity of life in such an environment is highlighted when we reach a half-mile stretch of sidewalk sandwiched between a massive steel mill and a coal-fired power plant that has been designated a “Wellness Walk.”

“Energize your Life!” implores the sign affixed to a chain-link fence surrounding the power plant. It’s an unlikely site for an exercise walk, given that the state’s health officials consider this strip and the nearby park “the epicenter of the state’s asthma burden.”

After a sad laugh, we head for Zug Island, a Homeland Security-patrolled area populated by what look to be giant black vacuum cleaners but are actually blast furnaces. The island was named for millionaire Samuel Zug, who built a lavish mansion there only to discover that it was sinking into swampland. It is now home to US Steel, the largest steel manufacturer in the nation.

On our way back, we make a final stop at Oakwood Heights, an almost entirely vacant and partially razed subdivision located on the other side of the Marathon plant. “This is the white area that was bought out,” says Lockridge. The scene is eerie: small residential streets lined by grassy fields and the occasional empty house. That Marathon paid residents to evacuate their homes in this predominantly white section of town, while refusing to do the same in the predominantly African-American 48217, which sits closer to the refinery, strikes neither Lockridge and Parker nor their neighbors as a coincidence.

We survey the remnants of the former neighborhood: bundles of ragged newspapers someone was once supposed to deliver, a stuffed teddy bear abandoned on a wooden porch and a childless triangle-shaped playground whose construction, a sign reads, was “made possible by generous donations from Marathon.”

As this particularly unmagical stop on our Michigan tour comes to an end, Parker says quietly, “I’ve got to get my family out of here.”

Lockridge agrees. “I just wish we had a refuge place we could go to while we’re fighting,” she says. “You see we’re surrounded.”

Stop Three: The Great White North

Not all of Michigan’s problems are caused by emergency management, but this sweeping new power does lie at the heart of many local controversies. Later that night we meet with retired Detroit city worker, journalist and organizer Russ Bellant who has made himself something of an expert on the subject.

In 2011, he explains, Governor Snyder signed an emergency manager law known as Public Act 4. The impact of this law and its predecessor, Public Act 72, was dramatic. In the city of Pontiac, for instance, the number of public employees plummeted from 600 to 50. In Detroit, the emergency manager of the school district waged a six-year slash-and-burn campaign that, in the end, shuttered 95 schools. In Benton Harbor, the manager effectively dissolved the city government, declaring: “The fact of the matter is, the city manager is now gone. I am the city manager. I replace the financial director, so I’m the financial director and the city manager. I am the mayor and the commission. And I don’t need them.”

So in 2012, Bellant cancelled all his commitments in Detroit, packed his car full of chocolate pudding snacks, canned juices and fliers and headed north to support a statewide campaign to repeal the law through a ballot referendum in that fall’s general election. For two months, he crisscrossed the upper reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the part of the state that people say looks like a hand, as well as the remote Upper Peninsula that borders Wisconsin and Canada.

“Seven or eight hours a day, I would just knock on doors,” he says.

In November, the efforts paid off and voters repealed the act, but the celebration was short-lived. Less than two months later, during a lame-duck session of the state legislature, Governor Snyder pushed through and signed Public Act 436, a broader version of the legislation that was referendum-proof. Since then, financial managers have continued to shut down fire departments, outsource police departments, sell off parking meters and public parks. In Flint, the manager even auctioned off the plastic Santa Claus that once adorned city hall, setting the initial bidding price at $5.

And here’s one fact of life in Michigan: emergency management is normally only imposed on majority-black cities. From 2013 to 2014, 52 percent of the African-American residents in the state lived under emergency management, compared to only 2 percent of white residents. And yet the repeal vote against the previous version of the act was a demographic landslide: 75 out of 83 counties voted to nix the legislation, including all of Michigan’s northern, overwhelmingly white, rural counties. “I think people just internalized that P.A. 4 was undemocratic,” Bellant says.

That next morning, we travel north to the city of Alpena, a 97 percent white lakeside town where Bellant knocked on doors and the recall was triumphant. The farther north we head, the more the landscape changes. We pass signs imploring residents to “Take Back America: Liberty Yes, Tyranny No.” Gas stations feature clay figurines of hillbillies drinking moonshine in bathtubs.

It’s almost evening when we arrive. We spend part of our visit at the Dry Dock, a dive bar overseen by a raspy-voiced bartender where all the political and demographic divides of the state — and, in many ways, the country — are on full display. Two masons are arguing about their union; the younger one likes the protections it provides, while his colleague ditched the local because he didn’t want to pay the dues. That move became possible only after Snyder signed controversial “right-to-work” legislation in 2012, allowing workers to opt-out of union dues and causing a sharp decline in union membership ever since.

Above their heads, the television screen projects intentionally terrifying images of the uprising in Baltimore in response to the police murder of Freddie Gray, an unarmed African-American man. “The Bloods, the Crips, and the Guerrillas are out for the National Guard,” comments a carpenter about the unarmed protesters, a sneer of distain in his voice. “Not that I like the f****** cops, either,” he adds.

Throughout our visit, people repeatedly told us that Alpena “isn’t Detroit or Flint” and that they have absolutely no fear of the state seizing control of their sleepy, white, touristy city. When we press the question with the owner of a bicycle shop, the hostility rises in his voice as he explains: “Things just run the way they should here” — by which he means, of course, that down in Detroit and Flint, residents don’t run things the way they should.

Yet, misconceptions notwithstanding, the county voted to repeal Public Act 4 with a staggering 63 percent of those who turned out opting to strike down the law.

Reflecting Bellant’s feeling that locals grasped the law’s undemocratic nature in some basic way, even if it would never affect them personally, one resident offered this explanation: “When you think about living in a democracy, then this is like financial martial law… I know they say these cities need help, but it didn’t feel like something that would help.”

Stop Four: The Fugitive Task Force

The next day, as 2,000 soldiers from the 175th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard fanned out across Baltimore, we head for Detroit’s west side where, only 24 hours earlier, a law enforcement officer shot and killed a 20-year-old man in his living room.

A crowd has already gathered near his house in the early summer heat, exchanging condolences, waving signs and jostling for position as news crews set up cameras and microphones for a press conference to come. Versions of what happened quickly spread: Terrance Kellom was fatally shot when officers swarmed his house to deliver an arrest warrant. The authorities claim that he grabbed a hammer, prompting the shooting; his father, Kevin, contends Terrance was unarmed and kneeling in front of him when he was shot several times, including once in the back.

Kellom is just one of the 489 people killed in 2015 in the United States by law enforcement officers. There is, however, a disturbing twist to Kellom’s case. He was not, in fact, killed by the police but by a federal agent working with a little known multi-jurisdictional interagency task force coordinated by the US Marshals.

Similar task forces are deployed across the country and they all share the same sordid history: the Marshals have been hunting people ever since the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act compelled the agency to capture slaves fleeing north for freedom. One 19th-century newspaper account, celebrating the use of bloodhounds in such hunts, wrote: “The Cuban dog would frequently pull down his game and tear the runaway to pieces before the officers could come up.”

These days, Detroit’s task force has grown particularly active as budget cuts have decimated the local police department. Made up of federal Immigration and Customs officers, police from half a dozen local departments and even employees of the Social Security Administration office, the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team has nabbed more than 15,000 people. Arrest rates have soared since 2012, the same year the local police budget was chopped by 20 percent. Even beyond the task force, the number of federal agents patrolling the city has risen as well. The Border Patrol, for example, has increased its presence in the region by tenfold over the last decade and just two weeks ago announced the launch of a new $14 million Detroit station.

Kevin Kellom approaches the barricade of microphones and begins speaking so quietly that the gathered newscasters crush into each other in an effort to catch what’s he’s saying. “They assassinated my son,” he whispers. “I want justice and I’m going to get justice.”

Yet today, six weeks after Terrance’s death, no charges have been brought against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who fired the fatal shot. Other law enforcement officers who have killed Michigan residents in recent years have similarly escaped punishment. Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley was videotaped killing seven-year-old Aiyana Jones with a submachine gun during a SWAT team raid on her home in 2010. He remains a member of the department. Ann Arbor police officer David Reid is also back on duty after fatally shooting 40-year-old artist and mother Aura Rosser in November 2014. The Ann Arbor police department ruled that a “justifiable homicide” because Rosser was holding a small kitchen knife during the encounter — a ruling that Rosser’s family members and city residents are contesting with an ongoing campaign calling for an independent investigation into her death.

And such deadly incidents continue. Since Kellom’s death, law enforcement officers have fatally shot at least three more Michigan residents — one outside the city of Kalamazoo, another near Lansing, and a third in Battle Creek.

Stop Five: The Unprofitable All-Charter School District

Our final stop is Muskegon Heights, a small city on the banks of Lake Michigan, home to perhaps the most spectacular educational debacle in recent history. Here’s the SparkNotes version. In 2012, members of the Muskegon Heights public school board were given two options: dissolve the district entirely or succumb to an emergency manager’s rule. On arrival, the manager announced that he was dissolving the public school district and forming a new system to be run by the New York-based for-profit charter school management company Mosaica Education. Two years later, that company broke its five-year contract and fled because, according to the emergency manager, “the profit just simply wasn’t there.”

And here’s a grim footnote to this saga: in 2012, in preparation for the new charter school district, cryptically named the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System, the emergency manager laid off every single school employee.

“We knew it was coming,” explained one of the city’s longtime elementary school teachers. She asked not to be identified, so I’ll call her Susan. “We received letters in the mail.”

Then, around 1 a.m. the night before the new charter school district was slated to open, she received a voicemail asking if she could teach the following morning. She agreed, arriving at Martin Luther King Elementary School for what would be the worst year in her more than two-decade career.

When we visit that school, a single-story brick building on the east side of town, the glass of the front door had been smashed and the halls were empty, save for two people removing air conditioning units. But in the fall of 2012, when Susan was summoned, Martin Luther King was still filled with students — and chaos. Schedules were in disarray. Student computers were broken. There were supply shortages of just about everything, even rolls of toilet paper. The district’s already barebones special education program had been further gutted. The “new,” non-unionized teaching staff — about 10 percent of whom initially did not have valid teaching certificates — were overwhelmingly young, inexperienced and white. (Approximately 75 percent of the town’s residents are African-American.)

“Everything was about money, I felt, and everyone else felt it, too,” Susan says.

With her salary slashed to less than $30,000, she picked up a second job at a nearby after-school program. Her health faltered. Instructed by the new administration never to sit down during class, a back condition worsened until surgery was required. The stress began to affect her short-term memory. Finally, in the spring, Susan sought medical leave and never came back.

She was part of a mass exodus. Advocates say that more than half the teachers were either fired, quit, or took medical leave before the 2012-2013 school year ended. Mosaica itself wasn’t far behind, breaking its contract at the end of the 2014 school year. The emergency manager said he understood the company’s financial assessment, comparing the school system to “a broke-down car.” That spring, Governor Snyder visited and called the district “a work in progress.”

Across the state, the education trend has been toward privatization and increased control over local districts by the governor’s office, with results that are, to say the least, underwhelming. This spring, a report from The Education Trust, an independent national education nonprofit, warned that the state’s system had gone “from bad to worse.”

“We’re now on track to perform lower than the nation’s lowest-performing states,” the report’s author, Amber Arellano, told the local news.

Later that afternoon, we visited the city’s James Jackson Museum of African-American History, where we sat with Dr. James Jackson, a family physician and longtime advocate of community-controlled public education in the city.

He explains that the city’s now-failing struggle for local control and quality education is part of a significantly longer history. Most of the town’s families originally arrived here in the first half of the 20th century from the Jim Crow South, where public schools for Black students were not only abysmally underfunded, but also thwarted by censorship and outside governance, as historian Carter Goodwin Woodson explained in his groundbreaking 1933 study, The Mis-Education of the Negro. Well into the 20th century, for example, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were barred from grade-school textbooks for being too aspirational. “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions,” Woodson wrote back then.

More than eight decades later, Dr. Jackson offered similar thoughts about the Muskegon Heights takeover as he led us through the museum, his bright yellow T-shirt reminding us to “Honor Black History Every Day 24/7 — 365.”

“We have to control our own education,” Jackson said, as we passed sepia newspaper clippings of civil rights marches and an 1825 bill of sale for Peggy and her son Jonathan, purchased for $371 by James Aiken of Warren County, Georgia. “Until we control our own school system, we can’t be properly educated.”

As we leave, we stop a moment to take in an electronic sign hanging in the museum’s window that, between announcements about upcoming book club meetings and the establishment’s hours, flashed this refrain in red letters:

The education of
Muskegon Heights
Belongs to the People
Not the governor

The following day, we finally arrived back in Detroit, our notebooks and iPhone audio records and camera memory cards filled to the brim, heads spinning from everything we had seen, our aging Prius-turned-tour-bus in serious need of an oil change.

While we had been bumping along on our Magical Michigan Tour, the national landscape had, in some ways, grown even more surreal. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont, announced that he was challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket. Detroit neuroscientist Dr. Ben Carson — famous for declaring that Obamacare was “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery” — entered the Republican circus. And amid the turmoil, Governor Snyder’s style continued to attract attention, including from the editors of Bloomberg View, who touted his experience with “urban revitalization,” concluding: “His brand of politics deserves a wider audience.”

So buckle your seat belts and watch out. In some “revitalized” Bloombergian future, you, too, could flee your school district like the students and teachers of Muskegon Heights, or drink contaminated water under the mandate of a state-appointed manager like the residents of Flint, or be guaranteed toxic fumes to breathe like the neighbors of 48217, or get shot like Terrance Kellom by federal agents in your own living room. All you have to do is let Rick Snyder’s yellow submarine cruise into your neighborhood.” (2)

These five ‘vignettes’, are snapshots if you will, of contemporary life in what was once the industrial heartland of America.  A compelling portrait of how deep runs the rot.  Once a Mecca for millions of Southern Whites, Blacks, Latinos and others in their quest to get a purchase on the middle class Michigan has become, in the hands of men like John Engler and Rick Snyder, a ‘hollowed out’ dumping ground (3), with rapidly deteriorating standards of living, tax base, education and infrastructure where truly the conservative ideal has become the community’s nightmare; a ‘Bell Weather’ example of where the American Dream goes to die.

In my early 50’s I left the state of Michigan for points south in search of employment, a journey with mixed results, for I had learned early in life that what happens to me happens to my community, what happens to my community happens to my state, and what happens to my state happens to my country.  Indeed Snyder and his fellow Rescumlicans, waving flags of ‘freedom’, have a cruise waiting for you.


(1)  See  March 23, 2015: Malignancy of Swine, Turning of the Screws, Marrow of the Republic


(3)  Former Michigan Governor John Engler is best remembered for allowing Canada to use Michigan as a dumping ground, importing waste from Ontario.  It was under his administration that the State began to go ‘south’, transforming Michigan into the Louisiana if not the Mississippi of the midwest.