Marc

August 11, 2008

Marc on Obama and Race in America

Last week I wrote a blog about Obama. I originally wrote in my essay that 30% of the people in America would not vote for a Black man for President. Jessica Phillips, one of my producers, challenged the stat, asking me where it came from. Well, I could not pin point the source, if there ever was one.
August 11, 2008

Marc on Legalizing Pot

It is such a beautiful, unseasonably cool August morning, crisp, cool and a tad cloudy.  I picked up the Sunday papers on my way back in from walking our dog, Charley.  I opened the Times, put it down and glanced at the front page of the Sun, below the fold on the right hand side.  “Community in shock over Harford man’s drug charges … Ecologist, decades long teacher revered by residents.”

 

My gut told me this was not some heroin dealing, gun toting, cocaine smuggling outlaw swaggering through the Harford County landscape posing as a mild mannered teacher of our children.  I was sadly right, as I read the story.  Sadly right and really, really pissed off.  

 

A sixty-two-year-old man who spent his life teaching kids about nature, our environment and love of life.  He smokes marijuana and it appears as if he might consume some psilocybin mushrooms sometimes.  He must really be an evil man.  Pretty soon, all the kids in Harford will be smoking dope, dropping acid, snorting cocaine, having sex and god knows what else.  Known as Ranger Bob to all the kids, why, if there ever was a contrived name, Ranger Bob is it.  Look, he even has a beard and plays Santa Clause on his Christmas tree farm.   That’s how he snares all those kids.  The devil in disguise.   You think he is really teaching about the earth, nature and our history, respecting life and the planet we live on...

 

OK, enough with the sarcasm, but this is just madness.   I don’t think anyone should go to jail, or have their home or children threatened with seizure, or livelihood taken away from them for smoking, growing or even selling marijuana.   Most Americans who are 62 and lived through the counter culture world of hippies, slogged through a rice paddy in Nam, were active in the anti-war movement, in some non-combatant military role or alive in 1968 smoked a joint.  Presidents did it.   Some folks still do it that lead functional, successful and productive lives.  

 

Most people I know, at some point in their lives, smoked dope.   There is a reason why we call it dope.   So, most of us don’t do it anymore.   Most of us don’t get drunk anymore.   We have more important things to deal with then people’s personal behaviors. 

 

People should not go to jail for using marijuana.  We should legalize it, tax it and let it be.   Grow hemp so we can stop cutting down trees for paper, and let marijuana bloom like we grow tobacco for cigarettes and hops for beer and barley for whiskey.    Many Indian reservations want the chance to grow hemp for industrial uses.   It could help our environment, create new jobs and new industries.  

 Every 45 seconds someone is arrested on a marijuana charge, and most of those for mere possession.   In 2003, the last statistics I could find, there was an all time high (no pun intended) of 755,186 with 88 percent of those arrests were for possession, not the manufacture or distribution, of marijuana.  The cost in imprisonment of these offenders’ amounts is conservatively $1.2 billion each year.   If you are arrested for growing over 100 marijuana plants you go to jail for a minimum of five years.  That is longer than for manslaughter or for grant theft auto.  Conservatively, it costs $1.5 billion a year to incarcerate these folks.  If you add in law enforcement and courts along with imprisonment, it may be as high as $15 billion a year. We could have spent that money to build new schools, to open homeless shelters or veterans' hospitals, to preserve the environment or even to fund anti-drug programs in schools. 

Harvard Economist Dr. Jeffrey Alan Miron produced a highly acclaimed study, "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition," which was endorsed by hundreds of economists, including conservative leaders like

Dr. Milton Friedman of the Hoover Institute, Dr. George Akerlof of the University of California at Berkeley, and Dr. Vernon Smith of George Mason University.  He concludes that “replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of legal regulation would save approximately $7.7 billion in government expenditures on prohibition enforcement -- $2.4 billion at the federal level and $5.3 billion at the state and local levels for a combined savings of $10 to 14 billion dollars."

 Everyone has statistics.   This argument has been going on for a long time.  The bottom line is that chasing down pot smokers is a waste of our time, energy and money.   People should have the right to have as they wish, consume what they want and pursue their pleasures as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, harm our children or the environment.   

Bob Chance, by all accounts from the former Mayor of Bel Air to the head of their county library, is a good soul who loves children and a defender of our environment who loves teaching.  He should not have his life destroyed because he likes to smoke pot on his own time.  He should be able to wake up on this unseasonably cool August morning not worrying about going to jail or losing his beloved farm.

August 1, 2008

Marc on Wal Mart and Unions

When I opened the Wall Street Journal this morning, that centerpiece article Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win:

 

"Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized."

Wow, I just read it and sat there stunned for a minute.  Then I woke up,
and wondered what I was so shocked about. 

Here we have Wal-Mart, a store, that despite its new green image and it’s pronouncements about the Green economy with SEIU boss, Andy Stern, has a history of abusing its employees, paying low wages and few benefits.  

Wal-Mart says they are not telling any employees how to vote or who to campaign for. Right, I am working the cash register at Wal-Mart wearing a big Obama button.  Oops, is that a pink slip floating after me?!  Who’s to know, who’s to protect my rights.   Oh yes, that would be Papa Walton. 

Let me be clear about my past.   I have been a member of union.   I have
been a union organizer.   I am one of those who believe that if had not been for unions we would have had no middle class in the numbers that we have in America.  They fought to ensure that their working class members had a decent life.  

Now, unions have become increasingly irrelevant to life in America.   Partially of their own making by becoming lethargic corporate giants themselves.  Union leaders got too far away from their own members forgetting what it means to work hard to pay your bills and take care of your families.   They stopped organizing.  Yes, unions were victims of this economy and of the erosion of the industrial base of America.  But they have done little to fight it, to change with the times, to organize new workers, to speak up for the unorganized and to enter the 21st century.   They became lethargic dinosaurs. 

They became easy targets for onerous laws to destroy or curtail or cripple their power to organize.   Unions became the media demon and the business
the clean good guys in white shirts that knew how to run a nation. 

Unions are only here because so many employees get screwed.    It is
interesting I can think of five friends who own companies that don’t have unions.  Their workers don’t want or need them.   These owners run the gamut from libertarian to progressive to conservative to liberal.   They don’t have unions because they treat their employees right.  They offer health care, take care of people, worry about their families and take human beings into consideration.  They are small companies, too, from 50 to 200 employees.  They do it right. 

If business leaders don’t want unions, then treat people right.   Meanwhile,
America’s laws should be union friendly.   Unions need to be protected while organizing and have the freedom to do so.  The Employee Free Choice Act that Wal-Mart and others are so worried about is the least our government can do to protect an employee's right to organize and better their lives.

Senators McCain and Obama, what say ye?   We are waiting here.

July 28, 2008

Marc on Mayor’s Control Over Baltimore Schools

 Psst!  Looking for Marc's blog post on legalizing marijuana?  Click here to read it!  We sent the wrong link in the last email!  Sorry!

 

Yesterday's Sun carried a story about Mayor Sheila Dixon's desire to
reclaim control of Baltimore City Schools. She was always troubled
by the state takeover, as were many of us. She is being encouraged by all the other Mayors who have taken control of their city's schools.

I remember when State Superintendent Dr. Nancy Grasmick made her move
to control the management of city schools. We aired a number of
conversations in this debate. I was very doubtful then of the logic
of the move. More importantly the state's bureaucracy was no more
nimble or creative in its work, or willing to take the risks necessary
to change the city schools than the city school's entrenched
Paleolithic-minded bureaucracy.

It was not until the Baltimore City Board of Education's leadership
and direction changed that things began to move. More importantly it
was not until parents, students and teachers started to demand charter
schools that any movement took place. Ultimately, it was when Dr.
Andres Alonso arrived that our city schools began to make the
radical leaps needed to shake the lethargy out of aging special
interests. Now our schools have begun to blossom. Students,
parents, teachers and principals are beginning to be heard, held
accountable and be made part of running our schools.

The Board and the new CEO and our schools seem to be operating almost
independently of the state or the city. Things are changing. The
state needs to get out of the way. The city should not get in the
way. Maybe an entirely new partnership has to be created between the
city and our schools. Perhaps we have not invented the next step, yet.
The Mayor and the School CEO need some quiet time together to think
this through. City officials, the CEO, the school board, parents,
teachers, students, and our business and philanthropic leaders need to
spend some time thinking calmly and clearly about the future.

There is no going back to old paradigms and designs. There is no
handing pack power to old models of control and management. We need
to be moving forward to new ideas, not stuck in 20th century power
politics playing with the lives of our children.

We have a unique opportunity here. Let's build it not blow it.

July 23, 2008

Marc on Baseball

 

That was some game last night at Camden Yards.   Hard fought between the Toronto Blue Jays and the O’s.  The crowd was on its feet, people did the wave over and over.  It was the bottom of the 9th,  2 outs,  bases loaded,  men walked standing on base, full count three and two, just two runs away from winning the night that was a see saw battle.  People were chanting go O’s … then the pop fly … out … it was over.  Three men left standing.  Oh well, it was beautiful night in our lovely Camden Yards.  We had great seats, six of them right down by third base. I bought ‘em at silent auction for Young Audiences, it was a steal.  Well, it was a contribution.

But I looked around and the stadium was empty. I was shocked at how empty the place was. It struck me that the more expensive the seats, the more people were in them . The bleachers, such as they are in Camden Yards (I mean by that they are still pricey but there is not a bad view in the house)  were the most empty.

The price of a ticket to a game and the cost of having a beer or a soda and some food is astronomical. My daughter Maisie and our friends’ daughter Jahia went down for some food.    I bought a beer, two waters, a crab cake, shrimp and box of popcorn.  It cost almost fifty bucks. It could have been a $200 night.

No wonder it was empty.   The economy is sinking, people are stretched paying for gas, groceries and the essentials. Who can afford baseball or football? To watch on TV you got have cable and that ain’t free either.

The time when you could turn on local TV and watch a game, or go to a game with your family of four or five, buy some food and drink, and have money left over, is gone, long gone.

I sat having another beer, eating some peanuts with our friend Sherrilyn and my lady, Valerie.  I remarked how long the game was taking.   There used to be just a seventh inning stretch. Now everyone was stretching between every inning. What was that?  Well, that was the big screen entertaining while baseball and television made their multi-millions selling advertising on television between each inning. So, a long game is even longer. Have another beer!

With all that money flowing and public money to build private stadiums, why is this simple entertainment costing us so much?   It's more than just the huge salaries.

Maybe the owners should open up the park sometimes for less money. Go out to the middle class neighborhoods, the Latino community and inner city. Put some baseball back in the lives of people . Build tomorrow’s lovers of the game.

When the game was accessible on the tube, in your home, it belonged to everyone.   I saw a man walking down to his seat with his son. He had on an Orioles jersey with the number 34 on it and the name Hagy above it.  Remember him? Wild Bill Hagy, the Dundalk cabbie who led the cheering section in section 34 up in the bleachers of Memorial Stadium on 33rd street…. It was a people’s game then, wild, raucous, safe, and fun. And affordable!

He died not long ago.  An era went with him. 

It was still a great game, though.  Great baseball being played. We had a blast.   The girls holding up their home made Go O’s signs in orange and black trying fruitlessly to get the camera to see them so the world in Camden would see them waving on the big screen...it was fun.

Beautiful, beautiful stadium, great weather, good friends, good night …

But it ain’t the people’s game no more.

July 21, 2008

Marc on the New Yorker Cover

 

 That infamous cover

The cover of the July 21st issue of The New Yorker

Today I received a flurry of e-mails about the controversy that surrounded last week’s cover of The New Yorker depicting Barack Obama as a muslim in the White House with a picture of Osama bin Laden over the mantle with the American flag burning in the hearth. He is shown fist bumping with Michelle Obama who is sporting an Afro, ala 1960’s revolutionary Angela Davis, with an AK-47 slung over her back, camoflauge pants, and combat boots.

 

My initial response was to laugh at the satirical absurdity of the cartoon.   Ah yes, all of us sophisticated readers of The New Yorker. I am one, I love the magazine. I always find one or two or three articles I can’t wait to read. We are all so erudite, that is why we know how to laugh at the cartoon on the cover, when others do not. (You're detecting my facetious tone I hope.)

 

But then I stopped a minute. I began thinking about how that cover plays into the hands of racists and those who deeply believe that this cover represents reality.  I heard this morning of one blogger who has used this cover in an animated gif. First you see the cover, then a message that reads “Why take the risk? McCain 2008.” The alleged and purported sophistication of many New Yorker readers not withstanding,(and I run the risk of angering some people here) some liberals often lack judgment that may be inspired by a racism that they would deny, or perhaps are not aware even exists within their consciousness. It runs deep in America. Or maybe it is just real satire that New Yorkers and other cosmopolitans get but others don’t. Maybe it is all the above.

 

I oppose censoring any kind of speech no matter how hateful, racist, sexist, anti Semitic or insulting to any group it might be.   I have a deep American rooted libertarian strain in me that chafes at any rules governing an individuals rights to say what he or she believes whether spoken in truth or satire.

 

Many people coming from minority cultures in America are often accused of being overly sensitive to what can be perceived as hatred, blatant or latent.   I am one of those. I feel the anti-semitic and racial stings deeply. When I read Tim Wise’s critique of that cover cartoon,  I found his comments to be at the very least latently or subtly anti-Semitic, though there was truth in his argument that the media is loathe to satirize Jews but are willing to do it to Blacks. And of course, we are all willing to satirize images of poor whites.

 

The New Yorker’s article became just another distraction in what needs to be a real conversation about this race. It even distracted from the interesting article in that issue about Obama’s Chicago political roots by Ryan Lizza. The story gave us new insight into how Obama got his political roots, lending to speculation about what kind of President he would make.

 

If I was editor of the New Yorker, I would have said no to the cover but maybe yes to it on the inside of the magazine as an illustration to create a discussion.   Satire should attract intense debate not distract us from debate. 

What did you think?

-Marc

P.S. Some cartoonists have made their own versions of this cover, swapping John and Cindy out for Michelle and Obama.  What do you think?

July 18, 2008

Marc on Today’s Layoffs at The Sun

Another 100 layoffs with 60 from the newsroom. Our once vaunted paper is being decimated. Owner Zell already informed employees, the reporters and journalists that they were expendable and costly. He instituted a mathematical analysis of how many lines a reporter wrote to determine worth and wondered aloud why it takes 5 or 6 or 9 journalists to turn in one story on Iraq. It has all become bottom line and profit. Sure a business has to make money for reinvestment but news should not be entered into to make a financial killing. Maybe all papers should be non-profit, or maybe owners need to be satisfied with a smaller profit margin.

Who do we turn to understand, get stories and analysis from and of the daily news in our city, state, nation and world? Fox? Tabloids? Blogs? A democracy needs a free press that functions.

There was a time, when I was a kid, that the Sun was read every day in the White House. Now it is fast becoming fodder for the parakeet cage.

The writers and reporters at the Sun are some of the best in their world. I admire and feel their frustration at not being able to work their craft. We all deserve better.

Maybe there is an opportunity to create something new with all that talent now on the loose looking for work.

July 18, 2008

Marc’s take on spying on peace groups

Spying

July 10, 2008

Marc on Keswick and the media

 

Keswick

When I got back from Cape Hatteras last week, I was driving down Roland Avenue and saw all these signs saying “Stop Keswick.” I thought maybe all the retirees and senior citizens who live at Keswick Multi-Care Center had run amuck in the streets or became merry senior pranksters.

July 8, 2008

Marc on Money and Political Power

Money and Political Power

The Baltimore Sun came out with a story this morning about the Mayor’s former boyfriend, Ronald Lipscomb, being part of a deal that won a lucrative contract even though another firm was given a higher rating, from the city’s housing commissioner, to receive the contract (read that article by clicking here).

 

I wish I had a dollar for every time we have reported or had discussions on a government contract going to "favored sons" instead of a seemingly more qualified group. I don’t think Mayor Dixon’s relationship with Lipscomb had anything to do with who was awarded this contract. The Sun raises a non-issue here, connecting dots that do not meet.

 

The real story is the cozy relationship between developers and local politicians. The real story is the inside track conversations that take place between the financially powerful and politically powerful over a drink, on the phone, during dinner or at some high priced ticket event.

 

It is almost impossible to keep money out of politics. All we can do is pass laws and have rules of ethics that elected and appointed officials of government must follow. We must have watchdog agencies that do not allow the wheels of power to be greased so they speed passed us unseen.

 

It appears that Mayor Dixon did not follow the rules. Successful politicians and their powerful friends get over on us all because they follow the disclosure rules. Then they go about making their millions perfectly legally (or at least getting away with it because they follow the modicum of procedural rule) though unethically.

 

Mayor Dixon and Senator Ulysses S. Currie (get up to speed on that story here) appear to not have made full legal disclosure of their contracts and contacts. They did not recuse themselves or make their relationships known before voting on contracts involving friends, clients or families.

 

Speaking of power and money...

 

Many of Senator Barack Obama's supporters and others who want to and may very well vote for him were very disappointed when he did not accept public financing of his campaign. I must admit that I was shocked at how he went about this decision.

 

I was surprised that he, and his advisers, did not enter into serious discussion and negotiations with the McCain campaign to come to an agreement on public financing. If he had entered into those talks they may have come out with a plan that would have worked. Of course negotiations might have fallen apart.  If the latter happened then they could have announced no public financing. Instead, they did not even try. He made great statements about public financing before he became the front runner and then presumptive nominee.  

Given the legal lay of the land he could have accepted public financing as a show of integrity and still counted on hundreds of millions of dollars not covered by the public finance laws. Congressional and Senatorial campaign committees, independent 509 committees and other groups could have raised all the money they need to support anyone’s candidacy.

 

We should not be surprised. In politics, money seems to be the most powerful medium for alleged free speech.

 

Many are upset at what appear to be Obama’s moving to the center and changing positions, but we will save that commentary for another time.

What do you think?

-Marc

 

 

June 12, 2008

Medgar Evers & Obama

Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers. Medgar Evers was a Mississippi civil rights leader, and the head of the NAACP On this day 45 years ago, June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was gunned down in the drive of his home, the same day that Alabama’s segregationist Governor (and later Presidential candidate) stood on the steps of Alabama’s all white university to personally block the entrance of two black students.

President Kennedy gave one of his most impassioned speeches about the moral crisis that America was facing. He sent federal marshals to ensure the safety of those children.

The man who killed Medgar Evers was a man tied to the White Citizens Council, Byron De La Beckwith. He was never convicted in two trials, by two all white juries. They were both declared mistrials. It took thirty years but De La Beckwith was finally convicted of those murders before he died.

I will never forget the photos of Medger Evers, the great civil rights warrior lying in his own blood just feet from his home.

I was thinking about how so many died to end segregation in America , when Jessica Phillips, my producer, asked if I had seen what Fox News said about Michelle Obama. I had not and I wish I still hadn’t.

They are doing stories on their news about how the Republicans are going to go after Michelle Obama. The title on the screen under the story which ran on TV, that I was shown on the web, said “ Outraged Liberals: Stop picking on Obama’s Baby Mama.”

How outrageous, how disgusting, how blatantly racist. How is it that we have come this far and someone could still think this is ok?!? This is a major TV news operation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, known for its conservative slant and blatant untruths...but this reaches new heights, or should I write, new lows of despicable behavior.

This is the state of our media. This is the mindset that must be defeated. This is why we need to take back our media from corporate, uncaring bottom feeders who only think about the bottom line.

FOX News, Rupert Murdoch, you owe the Obamas, you owe your viewers, and you owe the nation an apology. Local outlets should stand up.

I am outraged.

Since we live here in Maryland, let’s call up Fox 45 to ask them if they will repudiate what their parent company has done.

Medgar Evers and Barak Obama are the bookends of our history of building an America that is a nation of hope for all our people and children. Fox News is the expurgated entrails we thought were thrown in the garbage, only to have its slime ooze over the edges onto our floors.

June 10, 2008

06/10 Marc on Larsen’s resignation from the PSC

 Steve Larsen's Resignation

I am not surprised that Steve Larsen resigned as the head of the Public Service Commission. When community activists railed against him and O’Malley as sellouts to Constellation Energy, I always defended Larsen as a man of integrity and honesty. He believed in using the tools of the government to make the public sector more responsive to the citizens. He was a quiet, diligent and intelligent crusader on the inside, whether it was health insurance or regulating energy.

I think he resigned not to go back to the public sector to make more money but out of frustration. When the state reached the deal with Constellation Energy that ensured that the PSC would have no subpoena power, it took the teeth out of the PSC. Larsen would not be able to get to the bottom of any sweetheart deals between the Constellation and its subsidiary BGE to unearth whatever potentially unscrupulous deals were made to purchase energy at the consumers’ expense.

I wondered aloud how long Steve Larsen would stay after this. He was crusader for the people who had his cape destroyed. He chose to walk away rather than plummet to the ground.

Given the price of oil, the cost and real crisis we are facing with electricity generation and looming public wars over our energy future we need more caped crusaders or this secure world of ours could be in trouble. -Marc

Related blog posts:

04/09/08 Looking back at the session

03/28/08-Marc's argument against the settlement

03/03/08 Marc on what is missing in the investigation

 

Banning Little Cigars

What would it really accomplish to ban the sale of small cigars in the city of Baltimore? What I am writing about is the Mayor and Health Commissioner wanting to ban the sale of individual little cigars that many young inner city folks use to make into blunts. Blunts are cigars stuffed with marijuana. Many young people and young adults buy the individual cigars because they can’t afford to buy a whole pack. They come in flavors that are very enticing to some such as watermelon, sour apple, and grape. Some people just like to kick back and have a smoke to relax. Much like more well off patrons who go to cigar shops and throw big bucks for a wannabe Havana cigar. I never did like them even when I smoked though I do like a Havana a few times a year.

 

Let me admit, I always have an initial visceral response to the banning of most anything. Outlawing substances that people choose on their own to ingest does nothing but increase criminalization of what is otherwise activities of individual choice. Tax products, go after unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors, and find creative ways to combat it. Don't ban it.

 

If you ban the sale of cheap cigars by corner stores in the inner city then some enterprising young hustlers will buy them up and sell them on the street. I understand what the city is trying to accomplish, it is just the wrong way to go about it.

 

As some City Council representatives said to me “What do we do about the young people on the corner who terrify the older neighbors … it really is a generational thing . .lack of respect for the elders….” The response has to be much more profound than banning little cigars.

 

Take this to the state legislature, ban the sale of individual cigarettes state wide, tax the cigars, put warning labels on them, take on big tobacco, their Annapolis lobbyists and friends in the legislature, start an education campaign about health and smoking theses little flavored cigars. Open recreation centers, work programs for youth and hit the streets with street workers to challenge the street culture.

 

Banning cigars sales… a waste of time, money, energy and it is just the wrong thing to do.

 

-Marc